Israel to demolish West Bank Bedouin village, ending year-long legal battle

The village, along with its tire school, has become the flagship of the fight against the removal of Palestinians from Area C, which is under full Israeli control

Amira Hass | May 25, 2018 

The High Court of Justice has approved the planned demolition of the village of Jahalin at Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank, along with the village’s school made out of tires. The High Court has allowed the demolition at any time the government sees fit as of next month.

On Thursday, the court rejected two petitions against the demolition from residents of the village and from parents of children at the school who come from surrounding Bedouin communities. Justice Noam Sohlberg wrote in the ruling that the structures were built illegally and that no reason existed for the court to intervene in the defense minister’s decision to demolish them. Justices Anat Baron and Yael Willner concurred.

In August, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced that his ministry was preparing to remove the residents from Khan al-Ahmar and Sussia after all requests by the villages for a master plan and building permits where they had lived for decades were turned down. The petitions by the Jahalin residents were filed by attorney Shlomo Lecker. Over the past decade, both communities have become the flagship of the fight against the removal of Palestinians from Area C, which is under complete Israeli civil and military control.

The state is demanding that the approximately 200 residents of Khan al-Ahmar and Abu Hilweh move to an area that has been allocated to them by the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration on land in the area of the town of Abu Dis (which was declared state land) and built houses on the lots where the Civil Administration is preparing infrastructure. A new school is also to be built in that area.

The area is on the edge of a half-urban Bedouin community where the state settled dozens of Bedouin families at the end of the 1990s, after it evacuated them from an area where they had lived for decades that was earmarked for the expansion of the city of Ma’aleh Adumim. Some of the families were forcibly evacuated at the end of the 1990s, while others agreed to move to the town following negotiations and in exchange for financial remuneration and grazing land.

The High Court ruling may become a precedent for dozens of other Bedouin communities that oppose the Civil Administration’s intention to concentrate them in permanent towns in the West Bank, including a town near Abu Dis (known as Jabel Jahalin or Kafr Jahalin). Thus they will have to urbanize their lifestyle.

To read mot#re

 

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Burt u-turns on UN inquiry and calls for internal Israeli army inquiry instead

The UK’s European partners Spain, Belgium and Slovenia were among the 29 current member countries of the UN Human Rights Council that voted overwhelmingly to set up a UN inquiry into the killings.

Only the US and Australia voted against.

The UK voted for similar UN inquiries into the Gaza assault of 2014 and the earlier Gaza assault of 2008-9, known as the Goldstone Report.

Since the Gaza protest began on March 30 and the Israeli army started shooting unarmed protesters, Alistair Burt has been calling for an inquiry – and in the last few weeks he has explicitly called for an international inquiry under the UN’s auspices.

The language changed quite abruptly last week when the UK refused to support a motion to set up an international inquiry at the UN HCR in Geneva on the grounds that it did not explicitly mention Hamas.

On Monday he went further and called for an internal Israeli inquiry instead (though with an international ‘element’).

This was seen by many as a victory for Conservative Friends of Israel, who argued in the Commons that (a) Hamas was mainly responsible for the killings and (b) the Human Rights Council was ‘biased against Israel’.

Here are extracts from the debate in the Commons on Monday May 21st:

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab):  To ask the Foreign Secretary if he will make a statement on the decision of the UK Government to abstain from voting on the resolution of the United Nations Human Rights Council held on 18 May, calling for an independent investigation into recent violence in Gaza.

The Minister for the Middle East (Alistair Burt): We abstained on calls for a commission of inquiry into recent violence in Gaza during the UN Human Rights Council session on Friday. The substance of the resolution was not impartial and it was unbalanced. We could not support an investigation that refused to explicitly examine the action of non-state actors such as Hamas. An investigation of that kind would not provide us with a comprehensive assessment of accountability. It would risk hardening positions on both sides and move us further away from a just and lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

However, the United Kingdom continues to fully support the need for an independent and transparent investigation into recent events. We call directly on Israel to carry out a transparent inquiry into the Israeli Defence Forces’ conduct at the border fence and to demonstrate how this will achieve a sufficient level of independence. We believe this investigation should include international members. We urge that the findings of such an investigation be made public, and, if wrongdoing is found, that those responsible are held to account. The Foreign Secretary stressed the importance of Israel conducting an independent investigation when he spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu on 16 May.

Richard Burden: Last Tuesday, the Minister assured the House that he endorsed calls for an international, independent and transparent inquiry into the appalling events unfolding in Gaza, yet when United Nations Human Rights Council resolved on Friday to set up a commission of inquiry to undertake precisely that kind of investigation, the UK failed to join 29 partner countries and instead abstained from the vote. The Government alleged that, as the Minister said today, the UN Human Rights Council resolution was “partial, and unhelpfully unbalanced”. May I remind the Minister that the remit of the UN inquiry is to investigate “all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law” and that it calls on Israel and “and all relevant parties” to co-operate fully with the inquiry? That includes Hamas and other Palestinian factions, as well as Israel. Which bit of the resolution and the remit do Ministers not understand?
May I put it to Minister that the Government’s feeble response to last week’s events in Gaza only encourages the culture of impunity that the Government of Israel too regularly display these days, apparently believing that whatever they do, they will in practice never be held to account? Will the Minister confirm that now the UN Human Rights Council has made its decision, the UK Government will get behind it? What consequences ​should follow if Israel, or anybody else, either refuses to co-operate with the inquiry or is otherwise found to be in breach of international law?

Alistair Burt: I draw attention to the detail of the resolution, which names the state of Israel in many cases right the way through. That follows a clear demonstration by the UN Human Rights Council in the past of a biased view towards Israel. I think it was the general nature of the resolution, clearly specifying Israel as opposed to any other, that caused concern. We of course were not alone. This is not a matter on which the United Kingdom is alone. There were 14 other abstentions, including by four other EU members, so it is not a question of the United Kingdom taking one view on this; it is a question of other states believing that if we want to get to the truth, it will have to be done another way.

I said last week, and I repeat, that we want an independent and transparent inquiry. The House has heard me say again today that if it is carried out by Israel, it must have an international element to it. It is very clear that if it is done solely by the Israeli legislative and judicial system, it is unlikely to carry the sort of confidence that the international community is looking for. That is what we will continue to press for, but this resolution in itself will not do the job we all want to see.

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab): I join Richard Burden in welcoming the independent UN investigation into violence in Gaza. While we have already heard debate about the wording of the resolution agreed by the Human Rights Council, I have to say, as I did last week, that that debate is frankly immaterial as long as the objective of setting up an independent investigation is achieved.​
The issue today is why the British Government, which claimed repeatedly last Tuesday to support that objective, chose three days later not to vote for it. The crux of that decision was made clear in the Government’s statement on Friday, which called for the Israeli authorities to be allowed to conduct their own so-called independent inquiry. If that sounds like a contradiction in terms, I am afraid we should not be remotely surprised. After all, this is the Government that say that Saudi Arabia should be allowed to investigate itself for bombing weddings in Yemen. This is the Government that say that Bahrain should be left to investigate itself for torturing children in prisons. Time and time again we see this: if you are an ally of the Government, you get away with breaking international law with impunity, and you are also allowed to be your own judge and jury, too.
Before the Minister gets up and extols the virtue of the Netanyahu Government, may I remind him of the last time that that Government were allowed to investigate themselves over an alleged breach of international law? In July 2014, four children were blown to pieces on Gaza beach while playing hide and seek in a fisherman’s hut. And the resulting investigation: a blatant piece of nonsense, full of basic untruths, exonerating the IDF completely and saying that the old fisherman’s hut was in fact a Hamas compound. That is what an independent investigation by Israel looks like. That, instead of an international commission of inquiry, is what this Government on Friday decided to support, and that is nothing short of a disgrace.

Alistair Burt: Of course I read her tweets over the course of the weekend. I remind her that among the other Governments that she was calling disgusting are those of Germany, Japan and, as I said, four other EU partners. It shows how careful we have to be in relation to this. Let me quote what the United Kingdom said in relation to the explanation of vote:

“Our abstention must not be misconstrued. The UK fully supports, and recognises the need for an independent and transparent investigation into the events that have taken place in recent weeks, including the extent to which Israeli security forces’ rules of engagement are in line with international law and the role Hamas played in events. The loss of life, casualties and volume of live fire presents a depressingly familiar and unacceptable pattern. This cannot be ignored.
To that end, in addition to abstaining on today’s resolution, we call directly on Israel to make clear its intentions and carry out what must be a transparent inquiry into the IDF’s conduct at the border fence and to demonstrate how this will achieve a sufficient level of independence. This investigation should include international members. The death toll alone warrants such a comprehensive inquiry.”

If we want to get to the bottom of this and find out what happened, I maintain that the HRC resolution was not the way to do it. We want the inquiry to succeed. That, we believe, is what we defended last week and will continue to pursue.

David Linden (Glasgow East) (SNP): We welcome the Human Rights Council resolution calling for an urgent independent investigation into the horrific killing of unarmed protestors in Gaza. It was a disgraceful decision of the UK to abstain from the HRC vote, and it flies in the face of previous statements from the Prime Minister and other Ministers in this House calling for an independent investigation. Given the mixed messages from the UK Government, will they now set the record straight and make it clear to the Israeli Government that deadly actions against protestors will not be tolerated by the international community? Finally, following this horrific incident, will the Foreign Secretary commit to joining his allies in concerting international pressure on the Netanyahu Government to lift the blockade on Gaza and put an end to Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories?

Alistair Burt: In answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, I refer to what I said earlier. In relation to the second, one thing that was clear from last week’s discussion at the UN Security Council was the recognition that, in the absence of being able to make any serious immediate move on the Middle East peace process, which ultimately will be the best way to overcome the issues at the heart of this, the international community —and Israel, Egypt and others with entry into Gaza—should first make changes and drive forward developments, including to infrastructure in Gaza, to change the nature of the lives of the people there. The UK firmly believes that, whatever else might have been behind the events of last week, the long-standing frustrations of the people of Gaza, caused by pressures upon them from more than just Israel but including Israel, should be relieved. We support the efforts that will be made to improve the conditions in Gaza.

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Given that Gazans did all the dying and the Israeli soldiers did all the killing, how does the Minister expect an internal Israeli inquiry led by Brigadier General Baruch to be less partial and less unhelpfully unbalanced than the inquiry mandated by the UN Human Rights Council?

Alistair Burt: With respect to my friend, until we see the make-up of the inquiry process, we will not know the answer to that. I made it very clear that if Israel is not only to undertake its legal obligations for what has happened on its territory but to fulfil its own processes, an international element to the investigation will clearly be one of the most important things, and that should bring the transparent and independent element that the UK and others have called for in order to find out the answers to these questions.

Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con): Human rights are constrained and violence exacerbated by a water shortage that the UN says will render Gaza entirely uninhabitable by 2021. Does anyone have a plan?

Alistair Burt: I said during my statement last week that I had recently met the Quartet’s economic director, looking at existing proposals for improving the infrastructure in Gaza, including the water infrastructure. Again as I mentioned, it is clear to anyone who goes there what the circumstances are and how desperate the water and other situations are. The infrastructure needs improving, and improving quickly, and all parties involved in Gaza need to take steps to make sure it happens.

Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) (Lab): Israel has maintained a temporary occupation for 51 years. It builds settlements illegally, demolishes homes illegally, confiscates land and water from occupied territory and blockades Gaza by air, land and sea. At what point do these illegal acts ever meet with any consequences?

Alistair Burt: I think that the circumstances of last week indicate—as the United Kingdom Government have said on many occasions—that there is no status quo in relation to Gaza. Conditions are getting worse, and circumstances are getting worse. As we rightly call on Israel in relation to issues such as settlements, in relation to Gaza we remain of the view that until these issues are settled there is no future, and no future for peace in the region.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): Israeli forces have killed dozens of protesters and injured thousands in an appalling escalation of violence. I am sure the Minister will agree that the lethal use of firearms is legal only if it is unavoidable, to protect life. Given that Israeli officials have authorised soldiers to fire live rounds at people trying to damage or even coming within 100 metres of the border fence, how can he possibly have confidence in an investigation led by those officials rather than by independent voices?

Alistair Burt: As I said earlier, I believe that an independent element in any investigation is vital if anyone is to feel confident about finding out whether or not the circumstances were as She has described them.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Given that 50 members of Hamas and three members of Islamic Jihad were killed, and given that Hamas has now admitted that one of those incidents involved a gunfight between its members and the IDF, has he any confidence at all that Hamas will co-operate with any independent inquiry?

Alistair Burt: That, of course, will be a matter for the inquiry itself. Just as we are not rushing to prejudge an inquiry by not supporting a resolution that we felt would have led to an unbalanced inquiry, I am not prepared to say that there is evidence that Hamas would or would not co-operate with any inquiry into what happened in relation to the allegations made about it.

Grahame Morris (Easington) (Lab): The Minister does not like the UNHRC. He says that there must be another way. There is little or no confidence in the United States acting as an honest broker. What discussions are the UK Government having with other EU Governments about restoring the original United Nations mandate over the occupied Palestinian territories to make a more serious move on an international peace process?

Alistair Burt: I remind the House that we joined European allies—Germany, Slovakia, Hungary and Croatia—in the vote last week, so we are indeed talking to our European allies about what might be the best way to proceed. I do not think there is any clear pathway yet beyond what I have already indicated: the inquiry must have a transparent and independent element.

John Lamont (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (Con): Does he agree that Israel is the only properly functioning democracy in that part of the world, and that it is right for it to be able to defend itself against aggression and terrorism, as it has done so successfully for the last 70 years?

Alistair Burt: By supporting an independent and transparent element in its inquiry, Israel has an opportunity in these circumstances to ensure that its long-standing statement of democratic principles is demonstrated to the rest of the world.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): The Government of Israel will not tolerate any independent scrutiny of their actions, and increasingly obstruct and persecute international and domestic human rights organisations. What representations has the Minister made about the current plan to deport Omar Shakir, the well respected director of Human Rights Watch in Israel?

Alistair Burt: The first part of his question demonstrates the difficulty of dealing with the issue. He has already made up his mind about all this, and he is welcome to do that, but, as I have said, the United Kingdom Government cannot.

I have made no personal interventions in the case of that gentleman. I said last week that immigration processes were for each individual state, but we have made representations about the closing down of political space. We believe it is much better to interact with people than seek to bar them from a country; however, that is Israel’s own immigration right, as it would be ours.

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): The UN Human Rights Council has held a total of 28 urgent sessions; not one of them has focused on Iran, North Korea, Turkey, Russia, China, Venezuela, Yemen, Crimea, Pakistan, Somalia and so on, yet eight of those 28 have ​been on Israel. Does he agree that that organisation lacks any credibility whatsoever as an impartial observer?

Alistair Burt: The hard truth of what he said stands for itself, and illustrates the degree of difficulty the Human Rights Council now has in relation to Israel in demonstrating its independence and therefore being a credible body. That was one of the influences on the United Kingdom, besides the unbalanced resolution, that a number of our European allies supported.

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): The Minister has stated that the UK decided to abstain because the UK Government accept that the process is likely to be biased. Given the UK’s position that the Israeli Government should lead the inquiry, how can we continue to play the role of honest broker, which has been a very important role for our Government historically, given our unique historical relationship with that region? Can the Minister explain how that is possible?

Alistair Burt: I will endeavour to do so; that is a perfectly understandable and fair question. I draw attention to what we said in terms of the explanation of the vote: “The loss of life, casualties and volume of live fire presents a depressingly familiar and unacceptable pattern. This cannot be ignored.”
We called on Israel directly to “carry out what must be a transparent inquiry into the IDF’s conduct at the border fence and to demonstrate how this will achieve a sufficient level of independence.”

Difficult as it is, the UK taking a more balanced position on this than some enables us to remain in an impartial position in relation to this, which would be lost completely if we jumped one side or the other.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): The House of Lords recommended last year that the Government stop treating Israel with kid gloves and display some political robustness.

This Government’s abstention is worse than weak; it is deplorable. How can the people of Palestine trust our Government when we refuse even to look seriously at these issues, let alone challenge them?

Alistair Burt: I understand the force of her response; she is always honest about all these things. I would point to what we said in the explanation of the vote, which clearly raises questions about Israel’s conduct. We seem to be one of the few Governments prepared to consider both sides of these dreadful incidents, and that is why we want to find the truth about what happened.

Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): The United Nations commission of inquiry will be mandated to look at all violations of international law and calls for co-operation from all relevant parties. How do the Government see that as being unbalanced?

Alistair Burt: Mention was made of Israel’s activities a number of times throughout the resolution. There was no mention of Hamas, when it appears to be clear that there was engagement and involvement by Hamas, although no one knows how much. That is a vital part of the investigation, but there is no confidence that it would be part of it.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): When the Government came to the conclusion that they could not support the resolution, what efforts were made to try to bring together a resolution that everyone could support, so that there could be a fully independent inquiry?
Alistair Burt
He asks a good question. Before any of these resolutions come together, there is a great deal of contact between member states to try to find a way to broker an appropriate resolution. It normally works on the basis of someone putting forward a draft and other parties coming forward with suggestions, but if there cannot be an agreement, something then gets tabled on which people have to vote.

Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab)
Both America and Israel are our allies, yet we are powerless when the US moves its embassy and we are onlookers when the UN votes to hold an inquiry into the killings in Gaza. True friends offer advice and criticism, but are we now content just to hold hands rather than holding anyone to account?

Alistair Burt: No, I do not think that that is the case at all. As I said earlier, true friends take a position in which they try as best they can to learn all the facts of the circumstances before coming to any conclusions, particularly in an area as sensitive and difficult as this. That is what we have sought to do.

Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)
Will the UK set out its criteria for assessing the independence, impartiality and effectiveness of an internal Israeli investigation? What action will we take, should those criteria not be met?

Alistair Burt
It was indeed, and her questions are always relevant and to the point. Discussions are still taking place among members of the international community to define exactly what the terms will be. I said earlier that I had spoken to the Israeli ambassador last week, and representations have been made in Israel as well. I have indicated what we believe ought to happen in terms of there being an independent element to any investigation carried out by Israel, and we would like to see that delivered. There will be further consultations on this, as she would expect.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD)
As I understand it, one Israeli soldier has been injured, and 104 Palestinians have been killed, of whom 14 were children, and 12,500 have been injured, more than 2,000 by live ammunition. Has Israel’s response been proportionate?

Alistair Burt
Other allegations include 50 or so Hamas operatives being involved and improvised explosive devices being placed at the border fence. There has been a whole series of allegations about what has happened. That is why it is essential to get to the truth. We have already expressed our concern about the amount of live fire, and we stand by that.

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab)
The Minister has come to the House a number of times on this issue, and he has accepted the fact that there have been real abuses of the Palestinian people in Gaza through the use of poisonous water, through illegal settlements and through all sorts of cruelty to the Palestinian people, yet the international community rewards Israel with billions of pounds-worth of aid and armaments. Would it not be appropriate, instead of saying that we criticise Israel and condemn what it has done, if we actually took action over what Israel has been doing over the years?

Alistair Burt
She is right to say that I have been at the Dispatch Box several times since 2010 in relation to this matter, and we despair at the fact that the arguments are always familiar. As for the long-term fixing of the issues that she raises, it is we who call the settlements illegal and call for an easing of the restrictions on Gaza, but none of that will be accomplished effectively until there is the political settlement that we are all trying to work towards. The United Kingdom unerringly pushes its determination towards that aim, and we do not believe that continuing to call for that while criticising Israel is necessarily a reward.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab)
Do the British Government have any plans to seek support for a fresh resolution that requires an independent UN investigation, or is the matter now closed as far as they are concerned?

Alistair Burt
I do not think that any investigation is necessarily off the cards. In the first instance, the determination will be for Israel to carry out an investigation, and we have said what we have said about what should accompany that in order to convince the international community. What happens after that will depend on the response to that inquiry.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab)
Following the question of Steve McCabe, regardless of the outcome of the Israeli investigation, surely the Government should try to initiate a further resolution to resolve the problem?

Alistair Burt
It may come down to resolutions at the end of the day, but an agreed mechanism, whereby we can find out what has happened in order to ensure that the circumstances do not arise again, is more likely to be effective. However, that would involve a whole series of other issues that relate to Gaza, as I mentioned earlier, and much determination among the leadership of both Palestine and Israel to ensure that the circumstances do not arise in the future.

Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
Protesting adults and children have been shot in the back and shot while standing hundreds of metres away from the border fence. The Israeli authorities are clearly killing and maiming people in Gaza who pose no threat to them. If this was happening in Iran, the Government would ​completely and utterly condemn it, so why will the Minister not condemn the Israeli authorities for such actions?

Alistair Burt
This is clearly set out in the United Kingdom’s concerns about the whole process: “The loss of life, casualties and volume of live fire presents a depressingly familiar and unacceptable pattern. This cannot be ignored.”

She comes to her own conclusions about what she thinks has happened, but others have different narratives. It is clear that the extent of the live fire has caused casualties that raise prima facie questions about what has happened, which is why we must find out what the answer to that is.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op)
The IDF and people here in this Chamber constantly refer to the “Gaza border” despite it not being internationally recognised. If it is a border, what state are the victims of Israel’s latest shooting spree in? If it is not a fence that entraps 2 million people, will the UK recognise the state of Palestine and push for an independent investigation, not just a whitewash by one party?

Alistair Burt
He makes a series of assumptions, and I understand where he is coming from. As I indicated last week, the United Kingdom will recognise the state of Palestine when it is conducive to the peace process, but there are more processes that must be gone through. If we are to find out what truly happened in Gaza, there must be a better option than that presented by the Human Rights Council last week.

Afzal Khan (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
The international community’s immediate focus after last week’s events was on the number of fatalities, but it is also important to dwell on the consequences for the thousands of injured people. Have the Government offered any additional humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza to ensure that the injured receive the medical treatment that they so desperately need?

Alistair Burt
The short answer is yes. I am in contact with international agencies that are involved in delivering humanitarian medical aid. Gaza’s medical resources, which are already incredibly stretched, will have been put under even greater pressure following the events of the past few weeks. I am looking to see what further the United Kingdom can do beyond the support that we already give to those who provide such help.

The blockade on Israel’s heart

It’s hard to understand how one can look at tens of thousands of people in their cage and not see them. How is it possible to look at these protesters and not see the disaster wrought first and foremost by Israel?

Gideon Levy, Ha’aretz correspondent

What a pleasure it was again Friday, journalists and pundits competing to be the wittiest. One tweeted that the Palestinians burned Goodyear tyres, another that the heads of Hamas stayed away due to their asthma. One referenced the “supertanker” fire-fighting plane Israel called in to battle nationwide fires in 2016. Someone posted a photo of a protester with a swastika, writing: “charming people to make peace with.” A “moderate” commentator said on television that this was a “foolish protest,” beneath his famous intellect. They all, as is their wont, praised the army on its accomplishment: No one crossed the border. The state has been saved from annihilation. Way to go, Israel Defense Forces.

As the witticisms and back-patting made the rounds of social media, 20,000 desperate Gazans were running around in the sand near the fence that imprisons them, crying out for help. Wearing rags, mostly young men, some 65 percent of whom are unemployed, breathing in the black smoke from the tires and knowing that their past, their present and their future are blacker. Some were holding the latest product of Gaza’s arms industry: mirrors. Bedroom mirrors and bathroom mirrors, meant to blind the sharpshooters. Such amusing sights have not been seen here for a long time: 1,350 people were wounded, 293 of them from live gunfire; of those, 20 are in serious to critical condition. Nine bodies as of Saturday morning.

Most were careful not to cross the death line, exactly the way it was in East Germany. The East Germans shot anyone who tried to leave the country, and it was shocking; the Israelis shoot at anyone approaching their fence, and it’s amusing. Soon there might be an electric fence, which will make the army snipers superfluous.

Among those killed was Hussein Mohammed Madi, a 16-year-old boy, and a news photographer who was wearing a bullet-resistant vest marked “press” in English, which did not protect him at all from the moral-army sharpshooter who aimed for his chest. Perhaps the sharpshooter couldn’t read English.

Yaser Murtaja was 30 and had never been out of the Gaza Strip. He recently posted a photograph showing a bird’s-eye view of the Strip. Murtaja wrote that his dream was to take such a picture. Now, perhaps his dream will come true from the heavens. At his funeral Saturday, his body was covered with his blue journalist’s vest.

He wasn’t the only journalist shot by army snipers Friday. Six more were wounded. Their blood is no redder than anyone else’s, but the fact that they were shot proves the army snipers fire indiscriminately and are not choosy about their victims. And all this led to clever comments on social media and compliments for the army in the press.

It’s hard to understand how one can look at tens of thousands of people in their cage and not see them. How is it possible to look at these protesters and not see the disaster wrought first and foremost by Israel? How can we absolve ourselves, putting everything on Hamas and not be shocked for a moment at the sight of the blood of innocents shed by IDF soldiers?

How can a former Shin Bet security service chief instigate a growing protest here over an empty speech by the prime minister at an equally empty ceremony, while this massacre rouses barely a hiccup? This time there are no Qassam rockets, no knives, not even scissors. There’s no terror except “tyre terror” and the “terror march,” as the daily Israel Hayom grotesquely put it.

This time the protest is not violent. Israel doesn’t see this either. It doesn’t see the whites of the protesters’ eyes, it doesn’t see them as human beings, it doesn’t see their despair; it doesn’t see the bitterness of their fate.

When the next natural disaster happens somewhere, Israel will once again send an aid team and everyone will laud Israel’s “Jewish” compassion and its humanity. But no one can deny the hardheartedness that has befallen it, so hard that it blocks humanity and compassion from reaching the heart, which has been scarred and blocked permanently.

Inside the Seditious Seder With Jeremy Corbyn and the Jewdas Group

Most of them didn’t know that Corbyn was invited and when he came he didn’t act like the leader nor they like the led

 

Amira Hass,  Haaretz Correspondent

Amira Hass

HACKNEY, LONDON – On Tuesday morning, at 7:30 A.M. Gaza time or 5:30 A.M. in London, I awoke to a headline on the popular Israeli news site Ynet: “Britain: Corbyn attends event of group that called for Israel’s destruction.” Given that I had left that very event seven and a half hours earlier, I can say wholeheartedly that the headline should have read: “Corbyn brings the bitter herbs to alternative seder in London.”

Jeremy Corbyn grows horseradish in his garden allotment. Slivers of the pungent root he brought were added to the maror, the bitter herbs, waiting in white plastic cups on round tables in the hall below St. Peter’s Church de Beauvoir, Hackney. These bitter herbs, a glass of whiskey before (begging pardon from my Muslim friends and Jewish friends who keep kosher) and songs in my father’s tongue, Yiddish, destroyed the flu germs that had ruined part of my vacation.

I lost the chance to publish the breaking news about the Labour leader’s healing horseradish because the organizers of the event explicitly asked the 100 participants not to tweet, report in real time on social media, or take photos. Last Monday’s was a private event, and nobody wanted paparazzi to pop up. Even so, somebody was evidently taking photos surreptitiously. Since the photos reached a right-wing British blogger, of all people, who immediately uploaded them to the internet with his distorted interpretation, one would assume that the unknown photographer was a mole planted in advance with a contrarian agenda. In the coming hours, the inaccurate, selective information that the blogger disseminated drove headlines hostile to Corbyn, in social and formal media, occupying more cyberspace than had been devoted to the slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza a few days earlier.

The blog claimed that Corbyn had contributed beet roots to the seder; a simple journalistic inquiry would have shown the roots’ color to be very different. The blogger also said he had a recording of people present at the meal booing when the names of two leaders on the Board of Deputies of British Jews were mentioned (or, as the seder participants put it, “Bored of Deputies”). It is true that there were catcalls, but it’s only partially true. There was much longer booing when Ken Livingstone’s name came up – a former mayor of London and Labourite who had been suspended from the party after saying that Hitler supported Zionism.

The people behind the catcalls and the organizers of the seder define themselves as anti-Zionist Jews, or non-Zionist, or just Jews. They belong to the Jewdas Group – Radical Voices for an Alternative Diaspora, founded in 2005 by young people seeking to reflect socialist-minded Judaism in independent ways, and seeing the Bund as a model.

They seek to free themselves of the identification of Jews with Israel, without conceding their right to criticize Israel’s policy against the Palestinians. They spell the organization’s name Jewdas to remove any doubt that they are Jews, but it’s pronounced like Judas, the ultimate symbol of betrayal in Christian tradition. That symbol nourished 2,000 years of Christian anti-Semitism.

The choice of a name that sounds like the most hated symbol in the eyes of the group’s non-Jewish environment suffices to grasp Jewdas’ nature – provocative, delighting in tongue-in-cheek statements and in needling history and mythology and religion. Its members, atheist and observant and all that’s in between, hang around in radical leftist and pro-Palestinian circles and flaunt their Judaism proudly, including by wearing yarmulkes and Stars of David.

In 2014, Jewdas published a guide for how to criticize Israel while also being aware that anti-Semitism exists and avoiding the trap of anti-Semitic stereotypes and prejudices. In September 2016, it published a Facebook post urging that Livingstone be sent into space “for his own good and everybody else’s, because he won’t shut up, so we are sending him to space where nobody will hear him.” This was interpreted by non-Jews as a call to oust him from the party.

Participate in demonstrations against the extreme right and neo-Nazis, Islamophobia and economic austerity. They party a lot, because being Jewish is fun, and have taken trips to former centers of Diaspora Jewry like Andalusia and Marseilles in what they call “Birthwrong” – as a counter to the Zionist “Birthright” trips to Israel.

Most of the people at the alternative seder were young; many belonged to the LGBT community. Some wouldn’t be considered Jews under traditional Jewish law. Two – a man and a woman – are studying for the rabbinate. Some work as cantors despite not having been formally trained. One couple, who looked Indian, saw the gathering as they walked by and were invited to join, since the Haggadah says, “Let all who are hungry come and eat.”

The seder included a prayer for the release of prisoners and the return of refugees. Participants sang a Yiddish hymn whose author, Shmerke Kaczerginski, dedicated it to the young fighters of the Vilna Ghetto; one elderly participant reminded all that the Warsaw Ghetto revolt began on Pesach eve. The Jewdas Haggadah also included Bella Ciao, an Italian partisan song in Yiddish translation. Also included was Rachel Bloom’s poem “remember that we suffered,” and its immortal words: “have we mentioned hitler?” In addition, they sang “The Internationale” in English and Hebrew. Corbyn joined in, or at least lip-synched.

They enacted a neoliberal dialogue in English between Pharaoh and his CEO over how to increase Egypt’s profits. The answer: Stop paying the workers. Corbyn laughed with everybody else. Each table was asked to propose ways of fighting Pharaoh. One table parodied a purist, isolationist left. Corbyn laughed in open delight. Others said humor alone wouldn’t topple capitalism; the slaves had to form a union that would declare a general strike in Egypt.

There were good jokes and bad ones, including what seemed (at least to older participants) like excessive and infantile use of the word “fuck.” The price was five British pounds per person, not including wine, grape juice or matzah, which everyone was supposed to bring for themselves. The church was paid 230 pounds for use of its hall. One member worked for three days to prepare vegan food for everyone, using Persian recipes she learned at home.

Most participants, including several organizers, didn’t know that one member of the group had invited Corbyn; they were surprised when he arrived with his wife Laura. He didn’t act like the leader and they didn’t act like the led.

Corbyn said the blessing over Elijah’s Cup, as written in the Jewdas Haggadah: “Legend has it that the prophet Elijah will come at some point to announce the coming of the messiah. We fill up the cup and open the door just in case Eli is outside waiting. As radical Jews, we understand ‘the Messiah’ as ‘the messianic age’ or ‘redemption’ or ‘revolution.’ So let’s fill this cup with the hope that socialism and revolution will be upon us soon.”

The seder table also had a Miriam’s Cup, “to remind ourselves of the women whose stories are often hidden from the seder, and everyone who is oppressed in a patriarchal society.” And there was a Geoffrey’s Cup – named for the group’s imaginary spokesman “Geoffrey Cohen” – “as a symbol of our struggle with the Jewish establishment.”

Last year’s Haggadah included a “prayer against the state of Israel” by “Geoffrey,” which urged, “Please god smash the state of Israel. Smash it in the abundance of your love and judge it.” Jewdas members believe this is what led the blogger to assert that it called for Israel’s destruction, and thus to suggest that Corbyn’s participation in the seder was evidence of either anti-Semitism or blindness to it.

According to the British media, however, the blogger based himself on a December 2017 tweet which said, “Israel is a steaming pile of sewage which needs to be properly disposed of.” Of this quote, one Jewdas member said, “That was surely some nonsense that somebody tweeted in anger.”

Tuesday morning, Corbyn’s participation in this non-Zionist Jewish seder was indeed depicted as further evidence of his insensitivity to anti-Semitism. As evidence it was mentioned that this dissident Jewish group even dared to claim that the recent organized protest against anti-Semitism in Labour stemmed less from a desire to fight anti-Semitism than from a desire to oust Labour’s elected leader because he’s a socialist and supports Palestinian rights.

But later in the day, the tone changed, as people stopped relying on the blogger and instead investigated the details for themselves and studied Jewdas’ history. The organization received additional donations, and one person wrote on its Facebook page, “I had never heard of Jewdas before Monday but now  I think I’ve found my people.”

Why Israel backed down on eight of 12 charges in Ahed Tamimi show trial

Fadi Quran

The Israeli military was forced to give in and drop eight of the 12 charges against 17-year-old Palestinian girl Ahed Tamimi (below) as part of a plea bargain, in which Ahed recognized in court the fact that she slapped the soldier and called for protests.

In return, Ahed will get the minimum sentence of 8 months instead of spending at least 3 years in prison based on what the military prosecutor was initially seeking. Lawyers at Ofer Military Court told us we would be lucky if they offered a 2 year plea bargain.

But now, Ahed will be out in July — early enough to go to her first year in college. For the next 4 months in prison, Ahed will focus on her studies and take her final year exams.

Ahed’s mother, Nariman, will also be released at the same time.

The fact that a child will be jailed for 8 months for slapping a soldier whose troops just shot her 15 year old cousin in the face is extreme, but in the context of the 99% conviction rate in the Israeli military court system and right-wing incitement against Ahed, this compromise by the Israeli military shows they have decided to back down in the face of growing pressure to release Ahed.

In fact, they were begging Ahed’s lawyer, Gaby Lasky, to accept the plea bargain. Below are the 3 main reasons why the Israeli military was forced to back down, and give Ahed the minimum possible sentence:ahed sentenced

(1) Ahed refused to be coerced so there wasn’t enough evidence to convict her. Israel subjected Ahed Tamimi to intense military interrogations led by a member of Israel’s military intelligence. The interrogation tactics were meant to coerce her into admitting guilt on the 12 charges brought against her.

Detained children, who are often beaten, disoriented, and afraid, end up saying anything the interrogator wants them to — but Ahed courageously maintained her right to remain silent throughout the entire interrogation.

Unable to break Ahed, the Israeli military arrested 10 other Palestinians from Nabi Saleh, 8 of them children. These children also remained steadfast and refused to allow the military to coerce them into giving false testimony to indict Ahed.

Hence, the prosecutor did not have enough evidence to indict Ahed, which made it difficult to complete here trial, especially while it was garnering significant international attention.

(2) Ahed’s case created massive global uproar from citizens to diplomats: millions around the world watched in shock as a 16 year old girl was terrorized, and Israel failed to spin the story.

After a massive right-wing Israeli campaign calling for the arrest, and sometimes even murder, of Ahed, which was followed by her arrest, Ahed quickly became a symbol of Palestinian children. Dozens of media networks flocked to cover her story, and in so doing shed a spotlight on the detention of Palestinian children in Israeli military courts.

Over 1.75 million people around the world took action with Avaaz and demanded that Ahed and Palestinian children be released. Amnesty and Human Rights Watchjoined her campaign — and news networks from the BBC to Xinhua, and from CNN to Al Jazeera reported her story.

In an effort to spin the story in Israel’s favor, former Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, claimed that the ‘Tamimi family were actors’, which journalists did not buy. Oren further claimed that the Knesset had a committee investigating the “authenticity” of the family, which was quietly ridiculed in diplomatic circles as a sign of Israel’s paranoia and its inability to humanize Palestinians.

In a last ditch effort to defame the Tamimi family, 15 year old Mohammad Tamimi, whose skull was shattered when a soldier shot him in his face, was arrested. Ahed slapped the soldier because she heard her cousin Mohammad was shot and in critical condition — and that story intensified global support for her case. The Israeli military interrogated Mohammad and successfully coerced him into saying he got his head injury (a third of his skull was missing and he needed surgery to replace it) from falling off of a bicycle. Major General Yoav Mordecai posted Mohammad’s “confession” on his Facebook page.

However, the Tamimi family quickly released x-rays, footage, and hospital records that proved without a doubt that Mohammad was shot, forcing the military to retract.

Diplomatically, many nations that were already worried about the ill-treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military prisons spoke up. The EU said it was “deeply concerned” about the arrest of minors. Diplomats from around the world were mobilised to watch Ahed’s hearing, with representatives from Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, and many others attending her trial.

(3) Ahed’s arrest was supposed to deter Palestinian youth but instead it inspired them to organise

The Israeli military hoped that the arrest of Ahed would deter the youth of Nabi Saleh (Ahed’s village) and Palestinians across the region from protesting. What happened was the opposite: The youth were inspired by Ahed’s agency, and protests in Nabi Saleh and elsewhere became larger and more intense.

Youth from the villages around Nabi Saleh also joined its protests. And Palestinian students began the process of organising a #March_for_our_freedom. Fearing further upheaval, and unwilling to make Ahed a bigger hero, the Israeli military was forced to give in and drop 8 of the charges against Ahed. Instead of spending over 3 years in prison based on what they had initially pursued, she will now be out in July — early enough to go to her first year in college. The only thing she was booked for were the things in the video — slapping a soldier and calling for protests.

They dropped the charge of inciting to bombings and stabbings for her and her mother, and the charge of stone throwing. For the next 4 months in prison, Ahed will focus on her studies and take her final year exam.

It is essential that we tell Ahed’s story as it is, one of steadfastness in prison and a failure by the military to break her. In court, Ahed said: “There is no justice under occupation.”

She’s right, and that’s why this plea deal, as unfair as it is, was the best she could hope for and the biggest possible compromise the Israeli military, under pressure, could give. There are 356 children, all like Ahed, still in military confinement. Every year over 750 children are arrested. Let’s continue to take action until they are all free.
Check out the HUGE campaign to free Ahed and all Palestinian children

Look here: https://secure.avaaz.org/campaign/en/free_ahed_global_loc/

How does closing schools for 500,000 children help anti-radicalisation?

Chris Gunness from the UNRWA, the United Nations organisation that looks after Palestinian refugees, gave this briefing in London recently on the effect of Trump’s cuts in UNRWA funding

Our biggest single state donor is the US. Last year we received $365 million and we had
CHRIS-GUNNESSbeen led to believe by the American administration that we would get exactly that amount this year. In the second week of January we got a cheque for 60 million and we were quite surprised. When we made repeated enquiries to our interlocutors in Washington it became clear that that is all we could expect for this year. So our budget which is $1.2 billion was suddenly reduced by at least $300 million.

Now let me talk about the potential impact of that. 525 thousand students in UNWRA schools in the Arab states and territories around Israel may not get an education. Nine million patient visits which is what our 140 primary health clinics give to Palestine refugees every year may stop functioning. 1.7 million food-insecure Palestine refugees may not receive food. That is in places like Syria where we have 400,000 at least Palestine refugees wholly dependent on UNWRA for food. In Gaza alone there are one million food-insecure refugees and by the way as a matter of political choice, that figure has gone from about 80,000 people in the year 2000, to nearly one million today,  so as a matter of political choice the international community has taken the decision to make one million people food insecure in an economy where there is over 60 per cent unemployment.

We hear a lot about radicalisation: one hears it from western politicians, one hears it from American politicians, one hears it from British politicians and European politicians. Can I ask rhetorically of them but also of you, how can it be in the interests of the anti-radicalisation narrative, to have over half a million children on the streets of the Middle East, at a time when extremist groups are in full recruitment mode?

How can it be in the interests of an anti-radicalisation narrative to have a million hungry, angry, increasingly ill-educated children in UNWRA schools become non- functioning. How can that be in anyone’s interest?

And on the subject of radicalisation allow me to make a slightly more profound thought: whatis Gaza? It is essentially a closed Palestinian community where there are appalling human rights abuses that take place on a daily basis, where political horizons and where personal horizons are deprived of a people who are naturally entrepreneurial and who want nothing more than to be free from the indignity of aid dependence. What is Yarmouk? Yarmouk is a refugee camp on the southern reaches of Damascus which was taken over by Isis in 2014. It is an enclosed Palestinian community with a ring of steel around it where there is an enormous and appalling denial of human rights on an industrial scale where there are no political or personal horizons, What is  Ein El Hilweh in Lebanon? It is an  enclosed Palestinian society where there are appalling human rights abuses where people have no political or personal horizons. What is Al Walaja in the West Bank? The list goes on.

And the point I am trying to make is that what defines Palestinian identity  increasingly is this experience of confinement, of rights abuses, of the deprivation of personal and political horizons and that is why I wholeheartedly agree with what our ambassador has said that there has to be a political solution. That alone will solve UNWRA’s economic crisis and that indeed will solve the political crisis confronting the scattered communities around the Middle East.

I want to end by telling you a story and I think it speaks to the anti-radicalisation argument. When after the 2014 war our schools gathered together at the beginning of the academic year the first thing that happened is that there was a roll call. There was a roll call because our school kids had to learn who had been killed in the war. They had to learn which of their classmates had been so badly maimed they could not get to school. Now imagine your children going to school and starting the academic year and having to begin by trying to get their heads around their classmates who had been killed. UNWRA’s work in that situation was to employ  a socio-economic adviser/practitioner in each of our schools and they worked tirelessly to work through the traumas. Our doctors, last time I was in Gaza in November, said to me: There is an epidemic of psycho-social problems. There are tens of thousands of children in Gaza who simply have no sense of a future, who are deeply disturbed by three wars within the last nine years. I say to you thank you. Behind all these macro-economic statistics there are individuals whose dignity and individuality must be respected. So thank you for supporting us.

 

Ask your MP to write a letter to UNICEF

Please send this letter from Military Court Watch to your MP:

Dear ……….

March 6 marked 5 years since UNICEF published the report – “Children in Israeli Military Detention”. As you know the report concluded that the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be “widespread, systematic and institutionalised”.

During the intervening years UNICEF issued 2 updates to its report in October 2013 and February 2015. While acknowledging that there have been some positive developments UNICEF ultimately concluded that the levels of alleged abuse have not significantly decreased.

To mark the anniversary MCW has issued a short statement – https://is.gd/JkxqUY

One issue we highlight in the statement is that UNICEF has now gone silent – no updates to the report for 3 years. UNICEF has not publicly stated why they have gone quiet but we do know that they have come under sustained pressure.

Can you please write a letter to the head of UNICEF in Jerusalem, thanking the organisation for its important work, and urging the organisation to release a 3rd update soon. The head of UNICEF here is Genevieve Boutin – gboutin@unicef.org
Please send a copy to me and to Military Court Watch at: gerard@militarycourtwatch.org

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