Category Archives: blog and news

Israeli bulldozers set to demolish Israeli Arab village to build Israeli Jewish town

Umm Al HiranEmboldened by the election of Donald Trump, the Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu was reported to be sending his army’s bulldozers in at dawn today (Tuesday) to demolish this peaceful Bedouin village in Israel.

The Israeli government has long been planning to demolish the village of Umm Al Hiran and evict its inhabitants in order to build a Jewish village with the same name – Hiran – on exactly the same location.

For the last two years Netanyahu has been delaying the demolition because of international protests at this extreme case of ethnic cleansing, but now with Trump elected, he gave the go-ahead for the village to be razed.

The 500 Arab residents of the village have lived in the village for nearly 60 years and were ordered to move there by the Israeli military commander of the Negev who gave them a lease to build a village, farm the land and graze their sheep.

The village leaders say there is no need to evict them as the Jewish settlers can move onto a site nextdoor. “We are not against them living here, but we want to stay here too and live together with them as neighbours,” says Atwa Abu Alkia’n.

They point out that there is plenty of space – 3¼ million acres – in the Negev and the settlers don’t need to move to the one small acre of land where they have been living since 1956.

The Israeli state has made it clear that the new village is for Jewish residents only and the Arabs must move out.

Leave a comment

Filed under blog and news, Occupied Palestine, Palestine briefing

Villagers say: ‘Why evict us when we can both live here? There’s plenty of space.’

This village is in Israel, not the Palestinian Territories. Its residents are full citizens of Israel. Yet they are treated as though they had no rights, no importance.

At the time of Israel’s war of independence in 1948 the villagers were thrown out of their ancestral village in a more fertile area in the Western Negev to make way for a Jewish kibbutz as part of the drive to “make the desert bloom”.

Eight years later they were forcibly moved again to their present location in the Atir valley in the less fertile northern Negev where they rebuilt their village and called it Um Al Hiran.

“It was a desert with no roads, water, houses or services. We built the village. We invested in the houses, the roads and the water pipes. Life has been tough, but we worked hard to develop this place into a beautiful and wonderful village,” said the village sheikh.

Like all the other “unrecognised” villages in the Negev, they were provided with no mains electricity, no paved roads, no water, no sanitation. They had to do their best buying water from tankers and using solar panels for intermittent power.

This is not because it was remote. On the contrary, the Jewish owner of a dog-kennel only 800 metres away is provided with all mod cons. The Israelis do this solely to make life difficult for Arab villagers so they will move.

And it is not a question of money. Often if the villagers try to pave the roads, army bulldozers break them up; if they install water pipes, they are disconnected; if they build stone houses, they are demolished. The Israelis want the buildings to look temporary, ramshackle, worthless.

This makes it easier for the Israelis to sustain the myth that the villagers are Bedouin nomads who originate from other countries. In fact, while they are all proud of their Bedouin heritage, it is historically verifiable that their families have lived in the Negev for hundreds of years.

And while a few of the villagers were still engaged in the traditional Bedouin occupation of sheep-farming, Umm Al Hiran also had lawyers, teachers and doctors among its 500 residents.

Last year the leader of the Jewish settlers came and drank coffee with the villagers to ask them, disingenously, why they were trying to block plans for the new Jewish village in the courts.

Salim Abu Alkia’n, Atwa’s brother, explained patiently: “To all the Jewish people who want to live in this town I say that people are already living in this town. We have been living here for 60 years and, even if they demolish our homes, we will stay here forever.”

Israelis can be excused for not knowing about the village, as it does not appear on Israeli maps. Even when the National Council for Planning and Building approved plans for a new Jewish town on the site in 2010, they submitted a map to the planning committee that made no reference to the fact that there was already an Arab village on the land.

When they applied for demolition orders, they claimed the buildings “had been discovered” by an inspection patrol and they had been “unable to identify or reach the people who owned the houses”.

When they applied for eviction orders, they described the villagers as “trespassers” squatting illegally on state land and the magistrate had to point out that they had lived on the land for years with the state’s knowledge and consent.

Leave a comment

Filed under blog and news, Palestine briefing

Six reasons to stop Israel’s illegal settlement project

Everyone who wants to end the Israel-Palestine conflict, from the President of the United States to your local peace campaign, agrees on one thing: the major injustice aggravating this conflict is Israel’s illegal settlement project.

For nearly 50 years now, since the start of the Israeli occupation in 1967, the Palestinians have watched helplessly as armed Israeli settlers, backed by the Israeli army, have built their homes on Palestinian land while Palestinians are denied permits to build on their own land.

Having been left with only 22% of historic Palestine after the creation of the Israeli state, the Palestinians have seen the land they control dwindle further as settlements grow. They could end up with just 8% of historic Palestine even though they are more than 50% of its population.

Crisis

These settlements are regarded as illegal by every country except Israel. A motion calling on Israel to end settlement building was supported by 14 or the 15 countries on the United Nations Security Council in 2011, including the UK, France and Germany. Only the US voted against and that vetoed it.

President Obama now has a window of opportunity in the ten weeks between the US election and his successor’s inauguration on January 20 2017 to lift his veto and allow the international community to move towards a resolution of the conflict.

We are also about to start a year of unhappy anniversaries: March 2017 is the 10th anniversary of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, June 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the start of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and November 2017 is the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, the letter written by British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour promising “to view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.

Balfour

 

The Government has said it will ‘mark’ the centenary of this famous letter on November 2 2017. But anything that smacks of a celebration is in danger of leading to protests, if not worse. The Palestinians see this letter as the cause of their national tragedy. In any case Balfour’s promise was not just to support a homeland for Jewish people but to do so without “prejudicing the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” – which it has clearly failed to do.
Can we allow the occupation of Palestine to enter its second half century without any serious attempt to bring it to an end? Can we allow the centenary of the Balfour Declaration to pass without any attempt to fulfil our national promise that the creation of national home for Jewish people would not be done at the expense of the rights of Palestinians?


Trade

We think of the conflict as insoluble, but it will be easy to resolve if the international community is working together. Settlements equate to just over ½% of Israel’s trade with the outside world and Israel is a small country heavily dependent on its major trading partners, the EU and the US. Only a hint of concerted international action will be enough to persuade most Israeli voters that they are better off without the settlements.

That is why all the major organisations campaigning for justice for the Palestinians have made their major policy objective over the next year to stop settlement building and settlement trade.

MPs have a crucial role to play in this. They can put this issue on the agenda and make sure the international community takes this opportunity. Or they can look the other way and let the Israeli government get away with the gradual takeover of the West Bank, sowing the seeds for another century of conflict.

1. Settlements are illegal

The Israel government always disputes this, but international law states quite clearly that an occupying country “shall not … transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies” and the International Court of Justice confirmed in 2004 that Israel was breaching its obligations under international law by establishing settlements in the West Bank. Even the US has always opposed settlements on the grounds they are illegal, though they prefer the word “illegitimate”.

2. Settlements are growing fast

Many people’s image of a settlement is just a cluster of houses on the top of a hill. In fact, the largest settlement now has a population of 60,000. Five are over 40,000. The last official number for the total number of settlers was 547,000 but that was in 2013. The settlers themselves say it is now nearly 800,000 among a Palestinian population of 2.9 million.

3. Settlements are eating up the West Bank

The Israeli government will tell you settlements cover only 3% of the West Bank. This is misleading. Settler councils control 42.7% of the land area. The Israel army is in administrative control of 62% of the West Bank, known as Area C. Settlements are constantly expanding. Palestinians are refused building permits with almost no exceptions. One of the parties in the Israeli coalition government want Area C annexed to Israel, leaving the Palestinians in control of isolated pockets of land amounting to just 8% of historic Palestine.

4. Settlements are strangling the Palestinian economy

The Israeli government wants you to believe settlers are more successful because they are better at business. No, it’s because they take 80% of the water and all of Palestine’s natural resources to which they have no legal right. Palestinians’ freedom of movement is restricted by 490 roadblocks in the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza. A report by the World Bank in 2013 calculated that the restrictions in Area C cost the Palestinian economy £3.4 billion a year or 35% of its national income. A Palestinian report in 2010 calculated that the Israeli-imposed restrictions on Palestine cost them 85% of nominal GDP.

5. Settlements are bad for Israel as well as Palestine

The settlements have cost an estimated £15 billion to build and cost £500 million a year to subsidise, which many Israelis think is a huge waste of money. But their government continues to offer subsidies to house prices and rents to persuade new immigrants to move there. Spending per citizen is double what it is in Israel, treble in isolated settlements. Religious settlers will never willingly move, but the majority are economic settlers, often locked in by negative equity on houses they cannot sell, and would willingly be bought out to live in Israel, where there is plenty of space. Exports from settlements do not benefit from lower tariffs under EU law and must be labelled as coming from settlements, not Israel.

6. Settlements are the main obstacle to the peace process

The Israeli prime minister says he is willing to enter ‘unconditional’ talks with the Palestinians. What he means is that he is willing to enter talks on condition that he can continue building settlements while talks are going on. The Palestinians are wise to this one. During the 20 years of Oslo talks, no progress was made towards peace but the number of settlers trebled. “It’s like negotiating shares of a pizza with a man who is eating the pizza as you negotiate so your share is always getting smaller,” they say. Obviously, settlement building has to stop before peace talks can resume.

http://www.academia.edu/9069597/The_Economic_Base_of_Israels_Colonial_Settlements_in_the_West_Bank
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_law_and_Israeli_settlements#Fourth_Geneva_Convention
http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2013/10/07/palestinians-access-area-c-economic-recovery-sustainable-growth

Leave a comment

Filed under blog and news, Palestine briefing

Palestine statement from Owen Smith

Thank you to Owen Smith’s team for forwarding us this response from the Labour Leadership team to Grahame Morris MP, chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East. We hope this will be helpful for those Labour Party members deciding how to vote.

Owen Smith writes:

“I am proud to be a member of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East and I strongly support a viable peace process based on internationally recognised (1967) borders.

“I continue to unequivocally support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the recognition of a viable Palestinian State alongside a safe and viable Israel. The terms of a peace deal are well known and I support them completely: two sovereign states living side by side in peace and security.

“The right to self-determination is an inalienable right for the peoples of both Palestine and Israel. I believe that the state of Palestine should be recognised,within the UN and by the UK, and I voted to recognise a Palestinian state in 2014 as an essential step towards to realising a two-state solution. I recognise that, ultimately, this can only be achieved by both sides sitting down together, with equal status, negotiating in good faith and making some difficult compromises.Peace is not something that can be imposed on either the Israelis or Palestinians by force or diktat.

“I am opposed to violations of international human rights law, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the construction of the separation wall on Palestinian land. I consider the settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories to be illegal, unjustifiable and detrimental to the prospects of achieving a two-state solution. I also agree that the blockade on Gaza should be lifted and that rocket attacks and terrorism against Israelis must stop.

“I am not convinced that a boycott of goods from Israel would help to achieve a negotiated peace settlement. In order to support the peace process we must build bridges between all those who support peace in the region. My time working in Northern Ireland as part of the peace process showed me that, beyond negotiations, peace only really comes when each side moves towards reconciliation. 

As friends of the people of Israel and Palestine, our most important task is to help foster cooperation and coexistence between both sides and I believe the work of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East makes an important contribution to that understanding.”

 

Members will already be familiar with Jeremy Corbyn’s views on all these issues. To recap, during the 2015 leadership election Labour Friends of Palestine asked the candidates for their views on six issues: Are settlements illegal? UK recognise Palestine? Lift the blockade of Gaza? Stop settlement trade? Suspend tariff reductions? Stop arms sales? Jeremy Corbyn answered yes to all of them.

Leave a comment

Filed under blog and news, Palestine briefing

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under blog and news, Palestine briefing, Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under blog and news, Palestine briefing, Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under blog and news, Palestine briefing, Uncategorized