Merkel shows western leaders CAN stop the demolition of Khan al Ahmar

Angela Merkel has demonstrated the power of Western leaders by threatening to cut short her visit if the army go ahead with the planned demolition of the Bedouin village of Khan al Ahmar this week.

The army turned up at 4 am and remained parked on the main road for half an hour (see below),  but then as quickly as they came they left.

Villagers put up posters of the German chancellor in the hope that she would persuade the Israelis to call off the bulldozers already on site, ready to raze their homes and their famous mud-and-tyre school to the ground.

Sadly there is no evidence that Angela Merkel or any other European leader will make anything more than verbal protests when, as now seems inevitable, the bulldozers move in.

Meanwhile a strange lake has appeared in the desert, caused by a leak from the nearby settlement’s sewage pipe.  At first the villagers thought this was another Israeli strategem to encourage them to leave, but now the lake is being drained.

Last week the army put up notices ordering villagers to demolish their own houses by Monday. Hundreds of activists and journalists gathered in the village for the expected confrontation.

Short of a dramatic intervention by the UK or another European country, they now expect demolition to start soon after Mrs Merkel leaves.
PHOTO-2018-10-03-04-23-15 (002)


Board of Deputies accused of antisemitism by its own members

A senior vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews – the body at the forefront of the campaign for the IHRA code on antisemitism – is herself facing a vote of no confidence for criticising Israeli in a way that breaches the IHRA code.

Dr Sheila Gewolb issued a press release on behalf of the Board of Deputies in July criticising the Nation-State Law which says that only Jewish Israelis have a right to self-determination and downgrades the status of the Arabic language.

“Being Jewish is a wonderful thing, but this should not lead to doing down others. All people should be valued and Israel’s Arab and other minority populations should be a treasured part of society,” it said.

Two members of the Board of Deputies say this breaches example h) of the IHRA code by “applying double standards to Israel by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation”.

This means that they consider the press release antisemitic.

They have told chief executive Gillian Merron that they already have the signatures of 32 members and are confident of getting the 50 required to table a motion of no confidence – effectively sacking Dr Gewolb from her post as vice-president.

The Board has itself used example h) to accuse the National Union of Students of antisemitism for voting to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

The Board also used example h) to accuse academics of antisemitism when they wrote to the Guardian to support an academic boycott in 2015.

Now the same catch-all clause is being used against the Board’s own vice-president, proving – if proof were needed – that the loose wording of the IHRA examples allows almost anyone to be accused of antisemitism.

And if the vote of no confidence is carried against Dr Gewolb,  then the whole leadership of the Board of Deputies will need to resign – as the press release was issued officially on behalf of the Board.

The two members – Jacob Lyons and Martin Rankoff – say that the Board of Deputies has been “hijacked by individuals …with so-called ‘progressive’ views” and that they are a Trojan horse inside the organisation.

They also say: “Anything that might be construed as a foreign entity interfering in the democratic process of another sovereign nation is categorically off-limits.”

This will be a problem not only for the Board of Deputies, but also for all the other mainstream Jewish organisations who have criticised the Nation-State Law.

  • According to the New Israel Fund, the law is a “slap in the face to Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel”.
  • According to Yachad, “we must speak up in opposition to this racist bill which turns minorities in Israel into second-class citizens”.
  • According to the American Jewish Committee, the law “puts at risk the commitment of Israel’s founders to build a country that is both Jewish and democratic”.

Hundreds of flags greet Labour’s first-ever debate on Palestine


For decades Labour Party managers have kept motions about the Israel-Palestine conflict off the floor of its annual conference for fear of the arguments they might cause.  Finally at this year’s conference a motion on the conflict was debated and their fears proved to be unfounded. There was near-unanimity. Every speaker spoke in favour and very nearly every delegate voted in favour. Observers saw only three hands raised against.

The motion called for a ban on arms sales to Israel and an independent inquiry into the deaths of young Palestinians killed by Israeli army snipers on the Gaza border.  It also broke the taboo against referring to the “Nakba”, the Arabic name for the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948 to make way for the state of Israel.

Far from revealing divisions it revealed a very broad consensus in the Labour Party. This was obvious from the hundreds of Palestinian flags that were waved in all parts of the conference hall as Colin Monehen from Harlow and Zahid Ali from Wolverhampton SW spoke to their motion – an emotional moment for many delegates who have been campaigning for years in favour of Palestinian human rights.

“I want us to send a message to Mr Trump,” the Harlow delegate told the conference, “that cutting the funding of UNRWA, the UN humanitarian agency set up to assist these people in exile, born homeless, born stateless, in refugee camps, will not crush their spirit. It will not lessen their resolve to return home.

“I want us to say this to every Palestinian. We have heard you calling from the darkness and we cannot and we will not ignore you or your tragedy.”

Zahid Ali, seconding the motion, held up a picture of the woman paramedic Razan al-Najjar shot dead by Israeli Army snipers while she cared for injured protesters by the Gaza fence.

The motion urged the Government to:

  • increase its level of annual assessed contributions to UNRWA, providing much need reassurance and stability to Palestinian refugees, and to
  • encourage other member states to do the same.

and it called for:

  • an independent international investigation into Israel’s use of force against Palestinian demonstrators;
  • a ban on UK government arms sales to Israel; and
  • an immediate unconditional end to the illegal blockade and closure of Gaza.

According to delegates the Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry had asked the movers of the motion to drop a reference to the Nakba, but they refused.

This is what the Harlow delegate referred to when he said: “There are those that are nervous about the word Nakba. But the Nakba did happen and those people were forcibly removed from their homes, and there has to be a recognition of that.”

She also resisted the proposal in the Wolverhampton motion to suspend arms sales to Israel pending the result of an independent inquiry, but in fact the motion ended up calling for a permanent ban on arms sales to Israel.

The debate and the vote to ban arms sales to Israel were widely reported in the Israeli press, but there was almost no mention of it in the mainstream media in Britain, apart from the BBC.

Corbyn pledges Labour will recognise Palestine ‘as soon as we take office’

Liverpool, September 26 2018

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn won a standing ovation on theCorbyn final day of Labour’s Liverpool conference when he promised to recognise the state of Palestine “as soon as we take office”.

He called the occupation, illegal settlements and the imprisonment of Palestinian children as “an outrage” and condemned the shooting of unarmed demonstrators in Gaza and the recently-passed Nation-State Law.

“And let me next say a few words about the ongoing denial of justice and rights to the Palestinian people.

“Our party is united in condemning the shooting of hundreds of unarmed demonstrators in Gaza by Israeli forces and the passing of Israel’s discriminatory Nation-State Law.

“The continuing occupation, the expansion of illegal settlements and the imprisonment of Palestinian children are an outrage. We support a two-state solution to the conflict with a secure Israel and a viable and secure Palestinian state.

“But a quarter of a century on from the Oslo Accords we are no closer to justice or peace and the Palestinian tragedy continues, while the outside world stands by.

“As my great Israeli friend Uri Avneri who died this year put it: “What is the alternative to peace? A catastrophe for both peoples”.

“And in order to help make that two-state settlement a reality we will recognise a Palestinian state as soon as we take office.”



UK increases funding for Palestinian refugee camps to counter Trump’s cut

Foreign Office questions
Tuesday September 4th 2018 2.30 pm

New Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt moved quickly to counter President Trump’s decision to stop US funding for Palestinian refugee camps by announcing a £7 million increase in UK funding.

“We do not agree with the American Administration’s decision on this issue,”  he said at Foreign Office questions on Tuesday, promising to consult other countries on how to make up the gap in funding caused by Trump’s announcement.

International aid for Palestinian refugees is channelled through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which runs 59 refugees camps, 143 health centres and over 700 schools for 4.3 million refugees in five countries.

German foreign minister Heiko Maas announced last Friday that that Germany would increase its contributions to UNRWA, warning that “the loss of this organisation could unleash an uncontrollable chain reaction”.

On Thursday the White House confirmed that the $200 million cut in US aid will now include the $20 million – exempted so far – that goes to the specialist Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem serving the West Bank and Gaza.

The Augusta Victoria, Makassed and the St John’s Eye Hospital were among the last Palestinian national institutions based in Jerusalem and have a never-ending battle with Israel to obtain permits for their patients to pass through checkpoints to access the hospitals based inside Israel-annexed East Jerusalem.

Lobbying by Christian organisations in the US Congress has protected the hospitals from cuts so far, but the Administration now sees the withdrawal of US aid – including the hospitals – as a way of forcing the Palestinians to accept the Trump plan when it is finally unveiled.

In Gaza UNRWA distributes an absolute food ration to households that are living below $3.87 per person per day (£2.99) while a Social Safety Net ration is allocated to households subsisting below $1.47 per person per day (£1.13). In both cases, the food baskets contain quantities of wheat flour, rice, sunflower oil, sugar, dried milk, lentils and chickpeas.

In 2017 UNRWA distributed in-kind food assistance to over 993,045 beneficiaries in Gaza. In order to define Palestine refugees’ eligibility for emergency food assistance, UNRWA social workers from the Relief and Social Services Programme assessed refugee families’ poverty levels through 91,444 home visits.

One third of the 4.3 million registered Palestinian refugees continue to live in refugee camps, including 2.1 million in the West Bank and Gaza where economic restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation and the blockade of Gaza are the main cause of poverty.

The World Bank estimated in 2013 that Israeli expropriation of Palestinian resources and Israeli-imposed economic restrictions cost the Palestinian economy $3.4 billion a year. Without this burden the Palestinian economy would soon outgrow its need for overseas aid.

In the view of many economists international aid to Palestine, especially the EU but including the $200 million of USAid and the £90 million of UK aid, are essentially a subsidy to Israel allowing it to escape its responsibility under international law to shoulder the cost of its 51-year occupation.

Starving Palestinians into submission

Matthew Pennycook (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)   In response to the cruel decision taken by the Trump Administration to cut US funding for the United Nations Reliepennycookf and Works Agency, the ​German Government have pledged to increase their financial support for the agency. Will the Minister commit his Government to do the same, so that Palestinian refugees do not suffer as a result of the President’s decision?

The Minister for the Middle East (Alistair Burt)  I am pleased to announce that today we have taken the decision to increase funding to UNRWA by a further £7 million. I spoke just a couple of hours ago to Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl to express our support for UNRWA. We understand the concerns of the United States, but we do not believe that the way it has gone about this is correct. We will continue to support the most vulnerable people, because that also forms a vital part of a just solution to the issues between the Palestinians and Israel.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab)  I welcome what the Minister has just said about new funding for UNRWA. Labour has been saying for months that proposed cuts from Donald Trump would damage Palestinian schooling and education and harm the peace process. Will the Foreign Office also now take the lead in organising an international emergency conference, so that others may also pledge more support?

Alistair Burt  I am grateful for her support, and it is a common view in the House. We have increased funding more than once during this year, and more than £40 million extra has been brought forward to support UNRWA. I spoke to the commissioner-general about ​education in particular. He has the funds to open the schools at present and keep them going, but this will depend on further funding decisions in the future. I hope that we will be able to take part in mutual discussions at the UN General Assembly with other states that are affected. This is not just about the West Bank and Gaza; it is also about Jordan and Lebanon. It is about places where children are getting an education. We are talking about an education that is gender neutral in a way in which other parts of the education system in the region are not. The question is: if UNRWA does not provide the education, who might? That is why it is so important to keep this going.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab)  May I put it to [the Foreign Secretary] that one of the most disreputable aspects of President Trump’s decision to end United States funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency is the fact that he dressed it up as part of a grand negotiating strategy towards what he calls the deal of the century, when in reality that decision is hitting schools and hospitals and the food aid for hundreds of thousands of people in abject poverty?

I applaud the increase in funding for UNRWA, but may I press the Secretary of State a bit more about what action the UK Government and their partners will take to ensure that the vital lifeline that UNRWA provides to vulnerable people around the world will not be lost?

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Jeremy Hunt)
We do not agree with the American Administration’s decision on this issue. Today’s funding announcement is part of our response, but I reassure him that we will talk to other donors as well, to see whether we can make up the gap in funding to UNRWA that has been caused by that decision.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)  The World Health Organisation reports that 10 Palestinian people, including a pregnant woman and her two children, were killed and more than 400 were injured by Israeli forces in one week in August. Instead of deploying even more chatter, why will the international community not actually act and protect some of the most vulnerable people on earth?

Alistair Burt  The experiences in Gaza and the crisis we have seen over the summer have different roots and causes. It is essential that all those who are contributing in any way to the violence in relation to the process desist and find a way through to the peace opportunities that are there. We deeply regret the loss of life, and it is essential that all sides respond to that. Also, the violence that comes from Gaza towards Israel is making negotiations very difficult.

Israeli extremists taunt doomed Bedouin village of Khan al Ahmar

Busloads of supporters of the extremist Israeli organisation Im Tirtzu descended on Khan al ahmar on Friday to taunt the villagers after last week’s High Court ruling removing the last legal obstacle to the demolition of their homes.

Bulldozers are expected to move in as early as Wednesday of next week to raze the famous Bedouin primary school built of mud and tyres and the homes and sheep pens of the 180 residents to the ground. Another four Bedouin villages will also be demolished.

The High Court ruling clears away the legal hurdles, but does not oblige the Israeli government to proceed.  Strong international pressure could still persuade them to defer action or, better still, to let the Bedouins live in peace.

Over 50 British MPs have visited the village of Khan al Ahmar, including Ed Miliband and William Hague when he was foreign secretary, and over 100 have signed a parliamentary petition (EDM 1169 – see below) calling on the UK government to intervene.

Middle East minister Alistair Burt has visited the village on two occasions and has raised the issue with Israeli ministers many times, but British protests have ceased to have any influence on the Israeli government since they are never followed by any action. More than that, the Israelis believe that the protests are for public consumption and that ministers privately support what they are doing.

At a House of Commons debate on Khan al Ahmar in July the Conservative MP Sir Desmond Swayne said:  “By our refusal to act, we make ourselves complicit, don’t we?” Until earlier this year Sir Desmond was the minister responsible for the Middle East at the Department for International Development.

This gives the new Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt the opportunity to demonstrate the he will not be as supine as his predecessor and face up to the Israeli tactics by attaching a price-tag to the demolition of the village.

One persuasive argument he will hear from the Palestinian Authority is that it is not just the fate of 180 residents and about 170 schoolchildren that is at stake, but the future of the two state solution and the creation of a Palestinian state.

Khan al Ahmar occupies a strategic position on the narrow waist of the West Bank between Jerusalem and Jericho, known as planning area E1, where the Israeli government wants to build a wedge of illegal settlements to cut the West Bank in two and make it impossible to create a contiguous and viable Palestinian state.

The last four American presidents, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama, all made it clear to the Israelis that this was their red line.  No building on planning area E1.  But under Trump there are no red lines and nor is there any clear message from the British government.

Once the bulldozers have demolished Khan al Ahmar, the Israeli government will move quickly to bury the two-state solution in concrete, joining up the existing settlements until they have a huge settler city stretching across the West Bank.


Universities may suppress criticism of Israel or support for Palestinian rights

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has added that: 

“If this Bill becomes law, political speech critical of Israel will likely be censored… colleges and universities may suppress a wide variety of speech critical of Israel or in support of Palestinian rights in an effort to avoid investigations by the Department [of Education] and the potential loss of funding.

“If the Bill is dangerous and even unnecessary, then why was it introduced? Reading the ‘fact sheet’ attached to the legislation revealed the Bill’s sinister political intent — and that is, silencing campus student movements and activities that are critical of Israel, in particular the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement (BDS).

“All of this is wrong on so many levels. It has the government unfairly influencing a debate that is taking place on college campuses weighing in to support one side, while threatening the other side if they cross an undefined and arbitrary line. These efforts tell Palestinian and progressive Jewish students that their speech will be policed and that they may be subject to penalties.

  • If students were to call Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu “a monster” or accuse him and the Israeli military of “a barbaric assault on Gaza” — would they be accused of ‘demonising’?
  • Or what if students spoke about Israel’s 1948 ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Palestinians or focused their political work on criticising Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, but said nothing about (or maybe didn’t even care to know about) Turkey’s occupation in Cyprus or Russia’s in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine — could they be charged with delegitimising Israel or applying a ‘double standard’?”