Category: blog and news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Short of a dramatic intervention by the UK or another European country, they now expect demolition to start soon after Mrs Merkel leaves.
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Hundreds of flags greet Labour’s first-ever debate on Palestine

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

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

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

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

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

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

The motion urged the Government to:

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

and it called for:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liverpool, September 26 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

A veiled effort to inhibit pro-Palestinian activism on college campuses’

In another article Dr James J. Zogby, president of Arab-American Institute, wrote:  

“Far from being designed to combat antisemitism, [the Anti-Semitism Awareness Bill] is a thinly veiled effort to inhibit pro-Palestinian activism on college campuses — something that the pro-Israel organisations who helped write the bill have acknowledged.

“The [IHRA] description of antisemitism is both correct and instructive, as are several examples of contemporary antisemitism mentioned in the guidance… Where the guidance goes off the rails is when they try to expand the definition to include ‘antisemitism relative to Israel’.

“With this expansion of the definition of antisemitism, the guidance becomes both subjective and open to dangerous abuse by those who would use it to silence criticism of Israel.

“At the same time that these efforts will act to intimidate and silence pro-Palestinian activity on campuses, they will also serve to embolden pro-Israel student groups to file repeated and frivolous complaints against pro-Palestinian organisations and professors, while diluting and distracting attention from real antisemitism when it rears its ugly head.

“What I find most ironic here is the degree to which this entire discussion has turned reality upside down. I understand awful and hurtful things have been said and that some pro-Israel students may feel “uncomfortable” in some instances or that the BDS debate on their campuses may make them feel like they are in a “hostile” environment. But it is inexcusable to ignore the harassment and threats and defamation endured by students who are advocating Palestinian rights. Oftentimes they are the ones operating in a hostile environment. They are the ones targeted by well-funded campaigns and subjected to threats and harassment. And when Arab Americans write opinion pieces in school newspapers, the comments’ sections are filled with bigotry and hate.”

Why Labour should not adopt the full IHRA guidance – by its author

As the Labour Party weighs up whether to write the IHRA guidance on antisemitism into its legally enforceable code of conduct, it might like to know that there have been two attempts to write the IHRA code into American law. Both failed.

They failed largely because Kenneth Stern, the main author of what became the IHRA guidance, urged members of Congress not to adopt the Anti-Semitism Awareness Bill which would put his code on the statute book.

Here’s what he wrote in his evidence to Congress:

“I write as the lead author of the [IHRA’s] definition of antisemitism to encourage you not to move the Anti-Semitism Awareness Bill which essentially incorporates that definition into law for a purpose that is both unconstitutional and unwise.

“If the definition is so enshrined, it will actually harm Jewish students and have a toxic effect on the academy.

“The worst way to address [antisemitism] it is to create a de facto hate speech code, which is what this Bill proposes to do.

“In 2011 I co-wrote an open letter (together with the President of the American Association of University Professors and on behalf of the American Jewish Committee) outlining how the definition was being abused .. in an attempt to restrict academic freedom and punish political speech. I remain convinced that the arguments advanced in it were correct.

“The definition was never intended to be used to limit speech on a college campus; it was written for European data collectors to have a guideline for what to include and what to exclude in reports.

“Some [of those] who urged the University of California to adopt the definition were clear that they saw it as a vehicle to stop anti-Israel speech, including promotion of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement.

“I disagree with BDS,.. but it is wrong to say that BDS is inherently a form of antisemitism. Even if it were, it would be improper to try to censor pro-BDS campus activity, which is political speech and should be answered by more speech and education, not by suppression.

“If this Bill is passed, its proponents will have the ability to threaten [US Government] funding at colleges and universities where political speech against Israel occurs, and where administrators then don’t try to stop it, or fail to put the university on record [as] calling such speech antisemitic.

“Think of the precedent this would set.

  • If denying the right of Israel to exist is enshrined as antisemitism by law, would Congress then pass parallel legislation defining opposition to a Palestinian state as anti-Palestinianism?
  • Would it adopt a definition of racism, perhaps including opposition to affirmative action?
  • Would it pass laws defining Islamophobia, anti-LGBT animus, anti-immigrant bias, anti-white bias, etc.?
  • And if campus political speech cannot employ “double standards,” does this mean that political speech against China or Russia or the US which doesn’t employ parallels against other countries might someday be legally suspect too?

“I have been writing about how to address campus bigotry for over 25 years and trained more than 200 college and university presidents on how to engage [with] this issue on their campuses. In my view, this legislation – which is a direct affront to academic freedom – will make the situation on campus worse.

[In a footnote he suggested it would be a better approach for a university to conduct surveys of students, review their curriculum, hold more classes on antisemitism, on hatred, on how to discuss difficult issues, on how to engage [with] the conflicting narratives about Israel and Palestine, etc]

“This legislation is intended to have a negative impact on academic freedom and free speech. Pro-Israel activists will suffer in the aftermath, because they will be seen as trying to suppress speech with which they disagree.”

“There are many things a university can and should do to address antisemitism and other forms of hatred. Imposing a definition of antisemitism makes those steps less likely to be taken, because administrators will default to discouraging and suppressing speech, fearful that if they don’t outside groups will pressure them to do so, using [anti-discrimination legislation] as a threat or a weapon.”

Trump strategy begins to emerge

There is still no sign of the Trump plan to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict, but there are signs of what his strategy may be.

The two most difficult issues to resolve are Jerusalem, which both sides want as their capital, and Palestinian refugees, who have a right of return to or compensation for their homes in Israel.

Trump’s plan appears to be to take both these issues “off the table” – by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and by cutting off funds to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

That would just leave the issue of an independent Palestinian state – which he wants to resolve by resurrecting the idea of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation, in which Jordan takes responsibility for security in a Palestinian mini-state in parts of the West Bank and Egypt takes over Gaza.

This ‘solution’ has already been rejected many times by the Jordanians as well as the Palestinians and if this was the much-heralded Trump plan, it would be declared ‘dead on arrival’, according to Ha’aretz.

According to Anshel Pfeffer in Ha’aretz, “Netanyahu’s solution is for the Palestinians to be bullied into accepting limited autonomy in Gaza and a few enclaves in the West Bank. That’s all.

“And twenty months into the Trump administration’s tenure, that is exactly what has been happening. Jerusalem is “off the table,” the administration and key Arab regimes are supporting a separate agreement with Hamas in Gaza, and with the defunding of UNRWA, Washington has indicated it is about to take the refugees issue off the table as well.

“What about the rest of the world? So far, the outcry from other governments, from the West to the Arab world, has constituted little more than a weak chorus. No more.”

UK policy has been clear on Jerusalem. It should be a shared capital for the Israelis and the Palestinians. The key question for the new Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt will be whether he stands firm on UNRWA by maintaining and if necessary increasing the UK’s contribution (as the Germans are doing).

Trump move “heartless and dangerous”

On Friday August 31 the US officially announced it was cutting its entire aid budget to UNRWA, the United Nations agency which runs the refugee camps for Palestinian refugees in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Jerusalem.

The EU called the US decision “regrettable” and said it would leave a substantial gap in the agency’s funding.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned that “the loss of this organisation could unleash an uncontrollable chain reaction.”

Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney called the Trump administration’s decision “heartless and dangerous.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the decision was “a flagrant assault against the Palestinian people and a defiance of UN resolutions.”

In Israel Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy wrote that: “Israel long ago declared war on the agency, America followed it as usual, all with the aim of removing the refugee issue from the agenda.

“Anyone familiar with the conditions in the refugee camps knows just how dependent their inhabitants are on the UN agency. There might be some waste, certainly there are freeloaders, reform is absolutely necessary, but UNRWA provides basic humanitarian assistance.

“Without it there are no schools, clinics and food in the camps. America owes an indirect debt to the people there; it funds and supports the Israeli occupation, and it has never lifted a finger to reach a genuine solution to their suffering.

“But the new America has lost its shame, too; it no longer even wants to pretend to be the honest broker, or take care of the world’s needy, as its position obliges it to do. Let us say, then, shame on you, America.”

The European Union issued a statement pledging to continue supporting UNRWA and implied that it may increase funding to the agency if deemed necessary.

The statement says that other than the EU’s member states, “many others in the international community, including many Arab states, have pledged their support to the continuity of the work that UNRWA is doing.”

The German foreign minister said Germany would increase its contributions to UNRWA because the funding crisis was fuelling uncertainty.

Sewage or garbage choice for Bedouin

To live next to sewage or next to a garbage dump.  That is the choice now facing the Bedouin from the village of Khan al Ahmar which the Israeli government wants to demolish, according to this Amira Hass report in Haaretz (click for full version).

The 180 villagers have spent a summer fighting the planned demolition of their makeshift homes and their now-famous school built of mud and tyres in the Israeli High Court.

International protests, from the UK government and others, have helped to defer the demolition, but not to defeat it.  Essentially all the arguments in court have been about alternative sites for a forced transfer, not about whether the demolition will go ahead.

New Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt will have an opportunity to make a statement about Khan al Ahmar – something his predecessor never did. That may be why the Israeli government never really believed the UK was serious in its protests.

Yet this stretch of desert between Jerusalem and Jericho, where the Bedouin have eked out a living by grazing sheep and goats, is the most strategically important real estate in Palestine, a narrow waist between the north and south of the West Bank without which a Palestinian state could be neither contiguous nor viable.

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

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

The key question is not what the Government will say, but what it will do.  Representations are useless unless they are backed up by some kind of threat. Once the Israelis sense that there is no threat, they will send the bulldozers in, destroying not only the makeshift huts of the Bedouin but the entire structure of the peace process and the “two-state solution”.

What is needed now is plain speaking. If you demolish Khan al Ahmar, we will recognise Palestine.

New push for recognition of Palestine in House of Lords

The Government is under renewed pressure to fix a date for the the UK to recognise Palestine after a special three-hour debate in the House of Lords on Thursday June 7 called by the former Liberal leader David Steel.

Of the 29 peers who spoke, 20 called osteeln the Government to go ahead with the long-promised recognition of the state of Palestine. Only four made any attempt to defend the Israeli government.

The heaviest criticism came from Lord Steel himself and from senior Conservative peers, including Michael Ancram, the party’s former deputy leader, and two former Conservative ministers.

Unlike the House of Commons where the Speaker tries to balance every speaker critical of Israel by calling an MP who is a Friend of Israel,  the House of Lords debate was overwhelming and unrelenting in its criticism of the Israeli government.

Lord Steel said he hoped that the recent slaughter of 62 Palestinians in one day in Gaza would awaken the international conscience in the same way that the 1960 Sharpeville massacre led to the ultimately successful campaign against apartheid in South Africa.

Michael Ancram, now sitting in the Lords as the Marquess of Lothian, scorned not only Israeli actions against the Palestinians but also the UK’s failure to condemn them.

“What worries me is the West’s reaction: concern, yes, but condemnation, no. I do not believe that it does anyone any favours to stay our tongue. ”

In a long statement to the Commons about the killings in Gaza the Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, described them as “extremely concerning” but appeared to avoid using the word “condemn”.

David Steel ended his speech by calling on the Government to “recognise the state of Palestine without further delay” – a point that was taken up by most of the subsequent speakers, whether Conservative, Labour, Liberal-Democrat or crossbench.

Lord Ray Collins, the Labour speaker in the Lords debate, also backed recognition and challenged the minister: “Who do the Government not recognise Palestine now – and if not, when?”

The debate coincides with a new initiative launched by the former UK consul-general in Jerusalem, Sir Vincent Fean, now chairman of the Balfour Project Trust, with Open Bethlehem and other organisations to lobby the UK and EU governments on recognition.

In the Lords the Minister for Human Rights, Lord Tariq Ahmad, responded to the debate by saying that the position of the Government remains the same as it has been since 2011: “We will formally recognise the state of Palestine when we believe it best serves the cause of peace”.

The word ‘formally’ acknowledges the fact that the UK Government has been committed to recognition in principle since 2011 and is theoretically just waiting for a good time to announce it.

But as the UK has missed any number of opportunities to announce it – when the Kerry talks broke down in 2014, when Sweden recognised in 2014, when France said they were going to recognise in 2015, when the Security Council passed resolution 2334 in 2016 – most people have concluded that recognition is being blocked by Downing Street.

Lord Ahmad also urged Israel to stop its plans to demolish the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar and its primary school following the visit to the village by the Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt last week.

The Israeli High Court gave the go-ahead for demolition from the start of June but nearly 60 UK MPs have visited the village and 67 have so far signed Early Day Motion 1167 which calls on the UK to put meaningful pressure on the Israeli government to abandon its plans.