It was NBC’s Cal Parry who summed up the obscenity of Donald Trump’s ignorant and igniting decision to move the US Embassy to West Jerusalem, then to celebrate the inauguration on Monday, 14th May: “Well dressed American and Israeli officials on one side of the screen: desperation, death and fires on the other.”
In 1948, 700,000 Palestinians began their flight from the city and the region trying to escape the massacres by Jewish militias on that date, seventy years ago. Commemorated ever since as the day of “Nakba” — disaster, catastrophe, cataclysm — following them to this day as land is stolen, families expelled and “settlements” encroach, and Palestinian history is bulldozed.
‘ “When the massacre started the (paramilitaries) took a kid and strapped him on an army jeep and drove him around different neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, saying ‘the same will happen to you if you don’t leave,’ ” Abu Kaya said, retelling his grandfather’s story to Middle East Eye.’
… not a single country currently has its embassy in Jerusalem because such a move is widely considered to violate international law.
Under United Nations Resolution 181, which in 1947 set out the conditions for the partition of Palestine into an “Arab State” and a “Jewish State”, Jerusalem was to be administered by the UN under a “special international regime.
The 1949 armistice agreement that formally ended the first Arab-Israeli war divided the city along the “Green Line” into Israeli-controlled western areas, and Jordanian-held East Jerusalem, which included the Old City.
Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war is widely recognised as illegal and violates further United Nations resolutions.
For Palestinians then, sovereignty over the city is not something for leaders of other countries to determine, as US President Donald Trump did when he announced the embassy move in December.
In the few minutes it took to jot down notes for this piece, the Palestinian death toll of those demonstrating rose from twenty-eight dead, shot by Israeli soldiers, to forty-three. The injured rose from 1,693 to “near two thousand.”
Fadi Abo Salah, 30, who lost both legs in a bombing by Israeli aircraft, was one who lost his life, in his wheel chair — targeted by an Israeli sniper — in front of his wife and three small children. (Palestine Live group.)
Israel, frequently declaring itself “the only democracy in the Middle East”, carried out a very democratic slaughter and target practice. Young, old, disabled, male, female, all were equally entitled to be shot, sniped at, tear gassed.
Tiny Laila al-Ghandour who died from tear gas inhalation was just eight months old.1
Journalist Sharif Kouddos recorded:
Wails of grief inside family home of Laila al-Ghandour, 8-month old who died of gas inhalation yesterday. Her aunt says the gas came from everywhere, including drones.
By Monday’s end he Tweeted:
Casualty toll from today in Gaza now stands at 55 dead, including 6 minors. 2,770 wounded, including 225 children. Of the wounded over 1,350 were hit with live ammunition, according to Ministry of Health.
“It is unbearable to witness such a massive number of unarmed people being shot in such a short time,” stated Médecins Sans Frontières.
As the Embassy partied and visitors “clapped and cheered”, Gaza’s hospitals, already teetering on collapse resulting from restrictions on all coming in to the besieged Strip — including electricity, with water contaminated — had surgeons operating day and night, with the injured being treated in the hospital car parks even, due to the overwhelming influx of those targeted.
In another world, just sixty miles away: ‘Washington’s Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, stood on a stage painted with the US flag and said:
Today’s historic event is attributed to the vision, courage and moral clarity of one person to whom we owe an enormous and eternal debt of gratitude: President Donald J Trump. The crowd cheered and gave a standing ovation.1
Deaths had risen to fifty nine.
Of the eighty six Ambassadors to Israel, only thirty two attended the ceremony, with fifty four boycotting and only four EU Member countries attending.
The Haaretz newspaper reported that most EU member States did not participate in the ceremony because they have a firm policy towards the transfer of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It said that the ambassadors of Russia, Egypt, India, Japan and Mexico also did not attend the celebration.
Fallout has been swift. French President Emmanuel Macron in a telephone call to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and to Jordan’s King Abdullah condemned the “violence of the Israeli armed forces …” and again criticized the moving of the Embassy.
King Abdullah, of course, has custodianship of all Jerusalem’s Holy Sites and: ‘has the right to exert all legal efforts to safeguard them, especially Al Aqsa Mosque, which is defined as “The Entirety of Al Haram Al Sharif.” ‘ As far as can be ascertained thus far, it seems that this important, indeed unique, historic custodianship was neither discussed with the King or his representatives, nor even a consideration of the Trump Administration as they bulldozed their way through diplomacy, history and all norms in their Jerusalem settlement.
NATO ally President Erdogan of Turkey has recalled his Ambassadors to Israel and the US.
South Africa recalled their Ambassador to Israel, with immediate effect, as the Embassy celebrations were ongoing.
Ireland has summoned Israel’s Ambassador to protest Israeli violence.
Kuwait moved for an emergency meeting of the UN, which was blocked by the US. A ‘draft statement included language expressing “outrage and sorrow at the killing of Palestinian civilians exercising their right to peaceful protest.” ‘
‘It also reaffirmed UN resolutions on the status of Jerusalem, saying that recent events had “no legal effect” under international law. The statement was withdrawn once the US indicate that it would block it, a UN diplomat said.’ (CNN, 15th May 2018.)
Qatar condemned “a massacre” and “savage killings.”
Germany, somewhat weakly, expressed concern at the massacre saying: “The right to peaceful protest must also apply in Gaza”, via a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman
In the UK, the Labour Party’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry in an unusually unequivocal statement said:
We condemn unreservedly the Israeli government for their brutal, lethal and utterly unjustified actions on the Gaza border, and our thoughts are with all those Palestinians in Gaza whose loved ones have been lied or injured as a result.
These actions are made all the worse because they come not as the result of a disproportionate over-reaction to one day’s protests, but as the culmination of six weeks of an apparently systemic and deliberate policy of killing and maiming unarmed protestors and bystanders who pose no threat to the forces at the Gaza border, many of them shot in the back, many of them shot hundreds of metres from the border, and many of them children.
Throughout that six-week period, the UN’s Secretary General has been calling for an independent investigation into these incidents, one that should urgently determine whether international law has been broken, and hold the Netanyahu government to account for their actions. The UK should lead calls for the UN Security Council to order such an investigation today.
These incidents must also be the catalyst for urgent and concerted international pressure on the Netanyahu government to lift the blockade on Gaza, and end Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories. No longer can Netanyahu act as a law unto himself, under the protection of the Trump administration, whose decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem today has further inflamed the situation.
Chile, with the largest population of Palestinians outside the Arab world, raised Palestinian flags outside the main entrance of the Presidential Palace of La Moneda.
Sacha Sergio Llorenty Soliz, Bolivia’s UN Ambassador, read the names of the Gaza massacre victims at the UN session, wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh.
The mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau has demanded an arms embargo on Israel, demanding backing of Amnesty International’s call for a global arms embargo on Israel. Amnesty has condemned: “ … an abhorrent violation of International Law and human rights. “
Zeid bin Ra’ad al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated: “Those responsible for outrageous human rights violations must be held to account.”
Writer, broadcaster and academic, Kenan Malik Tweeted:
Mark Regev, Israeli ambassador to the UK, considers the shooting dead of 58 Palestinians and the wounding of 2700 as “measured” and “surgical”. I’d hate to know what is his definition of “unmeasured” or “non-surgical.”
The death toll became sixty.
From the Trumposphere, Donald Trump input:
Donald J. Trump
Big day for Israel. Congratulations!
However, on this day of diplomatic thuggery — which the US State Department flagged as a “historic move” — the five times Draft Dodger in Chief it seems reverted to type. The man to whom limelight is seemingly indispensible, stayed in Washington and addressed the Embassy gathering by video, from a safe 5,897 miles away, dodging any potential conflict, demonstrations, dissent. Trump, of course, pulled out of a visit to London in February, to open the new US Embassy, which has also relocated, reportedly for fear of the massive protests planned at his stay.
The man who can menace Iran, threaten North Korea with: “ … fire and fury and frankly the power the likes of which like this world has never seen”, cowers from peaceful protesters with placards. No wonder he had no intention of showing up in Jerusalem, even as guest of honour, surrounded by steel rings of security, in a region destabilized by the US and “allies” for decades, with the unarmed, indigenous population simply demanding some justice sixty miles away.
Donald Trump, it seems, talks the talk but can’t walk the walk. Perhaps someone also told him Armageddon is in Israel (site now named Megiddo.)
- Guardian, 15th May 2018.
Do you think it is that simple to travel around the Middle East? Think twice!
Ask Palestinians, about trying to get from a point A to a point B in their own nation.
Some time ago, sitting in an old Ottoman hotel in Bethlehem, I asked a waiter what it takes to travel from there to Gaza, where he said, several of his relatives were living. He looked at me as if I had fallen from the Moon:
There is no way I could travel there. If my relatives get very sick or die, then, in theory, I could apply for an Israeli travel permit to go there, but there is absolutely no guarantee that they would approve, or that I could get to Gaza on time…
I tried to appear naïve: “And what if someone from an Arab country which does not recognize Israel, wants to come here, to Bethlehem? Like, a Lebanese pilgrim or just a tourist? Could he or she enter from Jordan?”
The waiter weighed for a while whether to reply at all, but then had mercy on me:
West Bank… You know, it only appears on the maps as some sort of autonomous or independent territory. In reality, the borders and movement of the people have been fully controlled by the Israelis.
My friend, a legendary left-wing Israeli human rights lawyer and a staunch Palestinian independence supporter, Linda Brayer, downed another cup of coffee and made several cynical remarks. She was actually illegally ‘smuggled’ by me into Bethlehem. As an Israeli citizen, she was not allowed to enter the West Bank at all, but since I was driving and she was with me, a foreigner, and on top of it she wore a headscarf (she converted to Islam several years earlier), the Israeli soldiers just let us pass without askin too many uncomfortable questions.
Bizarre, disgusting, and even mind-blowing? Not for us who live or operate in this part of the world! All this is by now considered as “business as usual”.
During the last Intifada, I hired a taxi in Jerusalem to the border with Gaza driven by a Russian-Israeli Jew, a student, who literally clashed with a border guard, demanding to be allowed to enter Gaza, in order to “see what my fxxxxing government is doing to the Palestinian people.”
They did not let him into Gaza. They detained him. As a foreigner, I entered. During my work in Gaza, an Israeli helicopter gunship fired at my hired car. It missed… But at least I was allowed to enter and work in Gaza. It is like Russian roulette: sometimes you get in, sometimes you don’t, and no explanations are given.
That was the time when the new Gaza International Airport had just opened. After few days of fighting, the runway was bombed by the Israelis, all flights cancelled, and I had to, eventually make my way out through Egyptian Sinai.
Later, I also witnessed how brutal the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights has been; how it has divided countless families and communities. People are forced to shout at each other through the Israeli barbed-wire electric fences. The only way for the families to reunite, at least for a day or two, was to somehow get to Jordan.
The Syrian Golan Heights used to be famous for its delicious apples and ancient Druze community. It used to attract travelers from all over the world. Now it is occupied by Israel, and it is de-populated and monstrously militarized.
You want to travel there? You cannot; not anymore. It is off limits.
For years and decades, this insanity of travel bans and restrictions, as well as barbed wire and watch towers, has been applying mainly (although not exclusively) to the territories occupied by Israel. However, now almost the entire Middle East is divided by conflicts, insane regulations and travel prohibitions.
Unless you are a war correspondent, a Western ‘advisor’, an intelligence agent or a ‘development worker’, don’t even think about going to Iraq. Almost like Afghanistan and Libya, Iraq had been thoroughly wrecked by the Western coalition and its allies. On top of it, to get visa there is now close to impossible. In the recent past, the Westerners flooded Erbil and its surroundings; the main city of what was called, unofficially, ‘Iraqi Kurdistan’. The place used to be governed by the independence-seeking and shamelessly pro-Western ‘elites’, and it used to have its own visa regime. Now even this area is more or less off limits to foreigners.
Syria is still a war zone, although its government, which is supported by the majority of the Syrian people, is clearly winning the brutal conflict ignited and fueled by the West and its ‘client’ states.
Syria used to be one of the safest, the most educated and advanced countries in the region, built on solid socialist principles. It used to have an impressive scientific base, as well as dozens of world-class tourist attractions. Therefore, applying Western imperialist logic, it had to be first smeared, and then attacked and destroyed.
Logically, Syria is not issuing tourist visas to the citizens of the countries that are trying to destroy it.
Next door, Lebanon is still suffering from the flood of refugees, from geographical isolation and from the various dormant and semi-active terrorist cells.
Travelling from Lebanon to Syria is now almost impossible, or at least very dangerous and difficult. Lebanese citizens can still enter, but ‘at their own risk’.
In the not so distant past, people used to drive from Beirut to Europe and vice-versa, via Turkey and Syria. Now this option is just a sweet memory. But then again, in the very distant past, I am often reminded, it was not unusual for the Lebanese middle class to spend a weekend in Haifa, driving their own cars. Now the border between Lebanon and Israel is hermetically sealed. Both countries are technically at war. The U.N. patrols the so-called Blue Line. Apart from drones and Israeli war planes en-route to bombing Syria, nothing can cross.
All along the Turkish-Syrian border, both sides are suffering. Of course, the Syrian people are suffering much more, being victims of the direct Turkish military adventures. But also Turks are now paying a very high price for the war: they are suffering from terrorist attacks, as well as from the total collapse of trade between the two countries. Many villages around Hatay and Gaziantep are quickly turning into ghost towns.
For instance, cities like Adana in Turkey and Aleppo in Syria used to be connected by motorways, enjoying constant flows of people from both ends. There was bustling trade, as well as tourism, and social visits. Now, Ankara has been building an enormous concrete wall between the two countries. No traffic can pass through the border, except Turkish military convoys.
For years and decades, it has been impossible to enter Saudi Arabia as a tourist. This fundamentalist Wahabbi ‘client’ state of the West simply does not recognize the existence of tourism, or leisure travel. To enter the KSA, it has to be either for business or religious pilgrimage.
With its huge territory, the KSA effectively divides the entire Gulf region, when it comes to transportation and the movement of people. There are some loopholes, and ‘transit visas’ can be obtained (with some luck, difficulties and expense), for instance, for those people driving their own vehicles or taking a bus from Jordan to Bahrain, or to Oman.
Traveling to culturally the most exciting country in the Gulf – Yemen – is now absolutely impossible. Yemen used to be one of the jewels of historic architecture and civilization, counting such cities as Sanaa, Zabid and Shiban. Now the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is occupying the city of Aden and the coast, while Saudi forces are brutally bombing the rest of the country, which is controlled by the rebels.
Then, there is a bizarre conflict which is brewing between Qatar (the richest country in the Gulf with the substantial U.S. military presence as well as huge local business-controlled media conglomerate Al-Jazeera), and several other Arab allies of the West, including Saudi Arabia. Borders are presently closed and insults are flying. There is the growing possibility of a military confrontation. Qatar is being accused, cynically, of ‘supporting terrorism’, as if the KSA was not doing precisely the same.
Flying around the region has become a Kafkaesque experience.
All Middle Eastern and Gulf airlines are avoiding Israel. Some fly over Syria but most of them, don’t. The once mighty and now deteriorating Qatar Airways is clearly forbidden to enter the airspace of Saudi Arabia as well as of the United Arab Emirates.
Recently I travelled with Qatar from Beirut to Nairobi, Kenya. It used to be a simple, comfortable commute, which has recently turned into a terrible nightmare. Unable to fly over Syrian and Saudi airspace, a plane has to first fly in totally the opposite direction, northwest, over Turkish airspace, then over Iran, making a huge, almost 90 minutes detour. On the second leg, a trip of less than 4 hours now takes more than 5 hours and 30 minutes! The plane flies directly away from Africa, towards Iran, and then makes a huge loop, avoiding both the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Lebanese MEA (Middle Eastern Airlines) is one of the few airlines that ignores all this, flying directly over Syria, and towards the Gulf states. Most of the others don’t dare. But MEA has to avoid Israeli airspace, making often interesting final approaches to Rafik Hariri Int’l Airport.
The exception is Turkish Airlines which basically flies over everything and into everywhere, including Israel itself.
This essay is not only about the politics and what has led to the present situation, although it is clear that we are talking here, above all, about the neo-colonialist arrangement of the world.
Political nightmare unleashed by the ‘traditional’ Western colonialist powers and their ‘client states’, has led to the geographical divisions; to a perverse state of affairs in this part of the world. Increasingly, the people are losing control over their own nations and the entire region. They have already lost the ability to move about freely through it.
Of course, something similar exists in many other places, including the South Pacific. There, I described the situation in my book Oceania. An entire huge part of the world has been literally cut to pieces by the neo-colonialist powers and their geo-political interests and designs: the U.S., France, Australia and New Zealand have plainly overrun and shackled Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia. A once proud and unique part of the world has been fragmented internally: people are brutally separated and forced to depend almost exclusively on the West.
In the Middle East, divisions, walls and barbed wire, are now everywhere; they are visible to the naked eye, but they are also ‘inside’ peoples’ minds, damaging the human psyche, making dreams of unity and a common future look very unlikely, and sometimes even impossible.
This used to be one of the cradles of our civilization – a deep, sane and stunningly beautiful part of the world. Now everything is fragmented. The West rules, mainly through its ‘client’ states, such as Israel, the KSA and Turkey. It controls everything. It governs almost the entire Middle East; nothing moves without its knowledge and permission.
Yes, nothing and no one moves here, unless it suits the West. We don’t read about it often. It is not discussed. But that is how it is. This bizarre concept of ‘freedom’ implanted from the outside. The rulers who were injected into the Gulf and various other occupied nations. The result is horrid: the electric wires, walls and travel restrictions everywhere; the old pathological British ‘divide and rule’ concept.
As I am working on this essay, my plane which is supposed to be flying south-west, is actually hovering north-east, in order to avoid the airspaces of the various so-called hostile states.
Local people may be getting used to the fact that their part of the world has already been ‘re-arranged’. Or perhaps they have already stopped noticing.
The computer, however, keeps showing the absurd flying path of the airliner. Computers can be programmed and re-programmed, but they cannot be indoctrinated. Without judging, they are simply demonstrating the absurdity that is unrolling around them, on their screens.
• First published in New Eastern Outlook
• All photos by Andre Vltchek