Category Archives: West Bank

Inside Banksy’s The Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem

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

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

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

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

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

Exception to Banksy’s rule

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

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

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

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

A rare success story

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palestinians’ reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

Global impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sanctuary in a police state

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

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

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

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

A history of resistance

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

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

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

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

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

No mementos

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

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

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

Protest pieces

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

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

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

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

Is this ‘war tourism’?

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

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

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

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

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

Eternal memories

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

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

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

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

• First published at The National

Israel: Ethnic Cleansing, Land Theft, Apartheid And Jim Crow

Above: Boycott Racist Israel, protest in South Africa by the Iraq News Service.

In recent weeks, racism against Palestinian people and the expansion of apartheid-Jim Crow policies have escalated. The Israeli lobby and its supporters attacked freedom of speech in the United States, showing how far they will go to prevent the US public from being aware of their behavior.

If more people in the US become aware of the truth about Israel’s genocidal policies, the economic lifeline and political protection of the United States will disappear. Israel could be forced to make significant changes that recognize the human rights and self-determination of Palestinians.

Israel knows that without the support of the United States, it could not continue these crimes against the Palestinian people. The lesson for US activists: keep telling the truth about Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine.

“The Israeli army has enough bullets for every Palestinian.”

That is what the Chair of the Defense Committee of the Israeli Parliament, Avi Dichter, threatened last week. He was commenting on the Great March of Return protests that took place along the eastern fence of the Gaza Strip. Saying Israel has enough bullets for every Palestinian is saying Israel could kill every Palestinian, the definition of ethnic cleansing.

Dichter is not a fringe backbencher but a senior member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party. This former director of the Shin Bet internal security service and Minister of Internal Security said that the Israeli army is prepared to use all means to stop Palestinians.

And, the Strategic Affairs Minister, Gilad Erdan, repeatedly referred to Palestinians killed in Gaza as “Nazis.” Killing Palestinians was acceptable, because  “The number [of peaceful Palestinian protesters] killed does not mean anything because they are just Nazis anyhow.”

Israeli troops shot and killed 180 Palestinians and nearly 6,000 others were shot and injured during the Great March of Return. A staggering 24,000 Palestinians have been injured by Israel during the protests, aided by large corporations.

A video released last week showed Israeli soldiers shot dead a young disabled Palestinian from as far away as 80 meters. The rights group, B’Tselem uploaded the video that debunks Israeli claims that he was killed during violent clashes. The video shows 22-year-old Mohammed Habali, being fatally shot by Israeli soldiers in early December in the West Bank.  It “clearly shows there were no clashes between residents and soldiers in the immediate vicinity of the spot where Habali was shot,” the group said.

Last week a four-year-old Palestinian boy died after being injured by Israeli gunfire at a routine protest near Gaza‘s border. His father, Yasser Abu Abed, did not usually bring his son to the regular protests but the boy insisted. Within two minutes of arriving, snipers began shooting. They were a few hundred meters away from the fence. Yasser said, “We’re simply asking for basic rights…All we ever wanted was to see the blockade on Gaza come to an end.” The 11-year blockade has caused immense suffering and violations of human rights.

These are just two recent examples among many. Mondoweiss reports there are many indiscriminate killings including strikes on children playing football, a police officer’s family, a World Cup beach party, at least six hospitals including a geriatric hospital, multiple UN-run safe houses for civilians, journalists,  survivors looking for family members, ambulances among others.

Apartheid-Land Theft: 700 Israeli Communities Ban Arabs

In 2006, when fmr. President Jimmy Carter wrote, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, he was attacked by Israel’s defenders for using the word apartheid. Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz wrote that Carter’s “use of the loaded word ‘apartheid,’ suggesting an analogy to the hated policies of South Africa, is especially outrageous.”

In her book review, Karen DeYoung explained: Carter acknowledges that “the word ‘apartheid’ refers to the system of legal racial separation once used in South Africa… it is an appropriate term for Israeli policies devoted to ‘the acquisition of land’ in Palestinian territories through Jewish settlements and Israel’s incorporation of Palestinian land on its side of a separating wall it is erecting.” Carter also criticized Israelis who believe “they have the right to confiscate and colonize Palestinian land and try to justify the sustained subjugation and persecution of increasingly hopeless and aggravated Palestinians.”

All pretenses that Israel is not an apartheid state with policies sometimes worse than the Jim Crow south have been removed as Israel gets more overt in its racism. This week the Knesset approved 200 more communities where non-Jewish inhabitants can be banned. Now 700 communities have such Jim Crow-apartheid like laws. Banning Arabs from living in communities wipes away Palestinian history, steals land and makes Palestinians second-class citizens or worse.

The Knesset also rejected a bill to ‘maintain equal rights amongst all its citizens.’  The Basic Law: Equality bill, was clear: “The State of Israel shall maintain equal political rights amongst all its citizens, without any difference between religions, race and sex.” This is a direct quote from Israel’s Declaration of Independence, rejected last week by Israel’s parliament.

Mondoweiss describes how this action unveiled the truth about Israel, writing, “Despite one of the greatest political cons in history – ‘Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East’ – Israeli law never recognized equality between citizens. An attempt to enter an equality clause to the Human Dignity and Freedom Basic Law, back in 1992, failed – mostly due to the opposition of the religious parties.”

Last July the Knesset, amid widespread protest in Israel and in the US, adopted a basic law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” with more rights for Jews than other groups, codifying Israel as an apartheid state. The law made Arabic no longer an official language, “Jewish settlement” a national value, and the right of “national self-determination” “unique” to Jews.

Aida Touma-Sliman, a rare Palestinian member of the Knesset, explained the new nation-state law officially established apartheid as the law in the “land of Israel” from the river to sea. American Jews decried the clause as reminiscent of racist Jim Crow laws against black people in the United States.

Palestinian women cross through the Israeli military checkpoint of Qalandiya, the main crossing point between Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Israel Working to Undermine Free Speech in the United States

Israel and their US supporters fear people telling the truth about Israel. There have been attacks against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which had victories in 2018 and has transformed the debate on Israel. People are exercising their constitutional rights and political freedom to oppose Israel. There are efforts to ban BDS across the country, but courts have found BDS bans unconstitutional. Sen. Ben Cardin is leading the effort to ban BDS under federal law.

CNN fired Marc Lamont Hill for speaking truthfully about Palestine. Hill spoke at the November 29, 2018, UN  International Day of Solidarity with Palestinian People. This is the 70th year since the Nakba when 700,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes by the newly-declared state of Israel and hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages were emptied and destroyed. Hill called for the human rights of the Palestinian people. Groups moved to remove him from CNN and from Temple University.

A suppressed film by Al Jazeera was finally made public. “The Lobby” showed hidden camera footage of a British Jew who infiltrated AIPAC conferences, programs, and one-on-one meetings. The film showed that the Israeli government spies on US citizens, smears BDS activists as well as others, including Black Lives Matter, and subverts the US democratic process. Read more about the movie and get links to view it here. AIPAC is already working on newly-elected members of Congress.

Last week, the pro-Israel lobby suffered a defeat in its efforts to weaponize support for Palestinian rights when Temple University refused to fire Hill for speaking in solidarity with basic human rights of Palestinians. Their goal is that no criticism of Israel should be allowed in the US.

Unfortunately, Hill was fired as a commentator on CNN. This highlighted the bias of CNN reporting. The network has had a pro-Israel bias for quite some time, as their star news anchor, Wolf Blitzer previously worked for the right wing, Jerusalem Post and the extreme Israeli lobby, AIPAC. Blitzer regularly relies on Israeli military spokesman-turned-CNN-contributor Michael Oren to give his “expert” opinion. Blitzer is among the most overtly biased reporters in the US media. Leaked documents from the archives of the American Zionist Council, the precursor to AIPAC, show that Israeli government representatives secretly – and illegally – financed the planting of propaganda articles and speakers in many major American media outlets. There is a campaign, the Khalas! Blitzer-Oren campaign, demanding CNN end its ties with Blitzer and Oren.

Hill explained what is becoming an obvious fact, that, “Justice will come through a single bi-national democratic state that encompasses Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.”  A two-state solution is no longer possible because Israel has seized so much of the land in the West Bank. The Israeli government, including Netanyahu, opposes the existence of an independent State of Palestine.

Even with the discussion of a one-state solution being suppressed in the United States, equal numbers of people in the US support a one-state solution as support a two-state solution and 64 percent support a one-state solution if a two-state solution is not possible. This has Israel, AIPAC and its supporters worried as one nation where everyone has equal rights are inconsistent with Jewish people having greater rights than others in Israel.

MintPress News reported: “Hill is not the first academic to be targeted by pro-Israel pressure groups. They regard university campuses as a battleground to target and attack all individuals and groups who show solidarity with Palestine and its people and criticize Israel, its apartheid policies and its contempt for international laws and conventions.”

Another decline in US support for Israel is young US Jews not signing up for free ten-day birthright tours of Israel. This week it was reported that there was an unprecedented sharp drop in youth, drops range from 20 percent to 50 percent. Other youths have walked off birthright tours because they were so biased.

Israel’s actions are building opposition against them. Debra Shushan, of Americans for Peace Now, said, growing support for a one-state solution is due to “the aggressive, annexationist policies of the current Israeli government and its failure to pursue a two-state solution. This has fostered a growing perception that an independent Palestinian state is moot or impossible, which prompts people to look for alternatives.”

New York, NY — December 07: Moderator Marc Lamont Hill attends BET Presents “An Evening With ‘The Quad’” At The Paley Center on December 7, 2016 in New York City. Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET Networks/AFP

Time For Israel To Be Held Accountable

Israel constitutes “an open challenge to international law and the present concepts of human rights enshrined in it,” as Flisadam Pointer writes. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is conducting a pre-investigation of Israel.

On the same day that John Bolton threatened the court with economic sanctions if it investigated the US or Israeli war crimes, the Green Party of the United States completed the process of approving a letter to the ICC requesting a full investigation of Israel. We delivered that letter, and Margaret Flowers and Miko Peled met with a representative of the prosecutor’s office on November 19 in The Hague. Palestinians had previously requested an ICC investigation. Last week the ICC announced it has made progress on the pre-investigation. In October, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said: “Extensive destruction of property without military necessity and population transfers in an occupied territory constitute war crimes.”

Holding the leaders of Israel accountable for their human rights violations will be the first step. Progress will continue if we continue to tell the truth, share videos of Israeli abuses, which occur almost daily, and participate in BDS and other movements in support of Palestine.

Israel wages a New War of Attrition in Jerusalem

Czech president Milos Zeman offered Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist government a fillip during his visit to Israel last week. He inaugurated a cultural and trade centre, Czech House, just outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls.

At the opening, he expressed hope it would serve as a precursor to his country relocating its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. If so, the Czech Republic would become the first European state to follow US President Donald Trump’s lead in moving the US embassy in May.

It is this kind of endorsement that, of late, has emboldened Mr Netanyahu’s government, the Israeli courts, Jerusalem officials and settler organisations to step up their combined assault on Palestinians in the Old City and its surrounding neighbourhoods.

Israel has never hidden its ambition to seize control of East Jerusalem, Palestinian territory it occupied in 1967 and then annexed, as a way of preventing a viable Palestinian state from emerging.

Israel immediately began building an arc of Jewish settlements on Jerusalem’s eastern flank to seal off its Palestinian residents from their political hinterland, the West Bank.

More than a decade ago, it consolidated its domination with a mammoth concrete wall that cut through East Jerusalem. The aim was to seal off densely populated Palestinian neighbourhoods on the far side, ensuring the most prized and vulnerable areas – the Old City and its environs – could be more easily colonised, or “Judaised”, as Israel terms it.

This area, the heart of Jerusalem, is where magnificent holy places such as the Al Aqsa mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are to be found.

Under cover of the 1967 war, Israel ethnically cleansed many hundreds of Palestinians living near the Western Wall, a retaining wall of the elevated Al Aqsa compound that is venerated in Judaism. Since then, Israeli leaders have grown ever hungrier for control of the compound itself, which they believe is built over two long-lost Jewish temples.

Israel has forced the compound’s Muslim authorities to allow Jews to visit in record numbers, even though most wish to see the mosque replaced with a third Jewish temple. Meanwhile, Israel has severely limited the numbers of Palestinians who can reach the holy site.

Until now, Israel had mostly moved with stealth, making changes gradually so they rarely risked inflaming the Arab world or provoking western reaction. But after Mr Trump’s embassy move, a new Israeli confidence is tangible.

On four fronts, Israel has demonstrated its assertive new mood. First, with the help of ever-more compliant Israeli courts, it has intensified efforts to evict Palestinians from their homes in the Old City and just outside its historic walls.

Last month, the supreme court handed down a ruling that sanctions the eviction of 700 Palestinians from Silwan, a dense neighbourhood on a hillside below Al Aqsa. Ateret Cohanim, a settler organisation backed by government-subsidised armed guards, is now poised to take over the centre of Silwan.

It will mean more Israeli security and police protecting the settler population and more city officials enforcing prejudicial planning rules against Palestinians. The inevitable protests will justify more arrests of Palestinians, including children. This is how bureacratic ethnic cleansing works.

The supreme court also rejected an appeal against a Palestinian family’s eviction from Sheikh Jarrah, another key neighbourhood near the Old City. The decision opens the way to expelling dozens more families.

B’Tselem, an Israeli rights group, characterised these rulings as “sanctioning the broadest move to dispossess Palestinians since 1967”.

At the same time, Israel’s parliament approved a law to accelerate the settler takeover.

Over many years, Israel created a series of national parks around the Old City on the pretext of preserving “green areas”. Some hem in Palestinian neighbourhoods to stop their expansion while others were declared on the land of existing Palestinian homes to justify expelling the occupants.

Now the parliament has reversed course. The new law, drafted by another settler group, Elad, will allow house-building in national parks, but only for Jews.

Elad’s immediate aim is to bolster the settler presence in Silwan, where it has overseen a national park next to Al Aqsa. Archaeology has been co-opted to supposedly prove the area was once ruled by King David while thousands of years of subsequent history, most especially the current Palestinian presence, are erased.

Elad’s activities include excavating under Palestinian homes, weakening their foundations.

A massive new Jewish history-themed visitor centre will dominate Silwan’s entrance. Completing the project is a $55 million cable car, designed to carry thousands of tourists an hour over Silwan and other neighbourhoods, rendering the Palestinian inhabitants invisible as visitors are delivered effortlessly to the Western Wall without ever having to encounter them.

The settlers have their own underhand methods. With the authorities’ connivance, they have forged documents to seize Palestinian homes closest to Al Aqsa. In other cases, the settlers have recruited Arab collaborators to dupe other Palestinians into selling their homes.

Once they gain a foothold, the settlers typically turn the appropriated home into an armed compound. Noise blares out into the early hours, Palestinian neighbours are subjected to regular police raids and excrement is left in their doorways.

After the recent sale to settlers of a home strategically located in the Old City’s Muslim quarter, the Palestinian Authority set up a commission of inquiry to investigate. But the PA is near-powerless to stop this looting after Israel passed a law in 1995 denying it any role in Jerusalem.

The same measure is now being vigorously enforced against the few residents trying to stop the settler banditry.

Adnan Ghaith, Jerusalem’s governor and a Silwan resident, was arrested last week for a second time and banned from entering the West Bank and meeting PA officials. Adnan Husseini, the Palestinian minister for Jerusalem, is under a six-month travel ban by Israel.

Last week dozens of Palestinians were arrested in Jerusalem, accused of working for the PA to stop house sales to the settlers.

It is a quiet campaign of attrition, designed to wear down Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents. The hope is that they will eventually despair and relocate to the city’s distant suburbs outside the wall or into the West Bank.

What Palestinians in Jerusalem urgently need is a reason for hope – and a clear signal that other countries will not join the US in abandoning them.

• First published in the National

Netanyahu’s Predicament: The Era of Easy Wars is over

When Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, ordered his army to carry out a limited operation in the besieged Gaza Strip on November 12, he certainly did not anticipate that his military adventure would destabilize his government and threaten the very survival of his right-wing coalition.

But it did, far more than the multiple police investigations into various corruption cases involving Netanyahu’s family and closest aides.

Thanks to the botched operation in Gaza which led to the killing of seven Palestinians and an Israeli army commander, Netanyahu’s coalition has begun to disintegrate, merely needing a final push for it to collapse completely.

It all began with the resignation of the country’s extremist Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who quit his post, two days after the Gaza attack, in protest of the country’s ‘surrender’ to Palestinian Resistance.

The even more extreme, far-right leader, Naftali Bennett, was expected to pounce on the opportunity and follow suit. He did not, in a calculated move aimed at capitalizing on the fact that he had suddenly become the government’s ultimate kingmaker.

Now, Netanyahu’s once stable coalition is hanging by a thread, with the support of only 61 members in the Knesset.

This means that the coalition’s once comfortable majority is now dependent on a single MK. One wrong move, and Netanyahu could find himself forced into snap elections, a choice that, at least for now, he dreads.

Netanyahu’s options are growing limited. It seems that the age of striking Gaza with impunity in order to score political points with Israeli voters, is, perhaps, over.

While much political commentary is being dedicated to Netanyahu’s future and the dirty politicking of his right-wing coalition, Israel’s burgeoning problem is bigger than any single individual.

Israel’s ability to win wars and translate its victories to political concessions from Palestinians and Arabs have been greatly hampered, and this fact has little to do with Netanyahu’s supposed ‘weakness’, as his Israeli detractors often claim.

Some Israeli politicians, however, still refuse to accept that the violence paradigm is changing.

Almost every time that Israel has attacked Gaza in the past, Israel’s own politics factored greatly in that decision.

Gaza has been used as a stage where Israel flexed its muscles and displayed the latest of its war technology.

The 2014 war – dubbed ‘Operation Protective Edge’ – was, however, a wake-up call for the over-confident Israeli leaders.

More than 2,300 Palestinians were killed in that war and over 17,000 were wounded, the vast majority of them being civilians.

While that is quite consistent with the Israeli war trajectory, the number of Israeli casualties indicated a changing trend. 66 Israeli soldiers were killed in that war, and only a few civilians, indicating that the Palestinian Resistance has abandoned the randomness of its past tactics and grown bolder and more sophisticated.

Four years since that war, coupled with a particularly harsh stage of the siege – which has been imposed on Gaza since 2007 – did not change the equation. In fact, the fighting that was instigated by the latest Israeli attack further accentuated the fact.

As Israel pounded Gaza with a massive bombing campaign, Gaza fighters filmed a rare attack using anti-tank missiles that targeted an Israeli military bus on the Israeli side of the fence.

Hours later, a truce, facilitated by Egypt, was announced, to the relief of Netanyahu and the jubilation of Palestinians, who marched in their thousands celebrating the end of fighting.

Considering the disproportionate military power and desperate humanitarian situation in Gaza, it makes perfect sense why Palestinians perceived the outcome as a ‘victory’.

Israeli leaders, not only on the Right but the Left as well, attacked Netanyahu, who understood that continued fighting would lead to another major war, with most unpredictable outcomes.

Unlike Lieberman, Bennett and others, Netanyahu’s political strategy is not only driven by attempting to pacify Israel’s angry public – many of whom protested the Gaza truce in various parts of the country.

The Israeli Prime Minister has a twofold political outlook: laboring to politically divide Gaza from the West Bank, and maintaining a degree of ‘stability’ that would give time and space for American political maneuvering in preparation for Donald Trump’s so-called ‘Deal of the Century.’

Moreover, Israel’s growing challenge in Syria and Lebanon makes a prolonged military operation in Gaza quite dangerous and unsustainable.

But the pressure on the home-front is relentless.

74 percent of the Israeli public is ‘dissatisfied’ with Netanyahu’s performance in the latest round of fighting in Gaza, according to an Israel Television News Company poll released soon after the truce was announced.

Yet Netanyahu has no other option but to commit to the truce in Gaza, which, as per Israeli political logic, means that he must stir trouble elsewhere to send a message of strength and prowess to the disquieted public.

This is precisely why Netanyahu renewed his threats of ethnically cleansing the population of Khan al-Ahmar in the Occupied West Bank.

“It will be demolished very soon,” he declared, in an attempt to move the conversation from Gaza to elsewhere, and to regain the confidence of his right-wing constituency.

While Gazans are getting a badly needed respite, however fleeting, Khan al-Ahmar residents will now become the main target for Israel’s political violence and chauvinism.

The question is how long will Israel be able to sustain this violent paradigm and what will it take for the international community to hold Tel Aviv accountable?

As for Palestinians, Gaza has demonstrated that only Resistance, popular or otherwise, works. It is the only language that registers with Israel, who must understand that the age of easy wars is long gone.

“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.