Category Archives: West Bank

“A Cruel Choice”: Why Israel Targets Palestinian Schools

Several Palestinian students, along with teachers and officials, were wounded in the Israeli army attack on a school south of Nablus in the West Bank on October 15. The students of Al- Sawiya Al-Lebban Mixed School were challenging an Israeli military order to shut down their school based on the ever-versatile accusation of the school being a “site of popular terror and rioting.”

“Popular terror,” is an Israeli army code for protests. The students, of course, have every right to protest, not just the Israeli military Occupation but also the encroaching colonization of the settlements of Alie and Ma’ale Levona. These two illegal Jewish settlements have unlawfully confiscated thousands of dunams of land belonging to the villages of As-Sawiya and Al-Lebban.

“The Israeli citizens”, that the Occupation army is set to protect by shutting down the school, are, in fact, the very armed Jewish settlers who have been terrorizing this West Bank region for years.

According to a 2016 study commissioned by the United Nations, at least 2,500 Palestinian students from 35 West Bank communities must cross through Israeli military checkpoints to reach their schools every day. About half of these students have reported army harassment and violence for merely attempting to get to their classes or back home.

However, this is only half of the story, as violent Jewish settlers are always on the lookout for Palestinian kids. These settlers, who “also set up their own checkpoints”, engage in regular violence as well, by “throwing stones” at children, or “physically pushing (Palestinian children) around.”

“UNICEF’s protective presence teams have reported that their volunteers have been subjected to physical attacks, harassment, arrest and detention, and death threats,” according to the same UN report.

In other words, even the ‘protectors’ themselves often fall victim to the army and Jewish settler terror tactics.

Add to this that Area C – a major part of the West Bank that is under full Israeli military control – represents the pinnacle of Palestinian suffering. An estimated 50,000 children face numerous hurdles, including the lack of facilities, access, violence, closure and unjustified demolition orders.

The school of Al Sawiya Al Lebban located in Area C is, therefore, under the total mercy of the Israeli military, which has no tolerance for any form of resistance, including non-violent popular protests by school children.

What is truly uplifting, however, is that, despite the Israeli military Occupation and ongoing restrictions on Palestinian freedom, the Palestinian population remains one of the most educated in the Middle East.

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the literacy rate in Palestine (estimated at 96.3%) is one of the highest in the Middle East and the illiteracy rate (3.7% among individuals over the age of 15) is one of the lowest in the world.

If these statistics are not heartening enough, bearing in mind the ongoing Israeli war on Palestinian school and curricula, consider this: the besieged and war-stricken Gaza Strip has an even higher literacy rate than the West Bank, as they both stand at 96.6% and 96% respectively.

In truth, this should not come as a total surprise. The first wave of Palestinian refugees that were ethnically-cleansed from historic Palestine were so keen on ensuring their children strive to continue their education, they established school tents, operated by volunteer teachers as early as 1948.

Palestinians understand well that education is their greatest weapon to obtain their long-denied freedom. Israel, too, is aware of this dichotomy, knowing that an empowered Palestinian population is far more capable of challenging Israeli dominance than a subdued one, thus the relentless and systematic targeting of the Palestinian educational system.

Israel’s strategy in destroying the infrastructure of Palestinian schooling system is centered on the allegation of ‘terror’: that is, Palestinians teach ‘terror’ in their schools; Palestinian school books celebrate ‘terrorists’; schools are sites for ‘popular terror’ and various other accusations that, per Israeli logic, compels the army to seal off schools, demolish facilities, arrest and shoot students.

Take, for example, the recent comments made by the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, who is now leading a government campaign aimed at shutting down operations by the UN organization that caters for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

“It is time to remove UNRWA from Jerusalem,” Barkat announced early October.

Without any evidence whatsoever, Barkat claimed that “UNRWA is strengthening terror,” and that “the children of Jerusalem are taught under their auspices, terror, and this must be stopped.”

Of course, Barkat is being dishonest. The jibe at UNRWA in Jerusalem is part of a larger Israeli-US campaign aimed at shutting down an organization that proved central to the status and welfare of Palestinian refugees.

According to this skewed thinking, without UNRWA, Palestinian refugees would have no legal platform, thus closing down UNRWA is closing down the chapter of Palestinian refugees and their Right of Return altogether.

The link between the shutting down of Al Sawiya Al Lebban, the targeting of UNRWA by Israel and the US, the numerous checkpoints separating students from their schools in the West Bank and more, have more in common than Israel’s false allegation of ‘terror.’

Israeli writer, Orly Noy, summed up the Israeli logic in one sentence. “By destroying schools in Palestinian villages in Area C and elsewhere, Israel is forcing Palestinians to make a cruel choice — between their land and their children’s futures,” she wrote earlier this year.

It is this brutal logic that has guided the Israeli government strategy regarding Palestinian education for 70 years. It is a war that cannot be discussed or understood outside the larger war on Palestinian identity, freedom, and, in fact, the very existence of the Palestinian people.

The students’ fight for their right to education in Al Sawiya Al Lebban Mixed School is by no means an isolated skirmish involving Palestinian school kids and trigger-happy Israeli soldiers. Rather, it is at the heart of the Palestinian people’s fight for their freedom.

Saving the Holy Land

Many readers will know of Kairos from their Palestine Document of 2009. This was a bold statement by a group of Christian Palestinians which told the truth about the tragic situation in their country under Israeli occupation…. “a cry of hope in the absence of all hope”.

Kairos is Greek meaning ‘a critical moment in time’. The document was called ‘A Moment of Truth; A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering’. And it was published after the murderous onslaught by Israel against Gaza over Christmas and New Year 2008/9.

The Kairos people said they had “reached a dead end in the tragedy of the Palestinian people. The decision-makers content themselves with managing the crisis rather than committing themselves to the serious task of finding a way to resolve it.”

It was a long and comprehensive document so I’ll just quote this extract to provide a flavour:

Religious liberty is severely restricted; the freedom of access to the holy places is denied under the pretext of security. Jerusalem and its holy places are out of bounds for many Christians and Muslims from the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Even Jerusalemites face restrictions during the religious feasts. Some of our Arab clergy are regularly barred from entering Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is the heart of our reality. It is, at the same time, a symbol of peace and sign of conflict. While the separation wall divides Palestinian neighbourhoods, Jerusalem continues to be emptied of its Palestinian citizens, Christians and Muslims. Their identity cards are confiscated, which means the loss of their right to reside in Jerusalem. Their homes are demolished or expropriated. Jerusalem, city of reconciliation, has become a city of discrimination and exclusion, a source of struggle rather than peace.

Also part of this reality is the Israeli disregard of international law and international resolutions, as well as the paralysis of the Arab world and the international community in the face of this contempt. Human rights are violated and despite the various reports of local and international human rights’ organizations, the injustice continues.

We also declare that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God…. We declare that any theology, seemingly based on the Bible or on faith or on history, that legitimizes the occupation, is far from Christian teachings, because it calls for violence and holy war.

In 2012 came ‘The Iona Call’ in answer to the Kairos Palestine document. It said:

We are called to respond boldly to the deepening suffering of our sisters and brothers in Palestine under occupation by Israel.We believe it is necessary to challenge the deafening silence of most churches in the face of the continuing injustice of dispossession and denial of basic human and political rights. We agree with the Kairos Palestine document that the occupation by Israel is an evil and a sin.

We ask our churches and theological institutions to challenge how the Bible has been used to justify oppression and injustice.We support Palestinians in their non-violent resistance to Israeli injustice and oppression. We endorse their call for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) and other forms of non-violent direct action. We call on Christians to put pressure on governments and the European Union to demonstrate a commitment to justice for Palestinians and security for all people. [The added emphasis is mine.]

In 2017 Kairos Britain merged with Friends of Sabeel UK and became Sabeel-Kairos. The former had been seeking a just and lasting peace in the region based on the realisation of full human and political rights for all. The latter supported the Sabeel Theology Centre in Jerusalem, encouraged the Christian community in the Holy Land in their life and witness, and raised awareness in the UK of Christians in the Holy Land and promoted links with them. Let us hope the marriage bears fruit.

“An inhumane situation that must be changed”

Then, earlier this year Kairos issued a Statement on Gaza and Jerusalem reminding the world that on 14 May 2018 (the 70th anniversary of the proclamation of an Israeli State) Israel slaughtered 60 people and wounded or maimed 2771 among crowds in Gaza walking unarmed towards their villages, which they had been forced to leave.

They were killed in cold blood and posed no threat to anybody. At the same time, the American embassy was relocated to Jerusalem in violation of international law. The transgressor is the great power that should call on others to respect international law.

We live in an inhumane situation that must be changed. The siege on Gaza, on two million people living on land of merely 380 km², must be lifted. The West Bank must be liberated and the people in it regain their freedom and complete equality must be ensured for all inhabitants…. This is the 70th year of this painful truth: the Holy Land has become the land in which human beings kill each other….

We call upon the international community to remember its own resolutions and to abide by them. We call upon churches to be the conscience of humanity and hear the cry of the oppressed in the Holy Land. We call upon them to condemn the Christian Zionists whom we saw in these days contradicting the Gospel of love and peace, by supporting oppression and injustice, under the pretext of prophecies, and standing with the powerful of this world in their injustices.

We urge the international community to shoulder its responsibilities. We call upon it to exert every pressure, even sanctions if necessary, to force Israel to follow the path of peace and justice…. abandon its apartheid practices and comply with international law.”

Ugly reality

They have just announced their intention to launch a Kumi (Rise Up) project later this month. Sabeel is inviting local and international individuals and organizations to join and work as a united force.

The Kumi project, they say, is founded on these three values:

  • Inclusivity: everyone is welcome to join the movement.
  • Justice: based on international law, ending the occupation (including Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem), the right of return, and equal rights for all citizens of Israel.
  • Nonviolent resistance: a commitment to using nonviolence as the only form of resistance.

Its aim is to raise awareness about Palestine and exert pressure on the powerful decision makers of the world to do what is right and end the occupation. With their deep knowledge they have drafted as good a discription of the dire situation as I have seen:

The ugly reality of the present situation has created a feeling of hopelessness for many Palestinians. In our attempt to stand firm in the face of oppression, many believe that we have no chance of success and rightfully feel that we have reached rock-bottom. From global to local levels, we are disheartened by the current reality.

First, at the highest level, the United Nations continues to prove that they are not capable or willing to implement their own resolutions when it comes to Palestine, nor are they able to pass new resolutions to protect the Palestinian people living under military occupation without being blocked by a veto from the United States.

Second, the major players in the international community, including the European Union, UK, China, and Russia, have not shown real political will to help Palestinians achieve their rights.

Third, the United States of America, considered the superpower of the world today, continues to disregard international law and ignores the call to stand for Palestinian rights. Both Democrat and Republican governments have failed to advocate for justice and lasting peace in the land.

Fourth, Israel has become a captive of its own fears and fundamentalist views.

Fifth, we Palestinians feel overwhelmed with what is happening in the Arab World. From the failure of the Arab Spring to bring true and lasting reform, the escalating sectarian wars, the disrespect of human rights, to the growth of religious extremism, we do not expect help from our Arab brothers and sisters.

Sixth, we witness the lack of true coordination between human rights organizations in Palestine, Israel, and around the world developing a clear road map so that a solution based on justice and international law is achieved.

Finally, the internal divisions and disputes among Palestinians have restricted our ability to resist as one united people. These divisions have not only broken our resistance but have also broken our spirits, making us feel completely helpless in the face of oppression.

There’s nothing like telling it the way it is! But despite the many reasons for hopelessness, say Sabeel, they feel that giving up as a people on the margins simply isn’t an option.

Thankfully, Sabeel-Kairos maintains credibility by managing to separate themselves from the usual religious windbags who shy away from politics. The Christian Church ducks these uncomfortable issues by relying on ‘interfaith dialogue’ and maintaining the “deafening silence” referred to in the Iona Call. Take those great buddies the former Archbishop of Canterbury and former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Oodles of interfaith dialogue there. At top level too. But it made no difference. In a vicious attack Sacks recently called a mild remark by Jeremy Corbyn about Zionists 5 years ago “the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech” and absurdly described Corbyn as “an anti-Semite” who has “given support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate”. Sacks revealed himself in his true colours especially when it emerged that he had been promoting and leading the notoriously provocative March of the Flags each year on Jerusalem Day, which is an out-and-out religious hate fest terrorising Palestinians in their own homeland.

This appeared in Haaretz last year:

The march, largely attended by bussed-in yeshiva students, is associated with hate speech and violence. Haaretzs Bradley Burston describes it as an annual, gender-segregated extreme-right, pro-occupation religious carnival of hatred, marking the anniversary of Israel’s capture of Jerusalem by humiliating the city’s Palestinian Muslims. Marchers vandalized shops in Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter, chanted “Death to Arabs” and “The (Jewish) Temple Will Be Built, the (Al Aqsa) Mosque will be Burned Down,” shattered windows and door locks, and poured glue into the locks of shops forced to close for fear of further damage.” 

Nice one, Sacks. He was elevated to the House of Lords in 2005 “for services to the Community and to Inter-faith Relations”. Oh, the irony of it.

Israel, said Sacks, is the place where his people were born almost 4,000 years ago. I read somewhere that Lord Sacks is of Polish/Lithuanian extraction. Can he demonstrate ancestral ties to the ancient Holy Land?

What Sabeeel-Kairos says helps campaigners and civil society keep focus on some of the essential issues in the big struggle ahead. I pick out the following:

  • Challenge the deafening silence of most churches and why the Bible has been used to justify oppression and injustice;
  • The ‘enemy within’ is often the Christian Zionist;
  • Call for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) and other forms of non-violent direct action;
  • Need for better co-operation among human rights organisations and civil society groups in drawing up a road map towards a solution based on justice and international law;
  • America, the great power, must be persuaded to respect international law and call on others to do the same;
  • The siege on Gaza must be lifted;
  • The West Bank must be liberated and its people allowed to regain their freedom. Equality must be ensured for all inhabitants;
  • The international community must shoulder its responsibilities and the UN must show itself capable or willing to implement its own resolutions or dissolve; and,
  • Internal divisions have destroyed Palestinian resistance and undermined international support. The causes must be removed – urgently.

It’s sickening to read that Israelis continue to murder Palestinians daily, with impunity. I, for one, want to see campaigners target the those in Washington and London who could stop the systematic killing and impose justice but to their everlasting shame won’t.

Breaking the Silence about Israel’s Occupation of Hebron

Ido Even-Paz switched on his body camera as his tour group decamped from the bus in Hebron. The former Israeli soldier wanted to document any trouble we might encounter in this, the largest Palestinian city in the occupied West Bank.

It was not Hebron’s Palestinian residents who concerned him. He was worried about Israelis – Jewish religious extremists and the soldiers there to guard them – who have seized control of much of the city centre.

Mr Even-Paz, 34, first served as a soldier in Hebron in the early 2000s. Today he belongs to Breaking the Silence, a group of former soldiers turned whistleblowers who leads tours into the heart of Israel’s settlement enterprise. After 14 years of operations, however, Breaking the Silence is today facing ever-more formidable challenges.

Hebron, 30km south of Jerusalem, is a microcosm of the occupation. A handful of settlers moved here uninvited five decades ago, drawn in part to what Israelis call the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Palestinians the Ibrahimi mosque. The Herod-era building is erected over the putative burial site of Abraham, Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Since then the settler ranks have swollen to nearly 900 – aided by the Israeli army.

Despite their relatively small number, however, their territorial footprint has been expanding relentlessly, and now covers some 2 square kilometres.

The settlers and military, says Mr Even-Paz, have worked hand in hand to hijack the freedoms of some 230,000 Palestinians and turn Hebron’s once-vibrant commercial centre into a ghost town. All of this has happened with the apparent blessing of the Israeli government.

War crimes witnessed

When Mr Even-Paz arrived in Hebron as a teen soldier at the height of the Second Intifada, he was keen to distinguish himself as a combat soldier by fighting Palestinian “terrorists”, and impress his father, a retired career officer.

His political awakening, however, didn’t begin until much later, in 2008, as Israel launched a massive assault on the Gaza Strip. Later he discovered the more than 1,000 testimonies recorded by Breaking the Silence, in which Israelis acknowledged that they had participated in or witnessed war crimes during their military service.

“Those stories were exactly like mine. I thought I’d done nothing significant during my military service, that it was boring. I started to realise it was the very mundanity of the occupation – its round-the-clock oppression of Palestinians – that was the core of the problem.”

He believes the problem of the occupation is systemic rather than the result of misconduct by individual soldiers.

“Whatever a soldier believes when they begin their military service, there is no way to behave ethically in the occupied territories,” he says. “It’s a system in which Palestinians are always treated as inferior, always viewed as the enemy, whoever they are.

“Every day the job is to inflict collective punishment. We were told explicitly that we were waging psychological war, that we were there to intimidate them.

“In the middle of the night we raided families’ homes, chosen randomly, waking up frightened children. We violently broke up Palestinian protests. I arrested Palestinians every day to ‘dry them out’ – to teach them a lesson, to make them understand who is boss.”

Army treated as sacred

Yet in Israel, the military is regarded as an almost sacred institution. Breaking the Silence casts a long, dark shadow over claims that Israel’s is the most moral army in the world.

Hebron is ground zero for much of the group’s work, where military service is a rite of passage for Israeli combat soldiers. The group’s tour attracts some back later in life, either after they grow troubled by their earlier experiences enforcing the occupation or because they want to show family members what their service was like.

Some go on to testify to the group, says Ori Givati, Mr Even-Paz’s colleague on the tour. “When they come with us to places like Hebron, the memories flood back. They recall things they did that they can now see in a different light.”

With the spread of phone cameras in recent years, the dark underbelly of the occupation in Hebron has been ever harder to conceal, confirming the soldiers’ testimonies.

Palestinians have captured on video everything from terrified small children being dragged off the street by soldiers into military Jeeps to an army medic, Elor Azaria, using his rifle to execute a prone Palestinian man by shooting him in the head from close range.

‘Separation policy’

Israel has carved Hebron into two zones, part of its “separation policy”. H1, the city’s western side, is nominally under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, except when Israel decides otherwise.

H2, a fifth of the city and home to somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 Palestinians (the number is contested), is where settlers and soldiers rule. They are supported by a much larger neighbouring settlement of 8,000 religious Jews, Kiryat Arba, hemming in Hebron’s eastern flank.

The chain of settlements form a spear of territory thrusting into Hebron’s throat from the main body of H2 and Kiryat Arba.

“The idea is to make life so intolerable the Palestinians will choose to expel themselves,” Mr Even-Paz says. “Unemployment among Palestinians is about 70 per cent in H2, so the pressure is on the residents to move into H1 or out of Hebron entirely.”

In their place, the settlers have taken over. Carefree-looking couples wander with push chairs, men and boys hurry to seminaries, bored teenagers study their phones on street corners, and families lounge at bus stops for the frequent services connecting them to Jerusalem and elsewhere.

Everything, says Mr Even-Paz, from water and electricity to rents and public transport, is subsidised to encourage Jews to move here.

Amid the surrounding Palestinian homes, all of this “normality” takes place in a controlled environment that is anything but. It is enforced by heavily fortified checkpoints, razor-wire, watchtowers, army patrols and rooftop sentries watching every move.

Many of the settlers have licences to carry army-issue rifles and handguns.

Two systems of law

As elsewhere in the occupied territories, Israel has imposed two systems of law. Palestinians, including children, face summary arrest, military trial and draconian punishment, while settlers operate under an Israeli civil law that involves due process and a presumption of innocence – though even this is rarely enforced against them.

“They know they are untouchable,” says Mr Even-Paz. “The army’s rules of engagement mean soldiers can’t enforce the law on Israeli civilians.

“Soldiers are not allowed to respond if the settlers commit a crime or assault a Palestinian. They are even under orders not to shoot back if a settler opens fire at them.”

Not that such a scenario has occurred often. Many soldiers are religious settlers themselves, and even the secular ones sympathise with Hebron’s settlers.

“When I served, they brought us hot drinks on a cold day, and iced drinks on a hot day. During Shabbat [the Sabbath], they invited us to come and eat in their homes. They became like family to us.”

But that welcome has turned sour since Mr Even-Paz joined Breaking the Silence. Settlers have thrown eggs, water-bombs, coffee grounds and mud at him. Yehuda Shaul, the founder of Breaking the Silence, was recently punched in the face during a tour of Hebron, and another guide had paint poured over her.

It’s not just settlers targeting the group.

Accused of treason

Government ministers routinely accuse Breaking the Silence of treason and of aiding supposed efforts by Europe to damage the army and Israel’s image. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has in the past called for the group’s members to be investigated by the police.

He also refuses to meet any foreign dignitary who has dealings with Breaking the Silence. That policy resulted in a highly publicised snub last year to the German foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel.

In July, the parliament passed a law barring Breaking the Silence from schools, even though visits by “loyal” soldiers are a mainstay of the curriculum.

Now the army and settlers appear to be working hand-in-hand to stymie the group’s tours.

In fact, 10 years ago, the army issued an order banning the group’s trips to Hebron, though Breaking the Silence eventually won a costly legal battle to have them reinstated.

But in recent weeks the settlers have markedly intensified efforts to break up the tours. The army, meanwhile, appears to be exploiting the upsurge in settler violence to crack down on Breaking the Silence, on the pretext that restrictions are necessary to “prevent friction”.

‘Sterilised area’

The same rationale was originally used to implement the system of restricted access for Palestinians to areas of Hebron coveted by settlers. In 1994, shortly after the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships signed the Oslo peace accords, a fanatical settler, Baruch Goldstein, opened fire in the Ibrahimi mosque, killing and wounding some 150 worshipping Muslims.

It should have provided the moment for Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s then prime minister, to remove the small settler community from Hebron. It was a necessary first step in proving that Israel was serious about the Oslo process and creating a Palestinian state in the occupied territories.

Instead, Mr Even-Paz observes, Israel entrenched the settlers’ rule, crafting the situation visible on the ground today.

For more than 15 years, Israel has forbidden entry for Palestinians to what was once Hebron’s main throroughfare and central shopping area along Shuhada Street. Now it has been rebranded in Hebrew as King David Street, and declared what the army terms a “sterilised area”. The closure severs the main transport routes for Palestinians between north and south Hebron.

Most of the Palestinian inhabitants have been driven from the city centre by endless harassment and attacks by settlers, bolstered by arrests and night raids conducted by the army, says Mr Even-Paz.

The few Palestinians still residing in the area are literally caged into their own homes – their doors welded shut and their windows covered with bars. The bars are there for their own protection because settlers throw stones, eggs and soiled nappies at their windows. The families are forced to enter and leave via the rooftops into back streets to shop, work and meet friends.

The dozens of stores that once drew shoppers from throughout the southern West Bank have been sealed up long ago. The army, according to our guide, has turned a blind eye to the settlers requisitioning some for their own use.

Shadowed by soldiers

As we moved into the settler-controlled heart of Hebron, we got a taste of the new official policy of intimidation and harassment against Breaking the Silence.

It started early on when an officer approached to tell us we were not allowed to move without a military escort. Soldiers and Jeeps shadowed us closely.

Our group hardly looked combative. It included European staff from a human rights organisation; curious holidaymakers; a group of young friends brought along by an Israeli leftist they were visiting; and a young Jew from Brooklyn who was in Israel to understand the occupation and his Jewish identity more deeply.

The last, who asked to be identified only as Todd for fear that his entry into Israel might be blocked next time by the authorities, said it was his first time in the West Bank.

“I feel an obligation to understand what’s going on because it’s done in the name of Jews. But it is very hard to see this up close. It hurts.”

The only crossing point on Shuhada Street still open to Palestinians, Bab al-Khan, is littered with half a dozen checkpoints, which only Palestinian children returning from school appeared willing to pass.

Even that route is under threat. Settlers have occupied two Palestinian homes either side of the road in an attempt to force the army to close the street to Palestinians entirely, says Mr Even-Paz.

Way ahead blocked

The confidence of the settlers today – and their support from the government and among a significant section of the Israeli public – was starkly on show during the recent Sukkot holiday, or Feast of the Tabernacles.

Every few minutes a truck converted into open-backed tour bus offered a free lift for some two dozen Israeli “tourists” at a time, taking them from the Tomb of the Patriarchs up the Palestinian-free Shuhada Street to the settlements.

But while these Jewish visitors had the run of the place, our escort of heavily armed soldiers soon blocked the way ahead.

Half-way up Shuhada Street, before we could reach the last two, most extreme illegal settlements, the military commander issued an order that we were denied further access to “prevent friction”.

As we stood at the side of the road contesting the ban, Israelis on the tour buses plied past, staring at us like unwelcome gatecrashers at their party.

“It seems there are only two kinds of people not allowed to walk through the centre of Hebron,” Mr Even-Paz observed. “Palestinians and Breaking the Silence.”

• First published in The National

As Gaza’s economy collapses, so does any hope of peace

The moment long feared is fast approaching in Gaza, according to a new report by the World Bank. After a decade-long Israeli blockade and a series of large-scale military assaults, the economy of the tiny coastal enclave is in “freefall”.

At a meeting of international donors in New York on Thursday, coinciding with the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, the World Bank painted an alarming picture of Gaza’s crisis. Unemployment now stands at close to 70 per cent and the economy is contracting at an ever faster rate.

While the West Bank’s plight is not yet as severe, it is not far behind. Countries attending the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee were told. Gaza’s collapse could bring down the entire Palestinian banking sector.

In response, Europe hurriedly put together a €40 million aid package, but that will chiefly address Gaza’s separate humanitarian crisis – not the economic one – by improving supplies of electricity and potable water.

No one doubts the inevitable fallout from the economic and humanitarian crises gripping Gaza. The four parties to the Quartet charged with overseeing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians – the United States, Russia, the European Union and the UN – issued a statement warning that it was vital to prevent what they termed “further escalation” in Gaza.

The Israeli military shares these concerns. It has reported growing unrest among the enclave’s two million inhabitants and believes Hamas will be forced into a confrontation to break out of the straight jacket imposed by the blockade.

In recent weeks, mass protests along Gaza’s perimeter fence have been revived and expanded after a summer lull. On Friday, seven Palestinian demonstrators, including two children, were killed by Israeli sniper fire. Hundreds more were wounded.

Nonetheless, the political will to remedy the situation looks as atrophied as ever. No one is prepared to take meaningful responsibility for the time-bomb that is Gaza.

In fact, the main parties that could make a difference appear intent on allowing the deterioration to continue.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ignored repeated warnings of a threatened explosion in Gaza from his own military.

Instead, Israel is upholding the blockade as tightly as ever, preventing the flow of goods in and out of the enclave. Fishing is limited to three miles off the coast rather than the 20-mile zone agreed in the Oslo accords. Hundreds of companies are reported to have folded over the summer.

Intensifying the enclave’s troubles is the Trump administration’s recent decision to cut aid to the Palestinians, including to the United Nation’s refugee agency, UNRWA. It plays a critical role in Gaza, providing food, education and health services to nearly two-thirds of the population.

The food budget is due to run out in December, and the schools budget by the end of October. Hundreds of thousands of hungry children with nowhere to spend their days can only fuel the protests – and the deaths.

The Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas, headquartered in the West Bank, has no incentive to help. Gaza’s slowly unfolding catastrophe is his leverage to make Hamas submit to his rule. That is why the Palestinian Authority has cut transfers to Gaza by $30 million a month.

But even if Mr Abbas wished to help, he largely lacks the means. The US cuts were imposed primarily to punish him for refusing to play ball with US President Donald Trump’s supposed “deal of the century” peace plan.

Israel, the World Bank notes, has added to Mr Abbas’s difficulties by refusing to transfer taxes and customs duties it collects on the PA’s behalf.

And the final implicated party, Egypt, is reticent to loosen its own chokehold on its short border with Gaza. President Abdel Fattah El Sisi opposes giving any succour either to his domestic Islamist opponents or to Hamas.

The impasse is possible only because none of the parties is prepared to make a priority of Gaza’s welfare.

That was starkly illustrated earlier in the summer when Cairo, supported by the UN, opened a back channel between Israel and Hamas in the hope of ending their mounting friction.

Hamas wanted the blockade lifted to reverse Gaza’s economic decline, while Israel wanted an end to the weekly protests and the damaging images of snipers killing unarmed demonstrators.

In addition, Mr Netanyahu has an interest in keeping Hamas in power in Gaza, if barely, as a way to cement the geographic split with the West Bank and an ideological one with Mr Abbas.

The talks, however, collapsed quietly in early September after Mr Abbas objected to the Egyptians. He insisted that the Palestinian Authority be the only address for discussions of Gaza’s future. So, Cairo is yet again channelling its energies into a futile attempt at reconciling Mr Abbas and Hamas.

At the UN General Assembly, Mr Trump promised his peace plan would be unveiled in the next two to three months, and made explicit for the first time his support for a two-state solution, saying it would “work best”.

Mr Netanyahu vaguely concurred, while pointing out: “Everyone defines the term ‘state’ differently.” His definition, he added, required that not one of the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank be removed and that any future Palestinian state be under complete Israeli security control.

Mr Abbas is widely reported to have conceded over the summer that a Palestinian state – should it ever come into being – would be demilitarised. In other words, it would not be recognisable as a sovereign state.

Hamas has made notable compromises to its original doctrine of military resistance to secure all of historic Palestine. But it is hard to imagine it agreeing to peace on those terms. This makes a reconciliation between Hamas and Mr Abbas currently inconceivable – and respite for the people of Gaza as far off as ever.

• First published in The National

Interview with Miko Peled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MP: I never was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palestinians Suffer as Trump Tears Up Rules-based Order

Washington’s decision to intensify swingeing aid cuts to the Palestinians – the latest targets include cancer patients and peace groups – reveals more than a simple determination to strong-arm the Palestinian leadership to the negotiating table.

Under cover of a supposed peace effort, or “deal of the century”, the Trump administration hopes to solve problems closer to home. It wants finally to shake off the burden of international humanitarian law, and the potential for war crimes trials, that have overshadowed US actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria – and may yet prove treacherous in dealings with Iran.

The Palestinians have been thrust into the centre of this battle for good reason. They are the most troublesome legacy of a post-war, rules-based international order that the US is now committed to sweeping away. Amputate the Palestinian cause, an injustice festering for more than seven decades, and America’s hand will be freer elsewhere. Might will again be right.

An assault on the already fragile international order as it relates to the Palestinians began in earnest last month. The US stopped all aid to UNRWA, the United Nations refugee agency that helps more than five million Palestinians languishing in camps across the Middle East.

The pressure sharpened last week when $25m in aid was blocked to hospitals in East Jerusalem that provide a lifeline to Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank, whose health services have withered under a belligerent Israeli occupation.

Then at the weekend, the US revealed it would no longer hand over $10m to peace groups fostering ties between Israelis and Palestinians.

The only significant transfer the US still makes is $60m annually to the Palestinian security services, which effectively enforce the occupation on Israel’s behalf. In short, that money benefits Israel, not the Palestinians.

At the same time, the Trump administration revoked the US visa of the Palestinian ambassador to Washington, Husam Zomlot, shortly after shuttering his diplomatic mission. The Palestinians have been cast fully out into the cold.

Most observers wrongly assume that the screws are simply being tightened to force the Palestinians to engage with Mr Trump’s peace plan, even though it is nowhere in sight. Like an unwanted tin can, it has been kicked ever further down the road over the past year. A reasonable presumption is that it will never be unveiled. While the US keeps everyone distracted with empty talk, Israel gets on with its unilateral solutions.

The world is watching, nonetheless. The Palestinian community of Khan Al Ahmar, outside Jerusalem, appears to be days away from demolition. Israel intends to ethnically cleanse its inhabitants to clear the way for more illegal Jewish settlements in a key area that would eradicate any hope of a Palestinian state.

Mr Trump’s recent punitive actions are designed to choke into submission the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, just as Israel once secretly put Palestinians in Gaza on a starvation “diet” to make them more compliant. Israel’s long-standing collective punishment of Palestinians – constituting a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention – has now been supplemented by similar types of collective punishment by the US, against Palestinian refugees and cancer patients.

Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, admitted as much at the weekend. He told the New York Times that the cuts in aid were punishment for the Palestinian leadership “vilifying the [US] administration”.

In an apparent coded reference to international law, Mr Kushner added that it was time to change “false realities”. However feeble international institutions have proved, the Trump administration, like Israel, prefers to be without them.

In particular, both detest the potential constraints imposed by the International Criminal Court at The Hague, which is empowered to prosecute war crimes. Although it was established only in 2002, it draws on a body of international law and notions of human rights that date back to the immediate period after the Second World War.

The crimes committed by Zionist leaders in establishing Israel on the ruins of the Palestinians’ homeland occurred in 1948, just as international law was being born. The Palestinians were among the first, and are still the most glaring, violation of that new rules-based global order.

Righting those historic wrongs is the biggest test of whether international law will ever amount to more than jailing the odd African dictator.

That the Palestinian cause continues to loom large was underscored this month by two challenges conducted in international forums.

Legislators from Israel’s large Palestinian minority have appealed to the United Nations to sanction Israel for recently passing the apartheid-like Nation-State Basic Law. It gives constitutional standing to institutionalised discrimination against the fifth of the population who are not Jewish.

And the Palestinian Authority has alerted the Hague court to the imminent destruction by Israel of Khan Al Ahmar. The ICC is already examining whether to bring a case against Israel over the settlements built on occupied land.

The US State Department has said the aid cuts and closure of the Palestinian embassy were prompted partly by “concerns” over the Hague referral. John Bolton, Mr Trump’s national security adviser, meanwhile, has vowed to shield Israel from any war crimes trials.

Sitting on the fence have been the Europeans. Last week the European parliament passed a resolution warning that Khan Al Ahmar’s destruction and the “forcible transfer” of its inhabitants would be a “grave breach” of international law. In an unusual move, it also threatened to demand compensation from Israel for any damage to infrastructure in Khan Al Ahmar funded by Europe.

Europe’s leading states anxiously wish to uphold the semblance of an international order they believe has prevented their region’s descent into a Third World War. Israel and the US, on the other hand, are determined to use Palestine as the test bed for dismantling these protections.

The Israeli bulldozers sent to Khan Al Ahmar will also launch an assault on Europe and its resolve to defend international law and the Palestinians. When push comes to shove, will Europe’s nerve hold?

• First published in The National

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Occupation reorganised

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Less than statehood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sympathy with settlers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rabin’s refusal to act

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demographic differential

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palestinian dependency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lured into a trap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He also craved international recognition and legitimacy.”

Trench warfare

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

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

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

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

“He was wrong.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• First published in Middle East Eye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except there are few signs of guilt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The final loose end are the refugees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• First published in The National