Tag Archives: palestine

Cultural Warriors: Why Palestine’s Sports Victories Should Inspire Us 

The Palestine National Football Team has, once more, done the seemingly impossible by qualifying for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. By any standards, this is a great achievement, especially as the Palestinians have done it with style and convincing victories over Mongolia, Yemen and the Philippines, without conceding a single goal. However, for Palestinians, this is hardly about sports.

This accomplishment can only be appreciated within the larger context of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

In November 2006, the Israeli military prevented all Palestine-based footballers from participating in the final match of the Asian Football Confederation qualification group stage. The news had a major demoralizing effect on all Palestinians. Even rare moments of hope and happiness are often crushed by Israel.

As disappointing as the Israeli decision was, it was hardly compared to the collective shock felt by Palestinians everywhere when, in 2007, Palestinian players were not allowed to participate in a decisive World Cup qualifying game against Singapore. Instead of showing solidarity with Palestinians and condemning Israel, the International Football Association (FIFA) decided to award an automatic victory to Singapore of 3-0.

This is why Palestine’s latest qualification is historic, as it is more proof that Palestinian resilience has no bounds. It sends a message to Israel as well, that its unjust draconian measures will never break the spirit of the Palestinian people.

The latest achievement should also be placed within another context. It is the third time in a row that the Palestine national team qualifies for the Asian cup finals, thanks to an impressive squad that represents all Palestinian communities, at home and in the Diaspora.

This moment, however, is bittersweet. Many Palestinian footballers, who should have been present in the Sports Center Stadium in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia – where the qualification rounds were held – were missing. Some are in Israeli prisons, others are maimed or killed. Much of the killings happened in 2009.

Indeed, 2009 was a terrible year for Palestinian football.

In January 2009, three Palestinian footballers, Ayman Alkurd, Shadi Sbakhe and Wajeh Moshtaha, were killed during the Israeli war on the besieged Gaza Strip. All three were seen as promising athletes with bright futures.

Two months later, Saji Darwish was killed by an Israeli sniper near Ramallah. The 18-year-old was slated to become a big name in Palestinian football, too.

In July of that same year, the tragedy of Mahmoud Sarsak began. Sarsak had only been a member of the Palestine National Football Team for six months when he was arrested and tortured by Israel in a painful saga that lasted for three years. He won his freedom after undergoing a hunger strike that lasted for over 90 days. The permanent health issues Sarsak was left with, however, meant that his once-promising sports career was over.

Arrests, torture and killings of Palestinian footballers became a regular headline in Palestine. This includes the killing of former Palestinian football star, Ahed Zaqqut, in 2014, and the deliberate shooting of the feet of Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, and Adam Abd Al Raouf Halabiya, 17. The two players were attempting to cross an Israeli military checkpoint in the occupied West Bank to return home after a long training session.

These are but mere examples. The targeting of Palestinian sports is a constant item on the Israeli military agenda. Palestinian stadiums are often bombed during Israel’s brutal wars on Gaza. In 2019, the Israeli military attacked Al Khader Stadium in Bethlehem by lobbing tear gas at players during the match. Five players were hospitalized, as hundreds of fans rushed out of the stadium in panic. In 2019, Palestinians couldn’t hold the much-anticipated Palestine Cup final match, because Israel prevented the Gaza-based Khadamat Rafah team from traveling to the West Bank to compete against the FC Balata team. And so on.

Like every aspect of Palestinian life that can easily be disrupted by Israel, the Palestinian sports community learned to be resilient and resourceful. The Palestine National Football Team is the perfect example of this tenacity. When Gazan players are prevented from traveling, West Bankers come to the rescue. And when West Bank players suffer a setback of their own, Palestinian players in the Diaspora are dispatched to take their place. Luckily, Palestinian footballers, the likes of  Oday Dabbagh, are now gaining prominence in the international arena, giving them the chance to be available whenever duty calls.

When Palestine defeated Mongolia 1-0 in the Asian Cup qualifiers on June 8, Palestinian media reported about the sense of euphoria and hope felt throughout Palestine. But when the Palestinian team, known as the Fida’i – meaning the freedom fighter – won two more games with convincing victories of 5-0 and 4-0, hope turned into a real possibility that Palestine could perform well in the Asian Cup finals scheduled for June 2023. And maybe, the Fida’i could have a chance at World Cup qualifications for 2026.

For Palestinians, sports – especially football – remains a powerful platform of cultural resistance. Every aspect of a Palestinian football match attests to this claim. The names of the team, the chants of the fans, the images embroidered on the players’ jerseys and much more, are symbols of Palestinian resistance: names of martyrs, colors of the flag and so on. In Palestine, football is a political act.

While Israel uses sports to normalize itself and its apartheid regime in the eyes of the world, Tel Aviv does everything possible to impede Palestinian sports because Israel understands, and rightly so, that Palestinian sports is, at its core, an act of resistance.

It is heartbreaking to think that Ayman Alkurd, Shadi Sbakhe, Wajeh Moshtaha, Saji Darwish and others were not there to witness the celebrations of their beloved team’s qualification to a major international tournament. But it is the spirit of these valiant cultural warriors that continues to guide the Fida’i in their struggle for recognition, their fight for dignity and their quest for glory.

The post Cultural Warriors: Why Palestine’s Sports Victories Should Inspire Us  first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Ethnic Cleansing of Masafer Yatta: Israel’s New Annexation Strategy in Palestine

The Israeli Supreme Court has decided that the Palestinian region of Masafer Yatta, located in the southern hills of Hebron, is to be entirely appropriated by the Israeli military and that a population of over 1,000 Palestinians is to be expelled.

The Israeli Court decision, on May 4, was hardly shocking. Israel’s military occupation does not only consist of soldiers with guns, but elaborate political, military, economic and legal structures, dedicated to the expansion of the illegal Jewish settlements and the slow – and sometimes not-so-slow – expulsion of the Palestinians.

When Palestinians state that the Nakba, or Catastrophe – which led to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 and the establishment of the state of Israel on its ruins – is a continuous, unfinished project, they mean exactly that. The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from East Jerusalem and the endless torment of Palestinian Bedouins in the Naqab and, now in Masafer Yatta, are all testaments to this reality.

However, Masafer Yatta is particularly unique. In the case of occupied East Jerusalem, for example, Israel has made a fallacious, ahistorical claim that Jerusalem is the eternal and undivided capital of the Jewish people. It combined its unsubstantiated narrative with military action on the ground, followed by a systematic process that aimed at increasing the Jewish population and ejecting the original native inhabitants of the city. Such notions as ‘Greater Jerusalem’ and legal and political structures, like that of the Jerusalem Master Plan 2000, have all contribute towards turning the once absolute Palestinian majority in Jerusalem into a shrinking minority.

With the Naqab, Israel’s similar objectives were put into motion as early as 1948, and again in 1951. This process of ethnically cleansing the natives remains in effect to this day.

Though Masafer Yatta is part of the same colonial designs, its uniqueness stems from the fact that it is situated in Area C of the occupied West Bank.

In July 2020, Israel purportedly decided to postpone its plans to annex nearly 40% of the West Bank, perhaps fearing a Palestinian rebellion and unwanted international condemnation. However, the plan continued in practice.

Moreover, a wholesome annexation of West Bank regions would mean that Israel would become responsible for the welfare of entire Palestinian communities. As a settler-colonial state, Israel wants the land, but not the people. In Tel Aviv’s calculation, annexation without the expulsion of the population could lead to a demographic nightmare; thus, Israel’s need to reinvent its annexation plan.

Though Israel has supposedly delayed the de jure annexation, it continued with a de facto form of annexation, one that has generated little international media attention.

The Israeli Court’s decision regarding Masafer Yatta, which is already being carried out with the expulsion of the Najjar family on May 11, is an important step towards the annexation of Area C.  If Israel can evict the residents of twelve villages, with a population of over 1,000 Palestinians, unhindered, more such expulsions are anticipated, not only south of Hebron, but throughout the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian villagers of Masafer Yatta and their legal representation know very well that no real ‘justice’ can be obtained from the Israeli court system. They continue to fight the legal war, anyway, in the hope that a combination of factors, including solidarity in Palestine and pressure from the outside, can ultimately succeed in compelling Israel to delay its planned destruction and Judaization of the whole region.

However, it seems that Palestinian efforts, which have been underway since 1997, are failing. The Israeli Supreme Court decision is predicated on the erroneous and utterly bizarre notion that the Palestinians of that area could not demonstrate that they belonged there prior to 1980, when the Israeli government decided to turn the area into ‘Firing Zone 918’.

Sadly, the Palestinian defense was partly based on documents from the Jordanian era and official United Nations records that reported on Israeli attacks on several Masafer Yatta villages in 1966. The Jordanian government, which administered the West Bank until 1967, compensated some of the residents for the loss of their ‘stone houses’ – not tents – animals and other properties that were destroyed by the Israeli military. Palestinians tried to use this evidence to show that they have existed, not as nomadic people but as rooted communities. This was unconvincing to the Israeli court, which favored the military’s argument over the rights of the native population.

Israeli firing zones occupy nearly 18 percent of the total size of the West Bank. It is one of several ploys used by the Israeli government to lay a legal claim on Palestinian land and to, eventually, years later, claim legal ownership as well. Many of these firing zones exist in Area C, and are being used as one of the Israeli methods aimed at officially appropriating Palestinian land with the support of the Israeli courts.

Now that the Israeli military has managed to acquire Masafer Yatta – a region spanning 32 to 56 sq km – based on completely flimsy excuses, it will become much easier in ensuring the ethnic cleansing of many similar communities in various parts of occupied Palestine.

While discussions and media coverage of Israel’s annexation scheme in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley have largely subsided, Israel is now preparing for a gradual annexation scheme. Instead of annexing 40% of the West Bank all at once, Israel is now annexing smaller tracts of land and regions, like Masafer Yatta, separately. Tel Aviv will eventually connect all these annexed areas through Jewish-only bypass roads to larger Jewish settlement infrastructures in the West Bank.

Not only does this alternative strategy allow Israel to avoid international criticism, it will also permit Israel to eventually annex Palestinian land while incrementally expelling Palestinians, helping Tel Aviv prevent demographic imbalances before they occur.

What is happening in Masafer Yatta is not only the largest ethnic cleansing scheme to be carried out by Israel since 1967, but the move should be considered a first step in a much larger scheme of illegal land appropriation, ethnic cleansing and official mass annexation.

Israel must not succeed in Masafer Yatta, because if it does, its original, mass annexation scheme will become a reality in no time.

The post The Ethnic Cleansing of Masafer Yatta: Israel’s New Annexation Strategy in Palestine first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Constantly on the Verge of Collapse: How Palestinians Became a Factor in Israeli Politics

Israel’s coalition government of right-wing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is on the verge of collapse, which is unsurprising. Israeli politics, after all, is among the most fractious in the world, and this particular coalition was born out of the obsessive desire to dethrone Israel’s former leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.

While Netanyahu was successfully ousted in June 2021, Bennett’s coalition has been left to contend with the painful reality that its odd political components have very little in common.

On April 6, Israeli lawmaker Ildit Salman defected from the coalition, leaving Bennett and his temporary allies wrangling with the fact that their Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) coalition no longer has a majority. Now that the Knesset count stands at 60-60, a single defection could potentially send Israelis back to the voting booth, which has been quite habitual recently.

Two current Bennett allies, Abir Kara and Bir Orbach, are possible defectors. Even Bennett’s old Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) partner, Ayelet Shaked, could ultimately betray him, once his coalition ship begins sinking. And it is.

Both Bennett and Shaked left the Jewish Home in 2018 to form Yamina. Although the latter won only seven seats in the March 2021 elections, the far-right party proved to be the kingmaker, which allowed the anti-Netanyahu coalition to be formed. The only alternative to this current coalition would have been a government in which Netanyahu and Bennett would alternate the prime minister post. Though Bennett is a protegé of Netanyahu, the current prime minister knew too well that his former boss cannot be trusted.

So, instead, Bennett opted to join a hotchpotch coalition of political desperados, each joining an unlikely government for simply having no other option. For example, Yesh Atid (17 seats), and Kahol Lavan (8 seats), once part of the Blue and White center-right coalition, betrayed their political base by joining far-right Yamina and, consequently, leaving behind Telem of Moshe Yalon, which now has no Knesset representation.

The same can be said of Labor (7 seats) and Meretz (6 seats) who, earlier, were the backbone of the Israeli political establishment – in 1992 they had 56 seats combined. Losing faith in their own political base, they opted to join their supposed ideological nemesis, instead of enduring the painstaking process of breathing life into a dying camp.

The captivating part of the story is the United Arab List of Mansour Abbas, which is rightly perceived to have betrayed its Arab base in Israel and its own Palestinian people everywhere else. As the Israeli army is cracking down on Palestinian communities throughout historic Palestine, including Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Naqab – Mansour Abbas’ own base – this strange political creature remains committed to Bennett, though nervous about future possibilities, especially that the nature of the Israeli attacks on Palestinians are increasingly shifting towards a religious war.

Consequently, it is hard to imagine that Bennett’s government could realistically survive till 2025. In fact, it is quite rare in Israeli politics that any government coalition has served its full four-year term. Still, Israel’s historic political instability is worsening. In fact, Bennett’s government is the outcome of an agonizing political process that saw Israeli voters cast their votes in four different general elections in only two years.

Perhaps, what is keeping Bennett’s coalition together, though precariously, is the menacing image of Netanyahu, the current opposition leader, sinisterly watching from across the Knesset aisles while waiting for the right opportunity to pounce. Some Israeli analysts even argue that the defection of MK Salman was largely instigated by the abuse and intimidation she received from Netanyahu’s Likud party, which saw her as a traitor to their right-wing agenda.

Regardless of the fate of Bennett’s government, Israel’s political crisis will continue indefinitely, and there are reasons for this.

Though the Israeli right has dominated the country’s politics for many years, especially since 1996, it remains fractious and opportunistic. The constant need to feed the insatiable appetite of the country’s powerful right-wing constituency keeps pushing Israel’s right-wing parties further to the right. They are merely united around such values as the racial and religious supremacy of Israeli Jews, their hate for Palestinians and Arabs, the desire to expand the illegal Jewish settlements and the rejection of any mediated solution that would provide Palestinians with their basic human rights.

The left in Israel is, frankly, not a left at all. It is recognized as such, largely because of its ‘peace-process’ legacy, which died with the assassination of Labor Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in 1995. Tellingly, Rabin was not a peacenik but one of Israel’s most militant and violent leaders. However, the erroneous association, linking any Israeli leader with the ‘peace process’, automatically classified that individual as a ‘leftist’. According to Israeli analyst Oz Aruch, this also applied to Ariel Sharon. The name of the late notorious Israeli prime minister and Army General is associated with the Sabra and Shatila massacre, along with other horrific episodes.

Without a real ideology and without a ‘peace process’, or even the desire to engage in one, the Israeli left has become irrelevant.

The same applies to the center which, by definition, is the political camp that occupies the space between the right and the left. With the right being in constant redefinition and the left having no strong ideological base, the Israeli center has proven equally hopeless. The outcome of the April 2019 elections, when the center coalition Blue and White obtained 35 seats, should have been a watershed moment for Israel’s political center. This ultimately culminated to nil, and eventually led to the collapse of Blue and White itself.

While this is taking place in Israel, the Palestinian body politic has been slowly reanimating. Though Palestinian Arab parties in Israel remain divided, and Palestinian groups in the occupied territories are yet to find their common ground, Palestinian communities, especially the younger generations, have been articulating a new political discourse. With grassroots leaderships, they are coordinating their actions from occupied Jerusalem to Gaza, to the Naqab to the West Bank and to Palestinian communities in Israel itself.

For the first time in many years, Israel finds itself in a position where it is no longer the only party that is shaping events or determining outcomes in the country. Therefore, Israeli political instability will worsen. Contrastingly, Palestinians are finally becoming a factor in Israeli politics and, through their popular resistance, can mobilize to put pressure on Israel as has been the case in recent years.

Israel is now facing the dilemma of either ignoring this new Palestinian factor, at its own peril, or accepting the inescapable fact that Israel can never enjoy stability while Palestinians remain occupied, confined and oppressed.

The post Constantly on the Verge of Collapse: How Palestinians Became a Factor in Israeli Politics first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Shireen Abu Akleh was executed to send a message to Palestinians

The execution of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by an Israeli soldier in the Palestinian city of Jenin, along with Israel‘s immediate efforts to muddy the waters about who was responsible and the feeble expressions of concern from western capitals, brought memories flooding back from 20 years of reporting from the region.

Unlike Abu Akleh, I found myself far less often on the front lines in the occupied territories. I was not a war correspondent, and when I ended up close to the action it was invariably by accident – such as when, also in Jenin, my Palestinian taxi turned into a street only to find ourselves staring down the barrel of an Israeli tank. Judging by the speed and skill with which my driver navigated in reverse, it was not his first time dealing with that kind of roadblock.

Abu Akleh reported on far too many killings of Palestinians not to have known the risks she faced as a journalist every time she donned a flak jacket. It was a kind of nerve I did not share.

According to a recent report by Reporters Without Borders, at least 144 Palestinian journalists have been wounded by Israeli forces in the occupied territories since 2018. Three, including Abu Akleh, have been killed in the same period.

I spent part of my time in the region visiting the scenes of Palestinian deaths, trying to pick through the conflicting Palestinian and Israeli narratives to get a clearer understanding of what had actually happened. Abu Akleh’s killing, and Israel’s response, fit a pattern consistent with what I discovered when carrying out those investigations.

It was no surprise, then, to hear Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett immediately blame Palestinians for her death. There was, he said, “a considerable chance that armed Palestinians, who fired wildly, were the ones who brought about the journalist’s unfortunate death”.

Settling scores

Abu Akleh was a face familiar not only to the Arab world that devours news from Palestine, but to most of the Israeli combat soldiers who “raid” – a euphemism for attack – Palestinian communities such as Jenin.

The soldiers who shot at her and the group of Palestinian journalists she was with knew they were firing at members of the media. But there also appears to be evidence suggesting one or more of the soldiers identified her specifically as a target.

Palestinians are rightly suspicious that the bullet hole just below the edge of her metal helmet was not a one-in-a-million chance event. It looked like a precision shot intended to kill her – the reason why Palestinian officials are calling her death “deliberate”.

For as long as I can remember, Israel has been trying to find pretexts to shut down Al Jazeera’s coverage, often by banning its reporters or denying them press passes. Infamously, last May, it bombed a tower block in Gaza that housed the station’s offices.

Indeed, Abu Akleh was most likely shot precisely because she was a high-profile Al Jazeera reporter, known for her fearless reporting of Israeli crimes. Both the army and its soldiers bear grudges, and they have lethal weapons with which to settle scores.

‘Friendly fire’

Israel’s suggestion that she was targeted by, or was collateral damage from, Palestinian gunfire should be treated with the disdain it deserves. At least with the advantage of modern GPS and satellite imagery, this kind of standard-issue dissembling is becoming easier to rebut.

The “friendly fire” defence is straight out of the playbook Israel uses whenever it cannot resort to its preferred retrospective rationalisation for killing Palestinians: that they were armed and “posed an immediate danger to soldiers”.

That was a lesson I learned in my first months in the region. I arrived in 2001 to investigate events during the first days of the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, when Israeli police killed 13 protesters. Those killings, unlike parallel events taking place in the occupied territories, targeted members of a large Palestinian minority that lives inside Israel and has a very inferior citizenship.

At the outbreak of the Intifada in late 2000, Palestinian citizens had taken to the streets in unprecedented numbers to protest the Israeli army’s killing of their compatriots in the occupied territories.

They were enraged, in particular, by footage from Gaza captured by France 2 TV. It showed a father desperately trying to shield his 12-year-old son, Muhammad al-Durrah, as they were trapped by Israeli gunfire at a road intersection. Muhammad was killed and his father, Jamal, seriously wounded.

On that occasion too, Israel tried its best to cloud what had happened – and carried on doing so for many years. It variously blamed Palestinians for killing Durrah, claimed the scene had been staged, or suggested the boy was actually alive and unharmed. It did so even over the protests of the French TV crew.

Palestinian children were being killed elsewhere in the occupied territories, but those deaths were rarely captured so viscerally on film. And when they were, it was usually on the primitive personal digital cameras of the time. Israel and its apologists casually dismissed such grainy footage as “Pallywood” – a conflation of Palestinian and Hollywood – to suggest it was faked.

Shot from behind

The Israeli deceptions over al-Durrah’s death echoed what was happening inside Israel. Police there were also shooting recklessly at the large demonstrations erupting, even though protesters were unarmed and had Israeli citizenship. Not only were 13 Palestinians killed, but hundreds more were wounded, with some horrifically maimed.

In one incident, Israeli Jews from Upper Nazareth – some of them armed, off-duty police officers – marched on the neighbouring Palestinian city of Nazareth, where I was based. Mosque loudspeakers called on Nazareth’s residents to come out and protect their homes. There followed a long, tense stand-off between the two sides at a road junction between the communities.

Police stood alongside the invaders, watched over by Israeli snipers positioned atop a tall building in Upper Nazareth, facing Nazareth residents massed below.

The police insisted that the Palestinians leave first. Faced with so many weapons, the crowds from Nazareth eventually relented and headed back home. At that point, police snipers opened fire, shooting several men in the back. Two, who were hit in the head, were killed instantly.

Those executions were witnessed by the hundreds of Palestinians there, as well as by police and by all those who had tried to invade Nazareth. And yet, the official police story ignored the sequence of events. Police said the fact that the two Palestinian men had been shot in the back of the head was proof they had been killed by other Palestinians, not police snipers.

Commanders claimed, without producing any evidence or conducting a forensic investigation, that Palestinian gunmen had been hiding behind the men and shot them by mistake while aiming for police. It was a blatant lie, but one that the authorities held to through a subsequent judicial-led inquiry.

Balance of power

As was the case with Abu Akleh, those two men’s deaths were not – as Israel would like us to believe – an unfortunate incident, with innocents caught in the crossfire.

Like Abu Akleh, those Nazareth men were executed in cold blood by Israel. It was intended as a stark message to all Palestinians about where the balance of power resides, and as a warning to submit, to keep quiet, to know their place.

The people of Nazareth defied those strictures in coming out to protect their city. Abu Akleh did the same by turning up day after day for more than two decades to report on the injustices, crimes and horrors of living under Israeli occupation. Both were acts of peaceful resistance to oppression, and both were viewed by Israel as equivalent to terrorism.

We will never be able to conclude whether Abu Akleh or those two men died because of the actions of a hot-headed Israeli soldier, or because the shooter was given an instruction by senior officers to use an execution as a teaching moment for other Palestinians.

But we do not need to know which it is. Because it keeps on happening, and because Israel keeps on doing nothing to stop it, or to identify and punish those responsible.

Because killing Palestinians – unpredictably, even randomly – fits perfectly with the goals of an occupying power intent on eroding any sense of safety or normality for Palestinians, an occupier determined to terrorise them into departure, bit by bit, from their homeland.

Taught a lesson

Abu Akleh was one of a small number of Palestinians from the occupied territories who have American citizenship. That, and her fame in the Arab world, are two reasons why officials in Washington felt duty-bound to express sadness at her killing and issue a formulaic call for a “thorough investigation”.

But Abu Akleh’s US passport was no more able to save her from Israeli retribution than that of Rachel Corrie, murdered in 2003 by an Israeli bulldozer driver as she tried to protect Palestinian homes in Gaza. Similarly, Tom Hurndall’s British passport did not stop him from being shot in the head as he tried to protect Palestinian children in Gaza from Israeli gunfire. Nor did filmmaker James Miller’s British passport prevent an Israeli soldier from executing him in 2003 in Gaza, as he documented Israel’s assault on the tiny, overcrowded enclave.

All were seen as having taken a side by acting as witnesses and by refusing to remain quiet as Palestinians suffered – and for that reason, they and those who thought like them had to be taught a lesson.

It worked. Soon, the contingent of foreign volunteers – those who had come to Palestine to record Israel’s atrocities and serve, when necessary, as human shields to protect Palestinians from a trigger-happy Israeli army – were gone. Israel denounced the International Solidarity Movement for supporting terrorism, and given the clear threat to their lives, the pool of volunteers gradually dried up.

The executions – whether committed by hot-headed soldiers or approved by the army – served their purpose once again.

Error of judgment

I was the only journalist to investigate the first in this spate of executions of foreigners early in the Second Intifada. Iain Hook, a Briton working for UNRWA, the United Nations refugee agency, was shot dead in late 2002 by an Israeli sniper in Jenin – the same northern West Bank city where Abu Akleh would be executed 20 years later.

Just as with Abu Akleh, the official Israeli story was designed to turn the focus away from what was clearly an Israeli execution to shift the blame to Palestinians.

During yet another of Israel’s “raids” into Jenin, Hook and his staff, along with Palestinian children attending an UNRWA school, had taken shelter inside the sealed compound.

Israel’s story was a concoction of lies that could be easily disproven, though no foreign journalist apart from me ever bothered to go to the site to check. And with more limited opportunities in those days, I struggled to find an outlet willing to publish my investigation.

Israel claimed its sniper, overlooking the compound from a third-floor window, had seen Palestinians break into the compound. According to this version, the sniper mistook the distinctive, tall, pale, red-headed, 54-year-old Hook for a Palestinian gunman, even though the sniper had been watching the UN official through telescopic sights for more than an hour.

To bolster its preposterous story, Israel also claimed the sniper had mistaken Hook’s mobile phone for a hand grenade, and was worried he was about to throw it out of the compound towards the Israeli soldiers on the street outside.

Except, as the sniper would have known, that was impossible. The compound was sealed, with a high concrete wall, a petrol station forecourt-style awning as a roof, and thick chicken wire covering the space between. Had Hook thrown his phone-grenade at the street outside, it would have bounced right back at him. If it were really a grenade, he would have blown himself up.

The truth was that Hook had made an error of judgment. Surrounded by Israeli troops and Palestinian fighters hidden in alleyways nearby, and exasperated by Israel’s refusal to allow his staff and the children safe passage out, he opened the gate and tried to plead with the soldiers outside.

As he did so, a Palestinian gunman emerged from an alley close by and fired towards an Israeli armoured vehicle. No one was hurt. Hook fled back into the compound and sealed it again.

But the Israeli soldiers outside now had a grudge against the UN official. One of them decided to use a bullet to Hook’s head to settle the score.

Bad faith

The UN was obliged to carry out a detailed investigation into Hook’s killing. Abu Akleh’s loved ones will be unlikely to have the same advantage. In fact, Israeli police made a point of “raiding” her home in occupied East Jerusalem to disrupt the family’s mourning, demanding that a Palestinian flag be taken down. Another message sent.

Israel is already insisting on access to the forensic evidence – as though a murderer has a right to be the one to investigate his own crime.

But in fact, even in Hook’s case, the UN investigation was quietly shelved. Accusing Israel of executing a UN official would have forced the international body into a dangerous confrontation both with Israel and with the United States. Hook’s killing was hushed up, and no one was brought to book.

Nothing better can be expected for Abu Akleh. There will be noises about an investigation. Israel will blame the Palestinian Authority for not cooperating, as it is already doing. Washington will express tepid concern but do nothing. Behind the scenes, the US will help Israel block any meaningful investigation.

For the US and Europe, routine statements of “sadness” and calls for investigation are not intended to make sure light is shed on what happened. That could only embarrass a strategic ally needed to project western power into the oil-rich Middle East.

No, these half-hearted declarations from western capitals are meant to defuse and confuse. They are intended to take the wind out any backlash; indicate western impartiality, and save the blushes of complicit Arab regimes; suggest there is a legal process that Israel adheres to; and subvert efforts by Palestinians and the human rights community to refer these war crimes to international bodies, such as the Hague court.

The truth is that a decades-long occupation can only survive through wanton – sometimes random, sometimes carefully calibrated – acts of terror to keep the subject population fearful and subdued. When the occupation is sponsored by the main global superpower, there is absolute impunity for those who oversee that reign of terror.

Abu Akleh is the latest victim. But these executions will continue so long as Israel and its soldiers are shielded from accountability.

First published in Middle East Eye

The post Shireen Abu Akleh was executed to send a message to Palestinians first appeared on Dissident Voice.

By Redefining UNRWA, Washington Destroys the Foundation for a Just Peace in Palestine 

Palestinians are justifiably worried that the mandate granted to the United Nations Agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, might be coming to an end. UNRWA’s mission, which has been in effect since 1949, has done more than provide urgent aid and support to millions of refugees. It was also a political platform that protected and preserved the rights of several generations of Palestinians.

Though UNRWA was not established as a political or legal platform, per se, the context of its mandate was largely political, since Palestinians became refugees as a result of military and political events – the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people by Israel and the latter’s refusal to respect the Right of Return for Palestinians as enshrined in UN resolution 194 (III) of December 11, 1948.

“UNRWA has a humanitarian and development mandate to provide assistance and protection to Palestine refugees pending a just and lasting solution to their plight,” the UN General Assembly Resolution 302 (IV) of December 8, 1949 read. Alas, neither a ‘lasting solution’ to the plight of the refugees, nor even a political horizon has been achieved. Instead of using this realization as a way to revisit the international community’s failure to bring justice to Palestine and to hold Israel and its US benefactors accountable, it is UNRWA and, by extension, the refugees that are being punished.

In a stern warning on April 24, the head of the political committee at the Palestinian National Council (PNC), Saleh Nasser said that UNRWA’s mandate might be coming to an end. Nasser referenced a recent statement by the UN body’s Commissioner-General, Philippe Lazzarini, about the future of the organization.

Lazzarini’s statement, published a day earlier, left room for some interpretation, though it was clear that something fundamental regarding the status, mandate and work of UNRWA is about to change. “We can admit that the current situation is untenable and will inevitably result in the erosion of the quality of the UNRWA services or, worse, to their interruption,” Lazzarini said.

Commenting on the statement, Nasser said that this “is a prelude to donors stopping their funding for UNRWA.”

The subject of UNRWA’s future is now a priority within the Palestinian, but also Arab political discourse. Any attempts at canceling or redefining UNRWA’s mission will pose a serious, if not an unprecedented, challenge for Palestinians. UNRWA provides educational, health and other support for 5.6 million Palestinians in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. At an annual budget of $1.6 billion, this support, and the massive network that has been created by the organization, cannot be easily replaced.

Equally important is the political nature of the organization. The very existence of UNRWA means that there is a political issue that must be addressed regarding the plight and future of Palestinian refugees. In fact, it is not the mere lack of enthusiasm to finance the organization that has caused the current crisis. It is something bigger, and far more sinister.

In June 2018, Jared Kushner, son-in-law and advisor to former US President Donald Trump, visited Amman, Jordan, where he, according to the US Foreign Policy magazine, tried to persuade Jordan’s King Abdullah to remove the refugee status from 2 million Palestinians currently living in the country.

This and other attempts have failed. In September 2018, Washington, under the Trump administration, decided to cease its financial support of UNRWA. As the organization’s main funder, the American decision was devastating, because about 30 percent of UNRWA’s money comes from the US alone. Yet, UNRWA hobbled along by increasing its reliance on the private sector and individual donations.

Though the Palestinian leadership celebrated the Biden Administration’s decision to resume UNRWA’s funding on April 7, 2021, a little caveat in Washington’s move was largely kept secret. Washington only agreed to fund UNRWA after the latter agreed to sign a two-year plan, known as Framework for Cooperation. In essence, the plan effectively turned UNRWA into a platform for Israel and American policies in Palestine, whereby the UN body consented to US – thus Israeli – demands to ensure that no aid would reach any Palestinian refugee who has received military training “as a member of the so-called Palestinian Liberation Army”, other organizations or “has engaged in any act of terrorism”. Moreover, the Framework expects UNRWA to monitor “Palestinian curriculum content”.

By entering into an agreement with the US Department of State, “UNRWA has effectively transformed itself from a humanitarian agency that provides assistance and relief to Palestinian refugees, to a security agency furthering the security and political agenda of the US, and ultimately Israel,” BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights noted.

Palestinian protests, however, did not change the new reality, which effectively altered the entire mandate granted to UNRWA by the international community nearly 73 years ago. Worse, European countries followed suit when, last September, the European parliament advanced an amendment that would condition EU support of UNRWA on the editing and rewriting of Palestinian school text books that, supposedly, ‘incite violence’ against Israel.

Instead of focusing solely on shutting down UNRWA immediately, the US, Israel and their supporters are working to change the nature of the organization’s mission and to entirely rewrite its original mandate. The agency that was established to protect the rights of the refugees, is now expected to protect Israeli, American and western interests in Palestine.

Though UNRWA was never an ideal organization, it has indeed succeeded in helping millions of Palestinians throughout the years, while preserving the political nature of their plight.

Though the Palestinian Authority, various political factions, Arab governments and others have protested the Israeli-American designs against UNRWA, such protestations are unlikely to make much difference, considering that UNRWA itself is surrendering to outside pressures. While Palestinians, Arabs and their allies must continue to fight for UNRWA’s original mission, they must urgently develop alternative plans and platforms that would shield Palestinian refugees and their Right of Return from becoming marginal and, eventually, forgotten.

If Palestinian refugees are removed from the list of political priorities concerning the future of a just peace in Palestine, neither justice nor peace can possibly be attained.

The post By Redefining UNRWA, Washington Destroys the Foundation for a Just Peace in Palestine  first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Bennett Must Tread Carefully: The ‘Sword of Jerusalem’ Could Be Unleashed Again

Starting on April 15, the Israeli occupation army and police raided Al-Aqsa Mosque in Occupied East Jerusalem on a daily basis. Under the pretence of providing protection to provocative ‘visits’ by thousands of illegal Israeli Jewish settlers and right-wing fanatics, the Israeli army has wounded hundreds of Palestinians, including journalists, and arrested hundreds more.

Palestinians understand that the current attacks on Al-Aqsa carry deeper political and strategic meanings for Israel than previous raids.

Al-Aqsa has experienced routine raids by Israeli forces under various guises in the past. However, the significance of the Mosque has acquired additional meanings in recent years, especially following the popular Palestinian rebellion, mass protests, clashes and a war on Gaza last May, which Palestinians tellingly refer to as Saif Al Quds – Operation Sword of Jerusalem.

Historically, Haram Al-Sharif – or the Noble Sanctuary – has been at the heart of popular struggle in Palestine, as well as at the center of Israeli policies. Located in the Old City of Occupied East Jerusalem, the Sanctuary is considered one of the holiest sites for all Muslims. It has a special place in Islam, as it has been mentioned in the Holy Quran and frequently in the Hadith – the Sayings of Prophet Mohammed. The compound contains several historic mosques and 17 gates, along with other important Islamic sites. Al-Aqsa is one of these mosques.

But for Palestinians, the significance of Al-Aqsa has gained additional meaning due to the Israeli occupation which, throughout the years, has targeted Palestinian mosques, churches and other holy sites. For example, during the 2014 Israeli war on the besieged Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs said that 203 mosques were damaged by Israeli bombs, with 73 being completely destroyed.

Therefore, Palestinian Muslims, but also Christians, consider Al-Aqsa, the Sanctuary and other Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem, a red line that must not be crossed by Israel. Generation after generation, they have mobilized to protect the sites though, at times, they could not, including in 1969 when Australian Jewish extremist, Denis Michael Rohan carried out an arson attack in Al-Aqsa.

Even the recent raids on the Mosque were not confined to the bodily harm and mass arrest of worshippers. On April 15, the second Friday of Ramadan, much destruction took place at Al-Aqsa, where the Mosque’s famous stained-glass windows were shattered and furniture inside was left broken.

The raids on the Haram Al-Sharif continue, at the time of writing of this article. The Jewish extremists are feeling increasingly empowered by the protection they are receiving from the Israeli military, and the blank check provided to them by influential Israeli politicians. Many of the raids are often led by far-right Israeli Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir, Likud politician Yehuda Glick and former government minister Uri Ariel.

Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, is undoubtedly using the raids on Al-Aqsa as a way to keep his often rebellious far right and religious constituency in line. The sudden resignation on April 6 of Idit Silman, a member of the Yamina right-wing party, left Bennett even more desperate in his attempt to breathe life in his fractious coalition. Once a leader of the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization of West Bank illegal settlements, Bennett rose to power on the back of religious zealots, whether in Israel or in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Losing support of the settlers could simply cost him his post.

Bennett’s behavior is consistent with those of previous Israeli leaders, who have escalated violence in Al-Aqsa as a way to distract from their own political woes, or to appeal to Israel’s powerful constituency of right-wing and religious extremists. In September 2000, then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon raided the Mosque with thousands of Israeli soldiers, police and like-minded extremists. He did so to provoke a Palestinian response, and to topple the government of his archenemy Ehud Barak. Sharon succeeded, but at a high price, as his ‘visit’ unleashed the five-year long Second Palestinian Intifada, also known as Al-Aqsa Intifada.

In 2017, thousands of Palestinians protested an Israeli attempt at installing ‘security cameras’ at the entrances of the holy shrine. The measure was also an attempt by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appease his right-wing supporters. But the mass protests in Jerusalem and the subsequent Palestinian unity at the time forced Israel to cancel its plans.

This time around, however, Palestinians fear that Israel aims at more than just mere provocations. Israel plans to “impose a temporal and spatial division of Al-Aqsa Mosque”, according to Adnan Ghaith, the Palestinian Authority’s top representative in East Jerusalem. This particular phrase, ‘temporal and spatial division’, is also used by many Palestinians, as they fear a repeat of the Ibrahimi Mosque scenario.

Following the killing of 29 worshippers in 1994 at the hands of an Israeli Jewish extremist, Baruch Goldstein, and the subsequent killing of many more Palestinians by the Israeli army at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron (Al-Khalil), Israel partitioned the mosque. It allocated a larger space to the Jewish settlers while restricting access to Palestinians, who are allowed to pray at certain times and barred at others. This is precisely what Palestinians mean by temporal and spatial division, which has been at the heart of Israeli strategy for many years.

Bennett, however, must tread carefully. Palestinians today are more united in their resistance and awareness of the Israeli designs than at any other time in the past. An important component of this unity is the Palestinian Arab population in historic Palestine, who are now championing a similar political discourse as that of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In fact, many of the defenders of Al-Aqsa come from these very communities. If Israel continues with its provocations in Al-Aqsa, it risks another Palestinian revolt as that of May, which tellingly started in East Jerusalem.

Appealing to right-wing voters by attacking, humiliating and provoking Palestinians is no longer an easy task, as was often the case. As the ‘Sword of Jerusalem’ has taught us, Palestinians are now capable of responding in a unified fashion and, despite their limited means, even put pressure on Israel to reverse its policies. Bennett must remember this before carrying out any more violent provocations.

 

The post Bennett Must Tread Carefully: The ‘Sword of Jerusalem’ Could Be Unleashed Again first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Liberal budget funds apologists for Israeli crimes

As more and more Canadians, including university students across the country, oppose Israel’s apartheid policies. the Liberals devoted millions of dollars in the recent federal budget to strengthen anti-Palestinian forces.

They put up $5.6 million over five years for Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism. The position was created a year and a half ago for one of Canada’s chief apartheid apologists, Irwin Cotler. A staunch proponent of Israeli colonialism, Cotler has a home in Israel and his daughter was recently a member of the Knesset. In response to a recent speech Cotler delivered at the University of Toronto’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine, 45 faculty members sent the Dean a letter saying the event “reinforced anti-Palestinian racism in a way that is consistent with a broader pattern of silencing and erasure of Palestinian voices.”

Cotler has been bemoaning the “new anti-Semitism” of those who support Palestinian rights for decades. After Canada’s largest ever Palestinian solidarity demonstrations — largely by racialized Canadians — in May 2021 Cotler led an antisemitism summit and began decrying the worst antisemitism in Canada since World War II. (As Cotler knows, it wasn’t until the 1950s that it became illegal to block Jews and other groups from purchasing property in some neighborhoods. Some social clubs also restricted Jewish membership into the 1960s.)

Mimicking Canada, the Israeli government recently created its own Special Envoy for Combating Antisemitism and Delegitimization. In appointing Noa Tishby to the position Foreign Affairs Minister Yair Lapid talked about those accusing Israel of “apartheid”, making it clear the aim of the position is to combat groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that have detailed Israeli apartheid. Cotler immediately applauded the Israeli government’s move to set up an envoy and announced he was planning to work with Tishby.

The Liberals budget also funneled $20 million into a new Montréal Holocaust Museum, which is scheduled to move to the centre of the city in 2025. That institution lists Federation Combined Jewish Appeal (CJA) of Montréal as its “Beneficiary” and its largest donor was the Azrieli Foundation. The Azrieli Foundation has financed projects that benefit the Israeli military and the Azrielis made a controversial donation to Im Tirtzu, which was deemed a “fascist” group by an Israeli court. CJA has promoted Canadians joining the IDF. Its website also proclaims that its Community Recovery & Resilience Campaign co-chair Mitch Garber’s “eldest son Dylan just completed his service as a lone soldier serving in an elite Cyber Defense intelligence Unit of the IDF in Israel.”

The museum has co-sponsored initiatives with CJA, B’nai BrithCentre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and other anti-Palestinian lobby groups. A former museum fundraiser, Mikhael Goldshtein, boasts that he fought in the IDF for eight years.

In 2020 it released a statement titled “The Montreal Holocaust Museum regretfully notes the Montreal Mayor’s refusal to support the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.” The IHRA definition seeks to label criticisms of Israeli policy as antisemitic. Seven of the definition’s 11 illustrative examples refer to Israel.

In addition to the Montreal Holocaust Museum’s overt anti-Palestinian alignment, Hitler’s destruction of European Jewry has long been weaponized against Palestinians. In his 2000 book The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, Norman Finkelstein, whose grandparents perished in Nazi death camps, argues that the American Jewish establishment exploited the memory of the Nazi Holocaust for economic and political gain and to further the interests of Israel. Since the book was written, Israel lobbyists’ reliance on antisemitism/Nazi Holocaust claims to undermine Palestine solidarity has grown substantially.

If the Montréal Holocaust Museum refuses to distance itself — by declaring its support for Palestinian rights — from those using the Nazis’ extermination of European Jewry to justify subjugating Palestinians it should be opposed. Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism should be categorically rejected. Cotler is a liberal imperialist who has spent his life working to subjugate Palestinians.

With their recent budget the Liberals have reaffirmed their anti-Palestinian policy. People who support human rights for all and oppose Israel’s apartheid policies take note.

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Palestine’s Widening Geography of Resistance: Why Israel Cannot Defeat the Palestinians

There is a reason why Israel is insistent on linking the series of attacks carried out by Palestinians recently to a specific location, namely the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank. By doing so, the embattled Naftali Bennett’s government can simply order another deadly military operation in Jenin to reassure its citizens that the situation is under control.

Indeed, on April 9, the Israeli army has stormed the Jenin refugee camp, killing a Palestinian and wounding ten others. However, Israel’s problem is much bigger than Jenin.

If we examine the events starting with the March 22 stabbing attack in the southern city of Beersheba (Bir Al Saba’) – which resulted in the death of four – and ending with the killing of three Israelis in Tel Aviv – including two army officers – we will reach an obvious conclusion: these attacks must have been, to some extent, coordinated.

Spontaneous Palestinian retaliation to the violence of the Israeli occupation rarely follows this pattern in terms of timing or style. All the attacks, with the exception of Beersheba, were carried out using firearms. The shooters, as indicated by the amateur videos of some of the events and statements by Israeli eyewitnesses, were well-trained and were acting with great composure.

An example was the March 27 Hadera event, carried out by two cousins, Ayman and Ibrahim Ighbariah, from the Arab town of Umm al-Fahm, inside Israel. Israeli media reported of the unmistakable skills of the attackers, armed with weapons that, according to the Israeli news agency, Tazpit Press Service, cost more than $30,000.

Unlike Palestinian attacks carried out during the Second Palestinian Intifada (2000-05) in response to Israeli violence in the occupied territories, the latest attacks are generally more pinpointed, seek police and military personnel and clearly aimed at shaking Israel’s false sense of security and undermining the country’s intelligence services. In the Bnei Brak attack, on March 29, for example, an Israeli woman who was at the scene told reporters that “the militant asked us to move away from the place because he did not want to target women or children.”

While Israeli intelligence reports have recently warned of a “wave of terrorism” ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, they clearly had little conception of what type of violence, or where and how Palestinians would strike.

Following the Beersheba attack, Israeli officials referred to Daesh’s responsibility, a convenient claim considering that Daesh had also claimed responsibility. This theory was quickly marginalized, as it became obvious that the other Palestinian attackers had other political affiliations or, as in the Bnei Brak case, no known affiliation at all.

The confusion and misinformation continued for days. Shortly after the Tel Aviv attack, Israeli media, citing official sources, spoke of two attackers, alleging that one was trapped in a nearby building. This was untrue as there was only one attacker and he was killed, though hours later in a different city.

A number of Palestinian workers were quickly rounded up in Tel Aviv on suspicion of being the attackers simply because they looked Arab, evidence of the chaotic Israeli approach. Indeed, following each event, total mayhem ensued, with large mobs of armed Israelis taking to the streets looking for anyone with Arab features to apprehend or to beat senseless.

Israeli officials contributed to the frenzy, with far-right politicians, such as the extremist Itamar Ben Gvir, leading hordes of other extremists in rampages in occupied Jerusalem.

Instead of urging calm and displaying confidence, the country’s own Prime Minister called, on March 30, on ordinary Israelis to arm themselves. “Whoever has a gun license, this is the time to carry it,” he said in a video statement. However, if Israel’s solution to any form of Palestinian resistance was more guns, Palestinians would have been pacified long ago.

To placate angry Israelis, the Israeli military raided the city and refugee camp of Jenin on many occasions, each time leaving several dead and wounded Palestinians behind, including many civilians. They include the child Imad Hashash, 15, killed on August 24 while filming the invasion on his mobile phone. The exact same scenario played out on April 9.

However, it was an exercise in futility, as it was Israeli violence in Jenin throughout the years that led to the armed resistance that continues to emanate from the camp. Palestinians, whether in Jenin or elsewhere, fight back because they are denied basic human rights, have no political horizon, live in extreme poverty, have no true leadership and feel abandoned by the so-called international community.

The Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas seems to be entirely removed from the masses. Statements by Abbas reflect his detachment from the reality of Israeli violence, military occupation and apartheid throughout Palestine. True to form, Abbas quickly condemned the Tel Aviv attack, as he did the previous ones, making the same reference every time regarding the need to maintain “stability” and to prevent “further deterioration of the situation”,  according to the official Wafa news agency.

What stability is Abbas referring to, when Palestinian suffering has been compounded by growing settler violence, illegal settlement expansion, land theft, and, thanks to recent international events, food insecurity as well?

Israeli officials and media are, once again, conveniently placing the blame largely on Jenin, a tiny stretch of an overpopulated area. By doing so, Israel wants to give the impression that the new phenomenon of Palestinian retaliatory attacks is confined to a single place, one that is adjacent to the Israeli border and can be easily ‘dealt with’.

An Israeli military operation in the camp may serve Bennett’s political agenda, convey a sense of strength, and win back some in his disenchanted political constituency. But it is all a temporary fix. Attacking Jenin now will make no difference in the long run. After all, the camp rose from the ashes of its near-total destruction by the Israeli military in April 2002.

The renewed Palestinian attacks speak of a much wider geography: Naqab, Umm Al Fahm, the West Bank. The seeds of this territorial connectivity are linked to the Israeli war of last May and the subsequent Palestinian rebellion, which erupted in every part of Palestine, including Palestinian communities inside Israel.

Israel’s problem is its insistence on providing short-term military solutions to a long-term problem, itself resulting from these very ‘military solutions’. If Israel continues to subjugate the Palestinian people under the current system of military occupation and deepening apartheid, Palestinians will surely continue to respond until their oppressive reality is changed. No amount of Israeli violence can alter this truth.

The post Palestine’s Widening Geography of Resistance: Why Israel Cannot Defeat the Palestinians first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Billion Dollar Deal that Made Google and Amazon Partners in the Israeli Occupation of Palestine

“We are anonymous because we fear retaliation.” This text was part of a letter signed by 500 Google employees last October, in which they decried their company’s direct support for the Israeli government and military.

In their letter, the signatories protested a $1.2 billion contract between Google, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the Israeli government which provides cloud services for the Israeli military and government that “allows for further surveillance of and unlawful data collection on Palestinians, and facilitates expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements on Palestinian land”.

This is called Project Nimbus. The project was announced in 2018 and went into effect in May 2021, in the first week of the Israeli war on besieged Gaza, which killed over 250 Palestinians and wounded many more.

The Google employees were not only disturbed by the fact that, by entering into this agreement with Israel, their company became directly involved in the Israeli occupation of Palestine, but were equally outraged by the “disturbing pattern of militarization” that saw similar contracts between Google – Amazon, Microsoft and other tech giants – with the US military, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other policing agencies.

In an article published in The Nation newspaper in June, three respected US academics have revealed the financial component of Amazon’s decision to get involved in such an immoral business, arguing that such military-linked contracts have “become a major source of profit for Amazon.” It is estimated, according to the article, that AWS alone was responsible for 63 percent of Amazon’s profits in 2020.

The maxim ‘people before profit’ cannot be any more appropriate than in the Palestinian context, and neither Google nor Amazon can claim ignorance. The Israeli occupation of Palestine has been in place for decades, and numerous United Nations resolutions have condemned Israel for its occupation, colonial expansion and violence against Palestinians. If all of that was not enough to wane the enthusiasm of Google and Amazon to engage in projects that specifically aimed at protecting Israel’s ‘national security’ – read: continued occupation of Palestine – a damning report by Israel’s largest human rights group, B’tselem should have served as that wake up call.

B’tselem declared Israel an apartheid state in January 2021. The international rights group, Human Rights Watch (HRW) followed suit in April, also denouncing the Israeli apartheid state. That was only a few weeks before Project Nimbus was declared. It was as if Google and Amazon were purposely declaring their support of apartheid. The fact that the project was signed during the Israeli war on Gaza speaks volumes about the two tech giants’ complete disregards of international law, human rights and the very freedom of the Palestinian people.

It gets worse. On March 15, hundreds of Google workers signed a petition protesting the firing of one of their colleagues, Ariel Koren, who was active in generating the October letter in protest of Project Nimbus. Koren was the product marketing manager at Google for Education, and has worked for the company for six years. However, she was the kind of employee who was not welcomed by the likes of Google, as the company is now directly involved with various military and security projects.

“For me, as a Jewish employee of Google, I feel a deep sense of intense moral responsibility,” she said in a statement last October. “When you work in a company, you have the right to be accountable and responsible for the way that your labor is actually being used,” she added.

Google quickly retaliated to that seemingly outrageous statement. The following month, her manager “presented her with an ultimatum: move to Brazil or lose her position.” Eventually, she was driven out of the company.

Koren was not the first Google – or Amazon – employee to be fired for standing up for a good cause, nor would, sadly, be the last. In this age of militarism, surveillance, unwarranted facial recognition and censorship, speaking one’s mind and daring to fight for human rights and other basic freedoms is no longer an option.

Amazon’s warehouses can be as bad, or even worse, than a typical sweatshop. Last March, and after a brief denial, Amazon apologized for forcing its workers to pee in water bottles – and worse – so that their managers may fulfill their required quotas. The apology followed direct evidence provided by the investigative journalism website, The Intercept. However, the company which stands accused of numerous violations of worker rights – including its engagement in ‘union busting’ – is not expected to reverse course any time soon, especially when so much profits are at stake.

But profits generated from market monopoly, mistreatment of workers or other misconducts are different from profits generated from contributing directly to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Though human rights violations should be shunned everywhere, regardless of their contexts, Israel’s war on the Palestinian people, now with the direct help of such companies, remains one of the gravest injustices that continues to scar the consciousness of humankind. No amount of Google justification or Amazon rationalization can change the fact that they are facilitating Israeli war crimes in Palestine.

To be more precise, according to The Nation, the Google-Amazon cloud service will help Israel expand its illegal Jewish settlements by “supporting data for the Israel Land Authority (ILA), the government agency that manages and allocates state land.” These settlements, which are repeatedly condemned by the international community, are built on Palestinian land and are directly linked to the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.

According to the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, Project Nimbus is the “most lucrative tender issued by Israel in recent years.” The Project, which has ignited a “secretive war” involving top Israeli army generals – all vying for a share in the profit – has also whetted the appetite of many other international tech companies, all wanting to be part of Israel’s technology drive, with the ultimate aim of keeping Palestinians entrapped, occupied and oppressed.

This is precisely why the Palestinian boycott movement is absolutely critical as it targets these international companies, which are migrating to Israel in search for profits. Israel, on the contrary, should be boycotted, not enabled, sanctioned and not rewarded. While profit generation is understandably the main goal of companies like Google and Amazon, this goal can be achieved without necessarily requiring the subjugation of a whole people, who are currently the victims of the world’s last remaining apartheid regime.

The post The Billion Dollar Deal that Made Google and Amazon Partners in the Israeli Occupation of Palestine first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Weathering the Global Storm: Why Neutrality is Not an Option for Palestinians

A new global geopolitical game is in formation, and the Middle East, as is often the case, will be directly impacted by it in terms of possible new alliances and resulting power paradigms. While it is too early to fully appreciate the impact of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war on the region, it is obvious that some countries are placed in relatively comfortable positions in terms of leveraging their strong economies, strategic location and political influence. Others, especially non-state actors, like the Palestinians, are in an unenviable position.

Despite repeated calls on the Palestinian Authority by the US Biden Administration and some EU countries to condemn Russia following its military intervention in Ukraine on February 24, the PA has refrained from doing so. Analyst Hani al-Masri was quoted in Axios as saying that the Palestinian leadership understands that condemning Russia “means that the Palestinians would lose a major ally and supporter of their political positions.” Indeed, joining the anti-Russia western chorus would further isolate an already isolated Palestine, desperate for allies who are capable of balancing out the pro-Israel agenda at US-controlled international institutions, like the UN Security Council.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dismantling of its Eastern Bloc in the late 1980s, Russia was allowed to play a role, however minor, in the US political agenda in Palestine and Israel. It participated, as a co-sponsor, in the Madrid peace talks in 1991, and in the 1993 Oslo accords. Since then a Russian representative took part in every major agreement related to the ‘peace process,’ to the extent that Russia was one of the main parties in the so-called Middle East Quartet which, in 2016, purportedly attempted to negotiate a political breakthrough between the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership.

Despite the permanent presence of Russia at the Palestine-Israel political table, Moscow has played a subordinate position. It was Washington that largely determined the momentum, time, place and even the outcomes of the ‘peace talks.’ Considering Washington’s strong support for Tel Aviv, Palestinians remained occupied and oppressed, while Israel’s colonial settlement enterprises grew exponentially in terms of size, population and economic power.

Palestinians, however, continued to see Moscow as an ally. Within the largely defunct Quartet – which, aside from Russia, includes the US, the European Union and the United Nations – Russia is the only party that, from a Palestinian viewpoint, was trustworthy. However, considering the US near complete hegemony on international decision-making, through its UN vetoes, massive funding of the Israeli military and relentless pressure on the Palestinians, Russia’s role proved ultimately immaterial, if not symbolic.

There were exceptions to this rule. In recent years, Russia has attempted to challenge its traditional role in the peace process as a supporting political actor, by offering to mediate, not just between Israel and the PA, but also between Palestinian political groups, Hamas and Fatah. Using the political space that presented itself following the Trump Administration’s cutting of funds to the PA in February 2019, Moscow drew even closer to the Palestinian leadership.

A more independent Russian position in Palestine and Israel has been taking shape for years. In February 2017, for example, Russia hosted a national dialogue conference between Palestinian rivals. Though the Moscow conference did not lead to anything substantive, it allowed Russia to challenge its old position in Palestine, and the US’ proclaimed role as an ‘honest peace broker.’

Wary of Russia’s infringement on its political territory in the Middle East, US President Joe Biden was quick to restore his government’s funding of the PA in April 2021. The American President, however, did not reverse some of the major US concessions to Israel made by the Trump Administration, including the recognition of Jerusalem, contrary to international law, as Israel’s capital. Moreover, under Israeli pressure, the US is yet to restore its Consulate in East Jerusalem, which was shut down by Trump in 2019. The Consulate served the role of Washington’s diplomatic mission in Palestine.

Washington’s significance to Palestinians, at present, is confined to financial support. Concurrently, the US continues to serve the role of Israel’s main benefactor financially, militarily, politically and diplomatically.

While Palestinian groups, whether Islamists or socialists, have repeatedly called on the PA to liberate itself from its near-total dependency on Washington, the Palestinian leadership refused. For the PA, defying the US in the current geopolitical order is a form of political suicide.

But the Middle East has been rapidly changing. The US political divestment from the region in recent years has allowed other political actors, like China and Russia, to slowly immerse themselves as political, military and economic alternatives and partners.

The Russian and Chinese influence can now be felt across the Middle East. However, their impact on the balances of power in the Palestine-Israel issue, in particular, remains largely minimal. Despite its strategic ‘pivot to Asia’ in 2012, Washington remained entrenched behind Israel, because American support for Israel is no longer a matter of foreign policy priorities, but an internal American issue involving both parties, powerful pro-Israel lobby and pressure groups, and a massive right-wing, Christian constituency across the US.

Palestinians – people, leadership and political parties – have little trust or faith in Washington. In fact, much of the political discord among Palestinians is directly linked to this very issue. Alas, walking away from the US camp requires a strong political will that the PA does not possess.

Since the rise of the US as the world’s only superpower over three decades ago, the Palestinian leadership reoriented itself entirely to be part of the ‘new world order’. The Palestinian people, however, gained little from their leadership’s strategic choice. To the contrary, since then the Palestinian cause suffered numerous losses – factionalism and disunity at home, and a confused regional and international political outlook, thus the hemorrhaging of Palestine’s historic allies, including many African, Asian and South American countries.

The Russia-Ukraine war, however, is placing the Palestinians before one of their greatest foreign policy challenges since the collapse of the Soviet Union. For Palestinians, neutrality is not an option since the latter is a privilege that can only be obtained by those who can navigate global polarization using their own political leverage. The Palestinian leadership, thanks to its selfish choices and lack of a collective strategy, has no such leverage. 

Common sense dictates that Palestinians must develop a unified front to cope with the massive changes underway in the world, changes that will eventually yield a whole new geopolitical reality.

The Palestinians cannot afford to stand aside and pretend that they will magically be able to weather the storm.

The post Weathering the Global Storm: Why Neutrality is Not an Option for Palestinians first appeared on Dissident Voice.