Category Archives: Right of Return

An Outside View from the Palestinian Camps of Lebanon raises Troubling Questions

Every time I return from visiting Palestinian refugee camps dispersed throughout Lebanon, I’m haunted by the monumental suffering that has been systematically imposed on the twelve million Palestinians. There are between 5-6 million Palestinians in exile, and 6 million under Israeli occupation in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel. Whether they live in historic Palestine or among the exiled diaspora in Lebanon and beyond, the level of discrimination Palestinians experience on a daily basis is relentless. In this proxy ‘war on terror’ tearing apart several Middle Eastern countries; whether identified as an eschatological ‘last days’ scenario or viewed as a competitive agenda of dominance over land and resources, the Palestinian people are the primary victims.

Exodus from Palestine 1948

Palestinians have suffered massacres and ethnic cleansing beginning with the events of the 1948 apocalyptic catastrophe (Nakba), when more than 750,000 were expelled from their homes. During the succeeding years Palestinians have known further massacres (Jenin 2002), and death, injury and imprisonment within the West Bank. Exiled Palestinians in Lebanon later fled the destruction of the refugee camps including Tel al-Zataar (1976) only to take sanctuary in Sabra/Shatila where many faced the massacre in 1982. In 1985 the war of the camps Sabra/Shatila and Bourj Barajneh, Palestinians again became victims. Palestinians were victims, alongside their Lebanese neighbours during the 2006 Israeli attacks on Lebanon; a year later they suffered during the siege and bombing of Nahr Al-Bared Camp, (2007) when fourteen members of the Fateh Al Islam, an Islamic extremist group fleeing the Lebanese Army, took the camp hostage. The extremists escaped but the entire camp, home to 32,000 refugees, was flattened. Today, more than twelve years later, from a total population of 32,000, only 22,000 Palestinians have been able to return. Many are still living on containers.

Khiam Prison

 

List of people who had been imprisoned at Khiam Prison

The liberation of Khaim Prison in 2000 (photo attached to the ruins)

Current day Palestinian exiles fleeing the war in Syria are also fleeing Islamic extremist groups who infiltrated Yarmouk Refugee Camp. Palestinians in Gaza, under an Israeli controlled siege, have suffered huge military bombardment from the air, sea and land as they struggle to ward off a creeping genocide. The litany of crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians are too numerous to  enumerate in this short article. These targeted attacks and an endemic discrimination that has pursued Palestinians around the globe has continued for more than seven decades. It is a holocaust on a time-scale that shows no sign of ending. In a collective mindset of cognitive dissonance, the irony is that given that Palestinians are of the semitic race, those who speak out about these crimes are frequently labelled as anti-semitic.

Despite what Palestinians have already been through the situation for them in Lebanon is rapidly deteriorating. Through a complex system of changing laws on residency Palestinians are regularly denied travel documents and the right to work legally. They are specifically denied the right to work in several leading professions such as doctor, teacher, banker, nurse, pharmacist, lawyer and engineer. By identifying Palestinians as foreign they come under the Lebanese law of reciprocity which is impossible to be complied with given that their country of origin is occupied Palestine. In addition Palestinians don’t have the right to own property and in circumstances where a Palestinian refugee has acquired property under earlier laws, the property can now no longer be passed on to their children.

Electric cables in Shatila

Palestinian refugee camps are insecure, overcrowded, unsanitary and with electric cables strung haphazardly in the narrow passages the rate of death by electrocution, of both children and adults, in Shatila Camp alone number around fifty. Sabra/Shatila, situated on the outskirts of downtown Beirut is approximately one kilometre in size. It was designed to accommodate a population of around 800; however, with the influx of Palestinian refugees fleeing earlier massacres in South Lebanon and the current war in Syria, Sabra/Shatila now has a population of around 30,000. At the time of the 1982 massacre, the population was about 80,000 since all the South Lebanon camps were flattened. The same holds true for the twelve refugee camps dispersed around Lebanon. There is no room to accommodate those who are being born or to bury those who die.

An alley in Shatila, Beirut

A year ago Trump withdrew the US share of financial support for UNWRA, the organisation charged with responsibility for the economic well-being of Palestinian refugees. The US contribution to the UNWRA budget was 50%. Saudi Arabia has agreed to pick up the shortfall; however it’s widely believed that acceptance of this money will soon become conditional on Palestinians giving up their legal ‘Right of Return’. This is a Machiavellian choice — feed one’s children or give up one’s lawful right to a homeland in their lost but not forgotten, paradise. Palestinians will be unlikely to accept such an offer since feeding their children today would condemn these children to a life of exile, poverty and statelessness. It’s the hope of returning that has kept them alive.

UNWRA

Lebanon is facing a new dilemma which could indicate a further hardening of opinion against the Palestinian refugees and a strengthening of pro-Zionist forces outside and within Lebanon. With the return from America of one of the Lebanese Zionist Israeli collaborator administrators at the Khiam Detention Centre (1982- 2000), where many Lebanese and Palestinian political prisoners were subjected to years of brutal torture, questions are being raised as to whether those who collaborated with Israel in the torture of prisoners should be allowed to return without penalty. Sectarian Lebanon has always had a core of pro-zionist supporters who have historically collaborated with Israel. The prime example of this was the orchestrated massacre of an estimated 3,000  Palestinians in Sabra/Shatila carried out by armed Christian Phalange with Israeli support. No one has ever been held accountable in a court of law for this crime against a defenceless population of women, children and old men. The PLO men of fighting age had agreed to leave Lebanon and go into further exile because they believed the promise made by the International Community that their families would be protected.

Nahr al-Bared Camp after 2007 bombing by Fateh Al Islam, an Islamic extremist group, who held the camp hostage

 

Another image of Nahr al-Bared Camp

It’s not possible to look at this injustice without first understanding the role of both Christians and Jews in the eschatological belief system of messianic zionism. Were it not for the support of these evangelical Christian Zionists the initial Jewish Zionist endeavour to claim Palestine as a Jewish State might have been resolved with people of different faiths living together, as was the case within historic Palestine. Christian Zionist supporters hold with the Prophesy that when Jews ‘return’ to the Holy Land (historic Palestine and beyond) and King David’s City and Solomon’s Temple is ‘restored’ in place of the Haram al-Sharif; the Islamic sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, the world will enter into a state of final days. Destruction of Islam’s third most holy site would certainly risk plunging the world into a full scale global war. Israel has never defined its borders and Eretz Israel maps Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Sinai and parts of Saudi Arabia as its promised land.

(For a full understanding of this complex Christian evangelical movement I would refer the reader to the studies of Stephen Sizer and Don Wagner.) Christian and Jewish Messianic Zionism as a theological and political belief system would not be significant were it not so widely supported within the US establishment and also within several European countries, including the UK. The war with Iraq, John Bolton’s moves toward war with Iran, Trump’s move to place the US Embassy in Jerusalem and his declaration that the Syrian Golan Heights is part of Israel, are all indicative of the strength and power of this movement to propel events in order to bring about this Armageddon ‘last days Prophesy’.

This brings me back to the question of who are the drivers of conflict in the Middle East. Since I am neither a Christian or Jewish messianic zionist I would be amongst those left to face the ‘last days’ in the rivers of blood as foretold in this ‘prophesy’. Were that to be a natural event (or even assuming by ‘God’s’ hand), it would be a tragedy; however, were the event to have been engineered by messianic zealots who are seeking the (first…/or if Christian, the second) coming of the Messiah, such an act would be a war crime of genocidal and epic proportions. Given this possible scenario and the decades-long persecution of the exiled Muslim and Christian Palestinians I’m lost as to the reason why the mainstream Christian Church is so silent on this and almost by default supportive of this Israeli endeavour to requisition Palestine and beyond as a Jewish State. Where is the Christ message of love and inclusiveness in Christian Zionism?

Britain has a clearly documented history which has led to the establishment of Israel on historic Palestine beginning with the Sykes/Picot agreement 1916 and the letter by Lord Balfour to Lord Rothschild in 1917. Palestine never was a country without a people. In fact, it has a rich cultural heritage where Muslim, Christian and Jew lived comfortably side by side (Jews having always been a small minority). In 1948 the population of Palestinian Christians and Muslims was 1.5 million. Of these 50% were uprooted by force and fled into exile and remained refugees in the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and beyond to this very day. One might think that given Britain’s promise to the Arabs of sovereignty over their own land and having liberated Jerusalem from the Turkish Ottoman Empire, Britain would be honour-bound to keep that promise.

Not so…. It’s quite evident from Parliamentary discussions and the recent (2017) centennial celebration when Theresa May (totally ignoring the Palestinian catastrophe that resulted in exile of now around 6 million Palestinian refugees), proudly welcomed Netanyahu to the UK in acknowledgment of Britain’s role which led to the 1948 establishment of Israel. The message constantly repeated by successive US and UK leaders is that we stand by Israel regardless of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. Other than receiving some criticism from international leaders purporting Israel’s ‘response to be disproportionate’,  Israel operates with complete immunity. It is also clear from a recent Parliamentary debate in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords that the UK government also stands by Israel and the US in proscribing the political wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation. French President Macron has chosen not to follow the US and UK lead stating that France and no other power has a right to decide what Lebanese political parties are good and which are not. This, Macron says, is up to the Lebanese people.

So why this move on the part of the UK government, now?’ The NOW raises interesting questions. What clearly has changed is that Hezbollah, as part of a Syrian coalition, has been largely successful in halting ISIS and along with Russia, preventing regime change in Syria. Given that ISIS is a known fundamentalist terrorist umbrella group one might have thought that defeating them was in the UK’s interests. From an Israeli perspective, however, Hezbollah’s strengthened resistance capabilities will not be viewed as serving their expansionist interests, particularly as Lebanon shares a border with Israel.

Had ISIS not been defeated and had regime change taken in place Syria (an ally of Iran) this would have weakened Iran. Iran, an oil and gas rich country with an Islamic interest free banking system, has been viewed as a military target these past few decades. Israel regards Syria, Hezbollah and Iran as hostile to their illegal occupation of Palestine, the Golan Heights and repeated invasions of South Lebanon. One wonders if Israel initiated the move for the US and  UK to proscribe Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation as a prelude to gaining support for an attack on Iran? Trump’s rejection of the agreed nuclear peace agreement and recent allegations made against Iran nudges us closer to war.

The majority of Lebanese are aware that were it not for the Hezbollah resistance, Israel would have likely acquired South Lebanon years ago. Besides the gas fields of Golan Heights, Lebanon’s Litani River has a natural supply of fresh water. Hezbollah came into existence after the 1982 Sabra/Shatila massacre. If there was no threat from Israel to Palestinians and to Lebanese, there would be no need for Hezbollah to form a resistance group. Those who responded to the call to protect Lebanon would likely melt back into the community and take up earlier professions. When Israel invaded and bombed Lebanon in 2006 it was the Hezbollah resistance fighters who forced them back across the border. Lebanon is a sectarian country that has not only been invaded and attacked by Israel on numerous occasions, it has also known devastating civil war. It holds together by a delicate balance of sharing power between the various factions. The political wing of Hezbollah holds a significant role within the Lebanese government.

Just days before I arrived in Lebanon, Israel dropped bombs on the Al Manar media office in Beirut and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) office in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. Israel also dropped bombs in Syria and Iraq killing several Iranian citizens who were there by invitation of those countries’ leadership. It was the skill of Hezbollah in capturing a drone that identified Israel as the perpetrator, which made it clear that Hezbollah’s military response was retaliatory and not an unprovoked attack. Such action by Hezbollah may have averted a full scale attack by Israel on Lebanon.

The UK government’s insistence on Israel’s right to defend itself (even when Israeli forces are dropping bombs and white phosphorous on the defenceless population of Gaza or sending drones into Beirut), fails to acknowledge that Palestinians and Lebanese also have a right to defend themselves. It is the Palestinians who are suffering from an illegal occupation and genocidal siege. Are these moves the precursor to the US, Israel and UK creating a World War Three scenario by heightening the likelihood of war with Iran and other major powers — a war that could easily escalate into an Armageddon ‘Last Days’ scenario? Or is it that the UK, like the Anglican Church, is unwilling to take a strong public stance against the prevailing power by addressing this decades long injustice and very real threat to all of humanity?

Film Charts Failed Experiment Inviting Palestinian Teens to Become Kibbutzniks

A new documentary brings to light an episode almost completely erased from Israel’s official history – and one that reveals how Israel’s apartheid character was established from its birth.

The The Voice of Ahmad by directors Avshalom Katz, David Ofek, Ayelet Bechar, Shadi Habib Allah, Naom Kaplan, Mamdooh Afdile, and Iddo Soskolne is being screened in Israel this month. It centers on the extraordinary early life of Ahmad Masrawa back in the 1950s, as the recently established Jewish state was finding its feet.

Masrawa was one of many hundreds of Palestinian teenagers in Israel who were adopted by a kibbutz, agricultural communes that were at the core of the Zionist movement’s efforts to Judaize lands just stolen from the Palestinian people – both from refugees forced out of Israel and from the small number of Palestinians, like Masrawa, who managed to remain inside the new state.

Today, hundreds of these kibbutzim exist, all of them exclusively Jewish and controlling the vast bulk of Israeli territory. Israel’s Palestinian citizens are effectively banned from living in them.

But, as this new film shows, there was a brief moment when a handful of progressive Israeli Jews imagined a different future in which Jewish and Arab kibbutzniks could live together. That experiment ended in complete failure.

A stab in the back

Masrawa is part of the largely-overlooked Palestinian minority in Israel – today a fifth of the country’s population. He was among a rump population of Palestinians who avoided the mass expulsions of the 1948 Nakba, or catastrophe, that created Israel on the ruins of the Palestinian homeland.

A few years later, under international pressure, Israel belatedly gave this minority a very second-class citizenship.

The fact that Palestinian citizens, now numbering 1.8 million, have the vote is often cited as proof that Israel is a normal western-style democracy. Nothing could be further from the truth, as this documentary underscores.

Ahmad’s strange teenage years have been unearthed now because he starred in a short documentary in the mid-1960s, called “I Am Ahmad,” that was initially censored and, when it was finally screened, caused uproar. Ram Loevy, its director, says in the new film that his documentary was viewed by most Israeli Jews at the time as “a stab in the back.”

Slum neighborhoods

It was the first time an Israeli film had ever allowed an “Israeli Arab” – a Palestinian citizen of Israel – to be the protagonist.

“I Am Ahmad” follows Masrawa as a near-two-decade military government imposed on Israel’s Palestinian minority is being lifted just before the outbreak of the Six-Day war. He is filmed leaving his poor village of Arara in northern Israel to travel to the rapidly expanding Jewish coastal city of Tel Aviv to find work.

Masrawa narrates the film, providing personal reflections in Hebrew on what it is like to live effectively as a foreign worker in your own country.

Like many thousands of other Palestinians in Israel, he was forced by day to work as a casual laborer on construction sites, disappearing at night to dwell in slum neighborhoods of tin shacks set up by Palestinian citizen workers on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.

High death toll

The Voice of Ahmad is compilation film, comprising six short documentaries inspired by or expanding on I Am Ahmad, a restored version of which opens the new movie.

Sky of Concrete sees an elderly Masrawa spend the day with a group of today’s casual laborers from his village on a building site. Little has changed half a century later, as Masrawa discovers, including the same tragically high death toll in an industry that barely seems to value the lives of its non-Jewish workers.

But the most fascinating segment of the Voice of Ahmad is the backstory of why Masrawa ended up in the 1960s building new homes for Jewish immigrants arriving to entrench the dispossession of Palestinians like himself. That context is not provided by I Am Ahmad.

It would have to wait another half-century for that story to be revealed in “I Used To Be Zvi,” a kind of belated prequel to “I Am Ahmad.” Its co-director, Ayelet Bechar, recently expanded on her research for the film in an article for the liberal Haaretz newspaper.

Judaizing Palestinian land

“I Used To Be Zvi” concerns the 18-year period between 1949 and 1967 before Israel seized control of the occupied territories, a time when Palestinians in Israel lived under harsh military rule despite their citizenship. They were locked up inside their few surviving communities while their new rulers confiscated almost all their farmland to settle Jewish immigrants in their place.

While this land larceny was taking place, however, two prominent Jewish socialists began a limited experiment in mixed living that appeared – at least, superficially – to challenge Zionism’s core principle.

The lands seized from Israel’s Palestinian minority were transferred to hundreds of kibbutz, socialist-style agricultural communes set up for Jews as part of Israel’s official Judaization policy.

Many decades on, these communities control almost all of Israel’s land, which they hold as nationalized territory on behalf of all Jews around the world, not Israel’s citizens.

Although the kibbutz has been widely extolled in the west as a model of egalitarian, cooperative living – and in Israel’s first decades attracted starry-eyed European and American volunteers – all of these communities use vetting committees to ensure no Palestinian citizens gain admission.

Mixing with girls

In Israel’s early years, however, a few Jewish socialists argued that the kibbutz movement should live up to its supposed ideals of “Zionism, socialism and the brotherhood of nations.” They established a Pioneer Arab Youth organization, recruiting Palestinian teenagers in Israel like Masrawa to live on a kibbutz.

The obstacles were many. Each had to harbor its Palestinian youngsters as fugitives from the authorities. The military government required them to live in their own, segregated and imprisoned communities.

And despite professed lofty ideals, most Jews in the kibbutz movement regarded their Palestinian neighbors not as potential brothers but as a threat to Israel’s ethnic state-building project.

These young Palestinian recruits, meanwhile, were not there out of a love of Zionism. They wished to break free of the stifling economic and social restrictions imposed by the military government. A few admit they were enticed too by the chance to mix with kibbutz girls.

Kibbutz ambassadors

Masrawa arrived at his kibbutz, aged 14, under a new Hebrew identity he had been assigned: “Zvi”. But differences of treatment were apparent from the outset.

Palestinian members were required to wear a different uniform and allocated menial tasks. Even Pioneer Youth’s motto prioritized subservience, amending the kibbutz slogan “strong and brave” to “strong and loyal.”

And while the kibbutzim were grudgingly allowing handfuls of Palestinian teens into their midst, they also colluded with the military government to steal the remaining farmlands of the villages from which their Palestinian wards hailed.

There was a subtext of political missionary work too. Avraham Ben Tzur, a Pioneer Youth founder, observed that the aim was to turn impressionable Palestinian youth into ambassadors for the kibbutzim, presumably in the hope that when they returned to their villages they would try to justify to their extended families the theft of the villages’ lands by the kibbutzim.

The project quickly started unraveling when it became clear that Pioneer Youth’s organizers had no vision beyond a parochial, Jewish one.

Feelings bottled up

A heartbreaking, reconstructed scene in “I Used To Be Zvi” shows young Masrawa, filled with the kibbutz ideals of shared, egalitarian living, heading to the offices of the Israel Lands Authority to inquire about setting up the first Arab kibbutz next to his village of Arara, south of Nazareth.

The senior official burdens him with a long list of conditions he must meet before he can be given approval. When Masrawa fulfills his side of the bargain, he is given yet more demands, and more, until finally the exasperated official explains the facts of life to Masrawa.

He tells him the government will never allow an Arab kibbutz. Not only that, he adds: “On the expropriated land of your village we will establish three Jewish communities, which will take up arms when needed.”

The clear implication is that these Jewish communities will, if needs be, use their weapons against Masrawa and his fellow villagers to enforce the theft of Arara’s lands.

Indeed, no Palestinian kibbutz, or even a genuinely mixed one, was ever permitted.

Walid Sadik, who later served as a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, observed that he and the other Palestinian kibbutzniks had “kept our mouths shut and our feelings bottled up.”

Intermarriage rejected

But it was the experience of another Palestinian, Rashid Masarawa, that sounded the death knell of Pioneer Youth.

In the mid-1960s he fell in love with and married a Jewish woman, Tzvia Ben Matityahu, on Kibbutz Hashlosha. Given Israel’s restrictions on mixed marriages, which continue to this day, the couple had to travel abroad to wed.

On their return, they were exiled from Hashlosha, and sought refuge among friends at another kibbutz, Gan Shmuel.

Their application to live there was rejected too, however. The vast majority of members objected because the Masarawa family originated from Sarkas, a village destroyed by Israel in 1948 to prevent its refugees from ever returning. Gan Shmuel had been built on Sarkas’s stolen lands to appropriate them.

Masarawa tearfully noted: “If I was accepted as a member, it would mean that I was being returned to my village.” In the Zionist worldview, the danger was that the kibbutz members were being asked to concede something that might set a precedent for a right of return.

‘Sand thrown in our eyes’

The Zionism of these Jewish socialists decisively trumped any semblance of shared humanity or compassion. The Pioneer Youth dissolved soon afterward as young Palestinians in Israel shifted allegiance towards the new Arab nationalism of Nasserist Egypt.

Ben Tzur, founder of Pioneer Youth, recorded his shock to Bechar that, after Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza in 1967, his Palestinian recruits voted down a plan much favored by kibbutz members to create an alternative state for Palestinians outside their homeland, in Jordan.

Masrawa observed: “Looking back now, I say they threw sand in our eyes. They made a mockery of the [kibbutz] ideal.”

No hope of brotherhood

The military government may be a distant memory now but its legacy persists.

Israel’s Jewish character still precludes equality for Palestinians, even those with citizenship. Assumptions among Israeli Jews of disloyalty from Palestinians are still commonplace. Palestinian land is still being Judaized, though now that Palestinian citizens have lost all but a tiny fraction of their lands, that process is chiefly taking place in the occupied territories. Rigid ethnic segregation ensures mixed marriages are still rare and deplored.

Palestinian voting is still no more than window-dressing, and now increasingly characterized by Israeli politicians like Benjamin Netanyahu as fraud. He declared only this month that Palestinian citizens had tried to “steal the election” by exercising their democratic right.

And brotherhood, of course, is today not even an aspiration.

Ugly ethnic supremacism

The “Voice of Ahmad” ends with a short film, The Helsinki Accord, by two Israeli citizens – one Jewish, the other Palestinian – who have sought a self-imposed exile in Finland. There they live as neighbors, share a passion for sweating it out together in a sauna, and jest about Israel’s destruction by a nuclear bomb.

The Jewish friend, Iddo Soskolne, whose family originates from Poland, says Finns have nicknamed him “felafel” for being from the Middle East.

Finally, the pair concede, they have found equality in their status as a minority, as outsiders, in Finland. They have found a true brotherhood that would be impossible in Israel.

It was, after all, the good guys – the socialists – who established Israel’s version of apartheid alongside and enforced by the “egalitarian” kibbutz. These racist political structures were created by an Israeli Labour party whose political demise is now – after a decade of rule by the ultra-nationalist right – much lamented abroad.

But the reality is that the Zionism of Israel’s founders was as ugly a project of ethnic supremacy as the Zionism of today’s nationalist right led by Netanyahu. Ahmad Masrawa’s story is a helpful reminder of that truth.

• First published in Mondoweiss

In Bahrain, the Horizon of Peace stretched Further Away from Palestinians

Donald Trump’s supposed “deal of the century”, offering the Palestinians economic bribes in return for political submission, is the endgame of western peace-making, the real goal of which has been failure, not success.

For decades, peace plans have made impossible demands of the Palestinians, forcing them to reject the terms on offer and thereby create a pretext for Israel to seize more of their homeland.

The more they have compromised, the further the diplomatic horizon has moved away – to the point now that the Trump administration expects them to forfeit any hope of statehood or a right to self-determination.

Even Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and architect of the peace plan, cannot really believe the Palestinians will be bought off with their share of the $50 billion inducement he hoped to raise in Bahrain last week.

That was why the Palestinian leadership stayed away.

But Israel’s image managers long ago coined a slogan to obscure a policy of incremental dispossession, masquerading as a peace process: “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

It is worth examining what those landmark “missed opportunities” consisted of.

The first was the United Nations’ Partition Plan of late 1947. In Israel’s telling, it was Palestinian intransigence over dividing the land into separate Jewish and Arab states that triggered war, leading to the creation of a Jewish state on the ruins of most of the Palestinians’ homeland.

But the real story is rather different.

The recently formed UN was effectively under the thumb of the imperial powers of Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. All three wanted a Jewish state as a dependent ally in the Arab-dominated Middle East.

Fueled by the dying embers of western colonialism, the Partition Plan offered the largest slice of the Palestinian homeland to a minority population of European Jews, whose recent immigration had been effectively sponsored by the British empire.

As native peoples elsewhere were being offered independence, Palestinians were required to hand over 56 per cent of their land to these new arrivals. There was no chance such terms would be accepted.

However, as Israeli scholars have noted, the Zionist leadership had no intention of abiding by the UN plan either. David Ben Gurion, Israel’s founding father, called the Jewish state proposed by the UN “tiny”. He warned that it could never accommodate the millions of Jewish immigrants he needed to attract if his new state was not rapidly to become a second Arab state because of higher Palestinian birth rates.

Ben Gurion wanted the Palestinians to reject the plan, so that he could use war as a chance to seize 78 per cent of Palestine and drive out most of the native population.

For decades, Israel was happy to entrench and, after 1967, expand its hold on historic Palestine.

In fact, it was Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat who made the biggest, unreciprocated concessions to peace. In 1988, he recognised Israel and, later, in the 1993 Olso accords, he accepted the principle of partition on even more dismal terms than the UN’s – a state on 22 per cent of historic Palestine.

Even so, the Oslo process stood no serious chance of success after Israel refused to make promised withdrawals from the occupied territories. Finally, in 2000 President Bill Clinton called together Arafat and Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak to a peace summit at Camp David.

Arafat knew Israel was unwilling to make any meaningful compromises and had to be bullied and cajoled into attending. Clinton promised the Palestinian leader he would not be blamed if the talks failed.

Israel ensured they did. According to his own advisers, Barak “blew up” the negotiations, insisting that Israel hold on to occupied East Jerusalem, including the Al Aqsa mosque, and large areas of the West Bank. Washington blamed Arafat anyway, and refashioned Israel’s intransigence as a “generous offer”.

A short time later, in 2002, Saudi Arabia’s Peace Initiative offered Israel normal relations with the Arab world in return for a minimal Palestinian state. Israel and western leaders hurriedly shunted it into the annals of forgotten history.

After Arafat’s death, secret talks through 2008-09 – revealed in the Palestine Papers leak – showed the Palestinians making unprecedented concessions. They included allowing Israel to annex large tracts of East Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ expected capital.

Negotiator Saeb Erekat was recorded saying he had agreed to “the biggest [Jerusalem] in Jewish history” as well as to only a “symbolic number of [Palestinian] refugees’ return [and a] demilitarised state … What more can I give?”

It was a good question. Tzipi Livni, Israel’s negotiator, responded, “I really appreciate it” when she saw how much the Palestinians were conceding. But still her delegation walked away.

Trump’s own doomed plan follows in the footsteps of such “peace-making”.

In a New York Times commentary last week Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, candidly encapsulated the thrust of this decades-long diplomatic approach. He called on the Palestinians to “surrender”, adding: “Surrender is the recognition that in a contest, staying the course will prove costlier than submission.”

The peace process was always leading to this moment. Trump has simply cut through the evasions and equivocations of the past to reveal where the West’s priorities truly lie.

It is hard to believe that Trump or Kushner ever believed the Palestinians would accept a promise of “money for quiet” in place of a state based on “land for peace”.

Once more, the West is trying to foist on the Palestinians an inequitable peace deal. The one certainty is that they will reject it – it is the only issue on which the Fatah and Hamas leaderships are united – again ensuring the Palestinians can be painted as the obstacle to progress.

The Palestinians may have refused this time to stumble into the trap, but they will find themselves the fall guys, whatever happens.

When Trump’s plan crashes, as it will, Washington will have the chance to exploit a supposed Palestinian rejection as justification for approving annexation by Israel of yet more tranches of occupied territory.

The Palestinians will be left with a shattered homeland. No self-determination, no viable state, no independent economy, just a series of aid-dependent ghettos. And decades of western diplomacy will finally have arrived at its preordained destination.

• First published in The National

Palestinians Keep Their Right of Return Alive through Hope, Resistance

The United Nations’ World Refugee Day, observed annually on June 20, should not merely represent a reminder of “the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homeland under threat of persecution, conflict and violence.”

It should also be an opportunity for the international community to truly understand and actively work towards finding a sustainable remedy to forced displacement, for no woman, man or child should be forced to endure such grueling, shattering and humiliating experience in the first place.

Palestinians who have withstood the degradation of exile for over 70 years embody the harshness of this collective experience more than any other group.

To be a refugee means living perpetually in limbo – unable to reclaim what has been lost, the beloved homeland, and unable to fashion an alternative future and a life of freedom, justice and dignity.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are currently 68.5 million people around the world who have been forced out from their homes, with 25.4 million of them classified as refugees.

Of the officially listed refugees, 5.4 million are Palestinians, registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

For Palestinians, the grim reality of being a refugee is compounded through the absence of any political horizon, enough to convey a sense of hope that, 70 years after the genesis of the Palestinian refugee crisis, a remedy is at hand.

Abandoned in this seemingly eternal quest for a homeland, Palestinians hold tighter onto hope, because it is hope alone that feeds their own sense of determination, which neither time nor distance will stand between them and their Right of Return. This internationally-honored right is etched in the hearts and minds of millions of Palestinians everywhere.

The archetypal image of a refugee – a man, a woman, a child holding on to the pole of a tent, charting a path of exile to no specific place, imploring UN officials for help, and the world for mercy – is, by itself, not enough to deconstruct the complexity of that identity. To belong to a place that has ejected you, yet to seek an alternative home in places to which you do not belong, culturally and in every other way, confuses one’s sense of being. The psychological trauma alone is shattering.

While Palestinians continue to hold on to a sense of identity in their various spaces of exile – refugee camps across Palestine and the Middle East – their prolonged odyssey is seen as a ‘problem’ to be haphazardly fixed, or entirely dismissed, in order for Israeli Jews to maintain their demographic majority.

The mere fact that the Palestinian people live and multiply is a “demographic threat” to Israel, a ‘demographic bomb,’ even. This unmistakably racist notion is wholly embraced by Israel’s allies in Washington and elsewhere.

When Israel and its friends argue that the Palestinians are an “invented people“, not only are they aiming to annihilate the Palestinian collective identity, but they are also justifying in their own minds the continued killing and maiming of Palestinians, unhindered by any moral or ethical consideration.

Israel and the US will do anything in their power to trivialize the centrality of the Palestinian refugee question and its relevance to any future just peace in Palestine.

Nearly a million Palestinian were made refugees following the establishment of Israel on the ruins of historic Palestine in 1948. Hundreds of thousands more acquired that dismal status in subsequent years, especially during the Israeli war and occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in 1967.

The 5.4 million refugees registered with UNRWA are those original refugees and their descendants.

Israel has never agreed to take responsibility for the consequences of its violent inception – the ethnic cleansing, the untold destruction of towns and villages and the very erasure of historic Palestine.

Even during the Oslo Peace Process, Israel refused to discuss the core issue of refugees, relegating it to the ‘final status negotiations’, which have never taken place and will, most likely, never actualize.

In the meantime, Palestinian refugees have been sentenced to subsist in this unfair status – neither here nor there. If there was such a status as second, third and fourth time refugees, Palestinians would have acquired that, as well.

Indeed, millions of Palestinian refugees have been exiled more than once, from Palestine to Jordan or Lebanon; from there to Syria, and back and forth.

The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the current war in Syria have taught us that Palestinian refugees with relatively better living conditions are not safe, either.

The small Palestinian refugee community in Iraq was persecuted after the invasion, to the point that they were forced to leave, en masse, to any country willing to take them. Many of them ended up as refugees in South America.

The same sordid scenario was repeated in Syria and will, tragically, be replayed elsewhere in the future.

Instead of remedying the crisis with a degree of moral and legal accountability, successive US administrations have tried to marginalize the importance of the Right of Return.

Israel, on the other hand, has targeted refugee communities through wars and massacres, most notably during the 1982 war and invasion of Lebanon, and the subsequent Sabra and Shatila Massacre in September of that same year.

Now, with the help of the Donald Trump’s administration, Israel and the US are orchestrating even more sinister campaigns to make Palestinian refugees vanish through the very destruction of UNRWA and the redefining of the refugee status of millions of Palestinians.

By denying UNRWA urgently needed funds, Washington wants to enforce a new reality, one in which neither human rights, nor international law or morality are of any consequence.

What will become of Palestinian refugees seems to be of no importance to Trump, his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, and other US officials. The Americans are now watching, hoping that their callous strategy will finally bring Palestinians to their knees so that they will ultimately submit to the Israeli government’s dictates.

The Israelis want the Palestinians to give up their Right of Return in order to get “peace”. The joint Israeli-American “vision” for the Palestinians basically means the imposition of apartheid and keeping Palestinian exiles in a never-ending ordeal.

The Palestinian people will never accept this injustice.

The Right of Return remains a driving force behind Palestinian resistance, as the Great March of Return demonstrated in Gaza, starting March of last year.

All the money in Washington’s coffers will not reverse what is now a deeply embedded belief in the hearts and minds of millions of refugees throughout Palestine, the Middle East and the world.

Palestinian refugees may not top the political agenda of the Middle East at the moment, but it is their persistence, determination and undying hope that will keep their cause alive until international law is respected and human rights are truly honored.

Kushner as a Colonial Administrator

In a TV interview on June 2, on the news docuseries “Axios” on the HBO channel, Jared Kushner opened up regarding many issues, in which his ‘Deal of the Century’ was a prime focus.

The major revelation made by Kushner, President Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, was least surprising. Kushner believes that Palestinians are not capable of governing themselves.

Not surprising, because Kushner thinks he is capable of arranging the future of the Palestinian people without the inclusion of the Palestinian leadership. He has been pushing his so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ relentlessly, while including in his various meets and conferences countries such as Poland, Brazil and Croatia, but not Palestine.

Indeed, this is what transpired at the Warsaw conference on ‘peace and security’ in the Middle East. The same charade, also led by Kushner, is expected to be rebooted in Bahrain on June 25.

Much has been said about the subtle racism in Kushner’s words, reeking with the stench of old colonial discourses where the natives were seen as lesser, incapable of rational thinking beings who needed the civilized ‘whites’ of the western hemisphere to help them cope with their backwardness and inherent incompetence.

Kushner, whose credentials are merely based on his familial connections to Trump and family friendship with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is now poised to be the colonial administrator of old, making and enforcing the law while the hapless natives have no other option but to either accommodate or receive their due punishment.

This is not an exaggeration. In fact, according to leaked information concerning Kushner’s ‘Deal of the Century,’ and published in the Israeli daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, if Palestinian groups refuse to accept the US-Israeli diktats, “the US will cancel all financial support to the Palestinians and ensure that no country transfers funds to them.”

In the HBO interview, Kushner offered the Palestinians a lifeline. They could be considered capable of governing themselves should they manage to achieve the following: “a fair judicial system … freedom of the press, freedom of expression, tolerance for all religions.”

The fact that Palestine is an occupied country, subject in every possible way to Israel’s military law, and that Israel has never been held accountable for its 52-year occupation seems to be of no relevance whatsoever, as far as Kushner is concerned.

On the contrary, the subtext in all of what Kushner has said in the interview is that Israel is the antithesis to the unquestionable Palestinian failure. Unlike Palestine, Israel needs to do little to demonstrate its ability to be a worthy peace partner.

While the term ‘US bias towards Israel’ is as old as the state of Israel itself, what is hardly discussed are the specifics of that bias, the decidedly condescending, patronizing and, often, racist view that US political classes have of Palestinians – and all Arabs and Muslims, for that matter; and the utter infatuation with Israel, which is often cited as a model for democracy, judicial transparency and successful ‘anti-terror’ tactics.

According to Kushner a ‘fair judicial system’ is a conditio sine qua non to determine a country’s ability to govern itself. But is the Israeli judicial system “fair” and “democratic”?

Israel does not have a single judicial system, but two. This duality has, in fact, defined Israeli courts from the very inception of Israel in 1948. This de facto apartheid system openly differentiates between Jews and Arabs, a fact that is true in both civil and criminal law.

“Criminal law is applied separately and unequally in the West Bank, based on nationality alone (Israeli versus Palestinian), inventively weaving its way around the contours of international law in order to preserve and develop its ‘(illegal Jewish) settlement enterprise’,” Israeli scholar, Emily Omer-Man, explained in her essay ‘Separate and Unequal’.

In practice, Palestinians and Israelis who commit the exact same crime will be judged according to two different systems, with two different procedures: “The settler will be processed according to the Israeli Penal Code (while) the Palestinian will be processed according to military order.”

This unfairness is constituent of a massively unjust judicial apparatus that has defined the Israeli legal system from the onset. Take the measure of administrative detention as an example. Palestinians can be held without trial and without any stated legal justification. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been subjected to this undemocratic ‘law’ and hundreds of them are currently held in Israeli jails.

It is ironic that Kushner raised the issue of freedom of the press, in particular, as Israel is being derided for its dismal record in that regard. Israel has reportedly committed 811 violations against Palestinian journalists since the start of the ‘March of Return’ in Gaza in March 2018. Two journalists – Yaser Murtaja and Ahmed Abu Hussein – were killed and 155 were wounded by Israeli snipers.

Like the imbalanced Israeli judicial system, targeting the press is also a part of a protracted pattern. According to a press release issued by the Palestinian Journalists Union last May, Israel has killed 102 Palestinian journalists since 1972.

The fact that Palestinian intellectuals, poets and activists have been imprisoned for Facebook and other social media posts should tell us volumes about the limits of Israel’s freedom of press and expression.

It is also worth mentioning that in June 2018, the Israeli Knesset voted for a bill that prohibits the filming of Israeli soldiers as a way to mask their crimes and shelter them from any future legal accountability.

As for freedom of religion, despite its many shortcomings, the Palestinian Authority hardly discriminates against religious minorities. The same cannot be said about Israel.

Although discrimination against non-Jews in Israel has been the raison d’être of the very idea of Israel, the Nation-State Law of July 2018 further cemented the superiority of the Jews and inferior status of everyone else.

According to the new Basic Law, Israel is “the national home of the Jewish people” only and “the right to exercise national self-determination is unique to the Jewish people.”

Palestinians do not need to be lectured on how to meet Israeli and American expectations, nor should they ever aspire to imitate the undemocratic Israeli model. What they urgently need, instead, is international solidarity to help them win the fight against Israeli occupation, racism and apartheid.

Facing the Facts: Israel Cannot Escape ICC Jurisdiction

The Chief Military Advocate General of the Israeli army, Sharon Afek, and the US Department of Defense General Counsel, Paul Ney, shared a platform at the ‘International Conference on the Law of Armed Conflict’, which took place in Herzliya, Israel between May 28-30.

Their panel witnessed some of the most misconstrued interpretations of international law ever recorded. It was as if Afek and Ney were literally making up their own law on warfare and armed conflict, with no regard to what international law actually stipulates.

Unsurprisingly, both Afek and Ney agreed on many things, including that Israel and the US are blameless in all of their military conflicts, and that they will always be united against any attempt to hold them accountable for war crimes by the International Court of Justice (ICC).

Their tirade against the ICC mirrors that of their own leaders. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s anti-ICC position is familiar, last April, US President Donald Trump virulently expressed his contempt for the global organization and everything it represents.

“Any attempt to target American, Israeli, or allied personnel for prosecution will be met with a swift and vigorous response,” Trump said in a writing on April 12.

While Trump’s (and Netanyahu’s) divisive language is nothing new, Afek and Ney were entrusted with the difficult task of using legal language to explain their countries’ aversion for international law.

Prior to the Herzliya Conference, Afek addressed the Israel Bar Association convention in Eilat on May 26. Here, too, he made some ludicrous claims as he absolved, in advance, Israeli soldiers who kill Palestinians.

“A soldier who is in a life-threatening situation and acts to defend himself (or) others (he) is responsible for, is receiving and will continue receiving full back-up from the Israeli army,” he said.

The above assertion appears far more sinister once we remember Afek’s views on what constitutes a “life-threatening situation”, as he had articulated in Herzliya a few days later.

“Thousands of Gaza’s residents (try) to breach the border fence,” he said, with reference to the non-violent March of Return at the fence separating besieged Gaza from Israel.

The Gaza protesters “are led by a terrorist organization that deliberately uses civilians to carry out attacks,” Afek said.

Afek sees unarmed protests in Gaza as a form of terrorism, thus concurring with an earlier statement made by then-Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, on April 8, 2018, when he declared that “there are no innocents in Gaza.”

Israel’s shoot-to-kill policy, however, is not confined to the Gaza Strip but is also implemented with the same degree of violent enthusiasm in the West Bank.

‘No attacker, male or female, should make it out of any attack alive,’ Lieberman said in 2015. His orders were followed implicitly, as hundreds of Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and Jerusalem for allegedly trying to attack Israeli occupation soldiers or armed illegal Jewish settlers.

Unlike democratic political systems everywhere, in Israel the occupation soldier becomes the interpreter and enforcer of the law.

Putting this policy into practice in Gaza is even more horrendous as unarmed protesters are often being killed by Israeli snipers from long distances. Even journalists and medics have not been spared the same tragic fate as the hundreds of civilians who were killed since the start of the protests in March 2018.

Last February, the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on Gaza’s protests concluded that “it has reasonable grounds to believe that during the Great March of Return, Israeli soldiers committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Some of those violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity, and must be immediately investigated by Israel.”

In his attack on the ICC at the Herzliya Conference, Afek contended that “Israel is a law-abiding country, with an independent and strong judicial system, and there is no reason for its actions to be scrutinized by the ICC.”

The Israeli General goes on to reprimand the ICC by urging it to focus on “dealing with the main issues for which it was founded.”

Has Afek even read the Rome Statute? The first Article states that the ICC has the “power to exercise its jurisdiction over persons for the most serious crimes of international concern, as referred to in this Statute.”

Article 5 elaborates the nature of these serious crimes, which include: “(a) The crime of genocide; (b) Crimes against humanity; (c) War crimes; (d) The crime of aggression.”

Israel has been accused of at least two of these crimes – war crimes and crimes against humanity – repeatedly, including in the February report by the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry.

Afek may argue that none of this is relevant to Israel, for the latter is not “a party to the Rome Statute,” therefore, does not fall within ICC’s legal jurisdiction.

Wrong again.

Article 12 of the Rome Statute allows for ICC’s jurisdiction in two cases; first, if the State in which the alleged crime has occurred is itself a party of the Statute and, second, if the State where the crime has occurred agrees to submit itself to the jurisdiction of the court.

While it is true that Israel is not a signatory of the Rome Statute, Palestine has, since 2015, agreed to submit itself to the ICC’s jurisdiction.

Moreover, in April 2015, the State of Palestine formally became a member of the ICC, thus giving the court jurisdiction to investigate crimes committed in the Occupied Territories since June 13, 2014. These crimes include human rights violations carried out during the Israeli war on Gaza in July-August of the same year.

Afek’s skewed understanding of international law went unchallenged at the Herzliya Conference, as he was flanked by equally misguided interpreters of international law.

However, nothing proclaimed by Israel’s top military prosecutor or his government will alter the facts. Israeli war crimes must not go unpunished; Israel’s judicial system is untrustworthy and the ICC has the legal right and moral duty to carry out the will of the international community and hold to account those responsible for war crimes anywhere, including Israel.

Facing the Facts: Israel Cannot Escape ICC Jurisdiction

The Chief Military Advocate General of the Israeli army, Sharon Afek, and the US Department of Defense General Counsel, Paul Ney, shared a platform at the ‘International Conference on the Law of Armed Conflict’, which took place in Herzliya, Israel between May 28-30.

Their panel witnessed some of the most misconstrued interpretations of international law ever recorded. It was as if Afek and Ney were literally making up their own law on warfare and armed conflict, with no regard to what international law actually stipulates.

Unsurprisingly, both Afek and Ney agreed on many things, including that Israel and the US are blameless in all of their military conflicts, and that they will always be united against any attempt to hold them accountable for war crimes by the International Court of Justice (ICC).

Their tirade against the ICC mirrors that of their own leaders. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s anti-ICC position is familiar, last April, US President Donald Trump virulently expressed his contempt for the global organization and everything it represents.

“Any attempt to target American, Israeli, or allied personnel for prosecution will be met with a swift and vigorous response,” Trump said in a writing on April 12.

While Trump’s (and Netanyahu’s) divisive language is nothing new, Afek and Ney were entrusted with the difficult task of using legal language to explain their countries’ aversion for international law.

Prior to the Herzliya Conference, Afek addressed the Israel Bar Association convention in Eilat on May 26. Here, too, he made some ludicrous claims as he absolved, in advance, Israeli soldiers who kill Palestinians.

“A soldier who is in a life-threatening situation and acts to defend himself (or) others (he) is responsible for, is receiving and will continue receiving full back-up from the Israeli army,” he said.

The above assertion appears far more sinister once we remember Afek’s views on what constitutes a “life-threatening situation”, as he had articulated in Herzliya a few days later.

“Thousands of Gaza’s residents (try) to breach the border fence,” he said, with reference to the non-violent March of Return at the fence separating besieged Gaza from Israel.

The Gaza protesters “are led by a terrorist organization that deliberately uses civilians to carry out attacks,” Afek said.

Afek sees unarmed protests in Gaza as a form of terrorism, thus concurring with an earlier statement made by then-Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, on April 8, 2018, when he declared that “there are no innocents in Gaza.”

Israel’s shoot-to-kill policy, however, is not confined to the Gaza Strip but is also implemented with the same degree of violent enthusiasm in the West Bank.

‘No attacker, male or female, should make it out of any attack alive,’ Lieberman said in 2015. His orders were followed implicitly, as hundreds of Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and Jerusalem for allegedly trying to attack Israeli occupation soldiers or armed illegal Jewish settlers.

Unlike democratic political systems everywhere, in Israel the occupation soldier becomes the interpreter and enforcer of the law.

Putting this policy into practice in Gaza is even more horrendous as unarmed protesters are often being killed by Israeli snipers from long distances. Even journalists and medics have not been spared the same tragic fate as the hundreds of civilians who were killed since the start of the protests in March 2018.

Last February, the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on Gaza’s protests concluded that “it has reasonable grounds to believe that during the Great March of Return, Israeli soldiers committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Some of those violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity, and must be immediately investigated by Israel.”

In his attack on the ICC at the Herzliya Conference, Afek contended that “Israel is a law-abiding country, with an independent and strong judicial system, and there is no reason for its actions to be scrutinized by the ICC.”

The Israeli General goes on to reprimand the ICC by urging it to focus on “dealing with the main issues for which it was founded.”

Has Afek even read the Rome Statute? The first Article states that the ICC has the “power to exercise its jurisdiction over persons for the most serious crimes of international concern, as referred to in this Statute.”

Article 5 elaborates the nature of these serious crimes, which include: “(a) The crime of genocide; (b) Crimes against humanity; (c) War crimes; (d) The crime of aggression.”

Israel has been accused of at least two of these crimes – war crimes and crimes against humanity – repeatedly, including in the February report by the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry.

Afek may argue that none of this is relevant to Israel, for the latter is not “a party to the Rome Statute,” therefore, does not fall within ICC’s legal jurisdiction.

Wrong again.

Article 12 of the Rome Statute allows for ICC’s jurisdiction in two cases; first, if the State in which the alleged crime has occurred is itself a party of the Statute and, second, if the State where the crime has occurred agrees to submit itself to the jurisdiction of the court.

While it is true that Israel is not a signatory of the Rome Statute, Palestine has, since 2015, agreed to submit itself to the ICC’s jurisdiction.

Moreover, in April 2015, the State of Palestine formally became a member of the ICC, thus giving the court jurisdiction to investigate crimes committed in the Occupied Territories since June 13, 2014. These crimes include human rights violations carried out during the Israeli war on Gaza in July-August of the same year.

Afek’s skewed understanding of international law went unchallenged at the Herzliya Conference, as he was flanked by equally misguided interpreters of international law.

However, nothing proclaimed by Israel’s top military prosecutor or his government will alter the facts. Israeli war crimes must not go unpunished; Israel’s judicial system is untrustworthy and the ICC has the legal right and moral duty to carry out the will of the international community and hold to account those responsible for war crimes anywhere, including Israel.

Is Leaked Document Trump’s “Deal of the Century”?

A report published this week by the Israel Hayom newspaper apparently leaking details of Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” reads like the kind of peace plan that might be put together by an estate agent or car salesman.

But while the authenticity of the document is unproven and indeed contested, there are serious grounds for believing it paves the direction of any future declaration by the Trump administration.

Not least, it is a synthesis of most of the Israeli right’s ambitions for the creation of a Greater Israel, with a few sops to the Palestinians – most of them related to partially relieving Israel’s economic strangulation of the Palestinian economy.

This is exactly what Jared Kushner told us the “deal of the century” would look like in his preview last month.

Also significant is the outlet that published the leak: Israel Hayom. The Israeli newspaper is owned by Sheldon Adelson, a US casino billionaire who is one of the Republican party’s chief donors and was a major contributor to Trump’s presidential election campaign funds.

Adelson is also a stalwart ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His newspaper has served as little more than a mouthpiece for Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist governments over the past decade.

Netanyahu behind leak?

Adelson and Israel Hayom have ready access to key figures in both the US and Israeli administrations. And it has been widely reported that little of significance gets into print there unless it has first been approved by Netanyahu or its overseas owner.

The newspaper questioned the authenticity and credibility of the document, which has spread across social media platforms, even suggesting “it is quite possible the document is fake” and that the Israeli foriegn ministry was looking into it.

The White House had already indicated that, after long delays, it intended to finally unveil the “deal of the century” next month, after the holy Muslim month of Ramadan finishes.

An unnamed White House official told the paper the leak was “speculative” and “inaccurate” – the kind of lacklustre denial that might equally mean the report is, in fact, largely accurate.

If the document is genuine, Netanyahu looks to be the most likely culprit behind the leak. He has overseen the foreign ministry for years and Israel Hayom is widely referred to by Israelis as “Bibiton”, or Bibi’s newspaper, employing the prime minister’s nickname.

Testing the waters

The alleged document, as published in Israel Hayom, would be catastrophically bad for the Palestinians. Assuming Netanyahu approved the document’s leaking, his motives might not be too difficult to discern.

On one view, leaking it might be an effective way for Netanyahu and the Trump administration to test the waters, to fly a trial balloon to see whether they dare publish the document as it is, or need to make modifications.

But another possibility is that Netanyahu may have concluded that there could be an unwelcome price in publicly achieving most of what he is already gaining by stealth – a price he may prefer to avoid for the time being.

Is the leak designed to foment pre-emptive opposition to the plan, both from within Israel and from the Palestinians and the Arab world, in the hope of stymieing its release?

The hope may be that the leak, and the reaction it elicits, forces Trump’s Middle East team to postpone yet again the plan’s publication, or even foils its release entirely.

Nonetheless, whether or not the “deal of the century” is unveiled soon, the leaked document – if true – offers a plausible glimpse into the Trump administration’s thinking.

Given that Trump’s Middle East team appear to have begun implementing the plan over the past 18 months even without its publication – from moving the US embassy to Jerusalem to the recognition of Israel’s illegal annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights – the leak helps to shed light on how a US-Israeli “resolution” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is likely to unfold.

Annexing the West Bank

The proposed Palestinian entity would be named “New Palestine” – apparently taking a page out of the playbook of Tony Blair, a Britain’s former prime minister who became the international community’s Middle East envoy from 2007 to 2015.

Back in the 1990s, Blair filleted his own political party, Labour, of its socialist heritage and then rebranded the resulting corporation-friendly party, a pale shadow of its former self, as “New Labour”.

The name “New Palestine” helpfully obscures the fact that this demilitarised entity would lack the features and powers normally associated with a state. According to the leak, New Palestine would exist on only a tiny fraction of historic Palestine.

All illegal settlements in the West Bank would be annexed to Israel – satisfying a pledge Netanyahu made shortly before last month’s general election. If the territory annexed includes most of Area C, the 62 per cent of the West Bank Israel was given temporary control over under the Oslo accords, and which the Israeli right urgently wants to annex, that would leave New Palestine nominally in charge of about 12 percent of historic Palestine.

Or put another way, the Trump administration appears to be ready to give its blessing to a Greater Israel comprising 88 per cent of the land stolen from Palestinians over the past seven decades.

But it is far worse than that. New Palestine would exist as a series of discrete cantons, or Bantustans, surrounded by a sea of Israeli settlements – now to be declared part of Israel. The entity would be chopped and diced in a way that is true of no other state in the world.

New Palestine would have no army, just a lightly armed police force. It would be able to act only as a series of disconnected municipalities.

In fact, it is hard to imagine how “New Palestine” would fundamentally change the current, dismal reality for Palestinians. They would be able to move between these cantons only using lengthy detours, bypass roads and tunnels. Much like now.

Glorified municipalities

The only silver lining offered in the alleged document is a proposed bribe from the US, Europe, and other developed states, though mostly financed by the oil-rich Gulf states, to salve their consciences for defrauding the Palestinians of their land and sovereignty.

These states will provide $30bn over five years to help New Palestine set up and run its glorified municipalities. If that sounds like a lot of money, remember it is $8bn less than the decade-long aid the US is currently giving Israel to buy arms and fighter jets.

What happens to New Palestine after that five-year period is unclear in the document. But given that the 12 percent of historic Palestine awarded to the Palestinians is the region’s most resource-poor territory – stripped by Israel of water sources, economic coherence, and key exploitable resources like the West Bank’s quarries – it is hard not to see the entity sinking rather swimming after the initial influx of money dries up.

Even if the international community agrees to stump up more money, New Palestine would be entirely aid dependent in perpetuity.

The US and others would be able to turn on and off the spigot based on the Palestinians’ “good behaviour” – just as occurs now. Palestinians would live permanently in fear of the repercussions for criticising their prison warders.

In keeping with his vow to make Mexico pay for the wall to be built along the southern US border, Trump apparently wants the Palestinian entity to pay Israel to provide it with military security. In other words, much of that $30bn in aid to the Palestinians would probably end up in the Israeli military’s pockets.

Interestingly, the leaked report argues that oil-producing states, not the Palestinians, would be the “main beneficiaries” of the agreement. This hints at how the Trump deal is being sold to the Gulf states: as an opportunity for them to fully embrace Israel, its technology and military prowess, so that the Middle East can follow in the footsteps of Asia’s “tiger economies”.

Ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem

Jerusalem is described as a “shared capital”, but the small print reads rather differently. Jerusalem would not be divided into a Palestinian east and an Israeli west, as most had envisaged. Instead, the city will be run by a unified Israeli-run municipality. Just as happens now.

The only meaningful concession to the Palestinians would be that Israelis would not be allowed to buy Palestinian homes, preventing – in theory, at least – a further takeover of East Jerusalem by Jewish settlers.

But given that in return Palestinians would not be allowed to buy Israeli homes, and that the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem already suffers massive housing shortages and that an Israeli municipality would have the power to decide where homes are built and for whom, it is easy to imagine that the current situation – of Israel exploiting planning controls to drive Palestinians out of Jerusalem – would simply continue.

Also, given that Palestinians in Jerusalem would be citizens of New Palestine, not Israel, those unable to find a home in Israeli-ruled Jerusalem would have no choice but to emigrate into the West Bank. That would be exactly the same form of bureaucratic ethnic cleansing that Palestinians in Jerusalem experience now.

Gaza open to Sinai

Echoing recent comments from Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East adviser, the plan’s benefits for Palestinians all relate to potential economic dividends, not political ones.

Palestinians will be allowed to labour in Israel, as was the norm before Oslo – and presumably, as before, only in the most poorly paid and precarious jobs, on building sites and agricultural land.

A land corridor, doubtlessly overseen by Israeli military contractors the Palestinians must pay for, is supposed to connect Gaza to the West Bank. Confirming earlier reports of the Trump administration’s plans, Gaza would be opened up to the world, and an industrial zone and airport created in the neighbouring territory of Sinai.

The land – its extent to be decided in negotiations – would be leased from Egypt.

Helpfully for Israel, as Middle East Eye has previously pointed out, such a move risks gradually encouraging Palestinians to view Sinai as the centre of their lives rather than Gaza – another way to slowly ethnically cleanse them.

Meanwhile, the West Bank would be connected to Jordan by two border crossings – probably via land corridors through the Jordan Valley, which itself is to be annexed to Israel. Again, with Palestinians squeezed into disconnected cantons surrounded by Israeli territory, the assumption must be that over time many would seek a new life in Jordan.

Palestinian political prisoners would be released from Israeli jails to the authority of New Palestine over three years. But the plan says nothing about a right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees – descended from those who were expelled from their homes in the 1948 and 1967 wars.

Gun to their heads

Don Corleone-style, the Trump administrations appears ready to hold a gun to the head of the Palestinian leaderships to force them to sign up to the deal.

The US, the leaked report states, would cut off all money transfers to the Palestinians if they dissent, in an attempt to batter them into submission.

The alleged plan would demand that Hamas and Islamic Jihad disarm, handing their weapons over to Egypt. Should they reject the deal, the report says the US would authorise Israel to “personally harm” the leadership – through extrajudicial assassinations that have long been a mainstay of Israeli policy towards the two groups.

Rather less credibly, the alleged document suggests that the White House is prepared to get tough with Israel too, cutting off US aid if Israel fails to abide by the terms of the agreement.

Given that Israel has regularly broken the Oslo accords – and international law – without paying any serious penalty for doing so, it is easy to imagine that in practice the US would find work-arounds to ensure Israel was not harmed for any violations of the deal.

US imprimatur

The alleged document has all the hallmarks of being the Trump plan, or at least a recent draft of it, because it sets out in black and white the reality Israel has been crafting for Palestinians over the past two decades.

It simply gives Israel’s mass theft of land and cantonisation of the Palestinians an official US imprimatur.

So, if it offers the Israeli right most of what it wants, what interest would Israel Hayom – Netanyahu’s mouthpiece – have in jeopardising its success by leaking it?

A couple of reasons suggest themselves.

Israel is already achieving all these goals – stealing land, annexing the settlements, cementing its exclusive control over Jerusalem, putting pressure on the Palestinians to move off their land and into neighbouring states – without formally declaring that this is its game plan.

It has been making great progress in all its aims without having to admit publicly that statehood for the Palestinians is an illusion. For Netanyahu, the question must be why go public with Israel’s over-arching vision when it can be achieved by stealth.

Fearful of backlash

But even worse for Israel, once the Palestinians and the watching world understand that the current, catastrophic reality for Palestinians is as good as it is going to get, there is likely to be a backlash.

The Palestinian Authority could collapse, the Palestinian populace launch a new uprising, the so-called “Arab street” may be far less accepting of the plan than their rulers or Trump might hope, and solidarity activists in the West, including the boycott movement, would get a massive shot in the arm for their cause.

Equally, it would be impossible for Israel’s apologists to continue denying that Israel is carrying out what the late Israeli academic Baruch Kimmerling called “politicide” – the destruction of the Palestinians’ future, their right to self-determination and their integrity as a single people.

If this is Trump’s version of Middle East peace, he is playing a game of Russian roulette – and Netanyahu may be reluctant to let him pull the trigger.

First published in Middle East Eye

The Two Narratives of Palestine: The People Are United, the Factions Are Not

The International Conference on Palestine held in Istanbul between April 27-29 brought together many speakers and hundreds of academics, journalists, activists and students from Turkey and all over the world.

The Conference was a rare opportunity aimed at articulating a discourse of international solidarity that is both inclusive and forward thinking.

There was near consensus that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement must be supported, that Donald Trump’s so-called ‘Deal of the Century’ must be defeated and that normalization must be shunned.

When it came to articulating the objectives of the Palestinian struggle, however, the narrative became indecisive and unclear. Although none of the speakers made a case for a two-state solution, our call for a one democratic state from Istanbul – or any other place outside Palestine – seemed partially irrelevant. For the one state solution to become the overriding objective of the pro-Palestine movement worldwide, the call has to come from a Palestinian leadership that reflects the true aspirations of the Palestinian people.

One speaker after the other called for Palestinian unity, imploring Palestinians for guidance and for articulating a national discourse. Many in the audience concurred with that assessment as well. One audience member even blurted out the cliched question: “Where is the Palestinian Mandela?” Luckily, the grandson of Nelson Mandela, Zwelivelile “Mandla” Mandela, was himself a speaker. He answered forcefully that Mandela was only the face of the movement, which encompassed millions of ordinary men and women, whose struggles and sacrifices ultimately defeated apartheid.

Following my speech at the Conference, I met with several freed Palestinian prisoners as part of my research for my forthcoming book on the subject.

Some of the freed prisoners identified as Hamas and others as Fatah. Their narrative seemed largely free from the disgraced factional language we are bombarded with in the media, but also liberated from the dry and detached narratives of politics and academia.

“When Israel placed Gaza under siege and denied us family visitations, our Fatah brothers always came to our help,” a freed Hamas prisoner told me. “And whenever Israeli prison authorities mistreated any of our brothers from any factions, including Fatah, we all resisted together.”

A freed Fatah prisoner told me that when Hamas and Fatah fought in Gaza in the summer of 2007, the prisoners suffered most. “We suffered because we felt that the people who should be fighting for our freedom, were fighting each other. We felt betrayed by everyone.”

To effectuate disunity, Israeli authorities relocated Hamas and Fatah prisoners into separate wards and prisons. They wanted to sever any communication between the prisoners’ leadership and to block any attempts at finding common ground for national unity.

The Israeli decision was not random. A year earlier, in May 2006, the leadership of the prisoners met in a prison cell to discuss the conflict between Hamas, which had won the legislative elections in the Occupied Territories, and the PA’s main party, Fatah.

These leaders included Marwan Barghouthi of Fatah, Abdel Khaleq al-Natshe from Hamas and representatives from other major Palestinian groups. The outcome was the National Conciliation Document, arguably the most important Palestinian initiative in decades.

What became known as the Prisoner’s Document was significant because it was not some self-serving political compromise achieved in a luxurious hotel in some Arab capital, but a genuine articulation of national Palestinian priorities, presented by the most respected and honored sector in Palestinian society.

Israel immediately denounced the document.

Instead of engaging all factions in a national dialogue around the document, PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, gave rival factions an ultimatum to either accept or reject the document in full. The spirit of the unity in the prisoners’ initiative was betrayed by Abbas and the warring factions. Eventually, Fatah and Hamas fought their own tragic war in Gaza the following year.

On speaking to the prisoners after listening to the discourse of academics, politicians and activists, I was able to decipher a disconnection between the Palestinian narrative on the ground and our own perception of this narrative from outside.

The prisoners display unity in their narrative, a clear sense of purpose, and determination to carry on with their resistance. While it is true that they all identified as members in one political group or another, I am yet to interview a single prisoner who placed factional interests above national interest. This should not come as a surprise. Indeed, these men and women have been detained, tortured and have endured many years in prison for being Palestinian resisters, regardless of their ideological and factional leanings.

The myth of the disunited and dysfunctional Palestinian is very much an Israeli invention that precedes the inception of Hamas, and even Fatah. This Zionist notion, which has been embraced by the current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, argues that ‘Israel has no peace partner‘. Despite the hemorrhaging concessions by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, this claim has remained a fixture in Israeli politics to this day.

Political unity aside, the Palestinian people perceive ‘unity’ in a whole different political context than that of Israel and, frankly, many of us outside Palestine.

‘Al-Wihda al-Wataniya’ or national unity is a generational quest around a set of principles, including resistance, as a strategy for the liberation of Palestine, Right of Return for refugees, and self-determination for the Palestinian people as the ultimate goals. It is around this idea of unity that the leadership of Palestinian prisoners drafted their document in 2006, in the hope of averting a factional clash and keeping the struggle centered on resistance against Israeli occupation.

The ongoing Great March of Return in Gaza is another daily example of the kind of unity the Palestinian people are striving for. Despite heavy losses, thousands of protesters insist on their unity while demanding their freedom, Right of Return and an end to the Israeli siege.

For us to claim that Palestinians are not united because Fatah and Hamas cannot find common ground is simply unjustified. National unity and political unity between factions are two different issues.

It is important that we do not make the mistake of confusing the Palestinian people with factions, national unity around resistance and rights with political arrangements between political groups.

As far as vision and strategy are concerned, perhaps it is time to read the prisoners’ National Conciliation Document’. It was written by the Nelson Mandelas of Palestine, thousands of whom remain in Israeli prisons to this day.

“The Essence of Being Palestinian”: What the Great March of Return is Really About

The aims of the Great March of Return protests, which began in Gaza on March 30, 2018 are to put an end to the suffocating Israeli siege and implementing the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees who were expelled from their homes and towns in historic Palestine 70 years earlier.

But there is much more to the March of Return than a few demands, especially bearing in mind the high human cost associated with it.

According to Gaza’s Ministry of Health, over 250 people have been killed and 6,500 wounded, including children, medics and journalists.

Aside from the disproportionately covered ‘flaming kites’ and youth symbolically cutting through the metal fences that have besieged them for many years, the March has been largely non-violent. Despite this, Israel has killed and maimed protesters with impunity.

A UN human rights commission of inquiry found last month that Israel may have committed war crimes against protesters, resulting in the killing of 189 Palestinians within the period March 30 and December 31, 2018.

The inquiry found “reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at children, medics and journalists, even though they were clearly recognizable as such,” the investigators concluded as reported by BBC online.

Many in the media, however, still do not understand what the Great March of Return really means for Palestinians.

A cynically titled report in the Washington Post attempted to offer an answer. The article, “Gazans have paid in blood for a year of protests. Now many wonder what it was for,” selectively quoted wounded Palestinians who, supposedly, feel that their sacrifices were in vain.

Aside from providing the Israeli military with a platform to blame the Hamas Movement for the year-long march, the long report ended with these two quotes:

The March of Return “achieved nothing,” according to one injured Palestinian.

“The only thing I can find is that it made people pay attention,” said another.

If the Washington Post paid attention, it would have realized that the mood among Palestinians is neither cynical nor despairing.

The Post should have wondered: if the march ‘achieved nothing’, why were Gazans still protesting, and the popular and inclusive nature of the March has not been compromised?

“The Right of Return is more than a political position,” said Sabreen al-Najjar, the mother of young Palestinian medic, Razan, who, on June 1, 2018, was fatally shot by the Israeli army while trying to help wounded Palestinian protesters. It is “more than a principle: wrapped up in it, and reflected in literature and art and music, is the essence of what it means to be Palestinian. It is in our blood.”

Indeed, what is the ‘Great March of Return’ but a people attempting to reclaim their role, and be recognized and heard in the struggle for the liberation of Palestine?

What is largely missing from the discussion on Gaza is the collective psychology behind this kind of mobilization, and why it is essential for hundreds of thousands of besieged people to rediscover their power and understand their true position, not as hapless victims, but as agents of change in their society.

The narrow reading, or the misrepresentation of the March of Return, speaks volumes about the overall underestimation of the role of the Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom, justice and national liberation, extending for a century.

The story of Palestine is the story of the Palestinian people, for they are the victims of oppression and the main channel of resistance, starting with the Nakba – the creation of Israel on the ruins of Palestinian towns and villages in 1948. Had Palestinians not resisted, their story would have concluded then, and they, too, would have disappeared.

Those who admonish Palestinian resistance or, like the Post, fail to understand the underlying value of popular movement and sacrifices, have little understanding of the psychological ramifications of resistance – the sense of collective empowerment and hope which spreads amongst the people. In his introduction to Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, Jean-Paul Sartre describes resistance, as it was passionately vindicated by Fanon, as a process through which “a man is re-creating himself.”

For 70 years, Palestinians have embarked on that journey of the re-creation of the self. They have resisted, and their resistance in all of its forms has molded a sense of collective unity, despite the numerous divisions that were erected amongst the people.

The March of Return is the latest manifestation of the ongoing Palestinian resistance.

It is obvious that elitist interpretations of Palestine have failed – Oslo proved a worthless exercise in empty clichés, aimed at sustaining American political dominance in Palestine as well as in the rest of the Middle East.

But the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993 shattered the relative cohesiveness of the Palestinian discourse, thus weakening and dividing the Palestinian people.

In the Israeli Zionist narrative, Palestinians are depicted as drifting lunatics, an inconvenience that hinders the path of progress – a description that regularly defined the relationship between every western colonial power and the colonized, resisting natives.

Within some Israeli political and academic circles, Palestinians merely ‘existed’ to be ‘cleansed’, to make room for a different, more deserving people. From the Zionist perspective, the ‘existence’ of the natives is meant to be temporary. “We must expel Arabs and take their place,” wrote Israel’s founding father, David Ben Gurion.

Assigning the roles of dislocated, disinherited and nomadic to the Palestinian people, without consideration for the ethical and political implications of such a perception, has erroneously presented Palestinians as a docile and submissive collective.

Hence, it is imperative that we develop a clearer understanding of the layered meanings behind the Great March of Return. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza did not risk life and limb over the last year simply because they required urgent medicine and food supplies.

Palestinians did so because they understand their centrality in their struggle. Their protests are a collective statement, a cry for justice, an ultimate reclamation of their narrative as a people – still standing, still powerful and still hopeful after 70 years of Nakba, 50 years of military occupation and 12 years of unrelenting siege.