Month: April 2016

UN figures: 800 Palestinians evicted in first quarter of 2016 

The United Nations weekly report on Palestine reports that Israeli army bulldozers had demolished 586 Palestinian buildings, evicting 800 people, in the first 15 weeks of 2016 – four times the rate of demolitions and evictions last year.
  2015 2016 so far* annual rate 
Buildings demolished 531 586 + 383%
People evicted 688 800 + 403%
    *Jan 1 – Apr 18  
Middle East minister Tobias Ellwood confirmed in a reply to Labour MP Richard Burden (see below) that the demolitions are “in all but the most exceptional cases contrary to international humanitarian law”.
What is the UK government’s response to these breaches of international law?  It is that “we regularly raise this issue with our Israeli counterparts”.  But of course they have been raising this issue with their Israeli counterparts for years – in fact decades – and the outcome is that they not only continue but accelerate.

Has your MP signed the motion on demolitions?

Have you asked your MP to sign the parliamentary motion about the demolition of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem and the West Bank?
Unless your MP is a minister or a member of the Opposition front bench, they can show their concern by signing the parliamentary motion sponsored by the Conservative MP Sir Alan Duncan. It currently has 54 signatures.
They can also sign EDM 1378 calling for the release of Marwan Barghouthi, which currently has 35 signatures, and EDM 1377 on Israeli attacks on human rights organisations, which has 27.
All motions must be signed before Parliament disbands before the Queen’s Speech on May 18.

Is it finally time to recognise Palestine?

At the last DfID questions on March 16 Desmond Swayne was asked if it was time the UK recognised Palestine as a sovereign state – given that any prospect of a two-state solution was fast disappearing.
It is nearly five years since William Hague started using the formula that the UK agreed it should recognise Palestine, but would do so “at a moment of its own choosing” and “when it would have the most impact”.
Desmond Swayne told the Liberal Democrats’ Tom Brake: “We can only recognise Palestine once. It is essential, therefore, that we do so at a moment where we will have maximum impact on any peace process. That is a fine judgment.”
The UK has already missed the point when it would have had maximum impact – after the collapse of the Kerry peace talks in April 2014 – and had it done so there might never have been a resurgence of violence over the last six months.
However, now it has another chance to “play the recognition card” (to use the Government’s own phrase) when the French President convenes a Foreign Ministers meeting on May 30th in advance of a planned peace conference in September.
The French have said if the talks do not lead to a new peace initiative by the end of this year, they will recognise Palestine. Up to eight other European countries, including Spain, Ireland, Belgium and Luxembourg, are thinking of following suit.

Minister urges Israel: give Palestinians building permits

The four-fold increase in Israeli evictions of Palestinian families since the start of this year is finally prompting Foreign Office ministers to raise two more issues with the Israeli government.
First, they will urge Israeli authorities “to provide a legal route for Palestinians to obtain building permits”. At the moment Israel controls building permits in three quarters of the West Bank and refuses permits to Palestinians in over 99% of cases.
Second, they are considering an EU-wide approach on how to respond to the demolition and confiscation of buildings financed by the EU.
This was announced by Middle East minister Tobias Ellwood (below left) in a reply to a question from Labour MP Richard Burden (below right) belatedly published in a letter after the minister misheard his question in the Commons:

The UK position on demolitions is clear: demolitions cause unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians; damage chances of achieving a two-state solution; and are, in all but the most exceptional cases, contrary to international humanitarian law.
 
We are concerned by the large increase in the rate of demolitions, including of donor-funded structures, since the start of 2016. We regularly raise this issue with our Israeli counterparts, most recently on 13 April, and urge the Israeli authorities to provide a legal route for Palestinians to obtain building permits.

 
Within the EU we are also considering how to respond to the demolition and confiscation of EU-funded structures.
We will continue to provide practical assistance to Palestinians in Area C facing demolition or eviction through our support for Rabbis for Human Rights and the Norwegian Refugee Council legal aid programme.  The NRC has successfully suspended demolitions and evictions so that Palestinians can remain in their homes in 97% of the cases they represent.
Disappointingly, the Minister goes no further than DfID minister Baroness Verma who announced in a written answer on March 2 that “the EU is proposing to reassess their position on seeking compensation from the Israeli Government”.
According to the UN, the Israelis had already demolished 120 donor-funded buildings by the beginning of March, more than in the whole of last year, and a good proportion of these must have been funded by the British taxpayer. MEPs have been urging the EU for years to demand compensation for the destruction of EU-funded buildings on the basis that presenting Israel with a bill for the damage would be far more effective than simply making ‘representations.
Providing the Palestinians with building permits would be a big step forward, but is unlikely to happen unless huge economic pressure is applied to the Israeli government.

Settler terrorism suspects in court

Palestinians suffer from acts of terrorism by illegal Israeli settlers on an almost daily basis, yet there is much less coverage of these acts of terrorism in the UK media than there is about Palestinian acts of terrorism.
In the last ten years the UN has catalogued 2,598 acts of violence by settlers against Palestinians, yet they rarely end up in court even when there is clear video evidence of settlers committing acts of violence, often with soldiers looking on or even joining in.
Palestinians report the attacks to the police, but over 90% of the complaints lead to no charges. Only when there is an international outcry – as there was in the case of Mohammed Khdair, the 16-year-old boy burned alive, and the Duwabshe family, burned to death in a firebomb attack last year – are the attackers brought to court.
It may be thanks to international pressure that Shin Bet, the Israeli security service, is now pursuing more cases and seven members of an Israeli terrorist group are currently appearing in court in Tel Aviv.
The suspects include an Israeli soldier who lives in a settlement, Yisrael Shendrofi, his brother, and five other settlers, two of whom are unidentified because they are minors.
They were accused of tossing tear gas grenades and firebombs at Palestinian civilians. In one of their attacks in December, two tear-gas grenades were thrown into the home of a Palestinian family in a West Bank village.
The two minors took the grenades, wiped off their fingerprints and put on masks before heading to the village. After making sure the house was occupied, they smashed a window and threw the grenades inside. The head of the family managed to get a baby out of the house in time before it was injured.
In an incident in November, the minors threw stones at a home in a village of and then threw firebombs inside the home . One of the firebombs struck the glass and bounced back outside and the other struck a plastic table in the house. In another attack three of the suspects threw stones at Arab vehicles and set fire to another Palestinian vehicle. In July 2014 they set fire to another vehicle.
The brothers have admitted to committing the crimes for which they have been charged.
According to the indictment, the soldier and two minors, had a crate of ammunition, including grenades, a stun grenade, five M-16 rifle magazines and parts of an M-16 rifle.
In yet another charge the minors and two of the other suspects beat up a 60-year-old Palestinian man with sticks and tear gas.
In 2013, a member of the group is accused of attacking a driver who came to unload a lorry. The soldier has been charged with permitting the minors to use his weapon.

MPs’ plea to release Marwan Barghouthi after 14 years

Marwan Barghouthi could bring peace and independence to Palestine. But he’s in jail.

Leading MPs from all parties have signed a parliamentary motion calling on the Israeli parliament to release the Palestinian MP Marwan Barghouthi who has been in jail continuously for the last 14 years.
They call for his release so that he can “play a part in the process of reconciliation, unification and negotiation that will be needed before Palestine achieves its independence”.
They cite the precedent of South Africa, where Nelson Mandela was released from prison so he could take part in negotiations for majority rule, and India, where Gandhi and Nehru were released by the British so they could take part in negotiations for independence.
They point out that Barghouthi, now 56, “is still the candidate in the strongest position to win a presidential election to succeed Mahmoud Abbas, according to a recent poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research”.
The parliamentary motion was tabled by Tommy Sheppard of the Scottish National Party and its signatories include the Conservative chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Crispin Blunt, and the current Father of the House of Commons Sir Gerald Kaufman.
Marwan Barghouthi is seen as one of the few political leaders who could unite the country, winning support from both Fatah and Hamas, and who would have the moral authority to negotiate on behalf of all Palestinians and to preside over a process of “truth and reconciliation” in a newly independent state.
He has often been called the “Mandela” of Palestine and there are certainly many paralllels both in his life so far and in the role he could play in a newly independent Palestine. He has spent a total of 20 years inside Israeli prisons and he has been for many years now in Cell 28 in Hadarim prison, a few miles from the Meditarranean beaches of Netanya.
He has regular visits from his wife Fadwa, but is allowed very little other contact with the outside world.  Yet he still plays an important role and the occasional statements smuggled out of prison carry a great deal of authority.
Eight winners of the Nobel peace prize have signed the “Robben Island declaration” calling for his release, including President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. and the Argentinian Nobel laureate Adolfo Esquivel has nominated him for the Nobel peace prize this year. 
Israel’s former president Shimon Peres said in 2007 that he would sign a pardon for Marwan Barghouthi, but it would have to be approved by the Israeli parliament and very few Israeli politicians have backed his release.
Barghouthi was an MP and the general secretary of Fatah during the Second Intifada when he was abducted in broad daylight on the streets of Ramallah by Israeli secret service agents, dressed as ambulance workers, and taken to Israel.
He refused to plead to an Israeli court on the basis that both his abduction and the trial were illegal and was duly found guilty of the deaths of five Israelis in military operations carried out by an armed wing of Fatah, known as “Tanzim”.
Outside the court he has always maintained that he was secretary of the political party only and had no involvement or foreknowledge of military operations. He never supported violent actions targeted at civilians and, unlike Nelson Mandela, he never carried arms himself. He always insisted that Palestinians had the right to resist the occupation of their country, by force if necessary, but he believed in a political and not a military solution.
However the campaign for his release, and for the release of all the 6,204 Palestinian conflict-related prisoners currently held in Israeli jails, is not based on an argument about the innocence or guilt of individual prisoners or the legality of their trials, but on the argument – in the case of Marwan Barghouthi and other political leaders – that their release is necessary for the process of negotiation leading to a peace settlement and in other cases on the argument that the release of political prisoners must necessarily precede a political solution.
  • A poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research’s poll found that if a presidetial election were held and Abbas did not run, 32 % would prefer to see Barghouti replace him, nearly 20 per cent Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, 8 % Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, 6% Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, 6% Muhammad Dahlan, 4% chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and 3% former prime minister Salam Fayyad.
  • The poll was conducted in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from September 17 to 19, covered 1,270 adults and had a 3-percentage point margin of error.

Early day motion 1378

RELEASE OF PALESTINIAN MP MARWAN BARGHOUTHI

Smuggled out of jail: Guardian article by Marwan Barghouthi on latest violence 

The current escalation in violence did not start with the killing of two Israeli settlers, it started a long while ago and has been going on for years. Every day Palestinians are killed, wounded, arrested. Every day colonialism advances, the siege on our people in Gaza continues, oppression persists.
Some have suggested the reason why a peace deal could not be reached was President Yasser Arafat’s unwillingness or President Mahmoud Abbas’s inability, but both of them were ready and able to sign a peace agreement.
The real problem is that Israel has chosen occupation over peace, and used negotiations as a smokescreen to advance its colonial project.
Every government across the globe knows this simple fact and yet so many of them pretend that returning to the failed recipes of the past could achieve freedom and peace. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
We were told that by resorting to peaceful means and to diplomatic channels we would garner the support of the international community to end the occupation. And yet the international community failed yet again to undertake any meaningful steps, neither setting up a framework to implement international law and UN resolutions, nor taking measures to ensure accountability, including boycott, divestment and sanctions, which played a crucial role in ridding the world of the apartheid regime.
So, in the absence of international action to end Israeli occupation and impunity or even provide protection, what are we asked to do? Stand by and wait for the next Palestinian family to be burned, for the next Palestinian child to be killed or arrested, for the next settlement to be built?
No people on the globe would accept to coexist with oppression. By nature, humans yearn for freedom, struggle for freedom, sacrifice for freedom, and the freedom of the Palestinian people is long overdue. During the first intifada, the Israeli government launched a “break their bones to break their will” policy, but for generation after generation the Palestinian people have proven their will is unbreakable and needs not to be tested.
This new Palestinian generation has not awaited instructions to uphold its right, and its duty, to resist this occupation. It is doing so unarmed, while being confronted by one of the biggest military powers in the world. And yet, we remain convinced that freedom and dignity shall triumph, and we shall overcome. The flag that we raised with pride at the UN will one day fly over the walls of the old city of Jerusalem to signal our independence.
I have spent 20 years of my life in Israeli jails, including the past 13 years, and these years have made me even more certain of this unalterable truth: the last day of occupation will be the first day of peace. Those who seek the latter need to act, and act now, to precipitate the former.

‘Israel is showing contempt for two-state solution’ – MP

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Questions Tuesday April 12th 11.30 am

Conservative MP David Mowat said the Israeli government was “showing complete contempt for the notion of a two-state solution” by accelerating the rate of demolitions and evictions of Palestinians since the start of this year.

According to the UN there had been 446 demolitions in the West Bank by April 4th compared with 447 in the whole of last year, so the rate of demolitions had quadrupled.

Given that 120 of the demolished buildings were funded by EU or other donors, Labour MP Richard Burdenasked the Minister how he was going to claim compensation from Israel.

Read Foreign Office questions in Hansard

 

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): In 2016, there has been an acceleration of evictions and property destruction on the West Bank. By these continuing actions, the Israeli Government are showing complete contempt for the notion of a two-state solution—a fact recognised by President Carter. When will the Government update UK policy to reflect reality on the ground in this area?

Middle East minister Tobias Ellwood: During my meetings with the Deputy Foreign Minister and indeed with the Prime Minister, I found that they remained committed to the two-state solution, but he is right to recognise that measures are being taken and events are taking place that seem to take us in another direction. We need to ensure that people are able to come back to the table, and that we are able to make progress. There is no other solution to this. We cannot continue with the status quo.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): The Minister will know that Israel is demolishing Palestinian homes and other structures at three times the rate at which it did so last year. Given that a number of these structures are EU-supported and EU-funded, what are the Government going to do not simply to express concern but to hold Israel to account? What mechanisms are available to do so?

[The Minister did not reply, but the UN estimates 120 donor-funded buildings have been demolished by the Israeli Army so far this year and aid minister Baroness Verma said in a written answer in the Lords on March 12: “The EU is proposing to reassess their position on seeking compensation from the Israeli Government….. The UK government remains extremely concerned by reports that there have been nearly 300 demolitions since the start of 2016, representing more than a trebling of demolitions compared to the monthly average in 2015. The Embassy in Tel Aviv have recently raised demolitions with the Israeli authorities and will continue to raise this at the political level.”]

Question 15 TommySheppard,  (Scottish National Party)(Edinburgh East): What representations he has made to his Israeli counterpart on the use of administrative detention in that country.

Mr Ellwood:  He highlights a challenge that we face. Britain has been working closely with Israel to change the approach that Israelis have taken on administrative detention. We have also funded and facilitated independent reports on the challenges that we face, and I raised this matter with the Deputy Foreign Minister, Tzipi Hotovely. I will continue to press Israel to move forward. Again, this takes us back—it is a retrograde step.

Early day motion 1245

DEMOLITION OF PALESTINIAN HOMES BY ISRAEL

That this House condemns the major escalation in demolitions by the Israeli government in the Occupied Palestinian Territories;

notes that 293 structural demolitions have taken place in the first six weeks of 2016, including numerous homes; expresses concern for the devastating effects such demolitions have on innocent civilians;

further notes that in 2015, 447 Palestinian structures were demolished; notes that, according to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, between 2010 and 2014 only 1.5 per cent of the over 2,000 Palestinian building permit requests were approved in Area C of the West Bank, leading to 10,000 present standing demolition orders;

notes Israel’s continued uses of demolition as a means of collectively punishing Palestinians; welcomes the EU’s continued opposition to Israel’s illegal settlements, home demolitions, confiscation and evictions;

notes that the home demolitions have included EU-funded structures; calls on the Government to condemn these latest demolitions and the continued expansion of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories; and demands reparations for the destruction.


Has your MP signed? If not, why not ask them?

Friends of Israel chairman again attacks Palestinians for honouring ‘terrorists’

Chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel Eric Pickles again raised the issue of streets – and in this case a school basketball tournament – being named after Palestinian “terrorists”, as though it were something that only Palestinians did.

The Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu made a similar claim in a letter of condolence to the family of a Palestinian boy burned alive by settlers last year: “In our society, in the society of Israel, there is no place for murderers,” he said.
“And that’s the difference between us and our neighbours. They consider murderers to be heroes. They name public squares after them. We don’t.”
That is not only highly inappropriate in what was supposed to be a letter of condolence to a bereaved family, but also disingenuous and dishonest.
  • Scores of streets in Israel are named after Jewish “terrorists”, including a suburb of Jerusalem where all the streets are named after members of Jewish militias who were hanged for “terrorism” by the British.
  • Indeed, every country that has fought for its independence glorifies its “soldiers” who lost their lives.
And if you read the two photo-captions below you may conclude that the Israelis are more guilty of this than the Palestinians.
Here is the exchange at Foreign Office questions:
Sir Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con): There have recently been two initiatives in the region: the extension of fishing rights for Gazan fisherman with Israeli co-operation, and the naming of a basketball tournament after a terrorist who killed 36 people, including 12 children. Which of those two initiatives does the Minister think is more likely to bring about a two-state solution?

Mr Ellwood: He highlights the dilemma that we face. We need grassroots initiatives on a low level such as extension of fishing rights, for which I have pressed for some time. Oil and gas reserves can be tapped into off Gaza, which will also help the economy. At the same time, basketball courts and, indeed, schools and streets are being named after terrorists, which does not suggest that the Palestinians are as serious as they should be.

In the city of Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv is a monument commemorating members of the two underground organisations Irgun and Lehi, who were tried 440px-Hagardomin British Mandate courts and sentenced to death by hanging, some for attacks on British soldiers, others for attacks on Arab civilians. They are regarded as martyrs and streets are named after them in most Israeli cities.

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On a hillside overlooking Hebron is the grave of Dr Baruch Goldstein who killed 29 people as they prayed in the Abraham Mosque. Settlers regard him as a martyr and gather on the anniversary to sing songs in praise of him. One of the songs says: “Dr. goldstein graveGoldstein, he aimed at terrorists’ heads, squeezed the trigger hard, and shot bullets, and shot, and shot.” The ceremonial plaza around the grave was dismantled by the Israeli army, but the park and walkway remain in place.

Read a fuller account

Abbas puts Obama to the test on UN settlement motion

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas flies to New York on April 22 determined to press the UN Security Council to a vote condemning the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank as an obstacle to peace.

The last time the Security Council voted on a resolution condemning the settlements was in February 2011. At that time, the Palestinians garnered the support of 14 out of 15 Security Council members, including Britain, France and Germany.
The United States opposed the resolution and after failing to get the Palestinians to withdraw it, cast a veto. This was the only time in the past seven years that U.S. President Barack Obama used his veto.
Since then President Obama has hinted he would not automatically veto a Security Council resolution on settlements if it was in line with US policy.  The US regards the Israeli settlements as “illegitimate”.

Foreign Secretary in talks with French on new peace initiative

Former Middle East minister Ben Bradshaw among MPs urging support

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has held talks with the French to explore the idea of a peace conference in Paris this summer to start serious discussion on a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.Bradshaw

Former Middle East minister Ben Bradshaw (right) and Tom Sheppard and Paul Monaghan of the SNP are among the MPs who have pressed him to consider supporting the initiative of the French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

Ben Bradshaw wrote to the Foreign Secretary and was told: “We are discussing with the French to explore their idea, which is still at an early stage…. We will continue to engage with the French as they develop their plans.”

Mr Hammond met the French special envoy for the initiative, Pierre Vimont, to discuss how the idea would work in practice.

MPs have an opportunity to urge Mr Hammond to give the UK’s full support to a Franco-British peace initiative at Foreign Office questions on Tuesday April 12th. 

The French Foreign Minister hopes to call a gathering of supportive countries in Paris to lay the groundwork for a peace conference in the summer.

This is supported by the Palestinians, by the EU foreign affairs representative Federica Mogherini and by several European countries including the Spanish and Italians, but will have a far better chance of success with UK support.

The plan was first put forward by the outgoing French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, who also warned that – if this initiative fails – France will recognise Palestine.

His successor Jean-Marc Ayrault has said recognition will not follow “automatically” if Israel refuses to participate – in order to give the conference a better chance of success.

But if talks don’t take place, or break up, it is difficult to see what logical step remains other than a co-ordinated recognition of Palestine by the UK, France and other European countries such as Italy, Spain, Ireland and Belgium.

The state of Palestine is already recognised by 136 countries (out of 193), inclding ten in the EU, and a joint move by the UK, France and others would send a clear message without in any way changing the UK’s formal relationship with Israel, which it has recognised since 1950.  It would also impose responsibilities on the Palestinians. 

This is the time for British MPs of all parties to make the case to the Foreign Secretary. 

President Obama has made it clear he will make no further moves on the Israel-Palestine in the remainder of his term – though he has hinted he might lift his veto on a Security Council resolution.

The EU Council of Ministers is unlikely to be able to agree an initiative between all 28 countries – there will always be an East European country voting against – so the responsibility falls to the major West European powers. 

We all know why Germany will not take the lead, and France has already put forward an initiative, so it is now up to the UK to say whether it will join with the French.  There is no longer any excuse for sitting on the fence. 

It is important for the UK not only to back the conference this summer but also to support the French position that – if Israel does not engage realistically in the talks – there will be a concerted move to recognise Palestine before the end of the year.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office Questions Tuesday April 12th 11.30 am

  • Question 7 David Mowat (Warrington South): What recent assessment he has made of the likelihood of a two-state solution in the Middle East.
  • Question  9 Chris Philp (Croydon South): What recent discussions he has had with his counterparts in the EU, Africa and the Middle East on steps to tackle the refugee crisis in the Middle East.
  • Question 15 Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East): What representations he has made to his Israeli counterpart on the use of administrative detention in that country.