Category Archives: Occupation

Interview with Miko Peled

Only a focused and well co-ordinated strategy to delegitimize and bring down the Zionist regime can bring justice to Palestine. BDS has the best potential for that.

Miko Peled, an Israeli general’s son and himself a former Israeli soldier, is nowadays a noted peace activist and a tireless worker for justice in the Holy Land. He is considered to be one of the clearest voices calling for support of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against the Zionist regime and for the creation of a single democracy with equal rights on all of historic Palestine.

He will be at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool on 23-26 September. I was lucky enough to have the chance to interview him beforehand. In a week that marks the 70th anniversary of the assassination of Folke Bernadotte and the 36th anniversary of the genocidal massacre at Sabra and Shatila refugee camp, atrocities committed in pursuit of Zionist ambition, what Miko says may give those who take dictation from the Israel lobby cause to reflect.

Stuart Littlewood: Miko, you were raised in a Zionist family on a Zionist diet. What happened to cause you to break out from there?

Miko Peled: As the title of my memoir The General’s Son suggests, I was born to a father who was a general in the IDF and then, as the sub-title points out, I embarked on a “Journey of an Israeli in Palestine”. The journey defined for me, and through me will hopefully define for the reader, what is “Israel” and what is “Palestine”. It is a journey from the sphere of the privileged oppressor and occupier (Israel) to that of the oppressed (Palestine) and the people who are native to Palestine. I discovered that it is, in fact, the same country, that Israel is Palestine occupied. But without the journey I would not have figured that out. This for me was the key. It allowed me to see the injustice, the deprivation, the lack of water and rights and so on. The further I allowed, and continue to allow myself to venture into this journey the more I was able to see what Zionism really is, what Israel is, and who I am within that.

SL: Many months ago you warned that Israel was going to “pull all the stops, they are going to smear, they are going to try anything they can to stop Corbyn”, and the reason anti-Semitism is used is because they have no other argument. This has come true with Jeremy Corbyn under vicious, sustained attack even from former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks. How should Corbyn deal with it and what counter-measures would you suggest he takes?

MP Jeremy Corbyn made it clear during last year’s Labour conference that he will not allow the anti-Semitic accusations to interfere with his work as leader of the Labour Party and as a man dedicated to creating a just society in the UK, and a just world. In that speech he said something that no Western leader would dare to say: “We must end the oppression of the Palestinian people.” He has been right on the money the whole time and his support is growing. I believe he is doing the right thing. I expect he will continue to do so.

SL: And what do you make of Sacks’ outburst?

MP: Not surprising that a racist who supports Israel would come out like this – he represents no one.

SL: The Labour Party’s ruling body, the NEC, has adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism lock, stock and barrel despite warnings from legal experts and a recommendation to include caveats by the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee. This decision is seen as caving in to outside pressure and obviously impacts on free speech which is enshrined in British law and guaranteed by international convention. How will it affect Labour’s credibility?

MP: Accepting the IHRA definition was a mistake and I am sure they will live to feel the sting of shame this has placed on those who voted to adopt it. There are at least two notices out already by the Ultra Orthodox Jewish community, which makes up at least 25% to 30% of UK Jews, that they reject the notion that JC is anti-Semitic, they reject Zionism and they reject the IHRA definition.

SL: Turning to the Occupation, you have said that Israel achieved its aim to make the conquest of the West Bank irreversible 25 years ago. Why do you think the Western Powers still cling to the idea of a Two State Solution? How do you expect the situation to play out?

MP: The US, and particularly the current administration, accepts that Israel has swallowed all of Mandatory Palestine and there is no room for non-Jews in that country. They make no claims otherwise. The Europeans are in a different situation. The politicians in Europe want to appease Israel and accept it as it is. Their constituents, however, demand justice for the Palestinians so, as an act of cowardly compromise the EU countries in true post-colonial fashion, treat the Palestinian Authority as though it was a Palestinian state. That is why, I believe, the Europeans are going ahead and “recognizing” the so-called State of Palestine, even though there is no such state. They do it in order to appease their constituents without actually doing anything to further the cause of justice in Palestine. These recognitions have helped not one Palestinian, they have not freed a single prisoner from an Israeli prison, they have not saved a single child from bombings in Gaza, they have not alleviated the suffering and deprivation of Palestinians in the Naqab desert or in the refugee camps. It is an empty, cowardly gesture.

What the Europeans ought to do is adopt BDS. They should recognize that Palestine is occupied, that Palestinians are living under an apartheid regime in their own land, they are victims of ethnic cleansing and genocide and that this must stop, and the Zionist occupation must end completely and without conditions.

I believe the State of Israel will crumble and that we will see a free democratic Palestine from the River to the Sea sooner than most people think. The current reality is unsustainable, two million people in Gaza are not going away, Israel has just announced – again – that two million of its non-Jewish citizens are not welcome to be part of that state, and BDS is hard at work.

SL: The IDF calls itself the most moral army in the world. You served in the IDF. How credible is its claim?

MP: It is a lie. There is no such thing as a moral army and the IDF has been engaged in ethnic cleansing, genocide and enforcing an apartheid regime for seven decades. In fact, the IDF is one of the best equipped, best trained, best financed and best fed terrorist forces in the world. Even though they have generals and nice uniforms and the most advanced weapons, they are no more than armed gangs of thugs and its main purpose is to terrorise and kill Palestinians. Its officers and soldiers execute with enthusiasm the policies of brutality and ruthlessness which are cruelly inflicted on Palestinians’ everyday life.

SL: Breaking the Silence is an organisation of IDF veterans committed to exposing the truth about a foreign military trying to control an oppressed civilian population under illegal occupation. They say their aim is to eventually end the occupation. How do you rate their chances of success?

MP: They and other NGOs like them could make a huge difference . Unfortunately they do not go far enough, they do not call on young Israelis to refuse to serve in the IDF, and they do not reject Zionism. Without these two elements I feel their work is superficial and will make little difference.

SL: Israelis often accuse the Palestinian education system of turning out future terrorists. How does Israel’s education compare?

MP: The Palestinian education system goes through a thorough vetting process so all claims of it teaching hate are baseless. Israel, however, does a fine job in teaching Palestinians that they are occupied and oppressed and have no choice but to resist. They do it using the military, the secret police, the apartheid bureaucracy, the countless permits and prohibitions and restrictions on their lives.

The Israeli courts teach Palestinians that there is no justice for them under the Israeli system and that they are counted as nothing. I have not met Palestinians who express hate, but if some do it is because of the education that Israel is providing, not because of any Palestinian textbook.

Israelis go through a thorough racist education that is well documented in a book by my sister, Prof. Nurit Peled-Elhanan, titled Palestine in Israeli Textbooks.

SL: Christian communities in the Holy Land have been dwindling fast. The Israelis claim the Muslims are pushing them out but Christians say it’s the cruelty of the occupation that has caused so many to leave. What is your take on this? Are the Israelis trying to drive a wedge between Christians and Muslims? Is there a religious war going on to drive the Christians out?

MP: Christians used to make up 12% of the population in Palestine, now they are barely 2%. There is no one to blame for this other than Israel. Israel destroyed Palestinian Christian communities and churches just like they destroyed Muslims. To Israel Arabs are Arabs and they have no place in the Land of Israel. I strongly recommend the late Bob Simon’s excellent report on CBS 60 Minutes from 2012 titled Christians in the Holy Land. At the end he confronts the former Ambassador of Israel to Washington DC who wanted the show cancelled.

SL: Would you call yourself a religious person these days?

MP: I never was.

SL: You know Gaza. How do you rate Hamas on their potential to govern?  And could honest brokers work with them towards peace?

MP: I have no way to rate Hamas one way or another. I did speak to people who worked in Gaza for many years, both Palestinians and foreigners, and their assessment was that as far as governing goes, and taking into consideration the severe conditions under which they live, they are to be commended.

SL: Some people say that the Israeli public are largely unaware of the horrors of the occupation and shielded from the truth. If true, is it beginning to change?

MP: Israelis are fully aware of the atrocities and they approve. Israelis vote, and they vote in high numbers and for seven decades they keep voting for people who send them and their children to commit these atrocities. The atrocities are committed not by foreign mercenaries but by Israeli boys and girls who for the most part serve proudly. The only thing that changed is the discourse. In the past there was a facade of a civilized discourse within Israel, and today that no longer exists. Saying that Israel must kill more and more Palestinians is a perfectly acceptably statement today. In the past people were somewhat embarrassed to admit they thought that way.

SL: Israel has carried out a succession of armed assaults in international waters on humanitarian aid boats taking urgent medical and other non-military supplies to the beleaguered people of Gaza. Crew and passengers are routinely beaten up and thrown in jail, and some killed. Should the organizers now give up, or re-double their efforts using different tactics?

MP: The Gaza flotillas are certainly commendable but if the goal is to reach the shores of Gaza they are doomed to fail. Their value is only in the fact that they are an expression of solidarity and one has to wonder if the time and effort and risk and expense justify the result. Israel will make sure no one gets through and the world pays them little attention. In my opinion the flotillas are not the best form of action. No single issue in the ongoing tragedy in Palestine can be resolved on its own. Not the siege on Gaza, not the political prisoners, not the water issue and not the racist laws, etc. Only a focused and well co-ordinated strategy to delegitimize and bring down the Zionist regime can bring justice to Palestine. BDS has the best potential for that but it is not being utilized enough and too much time is wasted on arguing its merits.

Certainly one of the weaknesses on the part of those who care to see justice in Palestine is that anyone with an idea just “goes for it.” There is little co-ordination and hardly any strategy to the very crucial question of how to free Palestine. Israel has succeeded in creating a sense of helplessness on this side and in legitimizing itself and Zionism in general, and that is a serious challenge.

SL: This week was the 70th anniversary of the murder of Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte by a Zionist hit-squad while serving as UN Security Council mediator in the Arab–Israeli conflict. Everyone is keeping strangely quiet about this, even the Swedes.

MP: This was one in a series of many political assassinations perpetrated by Zionist terrorists gangs in which no-one was held accountable. The first was in 1924 when they assassinated Yaakov Dehan. Then in 1933 they assassinated Chaim Arlozorov. The 1946 massacre at the King David Hotel was, of course, politically motivated and caused close to one hundred deaths, most of them innocent people who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Then in September 1948 the assassination in Jerusalem of UN intermediary and member of the Swedish royal family, Folke Bernadotte, who apparently came with plans to end the violence in Palestine, plans that the Zionist establishment did not find acceptable. Bernadotte is buried in a humble family grave in Stockholm, there are no memorial services planned that I know of or any mention of this anniversary by any official Swedish organization. My grandfather was Israel’s first ambassador to Sweden. This was shortly after the assassination and he did a fine job making sure that the Swedish government would keep the issue quiet.

There were many, many more assassinations and massacres – the attack on the USS Liberty comes to mind as well as the part played by the brutality of the Zionist apparatus that sees killing as a legitimate tool for accomplishing its political goals. Little is known or recalled about these brutal killings. Countless Palestinian leaders, writers, poets, etc., were assassinated by Israel.

SL: A lot of hope is pinned on BDS by Palestine solidarity. How effective is BDS and how best can civil society turn up the pressure?

MP: BDS is a very effective but slow process. It won’t work through magic or Divine intervention. People need to embrace it fully, work hard, demand the expulsion of all Israeli diplomats and total isolation of Israel. There is too much tolerance for those who promote Zionism and promote Israel and the Israeli army and that needs to change. Elected officials need to be forced to accept BDS entirely. The Palestine solidarity groups need to move from solidarity to full resistance, and BDS is the perfect form of resistance available.

SL: Are there any other key issues that you’re confronting right now?

MP: Moving from solidarity to resistance is, in my opinion, key at this point. Using the tools we have, like BDS, is crucial. The passing of the Israeli Nation State Law is an opportunity to unite the Palestinian citizens of Israel back with the rest of the Palestinians. We should all strive to bring total unity between the refugees, the West Bank, Gaza and 1948, and demand complete equal rights and the replacing of the Zionist regime that has been terrorizing Palestine for seven decades with a free and democratic Palestine. This opportunity will hopefully be seized.

SL: Finally, Miko, how are your two books doing – ‘The General’s Son’ and ‘Injustice: The Story of The Holy Land Foundation Five’? It seems to me that the latter, which tells how the justice system in the US has been undermined to benefit pro-Israel interests, ought to be a must-read here in the UK where the same thing is happening in our political and parliamentary institutions and could spread to the courts.

MP: Well, they are doing fine, though neither one is a best seller yet, and as we are on the less popular side of the issue it is a tough sell. TGS is out in second edition so that is good, and I would certainly like to see it and Injustice in the hands of more people. Sadly, though, not enough people realize how the occupation in Palestine is affecting the lives of people in the West because of the work of Zionist watchdog groups like the Board of Deputies in the UK, and AIPAC and the ADL in the US.

In this case alone, five innocent men are serving long sentences in federal prison in the US only because they are Palestinians.

SL: Many thanks, Miko.  I appreciate your taking the time to share your views.

Chief among the many positive ideas I get from this encounter with Miko is the need for activists to shift up a gear and accelerate from solidarity to full-on resistance. This will mean wider involvement, better co-ordination, revised targeting and sharper strategy. In effect, a BDS Mk2, supercharged and on high octane fuel. Secondly, we ought to treat Zionism and those who promote or support it with far less tolerance. As Miko said on another occasion, “If opposing Israel is anti-Semitism then what do you call supporting a state that has been engaged in brutal ethnic cleansing for seven decades?”

As for Jeremy Corbyn – if he reads this – yes, he’d better come down hard on hatemongers including the real foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Semites, but he must also purge the Labour Party of its equally contemptible ‘Zionist Tendency’. And that goes for all our political parties.

Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide

Like vultures, Israeli soldiers descended on Khan Al-Ahmar, on September 14, recreating a menacing scene with which the residents of this small Palestinian village, located East of Jerusalem, are all-too familiar.

The strategic location of Khan Al-Ahmar makes the story behind the imminent Israeli demolition of the peaceful village unique amid the ongoing destruction of Palestinian homes and lives throughout besieged Gaza and Occupied West Bank.

Throughout the years, Khan Al-Ahmar, once part of an uninterrupted Palestinian physical landscape has grown increasingly isolated. Decades of Israeli colonization of East Jerusalem and the West Bank left Khan Al-Ahmar trapped between massive and vastly expanding Israeli colonial projects: Ma’ale Adumim, Kfar Adumim among others.

The unfortunate village, its adjacent school and 173 residents are the last obstacle facing the E1 Zone project, an Israeli plan that aims to link illegal Jewish colonies in Occupied East Jerusalem with West Jerusalem, thus cutting off East Jerusalem completely from its Palestinian environs in the West Bank.

Like the Neqab (Negev) village of Al-Araqib, which has been demolished by Israel and rebuilt by its residents 133 times, Khan Al-Ahmar residents are facing armed soldiers and military bulldozers with their bare chests and whatever local and international solidarity they are able to obtain.

Despite the particular circumstances and unique historical context of Khan Al-Ahmar, however, the story of this village is but a chapter in a protracted narrative of a tragedy that has extended over the course of seventy years.

It would be a mistake to discuss the destruction of Khan Al-Ahmar, or any other Palestinian village outside the larger context of demolition that has stood at the heart of Israel’s particular breed of settler colonialism.

It is true that other colonial powers used destruction of homes and properties, and the exile of whole communities as a tactic to subdue rebellious populations. The British Mandate government in Palestine used the demolition of homes as a ‘deterrence’ tactic against Palestinians who dared rebel against injustice throughout the 1920s, 30s and 40s, till Israel took over in 1948.

Yet the Israeli strategy is far more convoluted than a mere ‘deterrence’. It is now carved in the Israeli psyche that Palestine must be completely destroyed in order for Israel to exist. Therefore, Israel is engaging in a seemingly endless campaign of erasing everything Palestinian because the latter, from an Israeli viewpoint, represents an existential threat to the former.

This is precisely why Israel sees the natural demographic growth among Palestinians as an ‘existential threat’ to Israel’s ‘Jewish identity’.

This can only be justified with an irrational degree of hate and fear that has accumulated throughout generations to the point that it now forms a collective Israeli psychosis for which Palestinians continue to pay a heavy price.

The repeated destruction of Gaza is symptomatic of this Israeli psychosis.

Israel is a “country that when you fire on its citizens it responds by going wild – and this is a good thing,” was the official explanation offered by Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister in January 2009 to justify its country’s war on the blockaded Gaza Strip. The Israel ‘going wild’ strategy has led to the destruction of 22,000 homes, schools and other facilities during one of Israel’s deadliest wars on the Strip.

A few years later, in the summer of 2014, Israel went ‘wild’ again, leading to an even greater destruction and loss of lives.

Israel’s mass demolition of Palestinian homes in Gaza, and everywhere else, preceded Hamas by decades. In fact, it has nothing to do with the method of resistance that Palestinians utilize in their struggle against Israel. Israel’s demolishing of Palestine – whether the actual physical structures or the idea, history, narrative, and even street names – is an Israeli decision through and through.

A quick scan of historical facts demonstrates that Israel demolished Palestinian homes and communities in diverse political and historical contexts, where Israel’s ‘security’ was not in the least a factor.

Nearly 600 Palestinian towns, villages and localities were destroyed between 1947 and 1948, and nearly 800,000 Palestinians were exiled to make room for the establishment of Israel.

According to the Land Research Center (LRC), Israel had destroyed 5,000 Palestinian homes in Jerusalem alone since it occupied the city in 1967, leading to the permanent exile of nearly 70,000 people. Coupled with the fact that nearly 200,000 Jerusalemites were driven out during the Nakba, the Catastrophe’ of 1948, and the ongoing slow ethnic cleansing, the Holy City has been in a constant state of destruction since the establishment of Israel.

In fact, between 2000 and 2017, over 1,700 Palestinian homes were demolished, displacing nearly 10,000 people. This is not a policy of ‘deterrence’ but of erasure – the eradication of the very Palestinian culture.

Gaza and Jerusalem are not unique examples either. According to the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD’s) report last December, since 1967 “nearly 50,000 Palestinian homes and structures have been demolished – displacing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and affecting the livelihoods of thousands of others.”

Combined with the destruction of Palestinian villages upon the establishment of Israel, and the demolition of Palestinian homes inside Israel itself, ICAHD puts the total number of homes destroyed since 1948 at more than 100,000.

In fact, as the group itself acknowledges, the figure above is quite conservative. Indeed, it is. In Gaza alone, and in the last 10 years which witnessed three major Israeli wars, nearly 50,000 homes and structures were reportedly destroyed.

So why does Israel destroy with consistency, impunity and no remorse?

It is for the same reason that it passed laws to change historic street names from Arabic to Hebrew. For the same reason it recently passed the racist Nation-state law, elevating everything Jewish and completely ignoring and downgrading the existence of the indigenous Palestinians, their language and their culture that goes back millennia.

Israel demolishes, destroys and pulverizes because in the racist mindset of Israeli rulers, there can be no room between the Sea and the River but for Jews; where the Palestinians – oppressed, colonized and dehumanized – don’t factor in the least in Israel’s ruthless calculations.

This is not just a question of Khan Al-Ahmar. It is a question of the very survival of the Palestinian people, threatened by a racist state that has been allowed to ‘go wild’ for 70 years, untamed and without repercussions.

A “Gentleman’s Agreement”: How Oslo Worked Out as Planned for Israel

There will be no anniversary celebrations this week to mark the signing of the Oslo Accords in Washington 25 years ago. It is a silver jubilee for which there will be no street parties, no commemorative mugs, no specially minted coins.

Palestinians have all but ignored the landmark anniversary, while Israel’s commemoration has amounted to little more than a handful of doleful articles in the Israeli press about what went wrong.

The most significant event has been a documentary, The Oslo Diaries, aired on Israeli TV and scheduled for broadcast in the US this week. It charts the events surrounding the creation of the peace accords, signed by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Washington on 13 September 1993.

The euphoria generated by the Norwegian-initiated peace process a quarter of a century ago now seems wildly misplaced to most observers. The promised, phased withdrawals by Israel from the occupied Palestinian territories got stuck at an early stage.

And the powers of the Palestinian Authority, a Palestinian government-in-waiting that came out of Oslo, never rose above managing healthcare and collecting garbage in densely populated Palestinian areas, while coordinating with Israel on security matters.

All the current efforts to draw lessons from these developments have reached the same conclusion: that Oslo was a missed opportunity for peace, that the accords were never properly implemented, and that the negotiations were killed off by Palestinian and Israeli extremists.

Occupation reorganised

But analysts Middle East Eye has spoken to take a very different view.

“It is wrong to think of Oslo being derailed, or trying to identify the moment the Oslo process died,” says Diana Buttu, a Palestinian lawyer and former adviser to the Palestinian Authority. “Oslo never died. It is still doing today exactly what it was set up to do.”

Michel Warschawski, an Israeli peace activist who developed strong ties with Palestinian leaders in the Oslo years, concurred.

“I and pretty much everyone else I knew at that time was taken in by the hype that the occupation was about to end. But in reality, Oslo was about reorganising the occupation, not ending it. It created a new division of labour.

“Rabin didn’t care much about whether the Palestinians got some indicators of sovereignty – a flag and maybe even a seat at the United Nations.

“But Israel was determined to continue controlling the borders, the Palestinians’ resources, the Palestinian economy. Oslo changed the division of labour by sub-contracting the hard part of Israel’s security to the Palestinians themselves.”

The accords were signed in the immediate aftermath of several years of a Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories – the First Intifada – that had proved costly to Israel, both in terms of casualties and treasure.

Under Oslo, Palestinian security forces patrolled the streets of Palestinian cities, overseen by and in close coordination with the Israeli military. The tab, meanwhile, was picked up by Europe and Washington.

In an interview with the Haaretz newspaper last week, Joel Singer, the Israeli government lawyer who helped to draft the accords, conceded as much. Rabin, he said, “thought it would enhance [Israeli] security to have the Palestinians as the ones fighting Hamas”.

That way, as Rabin once observed, the occupation would no longer be accountable to the “bleeding hearts” of the Israeli supreme court and Israel’s active human rights community.

Less than statehood

The widespread assumption that Oslo would lead to a Palestinian state was also mistaken, Buttu says.

She notes that nowhere in the accords was there mention of the occupation, a Palestinian state, or freedom for the Palestinians. And no action was specified against Israel’s illegal settlements – the chief obstacle to Palestinian statehood.

Instead, the stated goal of the Oslo process was implementation of two outstanding United Nations resolutions – 242 and 338. The first concerned the withdrawal of the Israeli army from “territories” occupied in the 1967 war, while the second urged negotiations leading to a “just and durable peace”.

“I spoke to both Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas [his successor as Palestinian president] about this,” said Buttu. “Their view was that clearer language, on Palestinian statehood and independence, would never have got past Rabin’s coalition.

“So Arafat treated resolutions 242 and 338 as code words. The Palestinian leadership referred to Oslo as a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’. Their approach was beyond naïve; it was reckless. They behaved like amateurs.”

Asad Ghanem, a politics professor at Haifa University and expert on Palestinian nationalism, said the Palestinian leadership was aware from the outset that Israel was not offering real statehood.

“In his memoirs, Ahmed Qurei [one of the key architects of Oslo on the Palestinian side] admitted his shock when he started meetings with the Israeli team,” says Ghanem.

“Uri Savir [Israel’s chief negotiator] said outright that Israel did not favour a Palestinian state, and that something less was being offered. The Israelis’ attitude was ‘Take it or leave it’.”

Sympathy with settlers

All the analysts agreed that a lack of good faith on Israel’s part was starkly evident from the start, especially over the issue of the settlements.

Noticeably, rather than halt or reverse the expansion of the settlements during the supposed five-year transition period, Oslo allowed the settler population to grow at a dramatically accelerated rate.

The near-doubling of settler numbers in the West Bank and Gaza to 200,000 by the late 1990s was explained by Alan Baker, a legal adviser to Israel’s foreign ministry after 1996 and a settler himself, in an interview in 2003.

Most of the settlements were portrayed to the Israeli public as Israeli “blocs”, outside the control of the newly created PA. With the signing of the accords, Baker said, “we are no longer an occupying power, but we are instead present in the territories with their [the Palestinians’] consent and subject to the outcome of negotiations.”

Recent interviews with settler leaders by the Haaretz newspaper hint too at the ideological sympathy between Rabin’s supposedly leftist government and the settler movement.

Israel Harel, who then headed the Yesha Council, the settlers’ governing body, described Rabin as “very accessible”. He pointed out that Zeev Hever, another settler leader, sat with Israeli military planners as they created an “Oslo map”, carving up the West Bank into various areas of control.

Referring to settlements that most had assumed would be dismantled under the accords, Harel noted: “When [Hever] was accused [by other settlers] of cooperating, he would say he saved us from disaster. They [the Israeli army] marked areas that could have isolated settlements and made them disappear.”

Israel’s Oslo lawyer, Joel Singer, confirmed the Israeli leadership’s reluctance to address the issue of the settlements.

“We fought with the Palestinians, on Rabin and [Shimon] Peres’ orders, against a [settlement] freeze,” he told Haaretz. “It was a serious mistake to permit the settlements to continue to race ahead.”

Rabin’s refusal to act

Neve Gordon, a politics professor at Ben Gurion University in Israel’s south, said the critical test of Rabin’s will to tackle the settlements came less than a year into the Oslo process. It was then that Baruch Goldstein, a settler, killed and wounded more than 150 Palestinians at worship in the Palestinian city of Hebron.

“That gave Rabin the chance to remove the 400 extremist settlers who were embedded in the centre of Hebron,” Gordon said. “But he didn’t act. He let them stay.”

The lack of response from Israel fuelled a campaign of Hamas “revenge” suicide bombings that in turn were used by Israel to justify a refusal to withdraw from more of the occupied territories.

Warschawski said Rabin could have dismantled the settlements if he had acted quickly. “The settlers were in disarray in the early stages of Oslo, but he didn’t move against them.”

After Rabin’s assassination in late 1995, his successor Shimon Peres, also widely identified as an architect of the Oslo process, changed tactics, according to Warschawski. “Peres preferred to emphasise internal reconciliation [between Israelis] rather than reconciliation with the Palestinians. After that, the religious narrative of the extremist settlers came to dominate.”

That would lead a few months later to the electoral triumph of the right under Benjamin Netanyahu.

Demographic differential

Although Netanyahu campaigned vociferously against the Oslo Accords, they proved perfect for his kind of rejectionist politics, said Gordon.

Under cover of vague promises about Palestinian statehood, “Israel was able to bolster the settlement project,” in Gordon’s view. “The statistics show that, when there are negotiations, the demographic growth of the settler population in the West Bank increases. The settlements get rapidly bigger. And when there is an intifada, they slow down.

“So Oslo was ideal for Israel’s colonial project.”

It was not only that, under the pressure of Oslo, religious settlers ran to “grab the hilltops”, as a famous army general and later prime minister, Ariel Sharon, put it. Gordon pointed to a strategy by the government of recruiting a new type of settler during the initial Oslo years.

In the early 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Sharon and others had tried to locate Russian-speaking new immigrants in large settlements like Ariel, in the central West Bank. “The problem was that many of the Russians had only one child,” Gordon said.

So instead, Israel began moving the ultra-Orthodox into the occupied territories. These fundamentalist religious Jews, Israel’s poorest community, typically have seven or eight children. They were desperate for housing solutions, noted Gordon, and the government readily provided incentives to lure them into two new ultra-Orthodox settlements, Modiin Ilit and Beitar Ilit.

“After that, Israel didn’t need to recruit lots of new settlers,” Gordon said. “It just needed to buy time with the Oslo process and the settler population would grow of its own accord.

“The ultra-Orthodox became Israel’s chief demographic weapon. In the West Bank, Jewish settlers have on average two more children than Palestinians – that demographic differential has an enormous impact over time.”

Palestinian dependency

Buttu pointed to another indicator of how Israel never intended the Oslo Accords to lead to a Palestinian state. Shortly before Oslo, from 1991 onwards, Israel introduced much more severe restrictions on movement, including an increasingly sophisticated permit system.

“Movement from Gaza to the West Bank became possible only in essential cases,” she said. “It stopped being a right.”

That process, Ghanem noted, has been entrenched over the past quarter century, and ultimately led to complete physical and ideological separation between Gaza and the West Bank, now ruled respectively by Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah.

Gordon observed that Oslo’s economic arrangements, governed by the 1995 Paris Protocol, stripped the Palestinians of financial autonomy too.

“The Palestinians did not get their own currency, they had to use the Israeli shekel. And a customs union made the Palestinians a dependent market for Israeli goods and empowered Israel to collect import duties on behalf of the PA. Refusing to transfer that money was a stick Israel has regularly wielded against the Palestinians.”

According to the analysts, those Palestinian leaders like Arafat who were allowed by the Oslo process to return from exile in Tunisia – sometimes referred to as the “outsiders” – were completely ignorant of the situation on the ground.

Gordon, who was at that time head of Israel’s branch of Physicians for Human Rights, recalled meeting young Palestinian-Americans and Canadians in Cairo to discuss the coming health arrangements the PA would be responsible for.

“They were bright and well-educated, but they were clueless about what was happening on the ground. They had no idea what demands to make of Israel,” he said.

“Israel, on the other hand, had experts who knew the situation intimately.”

Warschawski has similar recollections. He took a senior Palestinian recently arrived from Tunis on a tour of the settlements. The official sat in his car in stunned silence for the whole journey.

“They knew the numbers but they had no idea how deeply entrenched the settlements were, how integrated they were into Israeli society,” he said. “It was then that they started to understand the logic of the settlements for the first time, and appreciate what Israel’s real intentions were.”

Lured into a trap

Warschawski noted that the only person in his circle who rejected the hype around the Oslo Accords from the very beginning was Matti Peled, a general turned peace activist who knew Rabin well.

“When we met for discussions about the Oslo Accords, Matti laughed at us. He said there would be no Oslo, there would be no process that would lead to peace.”

Ghanem said the Palestinian leadership eventually realised that they had been lured into a trap.

“They couldn’t move forward towards statehood, because Israel blocked their way,” he said. “But equally, they couldn’t back away from the peace process either. They didn’t dare dismantle the PA, and so Israel came to control Palestinian politics.

“If Abbas leaves, someone else will take over the PA and its role will continue.”

Why did the Palestinian leadership enter the Oslo process without taking greater precautions?

According to Buttu, Arafat had reasons to feel insecure about being outside Palestine, along with other PLO leaders living in exile in Tunisia, in ways that he hoped Oslo would solve.

“He wanted a foot back in Palestine,” she said. “He felt very threatened by the ‘inside’ leadership, even though they were loyal to him. The First Intifada had shown they could lead an uprising and mobilise the people without him.

“He also craved international recognition and legitimacy.”

Trench warfare

According to Gordon, Arafat believed he would eventually be able to win concessions from Israel.

“He viewed it as trench warfare. Once he was in historic Palestine, he would move forward trench by trench.”

Warschawski noted that Arafat and other Palestinian leaders had told him they believed they would have significant leverage over Israel.

“Their view was that Israel would end the occupation in exchange for normalisation with the Arab world. Arafat saw himself as the bridge that would provide the recognition Israel wanted. His attitude was that Rabin would have to kiss his hand in return for such an important achievement.

“He was wrong.”

Gordon pointed to the early Oslo discourse about an economic dividend, in which it was assumed that peace would open up trade for Israel with the Arab world while turning Gaza into the Singapore of the Middle East.

The “peace dividend”, however, was challenged by an equally appealing “war dividend”.

“Even before 9/11, Israel’s expertise in the realms of security and technology proved profitable. Israel realised there was lots of money to be made in fighting terror.”

In fact, Israel managed to take advantage of both the peace and war dividends.

Buttu noted that more than 30 countries, including Morocco and Oman, developed diplomatic or economic relations with Israel as a result of the Oslo Accords. The Arab states relented on their boycott and anti-normalisation policies, and major foreign corporations no longer feared being penalised by the Arab world for trading with Israel.

“Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan [in 1994] could never have happened without Oslo,” she said.

“Instead of clear denunciations of the occupation, the Palestinians were saddled with the language of negotiations and compromises for peace.

“The Palestinians became a charity case, seeking handouts from the Arab world so that the PA could help with the maintenance of the occupation rather than leading the resistance.

“Thanks to Oslo, Israel became normalised in the region, while paradoxically the Palestinians found themselves transformed into the foreign object.”

• First published in Middle East Eye

The Veiled Danger of the “Dead” Oslo Accords

Yossi Beilin is back. This unrepentant Israeli ‘peacemaker’ is like the mythical phoenix, constantly resurrecting from its own ashes. In a recent article in Al-Monitor, Beilin wrote in support of the idea of a confederation between Israel and Palestine.

A confederation “could prevent the need to evacuate settlers and allow those interested to live in Palestine as Israeli citizens, just as a similar number of Palestinian citizens could live in Israel,” he wrote.

Bizarrely, Beilin is promoting a version of an idea that was promoted by Israel’s extremist Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman.

The difference between Beilin and Lieberman is in how we choose to perceive them: the former was the godfather of the Oslo Accords 25 years ago, a well-known political ‘dove’ and the former Chairman of the ‘left-leaning’ Meretz party. Lieberman, on the other hand, is purportedly the exact opposite.

Yet, when Lieberman suggested population transfer and territorial swaps, all hell broke loose. When Beilin did it, his efforts were perceived as an honest attempt at reviving the dormant ‘peace process.’

That is the brilliance of Beilin, his followers and the whole ‘peace process’ that culminated in the Oslo Accords and the famous White House handshake between the late PLO Chairman, Yasser Arafat, and the late Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, in September 1993. They successfully branded this hideous infringement on international law as a sincere effort at achieving peace between two conflicting parties.

The Donald Trump Administration has long surpassed Oslo and its tired clichés of ‘peace process’, ‘painful compromises’ and ‘trust building’ exercises, etc., as it is promoting something else entirely, the so-called ‘Deal of the Century’.

But Oslo will not go away. It remains a problem because the intellectual foundation that led to its conception is still firmly in place – where only Israel matters and the aspirations of the Palestinian people are still inconsequential.

While Beilin is no longer an influential politician, there are many Yossi Beilins who are still lurking, playing the role of ‘peacemakers‘, meeting behind closed doors, on the sideline of conferences, offering their services as interlocutors, wheelers and dealers, and saviors.

The late Palestinian Professor, Edward Said, was not prophesying when he warned of the disastrous future consequences of Oslo as it was being signed. He was dismissed by mainstream media and pundits as radical, lumped with the other ‘enemies of peace’ on ‘both sides’. But, he, like many other Palestinians, was right.

“Labor and Likud leaders alike made no secret of the fact that Oslo was designed to segregate the Palestinians in noncontiguous, economically unviable enclaves, surrounded by Israeli-controlled borders, with settlements and settlement roads punctuating and essentially violating the territories’ integrity,” he wrote in The Nation.

The colonization of Palestine, for the first time, was accelerating with the consent of the Palestinian leadership. The PLO was turned into a local body with the inception of the Palestinian Authority in 1994. The rights of millions of Palestinian refugees in the diaspora were relegated. The West Bank was divided to areas A, B and C, each governed by different rules, mostly under the control of the Israeli military.

The ‘Palestinian revolution’ turned into an agonizing process of ‘state building’, but without state or even contiguous territories. Palestinians who rejected the horrific outcomes of Oslo – protracted expansion of Jewish colonies, continued violent Occupation, normalized through ‘security coordination’ between Israel and the PA – were often abused and deemed extremists.

Meanwhile, successive US administrations continued to fund and defend Israel, unconcerned about its self-tailored job title as the ‘honest peace broker.’

The PA played along because the perks were far too lucrative to be abandoned on principle. A new class of Palestinians had risen, dependent on Oslo for its wealth and affluence.

Even when the Trump Administration cut off the Palestinian Refugees Agency, UNRWA, of all funds, and scrapped the $200 million in humanitarian aid to the PA, the US still released $61 million dollars to the PA to maintain its ‘security cooperation’ with Israel. ‘Israel’s security’ is just too sacred a bond to be broken.

This is why Oslo remains dangerous. It is not the agreement itself that matters, but the mindset behind it – the political and diplomatic discourse that is wholly manufactured to serve Israel exclusively.

In January 2017, Daniel Pipes of the pro-Israel Middle East Forum came up with what seemed like a puerile idea: a ‘way to peace’ between Israel and the Palestinians, based on the simple declaration that Israel has won.

The new strategy requires little by way of negotiations. It merely entails that Israel declares ‘victory’, which Pipes defined as “imposing one’s will on the enemy, compelling him through loss to give up his war ambitions.’

As unconscionable as Pipes’ logic was, a few months later, Congressional Republicans in the US launched the “Israel Victory Caucus.” The co-Chair of the Caucus, Rep. Bill Johnson, ‘predicted’ in April 2017 that Trump would soon be heading to Israel to announce the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Since then, the US is obviously following a blueprint of a strategy in which the US advances Israel’s ‘victory’, while imposing conditions of surrender on defeated Palestinians. Despite its more diplomatic and legal language, that was also the essence of Oslo.

Trump, to the satisfaction of Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, may think that he has single handedly destroyed the Oslo Accords or whatever remained of it. However, judging by his words and actions, Trump has indicated that the spirit of Oslo remains alive: the bribes, the bullying and the fighting for that coveted and final Israeli ‘victory.’

Oslo is not a specific legal document that can be implemented or rejected. It is a spectrum in which the likes of Beilin, Lieberman and Pipes have more in common than they may think, and in which the fate of the Palestinian people is left to inept leaders, incapable of thinking outside the permissible space allocated to them by the Israelis and the Americans.

Unfortunately, Abbas and his Authority are still reveling at the expense of the empty space that is Oslo, not the ‘accords’ – provisions, stipulations and heaps of paper – but the corrupt culture – money, perks and unmitigated defeat.

A New Capital? Palestinians say Abu Dis is No Substitute for East Jerusalem

From the offputting concrete edifice that confronts a visitor to Abu Dis, the significance of this West Bank town – past and present – is not immediately obvious.

The eight metre-high grey slabs of Israel’s separation wall silently attest to a divided land and a quarter-century of a failed Middle East peace process.

The entrance to Abu Dis could not be more disconcerting, given reports that Donald Trump’s administration intends it to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, in place of Jerusalem.

The wall, and the security cameras lining the top of it, are the legacy of battles for control of Jerusalem’s borders. Sections of concrete remain charred black by fires residents set years ago in the forlorn hope of weakening the structure and bringing it down.

Before the wall was erected more than a decade ago, Abu Dis had a spectacular view across the valley to Jerusalem’s Old City and the iconic golden-topped Dome of the Rock, less than three kilometres away. It was a few minutes’ drive – or an hour’s hike – to Al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the reputed location of Jesus’s crucifixion.

Now, for many of the 13,000 inhabitants, Jerusalem might as well as be on another planet. They can no longer reach its holy places, markets, schools or hospitals.

Abu Dis, say its residents, is hemmed in on all sides – by Israel’s oppressive wall; by illegal Jewish settlements encroaching relentlessly on what is left of its lands; and by a large, Israeli-run landfill site that, according to experts, is a threat to human health.

The Palestinian authorities do not even control Abu Dis. The Israeli security cameras watch over it and armoured jeeps full of Israeli soldiers make forays at will into its crowded streets.

Perhaps fittingly, given the Palestinians’ current plight, Abu Dis feels more like it is being gradually turned into one wing of a dystopian open-air prison than a capital-in-waiting.

Abu Dis repackaged

Nonetheless, the town has been thrust into the spotlight. Rumours have intensified that US President Trump’s promised peace plan – what he terms the “deal of the century” – is nearing completion. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been drafting it for more than a year.

Back in January Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, confirmed for the first time that the White House was leaning on him to accept Abu Dis as his capital.

The issue has become highly charged for Palestinians since May, when Mr Trump overturned decades of diplomatic consensus by moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

That appeared to overturn a once widely shared assumption that Israel would be required to withdraw from East Jerusalem, which it occupied in 1967, and allow the Palestinians to declare it their capital.

Instead Mr Kushner and his team appear to believe they can repackage Abu Dis, just outside the city limits, as a substitute capital.

How plausible is it that the Palestinians can accept a ghettoised, anonymous community like Abu Dis for such a pivotal role in their nation-building project?

Symbolic power

Ghassan Khatib, a former Palestinian cabinet minister, said Mr Trump would find no takers among the Palestinian leadership.

“A Palestinian state without Jerusalem as its capital simply won’t work. It’s not credible,” he said. “It’s not just Jerusalem’s religious and historic significance. It also has strategic, economic and geographic importance to Palestinians.”

The people of Abu Dis appear to feel the same way, with many pointing to Jerusalem’s enormous symbolic power, as well as the potential role of international tourism in developing the Palestinian economy.

Abu Dis, however, is unlikely ever to attract visitors, even should it get a dramatic makeover.

The approach road, skirting the massive settlement of Maale Adumim, home to 40,000 Jews, is adorned with red signs warning that it is dangerous for Israelis to enter the area.

The section of wall at the entrance to Abu Dis alludes to the residents’ growing anger and frustration – not only with Israel but some of their own leaders.

Artists have spray-painted a giant image of Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian resistance leader imprisoned by Israel for the past 16 years. It shows him lifting his handcuffed hands to make a V-for-victory sign.

But noticeably, next to him is a much smaller image of Mr Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, whose face has been painted out. He has come under mounting domestic criticism for maintaining Palestinian “security cooperation” with Israel’s occupation forces.

Resentment at such cooperation is felt especially keenly in Abu Dis. Large iron gates in the wall give the Israeli army ready access in and out of the town.

An orphaned town

Under the Oslo accords signed in the mid-1990s, all of Abu Dis was placed temporarily under Israeli military control, and most of it under Israel’s civil control also. That temporary status appears to have become permanent, leaving residents at the whim of hostile Israeli authorities who deny building permits and readily issue demolition orders.

The restrictions mean Abu Dis lacks most of the infrastructure one would associate with a city, let alone a capital.

Abdulwahab Sabbah, a local community activist, said: “We are now a small island of territory controlled by the Israeli army.

“Not only have we lost our schools, the hospitals we once used, our holy places, the job opportunities that the city offered. Families have been split apart too, unable to visit their relatives in Jerusalem.

“We have been orphaned. We have lost Jerusalem, our mother.”

A short drive into Abu Dis and the shell of a huge building comes into view, a reminder that the idea of an Abu Dis upgrade is not the Trump administration’s alone.

In fact, noted Mr Khatib, Israel began rebranding Abu Dis as a second “Al Quds” – the Holy City, the Arabic name for Jerusalem – in the late 1990s, after the Oslo agreement allowed Palestinian leaders to return to Gaza and limited parts of the West Bank.

The Palestinian leadership, desperate to get a foothold closer to the densely populated neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem, played along. They expected that Israel would eventually relinquish Abu Dis to full Palestinian control, allowing it to be annexed to East Jerusalem in a future peace deal.

View of al-Aqsa

In 1996 the Palestinians began work building a $4 million parliament on the side of Abu Dis closest to Jerusalem. The location was selected so that the office of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would have a view of Al Aqsa.

Reports from that time talk of Abu Dis becoming a gateway, or “safe corridor”, for West Bank Palestinians to reach the mosque. One proposal was to build a tunnel between Abu Dis and the Old City.

However, with the outbreak of hostilities in 2000 – a Palestinian intifada – work on the parliament came to a halt. The interior was never finished, and there is now no view of Al Aqsa. The parliament too is sealed off from Jerusalem by the wall.

Since then Israel has barred the Palestinian Authority from having any role in East Jerusalem.

Khalil Erekat, a caretaker, holds the key to the unused parliament. Once visitors could inspect the building, including its glass-domed central chamber. Now, he said, only pigeons and the odd stray dog or snake ventured inside.

“No one comes any more,” he added. “The place has been forgotten.”

And that, it seems, is the way Palestinian officials would prefer it. With the Trump administration mooting the town as a substitute capital, the parliament is now an embarrassing white elephant.

Requests from The National to the Palestinian authorities to visit the building were rejected on the grounds that it was no longer structurally safe.

Eyesore ghetto

Evidence of how quickly Israel has transformed Abu Dis from a rural suburb of Jerusalem into an eyesore ghetto are evident in the homes around the parliament.

A once-palatial four-storey home next door would be more in place in war-ravaged Gaza than an impending capital. Its collapsed top floors sit precariously above the rest of the structure.

Mohammed Anati, a retired carpenter aged 64, is a tenant occupying the bottom floor with his wife and three sons.

He said the destruction was carried out by the Jerusalem municipality several years ago, apparently because the upper floors were built in violation of planning rules Israeli military authorities imposed after 1967.

Neighbours speculate that, in fact, Israel was more concerned that the top of the building provided views over the wall.

Mr Anati said that, paradoxically, the Jerusalem municipality treated this small neighbourhood next to the wall as within its jurisdiction. “We have to pay council taxes to Jerusalem even though we are cut off from the city and receive no services,” he said.

Asked whether he thought Abu Dis could be a Palestinian capital, Mr Anati scoffed. “Trump will offer us the worst deal of the century,” he said. “Jerusalem has to be the capital. There is nothing of Jerusalem here since Israel built the wall.”

Only pigeons still free

Nearby, Ghassan Abu Hillel’s two-storey home presses up against the grey slabs of concrete. He said cameras on the top of the wall monitored his and his neighbours’ activities around the clock.

His family moved to this house in 1967, when he was 14 years old, and shortly before Israel occupied Abu Dis, along with the rest of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Until the wall was constructed, he spent his time herding sheep and goats on the surrounding hills.

Now he has had to corral then into a corner of the wall. Their improvised pen is daubed with graffiti: “Take an axe to the prison wall. Escape.”

His herd of what was once more than 200 sheep is down to barely a dozen. The animals can no longer graze out on the hills, and he cannot afford the cost of feeding them straw.

Unlike Mr Abu Hillel and the sheep, his pigeons still enjoy their freedom. “They can fly over the wall and reach Jerusalem whenever they want,” he said.

His family owned much of the land surrounding Abu Dis before 1967, he added, but almost all of it had been taken by Israel – originally on the pretext that it was needed for military purposes.

Since then, Israel has built a series of Jewish settlements on the surrounding land, including Maale Adumim, Kfar Adumim and Kedar.

In the early 1980s it also opened a landfill site to cope with the region’s waste. In 2009 the United Nations warned that toxic fumes from waste-burning and leakage into the groundwater posed a threat to local inhabitants’ health.

A bluff from Israel

Some residents are actively finding ways to break out of the isolation imposed on Abu Dis by Israel.

Mr Sabbah is a founder of the Friendship Association, which encourages exchange programmes with European students, teachers and youth clubs. His most successful project is the twinning of Abu Dis with the London borough of Camden.

Mr Sabbah’s prominent political activities may be one reason why his home – along with the local mayor’s – was one of 10 invaded in the middle of the night on September 4.

The operation had the hallmarks of what former Israeli soldiers from the whistleblowing group Breaking the Silence have termed “establishing presence” – military training exercises designed to disrupt the lives of Palestinian communities and spread fear.

Mr Sabbah is sceptical that the Abu Dis proposal by the Trump administration has been made in good faith.

“It’s a bluff,” he said. “Israel has shown through all its actions that it does not want any Palestinian state – and that means no capital, even in Abu Dis.

“It is being offered only because Israel knows no Palestinian leader could ever accept it as a capital. And that way Israel can again blame us for being the ones to reject their version of ‘peace’.”

An oasis of normality

Amid its confinement, however, Abu Dis does have one asset – a university – that now attracts thousands of young Palestinians, though it adds to overcrowding.

The main campus of the Palestinian-run Al Quds university has been operating in Abu Dis since the 1980s.

Sitting on the crossroads between the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem and Nablus to the south, Jericho to the east, and Ramallah to the north, the Abu Dis campus has grown rapidly. It has profited from the fact that West Bank Palestinians cannot access another campus of Al Quds university in East Jerusalem.

The university is enclosed and security is tight. Inside, students enjoy spacious grounds with shaded gardens, a small oasis of normality where it is possible briefly to forget the situation outside.

Nonetheless, the university is not immune from Israeli military operations either. On September 5, soldiers shut down the campus and nearby schools, as they reportedly fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at youths.

Omar Mahmoud, aged 23, a medical student from Nablus, raised his eyebrows at the suggestion that Abu Dis could serve as the Palestinians’ capital.

“It’s fully under Israeli control,” he said. “One side there is the wall and on the other side there are Israeli settlements. There are no services and it just gets more crowded by the year.”

He has shared an apartment with other students in Abu Dis for five years. He said: “To be honest, I can’t wait to get out of here.”

• First published in The National

What Lies Beneath: The US-Israeli Plot to “Save” Gaza

Israel wants to change the rules of the game entirely. With unconditional support from the Trump Administration, Tel Aviv sees a golden opportunity to redefine what has, for decades, constituted the legal and political foundation for the so-called ‘Palestinian-Israeli conflict.’

While US President Donald Trump’s foreign policy has, thus far, been erratic and unpredictable, his administration’s ‘vision’ in Israel and Palestine is systematic and unswerving. This consistency seems to be part of a larger vision aimed at liberating the ‘conflict’ from the confines of international law and even the old US-sponsored ‘peace process.’

Indeed, the new strategy has, so far, targeted the status of East Jerusalem as an Occupied Palestinian city, and the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees. It aims to create a new reality in which Israel achieves its strategic goals while the rights of Palestinians are limited to mere humanitarian issues.

Unsurprisingly, Israel and the US are using the division between Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, to their advantage. Fatah dominates the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah while Hamas controls besieged Gaza.

A carrot and a stick scenario is being applied in earnest. While, for years, Fatah received numerous financial and political perks from Washington, Hamas subsisted in isolation under a permanent siege and protracted state of war. It seems that the Trump Administration – under the auspices of Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner – are turning the tables.

The reason that the PA is no longer the ‘moderate’ Palestinian leadership it used to be in Washington’s ever self-serving agenda is that Mahmoud Abbas has decided to boycott Washington in response to the latter’s recognition of all of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. True, Abbas’ subservience has been successfully tested in the past but, under the new administration, the US demands complete ‘respect‘, thus total obedience.

Hamas, which is locked in Gaza between sealed borders from every direction, has been engaging Israel indirectly through Egyptian and Qatari mediation. That engagement has, so far, resulted in a short-term truce, while a long-term truce is still being discussed.

The latest development on that front was the visit by Kushner, accompanied with Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, to Qatar on August 22. There, Gaza was the main topic on the agenda.

So, why is Gaza, which has been isolated (even by the PA itself) suddenly the new gate through which top US, Israeli and regional officials are using to reactivate Middle East diplomacy?

Ironically, Gaza is being particularly suffocated these days. The entire Gaza Strip is sinking deeper in its burgeoning humanitarian crisis, with August being one of the most grueling months.

A series of US financial aid cuts has targeted the very socio-economic infrastructure that allowed Gaza to carry on, despite extreme poverty and the ongoing economic blockade.

On August 31, Foreign Policy magazine reported that the US administration is in the process of denying the UN Palestinian refugees agency, UNRWA – which has already suffered massive US cuts since January – of all funds. Now the organization’s future is in serious peril.

The worrying news came only one week after another announcement, in which the US decided to cut nearly all aid allocated to Palestinians this year – $200 million, mostly funds spent on development projects in the West Bank and humanitarian aid to Gaza.

So why would the US manufacture a major humanitarian crisis in Gaza – which suits the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu well – while, simultaneously, engaging in discussions regarding the urgent need to end Gaza’s humanitarian woes?

The answer lies in the need for the US to manipulate aid to Palestinians in order to exact political concessions for Israel’s sake.

Months before rounds of Egyptian-sponsored indirect talks began between Israel and Hamas, there has been an unmistakable shift in Israeli and U.S. attitudes regarding the future of Gaza:

On January 31, Israel presented to a high-level conference in Brussels ‘humanitarian assistance plans’ for Gaza at a proposed cost of $1 billion. The plan focuses mostly on water distillation, electricity, gas infrastructure and upgrading the joint industrial zone at the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel. In essence, the Israeli plan is now the core discussion pertaining to the proposed long-term ceasefire.

The meeting was attended by Greenblatt, along with Kushner who is entrusted with implementing Trump’s unclear vision, inappropriately termed ‘the deal of the century.’

Two months later, Kushner hosted top officials from 19 countries to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Clearly, there is a common thread between all of these activities.

Since the US decided to defy international law and move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last December, it has been in search of a new strategy that will circumvent the PA in Ramallah.

PA President, Abbas, whose political apparatus is largely reliant on ‘security coordination’ with Israel, US political validation and financial handouts, has little with which to bargain.

Hamas has relatively greater political capital – as it has operated with less dependency on the Israeli-US-western camp. But years of relentless siege, interrupted by massive deadly Israeli wars, have propelled Gaza into a permanent humanitarian crisis.

While a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas-led Palestinian groups in Gaza went into effect on August 15, a long-term truce is still being negotiated. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, citing Israeli officials, the truce would include a comprehensive ceasefire, opening all border crossings, expansion of the permitted fishing area off the Gaza coast, and the overhauling of Gaza’s destroyed economic infrastructure – among other stipulations.

Concurrently, Palestinian officials in Ramallah are fuming. ‘Chief negotiator,’ Saeb Erekat, accused Hamas of trying to “destroy the Palestinian national project,” by negotiating a separate agreement with Israel. The irony is that the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and PA have done just that for over 25 years.

However, delinking the future of Gaza from the future of all Palestinians can, indeed, lead to dangerous consequences.

Regardless of whether a permanent truce is achieved between Israel and the Hamas-led Gaza factions, the sad truth is that, whatever grand illusion is harbored by Washington and Tel Aviv at the moment, is almost entirely based on exploiting Palestinian divisions, for which the Palestinian leadership is to be wholly blamed.

There is a Deeper, Darker Agenda Afoot as the US cuts UNRWA Funding

The Trump administration’s decision to scrap all future aid payments to the main agency helping Palestinian refugees marks a new – and most likely disastrous – chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The US State Department said on Friday it would no longer continue its $360 million annual contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), depriving it of a third of its budget. US officials described the organisation as “irredeemably flawed”.

The move follows an announcement last week that Washington had slashed $200 million from other aid programmes for the Palestinians.

About five million Palestinians – many languishing for decades in refugee camps across the Middle East – rely on the agency for essential food, healthcare and education.

Other states in the Middle East have reason to be fearful. Jordan’s foreign minster, Ayman Safadi, warned on Saturday that the denial of aid would “only consolidate an environment of despair that would ultimately create fertile grounds for further tension”.

Jordan, which hosts two million Palestinian refugees, has called a meeting at the UN later this month, along with Japan, the European Union, Sweden and Turkey, to “rally political and financial support” for UNRWA.

Traditional American and European backing for the UN agency could be viewed as reparations for their complicity in helping to create a Jewish state on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland. That act of dispossession turned the Palestinians into the world’s largest stateless population.

Except there are few signs of guilt.

The handouts provided via the UN have served more like “hush money”, designed to keep the Palestinians dependent and quiet as western states manage a crisis they apparently have no intention of solving.

That was why the European Union hurriedly promised to seek alternative funds for UNRWA. It noted that the agency was “vital for stability and security in the region” – a stability that has enabled Israel to disappear the Palestinians, uninterrupted, for seven decades.

The Trump administration, by contrast, is more brazen about the new way it wishes to weaponise aid.

US officials have not concealed the fact that they want leverage over the Palestinians to force them to submit to Donald Trump’s long-promised “deal of the century” peace plan.

But there is a deeper and darker agenda afoot than simply reviving failed negotiations or pandering to the Trump administration’s well-known antipathy towards international institutions.

Over the past 25 years, peace talks have provided cover for Israel’s incremental takeover of what was supposed to be a future Palestinian state. In the words of Palestinian lawyer Michael Tarazi, while Israel and the Palestinians were discussing how to divide the pizza, Israel ate it all.

So Mr Trump’s team has, in effect, reverse-engineered a “peace process” based on the reality on the ground Israel has created.

If Israel won’t compromise, Mr Trump will settle the final-status issues – borders, Jerusalem and the refugees – in the stronger party’s favour. The only hurdle is finding a way to bully the Palestinians into acceptance.

In an indication of how sychronised Washington and Israel’s approaches now are, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, made almost identical speeches last week.

In an address to American Jewish leaders, Mr Friedman noted that a “different way of thinking” prevailed in the Middle East. “You can’t talk your way, you just have to be strong,” he said.

The next day, Mr Netanyahu reiterated that message. He tweeted: “The weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history while the strong, for good or for ill, survive.”

That sounded uncomfortably like a prescription for the Palestinians’ future.

Israel has already carved out its borders through the ethnic cleansing campaigns of 1948 and 1967. Since then, it has mobilised the settlers and its military to take over almost all of the remnants of historic Palestine. A few slivers of territory in the West Bank and the tiny coastal ghetto of Gaza are all that is left for the Palestinians.

A nod from the White House and Israel will formalise this arrangement by gradually annexing the West Bank.

As far as Jerusalem is concerned, Mr Trump recognised it as Israel’s capital by moving the US embassy there in May. Now, even if it can be born, a Palestinian state will lack a meaningful capital and a viable economy.

The final loose end are the refugees.

Some time ago, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas surrendered their right – sanctioned in international law – to return to their former lands in what is now Israel.

Instead, the question was whether Israel would allow the refugees encamped in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan to move to the West Bank and Gaza and become citizens of a Palestinian state.

But if Israel refuses to concede a Palestinian state, even that minimal ambition is doomed.

Israel and the US have an alternative solution. They prefer to dismantle UNRWA and disappear the Palestinians in the swelling tide of refugees spawned by recent western interventions in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. On Sunday Mr Netanyahu welcomed what he called a US move to “abolish the refugee institution, to take the funds and really help rehabilitate the refugees”.

The US and Israel want the Palestinian refugees to fall under the responsibility of the UNHCR, the UN’s umbrella refugee agency – or better still, their host countries.

In a leaked email reported by Foreign Policy magazine this month, Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, wrote that it was time to “disrupt UNRWA”. He added that “sometimes you have to strategically risk breaking things in order to get there”.

Central to that disruption is stripping millions of Palestinians of their status as refugees. The Trump administration is due to publish a report later this month, according to Israeli media, that will propose capping the Palestinian refugee population at 500,000 – a tenth of the current number.

Mr Kushner has reportedly been leaning on Jordan to revoke the status of its two million Palestinian refugees, presumably in return for US compensation.

When UNRWA’s mandate comes up for renewal in two years’ time, it seems assured Washington will block it.

If there is no UNRWA, there is no Palestinian refugee problem. And if there are no refugees, then there is no need for a right of return – and even less pressure for a Palestinian state.

Israel and the US are close to their goal: transforming a political conflict governed by international law that favours the Palestinians into an economic problem overseen by an array of donors that favours Israel.

• First published in The National

Crucifying Corbyn: Former Chief Rabbi joins in

The nasty slur campaign against Jeremy Corbyn has just plumbed new depths with a hark-back to 1968 and the “Rivers of Blood” speech by Enoch Powell. It seems to have been prompted by a remark Corbyn made in 2013 that British Zionists had two problems: “One is they don’t want to study history and, secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony.”

In anti-Semitism terms that’s a flogging offence, even when it might be true. The former Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, immediately took umbrage saying that Corbyn’s criticism of British Zionists was the most offensive statement made by a senior politician since Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech. Sacks told the New Statesman: “It was divisive, hateful and, like Powell’s speech, it undermines the existence of an entire group of British citizens by depicting them as essentially alien.”

He said Corbyn had implied “Jews are not fully British” and that he was “using the language of classic pre-war European anti-Semitism”, adding that Corbyn was an anti-Semite who “defiles our politics and demeans the country we love”. He had “given support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate who want to kill Jews and remove Israel from the map”.

Sacks’ words could equally be taken to mean those who align themselves with Israeli hate and the wish to kill Palestinians and wipe Palestine from the map – which they have already done quite literally. And if Corbyn defiles our politics so does the Israel lobby. But the irony must have escaped him.

Just how righteous is the moralising Lord Sacks? In a House of Lords debate in 2014 on the Middle East in general and the question of formal recognition of Palestine by the UK in particular, the former Chief Rabbi got up and made a speech that was more like a pro-Israel rant. After a long winded spiel about the history of Israel and Jerusalem – from the Jewish angle, of course – he went on to demonise Hamas and Hezbollah in the manner recommended by Israel’s ‘hasbara’ handbook and all the more absurd when Israel’s hands are so unclean. Everyone knows that Hamas has agreed to a long-term truce with Israel provided it ends the illegal occupation, gets back behind its 1967 borders and accepts the refugees’ right of return – all as per UN resolutions and subject to a Palestinian referendum. And Hezbollah, as Sacks knows perfectly well, was formed to resist the Israeli occupation of Lebanon after the 1982 war.

Israel, said Sacks, is the place where his people were born almost 4,000 years ago. As an ardent promoter of the Jewish religion, the Jewish state and the idea that God gave Jews exclusive title to Jerusalem, he seemed oblivious to the irony of his speech especially where he said: “When ancient theologies are used for modern political ends, they speak a very dangerous language indeed. So, for example, Hamas and Hezbollah, both self-defined as religious movements, refuse to recognise the legitimacy of the state of Israel within any boundaries whatever and seek only its complete destruction.”

Where does he get his information? Israel won’t define its boundaries, leaving them fluid for endless expansion, and does a first-class job of de-legitimising itself by its defiance of international law and utter contempt for norms of human decency and obligations under UN Charter and other agreements.

Zionists distort the scriptures to claim Jerusalem is theirs by Divine right, but it was already 2000 years old and an established, fortified city when King David captured it.  The Jews lost Jerusalem to the Babylonians, recaptured it, then lost it again to the Roman Empire in 63BC. When they rebelled Hadrian threw them out in 135. Until the present illegal occupation the Jews had only controlled Jerusalem for some 500 years, small beer compared to the 1,277 years it was subsequently ruled by Muslims and the 2000 years, or thereabouts, it originally belonged to the Canaanites.

Jerusalem was also a Christian city. The 4th century saw the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Persians came and went. Then, after the Islamic conquest in 690, two major shrines were constructed over the ruins of the earlier temples — the Dome of the Rock from which Muhammed is said to have ascended to Heaven, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Crusaders re-took Jerusalem in 1099 and The Temple Mount became the headquarters of the Knights Templar. In 1187 Saladin ended the Crusader Kingdom and restored the city to Islam while allowing Jews and Christians to remain if they wished.

As the saying goes, “None has claim. All have claim!”

Nowhere in his speech did Lord Sacks address the main question of British recognition of Palestinian statehood. Nowhere did he recommend the jackboot of oppression be immediately lifted and the Palestinians granted their human rights and their freedom. That would surely have been the Christian position and, I imagine, the true Jewish one.

It is what the Rabbi failed to say on this important occasion that makes me wonder whether he’s an instrument of God or just another preacher of Israeli ‘hasbara’. I read somewhere that Lord Sacks is of Polish/Lithuanian extraction. Most Palestinians can demonstrate ancestral ties to the ancient Holy Land. Can he?

Jeremy Corbyn moved the rock and the antisemites crawled out”

Corbyn is also in trouble over a remark he made in 2010 at a meeting of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign suggesting that MPs who took part in a parliamentary debate on the Middle East had their comments prepared for them by the Israeli ambassador. I’d say that was fair comment although the scriptwriters were more likely to have been Mark Regev’s propaganda team in Tel Aviv. Regev, a propaganda expert from the dark side, is now Israel’s ambassador in London. Oh, the irony (again).

And a few days ago we heard that Jews are preparing to quit Britain because they fear Jeremy Corbyn taking power, according to former chairman of the Conservative Party Lord Feldman. So says The Times.

Feldman wrote an open letter to Mr Corbyn telling him that Jewish people were making contingency plans to emigrate because Labour had become a hotbed of anti-Jewish feeling. “Many Jewish people in the United Kingdom are seriously contemplating their future here in the event of you becoming prime minister. Quietly, discreetly and extremely reluctantly, they are making contingency plans.”

One of these is Mark Lewis, a prominent solicitor and a former director of lawfare firm UK Lawyers for Israel, who is emigrating to Israel with his partner, Mandy Blumenthal. It is believed she is the National Director of Likud-Herut UK, an affiliate of the Zionist Federation and whose website is full of preposterous ideas such as: “We believe that terms like ‘illegal occupation’ should never go unchallenged….” and “Such criticism as we may have [of Israel] should never be expressed publicly….”

Lewis, who describes himself as an ‘unapologetic Zionist’, said: “Jeremy Corbyn moved the rock and the antisemites crawled out from underneath.” And he told the Evening Standard: “I don’t feel welcome in this country any more.” So he’s off to that hotbed of racism and apartheid, Israel.

Being unwelcome is not a happy feeling. I know this from my trips to Israel, what with their rudeness, threatening behaviour, intrusive searches, hostile questioning and unforgivably vile treatment of our Palestinian friends. It’s not as if we want to be in Israel – we are forced to divert there on account of Israel’s illegal military occupation. And when we eventually reach Palestine we have to put up with the presence of arrogant Israeli gunslingers strutting the streets, setting up hundreds of roadblocks, using obstructive tactics with brutish behaviour, creating endless queues and interfering with Palestinian life at every level.

And if we try traveling to Palestine direct, like the humanitarian aid boats Al-Awda and Freedom last month, we get violently and unlawfully assaulted on the high seas, beaten up, thrown in a stinking Israeli jail and have our belongings and money stolen by the Israeli military desperate to maintain their illegal blockade of Gaza.

So, if Messrs Feldman, Lewis and Blumenthal feel more comfortable with those criminals, they’d better join them.

In answer to the babble put out by Zio-propagandists, church leaders in the Holy Land issued their 2006 Jerusalem Declaration saying:

We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation.

We further reject the contemporary alliance of Christian Zionist leaders and organizations with elements in the governments of Israel and the United States that are presently imposing their unilateral pre-emptive borders and domination over Palestine… We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that facilitate and support these policies as they advance racial exclusivity and perpetual war rather than the gospel of universal love, redemption and reconciliation.

This still stands. And as the Declaration also points out:

Discriminative actions [by the Occupation] are turning Palestine into impoverished ghettos surrounded by exclusive Israeli settlements. The establishment of the illegal settlements and the construction of the Separation Wall on confiscated Palestinian land undermines the viability of a Palestinian state as well as peace and security in the entire region.

That comes from genuine churchmen working in the front line against armed Zio-thugs whose vicious day-to-day persecution of the Christian and Muslim communities in the Holy Land makes a nonsense of accusations of anti-semitism in the UK.

I think we can deduce from all this that Zionism is a menace. Nothing has changed for the better; it has got steadily worse.

‘We want our Jerusalem back, and our state’

In 2010 Fr Manuel Musallam, a gritty Catholic priest with long experience of Israel’s cruel and illegal occupation, told members of the Irish Government:

Christianity in the region has been destroyed not by Muslims but by Israel. Israel destroyed the church of Palestine and the church of Jerusalem beginning in 1948. It, not Muslims, has sent Christians in the region into a diaspora…  We have spoken to Israel for more than 18 years and the result has been zero. We have signed agreements here and there at various times and then when there is a change in the Government of Israel we have to start again from the beginning. We ask for our life and to be given back our Jerusalem, to be given our state and for enough water to drink…  I have not seen Jerusalem since 1990.

Archbishop Theodosius Hanna (Greek Orthodox Church) told them:

Palestine is the place from where Christianity comes…. Everything that has happened to the Palestinians between 1948 and today has happened to all Palestinians, including Christian Palestinians.

What we are after is freedom and dignity just as freedom and dignity have been bestowed on so many nations in the world. We want that too. When we speak about peace, we also speak about justice because it is impossible to have peace without justice. Peace is part of justice. Unfortunately, in the Holy Land there is no such thing as justice.

Corbyn should remind his tormentors of all this and take no lectures from those who support Zionism and adore the racist state it spawned.

When Illness is a ‘Death Sentence’: The Victimization of Gaza Women

Hanan al-Khoudari resorted to Facebook in a cry for help when Israeli authorities rejected her request to accompany her three-year-old son, Louay, to his chemotherapy treatment in East Jerusalem.

The boy is suffering from an ‘aggressive soft tissue sarcoma’. Israeli authorities then justified their decision based on a vague claim that one of Hanan’s relatives is a ‘Hamas operative.”

The rights group, Gisha reported that the state remains unwilling to define precisely what it means to be a ‘Hamas operative.’ Even if an explanation is offered, denying gravely ill Palestinians from receiving life-saving treatment remains an immoral and illegal act.

“The state is sentencing the petitioners to death or a lifetime of suffering,” said Muna Haddad, an advocate with Gisha. By ‘petitioners’, she was referring to seven Gaza women who were denied access to urgent medical treatment by Israel, which required them to leave the besieged Gaza Strip.

The suffering of Gaza women rarely makes headlines. When Palestinian women are not invisible in Western media coverage, they are seen as hapless victims of circumstances beyond their control.

The fact that a woman from Gaza is ‘sentenced to death’ simply because a male relative is shunned by Israel is quite typical behavior from a country that oddly presents itself internationally as an oasis for equality and women rights.

It feeds into the false notion that Palestinian women are trapped in a “conflict” in which they play no part. Such misrepresentations undermine the political and humanitarian urgency of the plight of Palestinian women and the Palestinian people, as a whole.

In truth, Palestinian women are hardly bystanders in the collective victimization. They deserve to be made visible and understood within the larger context of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The seven women who petitioned the Israeli court, and the story of Hanan al-Khoudari, are but a small representation of thousands of women who are suffering in Gaza without legal advocates or media coverage.

I spoke to several of these women – whose suffering is only matched by their incredible resilience – who deserve more than mere recognition, but an urgent remedy as well.

Shaima Tayseer Ibrahim, 19, from the town of Rafah in southern Gaza, can hardly speak. Her brain tumor has affected her mobility and her ability to express herself. Yet, she is determined to pursue her degree in Basic Education at Al-Quds Open University in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.

The pain that this 19-year-old is enduring is extraordinary even by the standards of poor, isolated Gaza. She is the oldest of five children in a family that fell into poverty following the Israeli siege. Her father is retired and the family has been struggling but, nevertheless, Shaima has been determined to get an education.

She was engaged to be married after her graduation from university. Hope still has a way of making it into the hearts of the Palestinians of Gaza and Shaima was hoping for a brighter future for herself and her family.

But March 12 changed all of that.

On that day, Shaima was diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer. Just before her first surgery at Al-Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem on April 4, her fiancé broke off the engagement.

The surgery left Shaima with partial paralysis. She speaks and moves with great difficulty. But there was more bad news; further tests in a Gaza hospital showed that the tumor was not fully removed and it must be quickly extracted before it spreads any further.

To make matters worse, on August 12, the Ministry of Health in Gaza announced that it would no longer be able to treat cancer patients in the Israel-besieged enclave.

Shaima is now fighting for her life as she awaits Israeli permission to cross the Beit Hanoun checkpoint (called the Erez Crossing by Israel) to the West Bank, through Israel, for an urgent surgery.

Many Gazans have perished that way, waiting for pieces of paper, a permission, that never materialized. Shaima, however, remains hopeful, while her whole family constantly prays that their eldest daughter prevails in her fight against cancer and resumes her pursuit of a university degree.

On the other side of Gaza, Dwlat Fawzi Younis, 33, from Beit Hanoun is living a similar experience. Dwlat, however, also looks after a family of 11, including her nephews and her gravely ill father.

She had to become the main breadwinner of her family when her father, 55, suffered kidney failure and was unable to work.

She would look after the entire family with the money she earned as a hairdresser. Her brothers and sisters are all unemployed. She used to help them, too, whenever she could.

Dwlat is a strong person; she has always been that way. Perhaps it was her experience on November 3, 2006, that strengthened her resolve. An Israeli soldier shot her while she was protesting with a group of women against the Israeli attack and destruction of the historic Umm Al-Nasr mosque in Beit Hanoun. Two women were killed that day. Dwlat was hit by a bullet in her pelvis, but she survived.

After months of treatment, she recovered and resumed her daily struggle. She also never missed a chance to raise her voice in solidarity with her people at protests.

On May 14, 2018, when the United States officially transferred its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, 60 Palestinian protesters were killed and nearly 3,000 were wounded at the Gaza-Israel fence. Dwlat was shot in her right thigh, the bullet penetrating the bone and cutting through the artery.

Her health has deteriorated quickly since then, and she is now unable to work. But Israel still has not approved her application to be transferred to Al-Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem to receive treatment.

Yet, Dwlat insists she will continue to be an active and empowered member of the Gaza community, even if it means joining the protests along the Gaza fence on crutches.

In truth, these women embody the remarkable spirit and courage of every Palestinian woman living under Israeli Occupation and siege in the West Bank and Gaza.

They endure and persist, despite the massive price they pay, and continue the struggle of generations of courageous Palestinian women who came before them.

Israel’s “Loyal” Druze move into Open Revolt

Israel’s small Druze community, long seen as “loyal” to the state, is on a collision course with the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu over a new law guaranteeing superior citizenship rights for Jews, according to analysts.

Israel has traditionally cited the Druze, a secretive religious sect whose men serve in the Israeli army, as proof that non-Jews can prosper inside a self-declared Jewish state.

However, recent days have seen an unprecedented outpouring of anger from large segments of the Druze community over a nation-state law passed last month by the Israeli parliament.

The new legislation has been widely criticised for making explicit the privileged status of the Jewish majority while omitting any reference to “democracy” or “equality”.

One Druze scholar, Rabah Halabi, said his community’s response had been like a mini-“intifada” – the word Palestinians used for two lengthy uprisings against the occupation.

“Much of the Druze community are in a state of shock,” he told Middle East Eye. “They thought that by proving their loyalty, they would be treated as equals. But now they are being forced to re-evaluate, to accept that this view was mistaken.”

Halabi, who has written a book on Druze identity, added: “Their illusions are being shattered. It looks like a process of awakening has begun that will leave both sides bruised.”

Protesters call for equality

The new law, which has a constitutional-like status, has angered the fifth of Israel’s population that are not Jewish, mostly descended from Palestinians who survived a campaign of ethnic cleansing in 1948. This Palestinian minority eventually received citizenship.

But unlike the Muslim and Christian communities, the 120,000-strong Druze sect in Israel has long been showcased as “loyal” and plays a key role in the army, especially in combat duties in the occupied territories.

Druze leaders have angrily pointed to the disproportionate sacrifices made by their community, including more than 420 Druze killed while in uniform.

The Druze also enjoy outsized influence in Israeli politics. Although comprising about 1.5 percent of Israel’s population, they have five legislators in the 120-member parliament, four of them in Netanyahu’s ruling coalition.

Unusually, the figurehead of the protests has been a retired and much-decorated Druze general, Amal Asad.

He led the speakers at a rally in Tel Aviv earlier this month, attended by some 60,000 Druze and Israeli Jewish sympathisers, including many former senior security officials.

The protesters demanded that the new Basic Law – one of a body that serves as Israel’s equivalent of a constitution – be annulled or amended to confer equal rights on all citizens.

Another key Druze figure, spiritual leader Sheikh Muwafaq Tarif, told the crowds: “Despite our unreserved loyalty, Israel doesn’t see us as equals.”

Crowds chanted “Equality! Equality!” and banners bore the slogan: “If we are brothers, we must be equals.”

Netanyahu blindsided

Druze legislators and Palestinian leadership organisations in Israel have separately petitioned the Israeli supreme court to overturn the legislation. The court is not expected to hear the cases until early next year.

Adalah, a legal rights group for the Palestinian minority, has described the law as having “apartheid characteristics” and noted that there is “no [other] constitution in the world that does not include the right to equality for all its citizens and residents”.

The Druze protests appear to have blindsided Netanyahu and his cabinet, even though the law was under consideration for nearly a decade.

Nonetheless, he has stood his ground. According to analysts, the law is the centrepiece of his efforts to win elections, expected in the coming months, as he tries to face down intensifying corruption investigations.

In a sign of his hardline approach, Netanyahu walked out of a meeting held shortly before the rally when Druze leaders – including Asad, Tarif and several mayors – refused to accept a compromise that would have offered special benefits to the Druze while keeping the law unchanged.

Wahib Habish, mayor of the Druze town of Yarka in the Galilee, who attended the meeting, told the Israeli media afterwards: “We can’t be bought off with benefits and rhetoric on closing gaps.”

Amal Jamal, a politics professor at Tel Aviv University and a Druze resident of Habish’s town, said Netanyahu’s strategy was to stoke “internal divisions” in Druze society.

“He has no intention of backing down,” he told MEE. “He hopes to dismiss the protests by saying: ‘If the Druze can’t agree among themselves, how is it possible for us to find a solution?’”

Secretive religious sect

The Druze are a secretive religious sect that broke away from Islam some 1,000 years ago. For protection, they chose to live in a mountainous region of the Middle East that is today split between Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

Scholars have noted that, as a survival strategy, the Druze traditionally preferred to ally with whoever was in power.

Some Druze communities in the Galilee supported Zionist forces during the 1948 war that founded Israel on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland. A few years later, the Druze leadership in Israel signed a pact with the state, agreeing that the community’s men would be conscripted for three years into the army.

In return, Israel recognised the Druze as a “national” group, rather than as a religion, separating them from the rest of the Palestinian minority.

Complicating the picture, a much smaller Druze population fell under Israeli rule in 1967 when Israel occupied the Golan Heights, part of Syria. The 25,000 Druze in the Golan have mostly stayed loyal to Syria and refused Israeli citizenship. They are not drafted.

‘Brainwashed’ at school

Jamal said sections of Israeli Druze society were increasingly wondering whether they had paid a “double price” for their agreement to conscription.

“Not only were the Druze discriminated against like other Arab citizens, but they sacrificed their lives on the battlefield too,” he noted. “Look at it this way, the Druze are not just second-class citizens, they are second-class Arabs.”

As part of the agreement, Israel introduced a separate school system for the Druze in the 1970s, which has encouraged them to view their military service as a “covenant of blood” with the Jewish people.

Dalia Halabi, herself Druze and the executive director of Dirasat, a policy research centre in Nazareth, said the Druze education system was among the worst in Israel for matriculation rates. Instead, Israel had used the schools to “brainwash” Druze children.

“The Druze are taught to fear other Arabs, not only their neighbours in the Galilee but in the wider region,” she said. “They are encouraged to believe that they would be vulnerable and alone without the protection of the Israeli army.”

Refusal movement growing

Israel has long trumpeted the Druze’s military service as proof that it is possible for non-Jewish minorities to integrate.

Druze analysts consulted by MEE, however, noted that for many years there had been an intensifying split within the Druze community on the issue of military service that the new Basic law had brought to a head.

A refusal movement among young Druze men has become more prominent over the past decade, as have complaints that successive Israeli governments failed to make good on promises to give the Druze equal rights.

Druze communities are generally as overcrowded and poorly resourced as other Palestinian communities in Israel, noted Dalia Halabi: “Some 70 percent of Druze lands were confiscated by the state, despite our communities’ ‘loyalty’. They did not get a better deal than other Palestinian communities.”

Rabah Halabi, who teaches at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, pointed out that the loss of their farmland left many Druze men dependent on Israel’s extensive security economy.

More than a quarter are recruited after army service as security guards, prison wardens or border policemen, the latter a paramilitary force operating inside Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, he said.

“For a substantial section of Druze youth, army service is the only way to ensure a career. It is primarily an economic issue for them.”

Army officers resign

The new Basic Law has inflamed these existing tensions by enshrining privileges for Jewish citizens in a range of key areas, including immigration rights, access to land, and in housing and budgets. It also downgrades Arabic, stripping it of its status as an official language.

In an unprecedented move for a Druze leader, Asad, the general leading the protests, warned on social media that the Basic Law risked laying the foundations for “apartheid”. He called the measure “evil and racist”.

The groundswell of anger was apparent too at a recent awards ceremony attended by Avi Dichter, a former head of Israel’s Shin Bet domestic intelligence service and one of the architects of the law. He needed protection as Druze protesters publicly confronted him, denouncing him as a “traitor” and “Nazi”.

Several Druze army officers have resigned and others have threatened to stop serving, sparking fears of mass insubordination.

Druze leaders have so far refused to cooperate with a special ministerial committee set up by Netanyahu to advance a solution for the Druze, as well as a tiny Circassian community and sections of the Bedouin that also serve.

It seems likely to propose extra benefits on an individual basis for Palestinian citizens who serve in the army.

Jamal, of Tel Aviv University, said: “There are many Druze who have invested in this so-called ‘historical bond’ and do not want to lose their special status.

“But at the same time they can’t accept the deal Netanyahu is offering of perks for army service. They don’t want to look like they have been bought off with money, to seem like mercenaries.”

‘We’re not going anywhere

Unless one side backs down, the Druze community now looks set for a major clash with the government for the first time in the country’s history.

A recent poll indicated that 58 percent of Israeli Jews support the law, though a similar number expressed sympathy for Druze concerns.

Ayelet Shaked, the justice minister, has already warned of “an earthquake” on the political right if the courts dare to annul the law.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has appeared in no mood for compromise. After his meeting with Druze leaders broke up in acrimony, his officials implied that General Asad and his supporters were disloyal.

Channel 2 TV quoted a source close to Netanyahu stating, apparently in reference to Asad and his followers: “Whoever doesn’t like it [the Basic Law], there’s a large Druze community in Syria, and they’re invited to found the state of Druzistan there.”

Dalia Halabi observed: “Netanyahu is fanning the flames because he assumes the Druze will agree to whatever he says. He thinks we now have no option but to be loyal.”

But Mano Abu Salha, aged 58 from Yarka, and among those who attended the mass demonstration in Tel Aviv, told MEE that Netanyahu would be proved wrong.

He said: “We didn’t come from Syria. We are living on our historic lands and we’re not going anywhere. We are the native population. Netanyahu better realise that we are staying put and will fight for our rights.”