Consumers have right to boycott Israeli settlement goods – Boris Johnson

Foreign Office questions, House of Commons, March 28 2017

Consumers have a right to decide for themselves whether or not to boycott Israeli goods.  That may sound like a statement of the obvious, but after the Israeli Knesset passed another anti-boycott law in March, it was reassuring to hear this from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Answering a question from Crispin Blunt (right), the Conservative chair of the Foreign Affairs bluntcommittee, about UK policy on buying goods from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, he said “consumers should have the right to judge for themselves whether they wish to purchase them”.

That needed saying after all the attempts to make it illegal to boycott settlement goods, not only in Israel, but even in the UK. Last year the Communities Department and the Cabinet Office tried to make it illegal for local authorities and public sector pension funds to adopt a policy of not buying from, or investing in illegal settlements.

On March 6 the Israeli Parliament has passed a law allowing the Border Police at Tel Aviv airport to refuse entry to foreign nationals if they – or an organisation they belong to – has publicly called for an end to trade with illegal settlements.

Since the Trade Union Congress has been calling for a ban on settlement goods since 2009, and the Co-op has banned settlement goods since 2013, and hundreds of other organisations have supported the ban, the new law puts millions of UK nationals at theoretical risk of being locked up and deported if they come to Tel Aviv airport.

Israeli border police already have the power to refuse entry without giving a reason and last year the Foreign Office was aware of 115 British nationals who were refused, 50 at Tel Aviv airport and 65 at the Jordanian border. There may have been many more.

Labour MP Stephen Kinnock pointed out that MPs from all parties had called for a ban on goods produced in the illegal settlements on the West Bank and could be banned from travelling to Israel.

Andy Slaughter MPLabour MP Andy Slaughter (left) raised the case of Hugh Lanning, chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, who was detained when he arrived at the airport in March at the head of a trade union delegation to Palestine. 

SNP MP Margaret Ferrier asked whether the Deputy Foreign Secretary, Sir Alan Duncan, could fall foul of the new law because he once described people who support the illegal settlements as “extremists”.

Labour MP Richard Burden asked whether Foreign Office ministers could be questioned because their website discourages financial and commercial dealings with settlements.

Boris Johnson said he has been pushing for clarification on the impact of the new law on UK nationals, but added: “I am sure that Members [of Parliament] who wish to travel to Israel will have absolutely no difficulties.”

In relation to his deputy, Alan Duncan, he said: “I do not believe he has said anything of the kind or called for any such boycott, and nor do I believe for a second that he would be interrupted if he chose to go to Israel.”

He is right in that Sir Alan did not specifically refer to boycotts in his speech to the Royal United Services Institute in 2011. What he said was: “Anyone who supports illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land is an extremist who puts themself outside the boundaries of democratic standards.

“They are not fit to stand for election or sit in a democratic parliament, and they should be condemned outright by the international community and treated accordingly.

“For too long we have been too submissive on the principle of illegal settlements, and it is high time we stopped being so, and reasserted clearly and without fear, exactly what is legally and morally right and what is legally and morally wrong.”


The truth is finally coming out about the dawn raid on a Bedouin village

The truth is only now finally coming out about the Israeli Army’s dawn raid on a Bedouin village in the Negev desert earlier this month that resulted in the death of two people – one Arab and one Israeli – and the demolition of six houses.

The first reports from the Israeli police said an Arab man, Yakub Al-Kian, had deliberately rammed his pick-up truck into a group of policeman, killing the Israeli victim Erez Levy. They also said he was a “terrorist” linked to the Islamic State and had four wives.

A different story came from the villagers.  Al-Kian, they said, was in his pick-up truck at 5 am when he saw bulldozers approaching. He started driving towards his house to rescue his possessions, but the police opened fire without warning, spraying bullets at his moving vehicle.

The autopsy has largely confirmed the villagers’ story.  Al-Kian received one bullet in the chest and another in the knee, causing him to lose control of the truck which then veered off the road and hit a group of policemen.  He was left to bleed to death in his truck.

According to reports on Israeli television, an inquiry by the Israeli Ministry of Justice will soon confirm that everything else that was said about him was also untrue. He was not a terrorist. He had no links to Islamic State. He was a local teacher. He had one wife, who is a Ph.D., and a brother who is an inspector with the Israeli Ministry of Education.

This level of disinformation is all too typical of incidents involving the Israeli police and the army, who put out their own ‘facts’ which are widely reported in the international media who – by the time the full facts are known – have usually lost interest in the story.

In this case the information was given out by the Israeli public security minister, Gilad Erdan, who is now saying he got the information from the police and was acting “to back up his troops”.  He says an apology will be issued to the family.

But the incident does shine a light on the largely unreported campaign of ethnic cleansing that the Israeli government is conducting against Bedouin villages in the Negev.  Their target on the morning of January 18 was the village of Umm Al Hiran which they plan to demolish in its entirety by February 28 in order to build, on its ruins, a village for Jewish Israelis only.

Riad and Mariam Al-Kian at their home in Umm al Hiran

This is the fate that awaits all of the so-called “unrecognised” Bedouin villages of the Negev, but the Umm Al Hiran case is perhaps the most shocking because it will be replaced by a village in the same place with the same name “Hiran”, but with Jewish instead of Arab inhabitants.

This is not because of land ownership issues.  The land was given to the Bedouin by the state in 1956 in compensation for their ancestral lands which were taken off them and given to an Israeli kibbutz after the Israeli war of independence.

Nor is it because there is a shortage of land – there are 3¼ million acres in the Negev and the built-up area of Umm al Hiran covers hardly more than an acre.

It is part of a deliberate plan – the Prawer plan that is officially “frozen” but is still being implemented – to evict the inhabitants of the 35 so-called “un-recognised” Bedouin villages and to move them into townships – with echoes of  both apartheid-era South Africa and the 18th-century clearances in the Scottish Highlands.

The current Israeli strategy is to persuade villagers to demolish their homes themselves by threatening them with heavy fines or to send in the bulldozers when it is dark to pull down a few houses at a time in the hope that the world will not notice.

This strategy failed on the morning of January 18 when trigger-happy police opened fire on a moving car, causing the death not only of a Bedouin but of one of their own colleagues and bringing unwelcome publicity in the international media.

Their strategy of trying to portray the Bedouin villagers as “terrorists” has also failed because the villagers are so reasonable, telling the world that they would be perfectly happy for a Jewish village to be built next to them and live as neighbours.

Members of a delegation of Labour Party members who visited the village just ten days before the latest demolitions were told by Riad Al-Kian, a cousin of the villager who died: “We were never against building a Jewish village here. We only requested that we would be included as part of this village and we can live together as neighbours and also receive some of the development that the Jewish village is going to get.

“I don’t understand why the Prime Minister is giving orders to demolish houses in the Negev, because we are Israeli citizens and we pay taxes and we want to be part of society and all we get in return is violence and hatred.”

Ironically, on the very morning that the bulldozers moved into Umm al Hiran, MPs from Labour Friends of Israel were presenting a Bill in the House of Commons supporting co-existence between Jews and Arabs, but embarrassingly in this case it was the Israeli government that turned down a proposal for the two villages to co-exist.

Riad and his wife Maryam also fail to conform to the Israeli caricature of Bedouin as nomadic herders with little or no education. Maryam is a teacher at a local school and is studying for master’s degree and Riad runs a transport business.

The 500 villagers include a good many doctors, engineers or teachers, but they prefer to live in their village where, they say, the crime rate and the unemployment rate are zero rather than move into flats in new townships where both crime and unemployment are high.

They have little reason to be grateful to the Israeli government as the “unrecognised” villages receive no electricity, no water, no telephone lines, no metalled roads, no services of any kind. This is not because it is remote. On the contrary, the Jewish owner of a dog-kennel only 800 metres away is provided with all mod cons.

This is also a contrast with the new village that will be built on the ruins of their houses. This new Hiran will be built with all infrastructure in place and even with a cemetery already provided even before anyone has moved in.

“Unrecognised” villages are not shown on any official map and their residents are not allowed to build permanent structures or make any attempt to surface the roads or link up to water supplies. 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 Israeli government wants the buildings to look temporary, ramshackle, worthless.

This makes it easier for them to sustain the myth that the villagers are nomads who originate from other countries. In fact it is historically verifiable that their families have lived in the Negev for hundreds of years.

In the winter their solar panels don’t provide enough electricity even for lighting and Maryam has to heat water on a gas stove when she gets back from school to keep her baby warm. On top of that she is always listening out for bulldozers and wondering when they will come for her house.

“I don’t understand whether Netanyahu expects us to vaporise or what, because he doesn’t give us any sustainable solution to our situation,” she says.

Traditionally, the Bedouin have been less militant than the Arabs in other parts of Israel, with a number of them serving in the army, but the evictions and demolitions have started to change that. “We feel that this policy causes Arabs to have nothing but hatred in their heart towards the Jewish community. This is the real tragedy. We want our children to grow up knowing that it is possible to live together and work and study together and to lead a shared life, Jewish and Arab both.

“I would like you to tell me if you know of any state – other than apartheid states – that would treat their citizens like that because they are Bedouins and still present themselves as a Western progressive country.

“The international community is in many ways like the mother and father of the state of Israel and we think it is time that you should say to the Israeli government: ‘Stop for a second! Open your mind!

“We as a community are trying so hard to be peaceful and observe the law and are being treated like felons. Not only us but all of the Arab community are all suffering from the same form of racism and we think it is time that somebody would intervene and stop that.”

It is not too late. The 500 villagers are still there. Two families have agreed to demolish their own houses and another six were demolished in the raid on January 18. But 22 houses remain. The Israeli army hopes to clear the whole village by February 28.

The villagers know that the only thing that will stop the Israeli government is an outcry from the international community.  So write to your MP now.


Only international protest will save the villagers from being evicted


Villagers say only international protests can stop the Israelis from demolishing the village.

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 are provided with no mains electricity, no paved roads, no water, no sanitation.  They have to do their best buying water from tankers and using solar panels for intermittent power.
This is not because it is 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 are still engaged in the traditional Bedouin occupation of sheep-farming, Umm Al Hiran also has lawyers, teachers and doctors among its 500 residents.

A few weeks ago 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.

Umm Al Hiran: the Arab village that Israel plans to demolish 

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

From Palestine Briefing February 2015

Umm Al Hiran is the village that the Israelis plan to demolish in its entirety and replace with a new village on the same site with the same name – Hiran – but with Jewish inhabitants instead of Arabs.

The 500 Arab residents of the village have lived in the village for nearly 60 years and were in fact 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.

Thirty Jewish settler families are currently living in portakabins a couple of kilometers away waiting for the new houses to be built so they can move in.

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

See the village on YouTube:

Villagers want coexistence but the Israeli government sends in the bulldozers

Two people were killed and several others wounded when large numbers of police officers entered the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, in southern Israel, to demolish the village at dawn on Wednesday January 18th. Police fired tear gas, sponge-tipped bullets, and there were reports of live ammunition as well.

Among those wounded was a Member of Parliament and leader of the Israeli Arab Opposition in the Knesset, Ayman Odeh, whom police shot in the head and back with sponge-tipped bullets. Odeh was brought to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba in stable condition at the time of this report. The other casualties were both local residents and security forces.

Police said officers killed a resident of Umm el-Hiran, Yaqub Al Qi’an, after his vehicle struck and killed at least one officer. The police officer who was killed was named as 34-year-old Erez Levy. Local residents and activists at the scene said that Qi’an’s car veered toward the officers only after he was shot and lost control of the vehicle.

Hundreds of fully armed police arrived at Umm el-Hiran around 5 a.m., pulling drivers out of vehicles, and attacking and threatening others, according to Israeli activist Kobi Snitz, who was in the village Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

Shortly thereafter, shots were heard, Snitz said, adding that he saw a white pickup truck about 30 meters from police. “They started shooting at the car in bursts from all directions,” he said, adding that only after the driver appeared to have been wounded and lost control of his vehicle did it strike the police officers.

Police reportedly sealed the village off and barred any additional journalists from entering by mid-morning.

Snitz said that state authorities had been pressuring residents to sign an agreement to leave voluntarily up until around midnight Tuesday night, but that negotiations broke down.

MK Odeh showed up at Umm el-Hiran early Wednesday morning in order to stand alongside the villagers, who were told by Israeli authorities that the demolition would take place imminently.

By late morning, bulldozers, trucks, and demolition equipment had begun preparing to clear and demolish the village.

Umm al-Hiran is one of dozens of so-called “unrecognized villages” in Israel’s south, in which approximately 100,000 Bedouin citizens of Israel live without electricity, water, and other basic services the state refuses to provide.

Here is a quick summary of this history of Umm al-Hiran: Long before the establishment of the State of Israel, members of the Abu Qi’an family lived in an area of the western Negev desert called Khirbet Zubaleh.

In 1956, the Israeli military government forcibly moved the Qi’an family to the location where they live today. (Their former land was expropriated and given to the Israel Kibbutz Shoval as agricultural land.)

This forced land “swap” is well documented in state archives, but despite the fact that the Qi’an family was settled in its current location by the state itself, its homes have never been connected to the electricity or water grids.

In 2015 Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that the state can change its mind and take back the land it gave to the al-Qi’an family. On the ruins of their village Umm el-Hiran, from which they are being expelled, a new township for religious Jews will be established.

For the past few years, Orthodox Jews who will be the future residents of the Jewish village of Hiran – to be built on Umm Al Hiran’s ruins – have been waiting for their new homes at an encampment in the adjacent forest of Yatir.

“The government has no problem with Jewish citizens living on this property – so why should they have a problem with us?” Raid al-Qi’an, a resident and activist from the village, told +972 in 2015. “They allow rural communities to be built for Jews across the Negev – why not us?”

“We have always said, and continue to say, that we have no objections to Jewish families living here or nearby us – but not in place of us. That is racism and injustice,” he added.

Read latest from Umm Al Hiran

Now is the time for Britain to recognise the state of Palestine

Vincent Fean

Read original article in The Guardian

Quiet diplomacy hasn’t worked. Britain needs to push for international recognition of Israel and Palestine – and then robustly defend the rights of both.

Without change soon, the option will not be there. Israel’s 50-year military occupation of Palestiniavincent_feann territory harms us all. The British minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, has deemed it “unacceptable and unsustainable”.

US abstention allows UN to demand end to Israeli settlements
Hope of change came when the UN security council, after eight years of silence, adopted a resolution with strong UK support once more condemning Israeli illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and when the US secretary of state, John Kerry, set out his framework for a just peace. This Sunday, France will host an international conference seeking an equitable basis for ending the occupation.

Our prime minister, Theresa May, is a firm friend of Israel. Friends should tell each other the truth. Already, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has rejected the resolution, bizarrely accused Kerry of anti-Israel bias, and dismissed the Paris conference without bothering to await its outcome. In truth, this is disregard for the law, and the express will of the international community. So systematic settlement expansion, demolition of Palestinian homes and the closure of Gaza are set to continue in this low intensity, asymmetrical Israel/Palestine war.

The world is weary of this unending occupation and of entrenched, callous disregard and hatred, one for the other. The status quo is anything but static. It is going wrong fast – increasing injustice for the Palestinians, storing up trouble for Israel’s children, and causing grave concern here among those responsible for Britain’s national security.

Netanyahu has ignored the advice of his own law officer by supporting unprecedented Knesset legislation which would legalise most of the 100 settler outposts in the Palestinian West Bank, hitherto illegal even under Israeli law. If that bill passes, Britain and our partners will need to respond decisively to an act designed to prevent the solution of two states long espoused by both peoples – Israeli and Palestinian – and by us. Kerry called the one state outcome “separate and unequal” – apartheid by my definition, inevitably provoking chronic violence.

Indiscriminate Palestinian violence is morally wrong and futile, whether labelled terrorism or resistance. The Palestinians should be pressed to reunite on the basis of Palestine Liberation Organisation principles, first among them the recognition of the state of Israel on pre-1967 borders, done by Yasser Arafat in 1993 and reaffirmed by Mahmoud Abbas. Elections are overdue in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the occupied Palestinian territories recognised as the state of Palestine by over 130 countries – although not yet by the UK.

This conflict is emphatically not between equals, but between the occupier and the occupied. Israel is creating new facts on the ground “leading towards one state and perpetual occupation” as Kerry warned. Before asking what Britain can do now to promote a just peace, it is worth saying what won’t work. Quiet diplomacy, for one. We’ve tried that. Quiet diplomats get ignored. Second, US-led shuttle diplomacy, such as Kerry conducted for nine months. The US is necessary but not sufficient to resolve this conflict.

And while no one can be sure what hand President Trump will play, the omens are bad.

And we can’t leave it to the two conflicting parties to sort it out. The Middle East peace process became just that – a process. Direct unconditional negotiations between the strong and the weak only leave the weak weaker. That’s not how to end the occupation. It will need an initiative by the international community, shaping the outcome, providing security guarantees, upholding the law, ensuring a better tomorrow for both peoples. The Paris conference should develop a wider consensus based on Security Council Resolution 2334 and re-commit all Arab states to recognising Israel in return for a sovereign Palestine.

It is not enough to offer more carrots to both parties, hoping that both will bite. Israel has had a surfeit of carrots over the decades. Incentives to the Palestinians are contingent on ending the occupation – which only Israel can do.

So there are two things Britain should do. They go together. First, recognise the state of Palestine on 1967 borders now, or as soon as the Knesset “legalises” outposts, in breach of international humanitarian law; and secondly uphold that law without fear or favour – with serious consequences for whoever breaks it.

British recognition of Palestine acknowledges the Palestinian right to self-determination, affirmed by the UK 18 years ago at the Berlin European council. Far from delegitimising Israel, it reaffirms our 1950 recognition of Israel on the borders created two years before, unless both parties agree to any change. I commend a petition asking our government to recognise Palestine.

If we mean what we say about two states, we need to will the means. By recognising both states in the two-state solution, we legitimise both. Affirming the equal rights of both peoples is consistent with our values and in our national interest. One state – separate and unequal – would be unjust, unstable and violently divisive: an avoidable disaster for Israelis, Palestinians and us. Five years ago, the then foreign secretary William Hague said: “We reserve the right to recognise a Palestinian state bilaterally at a moment of our choosing and when it can best help bring about peace”.

I’ve said it before, but never has it been more true – now is the time.

Sir Vincent Fean is a former British Consul-General in Jerusalem

“British foreign policy is in hock to Israeli influence” – ex-Minister

In an article in the Mail-on-Sunday an unnamed former minister in David Cameron’s government claims successive governments have allowed donors’ money to shape our policy on Israel

 Read the whole Mail-on-Sunday article

“Last month Theresa May, like David Cameron each year before her, spoke to the annual lunch of the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI).

“She oozed praise for Israel as a democracy, spoke of the constant terrorist threat they face, and condemned the way that Palestinians supposedly incite violence and anti-Semitism.
“Her own policy that considers Israeli settlements on Palestinian land illegal received only a passing mention.


“The reason is clear: the Conservative Party wants pro-Israel donors’ money, and principle in the Government’s foreign policy has been relegated.


“Matters deteriorated further over Christmas after US Secretary of State John Kerry’s forceful condemnation of the extremism and conduct of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government.


“Instead of agreeing with his comments – which are identical to her own policy – she criticised Kerry.
“Behind this inconsistent and concerning attitude lies a serious and troubling problem.


“British foreign policy is in hock to Israeli influence at the heart of our politics, and those in authority have ignored what is going on.


“For years the CFI and Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), have worked with – even for – the Israeli government and their London embassy to promote Israeli policy and thwart UK Government policy and the actions of Ministers who try to defend Palestinian rights.


“Lots of countries try to force their views on others, but what is scandalous in the UK is that instead of resisting it, successive Governments have submitted to it, taken donors’ money, and allowed Israeli influence-peddling to shape policy and even determine the fate of Ministers.


“Even now, if I were to reveal who I am, I would be subjected to a relentless barrage of abuse and character assassination.


“The CFI is not affiliated to the Conservative Party. It is incorporated in a way that means it is not too transparent about donors. Yet it arranges for the support of MPs and funds regular visits to Israel which distort the truth.


“Cameron turned a blind eye to Israeli misconduct – if he ever cared about it – because he was persuaded any criticism would reduce party donations.


“It now seems clear people in the Conservative and Labour parties have been working with the Israeli embassy which has used them to demonise and trash MPs who criticise Israel; an army of Israel’s useful idiots in Parliament.


“This is politically corrupt and diplomatically indefensible. The conduct of certain MPs needs to be exposed as the poisonous and deceitful infiltration of our politics by the unwitting agents of another country, which acts in defiance of international law, and whose government Kerry called its most extreme ever.


“We need a full inquiry into the Israeli Embassy, the links, access and funding of the CFI and LFI, and an undertaking from all political parties that they welcome the financial and political support of the UK Jewish community, but won’t accept any engagement linked to Israel until it stops building illegally on Palestinian land.


“This opaque funding and underhand conduct is a national disgrace and humiliation and must be stamped out.”