A stepladder of sanctions to stop Israel’s annexation of the West Bank

A lot of politicians have come round to the view recently that the only way to stop Israel annexing Area C of the West Bank is to impose sanctions.  Not before time!  But what sanctions would be the most effective? And what sanctions stand the best chance of being adopted by the Government?

Suspend the EU-Israel trade agreement

Suspending Israel’s privileged access to the EU market would stop the annexation and probably the occupation as well. The Israelis love being part of Europe even more than they love the settlements.

The EU is Israel’s biggest trading partner with more than a third of imports and exports. Israel is tiny by comparison with less than 1 per cent of the EU’s trade. So the EU’s negotiating position is very strong.

In fact it doesn’t need to negotiate. Article 1 of the EU-Israel Association Agreement gives the Israelis tariff-free or low-tariff access to the EU. Article 2 makes it conditional on “respect for human rights and democratic principles”. All they have to do is to invoke Article 2.

The only problem is that the EU needs the agreement of all 27 members to do this. And there’s always at least one country that will cast a veto.

The UK has now negotiated a post-Brexit UK-Israel Agreement[i] that reproduces the EU-Israel trade agreements as closely as possible and comes into force on January 1st. Even after we leave, we are still Israel’s 3rd biggest trading partner (after the rest of the EU and the US) and they are 42nd on our list of trading partners, so we also have a strong negotiating hand.

Recognise Palestine

Recognition may not have an immediate impact on the welfare of Palestinians in the refugee camps, but it would send a very strong signal to Israel and it has the added advantages that it costs nothing and is a decision that is entirely in the hands of the UK government. It’s also the measure that the Palestinians say would do the most good. When he was foreign secretary William Hague promised to recognise Palestine “at a time when it can best help bring about peace” and that time has surely come. If we recognise, France, Belgium, Spain, Ireland, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Italy might join us.

Ban settlement trade

The Government keeps telling us that Israeli settlements are illegal. Why, then, is it legal to sell settlement products in this country? There is no sensible answer to this question. The Irish Dail is currently considering a Bill to ban settlement products from Ireland. A similar move in the UK is supported by senior MPs from the LibDems and the SNP and by Labour’s shadow Middle East Minister Wayne David who has said it “would send out a clear message that such a blatant breach of international law is not without consequence”.

There are no official figures on settlement goods sold in the UK because Israel makes no distinction between Israel and West Bank, but the most recent estimate put EU imports from settlements at €229 million[ii] a year, equivalent to less than 2½ per cent of EU-Israel imports, so a ban on settlement products would not in itself be a heavy blow. But if it was broadened to include a ban on trade with the companies that trade in the settlements, especially the banks, it would very effective. The United Nations recently published a list of 112 companies that trade in settlements, including three based in the UK, JCB which sells bulldozers to the Israeli army, Opodo, who promote tourism in the settlements, and Greenkote, who have a factory in a settlement. Three major Israeli banks, Hapoalim, Leumi and Discount, saw their share prices nosedive on (sadly unfounded) rumours of an EU ban on banks that trade in settlements, revealing just how nervous this makes them.

End the zip code deal

Since 2000 Israel has benefited from zero or low tariffs to the EU. Settlements are not in Israel, so they don’t qualify. The Israeli government did not want to say publicly that settlements are not in Israel, so they did a deal with the EU whereby they would just provide zipcodes for Israel so national customs officials could check whether goods qualified for zero tariff at each port of entry.

The “Technical Arrangement” of 2004 led to a lot of attempted fraud.  In the first five years UK customs intercepted 597 consignments where preferential rates of duty had been claimed for goods originating from illegal settlements, according to UK Treasury figures. More up-to-date figures are not available, but enforcement by customs authorities is said to be “patchy”. Anecdotally, the postcode most often claimed by exports from settlements is the postcode of Tel Aviv airport.

The solution is to insist that settlement goods are accompanied, like most other goods, by an EUR1 Movement certificate stamped by the Customs and Excise Department of their country of origin, ie Palestine. If the Palestine Authority won’t stamp their forms, which they won’t, it’s because the goods are produced on stolen land using stolen water and often containing stolen natural resources.  A similar approach was adopted in Crimea where the annexationist government was told that Crimean goods could be exported only if they were stamped by the customs department of their country of origin, ie Ukraine.

Differentiation

When Russian troops annexed Crimea in February 2014, it took just 17 days for European leaders to impose travel bans and asset freezes on named Russian government officials. They followed up with other sanctions costing Russia $100 million a year and they were all justified on the basis of “differentiation” – ie you should refuse to treat the annexation as legitimate in any way.

In December 2018 the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution by 14 votes to nil (the UK drafted it and voted for it) describing Israeli settlements as “a flagrant violation” of international law and calling on all countries “to distinguish in their relevant dealings between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”.

This is the official policy of the UK Government. The European Council for Foreign Relations has spelt out some of the possible sanctions that could be imposed on settlers on the basis of a thorough implementation of this policy of differentiation:

  • Imposing asset freezes and travel bans against officials of Regional Settlement Councils in the West Bank and Israeli government officials involved in planning and implementing annexation measures.
  • Denying entry to the UK of Israeli citizens known to have engaged in or called for violent acts (including ‘Price Tag’ attacks) against Palestinians or suspected of human rights abuses.
  • Requiring tourism operators and educational publishers to follow regulations on consumer protection and advertising standards by not describing East Jerusalem or Bethlehem as in “Israel” and not describing Jerusalem as the sole “capital” of Israel.
  • Refusing to engage with Israeli ministries and government agencies located in occupied territory, such as Israel’s Ministry of Science and Technology, and Antiquities Authority.
  • Stipulating that Israeli settlers living in the occupied territory should access the same UK consular services as Palestinians, ie in East Jerusalem.

Stronger business guidelines

In 2014 the UK Government published some very weak guidance to UK firms that trade in settlements. This advises them that “we do not encourage” and “we do not offer support” to firms that trade with illegal settlements. UK Embassy support was no longer provided to help UK firms in the settlements. This advice could be made more effective with stronger words such as “discourage” (as in Scotland) and “disincentivise”. Former foreign secretary William Hague promised a policy of “incentives and disincentives” in 2012, so it’s a policy already in the UK’s armoury.  The Department of Business and the Foreign Office, who publish the guidance on the UK Trade & Industry website, could take a far more proactive role in advising UK firms and banks to stay out of the West Bank.

Labelling

In 2009 the last Labour government introduced labelling guidelines to distinguish Israeli settlement products from Palestinian West Bank products. The former were to be labelled ‘Produce of the West Bank (Israeli settlement produce)’ and the latter ‘Produce of the West Bank (Palestinian produce)’. The agreement was voluntary and applied only to agricultural produce, but the supermarkets agreed to abide by it and successor governments have continued to apply it.

Many EU governments, such as Denmark and Belgium, and some countries outside the EU, such as South Africa, followed the UK example with labelling guidelines and in 2015 the EU issued its own guidelines on labelling agricultural products and cosmetics produced in settlements so that they could not be labelled as “Made in Israel”. A ruling by the European Court of Justice reaffirmed this in 2019.

Procurement

Since 2009 the Co-operative Group has operated a Human Rights and Trade Policy, under which it withdraws trade from disputed or illegal territories such as Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Occupied Territories and the Moroccan settlements in Western Sahara. The Co-op says this does not constitute a boycott of Israeli businesses and it remains committed to sourcing produce from Israeli suppliers that do not source from the settlements. At least seven local authorities have voted to ban procurement from settlements and the TUC has supported this policy since 2009. The Government has tried to make public sector procurement or investment bans illegal, but was defeated in the Supreme Court. It is planning new legislation aimed at local authorities and pension funds.

A stepladder of measures

The task for MPs now is to hold the government’s feet to the fire until they agree on a course of action that will bring enough pressure to bear on the Israeli government. The most effective is likely to be not a single measure, but a stepladder of measures, starting with moderate steps, such as recognition or settlement trade, but with more radical steps held in reserve in case a greater degree of persuasion is needed. If the Israeli Government believes that the international community means business, then none of these measures will be needed, other than as a threat.

It has been Israel’s time-worn tactic they have used over decades, building illegal settlements little by little and especially when the world is distracted by some other crisis. They may do this again by annexing less territory than expected and hoping that is regarded as a victory.

The objective most be not just to stop the annexation. If that is all the international community asks for, then the Israeli Government will take that as tacit consent for the occupation and for the two annexations they have already carried out (East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights).  What we have do is exert enough pressure, not only to stop them going ahead with annexation but to lift the occupation and to reverse the earlier annexations and to give equal political rights to all.

[i] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-and-israel-sign-trade-continuity-agreement

[ii] Trading Away Peace: How Europe helps sustain illegal Israeli settlements’, October 2012, available from: www.christianaid.org.uk/Images/Trading%20Away%20Peace%20October%202012_tcm15-63607.pdf

40 MPs sign Andy Slaughter’s EDM on annexation: Check here: EDM #2344

 

ILLEGAL ANNEXATION OF OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN AND SYRIAN TERRITORIES

That this House condemns any annexation by the State of Israel of any part of the territories occupied in 1967; notes it has already illegally annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights; further notes that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu threatened during Israeli elections to annex part of or all of the West Bank; recalls that international law prohibits the acquisition of territory by force; believes that any such move threatens any solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict; and calls on the Government to make clear that any such Israeli annexation would entail significant consequences for UK-Israeli relations.

UK raises concerns over Trump and Netanyahu annexation threat

The UK raised concerns with Israel over Netanyahu’s  threat to annex part or all of the West Bank on April 30. It also raised concerns over  the US decision to recognise the Golan Heights as part of Israel on March 26.

New UK Minister for the Middle East, Dr Andrew Murrison, told the House of Commons that being America’s closest ally “does not prevent us from criticising it from time to time, but that is what being friends is all about”.

The SNP’s Tommy Sheppard ask what he will actually do if President Trump’s “deal of the century” includes proposals that support the Netanyahu administration’s plans to go ahead with annexation, but the  Minister replied: “I am not going to speculate on the matter he raises.”

Former Conservative minister Andrew Selous said that the ability of the UK to broker peace in the Middle East was undermined by “a perception that the West applies the rule of law partially…. So what steps are the Government taking to ensure that the international rule of law is applied equally to the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements?”

The Minister pointed to the postponement of the demolition of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in Area C of the West Bank as an example of the effectiveness of UK diplomatic pressure, although the threat had been postponed, not lifted. “We urge Israel to convert that postponement into something permanent.

‘If Israel does something edgy, we’ll be keen to discuss that with them” – Minister

“In general we would support the Israeli Government, who are the only democracy in the Middle East and a firm friend of this country. Where we find that our friends are doing something that we consider to be edgy or with which we disagree, we will certainly be keen to discuss that with them.”

This did not impress shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab) who said little had changed in the year since the slaughter on the Gaza border. Netanyahu was now backing legislation to give himself immunity from prosecution and was attacking the freedoms of Israeli Arabs, ignoring the human rights of Palestinians in Gaza and completing the annexation of the West Bank.

“Does the Minister agree that now is finally the time for the British Government to take a different step by recognising the state of Palestine while there is still a state left to recognise?”

The minister gave the usual reply: “We support the two-state solution. When the time is right, that inevitably implies that we will support—recognise—the state of Palestine, but in the meantime ​we are engaged in building institutions that are necessary to sustain such a state.”

Ms Marie Rimmer asked the minister for international protection for the human rights of Palestinians given Netanyahu’s call for the annexation of part or all of the West Bank and Trump’s endorsement of the acquisition of territory by force.  In his reply Dr Murrison said: “We want to see a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. I hope that makes our position clear.

In welcoming the new Minister for the Middle East to his post, Emily Thornberry pointed out it had taken the Government seven weeks to replace Alistair Burt after he resigned over Brexit and it was “a disgrace that, at a time like this, we should have 50 days without a dedicated Minister for such a critical region”.

Unlike most of his predecessors Dr Murrison does not appear to have been a member of either Conservative Friends of Israel or the Conservative  Middle East Council and there is no record on the House of Commons register of members’ interests of his visiting either Israel or Palestine.

The UK must stand by the Palestinians when they need us

Ask your MP to ask a question for Nakba Day

Foreign Office Questions
Tabling by Wednesday May 8th 12.30 pm
Questions Tuesday May 14th 11.30 am

With President Trump’s “deal of the century” due to be published at the end of Ramadan – just a few weeks away – his son-in-law Jared Kushner dropped a hint of what it may contain when he said on Thursday in Washington:  “What we need to start doing is just recognising truths – and I think that when we recognised Jerusalem, that is a truth – Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and that would be part of any final agreement anyway.”

Israel’s strategy has always been to build “facts on the ground” in contravention of international law and hope that sooner or later the international community will accept them. For many decades it did not work. The whole world – including the US – refused to recognise East Jerusalem or any part of the West Bank as part of Israel.

But in the last few months the situation has changed. Last summer Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved his embassy across the Green Line. Just last month he recognised the Golan Heights – a part of Syria under military occupation – as sovereign Israeli territory.

Netanyahu then said – two days before last month’s election – that he planned to “extend sovereignty” (in other words annex) all parts of the West Bank covered by settlements,  both the large settlement blocs close to the border and the “isolated settlements” deep inside the West Bank.

Are these the “truths” that Jared Kushner will want the world to recognise when he unveils the “deal of the century” in early June?  Will his plan allow Netanyahu to annex all the areas controlled by settlements (42%) or the whole of the area administered by the Israeli army – the so-called ‘Area C’ (62%)?

That would leave the Palestinians with between 12% and 8% of the territory of historic Palestine and roughly 50% of the population.

One  thing is already clear. Trump has gone back on the founding principle of the United Nations – and the basis of the entire post-world-war consensus – that territory can no longer be taken by military force.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has already made it clear that he disagrees with Trump on Jerusalem and on settlements.  But will he stand up to Trump if he tries to pressure the Palestinians to accept his deal?

If that happens, then clearly statements in the House of Commons will not be enough.  Hunt will have to do something substantive if it wants to stop President Trump from steamrollering the Palestinians into submission.  The obvious weapon he has in his hands is the UK’s long-promised recognition of Palestine.

Recognition would have significant legal and diplomatic consequences, but it would have little tangible effect on the lives of ordinary Palestinians, so it would need to be strengthened with stricter “differentiation” against settlement products. It has even been suggested that Palestine should be invited to join the Commonwealth.  That invitation might well be declined, given the UK’s role in Palestine’s history, but it would send a powerful message.

The day after Foreign Office questions – May 15th – is the 71st anniversary both of the foundation of the state of Israel and the displacement of more than 700,000 Palestinian refugees to create a Jewish majority in the new state.  It is known as Independence Day in Israel and as Nakba Day (the day of the catastrophe) to Palestinians.

The 14th would be a good day for MPs to tell the world that they will stand by the Palestinians when they need us to stand by our principles.  Ask your MP to ask the Foreign Secretary a question on Palestine.  It needs to be tabled not later than 12.30 on Wednesday. If it is drawn in the ballot, it should be answered on May 14th – in time for Nakba Day.

Hunt asked to clarify ‘Hamas principally responsible for Gaza deaths’ remark

The Foreign Secretary has been asked for clarification of the statement made by UK Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Julian Braithwaite, that “Hamas bears principal responsibility'” for the killing of 187 Palestinians and the injuring of more than 23,000 during the protests at the Gaza fence last year.

In a letter the director of Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights Tareq Shourou says: “Bearing in mind the fact that Israeli forces carried out these killings and injuries, this seems like a mistaken gross misstatement.”

He points to the United Nations Commission of Inquiry report‘s finding that “all 189 fatalities at the protests in Gaza from 30 March 2018 to 31 December 2018 were caused by unlawful use of force – with the possible exception of two incidents – and that medical workers, journalists, some children and some people with visible disabilities were shot intentionally”.

The same was true of more than 6,000 who were shot directly with live bullets, including more than 4,000 shot in the legs. As Commission member Sara Hussein said: “Our investigations found that Israeli snipers used high-velocity bullets and long-range sniper rifles equipped with sophisticated optical aiming devices. They saw the target magnified in their sights and they knew the consequences of shooting, but still pulled the trigger, not once or twice but more than 6000 times.

“The snipers killed 32 children, three clearly marked paramedics, and two clearly marked journalists. They shot at unarmed protesters, children and disabled persons and at health workers and journalists performing their duties, knowing who they were.”

A joint statement by 11 UK charities – including Christian Aid, Medical Aid for Palestinians and War on Want –  said the UK’s abstention on a motion endorsing the UN report was “a regrettable dereliction of the UK’s responsibility to uphold respect for the rule of international law and human rights”.

It says the Government’s justification for this abstention – that the inquiry did not “call explicitly for an investigation into the actions of non-state actors such as Hamas” – is lacking genuine substance, because the inquiry was set up to investigate ‘all alleged violations and abuses of international humanitarian law and international human rights law’.

It did not explicitly say Hamas, but it did not explicitly say Israel either. It said “all alleged violations” and indeed Hamas was investigated and they did make critical findings. Hamas , they said, “encouraged or defended the use of incendiary kites and balloons; failed in due diligence obligations to prevent and stop the use of these incendiary devices; and is obliged to investigate these failures of international human rights law.”

The letter also criticised the Foreign Secretary’s threat to vote against any motion on Israel if the United Nations Human Rights Council continued its practice of listing complaints against Israel as a permanent item 7 on every agenda, but did not do the same for other countries such as Syria.

“A preferred approach,” the letter said, would be for the UK to “use its influence as a prominent member of the Human Rights Council to urge the inclusion of other prolonged and serious human rights crises, such as the situation in Syria, as permanent agenda items”.

Julian Braithwaite is also UK Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva and there was an attempt by the leading Brexiteers in the European Research Group to draft him into the Brexit negotiating team, but it was ultimately blocked by Number Ten.

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/human-rights-council-40-item-2-uk-explanation-of-vote

UK abstention fuels continued killing of health workers at Gaza fence, says MP

Foreign Office Questions
Questions Tuesday April 2nd 11.30 am

Question 21 Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown): What diplomatic steps he is taking to help protect health workers operating in Gaza.

The UK’s refusal to support a UN motion criticising Israel over live-fire deaths at the Gaza border grants an impunity to Israel that is fuelling the killing and maiming of unarmed protesters.

This was the accusation made by Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab/Co-op) (right), citing the recent death of volunteer medic Sajid Muzher, 17, shot by the Israeli army while wearing a reflective vest. Final terms and conditionsrussell-moyle

The Minister for Asia and the Pacific (Mark Field), standing in for the Middle East minister Alistair Burt who resigned over Brexit, said the UIK had abstained at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on the grounds that the motion was not “balanced” because it did not “explicitly call for an investigation into … Hamas”.

The Speaker also called Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con)Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con) who are both members of Conservative Friends of Israel and Joan Ryan (Enfield North) (Ind) who is chair of Labour Friends of Israel.  All three focused their remarks on Hamas.

We face a choice: Do we stand by a crushed and marginalised people?

Battlelines are being drawn for a confrontation over Trump’s much-hyped, much-delayed “deal of the century” which is now promised soon after the end of Ramadan on June 4th – though the Palestinians are not expecting an Eid present from the American president.

Nothing has been revealed about the detailed contents of the package, but Trump’s strategy over the past two years has been to hit the Palestinians so hard that even just relenting a little can be made to seem like a generous offer.

He moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, undermining the international consensus that it should be a shared capital for both countries, and he recognised the Israeli seizure of the Golan Heights, opening the door to the annexation of the West Bank.

Since then he has tried to starve the Palestinians into submission by ending US aid to Palestine, cutting UN aid to Palestinian refugees and making no attempt to stop the Israelis withholding tax receipts that legally belong to the Palestinians, causing great hardship in both the West Bank and Gaza.

Now Netanyahu has won the latest election on April 9th by promising to annex illegal Israeli settlements that control more than 60% of the West Bank.  Asked on television whether he would annex the larger settlements near the Green Line or the isolated settlements deep inside the West Bank, he said: “I am going to extend sovereignty and I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and the isolated settlements. I will not uproot any [settler] and I will not transfer sovereignty to the Palestinians.”

Anticipating the worst, the Palestinians have cut off all communication with the Trump administration, a decision confirmed this week by a new Palestinian government headed by Mohammed Shtayyeh. They believe the true purpose of Trump’s “deal of the century” is to elicit a Palestinian refusal which will provide the excuse for an Israeli annexation.
By his actions on Jerusalem and Golan Trump has not only deprived the Palestinians of what few bargaining chips they still had in a peace negotiation but also undermined the post-war consensus that led to the foundation of the United Nations –  that no country should be allowed to acquire territory by military conquest.

Former leaders or foreign ministers of 19 EU countries signed a letter calling for a united European front against what they fear the Trump plan will contain, warning that the US “has departed from longstanding US policy and distanced itself from established international legal norms [by] recognis[ing] only one side’s claims to Jerusalem and demonstrat[ing] a disturbing indifference to Israeli settlement expansion”.

“Over the last two years Trump’s strategy seems to be pursuing a policy systematically to weaken the Palestinian Authority while lifting restraints on Israeli annexation of land in the West Bank,” said one of the signatories, former foreign office minister Douglas alexanderAlexander (right).

“As Europeans we face a choice: Do we stand by a crushed and marginalised people?

“Are we going to be part of an apparatus of enablement for the permanent annexation of Palestinian land or alternatively are we going to continue to speak up for democracy, for human rights and for that two-state solution that’s been the goal for so many years?”

If the answer to that question is ‘no’, this will surely be the end for the Palestinian people’s dream of an independent state. It will probably also be the end for the United Nations and quite possibly for the European Union as a force in international relations.

Only the main western European states have the power to stop this.  There is little chance of the UK giving a lead.  The Middle East minister Alistair Burt told the  Commons earlier this month: “The world must not look away again and must do what it can. Until we do that, the increasing violence is likely to continue.”  But he has since resigned and his words are likely to remain what they are – just words.  President Macron is in a stronger position, with three years left in office and facing a White House that has no credibility on this matter. He said last October that he would issue his own peace plan in the absence of a credible American plan. The time has come for him to show some leadership.”Are we going to be part of an apparatus of enablement for the permanent annexation of Palestinian land or alternatively are we going to continue to speak up for democracy, for human rights and for that two-state solution that’s been the goal for so many years?”

If the answer to that question is ‘no’, this will surely be the end for the Palestinian people’s dream of an independent state. It will probably also be the end for the United Nations and quite possibly for the European Union as a force in international relations.

Only the main western European states have the power to stop this.  There is little chance of the UK giving a lead.  The Middle East minister Alistair Burt told the  Commons earlier this month: “The world must not look away again and must do what it can. Until we do that, the increasing violence is likely to continue.”  But he has since resigned and his words are likely to remain what they are – just words.  President Macron is in a stronger position, with three years left in office and facing a White House that has no credibility on this matter. He said last October that he would issue his own peace plan in the absence of a credible American plan. The time has come for him to show some leadership.

Netanyahu owes his victory to the settlers, Trump and the Kahanists

Although the Israeli election resulted in a dead heat between the two main parties, with 35 seats each for Bibi Netanyahu’s Likud and Bennie Gantz’s newly-formed Blue and White party, Netanyahu was the clear winner as his coalition of right-wing parties won 65 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

The Labour Party, which once dominated Israeli politics, sank from 13 seats to six and the only remaining left-wing Jewish party, Meretz, scraped home with 3.3% of the vote, just above the 3.25% threshold.

The mainly Arab Joint List, which won 13 seats at the last election, split into two parties, one with six seats and the other with four, as a result of a sharp drop in turnout among Palestinian citizens of Israel.

There was widespread jubilation when two of the most extreme right-wing ministers, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, fell below the threshold, but they were replaced by a newly-formed Union of Right-wing Parties that is in some ways even more extreme.

The Union is a coalition of three smaller parties, one of which – Jewish Power – was created by the followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane, an extreme racist whose party was banned from the Knesset and banned as a terrorist organisation in the United States. He campaigned for the forcible expulsion of Arabs from Israel until his violent death in 1990.

It was the suggestion of Prime Minister Netanyahu that Jewish Power should join the Union of Right-wing Parties so that the votes of its small but dedicated band of followers were not “wasted”.

One of Kahane’s followers, Michael Ben Ari, was put in fifth place on the Union of Right-wing Parties list and would have been elected, but the Israeli Supreme Court barred him from standing.  Another Jewish Power candidate, who was in seventh place, could still take a seat in the Knesset, depending on ministerial appointments.

Supporters of Jewish Power are concentrated in the settlement of Kiryat Arba next to the Palestinian city of Hebron.  The settlement contains a “Kahane Park” with a memorial stone to Rabbi Kahane and it also contains the grave of Dr Baruch Goldstein, an American doctor who became Kahane’s election agent and a councillor for his party in Kiryat Arba.

In 1994 Dr Goldstein entered a mosque in Hebron, gunned down 29 Palestinians as they knelt down to pray and injured another 150, emptying four and a half magazines from his  army-issued assault rifle before it finally jammed.

The inscription on his grave (right) says he died as a martyr, havingoldstein graveg given his life for the people of Israel, for the Bible and for the land.  Supporters still gather at his grave on the anniversary of his death and sing songs in his honour.

Netanyahu will only have a majority in the 120-seat Knesset if he has the support of the five MPs from the Union of Right-wing Parties.  They in turn might not have been elected without the support of Jewish Power (they won 3.6% of the vote, just above the 3.25% threshold).  So Netanyahu will depend on their continued support.

Analysis of the election results shows that the Union of Right-wing Parties won 18.2% of the votes in the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but would have slipped below the threshold, winning no seats at all, on the basis of its vote inside Israel, so it is clear that Netanyahu owes his victory to the settlers.

In the last election in 2015 Netanyahu won the election with the help of a polling-day broadcast in which he made an openly racist appeal to the voters, warning that the “Arabs” were being bussed to the polling stations “in droves”.

In this election he appears to have won the election with the help of his television interview two days before the poll promising that he would “extend sovereignty” (a euphemism for annexation) to the settlements close to the Israeli border (the so-called “settlement blocs”) and also to the isolated settlements deep inside the West Bank.

Netanyahu was only able to make this promise as a result of his campaign visit to the White House 12 days earlier on March 25 when he was able to thank President Trump in person for signing proclamation recognising the  Golan Heights as Israeli — a priceless gift to an Israeli prime minister two weeks before an election.

Netanyahu showered the President with compliments, comparing him to Lord Balfour and King Cyrus the Great – as well he might, because of the hidden message in his proclamation that he would in due course recognise the West Bank as Israeli too.

23,000 Palestinians and 4 Israelis injured in Gaza fence protests, UN inquiry finds

United Nations commission of inquiry report on Gaza live fire deaths

The report of the United Nations independent commission of inquiry confirms that 23,313 Palestinians were injured during last year’s demonstrations in Gaza, the highest level of casualties since the Second Intifada in 2005, and that 183 Palestinians were killed, of whom only 29 were known to be members of armed groups.

Commission member Sara Hussein said: “Our investigations found that Israeli snipers used high velocity bullets and long-range sniper rifles equipped with sophisticated optical aiming devices. They saw the target magnified in their sights and they knew the consequences of shooting, but still pulled the trigger, not once or twice but more than 6000 times.

“The snipers killed 32 children, three clearly marked paramedics, and two clearly marked journalists. They shot at unarmed protesters, children and disabled persons, and at health workers and journalists performing their duties, knowing who they were.”

Israeli forces reinforced their positions at the fence with additional troops, including more than 100 sharpshooters, and they shot 6,106 demonstrators using live ammunition, usually in the legs, plus another 1,576 killed by shrapnel, 1,084 killed by tear-gas canisters and 438 by rubber bullets. Four Israelis were also injured.

The Commission concluded that Israeli forces “committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Some of those violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity, and must be immediately investigated by Israel.It also found there was no justification for Israel’s security forces killing and injuring persons who pose no imminent threat of death or serious injury to those around them, including journalists, health workers and children.”

They investigated many cases involving unarmed demonstrators being shot hundreds of metres from the security fence at a distance where they could not have posed a threat.  The distance a golfball can be thrown is about 100 metres and less for a heavier stone. Read more from the report below.

“The Commission also found Hamas, as the de facto authority in Gaza, responsible for failing to prevent [acts such as] encouraging or defending demonstrators’ indiscriminate use of incendiary kites and balloons, causing fear among civilians and significant damage to property in southern Israel.”

  1. Mohammad was a footballer. At approximately 9 a.m., Israeli forces shot him with a single bullet in both legs while he was walking alone approximately 150 m from the separation fence. His injuries ended his football career.
  2. ·       Abed was a resident of the Nuseirat refugee camp. Israeli forces killed him with a shot to the abdomen as he stood in a crowd of demonstrators approximately 150 m from the separation fence.
  3. ·       Naji, a mechanic from the Bureij refugee camp, was killed with a shot to the abdomen by Israeli forces as he stood wrapped in a Palestinian flag, 300 m from the separation fence.
  4. ·       Israeli forces shot Yousef, a student journalist, in the legs with two bullets in immediate succession. He was wearing a blue vest marked “Press” while photographing the demonstrations approximately 800 m from the separation fence. His right leg had to be amputated.
  5. ·       Israeli forces shot Mohammad, a student athlete, in the back of his right leg as he gave onions to demonstrators to relieve tear-gas symptoms, approximately 300 m from the fence. His leg had to be amputated.
  6. ·       Bader, from Jabaliya, was killed by Israeli forces when they shot him in the head as he stood smoking a cigarette 300 m from the separation fence.
  7. ·       Israeli forces shot a schoolboy in the leg as he stood in a crowd on Jakkar Street, approximately 300 m from the separation fence.
  8. ·       Israeli forces injured a schoolgirl with bullet fragmentation. As she lay on the ground, four men attempted to evacuate her. The forces shot three of them, killing Marwan Qudieh (45) from Khuzaa village and injuring a potato seller and another man in the legs. One of the rescuers had to have a leg amputated.
  9. ·       Jihad, a resident of Bani Suheila, was killed by Israeli forces by a shot to the head, approximately 300 m from the separation fence.
  10. ·       Alaa, a member of the Palestinian cycling team, was shot by Israeli forces in the leg as he stood holding his bicycle, wearing his cycling kit, watching the demonstrations, approximately 300 m from the separation fence. His right leg had to be amputated, ending his cycling career.
  11. ·       Israeli security forces wounded demonstrators as far as a kilometre away from the separation fence. In one case, they shot a 21-year-old student in both legs minutes after he arrived at the Bureij demonstration site.
  12. ·       The commission interviewed an international journalist covering the demonstrations at the Malaka site, who described the scene that day:

What was notable was the amount of injured people. And the slow, methodical shooting. Every few minutes… you would hear a shot ring out and you would see someone fall. And then another shot and another person fell. It went on for hours…

I saw a man who had been shot in the throat, I didn’t see it happen but I saw the immediate aftermath. He was covered in blood. I saw a man who had been shot in the head…

There was a constant stream of bloody bodies being carried back towards the ambulances. It was surreal and endless. It became almost normal, it was happening so often. A shot, a person falling, people carrying the body away.

The number of wounded was astonishing. I couldn’t say how many people I saw who were shot because it was so high. I have covered wars in Syria, Yemen, Libya. I have never seen anything like this. The slow methodical shooting. It was just shocking…

What does Israel have to do before the UK will vote against it at the UN?

Urgent question debate Friday March 22nd 2019

Middle East minister Alistair Burt came under sustained criticism in the House of Commons on Friday for the UK’s decision to abstain on a motion endorsing the report of United Nations inquiry into Israel’s use of live fire during the protests at the Gaza fence last year.

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan (Tooting) (Lab) told the Commons: “I am ashamed that the UK abstained today. Will the Minister tell us how the Government will protect civilians, how they will protect medics, and how they will ensure that humanitarian law is upheld?”

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab) asked: “How can the Minister justify the UK Government sitting on the sidelines?”

Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab) said the numbers tell their own story of gross asymmetry and imbalance between the casualties on one side and the other.

The report confirms that 23,313 Palestinians and four Israelis were injured during last year’s demonstrations in Gaza, more than in any of the Gaza “wars” in 2009, 2012 and 2014, and that 183 Palestinians were killed, of whom only 29 were known to be members of armed groups. For more on the report, read below.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab) asked: “In what other situation would the Government refuse to vote to hold accountable those who flagrantly breach international humanitarian law? Is the fact that the Government refused to do so on this occasion nothing short of disgraceful?”

The Government’s explanation for its abstention was something of a moving target.

At first Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the UK would vote against any motion, even if it agreed with it, because of a long-running wrangle over the practice at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva listing complaints against Israel as Item 7 on every agenda.

“Two years ago, the United Kingdom said that unless the situation changed, we would vote against all texts proposed under Item 7. Sadly, our concerns have not been heeded. So I have decided that we will do exactly what we said: Britain will now oppose every Item 7 resolution,” he said.

But then the vote came up as Item 2 on the agenda and the UK fell back on an argument that the UN commission of inquiry had not sufficiently investigated allegations of human rights abuses against Hamas.

But it was quickly pointed out that the inquiry’s report had in fact castigated Hamas police for failing to prevent demonstrators from injuring Israeli soldiers and to prevent incendiary kites and balloons from reaching Israel.

This was not very different from the criticisms that Alistair Burt had made during the debate that “Hamas played a part in pushing people towards the border”. He conceded that there were legitimate protests and that the organising committee of the protest had no connection with the violence.

But when the UK ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Julian Braithwaite, issued an explanation of the vote on Thursday, he seemed to embrace the view of the extreme right in Israel when he said: “Hamas, of course, bears principal responsibility” for the 23,000 injuries and the 187 deaths of Palestinians.

Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab)  gave the minister a chance to disown the comments during the debate, but he declined. “Of course I stand by the explanation of vote given by colleagues in Geneva.”  He then read out most of the explanation to put it on the record, but omitted the section about Hamas.

The MP concluded: “It appears that the Government are looking for an excuse not to condemn the Netanyahu Government; having had one removed, they now have an even flimsier one.

“Does the Minister not realise that this gives a green light to Israel to continue murdering civilians and maiming people in this way, and that his Government will bear some responsibility for that?”

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry also disagreed sharply with the minister. “The UN report into these actions may have its faults—I accept that, and I agree that it plays down the role of Hamas in orchestrating these protests – but it provides clear and compelling evidence that live ammunition was used in a way that cannot be explained or justified.

“The Government have abstained on a resolution endorsing that report, in effect telling the Israeli authorities, “We refuse to find fault with your actions.”

She also disagreed with the policy of voting against all resolutions coming under item 7 of the agenda—even if they were in line with official UK policy. “Would it have been this Government’s position to veto all Council resolutions on apartheid, which was a standing agenda item for 26 years, or all Council resolutions on Chile under Pinochet, which was a standing item for 15 years, simply on a point of principle?”