The blockade on Israel’s heart

It’s hard to understand how one can look at tens of thousands of people in their cage and not see them. How is it possible to look at these protesters and not see the disaster wrought first and foremost by Israel?

Gideon Levy, Ha’aretz correspondent

What a pleasure it was again Friday, journalists and pundits competing to be the wittiest. One tweeted that the Palestinians burned Goodyear tyres, another that the heads of Hamas stayed away due to their asthma. One referenced the “supertanker” fire-fighting plane Israel called in to battle nationwide fires in 2016. Someone posted a photo of a protester with a swastika, writing: “charming people to make peace with.” A “moderate” commentator said on television that this was a “foolish protest,” beneath his famous intellect. They all, as is their wont, praised the army on its accomplishment: No one crossed the border. The state has been saved from annihilation. Way to go, Israel Defense Forces.

As the witticisms and back-patting made the rounds of social media, 20,000 desperate Gazans were running around in the sand near the fence that imprisons them, crying out for help. Wearing rags, mostly young men, some 65 percent of whom are unemployed, breathing in the black smoke from the tires and knowing that their past, their present and their future are blacker. Some were holding the latest product of Gaza’s arms industry: mirrors. Bedroom mirrors and bathroom mirrors, meant to blind the sharpshooters. Such amusing sights have not been seen here for a long time: 1,350 people were wounded, 293 of them from live gunfire; of those, 20 are in serious to critical condition. Nine bodies as of Saturday morning.

Most were careful not to cross the death line, exactly the way it was in East Germany. The East Germans shot anyone who tried to leave the country, and it was shocking; the Israelis shoot at anyone approaching their fence, and it’s amusing. Soon there might be an electric fence, which will make the army snipers superfluous.

Among those killed was Hussein Mohammed Madi, a 16-year-old boy, and a news photographer who was wearing a bullet-resistant vest marked “press” in English, which did not protect him at all from the moral-army sharpshooter who aimed for his chest. Perhaps the sharpshooter couldn’t read English.

Yaser Murtaja was 30 and had never been out of the Gaza Strip. He recently posted a photograph showing a bird’s-eye view of the Strip. Murtaja wrote that his dream was to take such a picture. Now, perhaps his dream will come true from the heavens. At his funeral Saturday, his body was covered with his blue journalist’s vest.

He wasn’t the only journalist shot by army snipers Friday. Six more were wounded. Their blood is no redder than anyone else’s, but the fact that they were shot proves the army snipers fire indiscriminately and are not choosy about their victims. And all this led to clever comments on social media and compliments for the army in the press.

It’s hard to understand how one can look at tens of thousands of people in their cage and not see them. How is it possible to look at these protesters and not see the disaster wrought first and foremost by Israel? How can we absolve ourselves, putting everything on Hamas and not be shocked for a moment at the sight of the blood of innocents shed by IDF soldiers?

How can a former Shin Bet security service chief instigate a growing protest here over an empty speech by the prime minister at an equally empty ceremony, while this massacre rouses barely a hiccup? This time there are no Qassam rockets, no knives, not even scissors. There’s no terror except “tyre terror” and the “terror march,” as the daily Israel Hayom grotesquely put it.

This time the protest is not violent. Israel doesn’t see this either. It doesn’t see the whites of the protesters’ eyes, it doesn’t see them as human beings, it doesn’t see their despair; it doesn’t see the bitterness of their fate.

When the next natural disaster happens somewhere, Israel will once again send an aid team and everyone will laud Israel’s “Jewish” compassion and its humanity. But no one can deny the hardheartedness that has befallen it, so hard that it blocks humanity and compassion from reaching the heart, which has been scarred and blocked permanently.


Inside the Seditious Seder With Jeremy Corbyn and the Jewdas Group

Most of them didn’t know that Corbyn was invited and when he came he didn’t act like the leader nor they like the led


Amira Hass,  Haaretz Correspondent

Amira Hass

HACKNEY, LONDON – On Tuesday morning, at 7:30 A.M. Gaza time or 5:30 A.M. in London, I awoke to a headline on the popular Israeli news site Ynet: “Britain: Corbyn attends event of group that called for Israel’s destruction.” Given that I had left that very event seven and a half hours earlier, I can say wholeheartedly that the headline should have read: “Corbyn brings the bitter herbs to alternative seder in London.”

Jeremy Corbyn grows horseradish in his garden allotment. Slivers of the pungent root he brought were added to the maror, the bitter herbs, waiting in white plastic cups on round tables in the hall below St. Peter’s Church de Beauvoir, Hackney. These bitter herbs, a glass of whiskey before (begging pardon from my Muslim friends and Jewish friends who keep kosher) and songs in my father’s tongue, Yiddish, destroyed the flu germs that had ruined part of my vacation.

I lost the chance to publish the breaking news about the Labour leader’s healing horseradish because the organizers of the event explicitly asked the 100 participants not to tweet, report in real time on social media, or take photos. Last Monday’s was a private event, and nobody wanted paparazzi to pop up. Even so, somebody was evidently taking photos surreptitiously. Since the photos reached a right-wing British blogger, of all people, who immediately uploaded them to the internet with his distorted interpretation, one would assume that the unknown photographer was a mole planted in advance with a contrarian agenda. In the coming hours, the inaccurate, selective information that the blogger disseminated drove headlines hostile to Corbyn, in social and formal media, occupying more cyberspace than had been devoted to the slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza a few days earlier.

The blog claimed that Corbyn had contributed beet roots to the seder; a simple journalistic inquiry would have shown the roots’ color to be very different. The blogger also said he had a recording of people present at the meal booing when the names of two leaders on the Board of Deputies of British Jews were mentioned (or, as the seder participants put it, “Bored of Deputies”). It is true that there were catcalls, but it’s only partially true. There was much longer booing when Ken Livingstone’s name came up – a former mayor of London and Labourite who had been suspended from the party after saying that Hitler supported Zionism.

The people behind the catcalls and the organizers of the seder define themselves as anti-Zionist Jews, or non-Zionist, or just Jews. They belong to the Jewdas Group – Radical Voices for an Alternative Diaspora, founded in 2005 by young people seeking to reflect socialist-minded Judaism in independent ways, and seeing the Bund as a model.

They seek to free themselves of the identification of Jews with Israel, without conceding their right to criticize Israel’s policy against the Palestinians. They spell the organization’s name Jewdas to remove any doubt that they are Jews, but it’s pronounced like Judas, the ultimate symbol of betrayal in Christian tradition. That symbol nourished 2,000 years of Christian anti-Semitism.

The choice of a name that sounds like the most hated symbol in the eyes of the group’s non-Jewish environment suffices to grasp Jewdas’ nature – provocative, delighting in tongue-in-cheek statements and in needling history and mythology and religion. Its members, atheist and observant and all that’s in between, hang around in radical leftist and pro-Palestinian circles and flaunt their Judaism proudly, including by wearing yarmulkes and Stars of David.

In 2014, Jewdas published a guide for how to criticize Israel while also being aware that anti-Semitism exists and avoiding the trap of anti-Semitic stereotypes and prejudices. In September 2016, it published a Facebook post urging that Livingstone be sent into space “for his own good and everybody else’s, because he won’t shut up, so we are sending him to space where nobody will hear him.” This was interpreted by non-Jews as a call to oust him from the party.

Participate in demonstrations against the extreme right and neo-Nazis, Islamophobia and economic austerity. They party a lot, because being Jewish is fun, and have taken trips to former centers of Diaspora Jewry like Andalusia and Marseilles in what they call “Birthwrong” – as a counter to the Zionist “Birthright” trips to Israel.

Most of the people at the alternative seder were young; many belonged to the LGBT community. Some wouldn’t be considered Jews under traditional Jewish law. Two – a man and a woman – are studying for the rabbinate. Some work as cantors despite not having been formally trained. One couple, who looked Indian, saw the gathering as they walked by and were invited to join, since the Haggadah says, “Let all who are hungry come and eat.”

The seder included a prayer for the release of prisoners and the return of refugees. Participants sang a Yiddish hymn whose author, Shmerke Kaczerginski, dedicated it to the young fighters of the Vilna Ghetto; one elderly participant reminded all that the Warsaw Ghetto revolt began on Pesach eve. The Jewdas Haggadah also included Bella Ciao, an Italian partisan song in Yiddish translation. Also included was Rachel Bloom’s poem “remember that we suffered,” and its immortal words: “have we mentioned hitler?” In addition, they sang “The Internationale” in English and Hebrew. Corbyn joined in, or at least lip-synched.

They enacted a neoliberal dialogue in English between Pharaoh and his CEO over how to increase Egypt’s profits. The answer: Stop paying the workers. Corbyn laughed with everybody else. Each table was asked to propose ways of fighting Pharaoh. One table parodied a purist, isolationist left. Corbyn laughed in open delight. Others said humor alone wouldn’t topple capitalism; the slaves had to form a union that would declare a general strike in Egypt.

There were good jokes and bad ones, including what seemed (at least to older participants) like excessive and infantile use of the word “fuck.” The price was five British pounds per person, not including wine, grape juice or matzah, which everyone was supposed to bring for themselves. The church was paid 230 pounds for use of its hall. One member worked for three days to prepare vegan food for everyone, using Persian recipes she learned at home.

Most participants, including several organizers, didn’t know that one member of the group had invited Corbyn; they were surprised when he arrived with his wife Laura. He didn’t act like the leader and they didn’t act like the led.

Corbyn said the blessing over Elijah’s Cup, as written in the Jewdas Haggadah: “Legend has it that the prophet Elijah will come at some point to announce the coming of the messiah. We fill up the cup and open the door just in case Eli is outside waiting. As radical Jews, we understand ‘the Messiah’ as ‘the messianic age’ or ‘redemption’ or ‘revolution.’ So let’s fill this cup with the hope that socialism and revolution will be upon us soon.”

The seder table also had a Miriam’s Cup, “to remind ourselves of the women whose stories are often hidden from the seder, and everyone who is oppressed in a patriarchal society.” And there was a Geoffrey’s Cup – named for the group’s imaginary spokesman “Geoffrey Cohen” – “as a symbol of our struggle with the Jewish establishment.”

Last year’s Haggadah included a “prayer against the state of Israel” by “Geoffrey,” which urged, “Please god smash the state of Israel. Smash it in the abundance of your love and judge it.” Jewdas members believe this is what led the blogger to assert that it called for Israel’s destruction, and thus to suggest that Corbyn’s participation in the seder was evidence of either anti-Semitism or blindness to it.

According to the British media, however, the blogger based himself on a December 2017 tweet which said, “Israel is a steaming pile of sewage which needs to be properly disposed of.” Of this quote, one Jewdas member said, “That was surely some nonsense that somebody tweeted in anger.”

Tuesday morning, Corbyn’s participation in this non-Zionist Jewish seder was indeed depicted as further evidence of his insensitivity to anti-Semitism. As evidence it was mentioned that this dissident Jewish group even dared to claim that the recent organized protest against anti-Semitism in Labour stemmed less from a desire to fight anti-Semitism than from a desire to oust Labour’s elected leader because he’s a socialist and supports Palestinian rights.

But later in the day, the tone changed, as people stopped relying on the blogger and instead investigated the details for themselves and studied Jewdas’ history. The organization received additional donations, and one person wrote on its Facebook page, “I had never heard of Jewdas before Monday but now  I think I’ve found my people.”

Why Israel backed down on eight of 12 charges in Ahed Tamimi show trial

Fadi Quran

The Israeli military was forced to give in and drop eight of the 12 charges against 17-year-old Palestinian girl Ahed Tamimi (below) as part of a plea bargain, in which Ahed recognized in court the fact that she slapped the soldier and called for protests.

In return, Ahed will get the minimum sentence of 8 months instead of spending at least 3 years in prison based on what the military prosecutor was initially seeking. Lawyers at Ofer Military Court told us we would be lucky if they offered a 2 year plea bargain.

But now, Ahed will be out in July — early enough to go to her first year in college. For the next 4 months in prison, Ahed will focus on her studies and take her final year exams.

Ahed’s mother, Nariman, will also be released at the same time.

The fact that a child will be jailed for 8 months for slapping a soldier whose troops just shot her 15 year old cousin in the face is extreme, but in the context of the 99% conviction rate in the Israeli military court system and right-wing incitement against Ahed, this compromise by the Israeli military shows they have decided to back down in the face of growing pressure to release Ahed.

In fact, they were begging Ahed’s lawyer, Gaby Lasky, to accept the plea bargain. Below are the 3 main reasons why the Israeli military was forced to back down, and give Ahed the minimum possible sentence:ahed sentenced

(1) Ahed refused to be coerced so there wasn’t enough evidence to convict her. Israel subjected Ahed Tamimi to intense military interrogations led by a member of Israel’s military intelligence. The interrogation tactics were meant to coerce her into admitting guilt on the 12 charges brought against her.

Detained children, who are often beaten, disoriented, and afraid, end up saying anything the interrogator wants them to — but Ahed courageously maintained her right to remain silent throughout the entire interrogation.

Unable to break Ahed, the Israeli military arrested 10 other Palestinians from Nabi Saleh, 8 of them children. These children also remained steadfast and refused to allow the military to coerce them into giving false testimony to indict Ahed.

Hence, the prosecutor did not have enough evidence to indict Ahed, which made it difficult to complete here trial, especially while it was garnering significant international attention.

(2) Ahed’s case created massive global uproar from citizens to diplomats: millions around the world watched in shock as a 16 year old girl was terrorized, and Israel failed to spin the story.

After a massive right-wing Israeli campaign calling for the arrest, and sometimes even murder, of Ahed, which was followed by her arrest, Ahed quickly became a symbol of Palestinian children. Dozens of media networks flocked to cover her story, and in so doing shed a spotlight on the detention of Palestinian children in Israeli military courts.

Over 1.75 million people around the world took action with Avaaz and demanded that Ahed and Palestinian children be released. Amnesty and Human Rights Watchjoined her campaign — and news networks from the BBC to Xinhua, and from CNN to Al Jazeera reported her story.

In an effort to spin the story in Israel’s favor, former Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, claimed that the ‘Tamimi family were actors’, which journalists did not buy. Oren further claimed that the Knesset had a committee investigating the “authenticity” of the family, which was quietly ridiculed in diplomatic circles as a sign of Israel’s paranoia and its inability to humanize Palestinians.

In a last ditch effort to defame the Tamimi family, 15 year old Mohammad Tamimi, whose skull was shattered when a soldier shot him in his face, was arrested. Ahed slapped the soldier because she heard her cousin Mohammad was shot and in critical condition — and that story intensified global support for her case. The Israeli military interrogated Mohammad and successfully coerced him into saying he got his head injury (a third of his skull was missing and he needed surgery to replace it) from falling off of a bicycle. Major General Yoav Mordecai posted Mohammad’s “confession” on his Facebook page.

However, the Tamimi family quickly released x-rays, footage, and hospital records that proved without a doubt that Mohammad was shot, forcing the military to retract.

Diplomatically, many nations that were already worried about the ill-treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military prisons spoke up. The EU said it was “deeply concerned” about the arrest of minors. Diplomats from around the world were mobilised to watch Ahed’s hearing, with representatives from Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, and many others attending her trial.

(3) Ahed’s arrest was supposed to deter Palestinian youth but instead it inspired them to organise

The Israeli military hoped that the arrest of Ahed would deter the youth of Nabi Saleh (Ahed’s village) and Palestinians across the region from protesting. What happened was the opposite: The youth were inspired by Ahed’s agency, and protests in Nabi Saleh and elsewhere became larger and more intense.

Youth from the villages around Nabi Saleh also joined its protests. And Palestinian students began the process of organising a #March_for_our_freedom. Fearing further upheaval, and unwilling to make Ahed a bigger hero, the Israeli military was forced to give in and drop 8 of the charges against Ahed. Instead of spending over 3 years in prison based on what they had initially pursued, she will now be out in July — early enough to go to her first year in college. The only thing she was booked for were the things in the video — slapping a soldier and calling for protests.

They dropped the charge of inciting to bombings and stabbings for her and her mother, and the charge of stone throwing. For the next 4 months in prison, Ahed will focus on her studies and take her final year exam.

It is essential that we tell Ahed’s story as it is, one of steadfastness in prison and a failure by the military to break her. In court, Ahed said: “There is no justice under occupation.”

She’s right, and that’s why this plea deal, as unfair as it is, was the best she could hope for and the biggest possible compromise the Israeli military, under pressure, could give. There are 356 children, all like Ahed, still in military confinement. Every year over 750 children are arrested. Let’s continue to take action until they are all free.
Check out the HUGE campaign to free Ahed and all Palestinian children

Look here:

How does closing schools for 500,000 children help anti-radicalisation?

Chris Gunness from the UNRWA, the United Nations organisation that looks after Palestinian refugees, gave this briefing in London recently on the effect of Trump’s cuts in UNRWA funding

Our biggest single state donor is the US. Last year we received $365 million and we had
CHRIS-GUNNESSbeen led to believe by the American administration that we would get exactly that amount this year. In the second week of January we got a cheque for 60 million and we were quite surprised. When we made repeated enquiries to our interlocutors in Washington it became clear that that is all we could expect for this year. So our budget which is $1.2 billion was suddenly reduced by at least $300 million.

Now let me talk about the potential impact of that. 525 thousand students in UNWRA schools in the Arab states and territories around Israel may not get an education. Nine million patient visits which is what our 140 primary health clinics give to Palestine refugees every year may stop functioning. 1.7 million food-insecure Palestine refugees may not receive food. That is in places like Syria where we have 400,000 at least Palestine refugees wholly dependent on UNWRA for food. In Gaza alone there are one million food-insecure refugees and by the way as a matter of political choice, that figure has gone from about 80,000 people in the year 2000, to nearly one million today,  so as a matter of political choice the international community has taken the decision to make one million people food insecure in an economy where there is over 60 per cent unemployment.

We hear a lot about radicalisation: one hears it from western politicians, one hears it from American politicians, one hears it from British politicians and European politicians. Can I ask rhetorically of them but also of you, how can it be in the interests of the anti-radicalisation narrative, to have over half a million children on the streets of the Middle East, at a time when extremist groups are in full recruitment mode?

How can it be in the interests of an anti-radicalisation narrative to have a million hungry, angry, increasingly ill-educated children in UNWRA schools become non- functioning. How can that be in anyone’s interest?

And on the subject of radicalisation allow me to make a slightly more profound thought: whatis Gaza? It is essentially a closed Palestinian community where there are appalling human rights abuses that take place on a daily basis, where political horizons and where personal horizons are deprived of a people who are naturally entrepreneurial and who want nothing more than to be free from the indignity of aid dependence. What is Yarmouk? Yarmouk is a refugee camp on the southern reaches of Damascus which was taken over by Isis in 2014. It is an enclosed Palestinian community with a ring of steel around it where there is an enormous and appalling denial of human rights on an industrial scale where there are no political or personal horizons, What is  Ein El Hilweh in Lebanon? It is an  enclosed Palestinian society where there are appalling human rights abuses where people have no political or personal horizons. What is Al Walaja in the West Bank? The list goes on.

And the point I am trying to make is that what defines Palestinian identity  increasingly is this experience of confinement, of rights abuses, of the deprivation of personal and political horizons and that is why I wholeheartedly agree with what our ambassador has said that there has to be a political solution. That alone will solve UNWRA’s economic crisis and that indeed will solve the political crisis confronting the scattered communities around the Middle East.

I want to end by telling you a story and I think it speaks to the anti-radicalisation argument. When after the 2014 war our schools gathered together at the beginning of the academic year the first thing that happened is that there was a roll call. There was a roll call because our school kids had to learn who had been killed in the war. They had to learn which of their classmates had been so badly maimed they could not get to school. Now imagine your children going to school and starting the academic year and having to begin by trying to get their heads around their classmates who had been killed. UNWRA’s work in that situation was to employ  a socio-economic adviser/practitioner in each of our schools and they worked tirelessly to work through the traumas. Our doctors, last time I was in Gaza in November, said to me: There is an epidemic of psycho-social problems. There are tens of thousands of children in Gaza who simply have no sense of a future, who are deeply disturbed by three wars within the last nine years. I say to you thank you. Behind all these macro-economic statistics there are individuals whose dignity and individuality must be respected. So thank you for supporting us.


Ask your MP to write a letter to UNICEF

Please send this letter from Military Court Watch to your MP:

Dear ……….

March 6 marked 5 years since UNICEF published the report – “Children in Israeli Military Detention”. As you know the report concluded that the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be “widespread, systematic and institutionalised”.

During the intervening years UNICEF issued 2 updates to its report in October 2013 and February 2015. While acknowledging that there have been some positive developments UNICEF ultimately concluded that the levels of alleged abuse have not significantly decreased.

To mark the anniversary MCW has issued a short statement –

One issue we highlight in the statement is that UNICEF has now gone silent – no updates to the report for 3 years. UNICEF has not publicly stated why they have gone quiet but we do know that they have come under sustained pressure.

Can you please write a letter to the head of UNICEF in Jerusalem, thanking the organisation for its important work, and urging the organisation to release a 3rd update soon. The head of UNICEF here is Genevieve Boutin –
Please send a copy to me and to Military Court Watch at:

Why social workers are demanding release of Palestinian rights defender

Travel2Palestine has been shown round the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem by Munther Amira, director of the Aida youth centre, who was arrested by Israeli authorities in December, as reported here in The Guardian

By Filipe Duarte

The arrest and detention of Munther Amira, a 48-year-old Palestinian social worker and human rights defender, has provoked an outcry in the international social work community.
Amira was arrested by Israeli soldiers in Palestine on 27 December 2017 while peacefully participating in a rally in Bethlehem in the West Bank. He was protesting against the detention and alleged mistreatment of Palestinian child political prisoners, including 17-year-old Ahed Tamimi (aged 16 when arrested) who was detained a few days before.
Amira lives and works at the Aida refugee camp in the West Bank, and is the director of the Aida Youth Centre. Amira is also the head of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, a grassroots resistance movement formed in 2008. He previously served as secretary-general of the Palestinian Union of Social Workers and Psychologists.
I haven’t met Amira, but his values, dignity and legacy to defend the human rights of Palestinian children are renowned in the international social work community. In a statement released by the British Association of Social Workers(BASW), Amira is described as “a highly esteemed and respected colleague well-known to a number of BASW members”.
On 4 January 2018, when Raed Amira, human rights representative of the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) in Palestine, shared on social media the news about Amira’s arrest, I immediately felt that I needed to take action on his behalf. I launched a petition demanding his immediate and unconditional release on behalf of social work core values, and of the thousands of social workers worldwide who are committed to end injustice, oppression and the violation of human rights.
On 7 January, the IFSW issued a statement demanding Amira’s release. This statement has been echoed by several national social work associations in Britain, New Zealand, Palestine, Turkey, the Latin America region and Ireland.
The international campaign to free Amira is growing rapidly. The petition has been signed by more than 13,000 social workers and supporters worldwide and has been sent to the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. On 15 January, the IFSW also sent letters to relevant agencies at the United Nations, urging them to use their respected offices to support the global movement of social workers and human rights defenders, like Amnesty International.
Amira has had six court hearings since his arrest, and the Israeli military prosecution has extended his detention several times. His trial began on 21 February, and he is being indicted with 13 charges for participating in five separate rallies/protests, such as “participating in a march without a permit” and “throwing stones at Israeli forces”. The military court system in the West Bank has a 99% conviction rate towards Palestinians.
Social workers worldwide must continue to raise awareness about Munther Amira and stand in solidarity with all social workers who protect and defend the rights of children and refugees on a daily basis. Social workers are human rights defenders, they believe in peace and social justice.

Filipe Duarte is a social work scholar and activist

Read this in The Guardian

MPs can put recognition of Palestine back on the parliamentary agenda

mahmoudabbasHopes for a resumption of the peace process are at a particularly low ebb in Palestine.  President Abbas (right)  is refusing to meet Trump’s ‘peace’ envoys Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt because he believes Trump cannot act as ‘honest broker’ between the Israelis and Palestinians.

And who can blame him when the American vice-president Mike Pence is on record as saying “we don’t want to be a broker. A broker doesn’t take sides, but America is on the side of Israel.”

The Palestinians believe Trump threw away their most important negotiating chip when he recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The refusal of all countries (including the US since George Bush Snr) to recognise Jerusalem and move their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has been the one act of international solidarity putting pressure on the Israelis to reach a settlement.

Now Trump is asking the world to wait for his peace plan. Palestinians can be forgiven for asking why should they hang about for a US peace plan when it’s already obvious he is playing them for fools? It’s just yet another delaying tactic, in their view, to give the Israelis time to steal more of their land and build more “facts on the ground”.

With so much scepticism about America’s good faith we have to conclude that America cannot – at least in the short term – resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict for the very reason that Pence gave.  The responsibility falls to European countries such as the UK or France to take the lead.

William Hague started to square up to the task when he said in 2011 that the UK accepts the case for recognition of Palestine and will announce it at a time when it “when it can best help bring about peace”.

Many believe there has been an unacknowledged change of policy. Some trace it back to an angry showdown in 2012 between William Hague and MPs from Conservative Friends of Israel who accused him of being part of a ‘bigoted’ Foreign Office plot against Israel (Simon Walters, Mail on Sunday Political Editor 4 March 2012). Some say that Downing Street blocked the Foreign Office’s recognition plan.

But now, seven years later, Boris Johnson is still saying the UK will recognise Palestine and he’s still waiting for the right time to “play his card”. The analogy with a card game is seen by many as insensitive – while others point out that even in a game of cards you can hold on to a trump for too long.

The fact is there have been many opportunities to recognise Palestine “when it can best help bring about peace” and they have all been missed. They are missing one now. There has never been a better time for the UK to ‘play its card’. The situation cries out for a European initiative.

That is not going to come from the EU itself – as it would require a unanimous vote by all 28 members. So it must come from individual states. France said it would recognise, but Macron now feels he would be too exposed on his own. Many smaller European states – Ireland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Slovenia – are lining up to recognise Palestine as soon as one of the major powers leads the way.  In view of the UK’s history as the country that issued the Balfour Declaration and ruled over Palestine for 26 years, the responsibility falls to us.

Nearly two-thirds of LFI MPs supported the recognition of Palestine

In October 2014 the House of Commons voted 274-12 in favour of recognition. Opinion polls show overwhelming public support among those that have an opinion. The only voices against are coming from the Friends of Israel groups in Parliament or from the Prime Minister.

Little is known about the membership of Conservative Friends of Israel. They used to claim to have 80% of Conservative MP on their books. It may be less now, but not much less. There were only 40 Conservatives among the MPs who voted in favour of recognition.

The House of Commons vote was a catalyst for Labour Friends of Israel.  They did not change their policy, but they rebranded their image.  After years in which they had never used the P-word except in reference to “Palestinian terrorists”, they launched a campaign with the slogan “For Israel, For Palestine, For Peace”.

This helped them in a recruitment drive which saw their numbers increase from 29 to 77.  But it came at the expense of accepting a lot of MPs whose views were very different from the Israeli government and indeed from their sister party in Israel, the Israeli Labour Party.

Of the 77 MPs now listed on the LFI website as ‘supporters’ more than half (39) voted in favour of Palestinian recognition in the last House of Commons vote on the subject in October 2014.  Many of the remainder were not actually MPs at the time of the vote, so in fact nearly two thirds of LFI members who were able to vote (39 out of 61) voted in favour of recognising Palestine.

There is no reason why LFI should not join in a campaign for recognition. But Labour Friends of Israel has never pretended to be a democratic organisation.  An executive committee lays down the policy line.
Recognition will remove a roadblock on the way to peace negotiations
It may seem like an uphill struggle to campaign for recognition when the Government and the majority of Conservative MPs are still apparently opposed, but it is a hill that has to be climbed.

Recognition is the simplest achievable goal, entirely within the powers of the UK government, involving no consultation with other states, costing no money, promised many times in the past.

No one pretends that a UK decision to recognise Palestine will make any immediate difference to the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza, but it will remove a major roadblock on the road to peace.

Once Palestine is recognised as a state, legally on the same footing as Israel, it will be so much harder for a British government to justify UK trade with illegal Israeli settlements, to allow UK companies to build the walls, to arm the soldiers, to supply security equipment for the Israeli army of occupation.

On the other hand if we fail to win the battle for recognition, it is difficult to see how we can make progress in any other area. It is a small step, but it will open the gate. That is why the Israelis are trying so hard to prevent it. But we recognised Israel in 1950. It’s now 2018.