Tag Archives: gaza

Palestine Bleeds: Execution of Autistic Man is Not an Exception but the Norm

A 32-year-old man with the mental age of an 8-year-old child was executed by Israeli soldiers on May 30, while crouching behind his teacher near his special needs school in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The cold-blooded murder of Iyad al-Hallaq might not have received much attention if it were not for the fact that it took place five days following the similarly heartbreaking murder of a 46-year-old black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis, at the hands of American police.

The two crimes converge, not only in their repugnancy and the moral decadence of their perpetrators, but also because countless American police officers have been trained in Israel, by the very Israeli ‘security forces’ that killed al-Hallaq. The practice of killing civilians, with efficiency and callousness, is now a burgeoning market. Israel is the biggest contributor to this market; the US is the world’s largest client.

When thousands of people rushed to the streets in Palestine, including hundreds of Palestinian and Israeli Jewish activists in Jerusalem, chanting “Justice for Iyad, justice for George”, their cry for justice was a spontaneous and heartfelt reaction to injustice so great, so blatant.

Al-Hallaq’s story might appear particularly unique, as the ‘suspected terrorist’ was killed while merely walking in King Faisal Street in Jerusalem, on his way to take out the trash. He was afraid of soldiers and terrified of blood.

“He was also afraid of the armed police officers who stood along the route to the special needs center he went to, where he participated in a vocational training program,” the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, reported.

Al-Hallaq’s many fears, which may have appeared exaggerated by his family, turned out to be true. Even an autistic person in Palestine is not safe from the vengeance of soldiers.

But Iyad al-Hallaq did not need to die for Israel to maintain its pathological sense of ‘security’. The fact that he was already shot and wounded, and found bleeding in a roofless garbage room in Jerusalem’s Old City, was not enough to spare him that horrific fate. The fact that the man screamed in agony while hiding behind his caregiver, who pleaded with the soldiers, begging them to stop puncturing his already bleeding body with more bullets, was also not enough.

Still, the soldiers stepped forward, and from a very close range, fired three bullets into al-Hallaq’s midsection as he lay wounded on his back. Instantly, the young man, the ‘apple of the eyes of his parents’, ceased breathing.

“He was our mother’s love, her entire life,” Iyad’s sister, Diana said in an interview with +972 magazine. “She would hold his hand like he was a baby, and he would walk with her to the market, or the mosque or the clothing store. He was like her shadow. She worried about him and whether other kids would bother or hurt him.”

Caught off guard by the grisly nature of the murder and the mental state of the victim, Israel’s spin doctors moved quickly to contain the damage, initially spreading lies that al-Hallaq was carrying a toy gun at the time of the shooting, then backing off, promising an investigation.

But what is there to investigate? In recent years, the Israeli army has upgraded its code of conduct, adopting a shoot-to-kill policy of any Palestinian they suspect of attempting to harm Israeli occupation soldiers, even when the alleged Palestinian ‘attacker’ is no longer posing a threat.

In the case of Gaza, where protesters are separated from Israeli snipers by barbed wire and nearly a mile-long empty space, the Israeli military issued orders, as of June 2019, to shoot and kill ‘key instigators’ of the mass protests even while ‘at rest’. Hundreds of people have been killed in Gaza’s Great March of Return in this way, and the ‘key instigators’ included medics, journalists, young boys and girls.

Indeed, the killing of Palestinian civilians is a regular occurrence. It is the devastating routine with which Palestinians have been forced to co-exist for many years and for which Israel was never ever held accountable.

Only one day before al-Hallaq was murdered, Fadi Samara Qaad, 37, was killed by Israeli occupation soldiers while driving his car near the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, west of Ramallah.

The Israeli military immediately claimed that Qaad “tried to ram his car into a group of soldiers” before they opened fire, killing him on the spot.

This is the go-to Israeli military pretense that is often offered when a Palestinian driver is shot and killed by Israeli soldiers. Otherwise, the Palestinian victim, whether a man, a woman, or a child, is often accused of carrying a ‘sharp object’.

Al-Hallaq’s mental disability might have spared him, in the eyes of some, from being that archetypical ‘terrorist’, although the Israeli army immediately raided his house, looking for ‘evidence’ that would implicate him and be useful in their sinister propaganda.

In the case of Qaad, a Palestinian worker, on his way to join his wife in a nearby town to celebrate the Muslim Eid holiday, the Israeli army statement suffices, no questions asked.

This is the same stifling logic that has prevailed in Palestine for so many years, and counting. Children are killed for throwing stones at men with guns, who have invaded their homes and villages; pregnant women are gunned down at Israeli army checkpoints; men with amputated legs in wheelchairs shot by snipers while protesting and demanding their freedom.

All of this is taking place in the complete absence of any promising political horizon. Even the protracted and ultimately useless ‘peace process’ has been halted in favor of greater American backing of Israel and of the Israeli government’s mad rush to expand illegal Jewish settlements.

To secure his colonial accomplishments — read: land theft — Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is about to reveal the crown jewel of his legacy, as he prepares for the expansion of Israel’s borders through the annexation of yet more Palestinian land.

Inspired by the common struggle that ties them with their African-American brethren, Palestinians are now left only with their cries for justice: Palestinian lives matter, hoping, for once, the world may hear and echo their screams and, perhaps, do something.

What is Next for Palestinian Popular Resistance in Gaza?

Wafaa Aludaini is a witness to many of Gaza’s recent tragedies and also never-ending resistance. She experienced the violent Israeli occupation, the subsequent blockade on the impoverished Strip, and several wars that resulted in the death and wounding of tens of thousands of Palestinians.

But none of Israel’s wars impacted Aludaini’s life as much as the 2014 onslaught which Israel dubbed ‘Operation Protective Edge.’

Of the nearly 18,000 houses destroyed, two homes, one belonging to Wafaa’s family and the other to her in-laws, were also destroyed by Israel’s bombs.

Gaza’s infrastructure, which was already dilapidated as a result of previous wars and a protracted siege, took a massive beating during the 51-day Israeli bombardment.

The most irreplaceable of all of this tragic loss is human life, as 2,251 Palestinians were killed and over 11,000 wounded, many maimed for life.

War and siege, however, only strengthened Wafaa’s resolve as she became more involved in covering news from Gaza, hoping to reveal long-hidden truths and defy mainstream media narratives and popular stereotypes.

During the ‘Great March of Return’, a popular movement that began on March 30, 2018, Wafaa joined the protesters, reporting on a daily basis on the killing and wounding of unarmed youth who flocked to the fence that separates besieged Gaza from Israel, to demand their freedom and basic human rights.

Enraged by the refugees’ daily chants of ‘End the siege’, ‘Free Palestine’, and their adamant insistence on their ‘Right of Return’ to their original villages in Palestine, which were ethnically cleansed during Israel’s violent birth in 1948, Israeli snipers opened fire. In the first two years of the March, over 300 Palestinians were reportedly killed, and thousands wounded.

Aludaini was there during the entire ordeal, reporting on the dead and the wounded, consoling bereaved families, and also taking part in an historic moment when all of Gaza rose and united behind a single chant of freedom.

Aludaini was not a typical journalist chasing after a story at the fence, as she was both the story and the storyteller.

“I am a journalist, but I am also a refugee. My parents were expelled from their village in Palestine, which is now in Israel,” she said.

“Being a journalist in Gaza is not easy, because every single day, you are subjected to (the possibility) of being killed, injured, or arrested by the Israeli occupation forces. In fact, many journalists were murdered by Israeli fire this way.”

On why she chose journalism as a career although she studied English literature at a local Gaza University, Aludaini said that the more she understood mainstream media’s reporting on Palestine, the more frustrated she felt by the unfair depiction of Palestine and the Palestinian struggle.

“Journalists who are (advancing) mainstream media (narratives on Palestine) are, in a way, helping the Israeli occupation in killing more innocent people in Palestine, in particular, in the Gaza Strip. (They) are strengthening the people (Israelis) who expelled us in 1948, encouraging them to violate international law,” Aludaini said.  “So I am asking them to come here, to Palestine, to see for themselves, to see the Apartheid wall, to see the checkpoints, to see what is happening in Israeli jails. Only after they see it with their own eyes, can they tell the truth, because journalists should tell the truth and stand for humanity, regardless of religion and regardless of anything else.”

In a similar tone, Aludaini challenged “defenders of the Israeli occupation” to come to Palestine and to “listen to the people who had their children killed; to those who got expelled from their homes. In every home in Palestine, there is a story of misery, but you will never find (these stories) in mainstream media.”

Regarding the Great March of Return, Aludaini said that the March was “a popular protest where the people of Gaza collectively gathered at the separation fence between Gaza and Israel,” to exhibit various forms of resistance that focused mostly on cultural resistance.

Protesters carried out various forms of “traditional activities, like dancing dabka, singing old songs, cooking Palestinian dishes,” Aludaini said, noting that the most touching of these scenes were those of “elderly Palestinians holding the keys of their homes from which they were forcibly expelled in 1948 during the Nakba,” or the Great Catastrophe.

“This kind of popular resistance is not new for Palestinians (as they) have always used all their means to fight for their rights, to fight (against Israeli military) occupation, like the weekly protests (at the Gaza fence), or (the symbolic acts of) stone-throwing. Even when Gazans resort to armed resistance, people never stop displaying popular (forms) of resistance as well.”

But is this the end of the March of Return?

Aludaini said that the March is not over; however, the strategy will be reformulated to minimize the number of casualties.

“After almost three years of the protests, the High Committee of the Great March of Return decided to change the approach of the protests. From now on, the marches are only going to be held on national occasions instead of being held on a weekly basis because Israel uses lethal force against peaceful and unarmed protesters.”

According to Aludaini, the Gaza Ministry of Health, which is already overwhelmed by the lack of hospital equipment, electricity, and clean water, can no longer handle the pressures of daily deaths and injuries.

Aludaini herself spent many hours in Gaza’s hospitals, interviewing and comforting the wounded. She told us of a Gazan mother of four who participated in the March every Friday without fail. “One day, she was shot in the leg, and it was hard for her to walk. But the following Friday, she returned to the fence. When I asked her why is she back despite her injury, she told me: ‘I will never allow the Israelis to steal my land. This is my land; these are my rights and I will come back (to defend them) again and again.’”

For Aludaini, it is the resilience of these seemingly ordinary people that inspires her and gives her hope.

Another story is of a 19-year-old girl who implored her parents repeatedly to join the protests. When they finally relented, the young girl was shot in the eye by an Israeli sniper. Aludaini and her comrades rushed to the hospital to show support for the protester who lost her eye, only to find her in high spirits, stronger and more determined than ever.

“She told us that as soon as she leaves the hospital, she plans to go back to the fence.”

Aludaini challenges “Israeli propaganda” that claims that its wars and ongoing violence in Gaza are motivated by self-defense. If that is the case, “why is Israel targeting the West Bank which is also subjected to annexation and apartheid?” she asks.

“(Currently) There is no armed resistance (in the West Bank), but (the Israeli occupation army) still kills people every single day.”

Aludaini, who is frustrated by the lack of emphasis on media studies in Gazan universities, is determined to continue with her work as a journalist and as an activist, because when the media fails at exposing Israeli crimes in Gaza, it is the likes of Wafa Aludaini who make all the difference.

 

Oppose the Israeli Annexation of West Bank Settlements

It is time for the United States to end its bipartisan blanket support for Israeli policies that violate the human rights of Palestinians. At this critical moment, where Israel has announced its intention to annex Israeli settlements on the West Bank with the support of the Trump administration, we must speak out and resist this blatant violation of international law and the right of Palestinians to self-government.

Friday, May 15 is the anniversary of the Nakba, which Palestinians commemorate as The Day of Catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced from their own lands, homes, and businesses preceding and following the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948. Between 1947 and 1949, at least 750,000 Palestinians of a total Palestinian population of 1.9 million became refugees, 530 Palestinian villages and cities were destroyed and about 15,000 Palestinians were killed and 78 percent of Palestine was claimed by the State of Israel. Since 1967, Israel has militarily controlled the remaining 22% and expanded Jewish settlements into these occupied territories.

This year a new phase of land theft from the Palestinians is developing with the Israeli plan, backed by the Trump administration, to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank to the State of Israel. This annexation is illegal under international law and opposed by all the members of the UN Security Council, except the United States. It is opposed nearly unanimously in the UN General Assembly and unanimously across the Palestinian political spectrum.

Democratic Party leaders nominally oppose the annexation, but the Biden wing refuses to call for measures to pressure Israel to drop its ambitions. Bernie Sanders has called for a cut-off of US military aid to Israel if the annexation goes forward, but Joe Biden along with other Democratic Party leaders have called Sanders’ position “outrageous.”

The new coalition of government led by a partnership between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz says it could announce the annexation plan to the Knesset after July. It may be timed to come right before or after the Republican Convention.

The United States should stop giving Israel blanket support no matter how much it violates Palestinian rights and expands the illegal settlements on Palestinian land.

The growth of illegal settlements and the annexation of Palestinian land, as well as Jewish-only roads and hundreds of checkpoints already dominating in the occupied West Bank, is making the two-state solution, supported by international law, increasingly untenable. The two-state solution calls for an independent State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel, west of the Jordan River, based on the pre-1967 borders. As a result of the constant expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank, Palestinians and pro-justice Israelis are increasingly turning to the one-democratic-state solution as the only just solution that is possible now.

The One Democratic State solution respects the multicultural character and the collective rights of the peoples living in the country, Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews among others. It calls for a constitutional democracy in which all citizens enjoy a common citizenship, a common government, and equal civil rights. Constitutional protection will prohibit laws that discriminate against any ethnic or religious community, which addresses the key concern Israeli Jews that their religious and cultural rights will be protected in a country in which they will be a minority.

Regarding the Gaza Strip, which has become a large open-air prison, the Israeli blockade of Gaza must be lifted so that food, construction equipment, and the essentials for healthcare and other humanitarian aid are allowed into the area. The repeated bombings by Israel of Gaza must come to an end. The 715,000 people of Gaza must be given democratic rights and their human rights protected.

The US should be putting pressure on Israel to change its policies by no longer providing Israel with political protection in the UN and no longer providing $3 billion in annual funding and military aid without any conditions that require Israel to respect Palestinian human rights and negotiate with the Palestinians for a just solution.

I support an escalating program of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) to put pressure on Israel to respect human rights and negotiate a just settlement, starting with cuts to US military aid to Israel, as called for by the Palestinian BDS National Committee with broad support across Palestinian society. I oppose laws in the United States that criminalize individuals and businesses that take their own BDS actions. These laws violate our constitutional rights to organize, speak out, and take political action.

If the US is going to play a positive role diplomatically in promoting a just solution, it has to end its unconditional support for Israel in whatever it chooses to do and instead become a neutral broker helping both sides to negotiate their differences. The political solution is up to the Palestinians and Israelis to negotiate because self-determination means they decide their solution, not us.

Palestinians Hunker Down for Ramadan, Facing a Virus that doesn’t Discriminate but an Occupier that does

As the holy fasting month of Ramadan begins, the coronavirus outbreak in Israel and the Palestinian territories is proving how inevitably intertwined the two populations’ lives are, while also underlining the extreme differentials of power between them.

While 15,000 Israelis have tested positive for Covid-19 so far, the numbers infected in the occupied territories are still measured in the hundreds – though that, in part, reflects the difficulties for Palestinians of getting tested. The Palestinian Authority is desperately short of equipment, including testing kits, to deal with the virus.

Research suggests that most infections of Palestinians have originated in contacts with Israelis. Israel is much further advanced along the contagion curve because of its population’s access to international travel, the country’s greater exposure to tourism and its integration into the global economy.

Israel’s tight restrictions over Palestinians’ freedom of movement – from the complete blockade on Gaza to the walling-in of the West Bank – as well as its colonial-style control of the Palestinian economy have ensured the late arrival of Covid-19 to the occupied territories.

But it has also guaranteed that the Palestinian leaderships – both Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank – will be weakly positioned to cope when contagion kicks in more forcefully.

And just such a major outbreak is all but inevitable in the West Bank. Ramadan may well provide the trigger.

In recent years about 80,000 Palestinians – from a West Bank population of nearly 3 million – have received permits to work either in Israel or in Israeli settlements, with a few tens of thousands more entering “illegally” through missing sections of the wall. For most families, such work is the only hope they have of earning a living.

The Palestinian economy is entirely dependent on Israel. Palestinians cannot leave the West Bank without permission from Israel, which is often hard to get.

Israel imposes costly and lengthy bureaucratic controls on Palestinian exports, making it nigh-impossible for Palestinian firms to compete in the global market-place.

And World Bank studies show that Israel has plundered most of the West Bank’s key resources, making it impossible for Palestinians themselves to exploit those resources. Israel even controls the flow of tourists into Palestinian areas.

But Palestinian workers’ dependence on Israel is now placing them in harm’s way. Although many are likely to catch the virus in Israel while working, Israel is refusing to take responsibility for their welfare.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) is able to do little itself because many of the workers are from Area C, the two-thirds of the West Bank that Israel fully controls under the long-expired Oslo Accords. The PA has no access to these areas.

Difficult choice

The Ramadan holiday is likely to severely exacerbate the problem of the virus spreading in the occupied territories.

Last month, as Israel intensified its lockdown to prevent contagion in the run-up to its week-long Passover holiday in the second week of April, Palestinian workers were given a choice. Either they committed to continue working in Israel for several more weeks, often in jobs defined as “essential”, such as food production, or they had to stop work and return to the West Bank until the lockdown ended.

Many chose to keep working and stayed in Israel, while many more worked off-radar, without permits, by sneaking in and out through one of the many gaps in the wall.

This latter group, among the poorest members of Palestinian society, is posing a particular problem for West Bank officials. These workers are at high risk of catching the virus, and can spread it without the PA knowing.

For this reason, groups of Palestinians are reported to be patrolling the missing sections of wall to stop such workers entering Israel. Paradoxically, there are even cases of them trying to patch up breaks in the wall on Israel’s behalf.

The Israeli government has supposedly put in place regulations to keep the Palestinian workers safe: firms must take their temperatures daily, ensure social distancing is maintained on production sites, properly house workers and make sure no more than four sleep to a room.

But the government is leaving it to the firms to comply. There are no inspectors. Media investigations show that the rules are being widely flouted, leading to the rapid spread of the virus among Palestinian workers.

Any who try to leave Israel to avoid catching Covid-19 are being threatened by their employers that their work permits will be revoked, leaving them without work long term.

And now many are heading home to the West Bank to spend Ramadan with their families. Israel has refused to conduct any testing, so a proportion will be bringing – unknown to them – the virus home.

But these workers and their families are not just facing an imminent health crisis that Palestinian medical services are in no shape to withstand. They are also being hit harshly in the pocket by Israel’s lockdown policies.

Palestinians who work in Israel are often the only breadwinner, providing for an extended family that lives close to the poverty line. For the forseable future there will be no income for the tens of thousands of workers who joined the lockdown in the West Bank before Passover, for those who caught the virus in Israel and were forced home, and for those returning for Ramadan.

Israel is also taking no responsibility for their welfare, even though many have worked for years in Israel and have had to pay a substantial proportion of their wages each month into a sick fund run by the Israeli government.

The fund amounts to more than $140 million, and has grown so large because Israel makes it almost impossible for Palestinians to make a claim.

Israeli human rights groups have pressed Israel to release the funds to Palestinians who are not able to work to help them through this health and economic emergency. So far the Israeli government has done nothing.

Trying to fill the void

The Palestinians under Israeli rule in occupied East Jerusalem face their own set of problems.

Despite claiming that all of Jerusalem – including the Palestinian parts of the city – are Israel’s “united capital”, Israeli officials have continued an apartheid-like approach in the city that treats Palestinians, who are classified by Israel simply as “residents”, very differently from Jews, who are Israeli “citizens”.

The numbers of Palestinians who have officially tested positive so far in Jerusalem is still low, at several dozen, but that probably reflects the fact that until recently there were almost no clinics carrying out testing in Palestinian neighbourhoods.

Many Palestinian areas have not been sanitised by cleaning crews, as Jewish areas have been, nor has there been significant enforcement by Israeli police of lockdown measures or mask-wearing regulations – a surprise given that Israeli police are usually very diligent in patrolling Palestinian areas and making arrests.

Israeli authorities have also been slow to put out information in Arabic about the virus and on safety measures – either for 330,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem or for the 1.8 million Palestinians who live inside Israel and have a very degraded form of Israeli citizenship.

Experts say the lack of an awareness-raising campaign in Palestinian areas will likely lead to a rapid rise in cases over Ramadan, if extended families follow traditional practice and spend more time together.

Palestinian officials in Jerusalem have tried to fill the void by disseminating information, organising sanitisation operations and helping to set up a testing clinic. Israel has cracked down on any such activities, including by violently arresting the Palestinian governor of Jerusalem and the PA’s Jerusalem affairs minister.

Instead Palestinian charities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have formed into a “Jerusalem Alliance” to try to pick up the slack left by Israel.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem are likely to be especially vulnerable to disease. Three-quarters live below the poverty line, and less than half are formally connected to the water network. Planning restrictions mean there is widespread overcrowding.

East Jerusalem’s three Palestinian hospitals are also in poor shape, bedevilled by large debts courtesy of Donald Trump, who cut $25 million in financial aid in 2018.

The Israeli health ministry has also failed to provide protective equipment and funds to these hospitals to deal with the coronavirus crisis. They have found an unusual ally in Jerusalem’s mayor, Moshe Leon. He has berated the Israeli government, apparently fearful that West Jerusalem hospitals will be overwhelmed if Palestinians cannot get help from their own hospitals.

More precarious still is the situation of Palestinian neighbourhoods, like Kfar Aqab, that were effectively split off from East Jerusalem after Israel built a wall putting them on the West Bank side. That has made city services difficult to access for some 100,000 Jerusalem residents.

Israel has been progressively abandoning responsibility for these areas – in an effort to raise the Jewish majority in the rest of Jerusalem.

Nonetheless, it has been reluctant to allow the PA to fill the void. The Covid-19 crisis is gradually revealing Israel’s intention towards these “outside” neighbourhoods of Jerusalem. On Thursday, Israel sent in the army to pull down coronavirus information notices that had been put up by the PA.

The Israeli army has no role in Jerusalem, but does operate in the West Bank. The new action suggests Israel is preparing to formally reclassify areas like Kfar Aqab as no longer part of Jerusalem.

Apartheid wins out

Things are only slightly better for the fifth of Israel’s population who belong to its Palestinian minority. These 1.8 million second-class citizens are descended from Palestinians who managed to avoid Israel’s ethnic cleansing operations in 1948, when Israel was established on the Palestinians’ homeland.

Israel has created a strange hybrid apartheid system, in which Jewish citizens live almost entirely separate from Palestinian citizens. The two populations are educated separately, and many areas of the economy are segregated too.

But one area where Palestinian and Jewish citizens are highly integrated – coming into regular contact – is in the health sector.

In fact, Palestinian citizens are over-represented in the medical professions, in large part because it is one of the few significant areas of the economy that is not defined in security terms and is therefore relatively open to the Palestinian minority.

One in five doctors in Israel is a Palestinian citizen, a quarter of nurses are, and a half of all pharmacists.

But despite the strong showing of Palestinian citizens in health services, the Israeli government’s apartheid instincts have won out.

In February Israel established an emergency team to handle the pandemic. It devised a national strategy for testing, quarantines, hospitalisations, awareness-raising and the lockdown policy.

However, not one expert from the Palestinian minority – or from the occupied territories – was included on the committee, leaving it entirely ignorant of the special conditions relevant to Palestinian society, in either Israel or the occupied territories.

The Israeli health ministry also refused to meet with the minority’s own national health committee, established by Palestinian doctors and researchers in Israel to help tackle the virus in the Palestinian community.

These failures explain the long delay in Israel producing any information on the virus in Arabic, and the similar delay in setting up testing stations in Palestinian communities. Limited action came only after concerted protests from Palestinian legislators in the parliament.

After a very low initial rate of infection, Palestinian citizens are now the fastest growing group in Israel testing positive for the virus – and that despite continuing low levels of testing.

Ramadan is expected to exacerbate that upward trend dramatically as families shop for food and eat meals with extended families. Mosques are already closed, and Muslim leaders have told worshippers to pray at home. In a last-minute effort to avert a new epidemic, the Israeli government has banned shops and businesses opening during the hours of darkness, as would normally occur during Ramadan.

As in the West Bank and Jerusalem, Palestinians in Israel are vulnerable. Two-thirds of families live below the poverty line – more than three times the rate of Jewish families. There is massive overcrowding in Palestinian communities, after decades in which Israel has refused new building permits for Palestinians.

And health services are poor or non-existent in many Palestinian communities, especially in dozens of Bedouin villages Israel has refused to recognise. In these communities, Bedouin are also denied water and electricity.

Further, Israel’s main ambulance service, Magen David Adom, rarely operates in Palestinian communities, though its staff alone have training to deal with coronavirus. It is unclear how the private companies serving Palestinian communities will cope if there is a major outbreak.

And as is the case in other Palestinian communities, Palestinian families in Israel are also particularly exposed to the economic consequences of lockdown. Many work as casual labourers, and have lost their work during the past weeks.

The coronavirus outbreak was a test of Israel’s ability to put aside its security and demographic obsessions and deal with the Palestinians not just as fellow human beings but also as allies in a struggle for the health of both peoples. In that test, Israel has failed dismally.

If Coronavirus Overwhelms Gaza, Israel Alone will be to Blame

The Palestinians of Gaza know all about lockdowns. For the past 13 years, some two million of them have endured a closure by Israel more extreme than anything experienced by almost any other society – including even now, as the world hunkers down to try to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

Israel has been carrying out an unprecedented experiment in Gaza, using the latest military hardware and surveillance technology to blockade this tiny coastal enclave by land, air and sea.

Nothing moves in or out without Israel’s say-so – until three weeks ago, when the virus smuggled itself into Gaza inside two Palestinians returning from Pakistan. It is known to have spread to more than a dozen people so far, though doctors have no idea of the true extent. Testing equipment ran out days ago.

Unless Gaza enjoys a miraculous escape, an epidemic is only a matter of time. The consequences hardly bear contemplating.

Countries around the world are wondering what to do with their prison populations, aware that, once it takes hold, Covid-19 is certain to spread rapidly in crowded, enclosed spaces, leaving havoc in its wake.

Gaza is often compared to an open-air prison. But even this analogy is not quite right. This is a prison that the United Nations has warned is on the brink of being “uninhabitable”.

In the prison of Gaza, many inmates are undernourished, and physically and emotionally scarred by a decade of military assaults. They lack essentials such as clean water and electricity after repeated Israeli attacks on basic infrastructure. And the 13-year blockade means there is only rudimentary medical care if they get sick.

Social distancing is impossible in one of the most crowded places on earth. In Jabaliya, one of eight refugee camps in the enclave, there are 115,000 people packed together in little more than a square kilometre. Comparable population density nearby in Israel is typically measured in the hundreds.

There are few clinics and hospitals to cope. According to human rights groups, Gaza has approximately 60 ventilators – most of them already in use. Israel has 15 times as many ventilators per head of population.

There is little in the way of protective gear. And medicines are already in short supply or unavailable, even before the virus hits. Gaza’s infant mortality – an important measure of medical and social conditions – is more than seven times higher than Israel’s. Life expectancy is 10 years lower.

Unlike a normal prison, Gaza’s warden – Israel – denies responsibility for the inmates’ welfare. Since it carried out a so-called “disengagement” 15 years ago, dismantling illegal settlements there, Israel has argued – against all evidence – that it is no longer the occupying power.

That should have been proved an obvious lie when Palestinians, choking on their isolation and deprivation, began rallying in protest two years ago at the perimeter fence that acts as a cage locking them in. Demonstrators were greeted with live fire from Israeli snipers.

Around 200 people were killed, and many thousands left with horrific injuries, mostly to their legs. Medical services are still overwhelmed by the need for long-term surgery, amputations and rehabilitation for the disabled protesters.

What is already a crisis barely needs a nudge from the coronavirus to be tipped into a health disaster.

And with most of the population already below the poverty line, after Israel’s blockade destroyed Gaza’s textile, construction and agricultural industries, the economy is no shape to withstand an epidemic either.

Most governments, including Israel’s, maintain a degree of control even in the face of this most unexpected emergency. They could prepare for it, even if many were slow to do so. They can marshall factories to produce ventilators and protective equipment. And they have the resources to rebuild their health services and economies afterwards.

If they fail in these tasks, it will be their failure.

But Gaza is entirely dependent on Israel and an international community preoccupied with its own troubles. Even if health authorities can secure ventilators and protective equipment in the current, highly competitive global market, Israel will decide whether to let them in. Equally, it could choose to seize them for its own use, in order to placate growing domestic criticism that it is short of vital equipment.

The blame for Gaza’s plight – now and in the future – lands squarely at Israel’s door.

Israel should be helping Gaza, but it is doing the precise opposite. Last week, Israeli planes sprayed herbicide to destroy the crops of Gaza’s farmers – part of a policy to keep clear sight-lines for Israeli military forces.

Moreover, in this time of crisis, Gaza’s food insecurity is only set to deepen. For the past year, Israel has been starving both Gaza and the rival Palestinian Authority in the West Bank of the taxes and duties it collects on their behalf and that rightfully belong to the Palestinian people. Many families have no money for food.

The US has aggravated this financial crisis by cutting funds to the United Nations refugee agency, UNRWA, which cares for many of Gaza’s families expelled by Israel from their homes decades ago and forcibly crowded into the enclave.

The little influence retained by Hamas relates to the thousands of Palestinian political prisoners held illegally in Israel. Hamas wants them out, especially the most vulnerable, aware of the danger the virus poses to them in Israel, where the contagion is more advanced.

It is reported to be trying to negotiate a release of prisoners, offering to return the corpses of two soldiers it seized during Israel’s infamous attack on Gaza in 2014 that killed more than 500 Palestinian children.

If Israel refuses to trade, as seems likely, or denies entry to much-needed medical supplies, Gaza’s only other practical leverage will be to fire missiles into Israel, as Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar has threatened. That is the one time western states can be expected to notice Gaza and voice their condemnation – though not of Israel.

But if plague does overwhelm Gaza, the truth about who is really responsible will be hard to conceal.

Modelling the horrifying conditions in Gaza, Israeli experts warned last year of an epidemic like cholera sweeping the enclave. They predicted hundreds of thousands of Palestinians storming the fence to escape contagion and death.

It is the Israeli army’s nightmare scenario. It admits it has no response other than – as with the fence protests – to gun down those pleading for help.

For decades Israel has pursued a policy of treating Palestinians as less than human. It has minutely controlled their lives while denying any meaningful responsibility for their welfare. That deeply unethical and inhumane stance could soon face the ultimate test.

• First published in The National

A Palestinian Guide to Surviving a Quarantine: On Faith, Humor and “Dutch Candy”

Call it a ‘quarantine’, a ‘shelter-in-place’, a ‘lockdown’ or a ‘curfew’, we Palestinians have experienced them all, though not at all voluntarily.

Personally, the first 23 years of my life were lived in virtual ‘lockdown’. My father’s ‘quarantine’ was experienced much earlier, as did his father’s ‘shelter-in-place’ before him. They both died and were buried in Gaza’s cemeteries without ever experiencing true freedom outside of their refugee camp in Gaza.

Currently in Gaza, the quarantine has a different name. We call it ‘siege’, also known as ‘blockade’.

In fact, all of Palestine has been in a state of ‘lockdown’ since the late 1940s when Israel became a state and the Palestinian homeland was erased by Zionist colonialists with the support of their Western benefactors.

That lockdown intensified in 1967 when Israel, now a powerful state with a large army and strong allies, occupied the remaining parts of Palestine – East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Under this lockdown, the Palestinian freedom of movement was curtailed to the extent that Palestinians required permits from the Israeli military to leave the Occupied Territories or to return home, to move about from one town to the other, and, at times, to cross a single Israeli military checkpoint or a fortified wall.

In Palestine, we don’t call our imprisonment a lockdown, but a ‘military occupation’ and ‘apartheid’.

As for ‘shelter-in-place’, in Palestine, we have a different name for it. We call it a ‘military curfew’.

Since I was a child, I learned to listen intently to orders barked out by Israeli military officers as they swept through our refugee camp in Gaza declaring or easing military curfews. This ritual often happened late at night.

“People of Nuseirat, per orders of the Israeli military you are now under curfew. Anyone who violates orders will be shot immediately,” the terrifying words, always communicated through a loudspeaker in broken Arabic, were a staple during the First Palestinian Uprising (Intifada) of 1987.

The period between 1987 to 1993 was a virtual ‘lockdown’. Thousands of people, mostly children, were killed for failing to respect the rules of their collective imprisonment.

In Gaza, even when a full military curfew was not in place, we rarely left our small and crowded neighborhoods, let alone our refugee camps. We were all haunted by the fear that we may not be able to make it home by 8 p.m., the time designated by the Israeli military for all of us to return home.

Every day, ten or fifteen minutes after the nightly curfew set in, we would hear the crackling and hissing of bullets as they whistled through the air from various distances. Automatically, we would conclude that some poor soul — a worker, a teacher, or a rowdy teenager — missed his chance by a few minutes, and paid a price for it.

Now that nearly half of the population of planet Earth are experiencing some form of ‘curfew’ or another, I would like to share a few suggestions on how to survive the prolonged confinement, the Palestinian way.

Think Ahead 

Since we knew that a complete lockdown, or a military curfew, was always pending, we tried to anticipate the intensity and duration of it and prepare accordingly.

For example, when the Israeli army killed one or more refugees, we knew in advance that mass protests would follow, thus more killings. In these situations, a curfew was imminent.

Number one priority was to ensure that all family members congregated at home or stayed within close proximity so that they could rush in as fast as possible when the caravan of Israeli military jeeps and tanks came thundering, opening fire at anyone or anything within sight.

Lesson number one: Always think ahead and prepare for a longer lockdown than the initial one declared by your city or state. 

Stay Calm 

My father had a bad temper, although a very kind heart. When curfews were about to start, he would enter into a near-panic state. A chain smoker with obsessive, although rational fear that one of his five boys would eventually be killed, he would walk around the house in a useless rush, not knowing what to do next.

Typically, my mother would come in, rational and calculating. She would storm the kitchen to assess what basic supplies were missing, starting with the flour, sugar and olive oil.

Knowing that the first crackdown by the Israelis would be on water supplies and electricity, she would fill several plastic containers of water, designating some for tea, coffee and cooking, and others for dishes and washing clothes.

Per her orders, we would rush to the nearby stores to make small but necessary purchases – batteries for the flashlight and the transistor radio, cigarettes for my dad, and a few VHS videotapes which we would watch over and again, whether the curfew lasted for a few days or a few weeks.

Lesson number two: Take control of the situation – do not panic – and assign specific responsibilities to every family member. This strengthens the family unit and sets the stage for collective solidarity desperately required under these circumstances.

Preserve Your Water 

I cannot emphasize this enough. Even if you think that a water crisis is not impending, do not take chances.

It is easy to feel invincible and fully prepared on the first day of quarantine — or military curfew. Many times, we lived to regret that false sense of readiness, as we drank too much tea or squandered our dishwashing water supplies too quickly.

In this case, you have a serious problem, especially during the summer months when you cannot count on rainwater to make up for the deficit.

Years after the end of the Intifada, my father revealed to us that many a time, him and mom used the rainwater they collected in buckets throughout the house, including the leaked roofs for our drinking supplies, even when there was no electricity or gas to boil the water beforehand.

In retrospect, this explains the many bouts of diarrhea we experienced, despite his assurances that they had painstakingly removed all bird droppings from the salvaged water.

Lesson number three: Cautiously use your water supplies during a quarantine, and never, under any circumstance, drink rainwater or, at least, keep diarrhea pills handy. 

Ration Your Food 

The same logic that applies to water applies to food. It goes without saying that any acquired food would have to cover the basics first. For example, flour, which we used to make bread, comes before bananas, and sugar, which we consumed abundantly with tea, comes before Dutch candy.

I made that mistake more than once, not because of my love for the imported Dutch candy which we purchased from Abu Sa’dad’s store, located in the center of the camp. The truth is, my brothers and I played a strange form of candy poker which kept us entertained for many hours. I dreaded running out of my precious supplies before the curfew was over, thus subjugating myself to potential humiliation of having to auction everything else I owned — including my small radio — to stay in the game.

My poor mother was devastated numerous times by the horrible choices we made when we rushed to buy ‘essentials’.

Lesson number four: Agree in advance on what classifies as ‘essential food’, and consume your food in a rational way. Also, if you are lucky enough to locate Dutch candy in whatever version of the Abu Sa’dad’s store, in your town, do not gamble it all in one day. 

Find Sources of Entertainment

If electricity is still available, then you still have the option of watching television. For us, Indian movies, especially those starring Amitabh Bachchan, were the number one option. Imagine my disappointment when our beloved movie star, who helped us through numerous military curfews in Gaza, was photographed grinning with right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the latter’s visit to India in 2018.

If electricity is cut off, be ready with alternative options: books, free wrestling, living-room soccer (with the ball preferably made from stuffed-up socks contributed by all family members), and, of course, candy poker.

Lesson number five: The key is to have more than one form of entertainment and to be prepared for every eventuality, including power outages as a form of collective punishment.  

Find the Humor in Grim Situations

Don’t focus on the negatives; there is no point or wisdom in that. Emphasizing the grimness of a situation can only contribute to the feeling of defeat and powerlessness that are already generated by the lockdown. There will be plenty of time in which you can look back, reflect, and even bemoan your unfortunate circumstance.

But, during the curfew itself is when you actually need your sense of humor most. Take things lightly — laugh at your miserable situation, if you must. Forgive yourself for not being perfect, for panicking when you should have been composed, or for forcing your younger brother to gamble his underwear when he runs out of Dutch candy.

Difficult situations can offer the kind of scenarios that can be interpreted in two extreme ways: either extremely tragic or extremely funny; opt for the latter whenever you can, because as long as you laugh, as long as your spirit remains unbroken, your humanity remains intact.

Lesson number six: Be funny, don’t take life too seriously, share a laugh with others, and let humor inject hope in every hour and every day of your quarantine.

Hold Tighter to Your Faith 

Whether you are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or any other faith; whether you are an atheist, agnostic, or practice any form of spirituality, philosophy or belief system, find comfort in your faith and beliefs.

Since all mosques in our refugee camp were shut down, if not raided during a military curfew, the call for prayer, which we heard five times during each day, was permanently silenced.

To keep the call for prayer going, we would sneak to the roof of our houses, carefully scan the area for any Israeli soldiers, and collectively make the call for prayer whenever it was required. Volunteers included my English teacher, who was communist and claimed that he did not believe in God, myself, and Nabil, the neighbor boy with the massive head and the most unpleasant voice.

In curfews, we developed a different relationship with God: He became a personal and more intimate companion, as we often prayed in total darkness, whispered our verses so very cautiously as not to be heard by pesky soldiers. And, even those who hardly prayed before the curfew kept up with all five prayers during the lockdown.

Lesson number seven: Let your values guide you during your hours of loneliness. And if you volunteer to make a call for prayer (or recite your religious hymns) please be honest with yourself: if you have no sense of rhythm or if your voice has the pitch of an angry alley cat, for God’s sake, leave the job to someone else.

In Conclusion .. 

I hope that under no circumstances you will ever hear these ominous words: “You are now under curfew. Anyone who violates orders will be shot immediately.” I also hope that this COVID-19 quarantine will make us kinder to each other and will make us emerge from our homes better people, ready to take on global challenges while united in our common faith, collective pain and a renewed sense of love for our environment.

And when it’s all over, think of Palestine, for her people have been ‘quarantined’ for 71 years and counting.

A Terrifying Scenario: Coronavirus in “Quarantined” Gaza

What if the Coronavirus reaches the besieged Gaza Strip?

While the question carries great urgency for all Palestinians living under Israel’s military occupation, the Gaza situation is particularly complex and extremely worrying.

Nearly 50 countries have already reported cases of COVID-19 disease, one of several epidemics that are caused by the Coronavirus. If developed countries, such as Italy and South Korea, are struggling to contain the deadly virus, one can only imagine what occupied Palestinians would have to face should the virus strike.

In fact, according to official Palestinian reports, the Coronavirus has already reached Palestine following a visit by a South Korean delegation in the period between February 8 and 15, which included a tour in the major Palestinian cities of Jerusalem, Nablus, Jericho, Hebron, and Bethlehem.

The Palestinian Authority scrambled to contain the fallout of the news, which caused palpable panic among a population that has little faith in its leadership, to begin with.  PA Prime Minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, “hoped” that the “owners of the unknown facilities” would exercise personal responsibility and shut down their business and other establishments that are open to the public.

The PA Ministry of Health followed this by declaring a “state of emergency” in all hospitals under PA jurisdiction in the West Bank, designating a quarantine center near Jericho for those arriving from China and other areas that are hard hit by the Coronavirus.

For Palestinians, however, fighting an outbreak of the Coronavirus is not a straightforward matter, even if the dysfunctional PA facilities follow the instructions of the World Health Organization (WHO) to the letter.

Palestinians are separated by an Israeli matrix of control that has excluded many communities behind large cement walls, military checkpoints, and impossible to navigate army ordinances that are inherently designed to weaken the Palestinian community and to ease the Israeli government’s mission of controlling Palestinians and colonizing their land.

What can the PA do to come to the aid of tens of thousands of Palestinians in so-called ‘Area C’ of the occupied West Bank? This region is entirely under the control of the Israeli army, which has little interest in the welfare of the Palestinian inhabitants there.

Such questions would have to be considered in the context of what WHO refers to as “health inequalities” among Palestinians, on the one hand, and between Palestinians and privileged illegal Jewish settlers, on the other.

In some way, many Palestinian communities are already ‘quarantined’ by Israel, but for political not medical reasons. An outbreak of the Coronavirus in some of these communities, especially the ones that are cut off from proper healthcare and well-equipped medical facilities, would prove disastrous.

The worst of fates, however, awaits Gaza, should the deadly and fast-spreading virus find its way from all directions through the hermetic siege, which engulfs this minuscule, but densely populated region.

Gaza, which is enduring its 12th year of Israeli siege and is still reeling under the massive destruction of several Israeli wars, has already been declared “uninhabitable” by the United Nations.

However, the misery of Gaza never ceases to unfold. Not a single UN report on Gaza’s ailing medical facilities or preparedness for at least the last ten years has used any positive or even hopeful language.

Last March, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, Mr. Jamie McGoldrick, bemoaned Gaza’s “chronic power outages, gaps in critical services, including mental health and psychosocial support, and shortages of essential medicines and supplies.”

In January, the Israeli rights group. B’Tselem, spoke of an unprecedented health crisis in besieged Gaza, one that is not fueled by the Coronavirus or any other such epidemics but by the fact that Gaza’s barely functioning hospitals are desperately trying to deal with the fall-out of the thousands of injuries resulting from the ‘Great March of Return’ which has taken place on the Gaza side of the dividing fence.

B’Tselem has already reported on “the unlawful open-fire policy Israel is using against these demonstrations, allowing soldiers to shoot live fire at unarmed protesters who endanger no one, has led to horrific results”.

The Israeli group cited moderate estimations provided by WHO that, by the end of 2019, Gaza physicians had to perform limb amputations on 155 protesters, a number that includes 30 children. This, in addition to dozens of protesters who have become permanently paralyzed because of spinal injuries.

This is only a small part of a much more multifaceted crisis. Not only measles and other highly contagious infectious diseases are finding their way back to Gaza, water-borne diseases are also spreading at an alarming rate.

97% of all of Gaza’s water is not fit for human consumption, according to the WHO, which begs the question: How could Gaza hospitals possibly confront the Coronavirus epidemic when, in some cases, clean water is not even available in Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa?

“Even when it is available, doctors and nurses are unable to sterilize their hands because of the water quality,” according to the RAND Corporation.

WHO director in Palestine, Gerald Rockenschaub, spoke assuredly about his meeting with PA Minister of Health, Mai Al-Kaila, in Ramallah on February 25, where they discussed the need for more  “preparedness measures” and “additional priority preparedness actions” in the West Bank and Gaza.

WHO also announced that it is “coordinating with local authorities in Gaza” to ensure the Strip’s preparedness to cope with the Coronavirus.

Such soothing language, however, masks an ugly reality, one that WHO and the entire United Nations have failed to confront over the course of a decade.

All previous reports on Gaza by WHO, while accurately detailing the problem, did little to diagnose its roots or to fashion a permanent solution to it. Indeed, Gaza’s hospitals are as dysfunctional as ever, Gaza’s water is as dirty as ever and, despite repeated warnings, the Strip is still unfit for human habitation, thanks to the brutal Israeli siege and to the silence of the international community.

The truth is, no amount of ‘preparedness’ in Gaza – or, frankly, anywhere in occupied Palestine – can stop the spread of the Coronavirus. What is needed is a fundamental and structural change that would emancipate the Palestinian healthcare system from the horrific impact of the Israeli occupation and the Israeli government’s policies of perpetual siege and politically-imposed ‘quarantines’ – also known as apartheid.

The Trump Plan is Just a Cover for Israel’s Final Land Grab

The Trump “Vision for Peace” will never be implemented – and not because the Palestinians reject it. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s enthusiastic public embrace of the plan belies the fact that the Israeli right detest it too.

The headlines are that, with US blessing, Israel’s dream is about to be realised: it will be able to annex its dozens of illegal settlements in the West Bank and the vast agricultural basin of the Jordan Valley. In return, the Palestinians can have a state on 15 per cent of their homeland.

But that is not the real aim of this obviously one-sided “peace” plan. Rather, it is intended as the prelude to something far worse for the Palestinians: the final eradication of the last traces of their political project for national liberation.

US President Donald Trump’s plan is neither a blueprint for peace nor a decree from the heart of the US empire. Rather it is a decoy, an enormous red herring created in Tel Aviv and then marketed by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Trump may think his vision could lead to a “realistic” two-state solution. Even many critics assume it envisions the establishment of a highly circumscribed, enfeebled Palestinian state. But for Israeli leaders it serves another purpose entirely: it provides diplomatic cover while they put the finishing touches to their version of a one-state solution inside Greater Israel.

Netanyhau has crafted a “deal of the century” designed to fail from the outset – and managed it through deeply partisan White House intermediaries like David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, and Kushner. For all of them, its purpose is to provide a fresh alibi for Israel and Washington to continue disappearing the Palestinians more than two decades after the illusions of the earlier Oslo Accords “peace” process can no longer be sustained.

Israeli bad faith

That this is intended as a grand deception should not surprise us. The current plan follows a tried and tested tradition of US-dominated “peacemaking” that has utterly failed to bring peace but has succeeded triumphantly in smothering and erasing historic Palestine, gradually transforming it into Greater Israel.

Trump’s deal is, in fact, the third major framework – after the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan and the Oslo accords initiated in 1993 – supposedly offering territorial partition between Israelis and Palestinians. The lesson of each has been that Israel and the US have returned after each inevitable and intended failure to offer the Palestinians even less of their homeland.

On each occasion, Israel (and before its creation, the Zionist leadership) has signed up to these peacemaking initiatives in bad faith, forcing Palestinians, as the weaker party, to reject them. And each time, that rejection has been weaponised by Israel – used as a pretext to steal more territory.

This plan is no different from the others. It is simply the latest iteration of a pattern of settler-colonial expansion sponsored by Western powers. But this time, if Israel succeeds, there will be nothing left of Palestine even to pretend to negotiate over.

UN partition rejected

The idea of division first took substantive form with the United Nations Partition Plan of late 1947. It proposed creating two states: a Jewish one on 55 percent of Palestine would supposedly serve as compensation for Europe’s recent genocide; and an Arab one, on the remaining 45 percent, would be for the native Palestinian population.

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding father, knew that the Palestinians were bound to reject a plan premised on their dispossession. That was the very reason he signed on. He hated the limitations imposed by the UN on his emerging Jewish state – he wanted all of Palestine – but was only too aware that Palestinians hated the partition proposal even more than he did. He knew his good faith would never be put to the test.

Under cover of the ensuing, year-long war, Ben-Gurion sent his troops way beyond the partition lines, seizing 78 percent of historic Palestine and transforming the area into a Jewish state. In 1967, his successors would grab the rest, as part of a surprise strike against Egypt and other Arab states. And so, the 53-year-long occupation was born.

Oslo’s separation logic

Just as now with the Trump plan, the Oslo process of the 1990s was not rooted in the idea of establishing a sovereign Palestinian state – only of pretending to offer one. In fact, statehood wasn’t mentioned in the Oslo accords, only implied by a series of intended Israeli withdrawals from the occupied territories over a five-year period that Israel reneged on.

Instead, Oslo was seen by the Israeli side, led then by Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, chiefly in terms of an “economic peace”. The new rallying cry of “separation” was intended to transform fragments of the occupied territories into free-trade zones to exploit a captive Palestinian labour force, and then to normalise relations with the Arab world.

Oslo’s only meaningful legacy – the Palestinian Authority, today led by Mahmoud Abbas – still clings to its primary role: as prison guard overseeing Palestinians’ confinement in ever-shrinking fragments of the occupied territories.

The Trump plan recognises that Oslo is now more an obstacle than a vehicle for further Palestinian dispossession. Israel has absolute control of East Jerusalem, the planned capital of a Palestinian state. The army and settlers have cemented Israeli rule over 62 percent of the West Bank – territory Oslo declared as Area C – that includes its best agricultural land, water sources and mineral wealth. Gaza, isolated from the rest of the occupied territories, is besieged.

The only thing left for Israel to do now is formalise that control and ensure it is irreversible. That requires making permanent the current apartheid system in the West Bank, which enforces one set of laws for Jewish settlers and another for Palestinians.

Palestinian obligations

Trump’s “Vision for Peace” is needed only because Oslo has outlived its usefulness. The Trump plan radically overhauls the Oslo process formula: instead of a supposed sharing of obligations – “land in return for peace” – those obligations are now imposed exclusively on the Palestinian side.

Under Oslo, Israel was supposed to withdraw from the occupied territories as a precondition for achieving Palestinian statehood and an end to hostilities. In reality, Israel did the exact opposite.

Under the Trump plan, Israel gets the land it wants immediately – by annexing its illegal settlements and the Jordan Valley – and it gets more land later, unless Palestinians agree to a long list of impossible preconditions.

Even then, Palestinians would only be entitled to a demilitarised, non-sovereign state on less than 15 percent of historic Palestine, amounting to a patchwork of enclaves connected by a warren of tunnels and bridges, surrounded by armed, fortress-like Israeli communities.

But even this vision of pseudo-Palestinian statehood will never come to fruition – something Netanyahu has made sure of. The Trump plan is a catalogue of the most unacceptable, humiliating concessions that could ever be demanded of the Palestinian people.

Impossible preconditions

It offers them a state that would be unlike any state ever envisaged. Not only would it have no army, but it would have to permanently accommodate a foreign army, the Israeli one. Palestine would have no control over its borders, and therefore its foreign relations and trade. It would be deprived of key resources, such as its offshore waters, which include large deposits of natural gas; its airspace; and its electromagnetic spectrum.

It would be deprived of its most fertile land, its quarries, its water sources, and access to the Dead Sea and its related mineral and cosmetics industries. As a result, the Palestinian economy would continue to be entirely aid dependent. Proposed industrial zones in the Negev, accessible only through Israeli territory, could be closed off by Israel at a whim.

East Jerusalem, including its holy sites and tourism industry, would be sealed off from the Palestinian state, which would have its capital instead outside the city, in Abu Dis. That village would be renamed Al-Quds, the Holy, although the deception would satisfy outsiders only, not Palestinians.

Intentionally lacking specifics for the time being, the Trump vision suggests Israel and Jordan would eventually share sovereignty over Jerusalem’s most important holy site, Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

The US appears ready to let Israel forcibly divide the site so that Jewish extremists, who want to blow up the mosque and replace it with a temple, can pray there – in a repetition of what happened earlier to the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron.

No legal redress

There would be no Palestinian right of return. Abbas would need to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, retrospectively sanctioning Palestinians’ dispossession and colonisation.

The Trump plan demands that the PA strip the families of political prisoners and martyrs killed by the Israeli army – the Palestinian equivalents of Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko – of their welfare payments.

In an interview with CNN this week, Kushner made clear quite how intentionally contradictory his demands of Palestinians are. Before it can be recognised as a state, the Palestinian Authority is expected to enforce the disarmament of the Palestinian factions, including its militant rival Hamas.

But it will have to do so while behaving like some kind of idealised Switzerland, according to Kushner, who insists that it uphold the most stringent democratic standards and absolute respect for human rights.

He indicated that the PA would fail such tests. It was, he said, a “police state” and “not exactly a thriving democracy”.

The Trump plan’s proposed democratic Palestine, it should be noted, would not be eligible to partake of international justice. Should Israel commit atrocities against Palestinians, the PA would have to forgo any appeals to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, which adjudicates on war crimes.

And in a final proof of its determination to ensure Palestinians reject the deal, the Trump administration has dusted off a forcible transfer plan long promoted by the former far-right defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman. Israel could then redraw the borders to strip potentially hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in Israel of their citizenship. Such a move would constitute a war crime.

Nightmare scenario

The Trump plan’s secret weapon is hidden in the “four-year clause”, as Kushner’s CNN interview makes explicit. He said: “If they [the PA] don’t think that they can uphold these standards, then I don’t think we can get Israel to take the risk to recognise them as a state, to allow them to take control of themselves, because the only thing more dangerous than what we have now is a failed state.”

Israel and the US know that not only will Abbas or his successor never consent to the White House’s nightmare scenario, but that they could never meet these preconditions even if they wished to. But if the Palestinians don’t concede everything demanded of them within four years, Israel will be free to start grabbing and annexing yet more Palestinian land.

And worse still, Israel, the US and Europe will seek to blame Palestinians for choosing apartheid over statehood. Apologists will say once again that the Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”.

In other words, if Palestinians refuse to disappear themselves in line with the Trump vision, it will be assumed that they consent to Israel’s permanent apartheid rule. Palestinians will have forfeited their right to any kind of state on their historic homeland, ever.

That is the real Trump vision, designed in Israel and soon to be rolled out in Palestine.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Trump’s “Deal of the Century” Will Not Bring Peace: That was the Plan for the US and Israel

Much of Donald Trump’s long-trailed “deal of the century” came as no surprise. Over the past 18 months, Israeli officials had leaked many of its details.

The so-called Vision for Peace unveiled on Tuesday simply confirmed that the US government has publicly adopted the long-running consensus in Israel: that it is entitled to keep permanently the swaths of territory it seized illegally over the past half-century that deny the Palestinians any hope of a state.

The White House has discarded the traditional US pose as an “honest broker” between Israel and the Palestinians. Palestinian leaders were not invited to the ceremony, and would not have come had they been. This was a deal designed in Tel Aviv more than in Washington – and its point was to ensure there would be no Palestinian partner.

Importantly for Israel, it will get Washington’s permission to annex all of its illegal settlements, now littered across the West Bank, as well as the vast agricultural basin of the Jordan Valley. Israel will continue to have military control over the entire West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced his intention to bring just such an annexation plan before his cabinet as soon as possible. It will doubtless provide the central plank in his efforts to win a hotly contested general election due on March 2.

The Trump deal also approves Israel’s existing annexation of East Jerusalem. The Palestinians will be expected to pretend that a West Bank village outside the city is their capital of “Al Quds”. There are incendiary indications that Israel will be allowed to forcibly divide the Al Aqsa mosque compound to create a prayer space for extremist Jews, as has occurred in Hebron.

Further, the Trump administration appears to be considering giving a green light to the Israeli Right’s long-held hopes of redrawing the current borders in such a way as to transfer potentially hundreds of thousands of Palestinians currently living in Israel as citizens into the West Bank. That would almost certainly amount to a war crime.

The plan envisages no right of return, and it seems the Arab world will be expected to foot the bill for compensating millions of Palestinian refugees.

A US map handed out on Tuesday showed Palestinian enclaves connected by a warren of bridges and tunnels, including one between the West Bank and Gaza. The only leavening accorded to the Palestinians are US pledges to strengthen their economy. Given the Palestinians’ parlous finances after decades of resource theft by Israel, that is not much of a promise.

All of this has been dressed up as a “realistic two-state solution”, offering the Palestinians nearly 70 per cent of the occupied territories – which in turn comprise 22 per cent of their original homeland. Put another way, the Palestinians are being required to accept a state on 15 per cent of historic Palestine after Israel has seized all the best agricultural land and the water sources.

Like all one-time deals, this patchwork “state” – lacking an army, and where Israel controls its security, borders, coastal waters and airspace – has an expiry date. It needs to be accepted within four years. Otherwise, Israel will have a free hand to start plundering yet more Palestinian territory. But the truth is that neither Israel nor the US expects or wants the Palestinians to play ball.

That is why the plan includes – as well as annexation of the settlements – a host of unrealisable preconditions before what remains of Palestine can be recognised: the Palestinian factions must disarm, with Hamas dismantled; the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas must strip the families of political prisoners of their stipends; and the Palestinian territories must be reinvented as the Middle East’s Switzerland, a flourishing democracy and open society, all while under Israel’s boot.

Instead, the Trump plan kills the charade that the 26-year-old Oslo process aimed for anything other than Palestinian capitulation. It fully aligns the US with Israeli efforts – pursued by all its main political parties over many decades – to lay the groundwork for permanent apartheid in the occupied territories.

Trump invited both Netanyahu, Israel’s caretaker prime minister, and his chief political rival, former general Benny Gantz, for the launch. Both were keen to express their unbridled support.

Between them, they represent four-fifths of Israel’s parliament. The chief battleground in the March election will be which one can claim to be better placed to implement the plan and thereby deal a death blow to Palestinian dreams of statehood.

On the Israeli right, there were voices of dissent. Settler groups described the plan as “far from perfect” – a view almost certainly shared privately by Netanyahu. Israel’s extreme Right objects to any talk of Palestinian statehood, however illusory.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition will happily seize the goodies offered by the Trump administration. Meanwhile the plan’s inevitable rejection by the Palestinian leadership will serve down the road as justification for Israel to grab yet more land.

There are other, more immediate bonuses from the “deal of the century”.

By allowing Israel to keep its ill-gotten gains from its 1967 conquest of Palestinian territories, Washington has officially endorsed one of the modern era’s great colonial aggressions. The US administration has thereby declared open war on the already feeble constraints imposed by international law.

Trump benefits personally, too. This will provide a distraction from his impeachment hearings as well as offering a potent bribe to his Israel-obsessed evangelical base and major funders such as US casino magnate Sheldon Adelson in the run-up to a presidential election.

And the US president is coming to the aid of a useful political ally. Netanyahu hopes this boost from the White House will propel his ultra-nationalist coalition into power in March, and cow the Israeli courts as they weigh criminal charges against him.

How he plans to extract personal gains from the Trump plan were evident on Tuesday. He scolded Israel’s attorney-general over the filing of the corruption indictments, claiming a “historic moment” for the state of Israel was being endangered.

Meanwhile, Abbas greeted the plan with “a thousand nos”. Trump has left him completely exposed. Either the PA abandons its security contractor role on behalf of Israel and dissolves itself, or it carries on as before but now explicitly deprived of the illusion that statehood is being pursued.

Abbas will try to cling on, hoping that Trump is ousted in this year’s election and a new US administration reverts to the pretense of advancing the long-expired Oslo peace process. But if Trump wins, the PA’s difficulties will rapidly mount.

No one, least of all the Trump administration, believes that this plan will lead to peace. A more realistic concern is how quickly it will pave the way to greater bloodshed.

• First published in The National

Bit by bit Israel aims to squeeze out the Palestinian Christians

Gaza’s minuscule community of Christians will spend this Christmas feeling even more under siege than normal. The Israeli military authorities have denied the vast majority of the enclave’s 1,100 Christians a permit to exit the Palestinian territory for the holiday season.

Unlike previous years, none will be allowed to join relatives in Bethlehem, Jerusalem or Nazareth, or visit their holy places in the West Bank and Israeli cities. Alongside the enclave’s nearly two million Muslims, they will be forced to celebrate Christmas in what is dubbed by locals as “the world’s largest open-air prison”.

Israel has issued 100 permits for travel abroad, via Jordan, but even those are mostly useless because only one or two members of each family have been approved. No parent is likely to choose to enjoy Christmas away from their children.

As ever, Israeli authorities have justified their decision on security grounds. But no one really believes this tiny, vulnerable minority poses any kind of threat to Israel’s giant military and intelligence-gathering machine.

For decades Israel has pointed to the steady decline of the Palestinian Christian community as proof of a supposed clash of civilisations in which it is on the right side. The gradual exodus of Christians, it argues, is evidence of the oppression they suffer at the hands of the Palestinians’ Muslim majority. Claiming to represent Judeo-Christian values, Israel supposedly stands as their sole protector.

In fact, the fall in Palestinian Christian numbers relates chiefly to other factors.

A lower fertility rate than Muslims means Christians have been shrinking as a proportion of the overall population. More significantly, however, Christians have been fleeing oppression – not by Muslims, but by Israel.

That began with the country’s creation in 1948 and the events Palestinians call their Nakba, or Catastrophe. Christians, who lived historically in Palestine’s main cities, were among the first targets of the new Israeli army’s ethnic cleansing operations.

Since then, those in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza have sought to escape from decades of occupation, while those belonging to a Palestinian minority living as citizens in Israel have tried to break free from the institutionalised discrimination they face in a self-declared Jewish state.

Christians have enjoyed greater success than Muslims in bolting the region because of their historic connections to international churches. The legacy of missionary activity – church-founded schools and hospitals in the region – have offered a gateway to the West and a new life.

The current treatment of Gaza’s Christians hints at the lie in Israel’s claim that it protects Christians. It has denied them permits for two reasons unrelated to security.

First, in violation of its commitments under the Oslo accords, it has been reinforcing the complete physical separation of the West Bank and Gaza.

The Christians of Gaza, with family ties to Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel, are a reminder that all belong to the same Palestinian people, forcibly dispersed by Israel 71 years ago and then imprisoned in different ghettos. Rather than view Gaza and the West Bank as two territories integral to an emerging Palestinian state, Israel has been carefully fashioning a narrative of division that dominates in the West.

Gaza is presented as an abhorrent, Islamic terrorist entity on Israel’s doorstep, which would exterminate its Jewish neighbours given half the chance. The occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, meanwhile, have been depicted as the epicentre of the Jewish people’s national revival.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the settler-right are gripped by a fear that their chauvinist, exclusivist approach might be subverted by a Christian counter-narrative. That is, in part, why the West Bank’s Christians and holy sites in East Jerusalem and Bethlehem are as besieged – by concrete walls – as Gaza’s own Christians.

Far from respecting and nurturing Palestinian Christians, Israel has treated them as a grave threat to its self-serving, contorted narrative of a clash of civilisations.

Second, the blanket denial of permits is a reaction to previous years in which a proportion of Christians failed to return to Gaza at the end of the holiday break. They disappeared into the West Bank cities, given shelter by relatives. From there, some left for a new life in the US, Latin America or Europe.

In other words, Christians have taken advantage of the chance to escape Gaza for the West Bank, where Israel’s chokehold is a little looser and its military footprint a little less menacing and lethal.

The family members denied permits this year are being held ransom, an insurance policy ensuring that those few allowed out return.

The reasons why Gaza’s Christians would want to flee are manifold. Like their Muslims neighbours, most are desperate to find release from a blockade entering its 14th year.

We are only days away from the year 2020, which the United Nations warned several years ago would mark the moment when Gaza would become “uninhabitable” – were Israel not to change course.

That prediction was not wrong. Unemployment and poverty are rife; schools overcrowded to bursting point; hospitals lack medicines and their equipment is failing; power supplies are intermittent; rivers of sewage bubble up into the streets after heavy winter rains; and drinking water is so polluted as to be dangerous to human health.

Infrastructure and many homes are in ruins or crumbling after waves of Israeli military attacks.

For Gaza’s unemployed young, Christian and Muslim alike, the future looks bleaker still. Families unable to raise a dowry or build a home have little hope of persuading another family to give their daughter’s hand away. Most of the next generation are unlikely ever to be in a position to support a family of their own.

Back in 2006, an adviser to former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon explained that the aim of the blockade – a policy then being formulated – was to engineer the population’s chronic starvation. “The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die,” Dov Weissglass said.

Nearly 14 years later, Gaza’s population is increasingly emaciated – physically, financially, emotionally and spiritually. It is the outcome of a policy devised by army generals and politicians to immiserate Palestinians, to inject into their lives a gnawing fear and to force them to focus exclusively on daily survival.

The decision to trap Christians in Gaza this Christmas is only a prelude to a larger, seemingly contradictory longer-term plan.

The choking blockade is designed to sap the people of the will to stay and struggle for what is theirs. Rumours in the media and elsewhere have suggested for some time that both Israel and the US ultimately want to push the Palestinians into the neighbouring Sinai peninsula, if Egypt can be arm-twisted into agreeing.

By keeping all of Gaza’s population under siege this Christmas, Israel hopes that a few Christmases hence it will receive the gift it craves most: the permanent exodus of most of the enclave’s Palestinians, to make them someone else’s problem.

• First published in The National