Al-Shabaka – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Fri, 14 Aug 2020 04:58:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Understanding Israeli PM Netanyahu’s Political Survival Tue, 02 Jun 2020 04:02:05 +0000 By Nijmeh Ali | –


( ) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dominated Israeli politics for nearly 25 years, first between 1996 and 1999 and then again since 2009. Winning a total of five elections, he has become the longest-serving prime minister in the country’s history and has laid the foundation of the model of one-man rule in Israel. He has consolidated his political power, dominated the Israeli media, and created an aura of invincibility, prompting his supporters to dub him the “king.” 1

Despite recent challenges to his rule, including his right-wing bloc failing to gain enough seats in the past two elections to form a government without building a coalition, as well as corruption charges levied against him, Netanyahu has managed to remain in office.

To understand Netanyahu’s political survival, it is necessary to map the Israeli right wing and its internal conflicts. This commentary analyzes Israel’s domestic politics, focusing on Netanyahu’s political doctrine and practice, and attempts to explain Netanyahu’s political longevity.

Establishing a One-Man Show

Netanyahu has used two main strategies to reinforce his political power from within the Israeli government. First, he has held multiple positions at the same time: During his terms as prime minister, he also presided over various ministries, the last of which were those of communications, agriculture, and health, as well as welfare and social services. He was forced to resign from these positions in December 2019 due to the criminal charges against him. Second, he has expanded the practice of political appointments to ensure personal loyalty in various institutions and offices of government, including the judiciary.

Netanyahu has also dominated the political narrative in Israel by employing his connections in the Israeli media. According to articles of indictment in three separate corruption cases, Netanyahu has explicitly pressured Israeli media outlets to polish his image and discredit his opponents. 2 Political scientist Yascha Mounk affirms that Netanyahu has many of the characteristics of a model authoritarian populist: He suppresses dissenting views, attempts to take political control of public broadcasters, and has created a loyal propaganda outlet for himself via Israel Hayom, the free tabloid bankrolled by American billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

Furthermore, Netanyahu often employs conspiracy theories and fearmongering to secure his political authority, claiming a monopoly on maintaining Israeli security. Avraham Burg, a former speaker of the Knesset, notes that Netanyahu “seeds fears all over the place and then pops up around the corner and says, ‘I have a solution for you.’” By employing this strategy Netanyahu has successfully thwarted opposition, including grassroot movements such as the 2011 “Tents Protest,” the most significant protest movement in Israel’s history, which critiqued the government’s military and security spending.

Moreover, Netanyahu relentlessly incites violence against Palestinian citizens of Israel, depicting them as a Trojan horse, terrorists, and a fifth column within Israeli society. He has repeatedly described Arab voters as “heading to the polling stations in droves” to persuade Jewish citizens to vote for him by presenting himself as the leader who can stop the “Arab threat.”

Netanyahu has cultivated blind loyalty and the image of one-man leadership in the psyche of Israeli society Click To Tweet

Netanyahu has systematically marginalized both his internal and external opposition. 3 By eliminating any competition within his party and building an internal network of loyal followers, he has been able to project himself as the only person capable of empowering the Likud Party, arguing that a genuine right wing would cease to exist without him. Netanyahu has concurrently besieged his opponents on the Zionist left, accusing them of being traitors, feeble, and Arab-loving, and has pushed through legislation to restrict the activities of left-wing human rights organizations – the only domestic institutions challenging Israel’s most fundamental and egregious violations, most often perpetrated by Israeli settlers and the Israeli army in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Through this combination of political tools – expanding his monopoly on right-wing power, obstructing democratic practices, and capitalizing on the existential fears of Israeli Zionists – Netanyahu has recreated the typical model of one-man rule, paralleling the rise of populist authoritarian rulers elsewhere. However, since Netanyahu relies mostly on Mizrahi Jews as supporters, his model of strongman rule shares some similarities with models developed in the Middle East. 4

In doing so Netanyahu has cultivated blind loyalty and the image of one-man leadership in the psyche of Israeli society, projecting himself as the only politician capable of protecting Israel and its interests through his far-reaching connections and charismatic personality.

The Israeli Right and the Religious-Secular Conflict

Netanyahu has enhanced the contradictory nature of Israel as both Jewish and democratic by favoring the Jewish over the democratic aspect of the state’s identity. His strategy culminated in the enactment of the Nation-State Law, which has contributed to the religionization of Israeli political discourse and increased the religious characteristics of the Zionist right.

Indeed, Netanyahu projects Likud as the sole protector of Jewish interests by drawing a symmetrical alliance between the national right wing (presented historically by Likud) and the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, Jews. In doing so, he has relied on three major forces: the Israeli nationalist right, the radical right, and what is described by Ehud Sprinzak as the “soft right.” While the first two forces have traditionally been part of Israeli politics, the soft right – the key player in Netanyahu’s political coalitions – is new and worth investigation.

The soft right is a loose coalition of ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazim, ultra-Orthodox Sephardim, and secular immigrants from the former Soviet Union. On the surface, it would seem that these groups would not even sit at the same table, and clashes do occur, particularly due to Netanyahu’s urge to appease the religious bloc. However, the coalition is driven by a mutual animosity toward Arabs and the Israeli secular left. 5

Through this union, the right has secured legislation that achieves an even greater presence of religion in Israeli public life, including tax breaks for Haredi Jews, continuing military service exemptions for Yeshiva students, and tolerance regarding daily practices, such as closing streets and public transportation on Saturdays and empowering the mandate of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, who has authority on personal status issues such as marriage, divorce, conversions, and determining who is Jewish. These policies escalated conflicts within the soft right and led last year to the collapse of Netanyahu’s traditional coalition that had ensured that he and Likud have kept their hold on power since 2009.

In particular, in the April 2019 elections Netanyahu failed to reconcile the conflict between religious parties and Avigdor Lieberman, who, as a secular far-right leader, is positioning himself as an alternative to Netanyahu to lead the secular liberal right. At the heart of the conflict between the religious parties and Lieberman, who used to be two solid components of Netanyahu’s coalition, was the issue of mandatory military service for Haredim. Besides being an essential component of individual Israeli identity, military service in Israel is the prime signifier of membership in the Israeli civic community and a crucial determinant of the meaning of Israeli citizenship. 6 Israelis also consider military service a universal institution where political and ideological disputes are supposed to dissolve – an essential value for Israel’s continued survival, given the demographic changes on the horizon. 7

Netanyahu’s agenda has disrupted the status quo established by David Ben-Gurion in 1947, which aimed to contain the religious-secular conflict in the future state. Under this policy, Haredi Jews became exempt from military service in 1952 despite the view that military service would serve as a melting pot for all Jewish people hailing from different origins and backgrounds. Ben-Gurion also refrained from writing a constitution for the state of Israel and avoided discussions thereof. Instead, he simply referred to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, explaining that avoiding specific internal conflicts was the best way to maintain internal peace.

Israel is witnessing an internal conflict over the right wing’s political representation and the nature of the state of Israel Click To Tweet

Anger toward Haredi Jews, both from the secular right and left, has increased as a result of the military exemption. They are seen as a burden on the state not only because they refuse military service, but also because they receive special tax breaks while remaining disengaged from the labor market. Moreover, their strict and isolated way of life, not to mention their treatment of women, contrasts starkly with the liberal and open image of Israel exported abroad. Conversely, Haredi Jews see secular Jews as leading a decadent lifestyle in violation of Jewish laws, and whose mixing with other religions threatens the survival of Judaism itself.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has blocked all attempts to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. 8 He has disregarded fundamental Palestinian demands and worked to make political and geographic changes on the ground by continuing to build settlements, securing American recognition of Israel’s illegal annexation of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, and working closely with the Trump administration on its “Deal of the Century.”

This policy of managing the conflict, which includes enhancing Palestinian-Israeli security coordination, has contributed to a strong feeling of stability in Israel, especially when the daily reality of Palestinians’ lives under occupation continues to be entirely out of sight for most Israelis. As a result, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has long been absent from electoral platforms, and instead the Israeli public is concerned with the internal conflicts outlined above.

Israel is in fact witnessing a twofold internal conflict that transcends merely securing the required number of seats to form a coalition government. It is instead a conflict over the right wing’s political representation and the nature of the state of Israel. Netanyahu succeeded in recent years in establishing his hegemony by polarizing internal conflicts within Israel’s right wing through emphasizing common enemies. But this has now reached the point of a direct clash, made clear by Lieberman’s refusal to join Netanyahu’s coalition without Netanyahu making concessions on the issue of religious military service exemptions.

Netanyahu’s policies of restructuring the right wing, emphasizing Jewishness over democracy, and repositioning conflicts in Israel have created new dynamics, changes, and coalitions in Israeli politics. Under these circumstances, Netanyahu mastered the political game and knew how to benefit from it until the April 2019 election, when he failed to form a government. This was the point at which his marathon for political survival began.

Netanyahu Survives Again

Netanyahu is now waging a fierce personal war against his political opponents, deriving power from his constituency, charismatic personality, and media influence. Like a typical populist, he refuses to withdraw or believe he could lose. According to Mounk, only a minority of populists who are elected leave office through free and fair elections. They often make their countries more corrupt, rewrite the constitution to give themselves more power, and violate fundamental civil and political rights. This is what Netanyahu has been doing for years by attacking significant institutions in Israel and claiming to be a victim of a liberal media and judicial system.

Netanyahu’s survival strategy has always been about personalizing politics by emphasizing the question of the proper leader that should head Israel. If the real challenge in the first two elections lay in how to form a government by bridging the rift that Netanyahu’s policies have aggravated for years within the right bloc and persuading all parties, especially Lieberman, to come on board, in the third election, thanks to Blue and White leader Benny Gantz’s hesitation and COVID-19, Netanyahu managed to transfer the question from how to who should form a government under these circumstances.

Netanyahu is doing what he does best: managing crises and portraying himself as Israel’s sole savior. Without a doubt, the coronavirus pandemic has played into Netanyahu’s hands. He has led the nation’s efforts to contain the virus since the beginning and has accused his opponents of hampering the cause by continuing to struggle over the formation of the government. By waving the flag of national unity and collective interest in a time of trouble, Netanyahu convinced Gantz and the Israeli public that an emergency national government is crucial for defeating the virus. In doing so, he succeeded in dismantling Blue and White and found a way to stay in office.

Netanyahu signed a power-sharing agreement that ensures his position as prime minister for a further 18 months in a national emergency government. The government agreement also gives Netanyahu – who is still facing trial on charges of fraud, breach of trust, and accepting bribes – influence over the appointments of judges and legal officials. According to the agreement, both parties approve key appointments, including the attorney general and the state prosecutor, granting Netanyahu veto power over the officials who will determine his fate in the courts.

This conflict of interest does not seem to affect Netanyahu, who still enjoys extensive backing, to the point that his supporters staged demonstrations and accused the Israeli judiciary of corruption and deliberately targeting him. While Netanyahu’s opponents hoped that the Supreme Court would declare his mandate illegal because of his criminal indictment, this scenario did not play out as they had hoped: The court refused to bar Netanyahu from forming a government and declined to block the power-sharing agreement with Gantz.

Understanding Netanyahu’s survival means exposing the internal dynamics and hidden power structures in Israeli politics Click To Tweet

Netanyahu’s political survival has taken a toll on Israeli democracy and its institutions. Yet the extent to which populists manage to damage democratic institutions depends on their centralization of power. It can be argued that since the Israeli prime minister is nearly always dependent on the support of coalition partners, there are hypothetically still some checks on authoritarianism in Israel not found in other states. However, recent developments challenge this assumption: The coalition of the three former Likud members who split from the party and reached the Knesset through other parties with Blue and White ensures Netanyahu a coalition of 61 members in a broader national government. This means that Netanyahu is establishing his government within the national unity government and bolstering his own supremacy in the name of consensus. Even if Gantz intends to break with the government, it would not affect its stability and status as a mechanism of governing.

In a national unity government, Netanyahu’s challenge is not related only to remaining in power; rather, it is about remaining and dominating – and this is what he has understood from the beginning. Forming a large government requires trying to satisfy everyone by distributing portfolios. This makes for internal clashes and challenges Netanyahu’s traditional allies in their struggle to keep their power while Netanyahu attempts to also keep his opponents close.

On the surface, the fact that Netanyahu is entering his fourth consecutive term – his fifth overall – burnishes his reputation as a political wizard and unbeatable survivor. Yet understanding his survival also means exposing the internal dynamics and hidden power structures in Israeli politics. Moreover, Netanyahu would not be able to survive without the support of many segments of Israeli society and the success of his highly curated populist image as the “father of the nation” and a “strong leader” – an identity he has propagated himself. Netanyahu has apparently won the battle, but only against Israel’s fragile democratic values and institutions.


  1. This piece is part of Al-Shabaka’s Policy Circle on Palestinian Leadership and Accountability. An Al-Shabaka policy circle is a specific methodology to engage a group of analysts in longer-term study and reflection on an issue of key importance to the Palestinian people.
  2. The cases include Case 4000, in which Netanyahu allegedly conducted a “give and take” agreement with the Bezeq telecommunications company and Israeli Walla website to receive favorable coverage, as well as Case 3000, in which Netanyahu allegedly attempted to control the political content of Yedioth Ahronoth, the highest selling and circulating Israeli daily newspaper with a popular website.
  3. Netanyahu accomplished this marginalization after being elected party chairman in 1992 by initiating organizational change within Likud. He altered the internal election system, introducing primaries to weaken both the Central Committee and political rivals. The Central Committee previously had elected most party positions, but under Netanyahu the party chairman nominated members to key administration roles. Netanyahu also created two new bodies within the party – the party bureau and the party management – and appointed their members as well. The Likud Party structure became more centralized under Netanyahu’s leadership from 1993 to 1996 and lost its factional nature; instead, one dominant coalition ruled.
  4. Historically, Herut (Likud today) was an anti-elitist movement directed against Mapai and its hegemonic institutions (such as the Histadrut and the Kibbutz movement) that played a key role in the marginalization of the Mizrahim, who became a solid electoral bloc for Likud. According to Nissim Mizrachi, Mizrahi Jews’ political behavior is similar to a family structure; Hisham Sharabi also explained politics in the Arab world and collective societies in this way. In Mizrachi’s words, “Data show that many of these people are confident that the person at the top of the political pyramid is working for their collective good. Maybe it’s not going well for him, but they don’t suspect him of acting out of motives that are not to their benefit.”
  5. Despite their secularism and animosity toward the ultra-Orthodox, most Russian Israelis cannot tolerate the rhetoric of the Israeli left because of their memories of the Soviet Union; meanwhile, the ultra-Orthodox oppose the secularity of the Israeli left.
  6. Israel is perhaps the only country in which “citizenship” is differentiated from “nationality;” the meaning of citizenship is different than obtaining citizenship (a passport).
  7. According to the Israel Democracy Institution 2019 statistical report on ultra-Orthodox society in Israel, the ultra-Orthodox population in Israel today numbers 1,125,000 – 12% of Israel’s population – and is growing at a higher rate than the rest of Israel’s population.
  8. Unwilling to allow for meaningful Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, Netanyahu follows the conflict management approach. This approach was accelerated by the Second Intifada, but is rooted in Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol’s “decision not to decide” in the aftermath of the 1967 war.
Is Sympathy for the Plight of Occupied Palestinians winning the American University? Sun, 10 May 2020 04:01:18 +0000 By Hatem Bazian | –

( Al Shabakah) – Palestine Legal recently published a report noting that the majority of suppression of Palestine advocacy in the US targets students and faculty. In particular, 89% of such incidents occurred on college campuses in 2014, and 74% in 2019. While these statistics illuminate the current struggle that university-based advocates for Palestinian rights are facing, it is also critical to trace the development of Palestine advocacy on US college campuses. Tracking this 20- to 30-year history allows a better understanding of not only how we got here, but also of the current and intensifying campaign against students and faculty – and how to fight it. 1

This commentary first provides an historical examination of the Palestine advocacy movement in the United States and how Palestinian advocacy on college campuses emerged from it, using Students for Justice in Palestine as a particular example. It then analyzes Israel’s and its supporters’ response to this shift. The piece ultimately offers recommendations for how the university setting, despite attacks against it, can continue to provide and even amplify an environment that fosters critical research and thinking on Palestine, which in turn furthers the struggle for Palestinian rights and self-determination.

Emergence of the US Palestine Advocacy Movement

The movement for Palestinian rights in the US grew at the same time as other global struggles, namely those against the South African apartheid regime, against US intervention in Central America, and against the US attack on Iraq in the First Gulf War. Domestic political campaigns were simultaneously underway in the 1980s, particularly against the Reagan administration’s cuts to education, health care, and the environment, as well as its dubious war on drugs, aided by the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, which expanded the prison industrial complex and furthered the mass criminalization of black and brown people. Domestic activism also fought economic restructuring that removed the safety net under the guise of welfare reform and sent millions into poverty.

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Progressive movements emerged from these campaigns that positioned Palestine more centrally than it had been before. Palestine activism and Palestinian activists challenged the shifts in national priorities and supported the anti-apartheid struggle, the campaign challenging US expansionism in Central America, and the movement against the Iraq war.

On the other end of the spectrum, pro-Israel organizations positioned themselves on the wrong side of history: They resisted sanctions on South Africa and tried to protect sales of Israeli arms to the apartheid regime. Likewise, they supported Israel as it advised and aided the state-sponsored Central American death squads. And when it came to US intervention in the Middle East, Israel and its supporters likewise backed US war efforts, seeing them as beneficial to Israel’s security.

Progressive political mobilizations and domestic struggles have made Palestine a central theme of their organizing. Just 30 years ago the political left in the United States, in its mobilization for peace, justice, and jobs, regularly debated whether or not to allow a Palestinian flag, let alone a speaker, on a stage. Today, one cannot have a political mobilization on any subject, local or global, without Palestine being a part of it – if not in the main framing, then as one of the themes. Those who would advocate or speak on the side of Israel, in contrast, are hard-pressed to be given space on such a stage because they have cast their lot with the right-wing military industrial complex and its pernicious interventions.

Today, one cannot have a progressive political mobilization on any subject, local or global, without Palestine being a part of it Click To Tweet

Israel’s 2012 attack on the Gaza Strip brought about a decisive shift in thinking about Israel, both at the grassroots level and among policy analysts. Both groups are aware that Israel flouts international law and shows no restraint in its abuse of Palestinian human rights. Moreover, while a pro-Israel agenda initially dominated the mainstream media, with talking heads’ constant refrain of how Israel has “the right to defend itself,” the less controlled spaces of social media and the internet have allowed a narrative shift that favors a more critical side of the political spectrum – so much so that the mainstream media has actually begun to change.

Palestine Advocacy on College Campuses

Together, and partly as a result of the tireless work of progressive activists, developments outlined above have allowed for the strengthening of Palestine advocacy on college campuses. Indeed, a perspective in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle has become the dominant perspective at universities. One example of this shift is the founding and proliferation of the group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

SJP was founded at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1992, following the First Gulf War. Before the war, sizable numbers of Palestinians had come to the US to study, but those numbers diminished as the military confrontation turned into the years of the sanctions regime. As Yasser Arafat had supported Saddam Hussein in the war, Palestinians in Kuwait and the rest of the Gulf were dismissed from their jobs and forced out, with the result that many of those Palestinians who had been able to afford a US education for their children no longer could. Without Palestinian students in US universities, efforts to organize for Palestinian rights decreased.

This phenomenon likewise occurred just after the Oslo Accords, which decreased Palestinian activism that was linked to the broader Palestinian transnational movement, as through Oslo the PLO agreed to limit its international advocacy against Israel. 2 As a result, Palestinian activists on college campuses no longer had a support base with an historical legacy. In the context of campus activism, the PLO from its inception had a strong university and youth arm that crystalized into the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS), with branches across the globe, including in the United States. As a result of the PLO transforming itself into the Palestinian Authority, the role, institutional capacities, and importance of GUPS declined.

An alternative way to advocate was to organize for Palestinians’ liberation as a principle, welcoming any student wanting to work for justice in Palestine. This was the genesis of SJP, which now has more than 200 chapters in the United States, Canada, and New Zealand. Many of those students who worked to support liberation and anti-racism struggles in South Africa, Central America, and in the United States joined SJP because they saw the connections among the struggles.

At the same time, the number of Jewish Americans who no longer consider Israel the central part of their identity and who identify as anti-Zionist has been increasing. A significant number are now members of SJP. These youth cannot be committed to opposing the prison industrial complex, militarism, racism, and anti-immigrant discourse without seeing Palestine as a paradigmatic representation of what they instinctively know is wrong: Israeli apartheid.

A perspective in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle has become the dominant perspective at universities Click To Tweet

In large part due to the work of SJP and other groups at universities across the US and the globe, Israel no longer has a case to stand on intellectually and academically. This 20 to 30-year political evolution must be accounted for as we measure why Israel is currently acting in an undisciplined manner to try to reconstitute support, when the dam of lies and obfuscation has already burst.

Israel’s Desperate Response

The loss of Israel’s standing in higher education and among the American intelligentsia has spurred the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs (IMSA) and Israel’s supporters to frenetically try to reverse this situation. There is thus an overwhelming percentage of attacks on college campuses. Yet the only tool that pro-Israel advocates and the IMSA have to try to recover some level of standing at universities is raw power through defamation. Therefore schemes like Canary Mission and the Lawfare Project target students and faculty through claims that Palestine advocacy and the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS) are anti-Semitic.

These forces are simultaneously trying to mobilize state legislatures and Congress to pass legislation to protect Israel from the right to free speech when it concerns Palestine. This is a strategic mistake, because the focus on preemptive silencing shifts the debate to one of first amendment and constitutional rights, which so far remains a generally well-protected right in the US context.

The Israeli government’s use of raw power demonstrates its anxiety. Indeed, the sign of real power is when one can exercise restraint and refrain from using power because people fear its deployment. In this sense Israel is desperate to try to reconstitute a barrier against its rapidly diminishing standing, including in broader US society.

The Democratic Party’s grassroots as well as its rank and file, for example, have abandoned Israel as a central aspect of their platform. One can trace this phenomenon to attacks on President Obama by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and AIPAC, beginning with Obama’s Cairo speech in 2009 and culminating in assaults against his Iran deal, including Netanyahu’s March 2015 speech in a joint session of Congress that expressed the Israeli leader’s unvarnished opposition to a sitting US president. These attacks led many in the Democratic Party to understand that such targeting of Obama related to the rise of the Tea Party and ultimately to Trump, helping to disrupt the former party line on Israel.

Israel’s attempts to use naked power to silence criticism has also not gone over well with many Democrats. It is thus not surprising that Bernie Sanders is beginning to recognize that opposing Israel and skipping AIPAC – even pointing out that AIPAC is a “platform for bigotry” – no longer has the same negative consequences among much of the party’s constituency.

Though Trump’s December 2019 executive order combating anti-Semitism on college campuses may appear disastrous – the order allows for de-funding institutions based on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, which includes criticism of the Israeli state, making Palestine advocacy “anti-Semitic” – it is important to understand that the status quo on Israel has been tumbling since the Oslo Accords. This order is a rash attempt to stem that downward spiral. Further, when Trump puts his name to something, a large base opposes it if only because Trump has done it.

It is no longer possible to reconstitute Israel in the university setting and broader civil society as a state not considered a violator of human rights and international law Click To Tweet

Of course, in the short term there will be negative effects on students and faculty, such as attempts to shut down classes on Palestine, online harassment, and condemnations against departments and student groups. Recent attacks on the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University and SJP and Columbia University Apartheid Divest at Columbia University illustrate these difficulties.

However, though such actions may benefit the Israeli government and Trump in the near term, in the long run the changes in Israel’s standing are irreversible. It is no longer possible to reconstitute Israel in the university setting and broader civil society as a state not considered a violator of human rights and international law. Those in higher education can work to shore up this trend through a number of efforts.

Furthering Palestine in the University

Students, faculty, and those working in academic institutions must demand that Palestine be included and engaged with on its own terms. As such, they must insist on classes that interrogate and contextualize Palestine without questions of whether it is “good for Israel” or of its relationship to Zionism.

As such, approaching Palestine in the context of internationalist emancipatory struggles – making it part of humanity’s shared modern history, rather than an exception – is key. A course could, for instance, contrast liberation movements in Sub-Saharan Africa and Palestine. Such a class would not only consider South Africa, but would also examine the Palestinian movement’s engagement with African unity campaigns and their collective work on anti-colonial and decolonial movements in the 1960s and 1970s. Another course could examine the relationship between Palestine and Latin America, where robust Palestinian communities exist.

Faculty and students should also insist on developing institutional capacity within various universities and settings. So far, Palestine Studies per se is offered as a program of study only at Brown University and Columbia University. Students can mobilize on campuses to insist on forming programs in the same way as ethnic studies programs were developed institutionally in the 1960s and 1970s. Creating study abroad programs to Palestine is also key.

Academics working on Palestine also need to mobilize financial resources to support these programs. Palestinians in the United States and elsewhere have not strategically developed their top-end financiers. They must mobilize these donors to invest in initiatives that will have long-term, positive consequences for the Palestinian struggle.

Lastly, legal teams that provide protection in academic settings must be strengthened. Palestine Legal, founded in 2012, already provides much-needed support, but such work must be reinforced and intensified.

In sum, the attacks on academics, SJP, and Palestine activists must be understood within a long historical durée and a deep appreciation for the trajectory toward justice underway on college campuses, nationally and internationally. The moral, ethical, and intellectual arguments successfully opposing well-funded and institutionally connected Israeli efforts at demonization should help continue the struggle for Palestinian liberation and an end to apartheid. In the face of overwhelming odds, Palestine’s future is being formed firstly inside historic Palestine, as well as in the solidarity and BDS movements across the globe and on college campuses. Just as apartheid South Africa was put into the dustbin of history, we are approaching a free Palestine.


  1. To read this piece in French, please click here. Al-Shabaka is grateful for the efforts by human rights advocates to translate its pieces, but is not responsible for any change in meaning.
  2. Personal communication with the late Haidar Abdel-Shafi, the head of the Palestinian negotiations team, during the Oslo period.
Hatem Bazian

Al-Shabaka Policy Advisor Hatem Bazian is a senior lecturer in the Departments of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He has taught at Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law and is also a visiting Professor in Religious Studies at Saint Mary’s College of California and adviser to Berkeley’s Religion, Politics and Globalization Center as well as Academic Affairs Chair at Zaytuna College of California. He also founded Berkeley’s Center for the Study and Documentation of Islamophobia, a research unit dedicated to the systematic study of Othering Islam and Muslims. He is also Chairman of the Board of American Muslims for Palestine.

Via Al Shabakah


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Bard College: “Al-Quds Bard College”

Radical Futures: When Palestinians Imagine Sun, 05 Apr 2020 04:01:16 +0000
“We must tell stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe… Remember this: another world is not only possible, she is on her way.”

– Arundhati Roy – Facing a constant process of erasure, Palestinians find themselves in a situation in which their past and their futures are denied. They are locked in a continuous present in which the settler colonial power, Israel, determines temporal and spatial boundaries. Palestinians often refer to this as the Nakba al mustamirrah, or the continuous Nakba, in which displacement, dispossession, and destruction occur on a never-ending continuum. It is this continuity of Nakba that has rendered it difficult for Palestinians to think about the future: Surviving the ever-deteriorating present, particularly in Palestine itself, takes priority. 2

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This commentary highlights scholarship on colonialism and imagining radical futures, and then traces articulations of the future that suppress Palestinians. It concludes with examples of how Palestinians, despite their subjugation, continue to radically imagine, and calls for a future built from Palestinians’ collective

Colonialism and Perceptions of Reality

Frantz Fanon wrote that French colonialism in Algeria “always developed on the assumption that it would last forever,” noting that “the structures built, the port facilities, the airdromes, [and] the prohibition of the Arab language” all gave the impression that a rupture in the colonial time was impossible. Indeed, “every manifestation of the French presence expressed a continuous rooting in time and in the Algerian future, and could always be read as a token of an indefinite oppression.” visions.

Similarly, the Israeli regime creates “facts on the ground” through continued settlement building in the West Bank and the appropriation of land across the Green Line, constantly moving the boundaries of what is accepted as Israeli land in favor of the settler colonial regime.

Settler colonial and colonial projects thus seek to control perceptions of reality in order to bind Indigenous and colonized people in a seemingly perpetual state of being, or normalized stasis. Imagining a future beyond this state is thus a rebellious and radical act, and is by no means an easy one.

Settler colonial and colonial projects seek to control perceptions of reality in order to bind Indigenous and colonized people in a seemingly perpetual state of being Click To Tweet

Indigenous scholar and thinker Waziyatawin, writing on settler colonialism in Turtle Island (the US and Canada), explains how life beyond colonialism is especially difficult to perceive in the context of the “world’s greatest and last superpower.” For Palestinians, it is also challenging to imagine a future in which the continuous Nakba is not a feature of daily life. For example, many Palestinians find it difficult to conceive of a future in which the right of return is fulfilled and the refugees and all Palestinians are given full rights in their historic homeland. Waziyatawin’s call to Indigenous people to think beyond the spatial and temporal confines speaks to this difficulty:

As Indigenous Peoples, it is essential that we understand the direness of the global situation, recognize the fallacy of industrial civilization’s invulnerability, and begin to imagine a future beyond empire and beyond the colonial nation-states that have kept us subjugated.

Arjun Appadurai describes imagination as “an organized field of social practices, a form of work…and a form of negotiation between sites of agency (individuals) and globally defined fields of possibility.” In other words, imagination is an amalgamation of individualized and socialized perceptions of what is possible. It is this collective element that makes imagining distinct from fantasy. Appadurai makes the distinction:

The idea of fantasy carries with it the inescapable connotation of thought divorced from projects and actions, and it also has a private, even individualistic sound about it. The imagination, on the other hand, has a projective sense about it…especially when collective, [it] can become the fuel for action. It is the imagination, in its collective forms, that creates ideas of neighborhood and nationhood, of moral economies and unjust rule, of higher wages and foreign labor prospects. The imagination is today a staging ground for action, and not only for escape.

This distinction places imagination beyond the abstract and in the realm of possibility and (radical) action. It is also important to note that imagining beyond empire is not a return to a pre-invasion past or, in the case of Palestine, a return to before 1948. Rather, it is a process in which ways to dismantle colonialism and its oppression are explored, as well as ways to rebuild after dismantlement. This is decolonial work, which must accompany the anti-colonial work that challenges and confronts the colonial regime.

Suppressive Visions of the Future

Not all articulations of the future can be described as radical or decolonial imagining. Palestinian futures have long been discussed either without Palestinians’ input or with limited and foreign frameworks, many of which are inherently tied to the nation state. Today, many mainstream political ideas and imaginations of the future place the containment of the Indigenous Palestinians and security for the settler state as the primary concern.

Indeed, the framing of Israel/Palestine as two warring national groups rather than a settler colonial project has helped privilege the idea of “two states along the 1967 borders” as the most appropriate and feasible future for Israelis and Palestinians. The hegemony of this two-state idea was further cemented when the Palestinian leadership implicitly endorsed it in the PLO’s Ten Point Plan of 1974, officially becoming its champion in the early 1990s with the Oslo Accords, which laid out a supposed timetable for achieving Palestinian statehood. 3

Oslo concretely shifted the PLO’s discourse and policies from liberation and anti-colonialism to that of state-building in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This shift also transformed Palestinian civil society, which became largely reliant on external donor patronage. Such a change within both the political representation and civil society rendered much of the Palestinian collective imaginative process bound by a specific political agenda. Salamanca and his co-authors pose important rhetorical questions with regard to this shift:

When did the ongoing struggle over land and for return become a “postconflict” situation? When did Israel become a “post-Zionist” society? When did indigenous Palestinians in the Galilee (for example) become an “ethnic minority?” And when did the establishment of the Palestinian Authority and the consequent fortification of Palestinian reserves become “state-building?

The political framing of anti-colonial struggle was turned on its head, with the focus on collective liberation shifting to one of individual success, and particularly capital gain. Moreover, the limitation of Palestine and Palestinians to the West Bank and Gaza Strip continues to marginalize refugees, those in the diaspora, and the Palestinian citizens of Israel, effectively relegating them to issues of minor or no concern. Imaginations of the future within this framework not only exclude the majority of the Palestinian people; they are also contingent on the terms of the settler colonial entity and its imagined eternity. This façade of permanency, common to all colonial and settler colonial projects, sets the future within colonial borders.

Many mainstream political ideas and imaginations of the future place the containment of Palestinians and security for the settler state as the primary concern Click To Tweet

One of the main arguments supporting this future is that of feasibility. Those in positions of power determine feasibility through what they view as possible, rational, and practical. For example, Palestinians are consistently told that the two-state solution is the only possible outcome and that they must therefore concede on certain rights, including the right of return. Indeed, epistemic violence in the academy, the media, and the political sphere, in which Palestinians are forced to accept certain “truths” that negate the legitimacy of their own voices and rights, is widespread.

Richard Falk, writing on the Palestinian future, argues against the feasibility argument in the case of the two-state solution, maintaining that it consists of dead-end characteristics:

…horizons of feasibility limit Palestinian options to two: either agree to a further round of negotiations that are all but certain to fail, or refuse such negotiations and be held responsible for obstructing peace seeking efforts.

Falk argues for freeing the moral and political imagination by acknowledging the “necessities of a just peace with dignity, and by so doing, set our sights high above the horizons of desire.” However, breaking free of the confines of feasibility is not easy, especially when they have long been enshrined in the Palestinian lexicon and daily existence.

Palestinian Radical Imagining

Nonetheless, individuals and small groups of Palestinians from all the fragments of Palestinian society have been attempting to imagine a future in different and radical ways. It is no surprise that many of these imaginations center around the right of the return of the Palestinian refugees, regardless of whether they themselves are refugees.

One of the leading Palestinian scholars in this regard is Salman Abu Sitta, whose cartographic work demonstrates the feasibility of return through an empirically spatial and demographic approach. Through an assessment of the land and people, Abu Sitta demonstrates that there is enough land for all the returning refugees as well as Israeli citizens. He organizes return into a staggered process of seven phases, based on regional distribution and a housing construction plan. Abu Sitta takes the notion of return, which has been utilized primarily discursively among Palestinians, and creates a tangible action plan. Although many may disagree with the process, it shows that there are ways in which it can be actualized.

Another spatially-orientated project that looks to the future is the Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency (DAAR), based in Beit Sahour, Bethlehem. Decolonizing Architecture is a collaboration between “locals and internationals, and between artists and architects” and considers decolonization in the West Bank and Gaza Strip from an architectural perspective, imagining the dismantling of the settlements and the return of the land to the Palestinians.

The project’s scholars also focus on refugee return and argue that “return and decolonization are entangled concepts – we cannot think about return without decolonization, just as we cannot think about decolonization without return.” The work aims to intertwine architecture in the collective cultural imagination of the future. Although Decolonizing Architecture’s work is limited to the 1967 borders – more specifically, the West Bank and Gaza Strip – for reasons of focus, it is not ideologically reduced to the geographic limitations of the “Occupied Palestinian Territories;” rather, it understands Palestine in its historic entirety.

Various groups of young Palestinians descended from the internally displaced (the muhajjareen) in the 1948 Palestinian Territories are also taking part in radical imaginings of their destroyed villages. The internally displaced comprise a third of the Palestinian citizens of Israel, and many of them live close to the villages from which their grandparents and parents were displaced in 1948. The Israeli state prevents them from returning to their ancestral lands through various legal mechanisms, including military orders.

Palestinian radical imaginations of the future not only provide a counter narrative; brought together, they can provide a blueprint for liberation Click To Tweet

Some groups, for example, maintain a physical presence on the site of their destroyed villages by erecting shelters and tents, such as at Iqrith and Kufr Bir’am. The Israeli authorities constantly disrupt this presence and deem it “illegal” out of fear that the activists might set a precedent for other internally displaced Palestinians. Other internally displaced activists have rebuilt their villages through models and computerized simulations, factoring in not only their return but those of their relatives who fled to neighboring countries in 1948, building on Abu Sitta’s notion of creating a return action plan.

These are only a few examples that embody radical imaginations of the future. They not only provide a counter narrative; brought together, they can provide a blueprint for liberation. Yet many of these projects and initiatives are disjointed and not continuous. One of the reasons for this is undoubtedly the geographic, social, and political fragmentation of the Palestinian people, which likewise hinders their ability to rally around a political consensus on liberation. The struggle is therefore not only to imagine, but to do so collectively.

In his final piece for The Guardian, columnist Gary Younge wrote: “Imagine a world in which you might thrive, for which there is no evidence. And then fight for it.” Today, where future visions continue to be written for Palestinians – the latest manifestation being that of the Trump administration – it is vital to fight for a future built out of Palestinians’ collective imaginations.


  1. Arundhati Roy, War Talk (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2003), 127.
  2. To read this piece in French, please click here. Al-Shabaka is grateful for the efforts by human rights advocates to translate its pieces, but is not responsible for any change in meaning.
  3. It is important to note that the Oslo Accords did not happen in a vacuum; rather, the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the PLO’s increasing isolation from Arab regimes as well as its exodus from Lebanon to Tunis contributed to setting the stage for this momentous shift in discourse and strategy.
Palestinians: Why whether Sanders or Biden Wins the Democratic Primary Matters for the Mideast Sat, 14 Mar 2020 04:03:19 +0000 By Halah Ahmad | –

(Al Shabaka) – Leading US Democratic presidential candidates have chosen to address, among other progressive platforms, the rising demand for racial justice reforms, from prison reform to school funding and reparations. In particular, candidates have embraced reforms that respond to grassroots movements against police brutality and a host of criminal justice issues, and have sought to counter racism directed at refugees and immigrants.

Yet the moral and visionary high ground presumed by these domestic positions does not translate into parallel positions on inequality beyond US borders. Indeed, Democratic candidates’ views on Palestine and human rights often reflect an inconsistency in their commitment to tackling inequality and racism. While foreign policy issues have rarely differentiated presidential candidates in the past, in this election they are a key litmus test for candidates’ sincerity vis-à-vis their commitment to justice and civil and human rights.

As many vocal civil rights activists and scholars have argued, the struggle for equality for Black communities in the US has significant parallels with the Palestinian struggle for basic rights and dignity. In Palestine/Israel, Palestinians face brutality at the hands of Israeli soldiers who are rarely, if ever, held accountable; Palestinian children are arbitrarily detained and arrested in the West Bank; and unequal sentencing practices in Israeli courts ensure mass imprisonment and detention of Palestinians without charge or trial. Palestinian citizens of Israel as well as those living under Israeli occupation, similar to Black Americans in the US, face severe and systemic discrimination, oppression, and institutionalized economic disadvantage.

Trump’s recent executive order on the definition of anti-Semitism, effectively labeling critique of Israel as anti-Semitic, constrains those advocating for Palestinian rights. As activists for racial justice in the US know well, government stances on legality and licit or illicit speech have often historically silenced critics of systemic inequality. Meanwhile, as Israel continues to receive an annual $3 billion in unconditional aid from US taxpayers, Palestinians experience apartheid and face further annexation of their land. As Israel enjoys impunity, the issue of Palestinian oppression, as an extension of the same principles underlying racial justice in the US, is crucial for US presidential candidates to address.

This commentary traces the . . . top Democratic candidates’ rhetoric and policy positions on Palestine and assesses those positions relative to candidates’ stances on racial justice in the US . . . The piece then discusses ways Palestinian civil society and its allies have been successful in creating a context for candidates to oppose racism and inequality across borders. It ultimately proposes strategies through which the public can demand that candidates place Palestinian rights alongside the other progressive causes they champion, including racial justice and criminal justice reform.

Tracking Candidates’ Positions on Palestine

The 2020 race featured perhaps the most progressive candidates the US has seen in decades, particularly in the figures of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Yet even an establishment candidate such as Joe Biden has shifted his rhetoric leftward when it comes to issues of racial justice. Every major Democratic candidate has called attention to the historic disadvantage faced by Black Americans, with varied plans to counter it through such proposals as prison reform, bail reform, debt relief, and equitable access to healthcare.

The common thread across all of the candidates’ racial justice agendas is an acknowledgement that US policies have been harmful and have not followed standards of racial equity, and that this is fundamentally at odds with the values of freedom, equal opportunity, and fairness. When compared to their positions on the rights of Palestinians, such progressive values generally come up short, with the candidates repeating one-sided rhetoric on Israel’s right to exist in security and nominally supporting a defunct two-state solution and “peace process” that allows Israel to continue its colonization of Palestinian land and displacement of Palestinians. However, this election has also seen the development of further accountability for Israel and support for Palestinian self-determination – language that departs from the status quo and mirrors the shift in opinions among the Democratic Party’s electorate . . .

Bernie Sanders

Sanders has built his campaign around a critique of dramatic wealth inequality and healthcare for all. Within that platform are several positions he has explicitly called out as a response to racial inequality, mass incarceration, and criminal justice reform.

On Palestinian rights, Sanders has expressly mentioned tangible ways to hold Israel accountable for human rights violations. He was the first to say he would use aid to Israel as leverage in facilitating peace in the region. Sanders has openly criticized Netanyahu, as well as other heads of state and dictators complicit in human rights abuses globally. His lens on inequality lends to some consistency in foreign policy, as he has criticized Saudi Arabia and others for brutality, corruption, and dictatorship.

Moreover, Sanders was the only candidate in 2016 to miss the AIPAC annual conference, and is missing it again this year, tweeting that the decision stems from his concern “about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.” Sanders is also the only candidate to repeatedly invoke Palestinian rights, dignity, and justice as a logical extension of critiques of human rights abuses by other countries, stating, “It is no longer good enough for us simply to be pro-Israel. I am pro-Israel. But we must treat the Palestinian people as well with the respect and dignity that they deserve.”

As he still glosses over the history of the Israeli state, focusing on the far-right Israel of Netanyahu, he misses the broader issue – and broader inequality – within the Zionist vision of a Jewish state that Israel represents and for which it advocates. Yet his invocation of Palestinian rights has pushed Democratic candidates to discuss the issue of Palestinian equality in a way it rarely has before.

Joe Biden

On criminal justice reform, Biden has endorsed a host of baseline policies common to all the Democratic candidates, such as ending mandatory minimums in sentencing, closing private prisons, discontinuing juveniles in adult prisons, reforming the bail system, and decriminalizing marijuana. Notably, however, Biden has been unable to account for his historic involvement in “the war on crime” and its policies that resulted in mass incarceration and criminalization of Black Americans. Thus, while one can critique his lack of cohesive principles on racial justice outside the US, it is necessary to note that his changes of position are strictly rhetorical at this stage, with his record much less progressive than his current campaign language implies.

A racial justice and equality-oriented agenda that excludes Palestinians reinforces the decline of accountability to human rights around the world Click To Tweet

On Palestine/Israel, Biden is a self-described Zionist who has long touted the need to preserve and protect “a Jewish Democratic state.” He has repeatedly affirmed his support for a two-state solution as the “only solution” that can work given “demographic realities,” repeating some of the same pitfalls as Warren in affirming this without corollary promises to hold Israel accountable for undermining such a solution repeatedly. 2 Moreover, while Warren and Sanders have referenced the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and opposed bans on boycotts of Israel, Biden makes no mention of abuse of Palestinian rights. Instead, he consistently commits to upholding a blanket notion of Israel’s right to defend itself against those it oppresses that gives no regard to the necessity of accountability.

Even as former US President Barack Obama’s relationship with Netanyahu soured toward the end of his presidency, Biden remained on good terms with him. He has called Netanyahu a friend despite other Democrats, such as Warren and Sanders, decrying his extreme politics, aggressive settlement expansion, and corruption scandals. Biden represents establishment Democrats’ longstanding complicity with Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, never holding it to account for its violations of human rights and international law and sanctifying Israeli “security” over any concerns about Palestinians’ systematic subjugation.

As chair and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for 12 years, Biden maintained a steadfastly pro-Israel position. However, as vice president, he condemned Israel’s announcement of 1,600 new settlements in East Jerusalem in 2010. Biden appears to understand that Israel has consistently undermined the preconditions to good-faith negotiations with Palestinians. However, he never doubts the undergirding racism of a “Jewish state” that undermines the rights of non-Jews not as an aberration, but as its very manifestation.

De-Exceptionalizing Palestine and Empowering Platforms that Respect Palestinian Rights

As Biden continues to repeat the tired discourse of blind support for Israel, and even Sanders appeals to views of Israel’s Zionist colonial project as a valid expression of Jewish self-determination despite it being at Palestinians’ expense, their platforms for justice prove weaker and more limited than their rhetoric may imply. A racial justice and equality-oriented agenda that excludes Palestinians only reinforces the decline of accountability to human rights around the world.

If the International Criminal Court found enough evidence, as it has, to raise a case against Israel for war crimes against Palestinians in not only Gaza but East Jerusalem and the West Bank, US presidential candidates can no longer make Palestine the exception to their progressive stances on equality, justice, and dignity. Voters find in this election a more real choice in foreign policy than they have seen in a long time: establishment policies from Biden and even Warren (although less so in her more recent rhetoric), or a more consistent doctrine of human rights from Sanders.

The election also provides notable lessons for Palestinian rights activists and their allies. Sanders’ position on Israel and Palestine would not have been possible for a leading presidential candidate without the work of grassroots, academic, and cross-movement solidarity activists. Palestine activists, including members of National Students for Justice in Palestine, set out to make Palestine a priority among progressives, and particularly for Sanders, in his first presidential campaign. In 2015, a group of activists at a campaign rally raised a large banner stating, “Will Ya Feel the Bern for Palestine?,” using the popular slogan of his supporters. After a staffer forced them to leave, the campaign apologized, causing a national media storm about allowing pro-Palestinian discourse a place in a progressive Democratic campaign.

No candidate can profess as much consistency across progressive policies as Bernie Sanders Click To Tweet

While this event was just one of many initiatives of pro-Palestinian rights activists to push the establishment to include Palestine in the question of a progressive agenda, it modeled effective direct action that can raise mainstream media attention, much like the more recent direct action of groups like IfNotNow, who have forced candidates to respond on issues of Israeli military aid, the occupation, and illegal settlements.

Meanwhile, while the work of such activists certainly played a role in bolstering a national conversation about Palestine, the shift in discourse among Jewish Americans is crucial given the number of influential groups that claim to represent their views, such as AIPAC. The shift of Jewish Americans, especially youth, to be critical of Israel has relied on, among other things, post-Zionist scholarship increasingly available to English readers since the 1990s.

Moreover, intersectional, anti-racism solidarity has advanced the cause of Palestinian human rights. In 2015, protests against police brutality in Ferguson found natural solidarity among Palestinian protestors in Palestine, who advised on methods of dealing with tear gas from the police – police who are often trained by Israeli occupation forces. With the founding of Black Lives Matter, solidarity with Palestinians was re-inscribed in a national progressive agenda on justice, as the published stances of the Movement for Black Lives in 2016 called out Israeli apartheid policies, a move that drew criticism but forced progressives-except-for-Palestine (“PEPs”) to grapple with the inconsistency of their stances on Israel. Black-Palestine solidarity is in no way new, however. Figures in the black civil rights movement such as Angela Davis, James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Cornel West, and Michelle Alexander have all decried the circumstances of Palestinians and the systematic racism of the Israeli state.

A growing discourse that criticizes Israeli policies and advocates for Palestinian rights, built on student activist and academic work on campuses across the country and the world, has likewise raised awareness of Israeli rights violations, despite campaigns to repress that work. Israeli Apartheid Week, for example, has become an annual event at many universities that aims to deepen the analysis of Israel as committing the crime of apartheid. In 2017, Professors Virginia Tilley and Richard Falk produced their report on Israeli apartheid, using international law and human rights conventions to assess, and ultimately affirm, the existence of an apartheid system in the West Bank. The popularization of this discourse for the better half of a decade has helped push a candidate like Sanders, critical of Israeli policy, to receive the support he has. No candidate can profess as much consistency across progressive policies as Sanders.

A number of lessons and actions inform this history and the growing demand for racial justice and Palestinian rights across any legitimate progressive platform:

  • Supporters of any of the Democratic presidential candidates should demand more than establishment stances on Israel. Just as direct action can hold institutions and individuals accountable to their expressed principles and values, civil society advocates should push progressive campaigns and their champions, such as those of Sanders and Warren, to support Palestinian human rights and self-determination not only in rhetoric but also in policies that hold Israel accountable for its violations of Palestinian rights.
  • Activists who seek to push candidates to de-exceptionalize Palestine in their progressive agendas must continue to connect the struggles of Black Americans and Palestinians, as well as other groups struggling against systematic oppression. Such solidarity comes from deepening learning on issues of oppression beyond Palestine and taking action as allies in advocating for justice, equality, and dignity; the past decade has seen effective examples in direct action, joint demonstrations and statements, and even collective, mass petitions led by major figures from allied movements.
  • As campus activism and academia has proven influential in creating an increasingly informed electorate on Palestinians’ historic and current oppression, it must continue to be a space for uplifting unbiased, inclusive studies and discourse on Israel and Palestine. As student activists and academics continue to highlight Palestinian indigenous history and ongoing injustice, supporters of racial justice and broader progressive values should demand greater protections for freedom of expression and the right to organize.


  1. Biden’s speeches to J Street and AIPAC in 2019 reiterate this stance.
The Systematic Torture of Palestinians in Israeli Detention Thu, 05 Dec 2019 05:01:07 +0000 By Yara Hawari

(Al-Shabaka) – Since the establishment of Israel in 1948, the Israeli Security Agency has been torturing Palestinians. Al-Shabaka Senior Palestine Policy Fellow Yara Hawari argues that the use of torture in Israeli detention is systematic and legitimized through domestic law, and outlines steps for the international community to hold Israel to account and bring an end to these violations.

The recent case of Samer Arbeed highlighted once again the systematic use of torture against Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons. Israeli soldiers arrested Arbeed at his home in Ramallah on September 25, 2019. They beat him severely before taking him to Al Moscobiyye detention center in Jerusalem for interrogation. Two days later, according to his lawyer, he was hospitalized as a result of severe torture, and lay in critical condition for several weeks. A judicial body had authorized the Israeli Secret Service, the Shin Bet, to use “exceptional methods” to extract information in this case without going through the courts. This led Amnesty International to condemn what happened to Arbeed as “legally-sanctioned torture.” 1 2

In August 2019, shortly prior to Arbeed’s arrest, the Israeli occupation forces began a targeted campaign against Palestinian youth and arrested over 40 students from Birzeit University. The arrests increased after Arbeed’s detention and, as many of the students have been denied access to lawyers, it is expected that many have also been subjected to torture.

The above actions are nothing new. Since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, the Israeli Security Agency (ISA) has been systematically torturing Palestinians using a variety of techniques. And though many countries have incorporated the prohibition of torture into their domestic legislation (despite it remaining a widespread practice under the guise of state security), Israel has taken a different course: It has not passed domestic legislation prohibiting torture’s use, and its courts have allowed for torture to be used in cases of “necessity.” This has given the ISA free rein to use torture extensively against Palestinian political prisoners.

This policy brief focuses on the use of torture in Israeli detention (both upon arrest and in prisons), tracing its historical as well as most recent developments. Building on the work of various Palestinian organizations, the brief argues that the practice of torture, embedded in the Israeli prison system, is systematic and legitimized through domestic law. It outlines clear steps for the international community to hold Israel to account and bring an end to these violations.

Torture and the Law

The question of torture occupies an important place in discussions on ethics and morality. Many have argued that the practice of torture is reflective of a sick and corrupt society. Indeed, torture requires the total dehumanization of a person, and once that occurs the boundaries of the degradation are limitless. Moreover, whilst the common excuse offered by security apparatuses for the use of torture is that it can yield life-saving information, this has proven factually baseless. Many leading experts, and even CIA officials, argue that information obtained under torture is usually false. Detainees can be coerced into confessing anything in order to stop the pain they are enduring.

The international legal regime prohibits torture through customary international law as well as a variety of international and regional treaties. Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.” International humanitarian law, which governs the behavior of parties during conflict, also includes the prohibition of torture. For example, the Third Geneva Convention prohibits the “violence of life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment, and torture” as well as “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.” Further, the Fourth Convention states: “No physical or moral coercion shall be exercised against protected persons, in particular to obtain information from them or from third parties.”

Israel has not passed domestic legislation prohibiting torture, and its courts have allowed for torture to be used in cases of ‘necessity,’ giving Israel free rein to torture Palestinian political prisoners Click To Tweet

So absolute is the prohibition on torture that it is considered jus cogens in international law, meaning that it is non-derogable and no other law can supersede it. Yet torture continues to be used by many countries around the world. Amnesty International defines it as a global crisis, stating that it has reported on violations of the prohibition on torture by a large majority of UN member states over the last five years.

The US-led “war on terror” following 9/11 particularly led to horrific cases of systematic torture, especially inflicted on Arab and Muslim prisoners. The Guantanamo Bay detention camp, established by the US in 2002 to hold “terrorists,” has been and continues to be a site of torture. Images of prisoners blindfolded, shackled, and kneeling on the ground in orange jumpsuits were shared across the world.

Yet perhaps the most defining images of this era came from the Abu Ghraib US military prison in Iraq. Leaked photos and soldiers’ reports revealed that the prison was the site of widescale torture, including the rape of men, women, and children. The US administration at the time condemned these acts and tried to suggest that they were isolated incidents. Human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, reported to the contrary.

Further, recent testimonies from Abu Ghraib reveal sinister links between US and Israeli interrogations. In a memoir, a former US interrogator in Iraq claimed that the Israeli army trained US personnel in various interrogation and torture techniques, including what became known as the “Palestinian chair,” in which a detainee is forced to lean over a chair in a crouched position with their hands tied to their feet. The excruciatingly painful practice was perfected on Palestinians – hence its name – and was adopted by the Americans in Iraq.

Despite these scandals, very little action has been taken to protect prisoners of war, and torture continues to be justified in the name of security. In Donald Trump’s first interview after being sworn in as US president, he declared that, in the context of the “war on terror,” “torture works.” Works of popular culture, such as television programs like “24” and “Homeland,” also normalizes the use of torture, particularly against Arabs and Muslims, and promotes the idea that it is justified in the context of the greater good. There has also been a recent rise in television series and films dramatizing the activities of the Mossad and Shin Bet, such as “Fauda,” “The Spy,” and “Dead Sea Diving Resort,” all of which heroize the activities of the ISA whilst demonizing Palestinians as terrorists. These series and films present to the world an image of Israel that allows it to justify its violations of international law, including torture.

Whilst Israel ratified the Convention against Torture (CAT) in 1991, it has failed to incorporate it into its domestic legislation. Moreover, despite the UN committee’s affirmation to the contrary, Israel claims that CAT does not apply to the Occupied Palestinian Territory. 3 This allows Israel to assert that there is no crime of torture in Israel, with it actually permitted in cases of “necessity,” as was claimed in the Arbeed case. This “necessity” is also known as the “ticking bomb,” a security doctrine used by many governments to justify torture and violence in situations considered time sensitive.

Israel has also passed several rulings around the issue of torture that have bolstered and condoned the activities of its security services. For instance, in 1987 two Palestinians hijacked an Israeli bus and were subsequently captured, beaten, and executed by the Shin Bet. Although there was a gag order on the Israeli media, details of the torture and execution leaked and led to the establishment of a government commission. Whilst the commission concluded that “pressure [on detainees] must never reach the level of physical torture…a moderate measure of physical pressure cannot be avoided.” The commission’s recommendations were incompatible with international law due to their vague description of “a moderate measure of physical pressure,” and essentially gave Shin Bet free reign to torture Palestinians.

Over a decade later, and as a result of petitioning from human rights organizations, the Israeli Court of Justice issued a 1999 ruling to the effect that ISA interrogators were no longer allowed to use physical means in interrogations, thus outlawing the use of torture. The court ruled that four common methods of “physical pressure” (violent shaking, shackling to a chair in a stress position, prolonged frog crouching, and sleep deprivation) were unlawful. Yet the court added a clause that provided a loophole for interrogators, namely that those who use physical pressure will not face criminal responsibility if they are found to have done so in a ticking bomb situation or out of necessity for the state’s defense – in other words, if the detainee is found to be an immediate threat to public security.

Children are not spared the ordeal of imprisonment and torture within the Israeli military system Click To Tweet

Torture as a necessity in the name of security was reaffirmed in 2017 when the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled in favor of Shin Bet, who admitted to what they called “extreme forms of pressure” on Palestinian detainee Assad Abu Ghosh. The defense was that Abu Ghosh possessed information about an impending terrorist attack. The court considered it “enhanced interrogation” rather than torture, and declared that it was justified due to the ticking bomb doctrine. Such a ruling has been consistently repeated.

Though Palestinian human rights organizations regularly submit complaints to the Israeli authorities they rarely receive a reply, and when they do it is often to inform them that the case file has been closed due to a lack of evidence. In fact, 1,200 complaints have been leveled against the security services for torture since 2001, but no agent has ever been prosecuted.

The Israeli Prison System: Sites of Systematic Torture

Every year, the Israeli military prison system detains and incarcerates thousands of Palestinian political prisoners, mostly from the 1967 territories. Since the beginning of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the establishment of martial law over those areas, Israel has detained well over 800,000 Palestinians, amounting to 40% of the male population, or one-fifth of the population as a whole.

Israeli law also permits the military to hold a prisoner for up to six months without a charge under a procedure known as administrative detention. This period can be indefinitely extended, with the “charges” kept secret. Prisoners, and their lawyers, thus do not know what they are charged with or what evidence is being used against them. On the last day of the six-month period, those detained in this way are informed if they will be released or have their detention extended longer. Addameer-the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association has defined this practice as itself a form of psychological torture.

It is during the period of initial detention, whether administrative or otherwise, when prisoners are often deprived of contact with lawyers or family members that they are subjected to the most severe forms of interrogations and torture. If they reach trial, they face judgement from Israeli military personnel and are often denied adequate legal representation. This system is illegal under international law, and Palestinian and international human rights groups have documented a vast array of human rights violations.

Children are not spared the ordeal of imprisonment and torture within the Israeli military system, and are nearly always denied the presence of parental guardianship during interrogations. One such example was in 2010, when Israeli border police arrested 16-year-old Mohammed Halabiyeh in his hometown of Abu Dis. Upon arrest the police broke his leg and beat him, intentionally kicking his injured leg. He was interrogated for five consecutive days and faced death and sexual assault threats. He was then hospitalized, during which time Israeli agents continued to abuse him by pushing syringes into his body and punching his face. Halabiyeh was tried and prosecuted as an adult, as is the case with all Palestinian child detainees over the age of 16 in direct contravention of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. 4 Israel arrests, detains, and prosecutes between 500-700 Palestinian children each year.

At present there are 5,000 Palestinian political prisoners; these include 190 child prisoners, 43 female prisoners, and 425 prisoners held under administrative detention, most of whom have been subjected to some form of torture. According to Addameer, the most common methods used by Shin Bet and interrogators include the following:

  • Positional torture: Detainees are placed in stress positions, often with their hands tied behind their backs and their feet shackled whilst they are made to lean forward. They are left in such positions for prolonged periods of time during the interrogation process.
  • Beatings: Detainees often suffer beatings, either by hand or with objects, and are sometimes knocked unconscious.
  • Solitary confinement: Detainees are placed in isolation or solitary confinement for long periods.
  • Sleep deprivation: Detainees are prevented from resting or sleeping and are subjected to long interrogation sessions.
  • Sexual torture: Palestinian men, women, and children are subjected to rape, physical harassment, and threats of sexual violence. Verbal sexual harassment is a particularly common practice in which detainees are exposed to comments about themselves or their family members. This type of torture is often considered effective because the shame around sexual violations prevents detainees from revealing it.
  • Threats on family members: Detainees hear threats of violence against family members to pressure them to cede information. There have been cases where family members have been arrested and interrogated in a nearby room so that the detainee can hear them being tortured.

The above methods of torture leave lasting damage. Whilst physical torture can leave serious bodily damage, including broken bones and chronic muscle and joint pain, especially as a result of stress positions or being confined to a small space, the psychological damage can be even worse, with such conditions as deep and lasting depression, hallucinations, anxiety, insomnia, and suicidal thoughts.

Many mechanisms of torture require the complicity of actors within the Israeli military court system, including medical personnel Click To Tweet

Many mechanisms of torture require the complicity of actors within the Israeli military court system, including medical personnel. This occurs despite the fact that the code of medical ethics as defined by the Declaration of Tokyo and Istanbul Protocol includes the stipulation that doctors must not cooperate with interrogators conducting torture, must not share medical information with torturers, and must actively oppose torture. In fact, Israeli doctors have long been complicit in the torture of Palestinian detainees and prisoners. Over the years journalists have uncovered documents that reveal doctors signing off on torture as well as writing false reasons for injuries sustained in interrogations.

Doctors are also complicit in force feeding – another, albeit less common, mechanism of torture used by the Israeli regime. Force feeding requires a detainee to be tied down as a thin tube is inserted through a nostril and pushed to the stomach. Liquid is then dripped through the tube in an effort to replenish the body. Medical personnel must place the tube, which can end up going through the mouth or the windpipe instead of the esophagus, in which case it has to be retracted and replaced. Not only does this cause great pain, but can also lead to serious medical complications and even death.

In the 1970s and 1980s several Palestinian prisoners died from being force fed, resulting in a cessation order from Israel’s High Court. However, a 2012 Knesset law reinstated force feeding’s legality in an attempt to break Palestinian hunger strikes. In an address to the Israeli prime minister in June 2015, the World Medical Association stated that “force feeding is violent, often painful, and often [goes] against the principle of individual autonomy. It is a degrading treatment, inhumane, and may amount to torture.”

Disrupting Israeli Torture

For Palestinians, torture is just one facet of the structural violence they face at the hands of the Israeli regime, which entraps them in an open-air prison and deprives them of their fundamental rights. It is also one that receives little attention from the international community, usually because the Israeli authorities use arguments of state security bolstered by the “war on terror” narrative. This was the case with Samer Arbeed, who the Israeli media portrayed as a terrorist, resulting in most states maintaining silence on his treatment despite being petitioned and lobbied by many Palestinian and international human rights organizations. As with all violations against the Palestinian people, Israeli torture calls into question the utility of the international legal regime.

On May 13, 2016, the UN Committee against Torture recommended more than 50 measures to Israel following a review of its compliance with the Convention against Torture, including that all interrogations should have audio and visual documentation, that detainees be allowed independent medical examinations, and that administrative detention be put to an end. These are, of course, important recommendations, and Israel should be made to comply with them. Yet in a time when third state actors are generally unwilling to hold Israel to account for violating international law and Palestinian rights, they are not enough.

Torture receives little attention from the international community, usually because the Israeli authorities use arguments of state security bolstered by the ‘war on terror’ narrative Click To Tweet

The following are some steps that those working for Palestinian rights in the international and domestic arenas can take with the aim of disrupting the systematic nature of Israeli torture:

  • Organizations and groups should build cases of individual criminal liability outside of Israel and Palestine for those involved in the torture of Palestinians. Accountability can be extended not only to those who commit the torture but also those that aid, abet, and omit information about it. This includes interrogators, military judges, prison guards, and doctors. As torture is a jus cogens war crime, it is subject to universal jurisdiction, meaning that third parties are capable of submitting criminal complaints against individuals. 5 Whilst individual criminal liability does not necessarily address the systematic structure of torture against Palestinians, it puts pressure on involved Israeli individuals by limiting their movement and travel to other countries.
  • As the only viable independent judicial body capable of ending impunity for violations of Palestinian rights, the International Criminal Court has a responsibility to hold Israel accountable. The Office of the Prosecutor, with all the information and detailed reports that have been presented to it, should launch a formal investigation into violations within the Israeli prison system.
  • State signatories to the Geneva Conventions and international human rights organizations need to pressure the International Committee of the Red Cross to uphold its mandate to protect Palestinian detainees and open an investigation into all accusations of torture. 6
  • Palestinian civil society and institutions should continue to support those working to aid victims of torture. Such support can be enhanced by a dedicated and focused effort to expand these resources and make them accessible in all areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This should also include working to break the taboo of seeking therapeutic care and lifting the stigma around sexual assault. Sexual assault is usually not dealt with fully because victims are too ashamed to discuss their ordeal, and the lack of disclosure makes healing more difficult. Creating safer spaces for individual and collective testimonies is key to helping survivors recover.

With such concerted actions, Palestinians and their allies can work toward limiting the practice of torture so thoroughly embedded in the Israeli prison system and given cover by Israeli law, whilst also working toward helping those to heal who have suffered it.

The author would like to thank Basil Farraj, Suhail Taha, and Randa Wahbe for their support and expertise in the drafting of this piece.


  1. This policy brief was produced with the support of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung. The views expressed herein are those of the author and therefore do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung.
  2. To read this piece in French, please click here. Al-Shabaka is grateful for the efforts by human rights advocates to translate its pieces, but is not responsible for any change in meaning.
  3. According to B’tselem, “Israel argues it is not bound by international human rights law in the Occupied Territories, as they are not officially sovereign Israeli territory. While it is true that Israel is not the sovereign in the Occupied Territories, this fact does nothing to detract from its duty to uphold the international provisions regarding human rights. International jurists disagree with Israel’s position on the matter, and it has also been repeatedly rejected by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and all UN committees overseeing the implementation of the various human rights conventions. These international bodies have asserted time and time again that states must uphold human rights provisions wherever they are in effective control.”
  4. In 2009 Israel established a juvenile military court to prosecute children under the age of 16 – the only country in the world to do so. According to UNICEF, it uses the same facilities and court staff as the adult military court.
  5. The case of Tzipi Livni demonstrates this; Livni was the Israeli foreign minister during the 2009 assault on Gaza that saw over 1,400 Palestinians killed. That same year, a group of UK-based lawyers managed to get a British court to issue an arrest warrant against her. She subsequently had to cancel her trip to the UK and was similarly forced to cancel travel to Belgium in 2017 when the Belgian Prosecutor’s Office announced its intention to arrest her and question her about her role in the assault.
  6. Recently, following the arrest and torture of Samer Arbeed, the ICRC did release a statement, but rather than condemn the Israeli violations it condemned activists who demonstrated and occupied the ICRC office in Ramallah in protest over the organization’s silence on Arbeed.

Via Al-Shabaka


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TRT World: “Palestinian teenager ‘tortured’ in Israeli jail”

Debate: Should Palestinian Citizens of Israel Boycott Tuesday’s Elections? Sun, 15 Sep 2019 04:02:53 +0000 By Nijmeh Ali and Yara Hawari | –

(Al-Shabaka) – Palestinian citizens of Israel earlier this year organized a campaign to boycott the April Knesset elections. Under the banner of the “Popular Campaign for the Boycott of the Zionist Elections,” the campaign called on Palestinians to refuse participation in the Israeli general elections so as not to recognize the Knesset as a legitimate entity.

As a result – and also due to disillusionment with the Arab Joint List, which had split from four united parties into two competing pairings – Palestinian voter turnout dropped below 50 percent. (Such turnout had been, for instance, 63 percent in 2015). In the run-up to the September 17 elections, the Joint List has again fused, with the hope for a larger Palestinian turnout. Whether the move succeeds remains to be seen, but for those who advocate for a boycott of the elections, the status of the Joint List has little bearing on the argument for non-participation.

On the occasion of the imminent elections, Al-Shabaka is recirculating this roundtable debate, first published in April 2019, in which Al-Shabaka Policy Analyst Nijmeh Ali and Al-Shabaka Palestine Policy Fellow Yara Hawari argue against and for boycotting Knesset elections, respectively.

What do Palestinian citizens of Israel gain by participating in the Israeli elections? By boycotting them?

Nijmeh Ali: Participating in the elections allows Palestinians to organize themselves internally, conduct political debates, and lobby for their civic and national rights in Israel and beyond. Participation should not be viewed as a position of principle, but rather as a tactic to use until opportunities arise to adopt more far-reaching strategies. Essentially, Palestinians must ensure that suitable political ground is created, as the act of rejection without constructing a solid alternative establishes a political passivity that is dangerous for a colonized, occupied, and oppressed people.

For instance, boycotting the elections could result in the dwindling of the Arab parties, which would lead to a leadership vacuum. Despite criticism and frustrations, parties still operate as the main organizing mechanism for political, social, civil, and national issues. Weakened parties would likely lead to the strengthening of familial and sectarian communities and their political organizing mechanisms, such as the hamula (clan) and mukhtars (elders). These mechanisms have historically been vulnerable to co-optation by the Israeli regime and encourage fragmentation.

The leadership vacuum could also be filled by Palestinians who operate within Zionist parties. These figures, who have been active since 1948, polish Israel’s democratic image without presenting challenges to it. With the state’s support they would be poised to take on more prominence: 16.8% of Palestinians already voted for Zionist parties in the last elections – the lowest percentage since 1948.

Electoral rejection without constructing a solid alternative establishes a political passivity that is dangerous for a colonized, occupied, and oppressed people Click To Tweet

The elections are therefore not simply an electoral battle, but one over Palestinian representation more broadly. With the strengthening of familial and sectarian mechanisms and the “Arab Zionist” model of leadership likely results of a successful boycott, it is more important than ever for Palestinians to maintain electoral participation.

Yara Hawari: Far from being a sign of apathy, election boycotts are a political tool used to convey an electorate’s dissatisfaction and disaffection. Indeed, other colonized, oppressed, or marginalized groups have used abstention or casting blank ballots as an expression of rejection. For instance, Sinn Fein – the largest republican party in Northern Ireland – takes part in the British elections but refuses to sit in the British House of Commons or vote on any bills in rejection of the centuries-old British claim of sovereignty over Northern Ireland. Black South Africans fighting for liberation from colonial apartheid also did not seek inclusion within the system, but rather sought to dismantle it and create a new, just, and fair one. In this way, they directed their energies toward a political alternative rather than “patching up” a broken system.

Boycotting the Israeli Knesset elections follows a similar ideological stance in that it refuses the legitimacy of the colonial political institution. It explains that the elections serve to bolster the image of Israel as a democracy, while in fact at least 65 laws indirectly or directly discriminate against and target Palestinians in all areas of life, including the Nakba Law, which allows the Israeli finance minister to reduce or withdraw funding from any institution that marks Israeli Independence Day as a day of mourning. Moreover, Israeli electoral law does not allow for the participation of those that question the Jewish character of the state of Israel, meaning that Knesset members cannot challenge Israel’s definition of being both Jewish and democratic.

How does the historical context of Palestinian political participation inform your stance?

Nijmeh Ali: Historically, Palestinian citizens of Israel have been willing to participate in the political process, even in moments of tension and alienation. From 1949 to 1973, average voter turnout among Palestinians in Israel was 86%, though this was mainly due to the military rule imposed on them between 1948 and 1966. The dominant Israeli Labor Party, Mapai, maintained its hegemony for 30 years and controlled the Palestinian vote by creating affiliated Arab lists headed by co-opted leaders who would guarantee the party virtually all Palestinian votes.

After the end of military rule and the events of Land Day (March 30, 1976), Palestinians’ political awareness increased, and the average voter turnout remained high at 72%. While voter turnout declined during the 1990s and after the Second Intifada, it rose again in 2015 with the creation of the Joint Arab list. Turnout in those elections rose to 64%, with the vast majority (82%) casting their ballots for the list. This history signals Palestinians’ embrace of the political process, which should be capitalized on rather than stifled.

Further, the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was able to move the peace process forward in the 1990s because of Arab parties, which had five seats in the Knesset and helped maintain Rabin’s small coalition of 58 seats, which needed the minimum of 61 to pass any law. This example demonstrates how Palestinian citizens of Israel can use political power effectively when the circumstances allow it – either by bolstering or blocking a coalition’s influence.

The massive efforts of the right wing to marginalize the Palestinians aims to prevent them from practicing this power. This was clear in 2014 when the Knesset voted to increase the electoral threshold to 3.25%, with the aim of excluding small parties from the Knesset. The Arabs’ response was the formation of the Arab Joint list, which was comprised of four small parties. Legal actions also continue to marginalize Arab parties, including attempts to ban political lists and candidates from election participation. 1

Yara Hawari: The Palestinian citizens of Israel have always been a politically active community. In the 1950s and 1960s, voter turnout reached as high as 90%, with the aim of making as many political gains as possible in the hope that full and equal citizenship could be achieved. In the 1990s the Abnaa al Balad movement began organizing calls to boycott the Knesset elections in response to Israel’s military attacks in southern Lebanon. 2 The 2001 prime minister election saw Palestinian voter turnout plunge to only 18%, and of those, a third cast blank ballots. This was in response to the events of October 2000, when Israeli soldiers gunned down 13 Palestinians in the streets, 12 of whom were Israeli citizens, who were protesting in solidarity with demonstrators in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Far from being a sign of apathy, election boycotts are a well-used political tool Click To Tweet

Yet history also shows that regardless of electoral participation the Palestinian citizens of Israel have not made any significant gains within the Israeli political system. This is particularly demonstrated through land and space, as no new Arab towns or villages have been built since 1948, and building permits are frequently denied. In contrast, the Israeli government is constantly building new Jewish-only neighborhoods and settlements. This has resulted in overcrowding of Palestinian Arab areas, with many Palestinians resorting to building without “permission.” Palestinian Arabs are also not permitted to buy property in most of the country and are even prevented from residing in certain communities by admissions committees that can deem their ethnicity or religion “unsuitable.” And while some Palestinians have achieved senior positions in Israeli institutions, including a judge on the Supreme Court and an ambassador, their cases are exceptions that prove the rule. Thus, the Israeli system does not allow for non-Jewish equity. As a result its glass ceiling cannot be broken within the current political framework.

How do recent events such as the passing of the nation-state law and the dissolution of the Arab Joint List come into play?

Nijmeh Ali: The nation-state law embedded Jewish supremacy and Palestinian inferiority by defining Israel as a state for Jews only. It does this through privileging Jewish citizens over non-Jewish citizens legally, symbolically, and politically – turning the reality of segregated life into an official apartheid state. It also reflects the political reality in Israel, which has seen the rise of the right and the inability of the Arab Joint List to counter this rise alone. It is crucial to reconsider broad coalitions and to push for structural change in Israeli politics.

However, the Joint List did succeed in creating public awareness of the implications of the law as well as a significant political debate. Thousands of Palestinians and progressive Jewish citizens took to the streets in Tel Aviv to protest the law, led by various Palestinian political leaders. Apartheid terminology is now consistently deployed in Israeli political debates at an institutional level. Though the dissolution of the Joint List was disappointing it was not surprising because the list was constructed mainly for electoral reasons. The most obvious implications of its demise will be the likely loss of voters and Knesset seats. After the election, if both Arab lists (Hadash-Ta’al and Balad-United Arab List) pass the threshold, they are likely to work together as they did during the multi-parties era.

Palestinian citizens of Israel can act when circumstances guarantee mass support politically and on the ground Click To Tweet

Yara Hawari: The passing of the nation-state law in 2018 and comments by Netanyahu affirm that Israel is a state for Jews alone. Unlike the international community, many Palestinians were not shocked by the law or Netanyahu’s comments, as they simply confirmed what is already in place in order to appease the growing Israeli right. However, the law and the commentary about it did highlight more than ever that Palestinians will never be considered equal citizens of the state, particularly while Israel’s separation between citizenship and nationality allows for discrimination against non-Jews.

The nation-state law also highlighted a failure of the political representation of the Palestinian community inside Israel. The Arab Joint List failed to muster a strong response. Several of the Palestinian Knesset members boycotted the parliament for a short period, and others led the rally against the law in Tel Aviv, but they did not present a collective strategy. They could have, for example, collectively refused to sit in the Knesset but continued to run in the elections to maintain their electoral mandate (similar to Sinn Fein, as discussed above). Earlier this year the Joint List dissolved, a reflection of an internal struggle of egos within the various parties. In this context, it is clearer than ever that Palestinians must pursue political mobilization outside the Israeli system.

What role does voting or boycotting have in the continuous and future struggle for Palestinian liberation?

Nijmeh Ali: Participation in the elections is a double-edged sword. Israel uses its Palestinian presence to prove that it is a democracy, at least rhetorically. However, what really threatens Israel is a Palestinian who is a producer at all levels, who is economically independent and pays the bills every month without relying on Israeli national insurance. This is the model that can break the hierarchical relationship between master and slave and rearrange the boundaries of the political game. The greater the strength and influence of the Palestinians in Israel – through their presence as consumers, taxpayers, and a core component of the labor force – the greater the impact of their protests in the future (and the more racism they will be targeted with). Thus change that can bolster the Palestinian citizens of Israel should involve establishing an internal financial support system related to a strategic plan of protest.

Maintaining political parties and engagement in the political system, such as voting, should also be a priority, at least in the short to medium term. It would be risky to demand a change in the political mechanism today. Leaving the Knesset cannot be done without planning. In the context of an exhausted society that lacks confidence in its leadership, a strategic political plan, and regional and international support, change must be considered carefully.

Palestinian citizens of Israel must set aside the romantic notion of sumud (steadfastness) in order to politicize and mobilize their masses, establishing links between daily needs and national demands, between the private and the public, and between the civil and the political.

With economic and political mechanisms in place, Palestinians can act when circumstances guarantee mass support politically and on the ground. Otherwise, Palestinians will fall into a trap of political passivity and chaos.

Yara Hawari: Recent political maneuvers in Israel do not reveal anything new; rather, they reaffirm the state’s position, which sees Palestinians as a fifth column to be tolerated only if they remain segregated, ghettoized, and passive. It has never been timelier for Palestinian citizens to reject this structure and to demand that their political leadership do so as well.

Boycotting the Knesset elections must be a tactic that is part of an overall vision for the Palestinian citizens of Israel Click To Tweet

Yet boycotting the Knesset elections does not, on its own, qualify as a strategy. Rather, it must be a tactic that is part of an overall vision for the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Those wanting to help create a new Palestinian political strategy must harness the momentum gained from boycotting to develop alternative political spaces outside of Israeli institutional politics. One practical way to do this is for people to organize meetings on the day of the elections to discuss the revival of a collective strategy and the steps needed to implement it. All of this, however, must also be done in the larger political context of the Palestinian people and their fragmented communities.

The Palestinian citizens of Israel must reaffirm their place in the Palestinian project for sovereignty, asserting that they are part of the struggle and not simply an internal Israeli affair. Their intimate experience with Israel places them in a strong position to take a leading role in discussions about new political models and leadership structures. In this way, they could radically contribute to changing the discourse on who and what is Palestine, paving the way for Palestinians across all geographies to unite and demand the fulfillment of their quest for self-determination and human rights.


  1. The Central Elections Committee disqualified the Arab joint slate Balad-United Arab List and Ofer Cassif, a member of political alliance Hadash-Ta’al, from running in the April 2019 elections. The decision was referred to the Supreme Court for approval. On March 17, 2019, the Supreme Court reversed the Central Elections Committee decision.
  2. Abnaa al Balad is a Palestinian political movement established by university students in the 1970s. The movement called for the end of the occupation of the 1967 territories, the return of Palestine’s refugees, and the establishment of one secular and democratic entity in historic Palestine that would not be based on ethno-religious rights. Ideologically, Abnaa al Balad is close to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Via Al-Shabaka (Creative Commons).

Nijmeh Ali is a political and academic activist with a PhD from the University of Otago in New Zealand. Her research focuses on the power of resistance theory in exposing the ‘power of powerless’ and the capacities of oppressed groups in creating genuine social change, particularly among Palestinian activists in Israel. From 2014 to 2018, Nijmeh was a researcher at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago. She previously earned a BA from Haifa University and MA from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Yara Hawari is the Senior Palestine Policy Fellow of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network. She completed her PhD in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter. Her research focused on oral history projects and memory politics, framed more widely within Indigenous Studies. Yara taught various undergraduate courses at the University of Exeter and continues to work as a freelance journalist, publishing for various media outlets, including Al Jazeera English, Middle East Eye and the Independent


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The Political Marginalization of Palestinian Women in the Israeli-Occupied West Bank Thu, 29 Aug 2019 04:05:41 +0000 By Yara Hawari | –

While Palestinian women have always faced political marginalization, developments since the Oslo Accords have caused them to endure perhaps even more formidable challenges when it comes to political participation. Al-Shabaka Palestine Policy Fellow Yara Hawari outlines these challenges and recommends ways for Palestinian women and society to disrupt this process and revitalize the Palestinian liberation struggle through feminism.

By Yara Hawari | –

( Al-Shabaka) – Though Palestinian women have always played a fundamental role in the struggle for liberation from the Israeli settler colonial regime, they have faced consistent political marginalization. This experience has become more multifaceted and entrenched since the 1990s, when the Oslo Accords unleashed a myriad of changes in the structure of Palestinian society and governance. 1

These changes have included a newfound dependence on international donor aid among Palestinian civil society, including women’s organizations, and the bolstering of a corrupt and relentlessly patriarchal Palestinian Authority (PA) that complements rather than confronts the Israeli occupation and its oppression of the Palestinian population, both male and female. Such developments have caused today’s Palestinian women to endure perhaps even more formidable challenges when it comes to activism and political participation.

This policy brief addresses these issues, providing a historical consideration of Palestinian women’s political participation and then examining the reasons behind their de-politicization with a particular focus on the West Bank. It concludes by offering some potential avenues for Palestinian women and their allies to disrupt this process and revitalize the Palestinian liberation struggle through feminism.

Palestinian Women as Political Actors

Palestinian women have long been politicized individuals not just as wives, sisters, or mothers, but also as fighters, organizers, and leaders with agency that is not defined by their relationship to men. Looking back through Palestinian history, women have always been present and active at crucial political and national moments, though they have also had to navigate tensions among feminism, nationalism, and anti-colonial struggle.

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In 1917, Palestinian women took part in demonstrations against the Balfour Declaration. Many women’s associations subsequently organized themselves under the Arab Women’s Congress, which convened in 1929 in Jerusalem. The congress created the Arab Women’s Executive Committee to carry out decisions, and this served as the beginning of an organized women’s movement in Palestine. 2 Many of the women involved in the committee were of the urban upper and middle classes, particularly of Jerusalem, and were involved in community organizing and charitable works. Still, the committee was also a political body, with members boldly making speeches in spaces traditionally dominated by men, such as the Haram al Sharif and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

During the Palestinian uprising against the British in 1936, Palestinian women not only participated in demonstrations en masse, but were also part of smuggling operations delivering weapons and supplies to guerrilla fighters. Here, rural and working class Palestinian women played a vital role. They hid guns in their clothing or in the fields and traversed the terrain, sharing important information with guerillas such as British troop locations and supply routes. 3

Over a decade later, the Nakba, or Palestinian catastrophe, of 1948 ripped apart Palestinian society, devastating the social and institutional infrastructure that the women’s movement had built in the preceding decades. The establishment of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964 provided centralization and an institutional home for many civil society organizations established before the Nakba. The fervent institution building that followed created many more employment opportunities for women. In addition, the General Union of Palestinian Women (GUPW) formed in 1965 and brought many women’s organizations under its umbrella, reviving the Palestinian women’s movement. These organizations offered educational, medical, legal, social, and vocational services to women, undertook advocacy, and created links with other women’s organizations around the world.

After the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, the GUPW began responding to the most immediate needs of Palestinian women and children, including by establishing health centers and orphanages. In the late 1960s Fatah took over the GUPW, and has since dominated the organization. Unlike some leftist political factions Fatah lacked an articulated stance or vision for Palestinian women. Despite this, the GUPW succeeded in opening branches in the diaspora, and has been particularly active in the Arab states with large Palestinian refugee populations. Today, it continues as an institution under the PLO.

Around the time of the formation of GUPW, Palestinian women were also involved in armed resistance, and most major militant political factions established training camps for female revolutionaries. A particularly well-known revolutionary was Layla Khaled, a member of the leftist Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) who captured international attention for her role as commander of the Dawson’s Field operation, which made her the first woman to hijack an airplane. Khaled went on to become a speaker in the international solidarity scene. Another member of the PFLP, Shadia Abu Ghazaleh, was among the first Palestinian women to take part in military resistance after 1967. She later died while preparing an explosive device. Dalal Mughrabi, a Fatah member, was involved in a 1978 military operation that resulted in her own death as well as the deaths of 38 Israeli civilians.

Khaled, Abu Ghazaleh, and Mughrabi broke many traditional and nationalist conventions that had limited women’s role in the liberation struggle to caregivers of sons or husbands, whether fighters or prisoners. Although organizing and participating in armed resistance helped challenge traditional assumptions about gender roles, tensions between female emancipation and nationalism remained entrenched. Indeed, many Palestinian leaders privileged national liberation over the emancipation of Palestinian women, so much so that this stance became the norm.

Two decades later images of women and girls throwing stones, challenging soldiers, and leading marches during the First Intifada showed promising signs of a social restructuring. Women’s groups were solidifying their involvement in social works and political organizing during this period. This allowed women more movement outside of the home under the pretext of the struggle, bringing them into spaces that had previously been male only, such as political meetings and the front lines of demonstrations. This inevitably contributed to an erosion of the familial patriarchal authority.

Yet the First Intifada is also often romanticized in collective memory and writing, not only in terms of resistance and community organizing, but of the role of women in the struggle. It is important to note that some women faced societal backlash for political participation. For example, although many women who were imprisoned were glorified during their incarceration, soon after their release they often faced social obstacles, including not being able to marry or find employment. Furthermore, women were still often seen in relation to male figures, such as mothers and wives, as demonstrated by many political posters from the period.

Several years into the First Intifada, the Palestinian delegation at the 1991 Madrid Conference included two women (Hanan Ashrawi and Zahira Kamal) out of 21 figures. Yet the Oslo Accords several years later did not feature any women. Palestinian women were not the only ones to be marginalized at Oslo, as refugees in the diaspora and Palestinian citizens of Israel were also excluded. Oslo created a framework, albeit a limited one, in which the exiled male Palestinian leadership was empowered, rather than a framework for the empowerment of the Palestinian people as a whole. This exclusion further increased the tension between the national struggle and the women’s movement.

Depoliticizing Palestinian Women

The tension between nationalism and feminism has continued in the post-Oslo period, and has been accompanied by the trend of Palestinian women facing multiple forces that actively suppress their politicization and participation in political spaces. The overarching force has been and continues to be the Israeli regime, which has oppressed Palestinian women since the day it was established through gendered forms of violence as well empowering patriarchal structures through its relentless colonization and fragmentation of land and communities. Yet it is also important to recognize the forces within the Palestinian and international communities that contribute to the weakened political role of Palestinian women.

The NGO-ization of the Women’s Movement

The Oslo Accords not only created a new framework for “peace” and “state-building;” they also set in motion a fundamental transformation of Palestinian civil society, including the women’s movement. Foreign aid flooded into Palestine and created a situation in which civil society became dependent on external patronage. Whereas before Oslo political parties mainly supported civil society organizations, the post-Oslo era saw a deliberate weakening and breaking of these ties. Many scholars have identified this process as “NGO-ization,” which Islah Jad aptly describes as circumstances in which “issues of collective concern are transformed into projects in isolation from the general context in which they arise, without consideration of the economic, social, and political factors affecting them.”

The professionalization and bureaucratization of civil society organizations created a distance between them and local grassroots communities. The focus became centered on project deadlines, budgets, funding proposals, and annual reports, all of which were answerable to the international donor community. The shift to a donor-led agenda also distanced many organizations from the politicized rhetoric of liberation and nationalism. Many groups and organizations within the women’s movement were also subject to this transformation.

Many Palestinian leaders have privileged national liberation over the emancipation of Palestinian women Click To Tweet

This change is particularly noticeable in the post-Oslo lexicon of women’s rights within Palestinian civil society. Many terms or buzzwords used to obtain project funding have been defined by UN agencies and other international organizations that place their own meanings and conditions upon them. For example, the term “empowerment” is limited to socioeconomic empowerment and participation in “decision-making,” rather than empowering women to resist the occupation and build a vision for a postcolonial world. Indeed, many projects focus solely on household economic empowerment, aiming to help women become financially less dependent on male breadwinners. This stands in stark comparison to the many female-led cooperatives established before Oslo that attempted to gain economic independence from Israel and were articulated as a form of resistance, such as the women’s produce cooperatives established by the Palestinian Union of Women’s Work Committees in the West Bank and Gaza during the First Intifada.

A more recent example of this donor-led transformation can be seen in a week-long campaign launched in early 2019 by UN agencies, international organizations, and Palestinian NGOs. The campaign, called “My Rights, Our Power,” was meant “to raise awareness on women’s fundamental human rights” and domestic violence in particular. It focused on five areas of concern: the right to a life free of violence, the right to achieve justice, the right to seek help, the right to equal opportunities, and the right to make one’s own choices. The campaign omitted the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as its overall structure of apartheid, as major contributing factors to rights violations committed against Palestinian women. Indeed, the words “occupation” or “Israel,” let alone “apartheid” or “colonialism,” did not appear in press releases and campaign materials. This reflects a trend in the international aid and donor community’s discourse in which “issues” and “barriers” to women’s rights are spoken of in a political vacuum to avoid any Israeli discomfort. This is a clear example in which dependency on the donor community rendered organizations unwillingly complicit in the depoliticization of the Palestinian women’s struggle.

While this process of NGO-ization has demobilized many groups within Palestinian society, women remain disproportionately affected due to institutional patriarchal tendencies to exclude women from the political sphere.

The Veneer of Institutional Inclusion

The return of the PLO to the West Bank and Gaza Strip and its subsequent devolution into the Palestinian Authority (PA) left many on the ground frustrated, particularly women grassroots activists from the First Intifada who then lost their leadership roles to predominately male politicians, highlighting once again the tensions between the national struggle and women’s liberation. In 2003, in part to alleviate this tension, the PA established the Palestinian Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and between 2012 and 2014 under Minister Haifa Al Agha it created gender units in all Palestinian governmental agencies. These units are supposed to deal with gender issues, particularly female participation in institutional politics, yet their implementation and outcomes remain minimal. In reality, it is likely that they were established to appease certain requirements, particularly those of funders, and respond to both domestic and international pressures to create a more gender-balanced political structure.

The ‘NGO-ization’ of Palestinian civil society has demobilized many groups, but women remain disproportionately affected Click To Tweet

The current inclusion of women within institutional Palestinian politics in the West Bank and Gaza Strip remains very shallow. Although the Palestinian Legislative Council has maintained a 20% quota of women since 2006 – a development Palestinian activists and women’s organizations fought hard for – the percentage remains low. Moreover, other bodies have even lower proportions of inclusion. Of the PLO Executive Council’s 15 members, only one is female – Hanan Ashrawi. Out of the 16 governorates in the West Bank and Gaza, only the governorate of Ramallah and El Bireh has a female governor – Laila Ghannam. Similarly, the government as of April 2019 headed by Mohammad Shtayyeh has a mere three female cabinet ministers out of 22 – Mai Kaileh, Minister of Health; Rola Maayya, Minister of Tourism; and Amal Hamad, Minister of Women’s Affairs. These women, with the exception of Ashrawi, come from a Fatah background. This is unsurprising considering the domination of Fatah over the Palestinian political scene and the recent efforts by President Mahmoud Abbas to consolidate power within his party.

These attempts to consolidate power are indicative of the politics inherent in the PA, namely those of one-man leadership, rule by presidential decree, and a failure to separate legislative, judicial, and executive powers. Furthermore, the lack of democracy and democratic processes – Abbas is well into a decade past his mandated term – has allowed for nepotism and patronage. It is thus unsurprising that under the PA patriarchal tendencies have solidified.

The PA attempted to elevate the status of Palestinian women in 2014 when it acceded to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) without any reservations. It was the first country in the Middle East and North Africa to do so and was heralded by some, including those in the international community, as demonstrating significant progress on women’s rights. Yet several issues render the accession less significant than it might seem. Firstly, the CEDAW text has not been published in the PA’s Official Gazette and as such remains non-binding for domestic law. Secondly, a November 2017 decision by the Supreme Constitutional Court, which regulates the status of international agreements in the Palestinian legal system, allows for courts to not apply agreements that conflict with Palestinian law. This allows for unregulated executive powers and for the legislature’s maintenance of the overarching patriarchal authority.

Weaponizing Women’s Bodies

The fact that Palestinian women are often lacking the most basic legal protections and political representation means that they are particularly vulnerable when it comes to the weaponization of their bodies. Sexual harassment and violence are sensitive topics in Palestinian society, and a social stigma is often attached to those who have suffered them. The threat of sexual violence and the use of sexual harassment are therefore particularly powerful weapons. Both the Israeli regime and the PA have used such gendered violence to deter women from being politically active.

Since its establishment the Israeli regime has systematically used gendered tactics to oppress Palestinians. This has contributed to the enforcement of gender stereotypes and patriarchal narratives, excluding women from the political sphere or targeting those who are politically active. Targeting manifests itself in a variety of ways and can include harassment, threats of sexual violence, and imprisonment, the latter being the most effective way to curtail political work. Indeed, female political leaders have been consistently imprisoned by the Israeli regime, including legislator Khalida Jarrar.

During imprisonment, Palestinian women are often subjected to gendered violence in an attempt to “break” them. For example, Khitam Saafin, the leader of the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, spent three months in Israeli administrative detention. During that time she reported that Israeli soldiers took pictures of her on their phones and subjected her to unnecessary strip searches. The Israeli prison authorities are also known to deny women sanitary towels and restrict their access to bathrooms when they are menstruating.

The current inclusion of women within institutional Palestinian politics in the West Bank and Gaza Strip remains very shallow Click To Tweet

Interrogations by Israeli soldiers or security forces also often include sexual harassment or threats of sexual violence to pressure women and girls to sign confessions or give information. This was demonstrated in a leaked video of the December 2017 interrogation of the teenager Ahed Tamimi, who was arrested for slapping an Israeli soldier who had invaded her home and had previously been part of a raid that resulted in her cousin being shot in the head. Ahed was subjected to an interrogation in which two male officers verbally harassed her and made comments about her body.

In recent years the PA has increasingly cracked down on activism and activities that challenge its authoritarianism, using such brutal techniques as detention, interrogation, surveillance, limitations on mobilization, and cyber attacks. It has adopted gendered mechanisms similar to those used by Israeli forces to deter female participation in political activities.

Demonstrations and protests have often been sites of gendered violence. PA security forces use insults and insinuations that often amount to verbal sexual harassment, in addition to telling women they should be at home and not in the streets. This draws on misogynist and global notions of honor and shame, which can also be mobilized against women’s families. PA security forces have been known to visit women’s and girls’ fathers to “discuss” their activism. For some women, this has serious repercussions and means they are prevented by their families from taking part in political activities. There have also been cases in which security forces have gone to a female activist’s place of work and have spoken to her employer in an attempt to get her fired. This type of sabotage occurs more easily via social media, as rumors and slanderous language can be spread quickly and anonymously in ways that become nearly impossible to refute.

In more severe cases physical sexual harassment occurs, with women grabbed and groped at demonstrations. This was the case at a June 2018 protest demanding the PA lift the sanctions on Gaza, in which Fatah loyalists harassed and assaulted women at the behest of the PA security forces. The sexual harassment of women in such spaces aims to punish and deter them from taking part, but it also encourages male activists to deter female participation out of fear for women’s safety.

It is important to note that Palestinian women have not been passive in the face of gendered violence. They have, for instance, long confronted the weaponization of their bodies through such tactics as recognizing their right to remain silent during interrogations and remaining in groups or pairs at demonstrations. Another tactic is to mentally compartmentalize. Indeed, one activist told this author, “I mentally prepare myself before the demonstration, I tell myself, ‘Today my body is not mine.’”

Liberating All Palestinian People

The aim of this policy brief has not been to romanticize the pre-Oslo period, but rather to address how the political marginalization of Palestinian women has accelerated with the entrenchment of the military occupation, the increasingly repressive Palestinian authorities, and the weakening connection between civil society and the grassroots. Moreover, the entire Palestinian liberation project has been geographically, socially, and politically fragmented, resulting in a situation of historic vulnerability. While discussions revolve around efforts to revive it, the important question Palestinians must ask themselves is whether they can reignite a path to liberation with half of their population marginalized from the process.

Both the Israeli regime and the Palestinian Authority have used gendered violence to deter women from being politically active Click To Tweet

With this in mind, what follows are recommendations for disrupting this process of political marginalization and revitalizing the liberation struggle through feminism:

1. Palestinian women, collectives, groups, and organizations pursuing women’s rights and gender equality need to be restructured and revitalized into an autonomous women’s movement that struggles for women’s liberation in all spheres, including political, economic, and social spheres. The need for women’s autonomy is imperative in a context of patriarchy, where male domination is present in all areas. Organizational autonomy does not mean a separation of struggles, but rather provides a space for women to think more freely and collectively about liberation. Women’s rights must be both individual and collective and must not be separated from the collective right of indigenous Palestinians to be free of settler colonialism.

2. Women’s groups and organizations must find a way to reconnect both with the grassroots and the liberation discourse. One way to do this is to return to collectivism and tackle elitism within the NGO network by making processes more democratic and representative. This also requires moving toward self-sufficiency to weaken the grip of donors, which could include a membership-based system, and pave the way for economic sovereignty.

3. Groups and activists must engage with the political marginalization of women. In particular, men in these spaces need to be aware of the power dynamics that prevent women from participating and support women in fighting against them. For example, in meetings, discussions, and demonstrations, men should step aside and create space so that women can take leading roles. Additionally, rather than telling women not to stand on the front line out of fear their bodies will be weaponized against them, men should join women in coming up with tactics to tackle this weaponization.

4. While bearing in mind the specific context of settler colonialism, Palestinian women should also examine recent examples of other women in the region who have been part of processes of great political change, such as in Tunisia and Sudan. It is equally important to rebuild historic solidarities, such as with the Kurdish Women’s Movement, rather than looking toward the West, to learn and develop by example.

5. Palestinian nationalism has long focused around macho imagery embodied in the male fighter or prisoner, with women often only discussed in relation to men. This has resulted in a liberation politics that is not only exclusive and dominating of women but also oppresses men. There is therefore an urgent need to incorporate feminism into the Palestinian political project through the adoption of a new document of liberation, a document that would understand feminism not only as a theory but also as a practice and way of life that works toward the liberation of all people.

Only through such actions can the Palestinian leadership and civil society begin to tap the strength of Palestinian women in the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice, and equality.


  1. To read this piece in French or Spanish, please click here or here. Al-Shabaka is grateful for the efforts by human rights advocates to translate its pieces, but is not responsible for any change in meaning.
  2. The term “women’s movement” in this policy brief is used in a broad sense to refer to the collection of groups and organizations working to further women’s rights in Palestine.
  3. Fayha’ Abdul Hadi, “Adwar al-mar’a al-filastiniyya fi al-thalathinat 1930 – al-musahama al-siyasiyya lil mar’a al-filastiniyya [The Role of the Palestinian Woman in the Thirties, the Political Participation of the Palestinian Woman],” Al-Bira: Markaz al-Mar’a al-Filastiniyya lil-Abhath wa al-Tawthiq, 2005, 84.
  4. Via Al-Shabaka

    Yara Hawari is the Palestine Policy Fellow of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network. She completed her PhD in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter. Her research focused on oral history projects and memory politics, framed more widely within Indigenous Studies. Yara taught various undergraduate courses at the University of Exeter and continues to work as a freelance journalist, publishing for various media outlets, including Al Jazeera English, Middle East Eye and the Independent.


    Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

    TRT World Now: “Istanbul conference seeks to draw support for Palestinian women”

How US Law Restricting Satellite Imagery of Palestine-Israel Hurts Health, Environmental Research Tue, 23 Jul 2019 04:06:00 +0000 by Zena Agha | –

Bipartisan legislation passed by the US Congress in 1997 limits the quality and availability of satellite imagery of Palestine-Israel. The Kyl-Bingaman Amendment (KBA) to the US National Defense Authorization Act was passed under the pretext of protecting Israel’s national security. It prevents US satellite operators and retailers from selling or disseminating images of Palestine-Israel at a resolution higher than that available on the non-US market. The amendment’s interpretation has been confusing and contradictory in terms of meaning, geographical scope, and legal implications. Its result has been over two decades of limited access to clear satellite imagery of Palestine-Israel.

The kinds of research carried out with geospatial data include environmental, geographic, and humanitarian surveys. From an archaeological, geographical, geological, and botanical perspective, high-resolution imagery enables researchers to understand, identify, and document landscape changes. The KBA is in fact an act of censorship, posing serious obstacles for the preservation of cultural heritage and the monitoring of the decades-long Israeli occupation, including documenting home demolitions, territorial disputes, and settlement growth.

Moreover, the KBA has become obsolete and does not serve its intended purpose. In the 22 years since the KBA was passed, the satellite imagery sector has developed significantly, such that a growing number of non-US satellite imaging companies now offer very high-resolution images of Palestine-Israel with a resolution of 0.4-0.7 meters (in line with the global average) as compared to the 2-meter restriction imposed by the KBA on US companies. Meanwhile, US federal agencies are slowly losing their ability to successfully restrict access to imagery by third parties on the basis of national security and/or foreign policy interests.

The KBA harms US business, since US companies are not able to compete internationally due to the regulatory restrictions on the sale of detailed imagery of the region. Indeed, the Aerospace Corporation warned of the amendment’s effect on the US market in 2017: “As foreign competitors reach and possibly surpass the resolution level that US operators can sell without restriction, policymakers must reconsider whether government-imposed restrictions on the availability of the highest quality US products still make sense.” In other words, while these restrictions may have been introduced in line with Israeli national security concerns, technology has overtaken policy and US operators are being disadvantaged.
The Kyl-Bingaman Amendment has become obsolete and does not serve its intended purpose Click To Tweet

The availability of satellite imagery through open-access platforms only confirms the hindrance created by the KBA. In fact, so absurd is the KBA that Israel itself provides free high-resolution satellite imagery of the territories it controls (modern-day Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and the Golan Heights), rendering the KBA utterly pointless while also belying the claim that the KBA serves Israeli national security interests.
Reassessing the KBA

Since Michael Fradley and Andrea Zerbini’s groundbreaking 2018 journal article and Al-Shabaka’s policy commentary of the same year, both of which call for a reassessment of the KBA, the amendment has come under greater scrutiny. However, there is little evidence to suggest that a policy change is imminent. Rather, the US Department of Commerce and its National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – the bodies tasked with administrating the KBA – continue to evade and defer discussions about its efficacy.

The KBA was supposed to be reviewed regularly, but only in 2017 – a decade after its inception – did NOAA finally undertake a formal review, issuing its findings in late 2018. NOAA concluded that high-resolution imagery of Palestine-Israel was not “readily and consistently available” from non-US sources, and that as such it could not recommend a change to the amendment.

While a detailed report on NOAA’s methodology has not been published, the review method appears to have consisted of NOAA staff attempting to purchase imagery and subsequently reporting the results. However, their logic was circular, as the KBA itself was the major obstacle NOAA staff faced, as US citizens, in their attempt to acquire high-resolution images. Foreign researchers, on the other hand, have been able to purchase uncensored high-resolution imagery from both non-US sellers and US resellers, demonstrating the anachronistic nature of the legislation. While one can only speculate the exact reason for NOAA’s reticence, there is likely to be pressure from the Department of Commerce and the current White House administration to maintain or even strengthen the KBA. This is a clear instance of politics overriding common sense.

1. NOAA should publish a report on the methodology used in their 2018 report as a matter of urgency, and undertake a more rigorous review of the KBA.

2. Disposing of the KBA and modifying the regulations of the Department of Commerce and NOAA would level the commercial playing field between US and non-US imagery providers. This would allow satellite operators to share high-resolution images of Palestine-Israel on widely-used open-access platforms and ensure their continued international competitiveness. It would also enable archaeologists, researchers, and humanitarians to accurately document changes on the ground and allow for better accountability of the Israeli occupation.

Zena Agha is Al-Shabaka’s US Policy Fellow. Her areas of expertise include Israeli settlement-building in the occupied Palestinian territory with a special focus on Jerusalem, modern Middle Eastern history, and spatial practices. She has previously worked at the Economist, the Iraqi Embassy in Paris, and the Palestinian delegation at UNESCO. In addition to opinion pieces in The Independent, and The Nation, Zena’s media credits include the BBC World Service, BBC Arabic and El Pais. Zena was awarded the Kennedy Scholarship to study at Harvard University, completing her Master’s in Middle Eastern Studies.

Via Al-Shabaka

In Israeli-Occupied Palestine, Health Care is not a Right Wed, 03 Jul 2019 04:04:19 +0000 By Yara Asi | –

Al Shabaka) – For decades, political barriers have obstructed the Palestinian health system in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, impeding rights and protections. Al-Shabaka Policy Analyst Yara Asi examines how the Israeli occupation has decreased Palestinians’ ability to seek or practice health care, and offers recommendations that can support Palestinians’ right to health within the current constrained circumstances.


The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the right to health and well-being, including access to health care, healthy living conditions, and the right for individuals to make decisions about their health care. However, for decades, political barriers have obstructed the Palestinian health system, impeding these rights and protections.

Recent events such as the injury of more than 745 medical workers during Gaza’s Great March of Return, including the murder of medic Razan Al-Najjar by an Israeli sniper in June 2018, as well as drastic US funding cuts to institutions and organizations that supply or support health care for Palestinians, including East Jerusalem hospitals and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), are emblematic of a deeper problem. Israeli and international approaches to Palestinian human rights, such as the right to health, render these rights conditional: They are only to be potentially granted once Palestinians acquiesce to what Israel considers an acceptable resolution to what has already been over 70 years of oppression and occupation. While this problem affects all aspects of Palestinian existence, its application to Palestinian health has direct implications for quality of life and mortality.

This policy brief addresses how the occupation has decreased Palestinians’ ability to seek or practice health care. The weakness of Palestinian governance and the active de-development of Palestinian institutions in the post-Oslo era have led to human-made deficits in quality of and access to health care and health insurance. This has been accomplished via Israeli restrictions on movement and accessible services, such as its more than decade-long blockade on the Gaza Strip. The brief concludes by offering policy recommendations that can support Palestinians’ right to health within the current constrained circumstances.

Health and Health Care in the OPT

The Occupied Palestinian Territory’s (OPT) current health system, established in 1994 as a component of the Oslo Accords, is a fragmented sector comprised of the Palestinian Ministry of Health (MoH), NGOs, UNRWA, and private facilities. The quality of health care varies based on a facility’s ability to acquire resources and sustain access to utilities such as electricity and water. Inequality in access, exacerbated by financial and other barriers to care, such as uneven health insurance coverage and geographic segregation, has been a marker of the Palestinian health care system for decades.

Despite their limited health system, Palestinians report some of the better outcomes in indicators of life expectancy and maternal, infant, and child mortality rates when compared to other Arab countries. High OPT education levels and MoH efforts, however restricted, to ensure basic care such as vaccines are the likely drivers of these outcomes, coupled with broad social sector corruption and poor health care service delivery throughout the Middle East. At the same time, Palestinians live 10 fewer years than Israelis on average, including the settler population that inhabits the same territory. Palestinians report maternal and infant mortality rates that are four to five times as high as Israelis, and Israelis receive vaccinations, such as for chicken pox and pneumonia, that Palestinians typically do not. Even Palestinian citizens of Israel generally fare worse than the Jewish population, reporting higher rates of chronic diseases.

The blockade on Gaza has led to worse health outcomes there than in the West Bank, as well as a lower proportion of hospital beds, nurses, and doctors. Many medical shortages in Gaza have little to do with a lack of available resources and are instead a direct result of political factors. For example, outside of a limited amount of food or other humanitarian necessities, Israel generally does not allow the importation of concrete or other materials required to rebuild damaged infrastructure at medical facilities that were destroyed by Israeli attacks. Even importing necessary equipment is challenging, especially items deemed by Israel to be potentially threatening in Hamas’s hands, such as x-ray equipment or batteries used to back up hospital generators during power outages.

Palestinians live 10 fewer years than Israelis on average, including the settler population that inhabits the same territory Click To Tweet

The lack of batteries coupled with low fuel stores and limitations imposed on fuel imports means that hospital staff must be judicious in their use of power. In September 2018, the director general of the Al-Shifa medical complex in Gaza City warned that electricity shortages were draining the fuel reserves the hospital used to power generators for patients undergoing dialysis, in need of surgery, or receiving intensive treatments. It is common to see several infants at Al-Shifa’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) clustered together in incubators meant for one. Gaza’s doctors report that at times they are even unable to wash their hands due to lack of water or electricity.

In 2018, Gaza City’s Durrah Hospital was forced to shut down its ICU and combine departments to maximize access to electricity, which at some points was just four hours per day. Nineteen other medical facilities in Gaza have had to close due to a lack of electricity and diminished fuel for generators.

The most basic supplies and medicines needed at any standard health care facility in Gaza are lacking, especially with an increase in trauma-related patients from the Great March of Return. Doctors across the OPT warn that catastrophic outcomes are possible as a result of medicine shortages, including outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs,” especially when coupled with shortages of gloves, gowns, and disinfecting chlorine tablets. Six newborns in Gaza died in just the first two months of 2018 due to the unavailability of respiratory medication.

Even when there is funding for a high-end facility, political barriers persist. Donors recently raised millions of dollars for An-Najah National University Hospital in Nablus, the first and only university hospital in the OPT, with some of the most advanced medical equipment available. However, Israel has blocked the import of a PET/CT scanner used for cancer diagnosis for which funds have already been raised, citing fears of Palestinian “mishandling.” In addition, the Palestinian Authority (PA), which was slated to pay for the hospital’s operating costs, owes the project money due to its own funding shortfalls. With support from Turkey, Al-Sadaqa Hospital was slated to be built as a part of the Islamic University of Gaza, but has been delayed for years due to Israel’s blockade.

While specialized private facilities often manage to import advanced diagnostic equipment, many Palestinians cannot afford to pay for these services, or the machines are nonfunctional due to sporadic maintenance and difficulties obtaining permits for spare parts. Government hospitals may offer services to more citizens, but they also lack the resources to maintain or update the technology they import. A 2018 study from government hospitals in Gaza found that of the seven available CT machines in the besieged territory, several are out of service on a regular basis and only two hospitals had received Israeli permission to have the technology. A 2018 Physicians for Human Rights report states that this lack of upkeep turns hospitals into merely “transit stations for referral to other hospitals.”

A lack of trained providers, especially specialists, contributes significantly to poor health care and outcomes in the OPT. There are only four medical schools throughout the OPT. Six oncologists serve the entire West Bank, with a population of three million, with an additional seven in East Jerusalem. In Gaza, there are three. The smaller number of oncologists in the OPT translates to about 250 new cancer cases per oncologist. With less than double the population of the OPT, Israel reports 250 oncologists, for a rate of 116 new cancer cases per oncologist. States with populations similar in size to the OPT report comparable rates to Israel, such as Ireland, with 113 cases per oncologist. 1

For Palestinians who wish to practice medicine, the politics of the occupation make it difficult. For example, the division in Al Quds University between the Abu Dis and East Jerusalem campuses led to a years-long administrative battle between the university and Israeli accreditation bodies regarding recognition of medical degrees. Though the case was eventually settled in court, as recently as 2016 30 nursing graduates filed a complaint with the state’s attorney general that the Israeli Education Ministry refused to recognize their degrees.

The separation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has also decreased opportunities for medical education. Gaza’s Al-Azhar University established a medical studies department in 1999 as a branch of Al Quds University in East Jerusalem. Once safe passage between the territories was eliminated during the Second Intifada, so was the campus collaboration.

These difficulties lead to medical brain drain as Palestinian physicians emigrate for better training or career opportunities. Young doctors in Gaza may work 70-hour weeks to earn a mere $280 a month, and clinicians and maintenance workers may be unable to leave for training in new medical technologies or for other professional opportunities. Established doctors receive less than half their salaries due to PA sanctions. When Marwan Sadeq, a renowned heart surgeon, emigrated to work at a university hospital in Austria after two years of not receiving his salary, he said, “If I want to stay in Gaza, I would…turn from a cardiac surgeon into someone whose only concern is how to feed his children.” In 2018, locals in Gaza estimated that between 100 and 160 doctors and medical professors had left; of those, many will not return. In the OPT as a whole, a 2008 survey of higher education and health professionals found that around 30% wished to emigrate, primarily due to the political and security situation.

In the West Bank, ambulances must contend with Israeli military checkpoints and other road closures and mobility restrictions. A 2011 study found that 10% of pregnant women had been delayed at checkpoints every year from 2000 to 2007, resulting in 69 births at checkpoints, 35 infant deaths, and five maternal deaths. The media and NGOs have released multiple reports of patients dying after being delayed or blocked from passing checkpoints. Patients from the West Bank needing care in East Jerusalem may need to take a Palestinian ambulance to one checkpoint and then be transferred to an Israeli ambulance to continue the journey, while Palestinian patients who die in Israeli hospitals also must switch ambulances on their journey to be buried back in the West Bank. This is known as a “back-to-back” transfer, and 90% of ambulances entering East Jerusalem in 2017 were required to comply with this procedure.

The process required to attain a medical permit to receive advanced care in Israel or a surrounding state is complex and arbitrary. In Gaza, a physician refers any patient needing such care to the Service Purchasing Unit, where the application process for an Israeli entry permit begins. The permit may be refused at any point with no explanation, and even if approved, the patient’s family members, in some cases the parents of sick children, may not receive a permit to accompany them. Patients must go through the process again for follow-up appointments. In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) found that only 54% of patient applications from Gaza were approved, the lowest rate since the organization began collecting data in 2011. Fifty-four patients, primarily needing cancer treatments, died while awaiting security permits that year.

Patients from the West Bank needing treatment in Israel must go through a similar process, requiring a referral from the MoH along with a travel permit. Patients must also go through several checkpoints and switch vehicles to complete the journey. While these permits are granted more often than in Gaza, they are not guaranteed. In 2016, 20% of Palestinians from the West Bank applying for permits to access a hospital in East Jerusalem or Israel were denied. The PA has also approved fewer vouchers guaranteeing payment for these patients’ treatment than in past years, a necessary component to apply for a travel visa from Israel. Thirteen patients died in 2017 while waiting for their voucher approval, six of them children.

Recently, the PA has said it will no longer refer Palestinian patients to Israeli hospitals, accusing Israel of overcharging for medical care and deducting those funds from taxes it collects on behalf of the PA. The PA noted it will continue to send patients from the West Bank to East Jerusalem hospitals, and will also work to send patients to hospitals in neighboring states such as Jordan and Egypt.

While the principal reason behind the dire health care situation in the OPT is the Israeli occupation, Palestinian governance in the West Bank and Gaza Strip also plays a role Click To Tweet

Though international humanitarian law features robust protections for health care in conflict areas, Israeli forces continue to attack hospitals, ambulances, and medical staff in the OPT. The international community has been unsuccessful at preventing such attacks. Little action follows repeated UN resolutions and pleas for assistance by heads of agencies such as Médecins Sans Frontières and the International Committee of the Red Cross. In 2017, the OPT experienced 93 attacks on health care, second only to Syria. In almost all instances, the Israeli military’s response is that the incident was accidental or justified due to terrorist activity.

High-profile cases such as that of Razan Al-Najjar and Tarek Loubani, a Canadian-Palestinian doctor who Israeli forces shot in the leg in May 2018 on the Gaza border, have brought these issues back into the public eye. Human rights groups have also recently documented multiple cases of violence against ambulances and medical workers, as well as raids on health facilities.

During periods of active violence, such as the 2014 war in Gaza, hospitals may be directly bombed. After bombing the Shuhada al-Aqsa Hospital in Gaza, where five people, including three children, were killed, the Israeli authorities justified the attack by claiming there were suspected munitions “stored in the immediate vicinity of the hospital.” The El-Wafa Hospital, with the only dedicated rehabilitation center in Gaza, was obliterated in the same war. Due to restrictions on imports of building materials, the hospital remains destroyed and hospital staff have been providing care by sharing space with a geriatric hospital.

The Role of Local Governance

The principal reason behind the dire health care situation for Palestinians in the OPT is the Israeli occupation. However, Palestinian governance in the West Bank and Gaza Strip also plays a role.

In 2017, financial strain led the Palestinian cabinet to cut a program that had provided health insurance to unemployed citizens since 2000. With an unemployment rate of nearly 30% throughout the OPT, an estimated 250,000 people benefited from the program. In Gaza, families who used to be able to pay for care at private facilities or pay for public health insurance have resorted to applying for exemptions from health insurance payments that cost less than $300 per year for a family of four. Nearly 70,000 such requests were being processed as of February 2018. Data from that year shows that approximately 40% of health financing in the OPT is paid out-of-pocket. As poverty and unemployment rise, especially in Gaza, and the PA contends with constant cuts to aid and strangulation on development, strain on the public health insurance system will grow.

US funding cuts exacerbate the situation. Stakeholders such as the WHO and Medical Aid for Palestinians have indicated they will fill in some of the gaps created by US cuts, but the PA must shift its thinking about its priorities toward its people if the benefits of aid are to reach them.

Of the PA’s $5 billion budget approved for 2018, 30-35% went to the security sector, while only 9% was allocated for health. Of the total budget, $775 million (15.5%) was slated to come from foreign aid, generally divided into security support, funding for UNRWA, and money for USAID projects. Even as the US has made drastic aid cuts, affecting millions of Palestinians’ ability to access medical care, education, and food, Israeli and US officials are scrambling to preserve one piece of the aid package: security. What began as a “security first” arrangement is morphing into a “security only” strategy.

The PA is also facing a growing legitimacy crisis, with 80% of Palestinians in the OPT recently surveyed reporting the belief that PA institutions are corrupt, and more than half (53%) reporting that the PA has become a burden on the Palestinian people. Weak oversight, bribery, embezzlement, nepotism, and other forms of corruption are rampant in social services such as health care. This corruption does not end at the state level. For instance, it is well known that bribes facilitate referrals for medical permits, especially in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinians cannot wait for a political agreement before they are afforded access to safe, high quality, and reliable health care Click To Tweet

Infighting between Hamas and the PA has also led to poor health outcomes. While the PA has accused Israel of leveraging Palestinian social services to force negotiations, in Gaza it is the PA that leverages its position against Hamas. In January 2018, 40% of essential pharmaceuticals in Gaza, a supply that the PA is responsible for maintaining, were depleted. In 2018, the Health Ministry in Gaza along with Palestinian human rights groups warned that medication shortages were at perilous levels and urged the PA’s MoH to “guarantee the free and secure flow” of needed medical goods to Gaza. In response, the PA sent 38 trucks with $4 million in goods. However, sporadic assistance cannot make up for a health system that has long been crippled due to a lack of personnel and goods.

While Israel controls the Erez crossing on Gaza’s northern border, Egypt controls the Rafah crossing in the south. Egypt has also significantly limited who and what is allowed through since the blockade began. While humanitarian cases can apply for permits to cross, in practice there have been many years when the crossing has been closed almost every day, even to medical cases. In 2017, for example, Rafah was only open for 36 days total, preventing all but 1,400 medical patients from crossing. Despite the more frequent reopening of the border since 2018, a waiting list of tens of thousands hoping to cross remains. While Hamas controls no border crossings, it has also leveraged its power for political reasons, including barring entry of goods sent by the Israeli military, such as IV fluids, disinfectants, and fuel, accusing Israel of “trying to improve its black image.”

Strategies to Improve Health Care

With the window for a realistic and just peace process as narrow as it has been in decades, Palestinians cannot wait for a political agreement before they are afforded access to safe, high quality, and reliable health care. There are several areas where action can be immediately taken to support this access.

1. The PA must reject its focus on funding security to funding health by allocating more resources for health care. Its dialogue with donors must be strategic and should include 1) an emphasis on core priorities shared by stakeholders; 2) a focus on building and retaining domestic resources; and 3) an approach that minimizes system inefficiencies and inequities. In this way, the most urgent need – ensuring the robustness of existing medical facilities and encouraging expansion – will become a priority. These strategies can also help the system transcend its current state of responding only on an emergency basis, which impedes it from building capacity that improves population health on measures beyond trauma-related injury and mortality.

2. The UN and other humanitarian agencies must demand full and unadulterated access for all humanitarian goods to the Palestinians. The PA must also put the lives of Palestinians above political machinations and ensure that citizens, especially in Gaza, are provided the medicines and other goods they need to ensure health. For example, the PA can work to exempt medical goods from the Paris Protocol, which ties up the import of needed medical supplies for months as importation is dependent on permits and other forms of clearance.

3. An autonomous agency should be established that monitors PA activities and holds individuals to account for corrupt practices, including in the MoH. Civil society, the media, and local and international advocacy groups should also pressure PA agencies to yield tangible outcomes, such as maintaining stores of essential medications and advocating to reduce the use of “back-to-back” ambulance transfers for patients needing to enter East Jerusalem or Israel.

4. Strategies to minimize the need for patients to travel outside of the country to access care are critical. Medical education within the OPT can reduce physician and nurse shortages with an emphasis on programs for Palestinians who wish to stay and practice within the territory. The MoH, along with organizations such as the International Medical Education Trust, have developed opportunities for e-learning, telemedicine, and specialist training to overcome barriers to movement. Curriculum at some medical schools has integrated technological innovations such as clinical simulations, computer-based tutorials, and video conferencing to connect Palestinian health students and workers with each other and colleagues around the world. These initiatives should be further developed. Palestinians in the diaspora can also be encouraged to provide training or clinical rotations in the OPT to help restore a functional community of Palestinian medical personnel.

5. Global actors should undertake a campaign pressuring Israel to overhaul its opaque medical permit system. Israeli authorities should give an explanation in the event of a permit denial, as well as the opportunity for patients to appeal. Permits should be reviewed efficiently as well. In early 2019, the Israeli human rights organizations Gisha, Physicians for Human Rights, and HaMoked requested that Israel approve medical permit requests more quickly, but the High Court of Justice rejected the petition. This type of effort should continue in line with the WHO position that Israel is obligated to “enable undelayed access 24/7, for all Palestinian patients requiring specialized health care.” Egypt should also allow more humanitarian crossings at the Rafah border in Gaza.

6. Israeli authorities must justify every case of a Palestinian patient or ambulance denied passage at a checkpoint in a transparent system reviewed by an external inspector. A delay or denial at a checkpoint that results in death or disability should be investigated and treated as a potential violation of international humanitarian and human rights law, not a logistical challenge.

7. All parties, from humanitarian agencies to states maintaining relations with Israel, must demand full and independent investigations into attacks on health care that are not led by the Israeli authorities. While attacks on health care are not specific to the OPT, it is significant that the incidence is so high in a situation that is not as defined by active violence, such as in Syria, and that the primary perpetrator is a state actor welcomed by the global community. This may allow for opportunities for unique pressure on Israel to prevent these types of incidents. Moreover, penalties should be exacted on those who transgress the protections afforded to medical infrastructure and personnel.

Though such actions would undoubtedly help support the Palestinian health system and health outcomes, at base the PA must commit to contend with the underlying political causes limiting Palestinians’ access to proper health care. A health care system should not be at the mercy of a military occupier or dependent on external aid and the mercurial motivations and priorities of donors. As long as the Palestinian “quasi-state” model exists, aid dependency for social services is likely. This is an unsustainable and unjust model for a health system. Only through addressing the fundamental inequities and everyday violence of Israel’s occupation can Palestinian health and access to health care truly improve.


  1. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the OPT, and many more cases likely go undiagnosed due to the lack of specialized laboratories for oncology as well as a limited number of diagnostic and imaging facilities, especially for Palestinians unable to receive a medical permit for treatment elsewhere. Only six government hospitals, split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, are equipped to treat cancer patients.

Via Al Shabaka

Al-Shabaka Policy Member Yara Asi received her PhD in Public Affairs from the University of Central Florida, with a concentration in Health Services Management and Research. Her doctoral research assessed quality of life measures in the West Bank and Jordan. Yara’s work looks primarily at health, education, and development in war-affected populations, although she has presented and published on other topics such as food security and food sovereignty in the Palestinian territories, the role of women in humanitarian crises, and foreign aid policy in fragile states. She has also worked with Amnesty International USA and the Palestinian American Research Center on research and outreach.


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

From last Winter: “Electricity shortage may close Palestine’s hospitals l Al Jazeera English”