Al-Shabaka – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Sat, 14 May 2022 02:27:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.7.6 Palestine Beyond Partition and the Nation-State https://www.juancole.com/2022/05/palestine-beyond-partition.html Sat, 14 May 2022 04:08:59 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=204617 By Leila Farsakh | –

( Al-Shabakah ) – In her new edited volume, Rethinking Statehood in Palestine: Self-Determination and Decolonization Beyond Partition, Al-Shabaka policy analyst and Associate Professor of Political Economy at the University of Massachusetts Boston, Leila Farsakh, brings together a diverse group of intellectuals to critically engage with the meaning of Palestinian statehood. By going beyond partition, which fundamentally underpins the two-state solution, Farsakh and the contributing authors show that the components of Palestinian statehood, including citizenship, sovereignty, and nationhood, must be articulated within the context of decolonization.

As Farsakh argues in the book’s introduction: “Decolonizing Palestine would require articulating the components of a new political framework that acknowledges the violence and injustices of the past and the present while prioritizing citizenship rights over territorial sovereignty.” But how can Palestinian self-determination be envisioned outside of the notion of territorial sovereignty and nation-statehood? This, Farsakh points out, is an ongoing question with which Palestinians everywhere will continue to grapple.

A Palestinian man holds a poster with maps of Palestine during a protest commemorating the Nakba day, near the Israeli separation wall in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, May 15, 2016.

With the death of the two-state solution and the failure of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to bring about liberation and justice, how can Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, 1948 territories, and the diaspora reimagine their self-determination outside of the nation-state framework? Which alternatives exist and what are the challenges they might present?

Al-Shabaka sat down with Farsakh to discuss the findings of her groundbreaking book, and to delve into what rethinking Palestinian statehood actually looks like.

Your book examines the trajectory of Palestinian attachment to the state model as a means toward liberation. Why has this attachment persisted, and why is the state model ultimately unable to bring about Palestinian self-determination?

Palestinian attachment to statehood stems from the fact that it affirms the right to self- determination, and thus Palestinians’ right to determine their political destiny and affirm their existence as a nation. Israel has been denying this right since 1948. Statehood became a central goal of the Palestinian national movement after the 1967 war and UN resolution 242 of November 1967. This resolution, which became the basis for peace settlements between Israel and its neighbors, stipulated that Israel retreats from “territories occupied in the recent conflict” in exchange for “acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area.” But the resolution did not mention the Palestinians or any of our rights that are protected by UN resolutions 181 and 194.

Palestinians must articulate how we will devise a new political strategy that unifies our community, including refugees and those living inside 1948 territories Click To Tweet

Then, in 1971, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) defined its goals as the establishment of a Palestinian state inclusive of Christians, Jews, and Muslims within historic Palestine. In doing so, it posited that the only way for Palestinians to return home and liberate their land from Zionist settler-colonialism was through the establishment of a Palestinian nation-state. In this respect, the PLO was not different from most liberation movements in the twentieth century, which associated liberation from colonialism with the creation of independent nation-states.

The Palestinian claim to statehood has been supported by the Arab League since 1974. And both the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and the 2003 Road Map to Peace affirmed that the creation of an independent Palestinian state in the 1967 occupied territories was not only legitimate but the only means to end the so-called Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Leila Farsakh, Rethinking Statehood in Palestine. Click here.

But the failure of the Palestinian state project to bring about liberation stems from two main facts. The first is the PLO’s acquiescence to the partition paradigm, championed by the international community since 1947, as the only means to solve the conflict. In 1988, the PLO gave up its goal of establishing a democratic state in all of Palestine in favor of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza as its symbolic declaration of independence. The second factor lies in Palestinian acceptance of negotiations with Israel on the basis of the 1993 Oslo Accords, instead of confronting Zionism and demanding, in the least, full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories.

This “peace process” reformulated rather than ended Israel’s colonial structure of domination. It allowed Israel to put Gaza under siege for over 15 years and to nearly triple the settler population in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, from 250,000 Jewish Israelis in 1992 to nearly 700,000 in 2020. It also fragmented the Palestinian political entity with the creation of the PA that de facto superseded the PLO, compromising Palestinian liberation and the right of return in the process. The Palestinian state was thus bound to be neither viable nor sovereign, despite being recognized by 138 states.

The different chapters offer alternatives to the state project. What are some of the challenges that Palestinians must overcome in order to bring about a viable alternative to partition?

My book argues that Palestinians need to move away from the partition paradigm, or the two-state solution, in any attempt to fulfill their rights. Some Palestinians believe that the pursuit of statehood should be abandoned altogether, since the state remains, in essence, a violent and repressive political entity. They argue instead that the politics of sumud (resilience on the ground) and grassroots mobilization affirm Palestinian indigeneity. Others, including myself, argue that the alternative lies in redefining the state rather than imagining that it can be transcended. It needs to be contained by making it democratic, inclusive, and accountable to its citizens.

The challenge facing Palestinians lies in defining the shape of the democratic state they want to create and in devising a political strategy to generate local, regional, and international support for it. The challenge in this regard is not only legal or constitutional—defining whether the democratic state in historic Palestine will be a federal, confederal, binational, or unitary state—but, above all, it is political. That is, Palestinians must articulate how we will devise a new political strategy that unifies our community, including refugees and those living inside 1948 territories. We must also articulate the economic, political, and legal steps that need to be taken to dismantle the apartheid colonial structure Israel created in order to build a new political order.

This means that Palestinians need to confront the question of Zionism, rather than abstract it as the Oslo process did, and to explain how Israelis and Palestinians can be equal citizens within a democratic state. There is much to learn from South Africa in this regard, even if it did not resolve the persisting problem of economic inequality. Building a liberated future for Palestine entails dismantling colonial privileges and structures of domination as much as it entails defining the rights of Jews or Israelis who want to remain in Palestine as equal citizens, without stripping them of their identity or compromising the Palestinian right of return, which is protected under international law.

In your chapter, you stress the importance of rearticulating the relationship between the nation and the state. Why do you believe this is important, and what would it signify for statehood across historic Palestine?

Since 1918, when Woodrow Wilson internationalized the concept of self-determination and laid the foundations of a world order composed of nation-states through his Fourteen Points, the nation and the state have been intrinsically linked, when in fact they do not need to be. The nation-state has proven to be problematic, since it is bound to exclude those who do not belong to the nation. It is inevitability discriminatory, especially when it is not democratic and whenever it defines citizenship on the basis of ethnicity rather than territorial residency rights. As Mahmood Mamdani argues, the nation-state is a part and parcel of colonialism. It inevitably produces natives and settlers, and nationals and outsiders, who are unequal in rights and powers.

The only way to decolonize Palestine is…to move away from the nation-state as a model of statehood or a goal of liberation Click To Tweet

The state is fundamentally a juridical and political order that is territorially delineated. The nation, on the other hand, is a more expansive term used to define a body of people with shared characteristics, whether historical, ethnic, cultural, or otherwise. The term nation also encompasses a given people’s right to self-determination. This right does not need to be territorially confined, since sovereignty lies with the people.

The only way to decolonize Palestine is thus to move away from the nation-state as a model of statehood or a goal of liberation. As the experience of the past 30 years has demonstrated, the creation of a truncated Palestinian state within the framework of partition has excluded Palestinian refugees and Palestinian citizens of Israel from the definition of the Palestinian nation. At the same time, such a state is not democratic and cannot protect the citizenship rights of Palestinians in Gaza or the West Bank. Only by collectively constituting a democratic state that ensures the equal rights of all of its citizens, irrespective of their ethnicity, can we guarantee that people’s rights are protected and their freedom ensured.

You also stress the central role that the Palestinian citizens of Israel could play in a future liberation project. Why do you believe it is time for Palestinian citizens of Israel in particular to lead the liberation movement?

The juncture in which the Palestinian cause finds itself today suggests that the Palestinian citizens of Israel are well placed to play a central role in leading the liberation struggle, just as the refugees did in the aftermath of the 1967 war, and as the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza did with the First Intifada in 1987 and during the Oslo process. The Palestinian citizens of Israel can fill this role largely because the two-state solution has failed and the alternative moving forward is the creation of one democratic state in historic Palestine, irrespective of whether or not it will be a binational state. They are the ones who best understand the realities of Israeli political structures. They can thus bridge the gap between Palestinians and Israelis in advancing a one-state solution.

This being said, I do not know if the Palestinian citizens of Israel will, or want to, take the lead in the liberation project. It is also important to remember that all Palestinians have a role to play in their struggle for justice and equality, as the ongoing Unity Intifada has clearly demonstrated.

Your book ultimately shows that Palestinians across historic Palestine and throughout the diaspora must agree on a new and collective national project. What should this project look like and what would it entail for existing Palestinian leadership?

Palestinians across historic Palestine and throughout the diaspora agree on the failure of the two-state solution. While some still argue that the Palestinian state project can be saved by reforming the PA, it is clear by now that the statehood project in the West Bank and Gaza cannot protect Palestinian rights and only serves the interests of a small group of Palestinians comprised of the PA and its cronies, as well as regional and global capitalist investors.

The challenge confronting Palestinians moving forward lies in agreeing on a new, collective national project that transcends partition and that is still politically feasible. Such a project cannot be produced, however, without first reviving the PLO and its institutions, given that it is the only representative political structure that includes all Palestinians inside and outside historic Palestine. For this to happen, a new generation of Palestinians needs to take the reign of the PLO and confront the PA, which has marginalized the PLO and abandoned the liberation project.

Al-Shabaka policy analyst, Leila Farsakh, is Associate Professor and Chair of the political science department at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is the author of Palestinian Labor Migration to Israel: Labour, Land and Occupation (Routledge, 2012), and of Rethinking Statehood in Palestine: Self-determination beyond Partition (California University Press, 2022). She has worked with a number of organizations, including the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris and MAS in Ramallah, and she has been a senior research fellow at Birzeit University since 2008. In 2001, she won the Peace and Justice Award from the Cambridge Peace Commission.

Via Al-Shabakah

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International Law and the Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Movement https://www.juancole.com/2022/03/international-palestinian-apartheid.html Thu, 24 Mar 2022 04:04:13 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=203646 By Rania Muhareb | –

( Al-Shabaka) – The Unity Intifada of May 2021 emphasized the centrality of Palestinian popular mobilization in the struggle against Israel’s settler-colonial apartheid regime. It is imperative that discussions of an anti-apartheid movement in Palestine remain true to the Unity Intifada’s decolonial praxis: to confront Zionism’s “racist settler colonialism in all of Palestine” and to challenge Israel’s fragmentation of the Palestinian people as a tool of domination.

This policy memo examines decolonization in the context of international law and increasing recognition of Israeli apartheid. It offers recommendations for how Palestinians and allies should strategize an effective anti-apartheid movement through legal avenues and posits that an anti-apartheid movement across colonized Palestine and in exile can help Palestinians regain their political agency and reassert their unity.

Strategizing Anti-Apartheid through International Law

Any effective anti-apartheid movement in Palestine must be premised on the long-standing Palestinian rejection of Zionism as a racist and settler-colonial project. For decades, Palestinians have been centering decolonization in their struggle for liberation. Indeed, without a vision for decolonization, scholars have warned that an anti-apartheid struggle can, at best, achieve a “restructuring” of the regime rather than its dismantlement.

However, recent human rights reports by international and Israeli groups largely disregard the legacy of Palestinians’ decolonial struggle. As a result, they advance liberal conceptions of equality at the expense of strategizing decolonization through legal avenues. And while international law prohibits apartheid as racial discrimination, a crime against humanity, and a serious breach giving rise to third-state responsibility, it does not criminalize colonialism per se.

While international law is limited in its confrontation of colonialism, it remains a valuable tool that should not be overlooked. Namely, international law prohibits key elements of the Zionist settler-colonial project, including population transfer, apartheid, annexation, and the acquisition of territory by force; it further enshrines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and Palestinian refugees’ right of return. A Palestinian anti-apartheid movement must strategically deploy these legal norms to confront Israel’s state criminality and its violations of international law.

Palestinian civil society campaigns have achieved a growing recognition of Israeli apartheid within the UN human rights system, including by member states of the Human Rights Council. Additionally, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has found that Israeli policies targeting Palestinians across colonized Palestine violate the prohibition on racial segregation and apartheid, as submitted by a Palestinian-led civil society coalition.

On May 27, 2021, against the backdrop of the Unity Intifada, the Human Rights Council established its first ever Commission of Inquiry into “all underlying root causes” of Palestinian oppression, including “systematic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity.” This investigatory body is unprecedented in its mandate and scope; it covers all of colonized Palestine and constitutes one of the most important avenues for campaigning and advocacy against Israel’s settler-colonial apartheid regime. The Commission of Inquiry is expected to submit its first report to the Human Rights Council in June 2022, and at present, welcomes submissions on the root causes of systematic discrimination across historic Palestine.

Furthermore, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has jurisdiction over the crime of apartheid as part of its ongoing investigation into the situation in Palestine. The crime of apartheid has never been prosecuted internationally or at the domestic level. And although the ICC’s jurisdiction in Palestine is limited geographically and temporally, there is strategic value in pursuing accountability for Israel’s crime of apartheid at the ICC.

While popular mobilization by Palestinians across colonized Palestine and in exile will ultimately be key to Palestinian liberation, international law can help to advance this effort by building external pressure and generating tangible consequences for Israel’s ongoing crimes. The apartheid framework offers an avenue for accountability and enables Palestinians to challenge Israel’s fragmentation and build a united struggle.

Recommendations

To strategize a Palestinian anti-apartheid movement and hold Israeli perpetrators accountable for the crime of apartheid against the Palestinian people, Palestinians and allies should:

  • Support and expand civil society campaigns calling for effective measures to counter Israel’s settler-colonial apartheid regime, including through divestment and sanctions.
  • Urge the UN General Assembly to restore anti-apartheid mechanisms, particularly the Special Committee against Apartheid, to address Israel’s crime of apartheid.
  • Expand the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine to include the Palestinian people as a whole, comprising human rights violations on both sides of the Green Line and against Palestinians in exile.
  • Pursue Israeli perpetrators for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the ICC, including for the crimes of apartheid and population transfer.
  • Call on third states to activate universal jurisdiction mechanisms to prosecute perpetrators of the crime of apartheid in their courts.
  • Demand that the latest UN Commission of Inquiry recognize Israeli apartheid and Zionist settler-colonialism as the root causes of Palestinian oppression.

Rania Muhareb is an Irish Research Council and Hardiman PhD Scholar at the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Her PhD research examines the relevance of the apartheid framework to the Palestinian struggle for decolonization. Between 2017 and 2020, she worked as a legal researcher and advocacy officer with the Palestinian human right organization Al-Haq. Rania holds an LLM in international human rights and humanitarian law from the European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder) and an undergraduate degree from Sciences Po Paris.

Via Al-Shabaka

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Challenging Israel’s Climate Apartheid in Palestine https://www.juancole.com/2022/02/challenging-apartheid-palestine.html Tue, 08 Feb 2022 05:08:28 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=202863 By Muna Dajani | –

( Al-Shabakah ) – Through its participation in the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) and other international forums, the Palestinian Authority (PA) continues to promote a state-centric approach to climate change that ultimately blocks legitimate climate and environmental justice in Palestine. In effect, Palestinian leadership has reduced the Palestinian liberation struggle – inherently a struggle for climate and environmental justice – to a failed state-building project since the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Justice is rarely addressed in these international conventions and forums, leaving Palestinians confined to the logic of international donors who seek to manage the occupation instead of pressuring Israel to end it. The normalization and depoliticization of Israel’s climate apartheid characterize the existing approach to addressing Palestine’s climatic and environmental issues, and they must be countered by Palestinians and international climate justice advocates alike.

Normalizing and Depoliticizing Climate Apartheid

In Palestine, the peacebuilding framework has shaped cooperation programs that depoliticize environmental and climate issues, and thus, fail to disrupt Israel’s settler colonial practices. Indeed, donor-funded initiatives like EcoPeace and the Arava Institute have for years used slogans such as “the environment knows no borders” and “bringing people together.” Fundamentally, these initiatives only serve to disregard what is clearly a situation of climate apartheid, and to promote climate change as yet another arena where cooperation and dialogue are the answer in lieu of radical political change.

Palestinian environmental organizations and their allies have long criticized these initiatives for normalizing and legitimizing the Israeli occupation under the guise of sustainable development, trust-building, and greening the environment. They have highlighted that by normalizing and depoliticizing climate change, these initiatives promote the idea that environmental issues can be solved with technology and market-based incentives alone.

Climate change, however, is not a natural phenomenon; it is compounded by political and economic decisions. In the case of Palestine, the effects of climate change are influenced and exacerbated by Israeli settler colonialism and theft of natural resources. But rather than support Palestinians in their struggle to secure their water rights, for example, the EU and other international donors have for decades emphasized the potential of technical solutions to increase water availability and resolve “water scarcity” in Palestine.

Under the current climate change financing mechanisms, this damaging discourse prevails. For example, the Green Climate Fund, a multilateral financial mechanism of the UNFCCC, is currently supporting a five-year project focused on increasing water availability for sustainable agriculture in Gaza through the use of treated wastewater. This is another techno-fix that disregards and normalizes the political reality that Gaza faces due to Israel’s crippling blockade and siege, which in turn isolates it from the rest of Palestine in natural resources and geographical continuity.

These practices also affect Arabs outside of the West Bank and Gaza. In ratifying the Paris Agreement, Israel has committed to a 25% reduction of its 2005 greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and aims to achieve this goal by developing green energy projects in the occupied Golan Heights and the Naqab desert, among other areas. Syrian residents of the Golan (Jawlanis) face threats to their access to land and water due to an Israeli plan to develop a large-scale wind project on what remains of Jawlani agricultural lands. And as of January 2022, Israel is uprooting Palestinians from their homes and lands in the Naqab as part of a project to flatten dunes and plant trees. This greenwashing perpetuates the depoliticization and normalization of what is fundamentally Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

Recommendations

The 2021 Unity Intifada brought renewed efforts among Palestinians to challenge their forced fragmentation. Similarly, the Palestinian environment transcends geopolitical boundaries, and thus, climate change across Palestine must be understood as an inherently political reality defined by decades of Israeli settler colonialism and theft of natural resources.

Re-politicizing the climate and environment, and challenging discourses of peacebuilding and collaboration are crucial steps in centering climate justice within Palestinian popular mobilization. To do so:

  • The donor community should cease support for green normalization projects that ignore the political reality and power disparities between Palestinians and Israelis.
  • Palestinian leadership and the donor community should instead invest in the justice-based advocacy of Palestinian civil society organizations, such as PENGON and Al Haq, which are raising awareness and mobilizing for intersectional environmental, water, and climate justice.
  • Palestinian climate justice advocates should challenge the techno-managerial approaches of international forums like COP and its related climate funding mechanisms.
  • Local and international climate change activists should focus on addressing historical climate and environmental injustices in Palestine in order to hold Israel accountable for its theft of Palestinians’ natural resources.
  • Palestinian leadership and the international community should support the mobilization of local, national, and international resources to pressure Israel to acknowledge and commit to adhering to Palestinian’s water and land rights.
Muna Dajani

Dr. Muna Dajani holds a PhD from the Department of Geography and Environment at the London School of Economics (LSE). Her research focuses on documenting water struggles in agricultural communities under settler colonialism. She is a Senior Research Associate at the Lancaster Environment Centre (LEC) where she works on a project entitled “Transformations to Groundwater Sustainability” (T2GS), exploring grassroots initiatives of intergenerational holistic groundwater governance. She has contributed to numerous studies on the hydropolitics of the Jordan and Yarmouk River Basins. She also co-led a collaboration project documenting the story of the occupation of the Syrian Golan through developing an online knowledge portal featuring collective memories of the popular struggle that took place there.

Via Al-Shabakah

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What does Liberation Mean for Israeli-Occupied Palestinians: A Vision of Health and Education https://www.juancole.com/2021/12/liberation-palestinians-education.html Thu, 16 Dec 2021 05:04:09 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=201813 By Yara Asi | –

( Al-Shabaka ) – The Palestinian health and education sectors have been neglected by Palestinian authorities and the donor community. How can Palestinians collectively develop these sectors with a vision for liberation? Al-Shabaka’s US policy fellow, Yara Asi, examines this question and offers recommendations based on interviews she conducted with Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, behind the Green Line, and in the diaspora.

What is the Palestinian vision for development that would bring about liberation and free Palestinians of donor-imposed conditions and restrictions? A diverse group of 19 Palestinian scholars, activists, teachers, engineers, lawyers, doctors, shopkeepers, construction workers, and students in the West Bank, Gaza, behind the Green Line (Palestinian citizens of Israel), and in the diaspora were interviewed to answer this question.

While they differed in many ways, nearly all brought up the same concern: there is currently no vision for Palestinians, and without a vision, it is hard to imagine a future different than the current reality in which development and aid are conditional on Palestinian authorities’ adherence to the requirements of the international donor community. Indeed, since the 1993 Oslo Accords, the model of development in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza has prioritized donors’ political agendas over the rights and needs of the Palestinians. This lack of vision can lead to apathy and disconnection. As one interviewee lamented, “It turns into a loathing of country in a way—at a certain point, you ask, why do I need to be tied to this place so much if I can’t survive, let alone thrive?”1

In these interviews, barriers to and possibilities for locally-led development were explored in the health and education sectors. Health is a fundamental human need and right, and a population that struggles to procure basic health services is unlikely to have the mental and physical capacity for the critical work needed for liberation. Education, also a human right, is similar: an educated population is best poised to think deeply and creatively about problems presented as intractable. The sectors are also interrelated: a healthy population is best able to be educated, and an educated population is more likely to be healthy. Lastly, these sectors are overlooked by Palestinian authorities, who grossly overspend on the security sector; investment in health and education has thus stagnated in recent years.

The results of these interviews and the subsequent analysis are presented in two forms in this policy brief: a narrative exploration of the themes, followed by practical steps that could be taken by Palestinians within the West Bank and Gaza without external actors, all punctuated with quotations from the interviews. The brief does not discount the role of occupation, siege, trauma, and lack of accountability in perpetuating the poor outcomes for Palestinians. Further, it does not overlook the multiple layers of internal Palestinian dysfunction, including corruption, nepotism, and economic dependence that prevent Palestinian leadership from prioritizing the Palestinian people’s needs. Instead, it aims to restore agency to the Palestinians in wrestling with these ongoing realities; they need to decide their future independently and collectively.

A Palestinian Approach to Health and Education

Health

A college student in Gaza said during an interview: “It is terrifying to realize at some point that I could die because of the corrupted health care system. A disease that any country could deal with, my country cannot.” This is the state of the Palestinian health system which came under the administration of the Israeli Ministry of Defense in 1967 until the Palestinian Ministry of Health (MoH) was established with the 1993 Oslo Accords.

The (Palestinian) Ministry of Health inherited a broken system that remains fragmented to this day Click To Tweet

The MoH inherited a broken system that remains fragmented to this day. With donor support, the MoH has been able to boast of quantitative improvements in areas like vaccination rates and life expectancy, despite being divided into two ministries in the West Bank and Gaza because of the political rift between Fatah and Hamas. Regarding social determinants of health, however, there remains a significant gap between what is needed and what is available. The interviews revealed three themes that limit internal development in Palestinian health across the West Bank and Gaza: 1) dependence/outsourcing for many health services, 2) an overly paternalistic and medicalized healthcare establishment, and 3) lack of opportunities for a future in medicine.

All of the medical or public health professionals interviewed first mentioned external dependence and outsourcing as one of the main barriers to Palestinian health, and as both a cause and a result of a lack of Palestinian development in the health sector. Many of the causes of outsourcing are a result of Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinian people and goods. One retired physician who worked in Nablus pointed to the lack of specialization in the West Bank and Gaza, despite some Palestinians being trained abroad: “You cannot attract people with expertise. Highly trained Palestinians who try to come back end up leaving. They get paid more and enjoy higher quality of life elsewhere. We tried to find a pediatric cardiac surgeon—nearly impossible.” While the reasons for this brain drain differ across the fragmented geography of colonized Palestine, the resulting gaps left in the healthcare system have the same negative effects.

There are many specializations missing entirely, and not due to lack of interest. “There are people who want to specialize or serve in administrative medical roles—but how and where will you train to be a neurosurgeon?” the retired physician asked. Another interviewee described an NGO initiative to hire physicians during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they were almost entirely without specializations and some even without experience. Thus, they have been unable to serve those who require more than the basic standard of care.

As a result, even lab tests are sent to Israel for processing. This outsourcing includes the medical permit system, which has entrenched a dependence on the Israeli medical system, run by the Israeli military but paid for by Palestinian authorities. This system has resulted in significant health inequities and poor outcomes, especially for Palestinians in Gaza. Ultimately, dependence begets dependence, and Palestinian authorities and the donor community continually fail to push for Palestinian health sovereignty because of the cushion of outsourcing.

The character of the Palestinian medical establishment was also widely criticized. In the creation of the current MoH during Oslo, indigenous medicine was disparaged and the health system that was created was built to reflect the western health systems that resembled those of its donors: efficiency over quality, capitalist over collectivist, and paternalistic over inclusive. As one physician described, “Prior to Oslo, the atmosphere was ‘we are under occupation, we are in the same boat, no discrimination.’ People helped each other. There was more compassion. Now, there is competition and exploitation, even in health. Hospitals are there to make money. In the old days, specialists would volunteer. That atmosphere is gone.”

The system is also highly biomedical, and rarely considers psychosocial aspects of health outside of several local organizations that work to support mental health and functioning. A graduate student in health policy mentioned that the health system “does not recognize the legitimacy of public health and epidemiology. It is not holistic. Once a year, there is a lot of advocacy around breast cancer awareness. This is essentially public health in Palestine. It says nothing about wellness. Is this a well society? No.”

The lack of medical professionals was also cited as a significant issue, especially in Gaza. “We do not have even the most basic elements of making sure we have a healthcare system that will outlive the current generation of doctors,” one interviewee warned. Doctors who work in the public sector run the risk of pay cuts or long periods with no pay, so those who are able find work in the private sector. One interviewee described a joint program between a high-ranking medical school in the US and Al-Quds University. Only one of the participants returned to Palestine; they were unable to find a residency and are currently working as a nurse. As the interviewee noted, “Everyone is looking for a position in the West.”

Dependence begets dependence, and Palestinian authorities and the donor community continually fail to push for Palestinian health sovereignty because of the cushion of outsourcing Click To Tweet

In recent years, the field of global health has engaged in difficult conversations about decolonization. One interviewee suggested that Palestine, more than any other place, could serve as a model of that movement in global health, as it has for other decolonization and liberation movements in the past. While the realities of occupation limit Palestinian health in unique ways, there are initiatives that could begin to build a healthier populace and a more responsive health system, including:

  • Emphasizing preventive and holistic wellness—including mental and physical health, children’s health, women’s health, and the health of people with disabilities— to bring health and well-being back into community spaces. This would decrease dependence on advanced health services only available outside of the West Bank and Gaza, and would encourage hiring a more diverse and representative workforce.
  • Reforming medical education to reflect the realities of where these doctors will work. Trauma medicine, and even advanced training for first responders and emergency medical technician (EMTs), could reduce mortality for Palestinians injured as a result of Israeli state or settler violence. Emphasis on training in mental health and social determinants of health should also be provided across health education, including prioritizing the retention of medical specialists. There should also be greater training for nurses, midwives, occupational and physical therapists, and community health workers to ensure local care is available at a high quality, even in times of restricted movement. Telehealth and texting services could also be adopted for medical triage purposes in times of restricted movement or for providing information and services about sensitive topics like domestic abuse and mental health struggles.
  • Incentivizing Palestinian doctors and other medical personnel who train abroad to return to practice medicine by guaranteeing them a secure job and salary. Further incentives should be provided if they are then able to themselves train medical students in Palestine. Recognizing the challenges presented by professional brain drain, state funding, and donor resources should be specifically earmarked for this purpose.
  • Engaging with the medical establishment, including the MoH in the West Bank and Gaza, to develop a new and independent model for Palestinian medicine, public health, and wellness. This would engage stakeholders outside of the calcified health system who can advocate for underserved populations, and, importantly, decrease Palestinian dependence on Israeli and foreign health systems.

Education

The importance of education was emphasized by all interviewees, and indeed, education is traditionally highly valued in Palestinian society. However, some pointed to the cynical reality of this perspective, which, in recent years, has led to a highly educated Palestinian society with very few opportunities for employment or continued education. Four themes emerged as the primary barriers to the development of a “liberation education” in the West Bank and Gaza: 1) outdated approaches to pedagogy, 2) outsized influence by donors, 3) a view of education primarily as a path to employment, and 4) opposition to reform within the governing bodies of the West Bank and Gaza.

The Palestinian education system is built upon the remnants of the Egyptian and Jordanian systems during their occupations of Gaza and the West Bank, respectively, from 1948 to 1967. Even during the initial decades of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and prior to the Oslo Accords, these systems remained in place, but under the authority of the Israeli Civil Administration. Jordanian and Egyptian curricula were still used, but they were subject to heavy censorship, and schools experienced regular closures and attacks. The Palestinian education system, from primary school to higher education, lagged significantly as it was devalued by Israel, pushing many Palestinians to seek menial labor in Israel.

A formal Palestinian Ministry of Education (MoE) was formed when the Palestinian Authority (PA) was created in 1994. Without sovereignty, it inherited a weak education system, yet it did make significant curricular changes and revitalized school facilities with the heavy financial support of donors. Under the purview of the MoE (which, like the MoH, is split between the Hamas-run government in Gaza and the Fatah-led PA in the West Bank), literacy and enrollments in school have increased, similar to the quantitative advances made in the health sector. Yet there remains a large chasm between the education system that exists and a system that can support meaningful improvements in Palestinian life.

Interviewees, most of whom went through the Palestinian education system themselves, criticized the “laziness” of Palestinian authorities when it comes to educational reform, especially in the early years of the Oslo period. Many disagreed with the memorization/regurgitation model of primary and secondary education, culminating in the tawjihi, a placement exam taken at the end of a student’s schooling, based on the Jordanian system. Not a single interviewee defended this model, pointing out that it perpetuates class divides and creates immense pressure on students and their families, resulting in social shame if a student is unsuccessful. While students in private schools may be afforded other opportunities or can afford specialized tutoring, a poor showing on the tawjihi can be especially detrimental for students attending public schools.

There remains a large chasm between the education system that exists and a system that can support meaningful improvements in Palestinian life Click To Tweet

The tawjihi does not reward creative or innovative thinking, but a student’s ability to perform on a very technical exam in a tight time period. Only students who score well on the tawjihi may then apply to top-ranked programs at universities, like medicine and engineering. This poses another problem, as one interviewee described: “The smartest students are not necessarily the ones who do best on the tawjihi, and suddenly, their whole future and standing in the community is determined by this one exam.”

Aside from lack of vision, several interviewees speculated that Palestinian authorities are also too concerned with the response of the international community to make meaningful reforms to education. This brings us to the next barrier, which is an education system that is heavily skewed by donor interference. “Education can and should focus on liberation, struggle, and history—donors want to focus on jobs,” one interviewee argued. This includes intervention in the curriculum itself. “There are people in Palestine who can create the curriculum, but Palestinians are not free to decide what topics or themes should be taught,” another interviewee mentioned.

Palestinian textbook content is often attacked by Zionist groups, so donors are wary about any perceived “political content” in textbooks and schools they support. One example recounted by an interviewee was when textbooks in Gaza that featured the Arabic names of primarily Palestinian cities in territories behind the Green Line had to be changed due to donor demand. Donor intervention in education has also accelerated this push to a focus on individual over collective values. As one former public-school student described it, “don’t expect the state to provide you with services. You need to sustain yourself economically.”

This brings us to higher education. The current and former college professors interviewed noted that university education is not as rigorous as it should be or used to be and is highly centered on lectures over more innovative teaching methods. As one professor said, “It is not focused on motivating young people—sending them home with different ideas, opportunities for field work, or opinion polls—there is no emphasis on getting them to critically engage with the material.”

Another professor interviewed who worked in a Palestinian university before the First Intifada lamented the shift that occurred during his time in the academy: “In the 1980s, there was some approach to critical thinking. We wanted the university to not just be a place to regurgitate information. In the 1990s, the universities started to resemble the broader ‘Arab university’ where the political authority had a say in things.” He observed that many of the “best and brightest” students and professors began to leave for opportunities abroad, and that degrees from the US or Europe began to be more highly valued than those from Palestinian or even other Arab institutions.

The other issue is the view of education, and especially higher education, as primarily a path to employment, despite significant evidence to the contrary. This has led to more individualistic and neoliberal values that were less present in the early years of occupation, and it has also stifled creativity. One interviewee questioned: “What is the purpose of education? We went from an education designed around liberation, freedom, and empowerment to an education that teaches students how to get jobs that don’t exist in Palestine.”

With this in mind, many pointed to the reality that Palestine lacks workers in certain crafts or trades, but there are limited vocational educational opportunities to fill these employment gaps. Several interviewees also commented on the lack of creativity in extracurricular experiences and how that stifles meaningful development. “There are no green spaces, no places to express yourself, no area for inspiration, and no organization. It wears on people,” one interviewee lamented.

The top universities in Palestine, like Birzeit, used to function as fertile grounds for political awakening and critical thinking. Now, as many interviewees described, unchallenged political appointments within institutions, overt interference from boards of trustees and other non-academic entities, and frustration among faculty and staff that nothing gets done “without knowing the right people,” have pushed universities to limit their contributions to the community. “The university should influence the society,” one academic insisted. “Instead, the city came to run the university,” whereby universities became limited by the politics of governing bodies. Moreover, when students do become politically active and engaged, or think creatively and challenge norms, they risk arrest, detention, or imprisonment by Palestinian or Israeli forces.

This leads to the final barrier: opposition to educational reform by Palestinian authorities at any level of schooling. This was expressed by one of the interviewees: “The PA does not want students to think critically or understand basic knowledge about their history and identity, so many Palestinian young people are really disoriented.” As with the health system, Palestinian authorities pride themselves on the quantitative improvements made in literacy and enrollment, but they “don’t go beyond that when it comes to education.” Another interviewee pointed out the deliberate de-development of Palestinian education by the PA: “The education system is what it is because the PA is a colonial tool. It may make reforms, but it is never going to be revolutionary.”

The impact of occupation has been highly detrimental throughout all levels of the Palestinian education system. Many of the deficits recognized above are exacerbated by Israeli movement restrictions, which limit the recruitment of faculty and other needed professionals, the ability of students to engage with diverse speakers or travel across their territory for events, and overall opportunities for critical engagement. Yet there are areas where internal transformation is possible:

  • Palestinian leadership must invest in curricular development that restores a sense of agency among students, modeled after approaches such as abolitionist education and the community education practiced during the First Intifada. This means challenging donor perspectives on what should be taught, shifting from the traditional memorization model to include reflection and application on practical and relevant issues, and reforming or entirely eliminating the tawjihi. The education system must be inclusive, it must incorporate lived experience, and it must raise the consciousness of the individual.
  • Communities should supplement traditional education cultural education, including plays, talks and debates, olive harvesting events, traditional dance troupes and bands, and so on, to rebuild collective thinking, strengthen Palestinian identity in younger generations, and offer outlets for creative expression.
  • Concerted efforts should be made to create legitimate and credible content on social media to engage youth with their history and identity. As one interviewee said, “Facebook is the main space for news, knowledge, and education.”
  • Palestinian leadership should invest in vocational and non-traditional schooling and push donors to meet existing educational gaps. This would allow for Palestinians to meet the professional needs of society while increasing employment that helps to retain social capital. The West Bank and Gaza need plumbers, electricians, mechanics, cosmetologists, and other specialists who do not require a college education. This would also create space for blue collar work that is not dependent on labor in Israel.
  • Palestinian leadership and civil society should incentivize and encourage Palestinians who go abroad for education or training to return and work in Palestine, even if temporarily. Material and non-material incentives should be offered to nationals to come back and work as a form of “public service,” as one interviewee described.

Palestine as a Model for Liberation

The idea that Palestine could not merely change but could serve as a center for a new kind of liberation was a hopeful note that arose in several interviews: “We should be the ones to solve these kinds of problems internally and ‘sell’ our solutions abroad.” But is it reasonable to put the burden of development on a colonized, occupied people? Many of the interviewees wrestled with this question. The consensus, however, was that meaningful change is not going to come from the outside and that Palestinians must have a clear and collective vision for their future in order for the change to occur. As one interviewee poignantly said, “When people know where they are heading, they will amaze you with their sacrifice. When they do not know where they are heading, they will not lift a finger.”

In terms of future visioning, one interviewee asked: “Is the goal to create development and an economy around survival or to create an economy and development process aimed at liberation? If it is liberation, you have to know that you are not going to be as economically comfortable.” In the end, “something will happen,” as one interviewee put it. “This wheel will break, and we have to be ready. We need to create something completely new— a new national movement. We are living in a new age with new technology and a new kind of economy. Palestinians are everywhere, and we need to think creatively.”

  1. Some quotations in this brief were lightly edited to account for translation and readability.

Dr. Yara M. Asi is a Post-Doctoral scholar at the University of Central Florida, where she has taught in the Department of Health Management and Informatics for more than 6 years. She is a 2020-2021 Fulbright US Scholar to the West Bank. Her research focuses on global health and development in fragile and conflict-affected populations. Along with working at one of the first accountable care organizations in the United States, she has also worked with Amnesty International USA, the Arab Center Washington DC, the Palestinian American Research Center, and Al-Shabaka: Palestinian Policy Network on policy and outreach issues. She has presented on topics related to global health, food security, health informatics, and women in healthcare, and has published extensively her research in journal articles, book chapters, and other outlets. Dr. Asi’s forthcoming book with Johns Hopkins University Press about the threats war and conflict pose to public health and human security.

Via Al-Shabaka

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Palestinian dispossession by Israel and the Sham of the 30-year “Peace Process” https://www.juancole.com/2021/11/palestinian-dispossession-process.html Tue, 02 Nov 2021 04:06:02 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=200972 By Inès Abdel Razek | –

( Al-Shabakah) – The so-called Middle East Peace Process has ensured Palestinians’ oppression by a military regime bent on settler-colonial expansion. How has the bilateral negotiations framework consolidated Israel’s hegemony over the Palestinians, and how has Israel maintained it? Al-Shabaka policy analyst, Inès Abdel Razek, explores these questions and more, and offers recommendations to the international community for supporting Palestinian liberation.

Thirty years ago, representatives of the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) met in Madrid to start bilateral negotiations. Purportedly meant to bring about a just and peaceful future in the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River, the so-called Middle East Peace Process (MEPP), conceived at the meeting, has instead consolidated a dire reality for Palestinians of permanent occupation by a nuclear military power with an ever-expanding settler-colonial enterprise.

Over the course of the last 30 years, the main western sponsors of the MEPP, namely the US and EU, have repeatedly introduced political initiatives under the guise of “peacebuilding” rather than pushing for a solution to end decades of exile, subjugation, and occupation. Most recently, in 2020, former US president Donald Trump introduced the so-called Peace to Prosperity plan, which ultimately secured Israel’s interests through a series of normalization agreements with several Arab states. Yet the fundamental issues at stake, namely, the defense of Palestinian rights from an ongoing military occupation and exile, have remained absent from western brokers’ agendas.

This policy brief aims to outline the key reasons why the very framing of direct bilateral negotiations, which is based on the liberal negotiation theory that underpins the MEPP between Israelis and Palestinians, is thoroughly iniquitous and doomed to fail. The brief argues that, in fact, the MEPP has only served to consolidate Israel’s settler-colonial enterprise and entrench its domination over the Palestinians. It offers recommendations for how the international community can support Palestinians in their struggle for liberation through a framework that goes beyond negotiations and “peace talks.”

Liberal Negotiation Theory in the Context of Military Occupation

Liberal negotiation has dominated US foreign policy in the post-Cold War era. In this context, the MEPP was put forward as the ultimate example of solving intractable political crises. The liberal negotiation framework, however, is fraught with challenges within the context of liberation struggle under military occupation, ultimately leading to its failure:

1. The MEPP lacks mutual terms of reference, and is not based in good faith

For any meaningful negotiation to be able to achieve a fair solution, there needs to be mutual interest in reaching a deal between two equal parties. This is known as “negotiating in good faith,” and requires a commonly agreed upon basis for reaching an outcome.

In extending an invitation to Palestinians and Israelis to attend the Madrid conference in 1991, the US made it clear that it was prepared to assist them in reaching an agreement based on UN Security Council Resolution 242. This resolution set the parameters for a “two-state solution,” and the terms of reference for the bilateral negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

The PLO … traded the Palestinian liberation struggle for a limited form of self-rule within the homeland, completely besieged by, and dependent on, Israel Click To Tweet

The Israeli government only agreed to go to the negotiating table with the PLO for two overarching reasons. First, it was due to the leverage created by Palestinian resistance during the First Intifada, which put the Palestinian struggle for self-determination on the world map and forced Israel to respond. As former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin infamously put it, “There were only so many bones I could break.”

Second, Israel was under pressure from former US president George Bush, who withheld $10 billion in loan guarantees that Israel was seeking in order to absorb tens of thousands of Soviet Jewish settlers to Israel (they would eventually be settled mainly in West Bank settlements). Indeed, this is one of the only times the US exerted conditional pressure on Israel in exchange for simply showing up to the negotiation table.

During the 20 months after Madrid, Palestinians and Israelis held nine additional rounds of talks in Washington, D.C. They also began secret, back-channel talks in Oslo in January 1993, as the formal negotiations stalled. To this day, the Oslo Accords, which include the 1993 Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements (Oslo I)—with the Israel-PLO letter of recognition as preamble—and the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement (Oslo II), are the only existing documented outcome of the bilateral negotiations.

Yet, from the outset of talks in 1991 to the signing of the Oslo Accords and what followed, it was already evident that a two-state solution was not the basis from which Israeli representatives were working. Rather, it was clear that they envisioned a limited form of Palestinian autonomy as demonstrated in the 1967 Allon Plan and the 1978 Drobles Plan, which laid the foundations for the settlement enterprise. Rabin affirmed this vision in his 1995 speech to the Knesset regarding the Oslo Accords; while promoting the framework of a two-state solution, he announced that the “permanent solution” would include “the establishment of blocs of settlements in Judea and Samaria.”

Indeed, to this day, Israel has not recognized Palestinians’ existence as a national group, which would acknowledge their right to self-determination. In the 1993 letter of recognition, while the PLO recognized “the right of the State of Israel to exist” and accepted Resolution 242 despite its vague language regarding the Nakba, refugee rights, and the status of Jerusalem, Israel only recognized the PLO as the “legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”

Furthermore, the negotiations process failed to set international human rights standards as a basis, and the Oslo Accords did not reference international law. As a result, Israel carefully managed to avoid any term of reference that could hold it accountable for the violation of Palestinians’ fundamental rights. To this day, Israel has never recognized the West Bank and Gaza as occupied. Instead, it claims that these are “disputed territories,” thus refusing the application of the 4th Geneva Convention.

Within this framework, the Palestinian Authority (PA), born out of the Oslo Accords, has been specifically designed to play a counterinsurgency role in pacifying and controlling Palestinians instead of leading them to freedom and sovereignty. The PLO thus traded the Palestinian liberation struggle for a limited form of self-rule within the homeland, completely besieged by, and dependent on, Israel. What was meant to be a political process where Palestinians would secure their liberation through bilateral negotiations, has in fact turned into a mechanism for entrenching Israel’s military occupation with a Palestinian ruling class committed to maintaining the status quo, thereby squashing any form of resistance that would disrupt their limited grip on power.

As Edward Said put it in 1993: “To its discredit, Oslo did little to change the situation. [Former PA president Yasser] Arafat and his dwindling number of supporters were turned into enforcers of Israeli security, while Palestinians were made to endure the humiliation of dreadful and non-contiguous ‘homelands’ that make up about 10 percent of the West Bank and 60 percent of Gaza.”

Not only did Said describe the bad faith on the part of the Israelis, he also recognized that the PLO had capitulated to watered down autonomy. While the international community and PA continue to lament that the “two-state solution” is dying, or has indeed already died, the option of a Palestinian state never existed in the first place. The negotiations framework ensured this.

2. MEPP negotiations are imbalanced, with no clear timeline

It was clear from the beginning that Israel was never ready to accept Resolution 242 as the basis of an outcome of the MEPP. Instead, it was ready to leverage an interim period as a permanent process to enable its continued settler-colonial enterprise. That is, the Declaration of Principles of the Oslo Accords was designed to hold first talks on arrangements for a five-year interim self-government, and, once these arrangements were in place, Resolution 242 could form the basis for reaching a final status agreement regarding the core issues—water, refugees, and Jerusalem. But the framework only laid general guidelines for future negotiations without a mechanism in case of failure of the interim period.

Without a clear timeline or incentives for Israel to concede to any of the “final status” issues, Israel focused on leveraging the interim period, dragging out negotiations as a permanent process. This has allowed Israel to continue construction of illegal settlements, including throughout the period of Oslo negotiations. In liberal negotiation terms, Israel understood that its best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA)—what it could maintain or gain if negotiations failed or never concluded—would be superior to any offer Palestinians and brokers could make.

It is … unfathomable—indeed, absurd—to expect Palestinians to negotiate their freedom and fundamental rights while Israel continues colonization and entrenching apartheid as a fait accompli Click To Tweet

On their end, Palestinian negotiators were ill-equipped and ill-prepared to guarantee any of their demands were met. Khalil Tafakji, renowned Palestinian cartographer who made “the maps speak,” recounts in his book how he was brought in by Arafat and Palestinian negotiators as a technician during the period of Oslo negotiations in 1993. Tafakji explains how he tried to expose to them the reality of the negotiations: “I don’t know if someone promised you would have a State, but I am speaking starting from the maps, and if we look at the maps, there is no Palestinian State […] you have nothing.”

As he recalls, his assessment, alongside other experts’, was dismissed by the Palestinian leadership that went ahead in signing the agreement irrespective of Tafakji’s maps showing brazen Israeli colonial expansion. In the end, Tafakji was right: the Oslo Accords further fragmented Palestinian territory into Areas A, B, and C, facilitating Israel’s hegemony over Palestine.

In 2011, Al Jazeera leaked over 1,600 secret documents pertaining to negotiations from 1999 to 2010. The papers confirmed that Palestinian negotiators made several concessions without any transparency, inclusion, or buy-in from the Palestinian people. As one of the negotiators who helped leak the papers recalled: “The ‘peace negotiations’ were a deceptive farce, whereby biased terms were unilaterally imposed by Israel and systematically endorsed by the US and EU capitals.”

Despite expiring in 1999, and despite many empty threats by the PLO to rescind them, the Oslo Accords remain the only framework in place dictating the political, institutional, and economic dynamics between Palestinian leadership and Israel.

3. The MEPP lacks an honest third-party broker or mechanism for accountability

The US has assumed the role of a third-party broker in the MEPP, though it could never be honest given its long-standing and unbridled military and diplomatic support for Israel. The US has not only failed to hold Israel accountable for its persistent and gross violations of international law—including humanitarian and human rights law—and for its war crimes in Gaza, it has also repeatedly used its veto power at the UN Security Council to prevent others from doing so.

For more than a century, as Rashid Khalidi details in his latest book, a series of shared approaches has continued to characterize western support of Zionism and Israel. Since the 1917 Balfour Declaration, western powers have actively denied recognition of the Palestinians as a people with national rights, while prioritizing Zionist interests. As former Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Fahmy recalled in 2019 regarding post-Oslo US foreign policy: former US president Bill Clinton’s administration “blurred the distinction between American and Israeli interests and priorities.” He goes on to quote Dennis Ross, the US MEPP negotiator during Oslo, who said that, the “primary objective was to ensure that Israel’s interests were served.”

Even when Bush held on to the loan guarantee as a means of pressuring Israel in 1991, he also reaffirmed commitments to maintaining Israel’s “qualitative military edge” and an “undivided Jerusalem,” and he did not object to the advancement of the settlement enterprise. Overall, the US has never stopped funding and supporting Israel’s military apparatus and ensuring its regional dominance. Today, that funding totals approximately $3.8 billion per year.

The existence of an open-ended process without a solid grounding in international law, without a clear and equitable outcome for Palestinians, and without an unbiased third-party broker or a mechanism for accountability, has ultimately served Israel’s interests and done little to protect Palestinians.

Sustaining MEPP to Entrench Systemic Domination

Maintaining the viability of the MEPP has allowed Israel and its allies to subjugate the Palestinians and their current leadership, enabling them to continue pursuing their settler-colonial agenda with impunity. In order to ensure the perpetuation of this situation within the context of MEPP, Israel employs three strategies: creating facts on the ground, narrative manipulation and victim blaming, and bullying the international community.

1. Creating facts on the ground

The Oslo Accords allowed Israel to advance its settler-colonial enterprise through the expansion of settlements and theft of Palestinian land without hindrance. The settler-colonial enterprise and its infrastructure has enabled Israel to consolidate its control while progressively suffocating and fragmenting Palestinians, effectively advancing the “maximum land with a minimal number of Arabs” doctrine. This includes separating Jerusalem from the West Bank, forcibly transferring Palestinians, and encouraging settlers’ population growth. To actualize this, Israel has deployed tactics such as creating military and firing zones on Palestinian land, forbidding Palestinian rural communities access to agricultural land and water sources, demolishing homes, building the Apartheid Wall, and imposing a full blockade on Gaza.

Paying lip-service to the so-called peace process, to negotiations, and to the ‘two-state solution’ only whitewashes Israel’s violations and rejects any accountability measures as unilateral Click To Tweet

By creating these facts on the ground, Israel mastered the politics of “fait accompli,” making realities seem as irreversible, accomplished facts. Indeed, as Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz recently declared after PA president Mahmoud Abbas gave Israel an ultimatum on withdrawing from the 1967 occupied territories: “no one is going anywhere.” It is thus unfathomable—indeed, absurd—to expect Palestinians to negotiate their freedom and fundamental rights while Israel continues colonization and entrenching apartheid as a fait accompli.

2. Narrative manipulation and victim blaming

Israel also mastered the tactic of narrative manipulation, and has managed to blame Palestinians for the failure of negotiations and for the violence inflicted on them. Indeed, former Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban said in 1973 that “the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” The phrase has since turned into a common anti-Palestinian slogan by Israel and its allies whereby Palestinians are portrayed as perpetual rejectionists of peace offers.

This narrative has also been adopted by Israel’s new Gulf allies to justify signing deals with Israel. In 2018, Mohammad Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia reportedly said: “in the last several decades the Palestinian leadership has missed one opportunity after the other and rejected all the peace proposals it was given. It is about time the Palestinians take the proposals and agree to come to the negotiations table or shut up and stop complaining.”

Such victim blaming does not sustain the scrutiny of facts. Over the course of several decades and various summits and roundtables, the PLO accepted many compromises and proposals. It did so on the basis of the two-state solution as per Resolution 242. Israel, on the other hand, never compromised.

Yet this narrative continues to dominate western discourse particularly surrounding the failure of the 2000 Camp David Accords, where it is commonly believed that Arafat turned down a very generous offer from former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak. However, as negotiators recounted in 2001: “strictly speaking there was never an Israeli offer. Determined to preserve Israel’s position in the event of failure, the Israelis always stopped one, if not several, steps short of a proposal.”

In addition to Israel’s bad faith and its violations of existing agreements and international law, it systemically condemns any attempt by Palestinians to defend their rights and characterizes any efforts to do so outside of the flawed framework of bilateral negotiations as “unilateral” measures that would “hurt peace.”

3. Bullying the international community

Israel not only bullies Palestinians for any attempt at defending their rights, but also the international community whenever there is outcry against Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights. Indeed, Israel has developed a widespread campaign to delegitimize the Palestinian struggle for their rights, and to escape accountability for its violations. On the one hand, it has done so through falsely equating the Palestinian struggle with antisemitism, as well as criminalizing solidarity movements and individuals; on the other hand, it has falsely accused Palestinian human rights defenders of terrorism.

In December 2019, Israel’s ambassador to the UN Danny Danon accused the International Criminal Court (ICC) of capitulating to Palestinians’ “diplomatic terrorism” when it decided to investigate Israel’s possible war crimes in Palestine. During Israel’s most recent assault on Gaza in May 2021, the international community decried its disproportionate use of force. In response, Israel accused the Chinese government and the foreign minister of Pakistan of “blatant antisemitism.” It also reprimanded the French ambassador to Israel for a statement by the French foreign minister that Israel was “at risk” of becoming an apartheid state, and pressured a US university to remove a graduate student who criticized Israel in her classroom.

The US is also involved in this bullying. Its unwavering support of Israel has helped to derail any attempts by the international community to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law. From 1972 until December 2019, in the UN Security Council alone, the US has vetoed 44 resolutions that aim to condemn illegal Israeli actions. This has contributed to the culture of impunity under which Israel operates today.

Paying lip-service to the so-called peace process, to negotiations, and to the “two-state solution” only whitewashes Israel’s violations and rejects any accountability measures as unilateral. The bilateral negotiations trap has allowed Israel to “shrink the conflict” through the advancement of economic or “concrete” measures that have only deepened the PA’s dependency on Israel’s hegemony, thereby facilitating apartheid and the settler-colonial enterprise.

Breaking the MEPP Negotiations Cycle

It is beyond time that the international community recognizes that Palestinians will not renounce their fundamental rights that are anchored in the universal values of freedom, justice, and dignity. Fundamentally, the international community must recognize that without a radical shift in the existing power dynamics, any attempt at bringing parties to the negotiating table will only perpetuate Israel’s ethno-nationalist agenda and the continuous dispossession of the Palestinians.

To break this cycle, the international community must:

  • Recognize the futility and unsuitability of the MEPP framework, and instead focus on a political process centered on the fulfilment of human rights of all. For the Palestinian people, this includes the rights to self-determination and return, as well as security in the face of ongoing Israeli violations.
  • Support the Palestinian people’s efforts to reclaim their political system, including in their latest Unity Intifada, in order to bring about consensus-building among all sides of society as a precursor for Palestinian liberation.
  • Support Palestinians in reviving and transforming the PLO as a liberation movement with diplomatic presence around the world. This includes supporting the renouncement of the Oslo Accords, and the removal of the PA as a political representative of the Palestinian people.
  • Hold Israel accountable for its gross violations of international law, including humanitarian and human rights law. It should do this by conditioning and ending military aid to Israel, ending the trade of products and services originating in Israeli settlements—including pressuring other states and entities to do so—supporting the ICC investigation into war crimes, and calling for the end of Israel’s blockade on Gaza.
  • Reject the conflation of critique of Israel with antisemitism. This includes rejecting Israel’s attempts to accuse civil society organizations that work to defend Palestinian rights of terrorism, and pressuring it to revoke the designations.
  • Reject normalization agreements between Israel and Arab states as a means to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region.

Via Al-Shabakah

Inès Abdel Razek is Advocacy Director for the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy (PIPD), an independent Palestinian organization. Prior to joining the PIPD, Inès held advisory positions in the executive offices of the Union for the Mediterranean in Barcelona, the UN Environment Programme in Nairobi and the Palestinian Prime Minister’s Office in Ramallah, where she focused on international governance and development cooperation policies. Inès is also an advisory board member of the social enterprise BuildPalestine. She holds a Master’s degree in Public Affairs from Sciences-Po, Paris. Twitter: @InesAbdelrazek

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Restricting US Military Aid to Israel in the Age of Normalization https://www.juancole.com/2021/09/restricting-military-normalization.html Tue, 21 Sep 2021 04:08:05 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=200185 By Nadya Tannous |

( Al Shabaka ) – With the rise in global solidarity with Palestinians since the May 2021 Unity Intifada, United States policymakers and activists are calling for conditioning and halting US military aid to Israel. Al-Shabaka’s US policy fellow, Nadya Tannous, examines this shifting tide and offers recommendations for how policymakers, lobbyists, and the international community can seize on this historic moment in the defense of Palestinian rights.

The United States’ long-standing commitment to militarily aiding Israel is layered with new considerations in light of recent developments in Palestine, the US, and beyond. The Unity Intifada, which erupted following the Israeli regime’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, its attack on worshipers in the Aqsa mosque complex, and its vicious assault on Gaza in May 2021, garnered Palestinians unprecedented support from activists and policymakers across the world, and even in the halls of Capitol Hill. This dramatic shift in global public and political opinion is critical for the Palestinian struggle, and it presents an opportunity to push for policies that hold Israel accountable for its crimes against the Palestinian people.

This policy brief contextualizes US military aid to Israel historically, delineating how central such aid has become in regional dynamics between Israel and Arab states, and between Arab states and Palestine. It examines the ways in which the recent convergence of global grassroots movements, and their vocal solidarity with Palestine, are challenging the US’ business as usual. From the streets to the halls of power, a concerted push to condition, sanction, and halt US military aid to Israel is gaining traction globally.

The brief offers preliminary recommendations for activists, lobbyists, and policymakers for how to make use of this transformational moment in the history of Palestinian solidarity. Harnessing the movement effectively would contribute to substantively pressuring the US, Israel, and their allies to end their ongoing oppression of Palestinians across historic Palestine.

Normalization in the Context of American Military Imperialism

Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, the US has largely shaped its relationship to the Middle East through maintaining security and leverage for Israel and its supporters. On the one hand, it has done this by maintaining Israel’s regional military dominance through continued funding. On the other, it has brokered “peace” deals between Arab states and Israel, deals that require Arab governments to support Israel politically and economically, or, in the least, to abstain from publicly condemning its actions.

Since 2001, Israel has received over $63 billion in security assistance from the US, with over 90% of it funded by the State Department’s Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program. The FMF, which is commonly known as “the blank check” to Israel, is funded by US tax dollars and comes in the form of weapons grants. In May 2021, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reported that, in the 2021 fiscal year, the Trump administration requested $3.3 billion in FMF for Israel, constituting 59% of the requested global FMF budget.

In the upcoming 2022 fiscal year, the Biden administration has requested to replicate it. The commitment to this level of funding was specifically instituted through a 10-year Memorandum of Understanding, signed under former president Barack Obama’s administration. The report explained further that, “Israel receives more FMF than all other countries in the world combined.”

Concurrently, the US has directly pressured Arab nations to capitulate to Israeli interests through threats to rescind its military aid packages and financial incentives for cooperation. The first two Arab states to normalize with Israel under US pressure were Egypt (1979), now the second largest recipient of US military aid, and Jordan (1994), a country with one of the strongest and most stable currencies in the world thanks to longstanding arrangements with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Whereas previously normalization of relations between Arab nations and Israel were an exchange of “land for peace,” the 2020 Abraham Accords serve as a declaration of alliances, bolstered by weapons exchange and the promise of military might.

Throughout 2020, former US President Donald Trump ushered in a new era of US-brokered normalization treaties between Israel and Arab states, specifically the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. The agreements came at the same time as Palestinians were witnessing one of the most aggressive advances of the Israeli regime. Indeed, Israel was advancing its plans to annex Area C in the Jordan Valley; it carried out mass arrests and imprisonment of Palestinian university students; and it intensified its ethnic cleansing campaigns in Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, and other parts of the West Bank. In this way, the agreements directly undercut Palestinian demands for self-determination, and normalize the Israeli regime’s ongoing violence against Palestinians.

Regarding the UAE and Bahrain, the September 2020 Accords were recognized as a first-rate arms deal between two Gulf governments for American weapons. According to a report by the Center for International Policy, the US dominated arms transfers to the Gulf states from 2015 to 2019, and remains the top supplier of over two-thirds of states in the region. As a result of the Accords, the UAE publicly noted that it was expecting 50 F-35 fighter jets and 18 armed Reaper drone systems as part of the $23.37 billion arms deal approved by the Trump administration in exchange for normalization.

While the Sudanese government agreed to normalize with Israel in exchange for the US lifting its sanctions on the country as part of the US terror list, and while Morocco normalized in exchange for US recognition of its sovereignty over the Western Sahara, the UAE and Bahrain normalized in order to bolster their positions vis-à-vis other regional players. In addition to pushing for nuclear deals that will neutralize Iran, the UAE and Bahrain seek to challenge Iran through proxy military confrontation, which requires enhancing their military arsenals.

Bahrain, for one, has clearly articulated that it expects to be consulted by the Biden administration ahead of any nuclear negotiations. This arms deal also permits the UAE to stockpile munitions for its military assault and weapons-racketeering in Libya, and for its participation in the Saudi-led attack on Yemen. At $10 billion, the arms deals ushered in by the Abraham Accords have been the largest in the UAE’s history, and suggest a stockpiling of munitions for future military actions.

Meanwhile, Gulf support for the Palestinians has wavered, as regional donors have moved from neither condemning, nor seeking to obstruct, Israel’s aspirations to now facilitating them. Indeed, the UAE has recently financed the purchase of properties across East Jerusalem, through Palestinian individuals, and then sold them to Israeli settlers. This period of normalization has been politically costly for Palestinians and, with the UAE and Bahrain entering their first year since normalization, their deepening relationship with Israel and their privileged relationship to the US will surely impede Palestinian resistance against Israeli apartheid, settler-colonialism, and military occupation.

US Legislative Responses and Maintaining Israel’s QME

In the US, the Abraham Accords have generated a variety of responses on the legislative level. In November 2020, Representative Brad Schneider (D-IL) proposed H.R. 8494, “Guaranteeing Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge,” co-sponsored by 19 other representatives. The Qualitative Military Edge (QME) agreement ensures Israel’s military advantage in the region in both military technologies and weaponry as the preferred partner of the US, and as a proxy state for US interests. It is a long-standing US practice, enshrined in US legislation since 2008, and enforced at the discretion of Congress. The bill was most significant, however, because it proposed that Israel, not the US Congress, would hold the deciding power over US weapons deals across the Middle East.

Schneider’s bill was brought forward in the clamor of anxieties about the integrity of Israel’s QME in light of US weapons sales to the Gulf states. This concern was largely rooted in the belief that a bolstering of weapons stockpiles among Arab partners could threaten Israel’s security in the region, despite the provisions outlined in the Abraham Accords which stipulate that Arab states would never supersede Israel militarily. These US-brokered normalization agreements ultimately contribute to Israel’s QME by allowing it to fortify the region against a perceived common enemy: Iran. Thus, in the US- and Saudi-led military front against Iran, Bahrain, the UAE, and Israel find themselves on the same side.

Yet, despite the guidelines laid out in the Abraham Accords, in November 2020, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led by chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ), introduced a joint resolution against the weapons sale and invoked Israel’s QME. Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) also protested the pending weapons deal under the Accords with stronger wording to ban the sale altogether, though she cited the UAE’s human rights violations, and not Israel’s QME, as a reason for the ban.

It is important to contextualize Schneider’s bill both in comparison to Omar and Menendez’s separate resolutions, and against the backdrop of the Leahy Law. The 1977 law, named after Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), prohibits US arms sales and military aid to foreign states’ security forces that commit gross human rights violations. Accordingly, there is legal precedent in the US for conditioning aid based on a state’s human rights violations through the Foreign Assistance Act, while Schneider’s proposed bill enables them.

Salih Booker of the Center for International Policy points out that Israel is the only country in the world for which the US does not track which weapons go to which military unit, making it virtually impossible to enforce the Leahy Law when it comes to Israel. The threat of conditioning US aid to Israel preceding the 1994 Madrid Conference, where former Secretary of State James Baker temporarily withheld loan guarantees to Israel to prevent use of the money for settlement building, is the only historical example of US-conditioned aid to Israel. To be sure, it was the Palestinians who made this possible through the First Intifada.

As of the summer of 2021, Schneider’s bill has not been brought back to the floor, but developments have been made on the heels of Menendez’s November 2020 resolution. In January 2021, Biden announced that he would review all Trump-era weapons sales, but in April, mentioned that the US would, as promised, go forward with “a broader UAE deal worth $23 billion.” There has been continuous debate between Bahrain, the UAE, Israel, and the Biden administration on whether or not the sale of F-35s will actually go through, yet the strategies adopted by Menendez and the Biden administration are not concerned with the UAE’s human rights record; they are concerned with the bedrock of US regional priorities: maintaining Israel’s QME.

Indeed, US aid powers the Israeli Air Force, providing billions of dollars’ worth of fuel under the government-to-government Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. Since 2015, the US has spent over $5.4 billion on aviation fuel, diesel fuel, unleaded gasoline, and aerial refueling aircraft. The US is scheduled to send the $3.3 billion in FMF funds to Israel throughout 2021, which Congress approved on a bipartisan basis.

On top of this, the US is set to send an additional $500 million for joint US-Israeli research, development, and deployment of missile defense systems. In June 2021, Israel was also forecasted to ask US Congress for another $1 billion to restock the Iron Dome and to upgrade the system, putting the FMF at $4.3 billion. Fundamentally, Israel will continue to lie at the center of US interests in the Middle East, and the US will continue to hold Israel’s military actions to different standards than any other country.

US Aid to Israel in the Wake of a Transformative Moment

The Biden administration has not differed from Trump’s with regards to fulfilling the US’ unconditional support for Israel, which is in alignment with the Obama administration’s 10-Year Memorandum of Understanding. The Biden administration has been committed to supporting Israel’s ongoing colonial expansion. This became clear when Washington failed to condemn Israel’s blatant ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem and war crimes against Palestinians in Gaza in May 2021.

On May 5, Congress was notified of the $735 million commercial sale of precision-guided weapons to Israel, initiating a 15-day period when members of Congress may object. Between May 5 and May 20, the Israeli regime bombarded Gaza, killing 243 Palestinians. Israelis also carried out brutal attacks on Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Jerusalem and formed lynch mobs against Palestinians in the 1948 territories, while Israeli forces stood by. Following the assault on Gaza, and at the end of the 15-day period, Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Bernie Sanders (D-VT) proposed a senate joint resolution and a house joint resolution to halt the sale.

These efforts have impacted politicians on Capitol Hill, and have brought progressive Democrats to make presentations in Congress in support of Palestine, using language never before spoken in those halls by the people in power. On May 13, Representatives Mark Pocan, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Cori Bush, Rashida Tlaib, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez publicly expressed support for the Palestinian people in Congress, calling for an end to funding Israeli military aggression. Pressley and Ocasio-Cortez described Israel as an “apartheid state” and even newcomer Representative Marie Newman (D-IL) called on the State Department to condemn the ethnic cleansing of Sheikh Jarrah as a violation of international law.

On April 15, Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN) submitted H.R.2590, titled “Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act,” which is an expanded version of the same bill she previously introduced. It was co-sponsored by 28 representatives. McCollum’s bill aims to ensure that US funding is not used to sustain Israel’s military judicial system, forced displacement of Palestinians through home demolitions and evictions, and illegal annexations of Palestinian land. Days later, Representatives Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) openly confirmed their willingness to restrict US aid to Israel, or to withhold money from any Israeli institution or military branch responsible for human rights abuses. Notably, Sanders had specifically withdrawn his opposition to the commercial sale by this time. Moreover, on June 8, over 100 prominent national organizations submitted a letter to Biden urging him to block the sale, with 73 centrist democrats calling on him to categorize Israeli settlements as illegal.

Beyond Capitol Hill, grassroots movements of Palestinians and tens of thousands of Palestine supporters have taken to the streets across major US cities, protesting the Israeli regime’s disproportionate use of power, poking holes in the stale “peace” discourses that distract from Israeli colonial violence, and calling for freedom for the Palestinian people. These efforts were inspired by the unprecedented mobilization witnessed across historic Palestine and the world, and which unified Palestinians to push back against ethnic cleansing, settler-colonial violence, apartheid, and siege, effectively defying their geographic and political fragmentation.

Organizers in the US continue to highlight the clear intersections between expanding systems of militarized policing, colonial violence, war, and racism in the US and Israel, bolstering the global struggle to confront all tenets of fascism. Campaigns online and activists on different social media platforms have also critiqued the US’ direct contribution to Israel’s violations of Palestinians’ rights, and have demanded their political representatives take action, including rescinding or conditioning the US’ blank check to Israel.

The tide is clearly shifting in the US. In May 2021, the LA Times cited an April 2021 Gallup study which reported a massive surge in support for Palestine over the past decade: from one in seven US citizens primarily sympathizing with Palestine, to now one in four. Additionally, an August 2021 Chicago Council Survey showed that 50% of Americans favor restricting military aid to Israel in operations that target Palestinians, as opposed to 45% who oppose it. Democrats overwhelmingly support it at 62%. To be sure, many of these US citizens are increasingly realizing that their tax dollars are directly contributing to the onslaught against Palestinians.

What Needs to be Done to Restrict Aid

In order to seize on this historic moment in the defense of Palestinians’ rights:

  • Activists and lobbyists must pressure policymakers and the international community to restrict US military aid to Israel, including through sanctions. They should support McCollum’s Bill, further legislation conditioning aid to Israel, and should push for legislation that tracks Israel’s military spending. They should promote grassroots groups and NGOs already dedicated to this work, including the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Adalah Justice Project, American Muslims for Palestine, and the American Friends Service Committee.
  • Activists, lobbyists, and policymakers must support the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is part of a larger strategy to hold accountable corporations and companies implicated in arms deals with Israel, including Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman and Elbit Systems. They must join municipal campaigns and initiatives, such as Dissenter’s Divest From Death, to target these entities and their activities that contribute to the violation of Palestinians’ rights and others in the region.
  • International policymakers must promote the growing movement to hold Israel accountable for its ongoing violations – whether in the halls of Congress, at the corporate level, or even at the state level – through legislation and partnerships that protect, praise, and fund them. They must concomitantly push for legislative efforts that condition aid based on accountability to human rights.
  • US policymakers must uplift and support the voices of US citizens who are calling, and writing letters to, their representatives demanding an end to US military support for Israel. They should also continue to sign petitions in conjunction with national campaigns working to protect Palestinians’ rights.
  • International policymakers must oppose and demand the revocation of anti-BDS laws which quash and delegitimize criticism of Israel, especially in the US. They must also demand that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) rescind its 2020 redefinition of anti-Semitism that includes critique of Israel, a redefinition which has already been adopted by several governments. The controversial redefinition threatens free speech, and poses a significant challenge to combating real antisemitism and promoting Palestinian human rights.
Nadya Tannous

Nadya Tannous is Al-Shabaka’s summer 2021 visiting US policy fellow. She is a passionate community organizer, born and raised in the Bay Area (Ohlone Territory). In her work, she focuses on political education, movement relationship building, anti-militarism, and returning land to the people and people to the land. Nadya holds an MSc in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies from the University of Oxford and a BA in Anthropology and Global Information and Social Enterprise Studies from UC Santa Cruz.

Via Al Shabaka

——

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Democracy Now! “Watch Rep. Rashida Tlaib Blast U.S. Aid for Israel & Attack on Gaza in Dramatic House Floor Speech”

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Israel’s Violations of Palestinian Workers’ Rights: COVID-19 and Systemic Abuse https://www.juancole.com/2021/08/violations-palestinian-systemic.html Mon, 02 Aug 2021 04:06:13 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=199231 By Ihab Maharmeh | –

( Al-Shabakah) – The Israeli regime has been systematically violating the rights of Palestinian workers in Israel and its illegal settlements since 1967. How have these violations been exacerbated since the COVID-19 pandemic? Al-Shabaka’s guest contributor, Ihab Maharmeh, examines Israel’s ongoing abuses of Palestinian workers’ labor and human rights. He offers recommendations for securing these rights and for holding Israel accountable.

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Overview

The rights of Palestinian workers1 in Israel and illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank have been the subject of increasing violations since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. On 17 March 2020, former Israeli Security Minister Naftali Bennett announced a series of special provisions to regulate the labor and accommodations of Palestinian workers from the West Bank in an effort to curb rising COVID-19 cases among the Israeli population. While the provisions have allowed those with work permits and those under the age of 50 to enter and exit Israeli territories, they require that workers coordinate their work and accommodation with their Israeli employers, and prohibit them from returning to the West Bank during the period of their work contracts.2

In addition to these strict provisions, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh ordered these workers to immediately return and quarantine in their homes for 14 days, while calling on Palestinian security services and popular emergency committees across the West Bank to tighten measures to prevent workers from traveling. The announcement came as the first COVID-19 fatality was recorded in the West Bank: a woman in the town of Biddu, northwest of Jerusalem, who contracted the disease from her son, a laborer in the industrial settlement of Atarot in Jerusalem.

While thousands of workers adhered to Shtayyeh’s order, some 40,000 defied the call and returned to their workplaces in early May 2020, risking their lives as COVID-19 infections and fatalities in Israel rose at rates significantly higher than in the West Bank and Gaza. Their return coincided with a Palestinian-Israeli agreement by which the Palestinian Authority (PA) implemented Bennett’s provisions regarding the work and accommodation of Palestinian workers. Despite this, the Israeli regime did little to protect these workers from infection, and instead, increased its systemic violations of their labor and human rights.

Related Posts

This policy brief highlights the Israeli regime’s violations of Palestinian workers’ rights in Israel and the settlements prior to and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing that these violations have become more pronounced since the outbreak. It concludes with recommendations to protect Palestinian workers.

Israel’s Strangulation of the Palestinian Labor Market

Palestinians with West Bank IDs began to flow into Israel and the settlements in the wake of the 1967 war, when Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights. Two factors combined to increase this influx: the Israeli regime needed workers for its burgeoning settlement enterprise, and Palestinians’ urgent need for employment after the destruction of their economy in the aftermath of the 1948 war. As the Israeli regime could offer higher wages and greater opportunities for employment, Palestinians rushed to fill these positions. However, by absorbing the flow of Palestinian workers, Israel primarily sought to control the main factors of Palestinian production with an eye to weakening, depleting, and controlling the Palestinian economy, forcibly bringing it under Israeli control.

Palestinians have since become a major labor force within Israel, especially in the construction and services sectors. Their number rose from 20,000 workers in 1970 to 116,000 in 1992, increasing at an average of 6.3% annually. After signing the Oslo Accords in 1993 and the subsequent 1994 Paris Protocol, which formally integrated the Palestinian economy into Israel’s and closed Palestinian borders to the global economy, Israel imposed restrictions on the movement of Palestinian workers from the West Bank and Gaza and limited the number of work permits granted to Palestinians. Nonetheless, the influx of Palestinian workers into Israel and the settlements increased from 95,000 in 1995 to 133,000 in 2019,3 the highest figure ever recorded.

Work permits serve to affirm the Israeli regime’s ongoing strategy to manage and control Palestinians’ movement, and to confine them to work spaces that violate international labor standards and laws Click To Tweet

Since 1967, the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza has grown more than five-fold, from about 965,000 to 5.1 million in 2020, with just over half of individuals being of working age (over 15 years old). However, the Palestinian economy has not been able to generate new job opportunities to absorb this demographic group. Consequently, the relative distribution of Palestinian workers in the Palestinian public and private sectors has decreased, while their relative distribution within Israel and the settlements has risen.

A case in point is the aftermath of the Second Intifada, which was followed by a noticeable jump in the number of Palestinian workers in Israeli territories, as outlined in the following table:

Although the ability to work in Israel and the settlements has allowed Palestinians to find job opportunities, earn higher incomes (albeit, on average, less than half the Israeli minimum wage), and improve their economic conditions since the late 1960s, these workers suffer abysmal working conditions, lack adequate safety measures and insurance, and often complain of violations of Israeli labor laws and Israeli-ratified international labor standards and covenants, particularly in relation to wages, working hours, and leave policies. These conditions have only been exacerbated since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Furthermore, Israel’s rule over the main production factors in the Palestinian economy has hindered its ability to create job opportunities. Israel continues to control and restrict access to Palestinian lands and natural resources, forcing about a quarter of the West Bank’s Palestinian population to forfeit working in several vital sectors — notably, the agricultural sector, a major source of Palestinian employment and livelihood prior to the Oslo Accords. Indeed, since the 1993 agreement, the expansion of settlements and theft of Palestinian lands and natural resources have crippled the Palestinian economy, forcing Palestinians to forsake working their own lands and seek employment in Israel and the settlements. Hence, Israel created a noticeable structural gap in production costs between the Palestinian and Israeli economies, in favor of the latter. This led to an increase in the proportion of Israeli imports to the West Bank and Gaza, which contributed to a steady increase in the Palestinian trade deficit.

Moreover, since 1967, Israel’s establishment of military checkpoints has limited the movement of Palestinians and the exchange of goods and merchandise between Palestinian cities and villages. Within this fragmented landscape, which ultimately serves Israel’s economic interests, only Palestinians with work permits issued by the Israeli regime are permitted movement in and out of settlements, Jerusalem, and Israel. In this way, work permits serve to affirm the Israeli regime’s ongoing strategy to manage and control Palestinians’ movement, and to confine them to work spaces that violate international labor standards and laws, continually putting them at great risk.

COVID-19 and the Intensification of Israeli Violations

Following decades of the Israeli regime deliberately thwarting Palestinian efforts to build an economy that can accommodate its working-age population, Palestinian workers have been left with few alternatives for employment within the West Bank and Gaza. This has posed a serious problem for laborers following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which spread at an alarming rate across Israel at the start of 2020. With soaring infection rates and abysmal working conditions, Palestinian workers were the main transmitters of the virus to the West Bank.

Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, Israeli abuses of Palestinian workers’ rights were well documented, including pressuring them to cooperate with the Israeli intelligence service in exchange for work permits. Since the outbreak, these abuses have only increased.

COVID-19 has highlighted the hazardous conditions faced by Palestinian workers, rendering their need to maintain their source of livelihood by working in Israel and the settlements into an economy of death Click To Tweet

In April 2020, as the pandemic spread widely in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, Palestinian workers were required to download “Al-Munasiq” (The Coordinator), an Israeli mobile application developed in February 2019 by the Israeli Ministry of Defense at the request of the Israeli Civil Administration to better manage Palestinian applications for Israeli permits. Yet the Palestinian Digital Rights Coalition warns that downloading the application offers Israel the opportunity to further blackmail, exploit, and humiliate Palestinians.

Throughout the pandemic, as demographic control remains a paramount concern for governments, the application has served the Israeli regime’s population management strategy perfectly: the application collects information and personal data from the cellphones of Palestinian workers, including device location, incoming and outgoing calls, photos and videos, messages and email, and data from other third-party applications. Forcing workers to download Al-Munasiq in order to access and work on colonized Palestinian lands is yet another mechanism in the history of Israeli exploitation, humiliation, and extortion of Palestinians.

Since the start of the pandemic, Palestinian workers have also suffered further abuses by Israeli soldiers on their way to work, especially their right to freely access their workplaces. On August 17, 2020, Israeli and international media circulated evidence of the types of Israeli crimes that have been committed since May 2020; this included a recording of Israeli soldiers beating, insulting, and robbing Palestinian workers at gunpoint as they crossed military checkpoints in the southern West Bank to reach their places of employment.

Israeli occupation soldiers have also been seen firing tear gas canisters at workers crossing Israeli checkpoints, and at those without permits who attempt to breach Israel’s Apartheid Wall through its sporadic gaps, as well as chasing and stalking Palestinian laborers on their way to work. These violations culminated in the murder of two Palestinians while on their daily commute by Israeli soldiers. The killings of Fouad Sebti of Tulkarm on 24 January 2021, and Sherif Rajeh Irzeigat of Hebron on 14 February 2021, demonstrate the cruelty of these violations in the time of COVID-19.

Indeed, COVID-19 has highlighted the hazardous conditions faced by Palestinian workers, rendering their need to maintain their source of livelihood by working in Israel and the settlements into an economy of death.

For example, Palestinian workers risk their lives during their stays in Israel due to the lack of public safety measures in their accommodations. Workers have recounted sleeping in large groups at construction sites, on factory floors, in warehouses, gardens, facilities, and greenhouses, in areas without clean bedding or blankets, and without access to sanitation and necessary supplies to maintain personal hygiene. In May 2020, numerous images circulated on social media exposed the unhygienic accommodations and unhealthy living conditions of workers in construction sites and warehouses. In addition, those workers were not provided food or drink in their accommodations due to imposed curfews across Israel and the settlements.

Subsequently, Palestinian workers reported a lack of preventive measures in their workplaces, and the failure of their Israeli employers to provide them with necessary medical tests or proper treatment in cases of COVID-19 infection. In response, Israeli authorities expelled or abandoned these workers at Israeli checkpoints. One video clip circulated on social media showed Palestinian worker, Malek Ghanem, being dumped by the Israeli authorities on the side of the road at the Beit Sira checkpoint, near Ramallah, because he was suspected of being infected with COVID-19. This was followed by similar incidents across the West Bank.

Implications of Israel’s Violations for the Palestinian Economy

Palestinian workers in Israel contribute nearly $3.25 billion annually to the Palestinian economy — an average of $271 million per month, or $71 per worker per day. In contrast, the monthly minimum wage in the West Bank and Gaza stands at about $400 and $206 respectively.4 Accordingly, the average daily wage for Palestinian workers in Israel and the settlements is more than twice that of their counterparts in the public and private sectors in the West Bank, and more than four times that of their counterparts in Gaza.

Israeli employers refused to compensate (Palestinian workers) for their forced absence from work, resulting in financial losses estimated at $250 million in 2020 Click To Tweet

Combined, these workers’ income is crucial for boosting the performance of the Palestinian economy; any changes thereto — namely, via the loss of jobs in Israel and the settlements — will directly affect hundreds of thousands of Palestinian families.5 This became particularly evident when the number of workers in Israel and settlements decreased at the end of 2020 by about 34,000 workers. The decline was more pronounced in the construction sector, with 15% of 70,000 Palestinian workers losing their jobs, followed by the agricultural sector, with a 9% decrease. Moreover, about 8,000 Palestinian workers lost their jobs in Israel and the settlements by the end of 2020 due to layoffs of workers over the age of 50 — a direct result of the PA-approved Israeli special provisions to regulate Palestinian labor during the pandemic.

Many Palestinian workers have likewise faced wage cuts since April 2020 — a violation of Israeli labor laws which prohibit discrimination based on nationality. Israeli employers reduced the average daily wage for Palestinian workers in Israel and the settlements in the first half of 2020 from $82 to $76. While they raised it to $80 in the second half of the same year, this is still below the pre-pandemic level. Moreover, when Palestinian workers adhered to the PA’s order to refrain from reporting to work in Israeli territories, Israeli employers refused to compensate them for their forced absence from work, resulting in financial losses estimated at $250 million in 2020.

The declining number of Palestinian workers in Israel and the settlements, and the reduction of their wages and compensation in the time of COVID-19, have impacted the Palestinian economy dramatically – accounting for $2.5 billion (or one-third) of the Palestinian economy’s losses in 2020. In March 2021, the PA announced that the Palestinian economy shrank by 11.5% in the past year, government revenue decreased by 20%, the fiscal deficit rose to 9.5% of GDP, and domestic debt reached 15%.

Although Israel has vaccinated over 100,000 Palestinian workers since March 2021, the uncertainty surrounding economic recovery and the PA’s vaccine rollout in the West Bank and Gaza suggests that the Palestinian economy will continue to suffer. Accordingly, the Palestinian economy’s forced dependence on the Israeli economy is expected to deepen, especially in terms of labor and employment, given the inability of the Palestinian economy to absorb workers affected by the pandemic, in addition to new job seekers. The unemployment rate is also expected to rise in the West Bank and Gaza from 26% at the end of 2020 to about 31% by the end of 2021.

Policy Recommendations

The following are policy recommendations for ending Israeli violations of the rights of Palestinian workers in Israel and the settlements:

  • The PA should lobby the international community to intensify efforts to protect Palestinian workers’ rights.
  • The PA should include the violations of Palestinian workers’ rights in its legal cases against the Israeli regime at the International Criminal Court, in order to hold Israeli politicians, employers, and companies accountable.
  • The BDS movement should further center the violation of Palestinian workers’ rights in its call for boycotts of Israeli companies.
  • The Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions should support the efforts of Palestinian workers in Israel and the settlements in instituting an independent Palestinian labor union that protects their union rights, and integrates them in the political struggle for liberation from Israeli colonialism.
  • The trade union should develop a unionist and political discourse that treats all Palestinian workers in Israel and the settlements — whether from the West Bank, Gaza, or Israel — on equal footing.
  • Palestinian and Arab digital rights organizations should mobilize international human rights organizations around blocking the use of the “Al-Munasiq” application, which is dedicated to collecting personal data from Palestinian workers.
  • Regional and international labor-focused human rights organizations should pressure Israeli politicians, employers, and companies that violate the rights of Palestinian workers to desist from these abuses.
  1. For the purposes of this policy brief, “Palestinian workers” refers only to those who hold West Bank IDs and work in Israeli settlements or Israel. It does not encompass the broader labor experiences of Jerusalemites and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship who work in Israeli territories.
  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. The number of Palestinians working in Israel and the settlements would be significantly higher if Palestinians working without permits or with merchant or special needs permits were included in these estimates.
  4. The minimum wage is based on Cabinet Decision no. (11) of 2012, stipulating 1,450 shekels as the monthly minimum wage for all sectors within the PA’s jurisdiction.
  5. For an alternative perspective on the role of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian economy, see “How Israeli Settlements Stifle Palestine’s Economy,” by Nur Arafeh, Samia al-Botmeh, and Leila Farsakh (2015).
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Gaza’s Summer: Destruction, Pandemic, and Climate Change https://www.juancole.com/2021/06/destruction-pandemic-climate.html Mon, 21 Jun 2021 04:36:38 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=198480 By Asmaa Abu Mezied | –

( Al-Shabaka ) – In 2013, the UNDP warned of the increasing occurrence of dangerous heatwaves in Palestine over the coming years as a result of climate change. Indeed, at the end of August 2020, the Palestine Meteorological Office issued a warning about an impending heatwave, where the temperature ranged between five to nine degrees above its yearly average.1 2

As climate change continues to destroy the planet, Palestinians are struggling to manage its dramatic effects in great part due to the Israeli occupation. In August 2020, Israel blocked fuel entry to Gaza, which shut down its only power plant, and since then, the shortage has been ongoing. Today, with roughly four hours of electricity per day in Gaza, and with the Israeli assault, sewage treatment plants are not functioning properly, which leads to dumping waste in the Mediterranean Sea. While blockades on essential resources are not new to Palestinians in Gaza, the ongoing fuel shortage will continue to impact hospitals, sewage treatment plants, and water distribution facilities.3

The besieged enclave also must deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has been spreading at an alarming rate, especially during the recent Israeli aggression which displaced tens of thousands of people to crowded spaces, including in relatives’ homes and in schools, thus increasing the risk of spreading and contracting the virus. With another hot summer marked by COVID-19 and the widespread destruction wrought by Israel’s recent assault fast approaching, Palestinians in Gaza are concerned for their safety.

A Dangerous Summer Ahead

Palestinians in Gaza historically escaped heatwaves by going to the beach and other open spaces away from their cramped houses. This is no longer an option with the COVID-19 lockdowns, and with the latest Israeli assault, which has left countless buildings, homes, and neighborhoods in rubble.

This summer, with limited electricity, Palestinians in Gaza whose homes survived Israel’s attacks will be unable to use mitigation measures such as fans, cold water, and maintaining food in the fridge. The latter will leave families with higher food spoilage, necessitating that they buy food supplies in crowded markets on a daily basis, increasing both their risk of spreading and contracting the coronavirus, as well as their financial burden.

With nearly one-third of the population of Gaza facing deep poverty, a soaring unemployment rate, continuous salary cuts, and scarce access to safe water, Palestinians in Gaza are left with minimal resources to respond to the harsh realities of climate change.

Beyond financial hardships, Palestinians in Gaza face concerns over their health as temperatures rise. Among the most vulnerable are the elderly, who are highly susceptible to heat-related illnesses. In the months ahead, the elderly in Gaza will fight for survival from the dual threats of COVID-19 and the summer’s heat. Added to this is the increased fragility of the healthcare sector in Gaza which is already unable to withstand the rise in COVID-19 infection rates. Indeed, last month, Israel demolished Gaza’s only COVID-19 testing center.

In the months ahead, the elderly in Gaza will fight for survival from the dual threats of COVID-19 and the summer’s heat Click To Tweet

Women – and especially pregnant women – are also particularly vulnerable. As those who often shoulder unpaid care and domestic work, Palestinian women have reported an increase in these responsibilities since the start of the pandemic, which skyrocketed during the heatwave of August 2020.4 As a result, and with limited water and electricity, women in Gaza reported an increase in household tensions and psychological stresses associated with caregiving and housework, including bathing and cleaning their children, trying to keep their children hydrated, and caring for those with heat-related illnesses. Following the latest attacks on Gaza, it is certain that women will continue to bear the brunt of the psychological stresses of their households.

What Palestinians in Gaza Need

Lasting change necessitates an intersectional approach to support Palestinian families in withstanding climate change, including through connecting with other oppressed groups throughout the world to exchange tools and tactics for resistance and survival.

Climate change analysis must be mainstreamed at the government, non-governmental, and donor levels. Access to climate-related information should be accompanied by guidelines on mitigating the effects of extreme weather conditions, and it should be communicated to households.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health should issue guidelines to families on how to deal with heat-related illnesses within their homes. There must be proper documentation of heat-related illnesses by the Ministry of Health in order to clarify, with evidence and facts, the health consequences of climate change on Palestinians.

Climate mitigation measures and efforts to redistribute care responsibilities from the individual to the state must be mainstreamed in the plans, strategies, and projects funded and implemented by donors and developmental agencies in Gaza. This consideration is crucial in marginalized areas where weak infrastructure exacerbates extreme weather impacts on people’s health, and places more caregiving responsibilities on women.

The international community must increase its pressure on Israel to end its assaults on Gaza, and to lift its siege so that life-saving equipment and assistance can enter Gaza.

  1. This policy memo 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. This information is based on an announcement issued by Yousef Abu As’ad, the general director of the Palestine Meteorological Office (within the Ministry of Transport) in Ramallah, on August 27, 2020.
  3. 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.
  4. Information is based on interviews conducted virtually with 40 women in Gaza regarding their coping mechanisms and their struggles during the heatwave and current conditions.
  5. Via Al-Shabaka

    Asmaa Abu Mezied is an economic development and social inclusion specialist working with Oxfam to address issues of gender, development, and climate change in the agriculture sector. Her research interests focus on the care economy, women’s collectives organizing in economic sectors, the private sector’s social accountability, and the intersection of Palestinian political, agricultural, and environmental identities. She was an Atlas Corps Fellow in partnership with President Obama Emerging Global Leaders, a Gaza Hub-Global Shaper (an initiative of World Economic Forum), and a 2021 Mozilla Foundation Wrangler at “Tech for Social Activism” space.

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    Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

    South China Morning Post: “Free from war: Gaza children fly kites with portraits of peers killed in conflict with Israel”

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Confronting Total Collapse in Israeli-Occupied Gaza: Division and COVID-19 https://www.juancole.com/2021/01/confronting-collapse-occupied.html Mon, 25 Jan 2021 05:03:34 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=195749 By Ali Abdel-Wahab | –

( Al-Shabaka ) – Gaza has always been unique among the different parts of Palestine. Its current particularity stems from being caught between three major variables exacerbating its collapse: the Israeli occupation, division in Palestinian leadership, and the COVID-19 pandemic. This reality raises socio-political questions about the role of these factors in advancing social collapse in Gaza, and about changes in the values of resilience and steadfastness among Palestinians in Gaza.

Despite the attempts of Gaza’s inhabitants to survive and achieve stability in their daily lives, the consequences of occupation, political division, and the pandemic have eroded the foundations of perseverance amongst them. Indeed, Palestinians in Gaza have suffered from societal fragility, uncertainty, and turbulence that have forced them to live in imaginary communities that cling to fantasy in order to survive.

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This commentary describes Gaza’s reality in light of the three major variables. It explores unfolding transformations within Gaza’s civil society to counter impending collapse, including social initiatives such as the Great March of Return, the “We Want to Live” movement, and other initiatives on social media. It concludes with reflections on the future of Gaza based on interviews with activists and young Palestinians who have lived this reality since their childhood.

Gaza Between Occupation and Division

Gaza sits on 360 square kilometers, or 1.3% of the total area of historic Palestine. With a population of around 2.05 million as of 2020, 1.4 million males and 1.01 million females, Gaza is the world’s most populated territory with 9,373 inhabitants per square kilometer.

Palestinians in Gaza continue to live under catastrophic conditions due to the Israeli siege now in its fourteenth year, three bloody wars in 2008, 2012, and 2014 in which 3,800 Palestinians were killed, as well as intermittent and devastating Israeli military assaults. In addition, Gaza’s economic and living conditions are at their worst, with unemployment exceeding 70% during the COVID-19 crisis.

The Palestinian Authority’s (PA) sanctions against Gaza, the increased taxation by the de-facto government in Gaza, the electricity and water crises, in addition to food insecurity, have all led to a decline in investments and buying power in Gaza as the poverty rate exceeded 53%. These indicators reflect the damage caused by the Israeli occupation and the division between Hamas and the PA that has hampered sociopolitical development. This reality suggests bleak prospects for the future of Gaza, a future of continued peril and disintegration.

In 2012, UNICEF and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) published a report titled “Gaza in 2020, A livable place?” in which they projected the population in Gaza to grow from 1.6 million to 2.1 million by 2020, with a concentration of 5,800 inhabitants per square kilometer. This figure has been exceeded by a high margin.

The report indicated that the fundamental infrastructure for electricity, water and sanitation, and municipal and social services, was struggling to keep pace with the needs of the growing population. However, the report neither factored in natural disasters and pandemics like COVID-19, nor predicted the savage war of 2014. One can thus undoubtedly conclude that Gaza has already been absolutely unlivable for some time now, and is arguably in a state of post-collapse.

Gaza has already been absolutely unlivable for some time now, and is arguably in a state of post-collapse Click To Tweet

The Israeli regime has managed to not only besiege Palestinians in Gaza, but to also project their image internationally as a hostile people. Indeed, Israel has killed thousands of peaceful Palestinian demonstrators during the Great March of Return. To this day, it controls and restricts the import of vital medical equipment and other materials of importance to a variety of sectors in Gaza. It imposes strict restrictions on the movement of goods, and with ongoing military bombardments, it has managed to destroy vital infrastructure. Beyond material restrictions, the Israeli regime restricts Gazans’ freedom of movement, effectively trapping them in a territory it continues to actively destroy.

The ongoing division in Palestinian leadership between Hamas and the PA has also had serious implications for Gaza’s inhabitants. One result of this power struggle has been the complete separation between governing institutions in Gaza and the West Bank with the establishment of two completely distinct authorities and governments. Within this framework, the division has formally institutionalized factional politics and has effectively devastated the Palestinian national project. In effect, this has destroyed the credibility of liberation leadership, and has diminished the trust of Palestinians – and especially of Palestinians in Gaza – in the effectiveness and usefulness of the struggle. Finally, the division of leadership into two authoritarian camps has eroded public freedoms and the political, civil, economic, social, and cultural rights of Palestinians in Gaza.

Gaza During COVID-19

On March 22, 2020, the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza recorded the first cases of COVID-19 in two travelers returning from Pakistan. Subsequently, the government closed popular markets, halls, mosques, restaurants, cafes, and most shops. Nearly two months later, it permitted the reopening of all commercial establishments provided that they undertake preventive measures and enforce social distancing. In late August 2020, the ministry discovered four domestic cases of COVID-19 infections, the sources of which they could not trace, and later announced further infections.

In response to domestic infections, the Ministry of the Interior declared a state of emergency and a two-day curfew in Gaza, quarantining all governorates and enforcing full closures. These were later eased in light of an escalation in Israeli military attacks, and a sharp decline in electricity supplies. The de-facto government failed to learn from the ramifications of the previous closure, especially on day laborers, or to propose measures to assist them financially. In addition, the Israeli regime restricted the import of medical test kits into Palestinian territories.

Since the detection of COVID-19 in early 2020, the number of infections has exceeded 45,000. According to Mahmoud Abdul-Hadi, an expert on civil society institutions, COVID-19 relief efforts in Gaza mostly concentrated on quarantine centers and in the early months of the pandemic, despite many humanitarian relief initiatives, including decentralized community campaigns, civil society institutions, international organizations, Hamas ministries, and the Waqfat Ezz (stand with dignity) Fund. He added that aid has markedly decreased compared to its levels in March, further aggravating the crisis as infection cases rise and overwhelm medical team capacity and crisis management efforts, which had led to further closures that continue to adversely impact Palestinians in Gaza.

The Ramifications of Collapse on Gaza’s Palestinians

The reality in Gaza has shifted from open resistance to one of civil disobedience, as Gazans’ attempts to survive have boiled down to three behavioral options: withdrawal, surrender, or confrontation. A person withdraws when they fail to change their reality and reclaim their rights, and their only option becomes to escape after their means of action have been usurped. Withdrawal in Gaza means to travel, which is particularly common among youth.

To surrender means to reluctantly acclimate with one’s reality, a behavior that engenders a feeling of defeat, failure, and self-condemnation. Judging from their transformations following their failed innovative attempts, one may say that many young Palestinians in Gaza have lost their sense of purpose and desire to live.

Those who choose confrontation continue to confront the status quo with all means available, be they peaceful or armed, and with a great deal of effort placed in educational, community service, and relief activities. They thereby alternate between moments of temporary inability to continuous action.

The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated Gaza’s economic, political, and social conditions, and has exposed the fragility of society. Individualist tendencies have increased amongst Gaza’s Palestinians, along with anxiety, confusion, and uncertainty. Their political and social participation has decreased, and social values ​​have decayed. The pandemic has also created a political vacuum and lack of transparency at the level of decision-making.

Many young Palestinians in Gaza have lost their sense of purpose and desire to live Click To Tweet

Nowadays, Gaza is overpowered and shows little signs of life, lacking the basic foundations that would enable resilience and steadfastness, whether in the context of the liberation movement or otherwise. The result has been a continuing downward spiral towards social and individual isolation.

Simply put, Palestinians in Gaza are haunted by social misery, violence, and wars every second of their lives. Social inequalities have increased, while the marginalized and disadvantaged in society no longer have rights and live in limbo.

Confronting Total Collapse

The Great March of Return

Residents of Gaza take pride in the Great March of Return that began in 2018, as some consider it a new form of struggle against the occupation. And although the organizing body in charge of the Great March of Return decided to limit the rallies to national occasions on December 26, 2019, the large and ongoing demonstrations have represented a popular activity that engages individuals and families, and its effects on Gaza’s society are palpable.

Routinely on Fridays, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza headed eastwards to the borders with the part of Palestine occupied in 1948, setting their right of return in motion and fantasizing about returning to the homeland. After all, roughly 70% of Gaza’s population is internally displaced refugees from lands occupied by Israel in 1948. In effect, on Fridays, Gazans marched to return to their homes.

The rallies were peaceful, inclusive, non-partisan and decentralized, and were founded on Palestinians’ desire to reclaim their rights without clashing directly with the occupation army. However, the occupation regime did not see it this way. Over the course of 2018 and 2019, 214 Palestinians were killed, including 46 children, with over 36,000 injuries, including 8,800 children. Many of those injured remain in dire need of rehabilitative care.

From another perspective, the rallies changed from a tool of struggle to a tool of political bargaining with the advent of the “breaking the siege” slogan, which gave the Israeli government the excuse to attack demonstrators. Additionally, it prompted certain political forces including Fatah and the Democratic Front to withdraw from the rallies because their objectives changed.

Politically, Hamas benefited from the rallies by entering into unannounced talks with Israel in order to promote de-escalation between Israel and the Palestinian factions. In addition, the Qatari ambassador, Mohammad Al-Emadi, visited the marchers’ camps in eastern Gaza on November 9, 2018 and, with Israel’s approval, brought along a Qatari grant of $15 million in order to pay the salaries of Hamas employees. The next day, fuel supplies were resumed to Gaza’s power plant.

Palestinians in Gaza counted on their leadership to seek political reconciliation and end the division, to abstain from bargaining with the occupation, and to adopt the Great March of Return as a means to reclaim the right of return. But they were soon disappointed. Hamas’s actions towards the demonstrating masses represented a loss of the sense of national identity, and of the values underpinning the right of return.

The “We Want to Live” Movement

Palestinians in Gaza grew tired of their living conditions and the status quo, and thus shifted from resistance to civil disobedience and rebellion. It was in this context that the “We Want to Live” Movement (bidna n’eesh) emerged on March 14, 2019, urging Gaza’s inhabitants to take to the streets in protest. The movement called on its followers to come out with kitchen cookware and utensils as a symbol, but they were surprised by the violent reaction of Hamas security forces who arrested families, journalists, and human rights defenders. They also orchestrated simultaneous demonstrations under the pretext of suffering from the salary crisis and the PA sanctions against Gaza.

The activists involved in the movement said they were shocked during interrogations as Hamas security forces invoked “treason” in their questions and purported that the “We Want to Live” demonstrators “worked against the resistance.” However, the activists protested issues of unemployment, and rising prices and taxes. They did not protest against Hamas or side with the PA; rather, they were standing for themselves.

Hamas’s reaction to this movement gives a clear indication of the amount of repression targeting public freedoms in Gaza, and the ways the political authorities have treated, and defamed, those agitating for basic improvements in living conditions as “collaborators against the resistance.” In fact, such a charge of treason is so profound that it provides sufficient grounds to refer the case to the Military Court in Gaza, where the accused faces a bleak and unknown fate.

The repercussions point to the crisis of the security apparatus in Gaza, and Hamas’s totalitarian rule which it justifies on grounds that it protects the citizens. This has, in fact, eroded steadfastness in Gaza, as it politicizes the resistance and works to render it the monopoly of a particular group.

Taking to Social Media

Like the rest of the world, Palestinians in Gaza circulate information on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, including satires of political news in the form of jokes and memes. Indeed, we can think of the virtual space as one that some have adopted as a field for spontaneous critique, away from factional allegiance, and amounting to its own kind of social mobilization.

Given the increasing oppression of their right to freedom of expression, social media platforms have also become a means for Palestinians in Gaza to publicly shame authorities from across the political spectrum. In this way, public shaming has become a digital weapon that Gazans frequently use to express their anger and raise awareness about critical issues, such as in cases where families use violence against their female members, and in cases of political and social extortion against ordinary citizens.

Recently, Palestinian activists in Gaza launched an online campaign, “Down with Jawwal,” against the Palestine Cellular Communications Company, Jawwal, to protest its high prices, particularly in light of the difficult conditions in besieged Gaza. Online activism ensures social rather than formal immunity, speaks the mind of the public, and constitutes a true expression of marginalized groups. As such, it enhances the structural balance of society, reclaiming visibility across the collective, and minimizing individualist tendencies.

The pandemic has reinforced the Zionist principle of ‘divide and rule,’ while the division in Palestinian leadership has further entrenched fragmentation, the state of anomie, and social fragility Click To Tweet

While social activism in the street ceased and moved to online platforms as the only way to escape repression, activism on social media is hardly as powerful or effective. It should not replace physical and material activism, especially in the context of occupation.

The online protest movement has set a new language and form of political expression in Gaza following the political vacuum and the loss of faith in political change. Nevertheless, it instituted a digital mall, so to speak, in which political discourse is mired in consumerist culture, and has become a main mode of action for many in Gaza. This new mode of expression has resulted in indolence and lack of creativity. Indeed, consumerist values ​​have started to replace social and voluntary work, as well as productivity in society, in turn compounding the ways in which the existing political division continues to foster an environment hostile to creativity and productivity.

Projections on Gaza’s Future

In a brainstorming session held on November 27, 2020, for a group of young men and women born after the turn of the millennium to discuss the transformations in Palestinian social and political values, one participant said: “the homeland is too narrow, and we are out of luck.” That is, this group represented the generation that spent its childhood in brutal wars, and came of age as the division in Palestinian leadership solidified. This is the generation that saw what few freedoms they enjoyed as children taken away. Their present is chaotic and their future unclear, as they see a world saturated with frustration, dangers, and loss.

Gaza’s Palestinians face the systematic discrimination of the occupation regime, as well as the discriminatory practices of the PA and Hamas. The pandemic has reinforced the Zionist principle of “divide and rule,” while the division in Palestinian leadership has further entrenched fragmentation, the state of anomie, and social fragility. The repercussions of COVID-19 exposed the role of the three variables (occupation, division, pandemic) in forging the duality felt by the Palestinian people in Gaza between what they experience in a society with historical memory and national identity, and what they have created within the permanent uncertainty they experience in order to live in momentary peace.

One cannot think of Gaza as going through a transitional phase brimming with turmoil and ambiguity since it has been in this state for more than a decade. One can only predict that Gaza will turn from a political to a humanitarian cause and its people will grow concerned with their individual interests, neglecting issues of collective importance. In such a future, the struggle will change into a struggle for survival between the victims themselves, tearing apart their shared humanity.

Palestinians in Gaza continue to fantasize about returning to their homeland and homes, especially after the Great March of Return, and even if the current generations – like many of their parents and grandparents – do not have actual memories of the homeland. Indeed, as prominent Palestinian author Ghassan Kanafani once said: “I search for the Palestine of reality, the Palestine that is more than a memory.” Nonetheless, with ongoing collapse and traumatization in Gaza, Palestinians here have become anxious and fearful of tomorrow as they are unable to sustain their livelihoods and work. The right of return for them has become a mere fantasy.

Via Al-Shabaka

Al-Shabaka member Ali Abdel-Wahab works as a data analyst and evaluation and follow-up assistant at the Tamer Institute for Community Education in Gaza. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, and is interested in the world of data, big data, and computer social sciences. He has worked as a research assistant in several Palestinian and European institutes and has written several articles and scientific papers. He is also a member of the political youth forum in Gaza’s Masarat Center. His research focuses on issues of political economy, digital transformation, and the social network, with particular focus on Palestine.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

TRT World: “COVID-19 cases in Gaza on the rise since mid-November”

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