BDS-ISRAEL’S OBSESSION

Benjamin Netanyahu recently addressed his cohorts at the annual conference of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee urging them to defend Israel on the “moral battlefield” against the growing threat of the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. In Netanyahu’s simple-minded language, support for Palestinian rights and opposition to settlements equates to “delegitimization of Israel.”

The global movement for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights was initiated by Palestinian civil society. (You can find more information about the BDS movement in Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides. BDS co-founder is Omar Barghouti.

He was due to travel to the US this month to receive the Gandhi Peace Award but the Israeli government recently arrested him, subjected him to multiple 12-hour interrogation sessions, confiscated his passport, accused him of tax evasion and is also considering revoking his residency permit.

In what was his first public statement since his interrogation began in mid-March, Barghouti condemned Israel’s McCarthyite witch-hunt against him and the BDS movement.

During the past year Barghouti has also been subjected to open threats by Israeli top ministers.

During a “Stop the Boycott” conference held in Jerusalem last year, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s public security and strategic affairs minister, vowed that BDS activists “will know they will pay a price for it.” Singling out Barghouti, Erdan, who is responsible for spearheading Israel’s assault on the global BDS movement, added, “We will soon be hearing more of our friend Barghouti.”

During the same conference, which was attended by EU and US diplomats, Israel’s intelligence minister, Yisrael Katz, called for the thwarting of the BDS leadership, using the same Hebrew term used by the military for “targeted killing,” or “extrajudicial execution.” Israel is also considering revoking Barghouti’s residency permit.

The current obsession with BDS reflects a changing political environment for Israel. Israeli agents were able to subvert the human rights community in the 70s and 80s. Israel’s task is harder five decades later. The human rights community is more independent while social media and mobile phone cameras have allowed Palestinians and their supporters to bypass the Israeli gatekeepers. In the past few days alone, videos have shown an Israeli policeman savagely beating a Palestinian truck driver and soldiers taking hostage a terrified eight-year-old after he crossed their path while looking for his toy.

If the concealment of Israeli crimes at source is no longer so easy, the battle must be taken to those who disseminate this damning information. The urgency has grown as artists refuse to visit, universities sever ties, churches pull their investment and companies back out of contracts.

Israel is already sealing itself off from outside scrutiny as best it can by passing a law denying entry into Israel or the Occupied Territories to those who support BDS or “delegitimize” Israel.

These are but the first signs of the repression to come. Israel plans to create a database of Israelis who support BDS to mimic existing spying operations on BDS activists overseas. The information collected will help a “dirty tricks” unit whose job it is to tarnish their reputations.

Why is Israel so fearful of the BDS movement? Officials say the immediate danger is Europe’s labeling of settlement products, the first step on a slippery slope they fear could lead to Israel being called an apartheid state. The inexorable trend was illustrated last month when a United Nations commission found Israel guilty of breaching the international convention on the crime of apartheid.

Last week US supporters of Israel unveiled an online “boycotters map,” identifying academics who support BDS both to prevent them from entering Israel and presumably to damage their careers.

For the moment, the Israeli-engineered backlash is working. Anti-BDS legislation has passed in France, Britain, Switzerland, Canada and the US. This is precisely how Netanyahu wants to shape the “moral battlefield,” making it a reign of terror against free speech and political activism abroad and at home, leaving him free to crush the Palestinians.

A barrage of threats and repression has done nothing to temper Barghouti’s determination.

“As humans, we need permission from no one to pursue our inherent rights,” he said. “As human rights defenders, no degree of intimidation and bullying can deter us in our passionate, nonviolent resistance to injustice, inequality, colonial slavery and 50 years of military occupation.”

Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides is available for purchase here:

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NORMALIZATION UNDER OCCUPATION

For the first time since it was first proposed in March 2002 in Beirut, the Arab Peace Initiative is taking center stage again. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas insisted during his speech before the recently-concluded Arab League Summit in Jordan, that the Initiative is the only solution on the table; asserting that it will not be changed or even tweaked.

At the time, Head of the PA and Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the late Yasser Arafat, was not allowed to attend that conference in Beirut. Israeli Prime Minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, had Arafat placed under house arrest in Ramallah. He told Arafat that if Israel was to allow him to leave he would not be allowed back. I was in Israel at the time and literally came face to face with Ariel Sharon’s Merkava tanks as they prepared to invade Ramallah and other villages across the West Bank. That visit, my first of six trips to Israel/Palestine, was the basis for my book Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides.

The Arab proposal was largely a reiteration of United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338. It promised complete normalization between Arab States and Israel should Israel withdraw from Palestinian and Arab land it occupied in 1967. Its major flaw was its lackluster attitude towards the Right of Return of Palestinian refugees.

It was cautiously welcomed but then quickly overlooked by Washington at the time since Sharon had dismissed it as a ‘non-starter’. Subsequent Israeli leaders have hardly shown any interested either in bold initiatives to resolve the conflict, either by the Arab or the Americans.

Why, then, is this Initiative, originally put forward by Saudi Arabia fifteen years ago, now infused back into the already congested Middle East’s political discourse, despite the fact that Israel has rejected it repeatedly, and the US has shown little interest in enforcing it?

Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu is interested in the idea of unconditional normalization with the Arab world.

He told the daily Hebrew newspaper ‘Yediot Ahronot’ recently that he sees “a real chance that, within five years, Israel will be able to reach an inclusive peace deal with its enemies.” Circumventing the Palestinians and signing peace deals with Arab countries to break Israel’s regional isolation has been paramount in Israeli foreign policy since its inception in 1948. Since then, it has signed a peace deal with Egypt and Jordan and has informal contacts and ties with various other governments.

This explains Mahmoud Abbas’ recent reference to the Arab Peace Initiative. It is his way of saying that any normalization between the Arabs and Israel should take place through the Palestinian channel, and specifically though his leadership in Ramallah.

Israel, however, likes the idea of renewed interest in the Arab Initiative because it could galvanize efforts, led by the Americans, to achieve normalization with its Arab neighbors without peace with the Palestinians.

Donald Trump, since his election, has further contributed to the demise of any prospect of a just solution to the crisis by pushing America’s support of Israel to new levels. He has assigned his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew and a strong supporter of Israel’s right wing, to supposedly broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians. As recently as a few days ago, Trump’s pick as US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, was approved by the US Senate. Even in the eyes of some Israelis Friedman is controversial because of his close association with extremist Jewish parties whose goal it is to seize as many Palestinian properties as possible in Occupied East Jerusalem and expel them.

Under the guise of peacemaking, Kushner and Friedman are likely to focus on advancing Israel’s position and standing in the region. For them, the issue of normalization is at the helm of their prospective policies.

The Palestinians’ fear is that Trump’s Middle East policy will focus on trying to break down whatever little consensus Arab countries still have on Palestine and agree to normal relations with Israel.

Abbas, who is heading to Washington in April, knows only too well that his position is terribly weak and, without Arab backing, however symbolic, he will find himself cornered by a belligerent Trump regime.

While the US administration may try to re-brand its approach to the conflict, what truly interests Israel and its Americans backers is breaking Israel’s isolation through regional ‘peace’ pacts and separate deals – in other words, normalization under Occupation.

Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides is available for purchase here:

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SYRIA’S UNENDING NIGHTMARE

 

Syria’s minority population includes approximately 6% Christian, 3% Druze, 14% Alawite, 2% Shiite and 10% Kurdish. Then, there are the Sunnis who represent about 65% of the population, the majority of whom are secular-minded and just as afraid of al-Qaeda and ISIS as are the minority groups. If Bashar Assad were to call elections today, he would almost certainly get a majority of the votes in any free and fair election. That doesn’t mean people like living under a one-party or secret-police state. It just means that the rebel opposition turned to an extremist Sunni discourse that scares the minorities and secularists.

Why then was the US, until recently, so hell-bent on regime change in Syria? The idea of toppling the Assad regime and breaking up Syria into autonomous zones is not, in fact, a new idea. The plan first appeared in an article by the Israeli, Oded Yinon in 1982 entitled “A Strategy for Israel in the Nineteen Eighties.” Yinon, like other Israeli leaders after him, believed that for Israel to survive it must become an imperial regional power that “effects the division of the whole area into small states by the dissolution of all existing Arab states.”

Henry Kissinger planed this same scenario for Lebanon post-civil war. It never came to fruition. It was also the plan for Iraq. Instead, we saw the US military’s “shock and awe” show that destroyed the country and contributed to the death of a million people.

After multiple failures, why then is the US so determined to continue on its futile, destructive warpath?

In the sequel to The Syrianthere is a conversation between Nadia and Hassan Jaafar in which they discuss the looming crisis about to befall Syria.

You heard the news,” Hassan said. “the US is funding opponents of the Syrian regime. Assad’s an Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. His enemies are Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, the regional Sunni powers. They want Assad out and they’ll use their jihadist proxies to do it.”

“I get that but why now? The Assad family’s been around since the early Seventies. Sure, they’re brutal dictators but so is every other regional player.”

“Apparently Assad rejected a $120 billion, 1,500 mile natural gas pipeline that would have linked Qatar through Syria to the European Union. Instead, he approved a pipeline running from Iran’s side of the gas field to ports in Tarsus and Tarsus and Lebanon, making Shiite Iran the major supplier of energy to the European market, not the Qatari Sunnis.”

It was Iraq replayed, thought Nadia—gas and oil reserves trumping tens of thousands of innocent lives. As a diplomat concerned with human rights she’d seen it all—the senseless slaughter of thousands, the suicide bombings and the sectarian violence.

Hassan didn’t wait for her to comment and so continued. “It’s actually a brilliant plan. The US and its European allies initiate an uprising using their jihadist surrogates. Assad overreacts to the foreign-made crisis, attacks Sunni strongholds held by the jihadists and ignites a sectarian civil war. The US blames Assad, call him a war criminal and demands he step down. They have no choice then but to intervene to stop a humanitarian crisis.”

Hassan continued: “And according to a Pentagon report, the US won’t oppose a jihadist move across the Iraqi border from Mosul and Ramada into eastern Syria to form a caliphate because…”

“Let me guess. That’s the proposed route of the Qatari pipeline.”

He nodded.

So, why is the US so hell-bent on its destructive warpath? It’s the oil, stupid.

 

When Benjamin Netanyahu visited President Trump last month their public talks centered on a one-state versus a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian crisis. Their private discussions focused on a green light from Trump to recognize Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, an integral part of Syrian territory that Israel has occupied since the June 1967 war.

 

Why would the US back an expansion of a war with Israel against Syria and its ally Russia over the Golan Heights, a war that has already cost over 440,000 innocent lives? Oil, huge, recently discovered reserves of black gold in the Golan Heights.

 

Unless there is some very careful thinking we could find ourselves in another war for oil and this one involving Syria, Russia, Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah on the one side and the US and Israel on the other side.

The Syrian is available for purchase here:

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THE UN’S MORAL FAILURE

 

The United Nations International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973) defines apartheid as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”

Palestinians face systematic discrimination merely because of their race, ethnicity, and national origin, depriving them of electricity, water, schools, and access to roads, while nearby Jewish settlers enjoy all of these state-provided benefits… While Israeli settlements flourish, Palestinians under Israeli control live in a time warp – not just separate, not just unequal, but sometimes even pushed off their lands and out of their homes. This is apartheid!

On March 15, 2017, the United Nations’ Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) published a report on Israeli practices and policies toward the Palestinians. Using international law as its comparative criterion, the report came to a definitive conclusion that “Israel is guilty of apartheid practices.” The term Apartheid was used in the report as a descriptor of fact based on the evidence and the accepted legal meaning of the term.

Such was the immediate uproar from the United States and Israel that U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, in a moment of moral failure, ordered the report’s withdrawal.

The head of the ESCWA, Rima Khalaf, declared that she could not, in good conscience, do so and tendered her resignation.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, declared that “when someone issues a false and defamatory report in the name of the U.N. it is appropriate that the person resign.”

Before making such statements I would urge the US’s Ambassador to the U.N. to look at the record of Israeli statesmen who have already condemned Israel as an apartheid state.

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, famously said in a radio interview in 1967 that “Israel would soon become an apartheid state if it did not rid itself of the territories and their Arab population s soon as possible.”

Former Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak:: As long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state. (2010)

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished. (2007)

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem: Israel has created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality. This regime … is reminiscent of distasteful regimes from the past such as the Apartheid regime in South Africa. (2002)

Former Israeli Ambassador to South Africa Alon Liel: In the situation that exists today, until a Palestinian state is created, we are actually one state. This joint state — in the hope that the status quo is temporary — is an apartheid state. (2013)

Israeli newspaper Haaretz editorial: The de facto separation is today more similar to political apartheid than an occupation regime because of its constancy. One side – determined by national, not geographic association – includes people who have the right to choose and the freedom to move, and a growing economy. On the other side are people closed behind the walls surrounding their community who have no right to vote, lack freedom of movement, and have no chance to plan their future. (2007)

Former Israeli admiral and Knesset member Ami Ayalon: Israel must decide quickly what sort of environment it wants to live in because the current model, which has some apartheid characteristics, is not compatible with Jewish principles. (2000)

Former Israeli attorney general Michael Ben-Yair: In 1967 we enthusiastically chose to become a colonial society, ignoring international treaties, expropriating lands, transferring settlers from Israel to the occupied territories, engaging in theft and finding justification for all these activities. Passionately desiring to keep the occupied territories, we developed two judicial systems: one – progressive, liberal – in Israel; and the other – cruel, injurious – in the occupied territories. In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately following their capture. That oppressive regime exists to this day. (2002)

Former Israeli Minister of Education Yossi Sarid: What acts like apartheid, is run like apartheid and harasses like apartheid, is not a duck – it is apartheid… What should frighten us, however, is not the description of reality, but reality itself… The Palestinians are unfortunate because they have not produced a Nelson Mandela; the Israelis are unfortunate because they have not produced an F.W. de Klerk. (2008)

Former Israeli Minister of Education Shulamit Aloni: Jewish self-righteousness is taken for granted among ourselves to such an extent that we fail to see what’s right in front of our eyes. It’s simply inconceivable that the ultimate victims, the Jews, can carry out evil deeds. Nevertheless, the state of Israel practices its own, quite violent, form of Apartheid with the native Palestinian population. (2007)

Israel has successfully hidden its apartheid regime in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. This has been done through imposing thousands of regulations and a civil administration that is run by the military. Dr. Jeff Halper, Coordinator of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions in Jerusalem, calls the system ‘the Matrix of Control.” According to him it is composed of three layers:

Military actions which include using undercover units and collaborators who undermine the fabric of Palestinian society;

Creating “facts” on the ground: expropriation of land; construction of settlements; carving the occupied territories into areas which confine Palestinians in some 200 + islands; a massive system of highways for Israeli-use only; control over aquifers and exploitation of holy places.

The most subtle, bureaucratic and legal restrictions, which entangle Palestinians in a web, including: closures, work discrimination; entrance and travel permits restricting movement; displacement through exile, deportation and induced emigration; land expropriation; house demolitions, transfer schemes; a freeze on the natural development of Palestinian towns and villages; and restrictions on the planting of crops and their sale. All these come under bureaucratic controls. More details on the Matrix of Control can be found in Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides.

Over the entirety of its 65-year existence, there has been a period of only one year (1966-1967) that Israel has not ruled over large numbers of Palestinians to whom it granted no political rights simply because they are not Jewish.

An objective consideration of Israel’s behavior makes it hard to escape the brutal reality of Israel’s condoned apartheid practices.

The moral failure at the U.N., represented by the withdrawal of the report, is the result of Secretary General Guterres’s decision to acquiesce in a denial of reality—the reality of Israel’s practice of apartheid.

The other moral failure is the corrupted view of our politicians and international leaders who refuse to stand up for a people repressed and occupied for 50 years.

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