Category Archives: Settler Colonization

In Hebron, Israel removes the Last Restraint on its Settlers’ Reign of Terror

You might imagine that a report by a multinational observer force documenting a 20-year reign of terror by Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers against Palestinians, in a city under occupation, would provoke condemnation from European and US politicians.

But you would be wrong. The leaking in December of the report on conditions in the city of Hebron, home to 200,000 Palestinians, barely caused a ripple.

About 40,000 separate cases of abuse had been quietly recorded since 1997 by dozens of monitors from Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Italy and Turkey. Some incidents constituted war crimes.

Exposure of the confidential report has now provided the pretext for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to expel the international observers. He shuttered their mission in Hebron this month, in apparent violation of Israel’s obligations under the 25-year-old Oslo peace accords.

Israel hopes once again to draw a veil over its violent colonisation of the heart of the West Bank’s largest Palestinian city. The process of clearing tens of thousands of inhabitants from central Hebron is already well advanced.

Any chance of rousing the international community into even minimal protest was stamped out by the US last week. It blocked a draft resolution at the United Nations Security Council expressing “regret” at Israel’s decision, and on Friday added that ending the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) was an “internal matter” for Israel.

The TIPH was established in 1997 after a diplomatic protocol split the city into two zones, controlled separately by Israel and a Palestinian Authority created by the Oslo accords.

The “temporary” in its name was a reference to the expected five-year duration of the Oslo process. The need for TIPH, most assumed, would vanish when Israel ended the occupation and a Palestinian state was built in its place.

While Oslo put the PA formally in charge of densely populated regions of the occupied territories, Israel was effectively given a free hand in Hebron to entrench its belligerent hold on Palestinian life.

Several hundred extremist Jewish settlers have gradually expanded their illegal enclave in the city centre, backed by more than 1,000 Israeli soldiers. Many Palestinian residents have been forced out while the rest are all but imprisoned in their homes.

TIPH faced an impossible task from the outset: to “maintain normal life” for Hebron’s Palestinians in the face of Israel’s structural violence.

Until the report was leaked, its documentation of Israel’s takeover of Hebron and the settlers’ violent attacks had remained private, shared only among the states participating in the task force.

However, the presence of observers did curb the settlers’ worst excesses, helping Palestinian children get to school unharmed and allowing their parents to venture out to work and shop. That assistance is now at an end.

Hebron has been a magnet for extremist settlers because it includes a site revered in Judaism: the reputed burial plot of Abraham, father to the three main monotheistic religions.

But to the settlers’ disgruntlement, Hebron became central to Muslim worship centuries ago, with the Ibrahimi mosque established at the site.

Israel’s policy has been gradually to prise away the Palestinians’ hold on the mosque, as well the urban space around it. Half of the building has been restricted to Jewish prayer, but in practice the entire site is under Israeli military control.

As the TIPH report notes, Palestinian Muslims must now pass through several checkpoints to reach the mosque and are subjected to invasive body searches. The muezzin’s call to prayer is regularly silenced to avoid disturbing Jews.

Faced with these pressures, according to TIPH, the number of Palestinians praying there has dropped by half over the past 15 years.

In Hebron, as at Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, a Muslim holy site is treated solely as an obstacle – one that must be removed so that Israel can assert exclusive sovereignty over all of the Palestinians’ former homeland.

A forerunner of TIPH was set up in 1994, shortly after Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli army doctor, entered the Ibrahimi mosque and shot more than 150 Muslims at prayer, killing 29. Israeli soldiers aided Goldstein, inadvertently or otherwise, by barring the worshippers’ escape while they were being sprayed with bullets.

The massacre should have provided the opportunity for Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s prime minister of the time, to banish Hebron’s settlers and ensure the Oslo process remained on track. Instead he put the Palestinian population under prolonged curfew.

That curfew never really ended. It became the basis of an apartheid policy that has endlessly indulged Jewish settlers as they harass and abuse their Palestinian neighbours.

Israel’s hope is that most will get the message and leave.

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in power for a decade, more settlers are moving in, driving out Palestinians. Today Hebron’s old market, once the commercial hub of the southern West Bank, is a ghost town, and Palestinians are too terrified to enter large sections of their own city.

TIPH’s report concluded that, far from guaranteeing “normal life”, Israel had made Hebron more divided and dangerous for Palestinians than ever before.

In 2016 another army medic, Elor Azaria, used his rifle to shoot in the head a prone and badly wounded Palestinian youth. Unlike Goldstein’s massacre, the incident was caught on video.

Israelis barely cared until Azaria was arrested. Then large sections of the public, joined by politicians, rallied to his cause, hailing him a hero.

Despite doing very little publicly, TIPH’s presence in Hebron had served as some kind of restraint on the settlers and soldiers. Now the fear is that there will be more Azarias.

Palestinians rightly suspect that the expulsion of the observer force is the latest move in efforts by Israel and the US to weaken mechanisms for protecting Palestinian human rights.

Mr Netanyahu has incited against local and international human rights organisations constantly, accusing them of being foreign agents and making it ever harder for them to operate effectively.

And last year US President Donald Trump cut all aid to UNRWA, the United Nations’ refugee agency, which plays a vital role in caring for Palestinians and upholding their right to return to their former lands.

Not only are the institutions Palestinians rely on for support being dismembered but so now are the organisations that record the crimes Israel has been committing.

That, Israel hopes, will ensure that an international observer post which has long had no teeth will soon will soon lose its sight too as Israel begins a process of annexing the most prized areas of the West Bank – with Hebron top of the list.

• A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi

As Abbas Ages, Fatah Moves to Consolidate Power

Five years after spearheading what is inaptly referred to as a ‘government of national reconciliation’, Palestinian Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, has finally resigned.

“We put our government at the disposal of President Mahmoud Abbas and we welcome the recommendations of the Fatah Central Committee to form a new government,” Hamdallah tweeted, shortly after Abbas had ordered him to dismantle the government.

Since the Palestinian Authority was founded in 1994, 17 governments have been formed, and every single one of them was dominated by the Fatah party, the largest faction within the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Fatah’s monopoly over Palestinian politics has wrought disasters. Neither did the PA deliver the coveted Palestinian state, nor did Fatah use its influence to bring Palestinian factions together. In fact, the opposite is true.

Most of these 17 governments were short-lived, except that of Hamdallah, which has governed for five years, despite the fact that it failed in its primary mission: healing the terrible rift between Fatah in the Israeli Occupied West Bank, and Hamas in Israel-besieged Gaza.

Moreover, it also fell short of bringing PLO factions closer together. Thus far, the second largest PLO faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) refuses to participate in a future government that will also be dominated by Fatah.

Palestinian divisions have never been as pronounced as they are today. While all Palestinian factions, Hamas and Islamic Jihad included, bear part of the blame for failing to unify their ranks and form a single national strategy to combat Israeli colonialism and occupation, Abbas bears the largest share.

Even before becoming a president of the PA in January 2005, Abbas has always been a divisive political figure. When he was the PA’s Prime Minister, between March and September 2003 under the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, Abbas clashed with anyone who would challenge his often self-serving political agenda, including Arafat himself. His constant clashing with Arafat at the time made him favorite in Washington.

Abbas was elected on a weak popular mandate, as Hamas and others boycotted the presidential elections. His first, and only term in office expired in 2009. For a whole decade, neither Abbas nor any government of his have operated with the minimum requirement of democracy. Indeed, for many years the will of the Palestinian people has been hijacked by wealthy men, fighting to preserve their own interests while undeservingly claiming the role of leadership.

The 2006 Hamas victory in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections was a reminder to Abbas (but also to Israel and the United States) of how dangerous free elections can be. Since then, there has been much talk about the need for new elections, but no sincere efforts have been made to facilitate such a task. Logistical difficulties notwithstanding (for Palestine is, after all an occupied country), neither party wants to take the risk of letting the people have the last word.

Palestine and her people are not only trapped by Israeli walls, fences and armed soldiers, but by their inept leadership as well.

The 2007 Fatah-Hamas clashes which led to the current extreme polarization have split Palestinians politically, between the West Bank, under Abbas’ authoritative control, and Hamas, in besieged and struggling Gaza. While Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, often complains of the lack of a ‘Palestinian partner’, his government, with the aid of Washington, has done its utmost to ensure Palestinian division.

Several agreements between Fatah and Hamas have been signed, the latest, which appeared most promising, was achieved in October 2017. Palestinians were cautious, then, but also hopeful as several practical steps were taken this time to transfer legal responsibilities from Hamas to the Hamdallah government, whether in the various Gaza ministries, or at the Rafah-Egypt border.

Then, just when the wheels began turning, raising hopes among ordinary Palestinians that this time things were truly changing, Rami Hamdallah’s convoy was attacked as it crossed the main entrance to Gaza, via Israel.

Some sinister force clearly wanted Hamdallah dead, or, at least, it wanted to send a violent message providing the political fodder to those who wanted to stall the political progress between the two main Palestinian parties. Hamas quickly claimed to have apprehended the culprits, while Fatah, without much investigation, declared that Hamas was responsible for the bomb, thus stalling and, eventually, severing all reconciliation talks.

This was followed by clearly orchestrated steps to punish Gaza and push the people in the besieged and war-devastated Strip to the point of complete despair. First, Abbas refused to pay money to the Israeli company that provides some of Gaza’s electricity needs – thus leaving Gaza in the dark; then he significantly slashed salaries to Gaza workers, among other measures.

In response, tens of thousands of Gazans went to the fence separating besieged Gaza from Israel protesting the Israeli siege, which, with Abbas’ latest collective punishment, has become beyond unbearable.

Indeed, Gaza’s ongoing ‘Great March of Return’, which began on March 30, 2018, was a popular response to a people fed up with war, siege, international neglect, but also horrific political tribalism. Since the march began, over 200 Palestinians have been killed and thousands maimed and wounded.

Abbas is now 83-years old with increasingly debilitating health. His supporters within Fatah want to ensure a political transition that guarantees their dominance because political monopoly offers many perks: wealth, privilege, power and prestige. For Fatah, Hamdallah and his ‘reconciliation’ government have ceased to serve any purpose. Additionally, a unity government with other Palestinian groups at this crucial, transitional period seems too risky a gamble for those who want to ensure future dominance.

The tragic truth is that all such politicking is happening within the confines of Israeli military Occupation, and that Israeli fences, walls, trenches, illegal Jewish settlements and Jewish-only bypass roads encircle all Palestinians, from Gaza to Jericho, and from Jerusalem to Rafah; that no Palestinian, Abbas included, is truly free, and that all political titles hold no weight before the power of a single Israeli sniper firing at Palestinian children at the Gaza fence.

Palestinians do need their unity and urgently so, not expressed in mere political compromises between factions, but the unity of a people facing the same brutal and oppressive enemy.

Benny Gantz and Israel’s Drive to Become a Modern-day Sparta

With April’s elections looming, sr Benjamin Netanyahu has good reason to fear Benny Gantz, his former army chief. Gantz has launched a new party, named Iaeli Resilience, just as the net of corruption indictments is closing around the prime minister.

Already, at this early stage of campaigning, some 31 per cent of the Israeli public prefer Gantz to head the next government over Netanyahu, who is only months away from becoming the longest-serving leader in Israel’s history.

Gantz is being feted as the new hope, a chance to change direction after a series of governments under Netanyahu’s leadership have over the past decade shifted Israel ever further to the right.

Like Israel’s former politician generals, from Yitzhak Rabin to Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, Gantz is being portrayed – and portraying himself – as a battle-hardened warrior, able to make peace from a position of strength.

Before he had issued a single policy statement, polls showed him winning 15 of the 120 parliamentary seats, a welcome sign for those hoping that a centre-left coalition can triumph this time.

But the reality of what Gantz stands for – revealed this week in his first election videos – is far from reassuring.

In 2014, he led Israel into its longest and most savage military operation in living memory: 50 days in which the tiny coastal enclave of Gaza was bombarded relentlessly.

By the end, one of the most densely populated areas on earth – its two million inhabitants already trapped by a lengthy Israeli blockade – lay in ruins. More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the onslaught, a quarter of them children, while tens of thousands were left homeless.

The world watched, appalled. Investigations by human rights groups such as Amnesty International concluded that Israel had committed war crimes.

One might have assumed that during the election campaign Gantz would wish to draw a veil over this troubling period in his military career. Not a bit of it.

One of his campaign videos soars over the rubble of Gaza, proudly declaring that Gantz was responsible for destroying many thousands of buildings. “Parts of Gaza have been returned to the Stone Age,” the video boasts.

This is a reference to the Dahiya doctrine, a strategy devised by the Israeli military command of which Gantz was a core member. The aim is to lay waste to the modern infrastructure of Israel’s neighbours, forcing survivors to eke out a bare existence rather than resist Israel.

The collective punishment inherent in the apocalyptic Dahiya doctrine is an undoubted war crime.

More particularly, the video exults in the destruction of Rafah, a city in Gaza that suffered the most intense bout of bombing after an Israeli soldier was seized by Hamas. In minutes, Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment killed at least 135 Palestinian civilians and wrecked a hospital.

According to investigations, Israel had invoked the Hannibal Procedure, the code name for an order allowing the army to use any means to stop one of its soldiers being taken. That includes killing civilians as “collateral damage” and, more controversially for Israelis, the soldier himself.

Gantz’s video flashes up a grand total of “1,364 terrorists killed”, in return for “three-and-a-half years of quiet”. As Israel’s liberal Haaretz daily observed, the video “celebrates a body count as if this were just some computer game”.

But the casualty figure cited by Gantz exceeds even the Israel army’s self-serving assessment – as well, of course, as dehumanising those “terrorists” fighting for their freedom.

A more impartial observer, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, estimates that the Palestinian fighters killed by Israel amounted to 765. By their reckoning, and that of other bodies such as the United Nations, almost two-thirds of Gazans killed in Israel’s 2014 operation were civilians.

Further, the “quiet” Gantz credits himself with was enjoyed chiefly by Israel.

In Gaza, Palestinians faced regular military attacks, a continuing siege choking off essential supplies and destroying their export industries, and a policy of executions by Israeli snipers firing on unarmed demonstrators at the perimeter fence imprisoning the enclave.

Gantz’s campaign slogans “Only the Strong Wins” and “Israel Before Everything” are telling. Everything, for Gantz, clearly includes human rights.

It is shameful enough that he believes his track record of war crimes will win over voters. But the same approach has been voiced by Israel’s new military chief of staff.

Aviv Kochavi, nicknamed the Philosopher Officer for his university studies, was inaugurated this month as the army’s latest head. In a major speech, he promised to reinvent the fabled “most moral army in the world” into a “deadly, efficient” one.

In Kochavi’s view, the rampaging military once overseen by Gantz needs to step up its game. And he is a proven expert in destruction.

In the early stages of the Palestinian uprising that erupted in 2000, the Israeli army struggled to find a way to crush Palestinian fighters concealed in densely crowded cities under occupation.

Kochavi came up with an ingenious solution in Nablus, where he was brigade commander. The army would invade a Palestinian home, then smash through its walls, moving from house to house, burrowing through the city unseen. Palestinian space was not only usurped, but destroyed inside-out.

Gantz, the former general hoping to lead the government, and Kochavi, the general leading its army, are symptoms of just how complete the militaristic logic that has overtaken Israel really is. An Israel determined to become a modern-day Sparta.

Should he bring about Netanyahu’s downfall, Gantz, like his predecessor politician-generals, will turn out to be a hollow peace-maker. He was trained to understand only strength, zero-sum strategies, conquest and destruction, not compassion or compromise.

More dangerously, Gantz’s glorification of his military past is likely to reinforce in Israelis’ minds the need not for peace but for more of the same: support for an ultranationalist right that bathes itself in an ethnic supremacist philosophy and dismisses any recognition of the Palestinians as human beings with rights.

Benny Gantz and Israel’s Drive to Become a Modern-day Sparta

With April’s elections looming, sr Benjamin Netanyahu has good reason to fear Benny Gantz, his former army chief. Gantz has launched a new party, named Iaeli Resilience, just as the net of corruption indictments is closing around the prime minister.

Already, at this early stage of campaigning, some 31 per cent of the Israeli public prefer Gantz to head the next government over Netanyahu, who is only months away from becoming the longest-serving leader in Israel’s history.

Gantz is being feted as the new hope, a chance to change direction after a series of governments under Netanyahu’s leadership have over the past decade shifted Israel ever further to the right.

Like Israel’s former politician generals, from Yitzhak Rabin to Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, Gantz is being portrayed – and portraying himself – as a battle-hardened warrior, able to make peace from a position of strength.

Before he had issued a single policy statement, polls showed him winning 15 of the 120 parliamentary seats, a welcome sign for those hoping that a centre-left coalition can triumph this time.

But the reality of what Gantz stands for – revealed this week in his first election videos – is far from reassuring.

In 2014, he led Israel into its longest and most savage military operation in living memory: 50 days in which the tiny coastal enclave of Gaza was bombarded relentlessly.

By the end, one of the most densely populated areas on earth – its two million inhabitants already trapped by a lengthy Israeli blockade – lay in ruins. More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the onslaught, a quarter of them children, while tens of thousands were left homeless.

The world watched, appalled. Investigations by human rights groups such as Amnesty International concluded that Israel had committed war crimes.

One might have assumed that during the election campaign Gantz would wish to draw a veil over this troubling period in his military career. Not a bit of it.

One of his campaign videos soars over the rubble of Gaza, proudly declaring that Gantz was responsible for destroying many thousands of buildings. “Parts of Gaza have been returned to the Stone Age,” the video boasts.

This is a reference to the Dahiya doctrine, a strategy devised by the Israeli military command of which Gantz was a core member. The aim is to lay waste to the modern infrastructure of Israel’s neighbours, forcing survivors to eke out a bare existence rather than resist Israel.

The collective punishment inherent in the apocalyptic Dahiya doctrine is an undoubted war crime.

More particularly, the video exults in the destruction of Rafah, a city in Gaza that suffered the most intense bout of bombing after an Israeli soldier was seized by Hamas. In minutes, Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment killed at least 135 Palestinian civilians and wrecked a hospital.

According to investigations, Israel had invoked the Hannibal Procedure, the code name for an order allowing the army to use any means to stop one of its soldiers being taken. That includes killing civilians as “collateral damage” and, more controversially for Israelis, the soldier himself.

Gantz’s video flashes up a grand total of “1,364 terrorists killed”, in return for “three-and-a-half years of quiet”. As Israel’s liberal Haaretz daily observed, the video “celebrates a body count as if this were just some computer game”.

But the casualty figure cited by Gantz exceeds even the Israel army’s self-serving assessment – as well, of course, as dehumanising those “terrorists” fighting for their freedom.

A more impartial observer, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, estimates that the Palestinian fighters killed by Israel amounted to 765. By their reckoning, and that of other bodies such as the United Nations, almost two-thirds of Gazans killed in Israel’s 2014 operation were civilians.

Further, the “quiet” Gantz credits himself with was enjoyed chiefly by Israel.

In Gaza, Palestinians faced regular military attacks, a continuing siege choking off essential supplies and destroying their export industries, and a policy of executions by Israeli snipers firing on unarmed demonstrators at the perimeter fence imprisoning the enclave.

Gantz’s campaign slogans “Only the Strong Wins” and “Israel Before Everything” are telling. Everything, for Gantz, clearly includes human rights.

It is shameful enough that he believes his track record of war crimes will win over voters. But the same approach has been voiced by Israel’s new military chief of staff.

Aviv Kochavi, nicknamed the Philosopher Officer for his university studies, was inaugurated this month as the army’s latest head. In a major speech, he promised to reinvent the fabled “most moral army in the world” into a “deadly, efficient” one.

In Kochavi’s view, the rampaging military once overseen by Gantz needs to step up its game. And he is a proven expert in destruction.

In the early stages of the Palestinian uprising that erupted in 2000, the Israeli army struggled to find a way to crush Palestinian fighters concealed in densely crowded cities under occupation.

Kochavi came up with an ingenious solution in Nablus, where he was brigade commander. The army would invade a Palestinian home, then smash through its walls, moving from house to house, burrowing through the city unseen. Palestinian space was not only usurped, but destroyed inside-out.

Gantz, the former general hoping to lead the government, and Kochavi, the general leading its army, are symptoms of just how complete the militaristic logic that has overtaken Israel really is. An Israel determined to become a modern-day Sparta.

Should he bring about Netanyahu’s downfall, Gantz, like his predecessor politician-generals, will turn out to be a hollow peace-maker. He was trained to understand only strength, zero-sum strategies, conquest and destruction, not compassion or compromise.

More dangerously, Gantz’s glorification of his military past is likely to reinforce in Israelis’ minds the need not for peace but for more of the same: support for an ultranationalist right that bathes itself in an ethnic supremacist philosophy and dismisses any recognition of the Palestinians as human beings with rights.

False “Victories”: Is the PA Using the “State of Palestine” to Remain in Power?

The ‘State of Palestine’ has officially been handed the Chairmanship of the G-77, the United Nations’ largest block. This is particularly significant considering the relentless Israeli-American plotting to torpedo the Palestinian push for greater international recognition and legitimacy.

It is now conclusive that the main mission for former United States Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, was an unmitigated failure.

When Haley gave her infamous speech before the pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, in March 2017 – declaring herself the ‘new sheriff in town’ on behalf of Israel – the US-Israeli designs were becoming clearer: never again will the US shy away from defending Israel at the UN as the previous Obama Administration had done in December 2016.

In retrospect, Haley’s tactics – the aggressive language, the constant threats and outright political bullying – amounted to nothing. Her short stint of two years at the UN has only managed to, once again, accentuate US dwindling power and influence on the international stage.

Instead of isolating Palestinians, the US ended up joining Israel in its own isolation. Unable to make any tangible ‘achievements’ in favor of Israel, a frustrated US administration carried out its threats as it quit crucial UN bodies like UNESCO, Human Rights Council, among others. In doing so, the US is now imprudently dismantling the very international order it helped create following World War II.

The Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, has taken full advantage of the obvious shift in world order. Being voted to the helm of the G77 – which bonds 134 countries from the South in a massive economic order – is an extraordinary event.

But what does this mean in terms of the Palestinian quest for statehood?

The PA seems to operate within two separate – and often contradictory – political spheres.

On the one hand, it is in full cooperation with Israel in terms of ‘security coordination‘, at times serving as if Israel’s policeman in the Occupied West Bank. Its constant crackdown on Palestinian dissent and its monopolization of Palestinian decision-making have been major obstacles before the Palestinian people in their fight for rights, justice and freedom.

On the other hand, the PA has been pursuing a determined path towards international recognition, starting with its successful bid to obtain a non-member observer status for the State of Palestine in November 2012.

That momentous event, which took place despite US-Israeli strong rejection and protests, opened up the door for Palestine to join various UN organizations such as the International Criminal Court.

Palestine is yet to acquire full UN membership, a pursuit that is being renewed at the moment. However, as of August 2015, the flag of Palestine has been fluttering at the UN headquarters, along with those of 193 other nations.

So how is one to reconcile between these two realities?

It goes without saying that the international support that Palestine is receiving at the UN is an outcome of existing solidarity and sympathy with the Palestinian people and their rightful struggle for human rights and independence. It has preceded the PA by decades, and will be there for many years to come.

The PA, however, has tactfully translated this international support and validation to political assets among Palestinians at home.

Indeed, much of the support that the PA and its dominant Fatah party continue to enjoy among ordinary Palestinians is driven by the following logic: every symbolic diplomatic ‘victory’ achieved by the PA abroad is followed by massive celebrations in Ramallah, including fiery speeches of an imminent freedom and statehood.

But freedom, of course, remains elusive, partly because the PA has yet to develop a real strategy for resisting Israeli military Occupation and colonization. Its determination and vigor to acquire more international recognition is juxtaposed with utter laxity and disinterest in developing a unified national strategy in Palestine itself.

This points to an unmistakable conclusion: The PA’s strategy is merely focused on the very survival of the PA as a political apparatus, and on ‘Palestinian independence’ within an immaterial diplomatic sphere, without any tangible evidence of that ‘independence’ on the ground.

How else can one explain the fierce fight, in the name of Palestine and those suffering in Gaza, put up by PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, and his Ambassador, Riad al-Maliki at the UN, while the PA continues to withhold salaries from besieged Palestinians in the Gaza Strip?

The sad truth is that the fight for Palestinian recognition at the UN is, at its core, a fight for Abbas and his Authority to remain relevant, and solvent, in a changing international political order.

Meanwhile, for Palestinians, Abbas’ diplomatic achievements represent the proverbial morphine shots injected in the collective vein of an occupied and suffering people, desperate for a ray of hope.

According to the General Federation of Palestinian Trade Unions, poverty in the Gaza Strip has exceeded 80 percent, coupled with a 54.9% level of unemployment. The West Bank, too, is suffering, with the Israeli army and violent illegal Jewish settlers terrorizing the Palestinian population there. Thousands of Palestinian men and women languish in Israeli jails, hundreds of them held without trial.

Not only has the PA done little to challenge – or, at least, attempt to reverse – that reality, it has, at times contributed to it. Yet, oddly, the PA’s pitiful political discourse in Palestine is contrasted with a well-defined, articulate and purportedly courageous language outside.

“We will go to the Security Council for submitting our application,” to obtain full Palestinian membership at the UN, Palestinian Ambassador, al-Maliki, told reporters on January 15. “We know that we are going to face a US veto but this won’t prevent us from presenting our application”.

In fact, this is the crux of the PA strategy at the moment. Knowing that it has little legitimacy among ordinary Palestinians, the PA is desperate to find an alternative source of legitimacy somewhere else.

While a greater support for the ‘State of Palestine’ is a positive sign indicating a changing world order, it is, sadly, used by the Palestinian leadership to sustain its own oppressive, futile and corrupt political gambit.

The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba

The game is afoot. Israel, believe it or not, is demanding that seven Arab countries and Iran pay $250 billion as compensation for what it claims was the forceful exodus of Jews from Arab countries during the late 1940s.

The events that Israel is citing allegedly occurred at a time when Zionist Jewish militias were actively uprooting nearly one million Palestinian Arabs and systematically destroying their homes, villages and towns throughout Palestine.

The Israeli announcement, which reportedly followed “18 months of secret research” conducted by the Israeli government’s Ministry of Social Equality, should not be filed under the ever-expanding folder of shameless Israeli misrepresentations of history.

It is part of a calculated effort by the Israeli government, and namely by Minister Gila Gamliel, to create a counter-narrative to the rightful demand for the ‘Right of Return’ for Palestinian refugees ethnically cleansed by Jewish militias between 1947-1948.

But there is a reason behind the Israeli urgency to reveal such questionable research: the relentless US-Israeli attempt in the last two years to dismiss the rights of Palestinian refugee rights, to question their numbers and to marginalize their grievances. It is all part and parcel of the ongoing plot disguised as the ‘Deal of the Century’, with the clear aim of removing from the table all major issues that are central to the Palestinian struggle for freedom.

“The time has come to correct the historic injustice of the pogroms (against Jews) in seven Arab countries and Iran, and to restore, to hundreds of thousands of Jews who lost their property, what is rightfully theirs,” said Gamliel.

The language – “.. to correct the historic injustice” – is no different from language used by Palestinians who have for 70 years and counting been demanding the restoration of their rights per United Nations Resolution 194.

The deliberate conflating between the Palestinian narrative and the Zionist narrative is aimed at creating parallels, with the hope that a future political agreement would resolve to having both grievances cancel each other out.

Contrary to what Israeli historians want us to believe, there was no mass exodus of Jews from Arab countries and Iran, but rather a massive campaign orchestrated by Zionist leaders at the time to replace the Palestine Arab population with Jewish immigrants from all over the world. The ways through which such a mission was achieved often involved violent Zionist plots – especially in Iraq.

In fact, the call on Jews to gather in Israel from all corners of the world remains the rally cry for Israeli leaders and their Christian Evangelical supporters – the former wants to ensure a Jewish majority in the state, while the latter is seeking to fulfill a biblical condition for their long-awaited Armageddon.

To hold Arabs and Iran responsible for this bizarre and irresponsible behavior is a transgression on the true history in which neither Gamliel nor her ministry are interested.

On the other hand, and unlike what Israeli military historians often claim, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1947- 48 (and the subsequent purges of the native population that followed in 1967) was a premeditated act of ethnic cleansing and genocide. It has been part of a long-drawn and carefully calculated campaign that, from the very start, served as the main strategy at the heart of the Zionist movement’s ‘vision’ for the Palestinian people.

“We must expel the Arabs and take their place,” wrote Israel’s founder, military leader and first prime minister, David Ben Gurion in a letter to his son, Amos in October 5, 1937. That was over a decade before Plan D – which saw the destruction of the Palestinian homeland at the hands of Ben Gurion’s militias – went into effect.

Palestine “contains vast colonization potential,” he also wrote, “which the Arabs neither need nor are qualified to exploit.”

This clear declaration of a colonial project in Palestine, communicated with the same kind of unmistakable racist insinuations and language that accompanied all western colonial experiences throughout the centuries was not unique to Ben Gurion. He was merely paraphrasing what was, by then, understood to be the crux of the Zionist enterprise in Palestine at the time.

As Palestinian professor Nur Masalha concluded in his book, the ‘Expulsion of the Palestinians’, the idea of the ‘transfer’ – the Zionist term for “ethnic cleansing’ of the Palestinian people – was, and remains, fundamental in the realization of Zionist ambitions in Palestine.

Palestinian Arab “villages inside the Jewish state that resist ‘should be destroyed .. and their inhabitants expelled beyond the borders of the Jewish state,” Masalha wrote quoting the ‘History of the Haganah’ by Yehuda Slutsky. .

What this meant in practice, as delineated by Palestinian historian, Walid Khalidi was the joint targeting by various Jewish militias to systematically attack all population centers in Palestine, without exception.

“By the end of April (1948), the combined Haganah-Irgun offensive had completely encircled (the Palestinian city of) Jaffa, forcing most of the remaining civilians to flee by sea to Gaza or Egypt; many drowned in the process, ” Khalidi wrote in Before Their Diaspora.

This tragedy has eventually grown to affect all Palestinians, everywhere within the borders of their historic homeland. Tens of thousands of refugees joined up with hundreds of thousands more at various dusty trails throughout the country, growing in numbers as they walked further, to finally pitch their tents in areas that, then were meant to be ‘temporary’ refugee encampments. Alas, these became the Palestinian refugee camps of today, starting some 70 years ago.

None of this was accidental. The determination of the early Zionists to establish a ‘national home’ for Jews at the expense of the country’s Palestinian Arab nation was communicated, openly, clearly and repeatedly throughout the formation of early Zionist thoughts, and the translation of those well-articulated ideas into physical reality.

70 years have passed since the Nakba’ – the ‘Catastrophe’ of 1948 – and neither Israel took responsibility for its action, nor Palestinian refugees received any measure of justice, however small or symbolic.

For Israel to be seeking compensation from Arab countries and Iran is a moral travesty, especially as Palestinian refugees continue to languish in refugee camps across Palestine and the Middle East.

Yes, indeed “the time has come to correct the historic injustice,” not of Israel’s alleged ‘pogroms’ carried out by Arabs and Iranians, but the real and most tragic destruction of Palestine and its people.

A Question Every American Must Confront: Apartheid Israel or US Democracy?

Bahia Amawai is a US citizen and Texas-based language specialist who helps autistic and speech-impaired children overcome their impairment.

Despite the essential and noble nature of her work, she was fired by the Pflugerville Independent School District, which serves the Austin area.

Every year, Amawai signs an annual contract that allows her to carry on with her tasks uninterrupted. This year, however, something changed.

Shockingly, the school district has decided to add a clause to the contract that requires teachers and other employees to pledge not to boycott Israel ‘during the term of their contract.’

The ‘oath’ is now part of Section 2270.001 of the Texas Government Code, and it is stated in the contract with obvious elaboration so as those wishing to work, or keep their jobs with the Texan government find no loophole to avoid its penalties:

“‘Boycott Israel’ means refusing to deal with, terminating business activities with, or otherwise taking any action that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations specifically with Israel, or with a person or entity doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territory ..”

The fact that Texas considers unacceptable even the boycott of businesses operating in the illegal Jewish settlements in the Occupied West Bank puts it at odds with international law, and, subsequently with the vast majority of the international community.

But don’t rush to judgment yet, condemning Texas for being the infamous and stereotypical ‘wild west’, as portrayed even in the United States’ own media. Indeed, Texas is but a small facet in a massive American government campaign aimed at stifling freedom of speech as enshrined in its country’s own constitution.

25 US states have already passed anti-boycott of Israel legislation, or have issued executive orders targeting the boycott of support networks, while other states are in the process of following suit.

At a federal government level, the Congressional Israel Anti-boycott Act, which is being received with enthusiasm among US legislators, vows to fine and imprison those who boycott Israel.

While there is strong civil society opposition to such obvious violations of the basic tenets of freedom of speech, the pro-Israel campaigners are unhinged.

Texas – which has passed and enacted laws criminalizing support for the boycott of Israel, as championed by the Palestinian Civil Society Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) – continues to lead the way for other states.

In the Texan town of Dickinson, which was devastated by hurricane Harvey last year, hurricane victims were asked to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel in exchange for life-saving humanitarian aid.

It must have been a complete shock for displaced residents of the town to learn that the meager supplies they were about to receive hinged on their support of the far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But this is the sad state of democracy in the US at the moment, where the interests of a relatively small, distant country are made the centerpiece of US government policies, at home or abroad.

Israel’s wealthy supporters are working hand in hand with Israel’s influential lobby groups in Washington DC, but also at state, and even city levels to make the boycott of Israel punishable by law.

Many US politicians are answering the unreasonable lobby call of criminalizing political dissent throughout the country. While in reality many of them could care less or even truly understand the nature of the debate concerning BDS, they are willing to go the extra mile (as in violating the sanctity of their own democratic system) to win lobby favors, or to, at least avoid their wrath.

The anti-BDS campaign started in the US in earnest a few years ago, and, unlike BDS’ own tactics, it avoided grassroot efforts, focusing instead on quickly creating an official body of legal work that places boycotters of Israel in the dock.

Although the hastily composed legal language has been bravely challenged, and, at times, reversed altogether by civil society lawyers and organizations, the Israeli strategy has managed to place BDS supporters on the defensive.

That limited success can be accredited to powerful friends of Israel who have generously and forcefully responded to Tel Aviv’s war drums.

Las Vegas gambling mogul, Sheldon Adelson, took the helm of leadership. He moved into action, establishing the “Maccabee Task Force”, which raised millions of dollars to fight against what Israeli officials define as an existential threat to Israel and the delegitimization of the country as a “Jewish state.”

A major strategy that the Israeli camp has advanced in the discussion is the misleading notion that BDS calls for the boycott of Jews, as opposed to the boycott of Israel as a state that violates international law and numerous United Nations resolutions.

A country that practices racism as a matter of course, defends racial segregation and builds apartheid walls deserves nothing but complete boycott. That is the minimal degree of moral, political and legal accountability considering that the US, as with other countries, are obligated to honor and respect international law in that regard.

The US, however, encouraged by the lack of accountability, continues to behave in the same manner as countries that Washington relentlessly attacks for their undemocratic behavior and violation of human rights.

If such bizarre happenings – firing teachers and conditioning aid on taking a political stance – took place in China, for example, Washington would have led an international campaign condemning Beijing’s intransigence and violation of human rights.

Many Americans have yet to fathom how the United States’ submission to Israel’s political will is affecting their everyday life. But with more and more such legal restrictions, even ordinary Americans will soon find themselves fighting for basic political rights that, like Bahia Amawai, they have always taken for granted.

Sure, Israel may have succeeded in coercing some people not to openly vow support of BDS, but it will eventually lose this battle as well.

Muffling the voices of civil society rarely works over long periods of time, and the anti-BDS campaign, now penetrating the very heart of US government, is bound to eventually resurrect a nationwide conversation.

Is protecting Israeli Apartheid more important to Americans than preserving the fundamental nature of their own democracy?

That is a question that every American, regardless of how they feel about a supposedly distant Middle Eastern conflict, must answer, and urgently so.

Inside Banksy’s The Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem

Anonymous British street artist Banksy made headlines in October when his $1.4 million artwork Girl with Balloon self-destructed by passing through a shredder concealed in its frame at a London auction moments after it had been bought.

But in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, a much larger Banksy art project – a hotel boasting “the worst view in the world” – appears to be unexpectedly saving itself from similar, planned destruction.

When it opened in March last year, The Walled Off Hotel – hemmed in by the eight-metre-high concrete wall built by Israel to encage Bethlehem – was supposed to be operational for only a year. But nearly two years on, as I joined those staying in one of its nine Banksy-designed rooms, it was clearly going from strength to strength.

Originally, The Walled Off Hotel was intended as a temporary and provocative piece of installation art, turning the oppressive 700-kilometre-long wall that cuts through occupied Palestinian land into an improbable tourist attraction. Visitors drawn to Bethlehem by Banksy’s art – both inside the hotel and on the colossal wall outside – are given a brief, but potent, taste of Palestinian life in the shadow of Israel’s military infrastructure of confinement.

It proved, unexpectedly, so successful that it was soon competing as a top tourist attraction with the city’s traditional pilgrimage site, the reputed spot where Jesus was born, the Church of the Nativity. “The hotel has attracted 140,000 visitors – local Israelis, Palestinians, as well as internationals – since it opened,” says Wisam Salsa, the hotel’s Palestinian co-founder and manager. “It’s given a massive boost to the Palestinian tourism industry.”

Exception to Banksy’s rule

The Walled Off Hotel was effectively a follow-up to Banksy’s “Dismaland Bemusement Park”, created in the more familiar and safer setting of a British seaside resort. For five weeks, that installation in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, England, offered holidaymakers a dystopian version of a Disney-style amusement park, featuring a nuclear mushroom-cloud, medical experiments gone wrong, boat people trapped on the high seas and the Cinderella story told as a car crash.

But unlike Girl with Balloon and Dismaland, Banksy appears uncharacteristically reluctant to follow through with the destruction of his Bethlehem creation. Some 21 months later, it seems to have become a permanent feature of this small city’s tourist landscape.

Given that Banksy is notoriously elusive, it is difficult to be sure why he has made an exception for The Walled Off Hotel. But given his well-known sympathy for the Palestinian cause, a few reasons suggest themselves. One is that, were he to abandon the hotel, it would delight the Israeli military authorities. They would love to see The Walled Off Hotel disappear – and with it, a major reason to focus on a particularly ugly aspect of Israel’s occupation. In addition, dismantling the hotel might echo rather uncomfortably Israel’s long-standing policy of clearing Palestinians off their land – invariably to free-up space for Jewish settlement.

Israel strenuously claims the wall was built to aid security by keeping out Palestinian “terrorists”. But the wall’s path outside The Walled Off Hotel seals off Bethlehem from one of its major holy sites, Rachel’s Tomb, and has allowed Jewish religious extremists to take it over.

A rare success story

In sticking by the hotel, Banksy appears to have been influenced by Palestinian “sumud”, Arabic for steadfastness, a commitment to staying put in the face of Israeli pressure and aggression. But significantly, there is a practical consideration: The Walled Off Hotel has rapidly become a rare success story in the occupied territories, boosting the struggling Palestinian economy. That has occurred in spite of Israel’s best efforts to curb tourism to Bethlehem, including by making a trip through the wall and an Israeli checkpoint a time-consuming and discomfiting experience.

Israel’s attitude was highlighted last year when the interior ministry issued a directive to travel agencies warning them not to take groups of pilgrims into Bethlehem to stay overnight. After an outcry, the government ­relented, but the message was clear.

Salsa notes that The Walled Off Hotel has not only attracted a new kind of visitor to Bethlehem, but has also persuaded many to spend time in other parts of the occupied West Bank, too.

Salsa understands the importance of tourism personally. He was an out-of-work guide when mutual friends first introduced him to Banksy in 2005, shortly after the wall cutting off Bethlehem from nearby Jerusalem had been completed. The city was economically dead, with tourists too fearful to visit its holy sites as armed uprisings raged across the occupied territories. The Second Intifada from 2000-2005 was the Palestinians’ response after Israel refused to grant them the viable state most observers had assumed was implicit in the Oslo Accords of the 1990s.

Banksy arrived in 2005 to spray-paint on what was then a largely pristine surface, creating a series of striking images. It unleashed a wave of local and foreign copycats. The wall in Bethlehem quickly became a giant canvas for artistic resistance, says Salsa.

Much later, in 2014, Banksy came up with the idea of the hotel. Salsa found a large residential building abandoned for more than a decade because of its proximity to the wall. In secret, The Walled Off was born. “It was a crazy spot for a hotel,” says Salsa. “It felt like divine intervention finding it. It was close to the main road from Jerusalem so no one could miss us.”

Palestinians’ reality

Importantly, the hotel was also in one of the few areas of Bethlehem inside “Area C”, parts of the West Bank classified in the temporary Oslo Accords as under full Israeli control. That meant the army could not bar Israelis from visiting. “Nowadays there are no channels open between Palestinians and Israelis. So The Walled Off Hotel is a rare space where Israelis can visit and taste the reality lived by Palestinians.

“True, Israelis mostly come to see the art. But they can’t help but learn a lot more while they are here.”

Salsa is happy that the Walled Off Hotel provides a good salary to 45 local employees and their families. His hope in setting up the hotel was to “encourage more tourists to stay in Bethlehem and for them to hear our story, our voice”.

But Banksy’s grander vision had been fully vindicated, he says. “The Walled Off Hotel gives tourists an experience of our reality.

“But it also emphasises other, creative ways to struggle and speak up. It offers art as a model of resistance.

“The hotel magnifies the Palestinian’s voice. And it makes the world hear us in a way that doesn’t depend on either us or the Israelis suffering more casualties.”

Global impact

The hotel’s continuing impact was underscored last month when it was featured for the first time at the Palestinian stand at the annual World Travel Market in London, the largest tourism trade show in the world. The event attracts 50,000 travel agents, who conduct more than $4 billion in deals over the course of the show.

Banksy had announced beforehand that he would bring a replica of one of his artworks on the wall just outside the Bethlehem hotel: cherubs trying to prise open two concrete slabs with a crowbar. He also promised a limited-edition poster showing children using one of Israel’s military watchtowers as a fairground ride. A slogan underneath reads: “Visit historic Palestine. The Israeli army liked it so much they never left!” As a result, there was a stampede to the Palestinian stand, one of the smallest, that caught the show’s organisers by surprise.

Rula Maayah, the Palestinian tourism minister, praised Banksy for changing the image of Palestinian tourism by diverting younger people into the West Bank, often during a visit to Israel. “He promotes Palestine and focuses on the occupation, but at the same time he is talking about the beauty of Palestine,” she said.

At the Walled Off Hotel, however, Israel has made it much harder to see the beauty. Most windows provide little more than a view of the wall, which dwarfs in both height and length the Berlin Wall to which it is most often compared. That is all part of the Walled Off “experience” that now attracts not only wealthier visitors keen to stay in one the hotel’s rooms, but a much larger audience of day trippers.

So successful has the Walled Off Hotel proved in such a short space of time that even some locals concede it upstages the Church of the Nativity – at least for a proportion of visitors. A local taxi driver who was guiding two French sisters along the wall outside the hotel said many independent tourists now prioritised it ahead of the church.

Only wanting to be identified as Nasser, he said: “We may not know who Banksy is, but the truth is, he has done us a huge favour with this hotel and his art.”

Sanctuary in a police state

If Dismaland created a dystopian amusement park in the midst of a fun-filled seaside resort, the Walled Off Hotel offers a small sanctuary of serenity – even if a politically charged one – in surroundings that look more like a post-apocalyptic police state.

Along the top of the wall, there are innumerable surveillance cameras, as well as looming watchtowers, where ever-present Israeli soldiers remain out of view behind darkened glass. They can emerge unexpectedly, usually to make raids on the homes of unsuspecting Palestinians.

When I made a trip to the Walled Off in October, I parked outside to find half a dozen armed Israeli soldiers on top of the hotel’s flat roof. When one waved to me, I was left wondering whether I had been caught up in another of Banksy’s famous art stunts. I hadn’t. They were real – there to watch over Jewish extremists celebrating a religious holiday nearby at Rachel’s Tomb.

The hotel’s lobby, though not the rooms, are readily accessible to the public. It is conceived as a puzzling mixture: part cheeky homage to the contrived gentility of British colonial life, part chaotic exhibition space for Banksy’s subversive street art. Visitors can enjoy a British cream tea, served in the finest china, sitting under a number of Israeli surveillance cameras wall-mounted like hunting trophies or alongside a portrait of Jesus with the red dot of a marksman’s laser-beam on his forehead.

A history of resistance

The lobby leads to a museum that is probably the most comprehensive ever to document Israel’s various methods of colonisation and control over Palestinians, and their history of resistance.

At its entrance sits a dummy of Lord Balfour, the foreign secretary who 101 years ago initiated Britain’s sponsorship of Palestine’s colonisation. He issued the infamous Balfour Declaration promising the Palestinians’ homeland to the Jewish people. Press a button and Balfour jerks into life to furiously sign the declaration on his desk. Upstairs is a large gallery exhibiting some of the best of Palestinian art, and the hotel reception organises twice-daily tours of the wall.

Entry to the rooms is hidden behind a secret door, disguised as a bookcase. Guests need to wave a room key, shaped like a section of the wall, in front of a small statue of Venus that makes her breasts glow red and the door open.

A stairway leads to the second and third floors, where the landings are decorated with more fading colonial splendour and Banksy art. Kitsch paintings of boats, landscapes and vases of flowers are hidden behind tight metal gauze of the kind Israel uses to protect its military Jeeps from stone-throwers.

A permanent “Sorry – out of service” sign hangs from a lift, its half-open doors revealing that it is, in fact, walled up.

No mementos

Although the rooms are designed thematically by Banksy, only a few contain original artworks, most significantly in the Presidential Suite.

Hotels may be used to customers taking shampoos and soaps, even the odd towel, as mementos of their stay. But at the Walled Off, the stakes are a little higher. Guests are issued with an inventory they must sign on departing, declaring that they have not pilfered any art from their room. But it is the wall itself that is the dominant presence, towering over guests as they come and go, trapping them in a narrow space between the hotel entrance and an expanse of solid grey.

A proportion visit the neighbouring graffiti shop, Wall Mart, where they can get help on how to leave their mark on the concrete. Most of the casual graffiti is short-lived, with space regularly cleared so that new visitors can scrawl their messages and use art as a tool of resistance.

Protest pieces

Banksy’s better-known artworks, however, are saved from the spray-paint pandemonium elsewhere.

The crowbar-armed cherubs he brought to London were painted in time for Christmas last year, when he recruited film director Danny Boyle – of Slumdog Millionaire fame – to stage an alternative nativity play for local families in the hotel car park. The “Alternativity”, featuring a real donkey and real snow produced by a machine on the Walled Off’s roof, became a BBC documentary. Banksy had once again found a way to persuade prime-time TV to shine a light on Israel’s oppressive wall.

Another artwork is his “Er sorry”, a leftover from the Walled Off’s “apologetic street party” of November last year, marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration’s signing. Children from two neighbouring refugee camps were invited to wear Union-Jack crash helmets and wave charred British flags. A person dressed as Queen Elizabeth II unveiled “Er Sorry” stencilled into the wall. It served both as a hesitant apology on behalf of Britain and as a play on the initials of the Queen’s official Latin title, Elizabeth Regina.

The event, however, illustrated that Banksy’s subversive message, directed chiefly at western audiences, does not always translate well to sections of the local Palestinian population. The party was hijacked by local activists who stuck a Palestinian flag into the Union Jack-adorned cake and chanted “Free Palestine”.

Is this ‘war tourism’?

Salsa outright rejects claims from some locals and foreign critics that the hotel is exploiting Palestinian misery and is an example of “war tourism”.

He points out: “The Balfour party got the media interested in a story they probably would not have covered otherwise, because it lacked violence and bloodshed.”

He adds that the area of Bethlehem in which the Walled Off is located would have been killed off by the wall were it not for Banksy investing his own money and time in the project. As well as the staff, it has brought work to tour guides, taxi drivers, neighbouring and cheaper hotels, shops and petrol stations. “That is a very important form of resistance,” he says.

It is also a rare example of Palestinians reclaiming land from the Israeli army. On the other side of the wall there had been a large army camp until the hotel started drawing significant numbers of visitors.

“The army didn’t like lots of tourists taking pictures nearby, so they moved further away, out of sight.”

Eternal memories

Canadian tourist Mike Seleski, 30, visited the hotel to see Banksy’s art before standing in front of the wall. He said he had heard about the Walled Off from an Israeli he befriended in Vietnam during a year of travelling.

This was a detour from his stay in Israel – his only stop in the occupied territories. “I don’t like the usual tourist experiences,” he said. “It is important to hear the other side of the story when you travel.”

In every one of the 32 countries he has visited, he has stood to be photographed before a famous local spot holding a cardboard sign with words to reassure his worried mother: “Mum – I’m OK.”

In Bethlehem, he said it was obvious he’d take the photo in front of Banksy’s art on the wall, rather than the Church of the Nativity. “You see the wall on TV and forget about it. You get on with your life. But when you stand here, you realise Palestinians don’t have a choice. They simply can’t ignore it.”

• First published at The National

Growing US Public Support for One State Shared Equally by Israelis and Palestinians Falls on Deaf Ears

Two years of Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu as a Middle East peacemaking team appear to be having a transformative effect – and in ways that will please neither of them.

The American public is now evenly split between those who want a two-state solution and those who prefer a single state, shared by Israelis and Palestinians, according to a survey published last week by the University of Maryland.

And if a Palestinian state is off the table – as a growing number of analysts of the region conclude, given Israel’s intransigence and the endless postponement of Mr Trump’s peace plan – then support for one state rises steeply, to nearly two-thirds of Americans.

But Mr Netanyahu cannot take comfort from the thought that ordinary Americans share his vision of a single state of Greater Israel. Respondents demand a one-state solution guaranteeing Israelis and Palestinians equal rights.

By contrast, only 17 per cent of Americans expressing a view – presumably Christian evangelicals and hardline Jewish advocates for Israel – prefer the approach of Israel’s governing parties: either to continue the occupation or annex Palestinian areas without offering the inhabitants citizenship.

All of this is occurring even though US politicians and the media express no support for a one-state solution. In fact, quite the reverse.

The movement to boycott Israel, known as BDS, is growing on US campuses, but vilified by Washington officials, who claim its goal is to end Israel as a Jewish state by bringing about a single state, in which all inhabitants would be equal. The US Congress is even considering legislation to outlaw boycott activism.

And last month CNN sacked its commentator Marc Lamont Hill for using a speech at the United Nations to advocate a one-state solution – a position endorsed by 35 per cent of the US public.

There is every reason to assume that, over time, these figures will swing even more sharply against Mr Netanyahu’s Greater Israel plans and against Washington’s claims to be an honest broker.

Among younger Americans, support for one state climbs to 42 per cent. That makes it easily the most popular outcome among this age group for a Middle East peace deal.

In another sign of how far removed Washington is from the American public, 40 per cent of respondents want the US to impose sanctions to stop Israel expanding its settlements on Palestinian territory. In short, they support the most severe penalty on the BDS platform.

And who is chiefly to blame for Washington’s unresponsiveness? Some 38 per cent say that Israel has “too much influence” on US politics.

That is a view almost reflexively cited by Israel lobbyists as evidence of anti-semitism. And yet a similar proportion of US Jews share concerns about Israel’s meddling.

In part, the survey’s findings should be understood as a logical reaction to the Oslo peace process. Backed by the US for the past quarter-century, it has failed to produce any benefits for the Palestinians.

But the findings signify more. Oslo’s interminable talks over two states have provided Israel with an alibi to seize more Palestinian land for its illegal settlements.

Under cover of an Oslo “consensus”, Israel has transferred ever-larger numbers of Jews into the occupied territories, thereby making a peaceful resolution of the conflict near impossible. According to the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, that is a war crime.

Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the court in The Hague, warned this month that she was close to finishing a preliminary inquiry needed before she can decide whether to investigate Israel for war crimes, including the settlements.

The reality, however, is that the ICC has been dragging out the inquiry to avoid arriving at a decision that would inevitably provoke a backlash from the White House. Nonetheless, the facts are staring the court in the face.

Israel’s logic – and proof that it is in gross violation of international law – were fully on display this week. The Israeli army locked down the Ramallah, the effective and supposedly self-governing capital of occupied Palestine, as “punishment” after two Israeli soldiers were shot dead outside the city.

The Netanyahu government also approved yet another splurge of settlement-building, again supposedly in “retaliation” for a recent upsurge in Palestinian attacks.

But Israel and its western allies know only too well that settlements and Palestinian violence are intrinsically linked. One leads to the other.

Palestinians directly experience the settlements’ land grabs as Israeli state-sanctioned violence. Their communities are ever more tightly ghettoised, their movements more narrowly policed to maintain the settlers’ privileges.

If Palestinians resist such restrictions or their own displacement, if they assert their rights and their dignity, clashes with soldiers or settlers are inescapable. Violence is inbuilt into Israel’s settlement project.

Israel has constructed a perfect, self-rationalising system in the occupied territories. It inflicts war crimes on Palestinians, who then weakly lash out, justifying yet more Israeli war crimes as Israel flaunts its victimhood, all to a soundtrack of western consolation.

The hypocrisy is becoming ever harder to hide, and the cognitive dissonance ever harder for western publics to stomach.

In Israel itself, institutionalised racism against the country’s large minority of Palestinian citizens – a fifth of the population – is being entrenched in full view.

Last week Natalie Portman, an American-Israeli actor, voiced her disgust at what she termed the “racist” Nation-State Basic Law, legislation passed in the summer that formally classifies Israel’s Palestinian population as inferior.

Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s grown-up son, voiced a sentiment widely popular in Israel last week when he wrote on Facebook that he wished “All the Muslims [sic] leave the land of Israel”. He was referring to Greater Israel – a territorial area that does not differentiate between Israel and the occupied territories.

In fact, Israel’s Jim Crow-style policies – segregation of the type once inflicted on African-Americans in the US – is becoming ever more overt.

Last month the Jewish city of Afula banned Palestinian citizens from entering its main public park while vowing it wanted to “preserve its Jewish character”. A court case last week showed that a major Israeli construction firm has systematically blocked Palestinian citizens from buying houses near Jews. And the parliament is expanding a law to prevent Palestinian citizens from living on almost all of Israel’s land.

A bill to reverse this trend, committing Israel instead to “equal political rights amongst all its citizens”, was drummed out of the parliament last week by an overwhelming majority of legislators.

Americans, like other westerners, are waking up to this ugly reality. A growing number understand that it is time for a new, single state model, one that ends Israel’s treatment of Jews as separate from and superior to Palestinians, and instead offers freedom and equality for all.

• First published in The National Abu Dhabi

Whitewashing Murder is Simply Wrong

Last Tuesday, within about an hour of his announcement on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, in the heat of the moment, I commented on the president’s acceptance of the Riyadh royals’ explanation of the Istanbul consulate incident. I called his statement “crude” and “buttheadedly amoral.”  I should have stated the obvious broader point: It was wrong.

Marxists have historically inveighed (appropriately) against capitalism, imperialism, semi-feudalism etc.—neutral moral categories—using such terms as “reactionary” and “opportunist” when desiring to add a moral edge. And certainly capitalist profit and imperialist hegemony factor into Trump’s response to the cold-blooded crime. But sometimes it’s best to go back to the basics, and draw upon primordial human vocabulary. The murder of the dissident Saudi journalist was pure evil.

The prohibition on killing occurs in the earliest law codes and taboo lists. It’s understood to have limited application; rulers can use military force to maintain power and “preserve order.” But generally speaking humans concur that it’s wrong to kill someone. It’s wrong. This is basic. For those arriving from outer space it is Humanity 101. It is, of course the Sixth Commandment in the Bible. It is fundamental to the contrat social of Rousseau.

Killing means something different to those who believe in an afterlife and those who believe we die and disappear. Those of us who believe the latter perhaps value life more since it’s all we expect. The taking of another’s life seems especially presumptuous when you cannot, for example, pray for the soul of the person you’ve slain encouraging its rebirth somewhere, like in the Pure Land of Amida. The warrior Kumagae supposedly prayed for Atsumori after killing him during the Genpei War in Japan in the 1180s, to alleviate his sorrow and guilt.

But I don’t believe in afterlives. I don’t believe in Amida’s Paradise, or the Christian one, or the Paradise (Garden of Eden) described in the Quran as one of “gardens under which rivers flow…and beautiful mansions in gardens of everlasting bliss” (9:72). Here there  “will be thrones raised high, and cups set at hand. And cushions set in rows, and rich carpets (all) spread out” (88:10-16). I wonder in Muhammad bin Salman believes this, or whether he thinks it important to observe Muslim burial practices that include washing the body as soon as possible after death, enshrouding it in white linen, praying over it, and burying it without a coffin. (The Turkish police speculate that the Saudis dissolved Khashoggi’s body parts, which would be a terrible violation of Muslim law, but they might have been transported to Saudi Arabia.)

What they did in that consulate was final. I think again of Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poem “People,” a wistful appeal for people’s right to exist.

In any man who dies there dies with him
his first snow and kiss and fight.
It goes with him.

There are left books and bridges
and painted canvas and machinery.
Whose fate is to survive.

But what has gone is also not nothing:
by the rule of the game something has gone.
Not people die but worlds die in them.

Such savages, those who kill thus crushing worlds. Worse savages, those who empower them.

Killing in wars has historically been tolerated so long as the war can be justified in order to preserve the above mentioned “order.” So, for example, the Saudis and their U.S. backers depict the ongoing war in Yemen as an effort to thwart Iranian proxies, the Houthis, from imposing a Shiite dictatorship over the country. (This depiction of the situation would be laughable were it not so accepted by the gullible talking heads on cable news.) There has been little popular outrage in the U.S. at the war crimes of Saudi Crime Prince Muhammad bin Salman.

No, the focus is on his responsibility for Jamal Khashoggi’s death. It feels more wrong than the mega-death theater raging on the Saudi border—because there’s a face on it and the relentless reminders from the writer’s Washington Post peers that their colleague was brutally murdered by the Saudi state.

The drama of it, if we can believe the Turkish press reports! The Crown Prince and his brother, the ambassador to the U.S., discussed luring Khashoggi to the Istanbul consulate. Indeed, the brother, Saudi ambassador to the U.S. Prince Khalid called Khashoggi telling him to report to the consulate to get his documents to marry his Turkish fiance. Someone in the court in Riyadh ordered the dispatch of a team (“hit-squad,” the Turkish police call it) of 15 identified Saudis, including several members of the prince’s security detail and the kingdom’s top forensic doctor armed with a bone saw, to apprehend his body and smuggle out his parts while a doppelgänger dressed in his stolen clothes walked to a nearby mosque to discard the clothing. All that’s just basically wrong.

It’s wrong in such detail you’d think anyone would recoil in horror at those responsible. Anyone with a modicum of morality.

And think about this. As in the days after Khashoggi’s disappearance October 5, the Saudi ambassador in Washington (again, a brother of the Crown Prince, who had been on the phone to Khashoggi) told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Khashoggi had left the consulate but the surveillance cameras had been turned off. We know the Saudis spent a special team to sanitize the consulate and consul-general’s home before Turkish police were allowed to investigate. The Saudi explanation has repeatedly changed and the Europeans have so far rejected it. The Saudis have given no explanation for the missing body.

This is wrong at so many levels, not the least in its very obviousness. The Saudis are lying. And yet Trump said Thanksgiving Day at his golf course in Florida: “I hate the crime, I hate what’s done, I hate the cover-up. I will tell you this: the crown prince hates it more than I do.”

What? Trump wants the people of the world to think the Crown Prince hates the murder and dismemberment of Khashoggi more than he himself does? What is the point of saying that, while continuing to admit that maybe the prince did it? That’s both wrong and stupid. The worst possible combination. “Who should be held accountable?” he was asked at Key Largo.  “Well,” he replied, as though addressing small children, “maybe the world should be held accountable, because the world is a vicious place. The world is a very, very vicious place.” he added, raising his eyebrows and rolling his eyes as if to suggest this viciousness is beyond mortal ken.

Yes, Trump said that Thursday. This too is just wrong. Feigning ignorance is morally wrong. Any small child knows this is wrong. It’s wrong to whitewash murder, especially when it’s designed to protect billions in arms contracts that spell death to tens of thousands of civilians. If Trump can get away with this, and the Saudis emerge unscathed, then morals mean nothing in this world, anything goes, brute force guided by hate and resentment should prevail. Sheer lies should compete with empirical reality, on an equal basis; reportage of fascism should recognize good on both sides.

More Trump: “…and we have 100s of 1000s of of [sic] jobs [from Saudi Arabia] and frankly if we went by this standard [of punishing calculated state-sponsored murder] we would not have any allies because look at what happens all over the world.” In his inarticulate, semi-comprehensible comments he pronounces the truth unknowable, acknowledges that his interest in the case is low, notes matter-of-factly that Saudi Arabia is not unusual as a brutal, murderous U.S. ally and that continued arms sales to the murderous kingdom is this nation’s (“nationalist”) primary aim.

America first! Standing boldly at the head of the world, or trying to, it embraces Saudi Arabia and Israel, covering up their many crimes, while vilifying Iran and openly planning for its destruction.

One CNN consultant (Joel Rubin) refers to the “anti-intelligence mentality of this administration.” Why beat around the bush? It’s an anti-truth mentality. It’s a cover up truth mentality. The administration is wrong in virtually all it does. It lies as matter of course. It is fundamentally evil. And now it has come as close one can imagine to celebrating a Black Mass on the White House lawn: it is lavishing praise on murderers for cutting the price of oil.

On Wednesday, as if to trumpet his success in placating Saudis upset about the fuss about Khashoggi,  Trump tweeted gleefully: “Oil prices getting lower. Great! Like a big Tax Cut for America and the World. Enjoy! $54, was just $82. Thank you to Saudi Arabia, but let’s go lower!” Let’s put all that unpleasantness behind us, while America tries to regain its greatness—like the Wizard of Oz team, without a brain, heart or courage—while the whole world recoils at its increasingly naked amorality.

Far from the moral compass it has postered as for two hundred years, the U.S. has become a pariah. In particular, the U.S. rejection of the “Iran Deal” and effort to proactively sabotage it to provoke a war, based on lies (like the Iraq War, the destruction of Libya, the ongoing Syrian intervention) in order to establish hegemony over all of Southwest Asia ) is unqualified evil. The nice thing about Washington’s virtual nod to the Crown Prince to continue at his post is that it bares the evil so plainly.

The U.S. is a rogue state supporting a myriad of rogue states “all over the world” as Trump frankly notes. What’s right has nothing to do with it. Trump is proudly mired in moral wrong, so as to actually boast about it. He seeks to pull his fan base into that wrong, whipping up the inner fascism there just under the surface. May visceral disgust mount all over the world, among those of differing values and ideologies. Because if this can pass, and the Yemeni carnage can pass, then concentration camps and World War Three. Idiocy and evil are in power, the worst possible combination, but maybe the best possible to prompt the revolution that must come.