Tag Archives: palestine

On Armistice Day, Work For And Celebrate Peace

Today is Armistice Day – the day that World War I, a brutal and devastating war, ended. After World War I, people hoped nothing like that would ever happen again and a large peace movement developed in the United States. Sadly, just over two decades later, World War II began.

The US arose in the aftermath of this second terrible war as the global power. In 1954, Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day to celebrate all veterans. Now, veterans are pushing to change it back to Armistice Day and to celebrate those who work for peace and justice, not war.

Veteran Rory Fanning writes:

Those who care about equality and justice have no use for Veterans Day, as it is currently defined. Recently, an increasing number of states and communities are replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, making it a day to celebrate Indigenous peoples, not conquest and genocide. Likewise, Veterans Day needs to be expropriated and redefined to celebrate veterans of a different sort: It’s time to change Veteran’s Day back to Armistice Day, making it a day to celebrate those who struggle for justice and peace.

Veterans for Peace and allies on The Mall in Washington, DC in 2018.

Last year, we organized the Peace Congress in Washington, DC, which brought together people working to end the wars abroad and at home. We also joined Veterans for Peace the next day in their call for a return to Armistice Day and marched with them through the Mall.

This year, we are in Palestine meeting with activists and learning the history of “The 48” and how the genocide and apartheid continue today. We started in Jaffa yesterday where we met with Omar, a representative of Zochrot.org, which he translated as “the remembering.” Zochrot documents the forced expulsions of Palestinians so that people understand the true history of what happened around the Nakba. They have a Nakba map showing the hundreds of Palestinian villages that were emptied and erased. One of our group leaders said, “Israel is not committing crimes; Israel is the crime.”

In Jaffa, we walked along the sea from one famous mosque, the Hassan Bek Mosque, to another, the Al Bahr Mosque. Between the mosques was a large park covered in grass and non-native palm trees with walking and biking paths and playgrounds. Underneath lay the remains of hundreds of homes and other buildings that were bombed and seized in 1948. The nearly 120,000 Palestinian residents of Jaffa were forced to leave and those who stayed were forced to live under military guard and work the port. There is no sign in the park recognizing the horror that is underneath it. This absence is part of the revisionist history the occupiers learn.

Today, we drove to the Negev, the desert where there are dozens of unrecognized Palestinian villages as well as “planned townships.” In the unrecognized villages, people are not allowed to own land. There are many restrictions on what materials can be used to build homes and houses can be destroyed at any moment. Although electrical infrastructure runs next to the villages, the residents do not have access to it. Access to running water is prohibitively expensive. Roads are unpaved and occupiers dump their trash on the edges of the village. Planned townships are areas where Palestinians are forced to live when their land is taken away, a type of forced urbanization. Although they have electricity and running water, more and more people are pushed to live there without the ability to build more housing, creating overcrowding and the social problems that result from it.

We ended the day in Al-Araqib, a village that has been demolished 167 times. Although the residents have deeds to the land, they are not recognized as the owners and are arrested for being on their own land. All that is left of the village is a cemetery built in 1914. The sun was setting as we arrived and hundreds of cars were leaving from a funeral. They must leave before it gets dark as there are no lights.

Although there are no more houses, the residents must stay on the land every day or they will be cut off from returning. This means they cannot work. Law enforcement comes almost daily and confiscates their belongings. The residents used to have tents, and now they only have a rug to sit on. We listened as they told about the difficulties they face every day.

The reason Al-Araqib is being destroyed is so that the Jewish National Fund can take the land to plant trees, which they call “greening the desert.” The trees they plant are not native and in addition to displacing families, they are destroying the land. The residents are ignored by human rights organizations because they are not in Gaza or the West Bank, they are on occupied Palestinian territory where non-profits fear making waves.

In just two days, we have absorbed enough pain and injustice for a lifetime.

Jaffa before the Nakba was a major Arab city. Now the waterfront is covered with luxury hotels and a park. Zochrot.

We will continue to share what we are seeing and learning on this trip. While we are here, an important event is occurring in New York City. On Thursday, November 14, the United Nations General Assembly Second Committee will vote on a resolution brought by the Group of 77 plus China, which represents 134 countries, condemning unilateral coercive measures imposed by states like the US on other countries. We are organizing this sign-on letter, which will be delivered before the vote. A delegation will be present for the vote.

PLEASE SIGN ON AS AN INDIVIDUAL OR ORGANIZATION BY WEDNESDAY.

We also want to make you aware that as we write this, a US-supported coup is underway in Bolivia. Right-wing violence began even before the presidential election on October 20 in order to create disruption. Immediately after the vote, the Organization of American States (OAS) claimed the election was fraudulent. The Center for Economic and Policy Research countered their claims with facts. Over the ensuing weeks, right-wing violence escalated and the military defected to the coup supporters even though Morales, who won re-election, agreed to a new election. Today, he resigned.

Currently, President Morales is believed to be in a safe place and seeking asylum in Mexico, which has been offered. Bolivians have taken to the streets in massive numbers calling for his return, saying “Evo you are not alone.” Solidarity actions are occurring throughout the world.

Coup-supporters have taken to Twitter and other forms of social media, as they have in past coup attempts in other Latin American countries, to spread lies, claiming there is no coup and that the state is repressing them. We urge you not to believe them or engage them. What Bolivians need right now is our support and solidarity. We will work to keep you updated as best we can. Current hashtags on Twitter are #GolpedeEstadoBolivia and #EvoElMundoEstaContigo. Supporters of Evo are carrying the multicolored Wiphala flag of the Indigenous Peoples.

We hope that just like Venezuelans defeated the coup attempt against Hugo Chavez in 2002, Bolivians will swiftly return President Morales to power and bring stability and prosperity back to their country.

How the Hand of Israeli Spy Tech Reaches Deep into our Lives

Digital age weapons developed by Israel to oppress Palestinians are rapidly being repurposed for much wider applications – against Western populations who have long taken their freedoms for granted.

Israel’s status as a “startup nation” was established decades ago. But its reputation for hi-tech innovation always depended on a dark side, one that is becoming ever harder to ignore.

A few years ago, Israeli analyst Jeff Halper warned that Israel had achieved a pivotal role globally in merging new digital technologies with the homeland security industry. The danger was that gradually we would all become Palestinians.

Israel, he noted, treated the millions of Palestinians under its unaccountable, military rule effectively as guinea pigs in open-air laboratories. They were the test bed for developing not only new conventional weapons systems, but also new tools for mass surveillance and control.

As a recent report in Haaretz observed, Israel’s surveillance operation against Palestinians is “among the largest of its kind in the world. It includes monitoring the media, social media and the population as a whole”.

Big Brother trade

But what began in the occupied territories was never going to stay in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. There was simply too much money and influence to be gained from a trade in these new hybrid forms of offensive digital technology.

Tiny though it may be in size, Israel has long been a world leader in an extremely lucrative arms trade, selling to authoritarian regimes around the world its weapons systems as “battlefield-tested” on Palestinians.

This trade in military hardware is increasingly being overshadowed by a market for belligerent software: tools for waging cyber warfare.

Such new-age weapons are in high demand from states for use not only against external enemies, but against internal dissent from citizens and human rights monitors.

Israel can rightly claim to be a world authority here, controlling and oppressing populations under its rule. But it has been keen to keep its fingerprints off much of this new Big Brother technology, by outsourcing the further development of these cyber tools to graduates of its infamous security and military intelligence units.

Nonetheless, Israel implicitly sanctions such activities by providing these firms with export licenses – and the country’s most senior security officials are often closely involved in their work.

Tensions with Silicon Valley

Once out of uniform, Israelis can cash in on years of experience gained from spying on Palestinians by setting up companies developing similar software for more general applications.

Apps using sophisticated surveillance technology originating in Israel are increasingly common in our digital lives. Some have been put to relatively benign use. Waze, which tracks traffic congestion, allows drivers to reach destinations faster, while Gett pairs customers up with nearby taxis through their phone.

But some of the more covert technology produced by Israeli developers sticks much closer to its original military format.

This offensive software is being sold both to nations wishing to spy on their own citizens or rival states, and to private corporations hoping to gain an edge on competitors or better commercially exploit and manipulate their customers.

Once incorporated into social media platforms with billions of users, such spyware offers state security agencies a potential near-global reach. That explains the sometimes fraught relationship between Israeli tech firms and Silicon Valley, as the latter struggles to take control of this malware – as two contrasting, recent examples highlight.

Mobile phone ‘spy kit’

In a sign of the tensions, WhatsApp, a social media platform owned by Facebook, initiated the first lawsuit of its kind in a California court last week against NSO, Israel’s largest surveillance company.

WhatsApp accuses NSO of cyber attacks. In just a two-week period ending in early May examined by WhatsApp, NSO is reported to have targeted the mobile phones of more than 1,400 users in 20 countries.

NSO’s spyware, known as Pegasus, has been used against human rights activists, lawyers, religious leaders, journalists and aid workers. Reuters revealed last week that senior officials of US allies had also been targeted by NSO.

After taking charge of the user’s phone without their knowledge, Pegasus copies data and turns on the microphone for surveillance. Forbes magazine has described it as the “world’s most invasive mobile spy kit”.

NSO has licensed the software to dozens of governments, including prominent human rights-abusing regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan, Mexico and Morocco.

Amnesty International has complained that its staff are among those targeted by NSO spyware. It is currently supporting a legal action against the Israeli government for issuing the company with an export license.

Ties to Israeli security services

NSO was founded in 2010 by Omri Lavie and Shalev Hulio, both reported to be graduates of Israel’s vaunted military intelligence Unit 8200.

In 2014, whistleblowers revealed that the unit routinely spied on Palestinians, trawling through their phones and computers for evidence of sexual improprieties, health problems or financial difficulties that could be used to pressure them into collaborating with Israel’s military authorities.

The soldiers wrote that Palestinians were “completely exposed to espionage and surveillance by Israeli intelligence. It is used for political persecution and to create divisions within Palestinian society by recruiting collaborators and driving parts of Palestinian society against itself.”

Despite officials issuing export licences to NSO, Israeli government minister Zeev Elkin denied last week “Israeli government involvement” in the hacking of WhatsApp. He told Israeli radio: “Everyone understands that this is not about the state of Israel.”

Tracked by cameras

In the same week that WhatsApp launched its legal action, US television channel NBC revealed that Silicon Valley is nonetheless keen to reach out to Israeli startups deeply implicated in abuses associated with the occupation.

Microsoft has invested heavily in AnyVision to further develop sophisticated facial recognition technology that already helps the Israeli military oppress Palestinians.

The connections between AnyVision and the Israeli security services are barely hidden. Its advisory board includes Tamir Pardo, former head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency. The company’s president, Amir Kain, previously served as head of Malmab, the defence ministry’s security department.

AnyVision’s main software, Better Tomorrow, has been nicknamed “Occupation Google” because the firm claims it can identify and track any Palestinian by searching footage from the Israeli army’s extensive network of surveillance cameras in the occupied territories.

Grave concern

Despite obvious ethical problems, Microsoft’s investment suggests it may be aiming to incorporate the software into its own programmes. That has caused grave concern among human rights groups.

Shankar Narayan of the American Civil Liberties Union warned of a future all too familiar to Palestinians living under Israeli rule: “The widespread use of face surveillance flips the premise of freedom on its head and you start becoming a society where everyone is tracked, no matter what they do, all the time”, Narayan told NBC.

“Face recognition is possibly the most perfect tool for complete government control in public spaces.”

According to Yael Berda, a researcher at Harvard University, Israel maintains a list of some 200,000 Palestinians in the West Bank it wants under surveillance around the clock. Technologies such as AnyVision’s are seen as vital to keeping this vast group under constant monitoring.

A former AnyVision employee told NBC that the Palestinians were treated as a testing ground. “The technology was field-tested in one of the world’s most demanding security environments and we were now rolling it out to the rest of the market,” he said.

Meddling in elections

The Israeli government itself has a growing interest in using these spying technologies in the US and Europe, as its occupation has become the focus of controversy and scrutiny in mainstream political discourse.

In the UK, the shift in the political climate has been highlighted by the election of Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time Palestinian rights activist, to head the opposition Labour Party. In the US, a small group of lawmakers visibly supportive of the Palestinian cause have recently entered Congress, including Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman to hold the post.

More generally, Israel fears the flourishing international solidarity movement BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions), which calls for a boycott of Israel – modelled on the one against apartheid South Africa – until it stops oppressing Palestinians. The BDS movement has grown strongly on many US campuses.

As a result, Israeli cyber firms have been drawn ever more deeply into efforts to manipulate public discourse about Israel, apparently including by meddling in foreign elections.

Private ‘Mossad for hire’

Two notorious examples of such firms have briefly made headlines. Psy-Group, which marketed itself as a “private Mossad for hire“, was shut down last year after the FBI began investigating it for interfering in the 2016 US presidential election. Its “Project Butterfly”, according to the New Yorker, aimed to “destabilize and disrupt anti-Israel movements from within”.

Black Cube, meanwhile, was exposed last year to have been carrying out hostile surveillance of leading members of the previous US administration, under Barack Obama. It appears closely linked to Israel’s security services, and was a for a time located on an Israeli military base.

Banned by Apple

There are other Israeli firms seeking to blur the distinction between private and public space.

Onavo, an Israeli data collection company established by two veterans of Unit 8200, was acquired by Facebook in 2013. Apple banned its VPN app last year over revelations that it was providing unlimited access to users’ data.

Israel’s strategic affairs minister, Gilad Erdan, who heads a secretive campaign to demonise overseas BDS activists, had regular meetings with another firm, Concert, last year, according to a report in Haaretz. This covert group, which is exempt from Israel’s Freedom of Information laws, has received around $36m in funding from the Israeli government. Its directors and shareholders are a “who’s who” of Israel’s security and intelligence elite.

Another leading Israeli firm, Candiru, is named for a small Amazonian fish that is reputed to secretly invade the human body, where it becomes a parasite. Candiru sells its hacking tools mostly to Western governments, though its operations are shrouded in secrecy.

Its staff are drawn almost exclusively from Unit 8200. In a sign of how closely linked are the public and covert technologies Israeli firms have developed, Candiru’s chief executive, Eitan Achlow, previously headed Gett, the taxi service app.

Dystopian future

Israel’s security elite is cashing in on this new market for cyber warfare, exploiting – just as it did with the trade in conventional arms – a ready made and captive Palestinian population, on which it can test its technology.

It is no surprise that Israel is gradually normalising in Western countries invasive and oppressive technologies long familiar to Palestinians.

Facial recognition software allows for ever more sophisticated racial and political profiling. Covert data gathering and surveillance smashes the traditional boundaries between private and public space. And the resulting doxxing campaigns make it easy to intimidate, threaten and undermine those who dissent or, like the human rights community, try to hold the powerful to account.

If this dystopian future continues to unfold, New York, London, Berlin and Paris will increasingly look like Nablus, Hebron, East Jerusalem and Gaza. And we will all come to understand what it means to live inside a surveillance state engaged in cyber warfare against those it rules over.

•  First published in Middle East Eye

Microsoft Should Not Fund Israeli Spying on Palestinians

The act of Palestinian activists covering their faces during anti-Israeli occupation rallies is an old practice that spans decades. The masking of the face, often by Kufyias – traditional Palestinian scarves that grew to symbolize Palestinian resistance – is far from being a fashion statement. Instead, it is a survival technique. Without it, activists are likely to be arrested in subsequent nightly raids; at times, even assassinated.

In the past, Israel used basic technologies to identify Palestinians who take part in protests and mobilize the people in various popular activities. TV news footage or newspaper photos were thoroughly deciphered, often with the help of Israel’s collaborators in the Occupied Territories, and the ‘culprits’ would be identified, summoned to meet Shin Bet intelligence officers or arrested from their homes.

That old technique was eventually replaced by more advanced technology, countless images transmitted directly through Israeli drones – the flagship of Israel’s “security industry”. Thousands of Palestinians were detained and hundreds were assassinated in recent years as a result of drones data, analyzed through Israel’s burgeoning facial recognition software.

If, in the past, Palestinian activists were keen on keeping their identity hidden, now they have much more compelling reasons to ensure the complete secrecy of their work. Considering the information sharing between the Israeli army and illegal Jewish settlers and their armed militias in the occupied West Bank, Palestinians face the double threat of being targeted by armed settlers as well as by Israeli soldiers.

True, when it comes to Israel, such a grim reality is hardly surprising. But what is truly disturbing is the direct involvement of international corporate giants, the likes of Microsoft, in facilitating the work of the Israeli military, whose sole aim is to crush any form of dissent among Palestinians.

Microsoft prides itself on being a leader in corporate social responsibility (CSR), emphasizing that “privacy (is) a fundamental human right.”

The Washington-State based software giant dedicates much attention, at least on paper, to the subject of human rights. “Microsoft is committed to respecting human rights,” Microsoft Global Human Rights Statement asserts. “We do this by harnessing the beneficial power of technology to help realize and sustain human rights everywhere.”

In practice, however, Microsoft’s words are hardly in line with its action, at least not when its human rights maxims are applied to occupied and besieged Palestinians.

Writing in the American news network NBC News on October 27, Olivia Solon reported on Microsoft funding of the Israeli firm, AnyVision, which uses facial recognition “to secretly watch West Bank Palestinians”.

Through its venture capital arm M12, Microsoft has reportedly invested $78 million in the Israeli startup company that “uses facial recognition to surveil Palestinians throughout the West Bank, in spite of the tech giant’s public pledge to avoid using the technology if it encroaches on democratic freedoms”.

AnyVision had developed an “advanced tactical surveillance” software system, dubbed “Better Tomorrow” that, according to a joint NBC News-Haaretz investigation, “lets customers identify individuals and objects in any live camera feed, such as a security camera or smartphone, and then track targets as they move between different feeds.”

As disquieting as “Better Tomorrow’s” mission sounds, it takes on a truly sinister objective in Palestine. “According to five sources familiar with the matter,” wrote Solon, “AnyVision’s technology powers a secret military surveillance project throughout the West Bank.”

“One source said the project is nicknamed ‘Google Ayosh,’ where ‘Ayosh’ means occupied Palestinian territories and ‘Google’ denotes the technology’s ability to search for people.”

Headquartered in Israel, AnyVision has several offices around the world, including the US, the UK and Singapore. Considering the nature of AnyVision’s work, and the intrinsic link between Israel’s technology sector and the country’s military, it should have been assumed that the company’s software is likely used to track down Palestinian dissidents.

In July, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz pointed out that “AnyVision is taking part in two special projects in assisting the Israeli army in the West Bank. One involves a system that it has installed at army checkpoints that thousands of Palestinians pass through each day on their way to work from the West Bank.”

Former AnyVision employees spoke to NBC News about their experiences with the company, one even asserting that he/she “saw no evidence that ethical considerations drove any business decisions” at the firm.

The alarming reports invited strong protests by human rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Alas, Microsoft carried on with supporting AnyVision’s work unhindered.

This is not the first time that Microsoft is caught red-handed in its support of the Israeli military or criticized for other unethical practices.

Unlike Facebook, Google and others, who are constantly, albeit deservingly being chastised for violating privacy rules or allowing politics to influence their editorial agenda, Microsoft has been left largely outside the brewing controversies. But, like the rest, Microsoft should be held to account.

In its ‘Human Rights Statement’, Microsoft declared its respect for human rights based on international conventions, starting with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In occupying and oppressing Palestinians, Israel violates every article of that declaration, starting with Article 1, which states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” and including Article 3: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”

It will take Microsoft more than hyperlinking to a UN document to show true and sincere respect for human rights.

Indeed, for a company that enjoys great popularity throughout the Middle East and in Palestine itself, an inevitable first step towards respecting human rights is to immediately divest from AnyVision, coupled with an apology for all of those who have already paid the price for that ominous Israeli technology.

Proposed Withdrawal of US Troops in Syria

President Trump has stated his intent to withdraw US troops from Syria on several occasions since March 2018. Each time politicians from both the Democratic and Republican parties, supported by the corporate-controlled media, have, based on US imperial interests, vehemently challenged the withdrawal proposal. These folks also based their opposition to withdrawal on their supposed concerns for the Syrian Kurds. Unfortunately they have shown far less concern about the welfare of Iraqis, Libyans, Yemenis, Afghanis and Palestinians among many other populations suffering terribly due in part to US actions.

It is a telling commentary that few of the so-called elite US political/military/media leaders have raised any concerns about the immorality and blatant illegality of US interventions in Syria and elsewhere. These elite act to advance their own interests and the short-term interests of the US empire, actions that are really counterproductive in the long term. They believe the US can violate international law with impunity since they view it as being the exceptional nation. How has our nation descended to this immoral level?

The US corporate media has played a major role in this descent as it keeps the US public ignorant or misinformed about foreign affairs. For example, few Americans understand that the US and allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel have long wanted to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whom they viewed as an ally of Iran.

U.S. General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO, said that when he was visiting the Pentagon a few weeks after 9/11 he was told of a plan to take out seven nations (Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran) over five years. The US failures in Iraq certainly changed the timetable.

This U.S. goal regarding Syria was also openly discussed back in 2005 in an interview with President Assad by CNN host Christiane Amanpour. She said:

Mr. President, you know the rhetoric of regime change is headed towards you from the United States. They are actively looking for a new Syrian leader. They’re granting visas and visits to Syrian opposition politicians. They’re talking about isolating your diplomatically and, perhaps, a coup d’etat or your regime crumbling. What are you thinking about that?

In late March 2007 McClatchy News reported the George W. Bush administration had instituted a campaign months earlier to isolate and embarrass Assad. Some officials feared that the campaign’s goal was to destabilize Syria and possibly to overthrow the Syrian leader.

In 2011 the Washington Post reported that WikiLeaks provided US State Department cables showing US funding began as early as 2006 for forces inside and outside Syria working to oust Assad. The funding was allocated for this work until at least through September 2010. Clearly the US was hardly an innocent bystander, but was meddling in the internal affairs of another nation, something that it condemns when another country is even rumored to do it here.

As stated above, the US was not alone in its desire to oust Assad. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel also wanted to seen Assad gone for their own reasons. In particular, Qatar was angry because of Assad’s 2009 rejection of a pipeline from Qatar reaching to the Mediterranean via Syria. The US also saw that this pipeline and Qatari gas could be used to lessen European reliance on Russian natural gas and thus weaken Russia. A dissolution of Syria would also fit well with the Israeli goal (the Yinon Plan) of breaking up surrounding Arab nations into smaller states that don’t present any challenge to Israel’s goal of regional hegemony.

Besides military means, the U.S. has used groups like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in Syria and elsewhere (e.g., Ukraine and Venezuela). For those not familiar with NED, in 1991 NED’s first president, Allen Weinstein, said: “a lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA”.

More detail about NED was provided by Jonah Gindin and Kirsten Weld who remarked in the January/February 2007 NACLA Report on the Americas:

Since [1983], the NED and other democracy-promoting governmental and nongovernmental institutions have intervened successfully on behalf of ‘democracy’—actually a very particular form of low-intensity democracy chained to pro-market economics—in countries from Nicaragua to the Philippines, Ukraine to Haiti, overturning unfriendly ‘authoritarian’ governments (many of which the United States had previously supported) and replacing them with handpicked pro-market allies.

During its war crimes in the Middle East, including the illegal effort to oust the Assad government, the US has shown little to no concern about the welfare of the Arab populations who have suffered incredibly. In addition, the fighting has devastated Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and Syria as well as the hopes for a decent life for their populations.

It’s past time for the US elite to renounce US imperialism with its immorality, crimes against humanity, killing and destruction and to pay reparations to its victims. The US must also stop being a rogue state and join the community of nations.

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinian Christians that nobody is talking about

Palestine’s Christian population is dwindling at an alarming rate. The world’s most ancient Christian community is moving elsewhere. And the reason for this is Israel.

Christian leaders from Palestine and South Africa sounded the alarm at a conference in Johannesburg on October 15. Their gathering was titled: “The Holy Land: A Palestinian Christian Perspective”.

One major issue that highlighted itself at the meetings is the rapidly declining number of Palestinian Christians in Palestine.

There are varied estimates on how many Palestinian Christians are still living in Palestine today, compared with the period before 1948 when the state of Israel was established atop Palestinian towns and villages. Regardless of the source of the various studies, there is near consensus that the number of Christian inhabitants of Palestine has dropped by nearly ten-fold in the last 70 years.

A population census carried out by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in 2017 concluded that there are 47,000 Palestinian Christians living in Palestine – with reference to the Occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. 98 percent of Palestine’s Christians live in the West Bank – concentrated mostly in the cities of Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jerusalem – while the remainder, a tiny Christian community of merely 1,100 people, lives in the besieged Gaza Strip.

The demographic crisis that had afflicted the Christian community decades ago is now brewing.

For example, 70 years ago, Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, was 86 percent Christian. The demographics of the city, however, have fundamentally shifted, especially after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in June 1967, and the construction of the illegal Israeli apartheid wall, starting in 2002. Parts of the wall were meant to cut off Bethlehem from Jerusalem and to isolate the former from the rest of the West Bank.

“The Wall encircles Bethlehem by continuing south of East Jerusalem in both the east and west,” the ‘Open Bethlehem’ organization said, describing the devastating impact of the wall on the Palestinian city. “With the land isolated by the Wall, annexed for settlements, and closed under various pretexts, only 13% of the Bethlehem district is available for Palestinian use.”

Increasingly beleaguered, Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem have been driven out from their historic city in large numbers. According to the city’s mayor, Vera Baboun, as of 2016, the Christian population of Bethlehem has dropped to 12 percent, merely 11,000 people.

The most optimistic estimates place the overall number of Palestinian Christians in the whole of Occupied Palestine at less than two percent.

The correlation between the shrinking Christian population in Palestine, and the Israeli occupation and apartheid should be unmistakable, as it is obvious to Palestine’s Christian and Muslim population alike.

A study conducted by Dar al-Kalima University in the West Bank town of Beit Jala and published in December 2017, interviewed nearly 1,000 Palestinians, half of them Christian and the other half Muslim. One of the main goals of the research was to understand the reason behind the depleting Christian population in Palestine.

The study concluded that “the pressure of Israeli occupation, ongoing constraints, discriminatory policies, arbitrary arrests, confiscation of lands added to the general sense of hopelessness among Palestinian Christians,” who are finding themselves in “a despairing situation where they can no longer perceive a future for their offspring or for themselves”.

Unfounded claims that Palestinian Christians are leaving because of religious tensions between them and their Muslim brethren are, therefore, irrelevant.

Gaza is another case in point. Only 2 percent of Palestine’s Christians live in the impoverished and besieged Gaza Strip. When Israel occupied Gaza along with the rest of historic Palestine in 1967, an estimated 2,300 Christians lived in the Strip. However, merely 1,100 Christians still live in Gaza today. Years of occupation, horrific wars and an unforgiving siege can do that to a community, whose historic roots date back to two millennia.

Like Gaza’s Muslims, these Christians are cut off from the rest of the world, including the holy sites in the West Bank. Every year, Gaza’s Christians apply for permits from the Israeli military to join Easter services in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Last April, only 200 Christians were granted permits, but on the condition that they must be 55 years of age or older and that they are not allowed to visit Jerusalem.

The Israeli rights group, Gisha, described the Israeli army decision as “a further violation of Palestinians’ fundamental rights to freedom of movement, religious freedom and family life”, and, rightly, accused Israel of attempting to “deepen the separation” between Gaza and the West Bank.

In fact, Israel aims at doing more than that. Separating Palestinian Christians from one another, and from their holy sites (as is the case for Muslims, as well), the Israeli government hopes to weaken the socio-cultural and spiritual connections that give Palestinians their collective identity.

Israel’s strategy is predicated on the idea that a combination of factors – immense economic hardships, permanent siege and apartheid, the severing of communal and spiritual bonds – will eventually drive all Christians out of their Palestinian homeland.

Israel is keen to present the ‘conflict’ in Palestine as a religious one so that it could, in turn, brand itself as a beleaguered Jewish state in the midst of a massive Muslim population in the Middle East. The continued existence of Palestinian Christians does not factor nicely into this Israeli agenda.

Sadly, however, Israel has succeeded in misrepresenting the struggle in Palestine – from that of political and human rights struggle against settler colonialism – into a religious one. Equally disturbing, Israel’s most ardent supporters in the United States and elsewhere are religious Christians.

It must be understood that Palestinian Christians are neither aliens nor bystanders in Palestine. They have been victimized equally as their Muslim brethren, and have also played a major role in defining the modern Palestinian identity, through their resistance, spirituality, deep connection to the land, artistic contributions and burgeoning scholarship.

Israel must not be allowed to ostracize the world’s most ancient Christian community from their ancestral land so that it may score a few points in its deeply disturbing drive for racial supremacy.

Equally important, our understanding of the legendary Palestinian ‘soumoud’ – steadfastness – and of solidarity cannot be complete without fully appreciating the centrality of Palestinian Christians to the modern Palestinian narrative and identity.

Israel’s New Moves to airbrush the Occupation

The United Nations’ independent expert on human rights in the Palestinian territories issued a damning verdict last week on what he termed “the longest belligerent occupation in the modern world”.

Michael Lynk, a Canadian law professor, told the UN’s human rights council that only urgent international action could prevent Israel’s 52-year occupation of the West Bank transforming into de facto annexation.

He warned of a recent surge in violence against Palestinians from settlers, assisted by the Israeli army, and a record number of demolitions this year of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem – evidence of the ways Israel is further pressuring Palestinians to leave their lands.

He urged an international boycott of all settlement products as a necessary step to put pressure on Israel to change course. He also called on the UN itself to finally publish – as long promised – a database that it has been compiling since 2016 of Israeli and international companies doing business in the illegal settlements and normalising the occupation.

Israel and its supporters have stymied the release, fearing that such a database would bolster the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign that seeks to end Israel’s impunity.

Lynk sounded the alarm days after Israel’s most venerated judge, Meir Shamgar, died aged 94.

Shamgar was a reminder that the settlers have always been able to rely on the support of public figures from across Israel’s political spectrum. The settlements have always been viewed as a weapon to foil the emergence of a Palestinian state.

Perhaps not surprisingly, most obituaries overlooked the chicanery of Shamgar in building the legal architecture needed to establish the settlements after Israel occupied the Palestinian territories in 1967.

But in a tweeted tribute, Benjamin Netanyahu, the interim prime minister, noted Shamgar’s contribution to “legislation policy in Judea and Samaria”, using the Israeli government’s term for the West Bank.

It was Shamgar who swept aside the prohibition in international law on Israel as an occupying state, transferring its population into the territories. He thereby created a system of apartheid: illegal Jewish settlers enjoyed privileges under Israeli law while the local Palestinian population had to endure oppressive military orders.

Then, by a legal sleight of hand, Shamgar obscured the ugly reality he had inaugurated. He offered all those residing in the West Bank – Jews and Palestinians alike – access to arbitration from Israel’s supreme court.

It was, of course, an occupier’s form of justice – and a policy that treated the occupied territories as ultimately part of Israel, erasing any border. Ever since, the court has been deeply implicated in every war crime associated with the settlement enterprise.

As Israeli lawyer Michael Sfard noted, Shamgar “legalised almost every draconian measure taken by the defence establishment to crush Palestinian political and military organisations”, including detention without trial, house demolitions, land thefts, curfews and much more. All were needed to preserve the settlements.

Shamgar’s legal innovations – endorsing the systematic abuse of Palestinians and the entrenchment of the occupation – are now being expanded by a new generation of jurists.

Their latest proposal has been described as engineering a “revolution” in the occupation regime. It would let the settlers buy as private property the plots of occupied land their illegal homes currently stand on.

Disingenuously, Israeli officials argue that the policy would end “discrimination” against the settlers. An army legal adviser, Tzvi Mintz, noted recently: “A ban on making real-estate deals based on national origin raises a certain discomfort.”

Approving the privatisation of the settlements is a far more significant move than it might sound.

International law states that an occupier can take action in territories under occupation on only two possible grounds: out of military necessity or to benefit the local population. With the settlements obviously harming local Palestinians by depriving them of land and free movement, Israel disguised its first colonies as military installations.

It went on to seize huge swathes of the West Bank as “state lands” – meaning for Jews only – on the pretext of military needs. Civilians were transferred there with the claim that they bolstered Israel’s national security.

That is why no one has contemplated allowing the settlers to own the land they live on – until now. Instead it is awarded by military authorities, who administer the land on behalf of the Israeli state.

That is bad enough. But now defence ministry officials want to upend the definition in international law of the settlements as a war crime. Israel’s thinking is that, once the settlers become the formal owners of the land they were given illegally, they can be treated as the “local population”.

Israel will argue that the settlers are protected under international law just like the Palestinians. That would provide Israel with a legal pretext to annex the West Bank, saying it benefits the “local” settler population.

And by turning more than 600,000 illegal settlers into landowners, Israel can reinvent the occupation as an insoluble puzzle. Palestinians seeking redress from Israel for the settlements will instead have to fight an endless array of separate claims against individual settlers.

This proposal follows recent moves by Israel to legalise many dozens of so-called outposts, built by existing settlements to steal yet more Palestinian land. As well as violating international law, the outposts fall foul of Israeli law and undertakings made under the Oslo accords not to expand the settlements.

All of this is being done in the context of a highly sympathetic administration in Washington that, it is widely assumed, is preparing to approve annexation of the West Bank as part of a long-postponed peace plan.

The current delay has been caused by Netanyahu’s failure narrowly in two general elections this year to win enough seats to form a settler-led government. Israel might now be heading to a third election.

Officials and the settlers are itching to press ahead with formal annexation of nearly two-thirds of the West Bank. Netanyahu promised annexation in the run-up to both elections. Settler leaders, meanwhile, have praised the new army chief of staff, Aviv Kochavi, as sympathetic to their cause.

Expectations have soared among the settlers as a result. Their impatience has fuelled a spike in violence, including a spate of recent attacks on Israeli soldiers sent to protect them as the settlers confront and assault Palestinians beginning the annual olive harvest.

Lynk, the UN’s expert, has warned that the international community needs to act swiftly to stop the occupied territories becoming a permanent Israeli settler state. Sadly, there are few signs that foreign governments are listening.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

She Deserves Our Support: Betty McCollum Wants US to Stop Subsidizing Torture of Palestinian Children

In December 2018, 17-year-old Palestinian teen, Ayham Sabah, was sentenced by an Israeli military court to 35 years in prison for his alleged role in a stabbing attack targeting an Israeli soldier in an illegal Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

Sabah was only 14 years old when the alleged attack took place.

Another alleged attacker, Omar al-Rimawi, also 14, was reportedly shot by undercover Israeli forces in the Shufat refugee camp, in occupied East Jerusalem. He later succumbed to his wounds.

Although the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a “child” as “every human being below the age of eighteen years”, Israel chooses not to abide by that definition. In Israel, there are two kinds of children: Israeli children who are 18 years old or younger, and Palestinians children, 16 years and younger.

In Sabah’s case, he was detained for years to ensure that he was tried as an “adult” per Israel’s skewed legal standards.

According to research conducted by the Israeli rights group, B’Tselem, by the end of August 2019, 185 Palestinian children, including two younger than 14 years old were held in various Israeli prisons as “security detainees and prisoners.”

Thousands of Palestinian children are constantly being rotated through the Israeli prison system, often accused of “security” offenses, which include taking part in anti-Israeli occupation protests and rallies in the West Bank. The Palestinian Prisoner’s Association estimates that at least 6,000 Palestinian children have been detained in Israeli prisons since 2015.

In a statement issued last April, the Association, revealed that “98 percent of the children held had been subjected to psychological and/or physical abuse while in Israeli custody” and that many of them were detained “after first being shot and wounded by Israeli troops.”

While Gazan children are the ones most likely to lose their lives or get shot by the Israeli army, the children of occupied East Jerusalem are “the most targeted” by Israeli troops in terms of detention or prolonged imprisonment.

In 2016, the US and Israeli governments signed a 10-year Memorandum of Understanding, whereby, the US “pledges” to grant Israel $38 billion in military aid. The previous agreement, which concluded in 2018, gave Israel over $3 billion per year. Most of the money went to finance Israeli wars and security for illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank. A large portion of that money was, and still is, allocated to subsidize the Israeli prison system and military courts located in occupied Palestine – the kind that regularly detain and torture Palestinian children.

Aside from the US government, which has blindly supported Israel’s ongoing violations of international law, many governments and rights groups around the world have constantly highlighted Israel’s criminally reprehensible treatment of Palestinian children.

In a written submission by Human Rights Watch to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on the State of Palestine last March, the group reported that “Palestinian children aged between 12 and 17 years from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, continue to be detained and arrested by Israeli forces.”

“Israeli security forces routinely interrogate children without a guardian or lawyer present, use unnecessary force against children during arrest, which often takes place in the middle of the night, and physically abuse them in custody,” HRW reported.

While the US government, lawmakers and media often turn a blind eye to such violations, Congresswoman Betty McCollum does not. The representative for Minnesota’s 4th congressional district has taken a stand against the prevailing norm in American politics, arguing that Israel must respect the rights of Palestinian children, and that the US government should not be funding Israel’s violations of human rights.

On April 30, McCollum introduced House resolution H.R. 2407 – “Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act”.

“I am introducing legislation to protect children from abuse, violence, psychological trauma, and torture,” she said in her statement to the Congress.

“The legislation I am introducing is expressly intended to end U.S. support and funding for Israel’s systematic military detention, interrogation, abuse, torture, and prosecution of Palestinian children.”

By introducing H.R. 2407, McCollum has broken several major taboos in the US government. She unapologetically characterizes Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights with all the correct terms – “torture”, “abuse”, and so on… Moreover, she calls for conditioning US military support for Israel on the latter’s respect for human rights.

As of November 17, H.R. 2407 has acquired 22 co-sponsors, with Rep. Mark DeSaulnier being the last Congress member to join the list.

This is not the first time that McCollum has taken such brave initiatives. In November 2017, she introduced the “Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act” (H.R. 4391). Then, she pushed the bill with the same vigor and moral clarity as today’s campaign.

The 2017 bill was not enacted in the previous Congress. McCollum is hoping to change that this time around, and there are good reasons to believe that H.R. 2407 could succeed.

One public opinion poll after another points to a shift in US perception of Israel, especially among Democrats and even US Jewish voters.

Eager to exploit the political chasm, US President Donald Trump accused Jewish Democrats who don’t support Israel of being “disloyal”.

“The Democrats have gone very far away from Israel,” Trump said last August. “In my opinion, you vote for a Democrat, you’re being very disloyal to Jewish people and very disloyal to Israel.”

In fact, it seems that an increasing number of American voters are now linking their perception of Israel to their perception of their own polarizing President and his relationship with the equally polarizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The above reality is now widening the margins of criticism of Israel, whether in the US Congress, media, or other facets of American life which have historically stood on the side of Israel despite the latter’s dismal human rights record.

While one hopes that McCollum’s congressional bill pays dividends in the service of human rights in Palestine and Israel, one hopes equally that the current shift in American political perceptions continues unhindered.

The Last Lifeline: The Real Reason Behind Abbas’ Call for Elections

The call by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for elections in the Occupied Territories is a political ploy. There will be no true, democratic elections under Abbas’ leadership. The real question is: why did he make the call in the first place?

On September 26, Abbas took on the world’s most important political platform, the United Nations General Assembly, to call for “general elections in Palestine – in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip”.

The Palestinian leader prefaced his announcement with a lofty emphasis on the centrality of democracy in his thinking. “From the outset, we have believed in democracy as a foundation for the building of our State and society,” he said with unmistakable self-assurance. But, as it turned out, it was only Hamas – not Israel, and certainly not the PA’s own undemocratic, transparent and corrupt legacy – that made Abbas’ democratic mission impossible.

Upon his return from New York, Abbas formed a committee, whose mission, according to official Palestinian media, is to consult with various Palestinian factions regarding the promised elections.

Hamas immediately accepted the call for elections, though it asked for further clarifications. The core demand for the Islamic group, which controls the besieged Gaza Strip, is a simultaneous election that includes the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), the PA presidency and, most importantly, the Palestine National Council (PNC) – the legislative component of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

While the PLO has fallen under the tight grip of Abbas and a clique within his own Fatah party, the remaining institutions have operated without any democratic, popular mandates for nearly 13 years. The last PLC elections were held in 2006, followed by a Hamas-Fatah clash that resulted in the current political rift between the two parties. As for Abbas’ own mandate, that, too, expired sometime in 2009. It means that Abbas, who supposedly believes “in democracy as the foundation for the building of our State” is an undemocratically reigning president without any real mandate to rule over Palestinians.

Not that Palestinians are shying away from making their feelings clear. Time after time, they have asked Abbas to leave. But the 83-year-old is bent on remaining in power – however one defines “power” under the yoke of Israeli military occupation.

The prevalent analysis following Abbas’ call for elections is that such an undertaking is simply impossible, considering the circumstances. To begin with, after winning US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Israel is unlikely to allow the Palestinians to include occupied East Jerusalem in any future vote.

Hamas, on the other hand, is likely to reject the inclusion of Gaza if the elections are limited to the PLC, and exclude Abbas’ own position and the PNC. Without a PNC vote, the reordering and resurrection of the PLO would remain elusive, a belief that is shared by other Palestinian factions.

Being aware of these obstacles, Abbas must already know that the chances of real, fair, free and truly inclusive elections are negligible. But his call is the last, desperate move to quell growing resentment among Palestinians, at his decades-long failure to utilize the so-called peace process to achieve his people’s long-denied rights.

There are three, main reasons compelling Abbas to make this move at this, specific time.

First, the demise of the peace process and the two-state solution, through a succession of Israeli and American measures, has left the PA, and Abbas, in particular, isolated and short on funds. Palestinians who supported such political illusions no longer constitute the majority.

Second, the PA constitutional court resolved, last December, that the president should call for an election within the next six months, that is, by June 2019. The court, itself under Abbas’ control, aimed to provide the Palestinian leader with a legal outlet to dismiss the previously elected parliament – whose mandate expired in 2010 – and create new grounds for his political legitimacy. Still, he failed to adhere to the court’s decision.

Third, and most importantly, the Palestinian people are clearly fed up of Abbas, his authority and all the political shenanigans of the factions. In fact, 61 percent of all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza want Abbas to step down, according to a public opinion poll held by the Palestinian Center for Political and Polling Research in September.

The same poll indicates that Palestinians reject the entire political discourse which has served as the foundation for Abbas and his PA’s political strategies. Moreover, 56 percent of Palestinians oppose the two-state solution; up to 50 percent believe that the performance of the current PA government of Mohammed Shtayyeh is worse than that of his predecessor; and 40 percent want the PA to be dissolved.

Tellingly, 72 percent of Palestinians want legislative and presidential elections held throughout the occupied territories. The same percentage wants the PA to lift its share of the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip.

Abbas is now at his weakest political position since his advent to leadership, many years ago. With no control over political outcomes that are determined by Tel Aviv and Washington, he has resorted to making a vague call for elections that have no chance of success.

While the outcome is predictable, Abbas hopes that, for now, he would once more appear as the committed leader who is beholden to international consensus and the wishes of his own people.

It will take months of wasted energy, political wrangling and an embarrassing media circus before the election ploy falls apart, ushering in a blame game between Abbas and his rivals that could last months, if not years.

This is hardly the strategy that the Palestinian people – living under brutal occupation and a suffocating siege – need or want. The truth is that Abbas, and whatever political class he represents, have become a true obstacle in the path of a nation that is in desperate need of unity and a meaningful political strategy. What the Palestinian people urgently require is not a half-hearted call for elections, but a new leadership, a demand they have articulated repeatedly, though Abbas refuses to listen.

Administrative Torture: Free Heba al-Labadi, a Jordanian Citizen in Israeli Prison

On August 20, Heba Ahmed al-Labadi fell into the dark hole of the Israeli legal system, joining 413 Palestinian prisoners who are currently held in so-called administrative detention.

On September 26, Heba and seven other prisoners declared a hunger strike to protest their unlawful detention and horrific conditions in Israeli prisons. Among the prisoners is Ahmed Ghannam, 42, from the village of Dura, near Hebron, who launched his hunger strike on July 14.

Administrative detention is Israel’s go-to legal proceeding when it simply wants to mute the voices of Palestinian political activists, but lacks any concrete evidence that can be presented in an open, military court.

Not that Israel’s military courts are an example of fairness and transparency. Indeed, when it comes to Palestinians, the entire Israeli judicial system is skewed. But administrative detention is a whole new level of injustice.

The current practice of administrative detention dates back to the 1945 Defense (Emergency) Regulations issued by the colonial British authorities in Palestine to quell Palestinian political dissent. Israel amended the regulations in 1979, renaming them to the Israeli Law on Authority in States of Emergency. The revised law was used to indefinitely incarcerate thousands of Palestinian political activists during the Palestinian Uprising of 1987. On any given day, there are hundreds of Palestinians who are held under the unlawful practice.

The procedure denies the detainees any due process, and fails to produce an iota of evidence to as why the prisoner – who is often subjected to severe and relentless torture – is being held in the first place.

Heba, a Jordanian citizen, was detained at the al-Karameh crossing (Allenby Bridge) on her way from Jordan to the West Bank to attend a wedding in the Palestinian city of Nablus.

According to the Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network Samidoun, Heba was first held at the Israeli intelligence detention center in Petah Tikva, where she was physically abused and tortured.

Torture in Israel was permissible for many years. In 1999, the Israeli Supreme Court banned torture. However, in 2019, the court explicitly clarified that “interrogational torture is lawful in certain circumstances in Israel’s legal system”. Either way, little has changed in practice before or after the Israeli court’s “clarification”.

Of the dozens of Palestinian and Arab prisoners I interviewed in recent months for a soon-to-be published volume on the history of the Palestinian prison experience, every single one of them underwent a prolonged process of torture during the initial interrogation, that often extended for months. If their experiences differed, it was only in the extent and duration of the torture. This applies to administrative detainees as much as it applies to so-called “security prisoners”.

Wafa Samir Ibrahim al-Bis, a Palestinian woman from Jablaiya refugee camp in Gaza, told me about the years she was held in Israeli jails. “I was tortured for years inside the Ramleh prison’s infamous ‘cell nine’, a torture chamber they designated for people like me,” she said.

“I was hanged from the ceiling and beaten. They put a black bag on my head as they beat and interrogated me for many hours and days. They released dogs and mice in my cell. I couldn’t sleep for days at a time. They stripped me naked and left me like that for days on end. They didn’t allow me to meet with a lawyer or even receive visits from the Red Cross.”

Heba is now lost in that very system, one that has no remorse and faces no accountability, neither in Israel itself, nor to international institutions whose duty is to challenge this kind of flagrant violation of humanitarian laws.

While Israel’s mistreatment of all Palestinian prisoners applies equally regardless of faction, ideology or age, the gender of the prisoner matters insofar as the type of torture or humiliation used. Many of the female prisoners I spoke with explained how the type of mistreatment they experienced in Israeli prisons seemed often to involve sexual degradation and abuse. One involves having female prisoners strip naked before Israeli male interrogators and remaining in that position during the entire duration of the torturous interrogation, that may last hours.

Khadija Khweis, from the town of Al-Tour, adjacent to the Old City of Occupied East Jerusalem, was imprisoned by Israel 18 times, for a period ranging from several days to several weeks. She told me that “on the first day of my arrival at prison, the guards stripped me completely naked”.

“They searched me in ways so degrading, I cannot even write them down. All I can say is that they intentionally tried to deprive me of the slightest degree of human dignity. This practice, of stripping and of degrading body searches, would be repeated every time I was taken out of my cell and brought back.”

Heba and all Palestinian prisoners experience humiliation and abuse on a daily basis. Their stories should not be reduced to an occasional news item or a social media post, but should become the raison d’être of all solidarity efforts aimed at exposing Israel, its fraudulent judicial system and Kangaroo courts.

The struggle of Palestinian prisoners epitomizes the struggle of all Palestinians. Their imprisonment is a stark representation of the collective imprisonment of the Palestinian people – those living under occupation and apartheid in the West Bank and those under occupation and siege in Gaza.

Israel should be held accountable for all of this. Rights groups and the international community should pressure Israel to release Heba al-Labadi and all of her comrades, unlawfully held in Israeli prisons.

The Africa-Palestine Conference: Why South Africa Must Lead the Way 

On September 16, I visited South Africa, a country where many Palestinians have always felt welcomed, if not overwhelmed by the degree of genuine and meaningful solidarity.

While having the honor to address many audiences in six major cities, I have also learned a great deal. An important and sobering lesson is that while apartheid laws can be dismissed in a day, economic apartheid and massive inequality can linger on for many years. Thanks to my interactions with many South African intellectuals, activists and ordinary folk, I learned not to romanticize the South African struggle, a crucial lesson for those of us fighting to end Israeli apartheid in Palestine.

My hosts at the Afro-Middle East Center ensured that I met with diverse audiences, including top members of the African National Congress, the leadership of the country’s two major union groups, anti-apartheid scholars and activists, and a large number of students and other people throughout the country.

The main, obvious conclusion from all of these meetings and interactions is that South Africans are serious about their solidarity with Palestine, and that they see themselves as partners in the Palestinian struggle for justice and peace.

While South Africans are always ready to take their solidarity with Palestine to a whole new level, however, there is a general feeling that decisive political moves can prove costly for South Africa.

True, the South African government has taken several steps in the right direction. On May 14, 2018, Pretoria recalled its ambassador to Israel, Sisa Ngombane, to protest the killing of hundreds of unarmed protesters taking part in the Great March of Return in besieged Gaza. On April 5, 2019, it began to actively downgrade its ties with Israel, in response to a call made by the ANC leadership itself.

While these steps are significant, South Africa is yet to take the kind of action that, when combined with others measures of international solidarity, could finally force Israel to dismantle its system of Apartheid in Palestine.

The problem is not the lack of willingness nor that of diplomatic doublespeak. There is a growing, and justifiable, sense that Arab governments no longer see the liberation of Palestine as a common objective. While the Arab peoples remain committed in their support of Palestinians, Arab governments have fallen into warring camps and political divisions.

Yet, a top ANC leader told me that South Africa’s policy regarding Palestine is guided by the agendas of the Arab League and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Sadly, neither the Arab League nor the PLO are serving the roles they were entrusted with decades ago. The former is marred in divisions, and the latter has been effectively replaced by the provisional, factional Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.

Using ineffectual organizations as a legal and moral frame of reference is hurting South Africa’s chances of converting its solidarity with Palestine into tangible political assets.

The other dilemma is that the African continent itself is no longer united regarding Palestine. Israel has successively driven a wedge between African countries, which, at one point, were united in their unconditional support of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli military occupation and Apartheid.

Israel’s successes in Africa, especially through the penetration of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), have made Tel Aviv a political player on the African continent. Boosted by the welcome he received from various African leaders, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had hoped to hold the Israel-Africa Summit in October 2017. Thanks to the efforts of African countries like South Africa and Algeria, the conference was postponed.

If Israel continues to score political victories while facing little resistance, however, it will eventually dominate the African continent. The absurdity of this matter goes beyond the struggle in Palestine. A continent that was ravaged by colonialism, racism and apartheid should not embrace the likes of Israel, the exemplification of the very ills that have cost Africa so dearly for hundreds of years.

In fact, the issue of solidarity with Palestine, and the pressing need to block Israel’s scourges in Africa, are intrinsically linked. In this very link, South Africa can find a way to reclaim its natural role as a vanguard against racism and apartheid everywhere.

My suggestion to the ANC is that South Africa should update its frame of reference, moving away from tired clichés of a defunct, two-state solution and such, to a whole new way of thinking. And it should not go about doing it alone; all of Africa and all Palestinians should be part of this effort.

I strongly believe that South Africa is ready to counter Israel’s efforts on the continent by initiating an Africa-Palestine Conference, a major gathering that aims to harness all the solidarity for the Palestinian people throughout all African countries.

Whether the conference is held under the auspices of the African Union (AU) or independently, the gathering of like-minded African and Palestinian leaders, parliamentarians, scholars and civil society leaders can develop a new frame of reference, which South Africa, the African continent, and, in fact, the rest of the world can use as a guiding principle of new thinking on Palestine. Based on the call made by Palestinian civil society in 2005 to boycott Israel, the Palestinian people have been demanding and expecting this new thinking for at least 15 years.

Those who might find the idea that Africa can lead the way on forming a new, global understanding on Palestine far-fetched, need to remember that it was the Organization of African Unity’s resolution 77 (XII) of August 1975 that recognized and condemned the “organic link” between “the racist regime in occupied Palestine and the racist regime in Zimbabwe and South Africa”. That very resolution served as a major frame of reference used in UN Resolution 3379 of November 1975 that determined that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination”.

Africa must reclaim its position as a global leader in the fight against racism and apartheid, and South Africa is very qualified to spearhead these efforts, because, after all, as iconic South African leader Nelson Mandela once said, “We all know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”.