Category Archives: Occupation

Balfour’s Shameful Legacy: UK Government must say sorry and protect Christian Churches in Palestine

Dear Mr Mundell,

It was a pleasure meeting you at the Dumfries Agricultural Show. If you recall, we talked briefly about Mrs May’s perverse plan to celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration “with pride” and invite Israel’s PM Netanyahu to the jollifications.

The infamous Declaration was a pledge contrived by Zionists inside and outside the British Government. It was in effect a ‘promissory note’ to the Zionist movement for their help in bringing the US into WW1; and it was made with utter disregard to the consequences for the majority Arab population in Palestine. Worse, it amounted to a betrayal of our Arab allies, cutting across an earlier promise for their help against the Turks. There was strong opposition in Parliament even from Lord Montague, the only Jew in the Cabinet. Lord Sydenham remarked:

What we have done, by concessions not to the Jewish people but to a Zionist extreme section, is to start a running sore in the East, and no-one can tell how far that sore will extend.

Well, we know now. And it’s high time the wound was healed.

The Declaration by Balfour, a Zionist convert, needs to be read in parallel with The Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism, a joint statement by the heads of Palestinian Christian churches which rejects Christian Zionist doctrine 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 [they could have added the UK] 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.

Justice groups are urging the British Government to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration in November by saying sorry instead of toasting the blunder in champagne. Mrs May could do some real good here. She could, at a stroke, help quell the destructive turmoil in the Middle East and begin repairing Britain’s tattered image. She could even open new trade routes into Islamic markets, vitally important as we leave the EU. By apologising on our behalf for 100 years of agony inflicted on lovely people in a lovely part of the world Mrs May could take a giant step for mankind on the world stage.

But no, she’s pressing ahead with the revelry. And her principal guest, the ruthless Israeli prime minister, is on many a wanted list for war crimes and crimes against humanity. He’s also under investigation in his own country for corruption. This is not just poor judgment on Mrs May’s part but insanely provocative when a UN report recently branded Israel an apartheid regime. It’s even more regrettable considering the desperate cry for help a few weeks ago  from the National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine in an open letter to the World Council of Churches and the ecumenical movement, signed by over 30 organisations in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. You can read this disturbing document here.

They issued a similar cry for help 10 years ago but the tyranny of the occupying forces has gone from very bad to much worse. Their latest message is frighteningly stark:

Things are beyond urgent. We are on the verge of a catastrophic collapse. The current status-quo is unsustainable. This could be our last chance to achieve a just peace. As a Palestinian Christian community, this could be our last opportunity to save the Christian presence in this land.

“The name of the game: Erasing Palestine” (Miko Peled)

I was encouraged to hear you say that you visited Occupied Palestine independently rather than accept the usual propaganda tour organised by Conservative Friends of Israel and the Israeli government. Nevertheless, claims by the CFoI that 80 percent of Conservative MPs and MEPs are signed up members is alarming and puts us almost on a par with US Congress which is controlled by the Israel lobby through AIPAC. It is ludicrous that a foreign military power which has no respect for international law and rejects weapons conventions and safeguards can exert such influence on foreign policy in the US and UK. Pandering to Israel has been immensely costly in blood and treasure and damaging to our reputation.

Everyone outside the Westminster bubble knows perfectly well that there can be no peace in the Holy Land without justice. Everyone knows that international law and countless UN resolutions still wait to be enforced. Everyone knows that Israel won’t comply unless sanctions are imposed. Everyone knows that the siege on Gaza won’t be lifted until warships are sent.

Miko Peled, son of an Israeli general, former Israeli soldier and now a leading voice in the struggle for Palestinian freedom, tells us that “by 1993 the Israelis had achieved their mission to make the conquest of the West Bank irreversible [and] the Israeli government knew for certain that a Palestinian state could not be established in the West Bank”. What’s more, everyone now knows that the US is not an honest broker and peace won’t come from sham ‘negotiations’ between the weak and the all-powerful. Everyone knows who is the real threat to peace in the Middle East. And everyone knows that Her Majesty’s Government’s hand-wringing  and empty words serve no purpose except to prolong the daily misery and buy time for Israel to complete its criminal scheme to make the occupation permanent.

Mrs May praises Israel for being “a thriving democracy, a beacon of tolerance”, when it is obviously neither. She says our two countries share “common values” when we obviously don’t; and given the Israeli regime’s incessant crimes against humanity and cruelty to the indigenous people it terrorises such a remark is insulting to anyone who lives by Christian values. She even claims that Israel is a country where people of all religions “are free and equal in the eyes of the law” and “Israel guarantees the rights of people of all religions, races and sexualities, and it wants to enable everyone to flourish”. This is arrant nonsense. The lady needs to tone down her misguided adoration of the rogue regime.

She also needs to call off attempts to criminalise the successful BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaign calling it wrong and warning that her government will “have no truck with those who subscribe to it”.  Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights bestows on everyone “the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

As the Secretary of State for Scotland, the senior Central Government figure hereabouts and a member of the Cabinet, you have the ear of the PM on heavyweight matters of state — such as this. I hope you’ll allow me, please, to pursue the  through your goodself (keeping my MP Alister Jack informed).  I do not wish to receive the usual proforma reply from the Foreign Office about the UK’s adherence to the 2-state solution — a futile position, as anyone paying attention to the situation has known for years. What I do hope for is reasons why HMG is still exporting weaponry to Israel when it is used against the Palestinians to maintain the illegal occupation, why no move is made to break the 10-year blockade of Gaza which has brought nearly 2 million citizens to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe, why HMG keeps rewarding Israel for its other never-ending crimes, its contempt for international law, its disregard for the provisions of the UN Charter, and its continued breaches of the EU-Israel Agreement. And why Mrs May seeks to appeal against the recent court decision defending our right to boycott Israel. Does she not realise that HMG’s inaction leaves civil society no choice but to resort to BDS?

In particular I’d like to know, please, Mrs May’s reaction to the desperate plea from the Christian churches in the Holy Land, and I hope you’ll bring to her notice that letter to the WCC if she hasn’t already seen it. She wears her Christianity on her sleeve, is seen regularly attending church etc, but her faith credentials will be in question if she ignores the contents of the letter.

Whether the questions raised here are tiresomely ducked as usual or given the consideration they deserve, the story will find wide circulation. This request is therefore sent as an open letter.

Netanyahu Alarms Umm al-Fahm with Talk of Population Swap

Israel’s crackdown on access to the al-Aqsa mosque compound after two Israeli policemen were killed there last month provoked an eruption of fury among Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem and rocked Israel’s relations with the Arab world.

Three weeks on, the metal detectors and security cameras have gone and – for now, at least – Jerusalem is calmer.

But the shock waves are still reverberating, and being felt most keenly far away in northern Israel, in the town of Umm al-Fahm. The three young men who carried out the shootings were from the town’s large Jabareen clan. They were killed on the spot by police.

Umm al-Fahm, one of the largest communities for Israel’s 1.7 million Palestinian citizens, a fifth of the population, had already gained a reputation among the Jewish majority for political and religious extremism and anti-Israel sentiment.

In large part, that reflected its status as home to the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, led by Sheikh Raed Salah. In late 2015, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlawed the Movement as a terror organisation, despite his intelligence agencies failing to find evidence to support such a conclusion.

More likely, Netanyahu’s antipathy towards Salah’s group, and Umm al-Fahm, derives from its trenchant efforts to ensure the strongest possible presence of Muslims at al-Aqsa.

As Israel imposed ever tighter restrictions on Palestinians from the occupied territories reaching the mosque, Salah organised regular coaches to bring residents to the compound from Umm al-Fahm and surrounding communities.

Thousands attend funeral

Nonetheless, the three youths’ attack at al-Aqsa last month has served to bolster suspicions that Umm al-Fahm is a hotbed of radicalism and potential terrorism.

That impression was reinforced last week when the Israeli authorities, at judicial insistence, belatedly handed over the three bodies for burial.

Although Israel wanted the funerals as low-key as possible, thousands attended the burials. Moshe Arens, a former minister from Netanyahu’s Likud party, expressed a common sentiment this week: “The gunmen evidently had the support of many in Umm al-Fahm, and others seem prepared to follow in their footsteps.”

Yousef Jabareen, a member of the Israeli parliament who is himself from Umm al-Fahm, said such accusations were unfair.

“People in the town were angry that the bodies had been kept from burial in violation of Muslim custom for two weeks,” he told Middle East Eye. “There are just a few extended families here, so many people wanted to show solidarity with their relatives, even though they reject the use of violence in our struggle for our civil rights.”

Nonetheless, the backlash from Netanyahu was not long in coming.

In a leak to Israeli TV, his office said he had proposed to the Trump administration ridding Israel of a region known as the Little Triangle, which includes some 300,000 Palestinians citizens. Umm al-Fahm is its main city.

The Triangle is a thin sliver of Israeli territory, densely packed with Palestinian citizens, bordering the north-west corner of the West Bank.

As part of a future peace deal, Netanyahu reportedly told the Americans during a meeting in late June, Umm al-Fahm and its neighbouring communities would be transferred to a future Palestinian state.

‘A double crime’

In effect, Netanyahu was making public his adoption of the long-standing and highly controversial plan of his far-right defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman.

This would see borders redrawn to allow Israel to annex coveted settlements in the West Bank in exchange for stripping hundreds of thousands of Palestinians of their Israeli citizenship and reassigning their communities to a highly circumscribed Palestinian state.

Jamal Zahalka, another member of the parliament, from Kafr Kara in the Triangle, said Netanyahu was supporting a double crime.

“He wins twice over,” he told Middle East Eye. “He gets to annex the illegal settlements to Israel, while he also gets rid of Arab citizens he believes are a threat to his demographic majority.”

Lieberman lost no time in congratulating Netanyahu for adopting his idea, tweeting: “Mr Prime Minister, welcome to the club.”

With his leak, Netanyahu has given official backing to an aspiration that appears to be secretly harboured by many Israeli politicians – and one that, behind the scenes, they have been pushing increasingly hard with Washington and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority.

A poll last year showed that nearly half of Israeli Jews want Palestinians expelled from Israel.

With Netanyahu now publicly on board, it looks suspiciously like Lieberman’s role over many years has been to bring into the mainstream a policy the liberal Haaretz newspaper has compared to “ethnic cleansing”.

Marzuq al-Halabi, a Palestinian-Israeli analyst and researcher at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem, believed the move was designed with two aims in mind.

It left a “constant threat” of expulsion hanging over the heads of the minority as a way to crush political activity and demands for reform, he wrote on the Hebrew website Local Call. And at the same time it cast Palestinian citizens out into a “territorial and governmental emptiness”.

Inevitably, the plan revives fears among Palestinian citizens of the Nakba, the Arabic word for “Catastrophe”: the mass expulsions that occurred during the 1948 war to create Israel on the ruins of the Palestinian homeland.

Jabareen observed that the population swap implied that Palestinian citizens “are part of the enemy. … It says we don’t belong in our homeland, that our future is elsewhere.”

Backing from Kissinger

The idea of a populated land exchange was first formalised by Lieberman in 2004, when he unveiled what he grandly called a “Separation of the Nations” programme. It quickly won supporters in the US, including from elder statesman Henry Kissinger.

The idea of a land and population swap – sometimes termed “static transfer” – was alluded to by former prime ministers, including Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, at around the same time.

But only Lieberman set out a clear plan. He suggested stripping as many as 300,000 Palestinians in the Triangle of their Israeli citizenship. Other Palestinian citizens would be expected to make a “loyalty oath” to Israel as a “Jewish Zionist state”, or face expulsion to a Palestinian state. The aim was to achieve two states that were as “ethnically pure” as possible.

Jabareen noted that Lieberman’s populated land exchange falsely equated the status and fate of Palestinians who are legal citizens of Israel with Jewish settlers living in the West Bank in violation of international law.

Lieberman exposed his plan to a bigger audience in 2010, when he addressed the United Nations as foreign minister in the first of Netanyahu’s series of recent governments. Notably, at that time, the prime minister’s advisers distanced him from the proposal.

Mass arrests

A month after Lieberman’s speech, it emerged that Israeli security services had carried out secret exercises based on his scenario. They practised quelling civil disturbances with mass arrests following a peace deal that required redrawing the borders to expel large numbers of Palestinian citizens.

Behind the scenes, other Israeli officials are known to have supported more limited populated land swaps.

Documents leaked in 2011 revealed that three years earlier the centrist government of Ehud Olmert had advanced just such a population exchange during peace talks.

Tzipi Livni, then the foreign minister, had proposed moving the border so that several villages in Israel would end up in a future Palestinian state. Notably, however, Umm al-Fahm and other large communities nearby were not mentioned.

The political sympathies between Lieberman and Livni, the latter widely seen as a peacemaker by the international community, were nonetheless evident.

In late 2007, as Israel prepared for the Annapolis peace conference, Livni described a future Palestinian state as “the answer” for Israel’s Palestinian citizens. She said it was illegitimate for them to seek political reforms aimed at ending Israel’s status as a “home unto the Jewish people”.

Demographic reduction

The first hints that Netanyahu might have adopted Lieberman’s plan came in early 2014 when the Maariv newspaper reported that a population exchange that included the Triangle had been proposed in talks with the US administration, then headed by Barack Obama.

The hope, according to the paper, was that the transfer would reduce the proportion of Palestinian citizens from a fifth of the population to 12 per cent, shoring up the state’s Jewishness.

Now Netanyahu has effectively confirmed that large-scale populated land swaps may become a new condition for any future peace agreement with the Palestinians, observed Jabareen.

At Lieberman’s request in 2014, the Israeli foreign ministry produced a document outlining ways a land and population exchange could be portrayed as in accordance with international law. Most experts regarded the document’s arguments as specious.

The foreign ministry concluded that the only hope of justifying the measure would be to show either that the affected citizens supported the move, or that it had the backing of the Palestinian Authority, currently headed by Mahmoud Abbas.

Anything short of this would be a non-starter because it would either qualify as “forced transfer” of the Triangle’s inhabitants, a war crime, or render them stateless.

The problem for Israel is that opinion polls have repeatedly shown that no more than a quarter of Palestinians in the Triangle area back being moved into a Palestinian state. Getting their approval is likely to prove formidably difficult.

Zahalka rejected claims by Israeli politicians that this was a vote of confidence from Palestinian citizens in Israeli democracy.

“Israel has made the West Bank a living hell for Palestinians, and few [in Israel] would choose to inflict such suffering on their own families. But it also because we do not want to be severed from the rest of the Palestinian community in Israel – from our personal, social and economic life.”

Jabareen agreed. “We are also connected to places like Nazareth, Haifa, Acre, Jaffa, Lid and Ramle.”

And he noted that Netanyahu and Lieberman were talking about redrawing the borders to put only their homes inside a future Palestinian state. “Umm al-Fahm had six times as much land before Israel confiscated it. We still consider those lands as ours, but they are not included in the plan.”

Recognise Jewish state

It is in this context – one where Palestinians citizens will not consent to their communities being moved outside Israel’s borders – that parallel political moves by Netanyahu should be understood, said Jabareen.

Not least, it helps to explain why Netanyahu has made recognition of Israel as a Jewish state by Abbas’ Palestinian Authority a precondition for talks.

Aware of the trap being laid for it, the PA has so far refused to offer such recognition. But if it can be arm-twisted into agreement, Netanyahu will be in a much stronger position. He can then impose draconian measures on Palestinians in Israel, including loyalty oaths and an end to their demands for political reform – under threat that, if they refuse, they will be moved to a Palestinian state.

At the same time, Netanyahu has been pushing ahead with a new basic law that would define Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, rather than of Israel’s entire population. The legislation’s intent is to further weaken the Palestinian minority’s claim on citizenship.

Netanyahu’s decision to ban the Islamic Movement as a terror organisation fits into the picture too.

In a 2012 report by the International Crisis Group, a Washington and Brussels-based conflict resolution group, an official in Lieberman’s party explained that one of the covert goals of Lieberman’s plan was to rid Israel of “the heartland of the Islamic Movement”.

Conversely, Netanyahu’s Likud allies and coalition partners have been pushing aggressively to annex settlements in the West Bank.

Zahalka noted that the prime minister gave his backing last week to legislation that would expand Jerusalem’s municipal borders to incorporate a number of large settlements – a move that would amount to annexation in all but name.

“The deal is Israel takes Jerusalem and its surrounding areas, and gives Umm al-Fahm and its surroundings to the PA,” he said.

The pieces seem to be slowly falling into place for a populated land exchange that would strip hundreds of thousands of Palestinians of their Israeli citizenship.

Paradoxically, however, the ultimate obstacle may prove to be Netanyahu himself – and his reluctance to concede any kind of meaningful state to the Palestinians.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Power to the People: Why Palestinian Victory in Jerusalem is a Pivotal Moment

Neither Fatah nor Hamas have been of much relevance to the mass protests staged around Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem. Neither have American pressure, half-hearted European ‘concern about the situation’ or cliché Arab declarations made one iota of difference. United Nations officials warned of the grim scenarios of escalation, but their statements were mere words.

The spontaneous mass movement in Jerusalem, which eventually defeated Israeli plans to change the status of Al-Aqsa was purely a people’s movement. Despite the hefty price of several dead and hundreds wounded, it challenged both the Israeli government and the quisling Palestinian leadership.

Israel shut down Al-Aqsa compound on July 14, following a shootout between three armed Palestinians and Israeli occupation officers. The compound was reopened a few days later, but Palestinian worshipers refused to enter, as massive security installation, gates, cameras and metal detectors were installed.

The people of Jerusalem immediately understood the implication of the Israeli action. In the name of added security measures, the Israeli government was exploiting the situation to change the status of Al-Aqsa, as part of its efforts to further isolate Palestinians and Judaize the illegally occupied city.

The Israeli army occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem in 1967, annexing it in 1981 in defiance of international law and despite strong UN objection.

For 50 years, Jerusalem has endured daily battles. The Israelis fought to expand their influence in the city, increase the number of illegal Jewish settlers and cut off Jerusalem from the rest of the Palestinian Territories; while Palestinians, Muslim and Christians alike, fought back.

Al-Aqsa compound – also known as Haram Al-Sharif or the Noble Sanctuary – is the most symbolic element in the fight. It is a microcosm of the fate of the occupied city, in fact, the fate of the entire Palestinian land.

The compound has been administered by Islamic Waqf, through an Israeli-Jordanian understanding. Many Israeli politicians in the Likud Party and the Netanyahu-led right wing government coalition have tried to change this.

Palestinians understand that the fate of their mosque and the future of their city are tightly linked. For them, if Al-Aqsa is lost, then Jerusalem is truly conquered.

This fight, between Palestinian worshipers and the Israeli army, happens every single day, usually escalating on Friday. It is on this holy day for Muslims that tens of thousands of faithful flock to Al-Aqsa to pray, oftentimes to be met by new military gates and army regulations. Young Palestinians, in particular, have been blocked from reaching Al-Aqsa, also in the name of security.

But the struggle for Jerusalem can rarely be expressed in numbers, death toll and televised reports. It is the ordinary Palestinians’ constant fight for space, for identity and to preserve the sanctity of their holy land.

In the last two years, the fight escalated further as Israel began expanding its illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and right wing parties issued a series of laws targeting Palestinians in the city. One such law is the call for prayer law, aimed at preventing mosques from making the call for prayers at dawn, as has been the practice for a millennium.

Palestinian youth, many born after the failed Oslo Accords, are fed up as the Israeli military controls every aspect of their lives and their corrupt leadership grows more irrelevant and self-serving.

This frustration has been expressed in numerous ways: in non-violent resistance, new political ideas, in art, music, on social media, but also through individual acts of violent resistance.

Since the most recent Al-Quds Intifada – Jerusalem uprising – started in October 2015, “some 285 Palestinians have died in alleged attacks, protests and (Israeli) army raids,” reported Farah Najjar and Zena Tahhan. About 47 Israelis were killed in that same period.

But the Intifada was somehow contained and managed. Certainly, human rights groups protested many of the army killings of Palestinians as unnecessary or unprovoked, but little has changed on the ground. The Palestinian Authority has continued to operate almost entirely independent from the violent reality faced by its people on a daily basis.

The shootout of July 14 could have registered as yet another violent episode of many that have been reported in Jerusalem in recent months. Following such events, the Israeli official discourse ignores the military occupation entirely and focuses instead on Israel’s security problem caused by ‘Palestinian terror’. Politicians then swoop in with new laws, proposals and radical ideas to exploit a tragic situation and remold the status quo.

Considering the numerous odds faced by Palestinians, every rational political analysis would have rightly concluded that Palestinians were losing this battle as well. With the United States fully backing Israeli measures and the international community growing distant and disinterested, the people of Jerusalem could not stand a chance.

But such understanding of conflict, however logical, often proves terribly wrong, since it casually overlooks the people.

In this latest confrontation, Palestinians of Jerusalem won, presenting an impressive model of mobilization and popular solidarity for all Palestinians. The Israeli army removed the barricades and the metal detectors, pushing Israel to the brink of a political crisis involving angry politicians, the army and internal intelligence, the Shin Bet.

The people’s victory was a massive embarrassment for Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. He tried to ‘piggyback off the protests’ but failed, reported the Atlantic.

Other factions, too, moved quickly to mobilize on the people’s victory, but their efforts have appeared staged and insincere.

“Today is a joyful day, full of celebration and sorrow at the same time – sorrow for the people who lost their lives and were injured,” a protester told Journalists, as thousands stormed the gates of Jerusalem armed with their prayer rugs, flags and voices hoarse from chanting for nearly two weeks.

“This is very much a grassroots movement – this isn’t led by Hamas or Fatah, the traditional political leaders of the Palestinians,” journalist Imran Khan reported from outside the compound.

This grass root movement was made of thousands of women, men and children. They included Zeina Amro, who cooked daily for those who held steadfast outside the compound, was shot by a rubber bullet in the head, yet returned to urge the men to stand their ground the following day.

It also includes the child Yousef Sakafi, whose chores included splashing water over people as they sat endless hours under the unforgiving sun, refusing to move.

It also includes many Palestinian Christians who came to pray with their Muslim brethren.

Conveying the scene from Jerusalem, television news footage and newspaper photos showed massive crowds of people, standing, sitting, praying or running in disarray among bullets, sound bombs and gas canisters.

But the crowds are made up of individuals, the likes of Zeina, Yousef and many more, all driven by their insistence to face injustice with their bare chests in an inspiring display of human tenacity.

Of course, more violence will follow, as the Israeli occupation is enriched and relentless, but ordinary Palestinians will not quit the fight. They have held resolute for nearly 70 years.

Rational political analysis cannot possibly fathom how a nation undergoing numerous odds can still mobilize against an army, and win.

But the power of the people often exceeds what is seemingly rational. Almost leaderless, Palestinians remain a strong nation, united by an identity that is predicated on the pillars of human rights, resistance and steadfastness.

Palestine: Apartheid, Stolen Lives and Land, History Erased, United Nations Deaf Mute

“All 100 U.S. Senators signed a letter Thursday asking U.N. Secretary General António Guterres to address what the lawmakers call entrenched bias against Israel at the world body.”

The letter: “ … uses strong language to insist that the United Nations rectify what the Senators said is unequal treatment of Israel on human rights and other grounds.

“Through words and actions, we urge you to ensure that Israel is treated neither better nor worse than any other U.N. member in good standing,” they stated.

The Senators appear to be on a parallel universe. Have they reflected, in context, on the UN’s fine founding words, avowing:

to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war … to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person … to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom … to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours … to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples …

Israel – ever presented as the eternal victim – has not just made a mockery of the words but also of the Balfour letter of 2nd November 1917 and trampled on both ever since. Balfour:

His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine … (Emphasis added.)

So much for the “rights” of the Palestinians. Between November 1947 and November 1948 five hundred and thirty one Palestinian towns and villages had been “ethnically cleansed”. By 1952 it was six hundred and fifteen.

This “Nakba” (“catastrophe”) seventy years after Israel’s final founding is ongoing.

The land grabs are illegal and violate: U.N. Charter, Article 2(4) and 51 (1945); Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations…, Principle 1 (1970).

Settlements on occupied lands violate Geneva Conventions IV, Article 49(6) (1949). It is illegal to colonize or transfer non-indigenous people to occupied land.

Taking land by force and claiming sovereignty violates: U.N. Charter, Article 2(4) (1945); Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations…, Principle 1.

Forbidding civilian populations the right to return to their homes following the end of armed conflict is in direct violation of international law and UN resolutions. Geneva Convention IV, Articles 45, 46 and 49 (1949), UN resolutions 194 (III) (General Assembly; 1948) and 237 (Security Council; 1967).

Collective punishment violates Geneva Conventions IV, Article 33 (1949); Geneva Conventions (Protocol I), Article 75(2d) (1977).

The list of breaches of international law is near endless as are the attacks on a people with no army, air force or navy, plus the decimations of 1967, 2008-9 and 2014.

Israel’s violations of United Nations Security Council Resolutions, legally binding on Member-nations, include Resolutions 54, 111, 233, 234, 236, 248, 250, 252, 256, 262, 267, 270, 280, 285, 298, 313, 316, 468, 476, a small sample.

The Senators would seem to have as little knowledge of the iniquities inflicted on the Middle East by foreign powers and cuckoos in the nest as their rookie President. It is not Israel being meted out “unequal treatment”. It is the Palestinians, thieved of their land, history, justice and all normality.

• First published at Global Research

Gaza, this “poor desperate place”: Waiting for the end?

Every Palestinian I met on my visits to the Holy Land urged me to tell their story when I got home. Some have written to me with very moving accounts of misery and excruciating hardship under Israel’s brutal occupation, reinforcing the appalling truths I’d seen for myself.

Two years ago a young woman, a war-weary mom of three in a Gaza refugee camp, wrote to tell me that schools in Gaza were working in 2 or 3 shifts a day “especially in areas where displaced people of the last war still shelter in UNRWA schools — they don’t have any other place to go.”

She also said it’s “difficult for us to live or to leave” and “We just dream of leading a decent life.”

Let’s call her Amal, which means Hope in Arabic. The pseudonym is her idea. She has a university degree and her English is remarkably good. Palestinians, especially the ladies, are very keen on education and determined to pursue it as best they can. Her message powerfully described her little family’s situation in the aftermath of Israel’s 7-week genocidal assault (Operation Protective Edge) the previous year which killed 2,250, mostly civilians, did massive damage to homes and infrastructure, and brought Gaza almost to its knees. She told how she and her neighbours were overwhelmed by death, destruction, grief and chronic deprivation.

I relayed her words in an article titled How on earth do they survive in that ‘hell called Gaza’? in May 2014.

Amal’s latest email is again in three instalments because of severe power disruption and internet transmission problems. She tells me to edit or re-write as I think fit, but I’ve hardly touched it. Only a word here and there has been changed for clarity.

Bazaar of bad dreams

I have nothing new to tell you about except that things are getting a lot worse, so it is frustrating. My grandmother passed away a few months ago and that left me depressed. She was so dear and pretty. She was the last member of my family who witnessed Al-Nakba (1948 Palestinian ‘catastrophe’) and used to tell us stories about how they were happy there, living peacefully in their homeland, and how they fled or were expelled from their homes.

She told us about massacres, the destruction of Arab villages, years of displacement and oppression, and how we became refugees as a result; and how what is called Israel state was declared. My grandmother told us stories like a bazaar of bad dreams about losing everything, and how the members of each family were displaced into the refugee camps in Palestine, refugee camps in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, refugee camps in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, and in other parts of the earth, enduring the worst kinds of pain, discrimination and suffering but with hope and faith that we will return one day.

In the aftermath of the hostilities of June 1967 and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, more refugee camps are established to include new waves of displaced persons. My grandmother is not here to tell us more stories; however, I can’t forget. I’m a refugee by origin and I still live in a refugee camp that lacks adequate facilities and services.

People in the refugee camps keeps good social relationships but endure extreme poverty, frustration and insecurity. UNRWA barely takes the responsibility to provide the basic services of education, health and social services. May your soul rest in peace, my grandmother, in a place where you no longer suffer the injustice of being a Palestinian from Gaza.

Punished by the Palestinian Authority, their own people

In the besieged enclave of the Gaza Strip you don’t know where to begin when talking about humanitarian crises. Electricity is still a luxury and we receive up to two hours in 24 hours as a recent agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel reduces Gaza’s electricity by another 40 percent. It is one of several punitive measures by the Palestinian Authority in West Bank against Hamas de facto government in Gaza. These measures included a 30% cut in the wages of employees of public sector in Gaza, which means that more households are falling under the poverty line.

Due to the horrible rates of poverty and unemployment an employee has to provide for his own family and some of his relatives’ households as well. Those employees were told by the PA to stop attending their workplaces following the military coup in 2007 and they stay at home with severe social and psychological strains. Some of them committed suicides or crimes.

Another punitive measure includes the very poor families which benefit from the social safety net as thousands of them have their humble benefits cut. The worst one is the cutting of medical supplies and medications, threatening the lives of thousands of persons who suffer serious illnesses. The referral system to West Bank hospitals is cancelled too.

The acute shortage in power has become a water catastrophe as it affects the availability of water for household use, with supply being dangerously low resulting in even poorer quality of water. The inability to treat the wastewater in Gaza due to the lack of electricity is threatening to contaminate the water supplies. The pumping of untreated wastewater into the sea poses a major risk of environmental and health hazards and deprives people of the only entertainment place. Fuel reserves for hospital generators will run out soon with obvious threats to the wellbeing of patients.

Weather is unexceptionally hot this summer which increases the suffering of people whose utmost wish becomes to drink cold water or to run the fan. It is really a dilemma!

Hamas chiefs living it up

The Rafah crossing [to Egypt] is closed. It has been opened for very few days only in 2017. More than 30,000 persons are registered to get out Gaza for critical reasons. Those who have no pressing reasons to get out Gaza may include me and the rest of Gaza’s residents. It is like a joke – I don’t own a passport as I can’t dream to use it.

Egypt uses the military instability in Sinai as an excuse for not opening the crossing. I really can’t describe in words the suffering of people who need to leave Gaza for medical treatment and educational scholarship abroad, and people with residential and business or professional dealings. You can simply imagine yourself as a prisoner.

I don’t mean to disturb you with all this amount of bad circumstances with no prospect of detente or even easing of strains. I don’t know how much we can really bear this. The most important thing which we all think about is why the Hamas regime is determined to stick to governing this poor, desperate place called Gaza.

It’s simply because Hamas members are leading luxurious life in Gaza. They own money and power to solve their problems. They live in palaces, drive 4×4 vehicles, have their electricity generators and free fuel to run them, got jobs for themselves and their wives and sons, run their own businesses and collect as much as taxes for themselves. They implement an external agenda and receive support from several countries, mainly Qatar and Iran.

On the other side, President Abbas in the West Bank punishes only Gazan people and his measures don’t hit the internal or external interests of Hamas. Also, Egypt punishes our people by closing the borders. The international community doesn’t care, especially in view of the many other hot-spots in the Middle East that attract attention and support. In such a context, holding out hope (Amal) that conditions will improve is against all logic. It is the same like holding out hope of returning to Historic Palestine.

So hope is dwindling for Amal and her family, and for all the others trapped in Gaza with nowhere to run and no means to escape. They can only pray the almost daily Israeli air-strikes miss them as they await with dread the next major blitz, which will surely reduce Gaza to an uninhabitable ruin.

Gaza-Sinai State a Possibility for Palestinians?

Gaza has been the focus of intense talks behind closed doors in recent weeks as disquiet has risen among Arab states at the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the coastal enclave.

Palestinians there are enduring a scorching summer with barely a few hours of power a day, after Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (PA) has refused to finance essential services. Abbas is trying to weaken his Hamas rivals who rule Gaza and assert his own authority.

In the background, an ominous deadline is rapidly approaching. Gaza is expected to be “uninhabitable” within a few years, according to United Nations forecasts. Its economy has been broken by years of Israeli military attacks and a joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade, its population is mostly destitute, and its aquifers are increasingly polluted with sea water.

Gaza’s rapidly growing population of two million is already suffocating in a tiny patch of territory. In May, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that Gaza was on the brink of “systemic collapse”.

Israel has good reason to fear the future. Another round of fighting with Hamas, and heavy casualties among ordinary Palestinians, will further damage its image. And sooner or later, ordinary Palestinians are likely to rise up and tear down the security fences that imprison them.

For that reason, Israel and its patrons in Washington – as well as the Arab states – are desperately in search of a remedy.

It is in this context that Palestinians have been pondering the significance of a series of recent secret meetings between Egypt, Hamas and Mohammed Dahlan, an exiled Fatah leader and enemy of Abbas. Are they paving the way to a permanent solution for Gaza – and one that will be largely on Israel’s terms?

Pressure on Egypt?

One possibility – known to be much-favoured by Israel – would be to engineer the creation of a Palestinian state in Gaza and then pressure Egypt to allow it to expand into the neighbouring territory of northern Sinai.

According to this plan, not only would most of Gaza’s population end up in Sinai, but so too would potentially millions of Palestinian refugees.

Atef Eisa, a journalist in Gaza City, told Al Jazeera that the meetings between Egypt, Hamas and Dahlan were the main topic of discussions in the enclave: “People understand that Israel wants Gaza permanently separated from the West Bank. They wonder whether Sinai might be a way to achieve it.”

Suspicions of a Gaza-Sinai state are not new. In fact, there is strong evidence that Israel has been pushing aggressively, along with the United States, to create a Palestinian state in Sinai since it withdrew its soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip more than a decade ago.

Now rumours are circulating that the Sinai plan is being revived. Are the stars aligned for Israel? The US administration of Donald Trump is openly on its side, Hamas is at its weakest point ever, and Israel is increasingly close to Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

“There is no doubt that this is what Israel would like to see happen,” Shawqi Issa, a Palestinian analyst and former government minister in the PA, told Al Jazeera.

Issa believes Israel is now firmly set on turning Gaza into the Palestinian state, as part of a regional solution that might also see the Palestinian cities of the West Bank, currently in Abbas’ charge, ultimately falling under Jordanian responsibility.

But such a regional solution – what Israel calls its “outside-in” strategy – hinges on Egyptian help. “The chief difficulty with the Sinai option is allaying Egyptian concerns,” said Issa. “Israel and the United States can manage it only as part of a dramatic reshaping of the entire Middle East.”

‘Greater Gaza’ plan

The plan requires Cairo to accept a humiliating compromise of its sovereignty by surrendering territory in Sinai, possibly in a swap for Israeli land in the Negev. It would also undermine long-standing Arab demands that a Palestinian state be realised in historic Palestine.

But most importantly, the military regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is concerned about an expansion of Hamas’ influence into Sinai, strengthening support for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’ sister organisation and the main opponents of Sisi’s rule.

However, the extent of Egypt’s opposition is far from clear, especially given that it may be facing stiff pressure from the Trump administration and the Saudi-led Gulf states to alleviate Gaza’s problems.

In fact, Israeli media reports in 2014 suggested that Sisi may have agreed to cede 1,600 sq km in Sinai to Gaza, expanding the enclave’s size fivefold. This would have realised Israel’s vision of a demilitarised Palestinian state it calls “Greater Gaza”.

Abbas is reported to have rejected the plan outright.

Not surprisingly, both Egyptian and Palestinian officials publicly denied the reports. Nonetheless, Abbas and his officials subsequently appeared to corroborate some aspects of the story.

At a meeting of Fatah loyalists in August 2014, Abbas reportedly said that a “senior leader in Egypt” had told him: “A refuge must be found for the Palestinians and we have all this open land.”

A week earlier, he told Egyptian TV that the Israeli plan had “unfortunately been accepted by some here [in Egypt] … Don’t ask me more about that. We abolished it.”

Abbas was unclear about whether these were references to Sisi or his predecessor, Mohamed Morsi, who briefly headed a Muslim Brotherhood government before being removed by the Egyptian military.

At the same time, a report in the London-based Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat indicated how long the Sinai plan may have been gestating. An aide to Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president until he was toppled in 2011, quoted the former leader as saying: “We are fighting both the US and Israel … In a year or two, the issue of Palestinian refugee camps in Sinai will be internationalised.”

Netanyahu ally’s hints

Indications that the Sinai plan may have been revived at a high level have come from Ayoub Kara, a government minister and ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In February, shortly before Netanyahu and Trump met in Washington, Kara tweeted that the two leaders would “adopt the plan of Egypt’s Sisi. A Palestinian state in Gaza and Sinai”.

Kara added that this would provide a regional solution of the kind Netanyahu and Trump officials have recently been talking up: “This is how we will pave a path to peace, including with the Sunni coalition [of Arab states].”

Egyptian officials again issued hurried denials. But Kara’s statements prompted so much alarm that a group of prominent Egyptian lawyers filed a suit against any moves by Cairo to resettle Palestinians in Sinai.

In what could be seen as a territorial precedent, the Egyptian parliament approved last month the transfer of two islands, Tiran and Sanafir, to Saudi Arabia in return for billions of dollars of investments in Egypt’s ailing economy.

Regional solution

There are good reasons why Israel may believe all the pieces are falling into place to realise a Palestinian state mostly outside the borders of historic Palestine.

Hamas is at its lowest ebb ever, with Israeli officials speaking of the movement “fighting for its life”. After Egyptian and Saudi-led moves to sideline Qatar and Turkey’s support, Hamas is now all but friendless.

The carrot for Hamas of a Greater Gaza would be the chance to rule a much more substantial piece of territory, solving the enclave’s humanitarian crisis and rehabilitating the Islamic movement in the eyes of the international community.

Naji Shurrab, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, told the Jerusalem Post newspaper that the creation of a Palestinian state in Gaza would be the first step. But he believed territory in Sinai would be included too, once Egyptian security concerns had been addressed.

Israel has all but gone public with its close security ties with Egypt and the other key regional Arab state, Saudi Arabia. The two share Israel’s concern about curtailing Iran’s influence in the region and appear to be prioritising that alliance over the Palestinian cause.

Indications are that the White House is engaging in vigorous shuttle diplomacy with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan to help with what Trump has called the “ultimate deal” for peace.

Dahlan pivotal figure

What of Abbas, who has previously rejected the Greater Gaza plan?

He is much weaker than he was a few years ago and has alienated Saudi Arabia and Egypt with his continuing bitter feud with Mohammed Dahlan, his key rival within the Fatah movement and the man the Arab states would like to see succeed him.

Yoni Ben Menachem, a former Israeli intelligence officer, told Israel’s Channel 1 earlier this month that Sisi intends to bring down Abbas.

Dahlan has been living in exile in Dubai, in the Gulf, reportedly channelling money from the United Arab Emirates into Gaza and the occupied West Bank to buy popularity and political influence. There are long-established suspicions that Dahlan is close to officials in Washington, too.

In fact, Dahlan is rapidly emerging as a pivotal figure, promoted by Riyadh and Cairo. Could he be the key to unlocking the Greater Gaza plan?

Over recent weeks, a series of secret, three-way meetings between Dahlan, Hamas and the Egyptian security figures have been trying to devise a new power-sharing arrangement in Gaza.

Reports suggest that Egypt will agree to reopen Gaza’s Rafah crossing into Sinai if security is overseen by Dahlan loyalists rather than Hamas. According to some reports, Dahlan may even become prime minister of Gaza, with Hamas leaders serving under him.

Hamas reassure Cairo

Hamas has been trying to prove its good faith by creating a buffer zone inside Gaza to prevent fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), who have targeted Egyptian soldiers in northern Sinai, from using tunnels to find sanctuary in the enclave. “These measures serve as a message of assurance to the Egyptian side,” Tawfiq Abu Naeem, Gaza’s head of security services, told reporters.

What is slowly emerging looks suspiciously like a “Gaza state” project.

This arrangement could reassure Egypt and Israel that Hamas’ influence can be contained and that the movement may even be able to help in the fight against ISIL. A strong Dahlan would be expected to restrict Hamas efforts at arming, prevent rocket fire on Israel and block any alliance with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.

Assuming the model is successful, and with Abbas likely to be out of the picture soon, the Sinai plan could be properly unveiled with Dahlan and Hamas maintaining order in a Palestinian state in northern Sinai, sponsored by Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

All of this could be sold to the watching world as a supremely humanitarian gesture – to end the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza and the region.

The question remains, however, whether Israel and the US can pull it off.

• First published in Al Jazeera

The Balfour Declaration: Time to Say Sorry and Time We Made Amends

In a letter to a local newspaper about Brexit and the way prime minister Theresa May is handling it, I happened to mention in passing the Balfour Declaration, criticising her plans to celebrate the centenary “with pride” and invite Israel’s PM Netanyahu to the fun. This drew a sharp response from someone spouting the usual Israeli propaganda ‘facts’ and saying my attitude harmed the Jewish community worldwide.

The Balfour Declaration is a deadly serious subject. It is a cause of great horror and grief, of justifiable international anger, and a matter for profound regret. This is a right time and proper time for debate. Let’s focus on it for the next few months because justice groups are urging the British Government to mark the Balfour Declaration centenary by saying sorry.

Mrs May could do some real good here. She could, at a stroke, help quell the destructive turmoil in the Middle East and begin repair to Britain’s tattered prestige. She could even open new trade routes into Islamic markets, vitally important as we leave the EU.

By eating a little humble pie and apologising on our behalf for 100 years of agony inflicted on lovely people in a lovely part of the world Mrs May could take a giant step for mankind on the world stage. She has between now and November to do it. Will she?

No, she’ll be celebrating Balfour in style with the Israeli prime minister and not giving a toss about the people Britain wronged.

Which is shocking when a UN report recently branded Israel an apartheid regime. It’s even more regrettable considering the desperate cry for help from the National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine in an open letter to the World Council of Churches and the ecumenical movement, signed by over 30 organisations in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

Here’s an extract:

We are still suffering from 100 years of injustice and oppression that were inflicted on the Palestinian people beginning with the unlawful Balfour declaration… followed by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank including East Jerusalem and Gaza and the fragmentation of our people and our land through policies of isolation and confiscation, and the building of Jewish-only settlements and the Apartheid Wall…

Mrs May needs a jolt.

When I enquired whether the Balfour Declaration is taught in our schools I was told ‘no’. So what exactly is it?

Arthur Balfour, British foreign secretary in 1917, penned a letter to the most senior Jew in England, Lord Rothschild – pledging the Government’s “best endeavours” to facilitate the establishment in Palestine of a national home for Jewish people. Balfour also wrote:

We do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country.

It amounted to a betrayal of our Arab allies in WW1. Many in Parliament objected, including Lord Sydenham who remarked:

What we have done, by concessions not to the Jewish people but to a Zionist extreme section, is to start a running sore in the East, and no-one can tell how far that sore will extend.

At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 when the Great Powers carved up the territorial spoils of war a Zionist delegation produced Balfour’s promissory note. It planted a powder-keg in the Middle East and the fuse was now lit. Britain accepted the mandate responsibility for Palestine and eventually in 1947 the Great Powers pushed the United Nations into partitioning the territory, again without consulting those who lived there.

So what made Balfour do it? The more you delve, the more incredible the answers to those unaware of the growing influence of worldwide Zionism. Support for the movement and its ambition to create a New Israel was quite fashionable in the corridors of power around the time of WW1. The story I find compelling is that, while Britain struggled desperately against German U-boat successes and ammunition shortages, the Zionist power-brokers of Germany and Eastern Europe consulted with their opposite numbers in America and decided, given their grip on money and media, they could bring the US into the war against Germany and its Ottoman ally if Britain were to promise them Palestine for a Jewish homeland afterwards.

Balfour was a Zionist convert (as were many others including prime minister David Lloyd-George) and in the right position. The proposition was put to Britain in 1916. The Zionists delivered. The US entered the war. In the meantime immigrant Polish-Zionist chemist Chaim Weizmann offered a solution to the production of enough acetone, a critical ingredient in cordite for artillery shells, to satisfy the war effort. He demanded the same promise. Balfour handed them their ‘receipt’ in November 1917 even though Palestine was not, and never could be, Britain’s to give away.

‘Name of the game: erasing Palestine’

Balfour had inserted into his ‘declaration’ that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing and non-Jewish communities….” on the insistence of the only Jew in the British Cabinet, Lord Montague, who was anti-Zionist and opposed the deal. But this safeguard was jettisoned as soon as Britain lost control of events.

Not content with the territory allocated to them under the UN Partition Plan the Israelis declared statehood ignoring all boundaries. Their ‘Plan Dalet’ offensive, begun beforehand, had seized much Arab-designated land at gunpoint.  Jewish militia – the Irgun, Haganah, Palmach and Lehi – raided towns and villages forcing inhabitants to flee. Numerous attrocities were committed including the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem (headquarters of the British administration) in 1946 murdering 91, and the massacres at Deir Yassin and Lydda in 1948.

Today Israel illegally occupies the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including the Old City, and has Gaza in a stranglehold so pitiless as to have caused a long-term humanitarian crisis and irreparable environmental damage. For nearly 70 years millions of dispossessed Palestinians and their families have languished in refugee camps, and those who remain in their homeland – Christian and Muslim alike – live a miserable life under brutal military occupation.

The situation stands as a monumental stain on the flag of the United Nations, which hasn’t the backbone to take action. And the continuing repercussions throughout the Holy Land should concern all true Christians and Muslims especially regular churchgoers like Mrs May.

Miko Peled, the son of an Israeli general and a former soldier in the Israeli army – and now an important figure in the struggle for justice – confirms what many have been saying for years:

The name of the game: erasing Palestine, getting rid of the people and de-Arabizing the country… By 1993 the Israelis had achieved their mission to make the conquest of the West Bank irreversible…. That is when Israel said, OK, we’ll begin negotiations…

My critic in the local newspaper called Hamas terrorists. Peled describes the Israeli army, in which he served, as “one of the best trained and best equipped and best fed terrorist organisations in the world.” Take your pick. But Hamas’ political wing is not proscribed as a terrorist organisation in the UK.

The accusation that criticising the Israeli regime harms Jewish communities is unacceptable. There are many admirable Jewish groups vehemently campaigning against Israel’s crimes. One-time Israeli Military Intelligence chief Yehoshafat Harkabi warned that Jews throughout the world would pay the price of Israel’s misconduct. So the problem appears to be a ‘family’ matter between Jews everywhere.

The Story behind the Jerusalem Attack

Early October 2016, Misbah Abu Sbeih left his wife and five children at home and then drove to an Israeli police station in Occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem.

The 39-year-old Jerusalemite was scheduled to hand himself over to serve a term of 4 months in jail for, allegedly, trumped up charges of ‘trying to hit an Israeli soldier’.

Misbah is familiar with Israeli prisons, having been held there before on political charges, including an attempt to sneak into and pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Al-Aqsa Mosque is part of a large compound known as Haram al-Sharif, which includes – aside from Al-Aqsa – the famed Dome of the Rock and other Palestinian Muslim sites, revered by Muslims everywhere.

Al-Aqsa is believed to be the second mosque ever to be built, the first being Masjid al-Haram in Mecca. The Holy Quran mentions it as the place from which Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven, journeying from Mecca to Jerusalem.

For Palestinians, Muslims and Christians alike, the Mosque took on a new meaning following the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian city of al-Quds (East Jerusalem) in 1967.

Scenes of Israeli soldiers raising the Israeli flag over Muslim and Christian shrines in the city fifty years ago, is burnt into the collective memory of several generations.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, that the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound has been the focal point of clashes between Palestinian worshipers and the Israeli army.

Daily visitors to the Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem include non-Muslims tourists. They are often welcomed by the Al-Waqf administration, which is the Islamic religious trust that manages the holy shrines, a practice dating back 500 years.

Even after the Israeli occupation of the Arab city, al-Waqf has continued to be the caretaker of the Muslim site, as arranged between the Jordanian government and Israel.

Israeli design in the occupied city, however, is far greater than the Mosque itself. Last April, the Israeli government announced plans to build 15,000 new housing units in Occupied Jerusalem, contrary to international law.

The international community recognizes East Jerusalem as a Palestinian city. The United States, too, accepts international consensus on Jerusalem, and attempts by the US Congress to challenge the White House on this understanding have all failed. That is, until Donald Trump came to power.

Prior to his inauguration in January, Trump had promised to relocate the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The announcement was welcomed by Israeli right wing politicians and extremists alike. Many of Israel’s supporters in the US saw this as a good sign of the Trump presidency.

While the US embassy is yet to officially move to Jerusalem, the new administration is sending a message that it is no longer bound by international law with regard to the Occupied Territories.

Not only is the US abandoning its self-tailored role as a ‘peace broker’ between Israel and the Palestinian leadership, but it is sending a clear signal to Israel that there can be no pressure on Israel regarding the status of Jerusalem.

In response, the United Nations and its various institutions have moved quickly to reassure Palestinians.

The UN cultural agency, UNESCO, has been the most active in this regard. Despite US-Israeli pressure, several resolutions have been passed by UNESCO and the UN General Assembly in recent months, which have reaffirmed Palestinian rights in the city.

Israel and the US moved to punish Palestinians for UNESCO’s decisions.

It began when the Israeli Knesset began pushing laws that make life even more difficult for Palestinian Jerusalemites, including a law that limits the Muslim call for prayer. The law, which passed its second reading last March, was championed by Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli police expanded the ever-growing list of Palestinians who are not allowed to reach their houses of worship. The list included Misbah Abu Sbeih, who was repeatedly arrested, beaten and incarcerated by the Israeli police.

The Israeli government then opened up the flood gates of settlement expansion in the occupied city, after being partially limited during the presidency of Barack Obama. In part, that was Netanyahu’s response to UN Resolution 2334, which demanded an immediate halt to Israeli settlement construction in Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories.

Concurrently, the new US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, took on the task of silencing any international criticism of the Israeli occupation, calling international attempts to end the occupation a form of ‘bullying.’

Assured by the unconditional US support, Netanyahu moved to new extremes. He severed his country’s ties with UNESCO and called for the dismantlement of UN headquarters in the occupied Palestinian city.

East Jerusalem was already illegally annexed by Israeli in 1981, but without international acceptance of such a measure, the Israeli move seemed pointless.

Now, Israel feels that times are changing, as the Trump administration offers Israel a window of opportunity to normalize its illegal occupation and annexation of the city.

In recent months, Palestinians have responded in myriad ways. They have worked with various countries across the globe to challenge the Israeli-US plans.

Most Palestinian efforts, although successful to some extent, have failed to sway Israel in any way.

The political upheaval has translated on the ground to more violence, as thousands of Israeli occupation soldiers and police were rushed to the city to restrict Palestinian movement and to block thousands of worshipers from reaching Al-Aqsa. Hundreds were detained in a massive security campaign.

In the absence of a strong leadership, Palestinians are growing increasingly desperate and angry. The Palestinian Authority is largely busy in its own pitiful power struggles and appears to have no time for Palestinians, who are left with little hope for a political horizon and no clear sense of direction.

While thousands of Palestinians have resisted through constantly attempting to reach Al-Aqsa or demonstrated in protest, others are “reaching the breaking point”. One is Misbah Abu Sbeih.

Once he arrived at the Israeli military police station, Mishbah did not give himself up. Instead, he opened fire, killing an Israeli army office from the ‘Yassam’ unit and another Israeli. He was killed instantly.

Other attacks followed. On Friday, July 14, the holiest day of the week in the Muslim calendar, three Palestinian men attacked Israeli soldiers and police officers stationed near one of the Haram’s gates.

They killed two Israeli officers, and were killed by occupation soldiers, soon after. This is the first time that an attack of this nature has been recorded inside the Al-Aqsa compound. Since 1967, only Israelis have used arms in violent clashes with Palestinians. Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed in or around this holy shrine throughout the years.

Last June in Jerusalem, speaking to a crowd celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Israeli military occupation of the city, Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu declared that the al-Aqsa Mosque compound would “forever remain under Israeli sovereignty.”

Empowered by the Trump administration and assured by Haley’s tactics at the UN, Netanyahu feels that his dream of subduing East Jerusalem is being realized. The price of Netanyahu’s dream, however, is likely to be costly.

On the day of the attack, several Palestinians were killed in various parts of the West Bank and a 3-year-old child from Gaza died while awaiting a permit to cross from the besieged region to the West Bank for treatment. None of this registered in international media. The armed Palestinian attack on Israeli soldiers, however, made headlines around the world.

More violence is likely to follow. Palestinians, who are dying without much media coverage, are desperate and angry as their holy city is crumbling under the heavy boots of soldiers, amid international silence and unconditional US support for the Israeli government.