Ramzy Baroud – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Fri, 18 Sep 2020 05:35:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.15 How do Democrats and Republicans Differ on Palestine and Israel? https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/democrats-republicans-palestine.html https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/democrats-republicans-palestine.html#respond Thu, 17 Sep 2020 04:01:39 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=193203 ( Middle East Monitor ) -The polarized nature of American politics often makes it difficult to address fundamental differences between the country’s two main political rivals, Republicans and Democrats. As each side is intent on discrediting the other at every opportunity, unbiased information regarding the two parties’ actual stances on internal and external issues can be difficult to decipher.

Regarding Palestine and Israel, however, both parties’ establishments are quite clear on offering Israel unlimited and unconditional support. The discrepancies in their positions are, at times, quite negligible, even if Democrats, occasionally, attempt to present themselves as fairer and even-handed.

Judging by statements made by Democrat presidential candidate, Joe Biden, his running mate, Kamala Harris, and people affiliated with their campaign, a future President Biden does not intend to reverse any of the pro-Israel political measures adopted by the Donald Trump Administration.

Moreover, a Democrat administration, as revealed, will not even consider the possibility of conditioning US financial and military support to Israel on the latter’s respect for Palestinian human rights, let alone international law altogether.

“Joe Biden has made it clear … he will not tie US security assistance to Israel to political decisions Israel makes, and I couldn’t agree more,” Harris, who is promoted enthusiastically by some as a ‘progressive’ politician, was quoted as saying in a telephone call on August 26. The call was made to what Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, termed as “Jewish supporters.” The Jerusalem Post and the Times of Israel referred to this crucial constituency as “Jewish donors.”

READ: Netanyahu ‘fabricated’ video to influence US policy on Palestine

Although the view of the party’s rank and file has significantly shifted against Israel in recent years, the Democrat’s upper echelon still caters to the Israel lobby and their rich backers, even if this means continuing to mold US foreign policy in the Middle East so that it serves Israeli interests.

Republicans, on the other hand, have cemented their support for Israel, but no longer around geostrategic issues pertaining to Israel’s ‘security’ or US interests. The speeches made by Republican leaders at the Republican National Convention (RNC), held in Charlotte, North Carolina last month, were all aimed at reassuring ‘Christian Zionists’, who represent the most powerful pro-Israel constituency in the US. The once relatively marginal impact of Christian Zionists in directly shaping US foreign policy has morphed, over the years, to define the core values of Republicans.

Surrounded by leaders of Israel and UAE, Jared Kushner makes remakes as President Donald Trump announces a peace agreement to Establish Diplomatic ties, with Israel and the UAE on 13 August 2020 [Doug Mills/The New York Times]

Regardless of the nature of the discourse through which Republican and Democrat leaders express their love and support for Israel, the two parties are decidedly ‘pro-Israel’. There are many recent examples that corroborate this assertion.

On November 18, 2019, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Washington would no longer consider Jewish settlements illegal or a violation of international law. That position was later cemented in Trump’s so-called ‘Deal of the Century’, published on January 28.

Democrats, however, continue to perceive illegal Jewish settlements as, indeed, illegal. “This decision harms the cause of diplomacy, takes us further away from the hope of a two-state solution, and will only further inflame tensions in the region,” Joe Biden’s campaign said in a statement, in response to Pompeo’s declaration.

Although markedly different, it is hard to imagine a Democrat administration upholding the above position, while simultaneously refraining from reversing previous decisions made by the Trump administration. It can only be one or the other.

One’s cynicism is fully justified, as we recently learned, that the Democrat establishment has refused to even use the word ‘occupation’, with reference to Israel’s occupation of Palestine, in their party platform released on July 15. According to Foreign Policy, the decision “followed heavy last-minute lobbying by pro-Israel advocacy groups.”

On December 6, 2017, the Trump administration made one of the boldest pro-Israel decisions, when he formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. A few months later, on May 14, 2018, the US embassy was moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a brazen violation of international law.

The legal foundation of Trump’s decision was the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995. This Act was the outcome of bipartisan efforts, bringing together Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Interestingly, leading Democrats, such as Joe Biden and John Kerry, were the main cheerleaders of the embassy move, back then. Only one Democrat senator, the late Robert Byrd, voted against the Bill. In the House of Representatives, only 30 out of 204 Democrats voted ‘no’.

Even though many Democrats rejected the timing of Trump’s implementation of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, their criticism was largely political, primarily motivated by Democrats’ attempts to discredit Trump. The fact that the Biden campaign, later on, made it clear that the decision will not be reversed should he become president, is a further illustration highlighting the moral bankruptcy of the Democrat establishment, as well.

The truth is, US unconditional backing for Israel is a common cause among all American administrations, whether Democrat or Republican. What they may differ on, however, is their overall motive and primary target audience during election time.

Political polarization and misinformation aside, both Democrats and Republicans head to the November elections with strong pro-Israel sentiments, if not outright support, while completely ignoring the plight of occupied and oppressed Palestinians.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor or Informed Comment.

Via Middle East Monitor

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Featured image: Cartoonization via Lunapic.

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The ‘Desaparecidos’ of Palestine: Israel Escalates War on the Dead https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/desaparecidos-palestine-escalates.html https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/desaparecidos-palestine-escalates.html#respond Wed, 16 Sep 2020 04:03:04 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=193186 ( Middle East Monitor) – On September 2, the Israeli government approved a proposal that allows the military to indefinitely withhold the bodies of Palestinians who have been killed by the Israeli army. The proposal was made by the country’s Defense Minister, Benny Gantz.

Gantz is the main political rival of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He also serves the role of the ‘alternate Prime Minister.’ If Netanyahu does not renege on the coalition government agreement he signed with Gantz’s Blue and White Party last April, Gantz will take the helm of Israel’s leadership, starting November 2021.

Since his official induction to the tumultuous world of Israeli politics, Gantz, supposedly a ‘centrist’, has adopted hawkish stances against Palestinians, especially those in Gaza. This way, he hopes to widen his appeal to Israeli voters, the majority of whom have migrated en-masse to the Right.

But Gantz’s latest ‘achievement’, that of denying dead Palestinians a proper burial, is not entirely a novel idea. In fact, in Israel, bargaining with corpses has been the modus operandi for decades.

According to the Defense Minister’s logic, the withholding of bodies will serve as a ‘deterrent against terror attacks.’ However, judging by the fact that the practice has been in use for many years, there is no proof that Palestinians were ever discouraged from resisting Israel’s military occupation due to such strategies.

The new policy, according to Israeli officials, is different from the previous practices. While in the past, Israel has only kept the bodies of alleged ‘Palestinian attackers’ who belonged to ‘terror groups’, the latest decision by the Israeli government would extend the rule to apply to all Palestinians, even those who have no political affiliations.

READ: Holding on to martyrs’ bodies is how Gantz runs away from difficult questions

Aside from Gantz’s attempt at shoring up his hawkish credentials, the military man-turned politician wants to improve his chances in the on and off, indirect negotiations between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza. Israel believes that there are four soldiers who are currently being held in Gaza, including the bodies of two soldiers who were killed during the devastating Israeli war on the besieged Strip in July 2014. Hamas has maintained that two of the four soldiers – Hadar Goldin and Shaul Aaron – are, in fact, still alive and in custody.

For years, low-level talks between Hamas and Israel have aimed at securing a deal that would see an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners freed in exchange for the detained Israelis. By withholding yet more Palestinian bodies, Tel Aviv hopes to strengthen its position in future talks.

The reality, however, is quite different. The Israeli army has not been returning the bodies of Palestinians who are accused of attacking Israeli soldiers for months, which includes all Palestinians, regardless of their purported political affiliations.

Undoubtedly, withholding corpses as a political strategy is illegal under international law. Article 130 of the Fourth Geneva Convention clearly states that persons who are killed during armed conflicts should be “honorably buried … according to the rites of the religion to which they belonged.”

The Israeli Supreme Court, however, which quite often rules contrary to international law, resolved on September 9, 2019 – exactly one year before the Israeli cabinet’s decision – that the army has the right to continue with the practice of withholding the bodies of dead Palestinians.

While Israel is not the first country to use the dead as a bargaining chip, the practice in Israel has lasted as long as the conflict itself, and has been utilized in myriad ways with the intention of humiliating, collectively punishing and bargaining with Palestinians.

During Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’ (1976-1983), tens of thousands of Argentinians ‘disappeared’. Students, intellectuals, trade unionists and thousands of other dissidents were killed by the country’s regime in an unprecedented genocide. The bodies of most of these victims were never recovered. However, the practice largely ceased following the collapse of the military junta in 1983.

Similar ordeals have been inflicted by other countries in many parts of the world. In Israel however, the practice is not linked to a specific military regime or a particular leader. The ‘desaparecidos’ of Palestine span several generations.

To this day, Israel maintains what is known as the ‘cemeteries of numbers’. Salwa Hammad, a coordinator for the Palestinian National Campaign to Retrieve Martyrs, estimates that there are six such cemeteries in Israel, although Israeli authorities refuse to divulge more details regarding the nature of these cemeteries, or exactly how many Palestinian bodies are buried there.

The Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center estimates that 255 Palestinian bodies are buried in these cemeteries, 52 of them being ‘detained’ there by Israeli authorities since 2016.

In the ‘cemeteries of numbers’, Palestinians are known, not by name, but by a number, one that only Israel can cross-reference to the actual individual who is buried there. In 2011, the body of Hafez Abu Zant was released after being held in one of these cemeteries for 35 years, Bernama news agency reported.

According to Hammad, “If the remains are in a ‘cemetery of numbers’, we get it back in a black bag – some bones, some soil and maybe their clothes.”

Following the Israeli cabinet’s approval of his proposal, Gantz bragged about his ability to apply “an extensive policy of deterrence since entering office”. The truth is that Gantz is merely posturing and taking credit for a protracted Israeli policy that has been applied by all previous governments, regardless of their political orientations.

If Gantz is truly convinced that holding dead Palestinian bodies – while maintaining the Israeli military occupation – will bring about whatever skewed definition of peace and security he has in mind, he is sadly mistaken.

Such policies have proven a complete failure. While Palestinian families are absolutely devastated by this hideous practice, the detention of corpses has never quelled a rebellion, neither in Argentina nor in Palestine.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

This work by Middle East Monitor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Via Middle East Monitor

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

TRT World from Last Year: “Israeli Supreme Court approves holding bodies of killed Palestinians”

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As Washington retreats, Eastern Mediterranean conflict further marginalizes NATO https://www.juancole.com/2020/09/washington-mediterranean-marginalizes.html Tue, 08 Sep 2020 04:01:58 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=193049 Middle East Monitor – The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an alliance in name alone. Recent events notwithstanding, the brewing conflict over territorial waters in the Eastern Mediterranean indicates that the military union between mostly Western countries is faltering.

The current Turkish-Greek tension is only one facet of a much larger conflict involving, aside from the two Mediterranean countries, Israel, Egypt, Cyprus, France, Libya, and other Mediterranean and European countries. Notably absent from the list are the United States and Russia; the latter, in particular, stands to gain or lose much economic leverage, depending on the outcome of the conflict.

Conflicts of this nature tend to have historic roots – Turkey and Greece fought a brief but consequential war in 1974. Of relevance to the current conflagration is an agreement signed by Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu and his Greek and Cypriot counterparts, Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Nicos Anastasiades, respectively, on January 2. The agreement envisages the establishment of the EastMed pipeline which, once finalized, is projected to flood Europe with Israeli natural gas, pumped mostly from the Leviathan Basin.

Several European countries are keen on being part of, and profiting from, the project. But Europe’s gain is not just economic but also geostrategic. Cheap Israeli gas will lessen Europe’s reliance on Russia’s natural gas which arrives in Europe through two pipelines, Nord Stream and Gazprom, the latter extending through Turkey.

Gazprom alone supplies Europe with an estimated 40% of its natural gas needs, thus giving Russia significant economic and political leverage. Some European countries, especially France, have labored to liberate themselves from what they see as a Russian economic chokehold on their economies.

Indeed, the French and Italian rivalry currently underway in Libya is tantamount to colonial expeditions aimed at balancing out the over-reliance on Russian and Turkish supplies of gas and other sources of energy.

Fully aware of France’s and Italy’s intentions in Libya, the Russians and Turks are wholly involved in Libya’s military showdown between the Government of National Accord (GNA) and forces in the East, loyal to General Khalifa Haftar.

While the conflict in Libya has been underway for years, the Israel-et al EastMed pipeline has added fuel to the fire: infuriating Turkey, which is excluded from the agreement; worrying Russia, whose gas arrives in Europe partially via Turkey, and empowering Israel, which may now cement its economic integration with the European continent.

Anticipating the Israel-led alliance, on November 28, 2019, Turkey and Libya signed a Maritime Boundary Treaty, an agreement that gave Ankara access to Libya’s territorial waters. The bold maneuver allows Turkey to claim territorial rights for gas exploration in a massive region that extends from the Turkish southern coast to Libya’s north-east coast.

The ‘Exclusive Economic Zone’ (EEZ) is unacceptable in Europe because, if it remains in effect, it will cancel out the ambitious EastMed project and fundamentally alter the geopolitics – largely dictated by Europe and guaranteed by NATO – of this region.

However, NATO is no longer the once formidable and unified power. Since its inception in 1949, NATO has been on the rise. NATO members have fought major wars in the name of defending one another and also to protect ‘the West’ from the ‘Soviet menace’.

NATO remained strong and relatively unified even after the dismantlement of the Soviet Union and the abrupt collapse, in 1991, of its Warsaw Pact. NATO managed to sustain a degree of unity, despite its raison d’être – defeating the Soviets – being no longer a factor, because Washington wished to maintain its military hegemony, especially in the Middle East.

While the Iraq war of 1991 was the first powerful expression of NATO’s new mission, the Iraq war of 2003 was NATO’s undoing. After failing to achieve any of its goals in Iraq, the US adopted an ‘exit strategy’ that foresaw a gradual American retreat from Iraq while, simultaneously, ‘pivoting to Asia’ in the desperate hope of slowing down China’s military encroachment in the Pacific.

The best expression of the American decision to divest militarily from the Middle East was NATO’s war on Libya in March 2011. Military strategists had to devise a bewildering term, ‘leading from behind’, to describe the role of the US in the Libya conflict. For the first time since the establishment of NATO, the US was part of a conflict that was largely controlled by comparatively smaller and weaker NATO members – Italy, France, Britain, and others.

While former US President, Barack Obama, insisted on the centrality of NATO in US military strategies, it was evident that the once-powerful alliance had outweighed its usefulness for Washington.

France, in particular, continues to fight for NATO with the same ferocity it fought to keep the European Union intact. It is this French faith in European and Western ideals that has compelled Paris to fill the gap left by the gradual American withdrawal. France is currently playing the role of the military hegemon and political leader in many of the Middle East’s ongoing crises, including the flaring East Mediterranean conflict.

On December 3, 2019, France’s Emmanuel Macron stood up to US President Donald Trump, at the NATO summit in London. Here, Trump chastised NATO for its reliance on American defense and threatened to pull out of the alliance altogether if NATO members did not compensate Washington for its protection.

French president Emmanuel Macron (L) and US president Donald Trump (R) at the NATO summit in the UK in December, 2019 [Anadolu Agency]

” data-medium-file=”https://i1.wp.com/www.middleeastmonitor.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/1186266480.jpg.0.jpg?fit=500%2C333&quality=85&strip=all&zoom=1&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i1.wp.com/www.middleeastmonitor.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/1186266480.jpg.0.jpg?fit=933%2C622&quality=85&strip=all&zoom=1&ssl=1″ src=”https://i1.wp.com/www.middleeastmonitor.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/1186266480.jpg.0.jpg?resize=500%2C333&quality=85&strip=all&zoom=1&ssl=1″ alt=”French president Emmanuel Macron (L) and US president Donald Trump (R) at the NATO summit in the UK in December, 2019 [Anadolu Agency]” data-recalc-dims=”1″ data-lazy-loaded=”1″ >

French president Emmanuel Macron (L) and US president Donald Trump (R) at the NATO summit in the UK in December, 2019 [Anadolu Agency]

It’s a strange and unprecedented spectacle when countries like Israel, Greece, Egypt, Libya, Turkey and others lay claims over the Mediterranean, while NATO scrambles to stave off an outright war, among its own members. Even stranger, to see France and Germany taking over the leadership of NATO while the US remains, thus far, almost completely absent.

It is hard to imagine the reinvention of NATO, at least a NATO that caters to Washington’s interests and diktats. Judging by France’s recent behavior, the future may hold irreversible paradigm shifts. In November 2018, Macron made what then seemed like a baffling suggestion, a ‘true, European army’. Considering the rapid regional developments and the incremental collapse of NATO, Macron may one day get his army, after all.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor or Informed Comment.

Via Middle East Monitor

This work by Middle East Monitor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

France 24 English: “NATO says Greece and Turkey agree to de-escalation talks, but Athens denies a deal”

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‘Dying to fish’: How Israeli piracy destroyed Gaza’s once thriving fishing Industry, a Key Source of Protein https://www.juancole.com/2020/08/destroyed-thriving-industry.html Sat, 29 Aug 2020 04:04:06 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=192856 ( Middle East Monitor) – On August 16, the Israeli navy declared the Gaza sea a closed military zone. A few days later, a group of Gaza fishermen decided to take their chances by fishing within a mere two or three nautical miles off the Gaza shore. No sooner had they cast their nets, Israeli navy bullets began whizzing all around them.

Soon after the incident, I spoke with one of these fishermen. His name is Fathi.

“My wife, my eight children and I, we all live off fishing. The Israeli navy shot at us today and asked us to leave the sea. I had to return to my family empty-handed, without any fish to sell and nothing to give to my children,” Fathi told me.

This fisherman’s story is typical. According to the Israeli rights group B’tselem, “about 95% of fishermen in Gaza live below the poverty line”.

Gaza’s fishermen are true heroes. Against numerous odds, they brave the sea every day to ensure the survival of their families.

In this scenario, the Israeli navy represents modern-day pirates opening fire at these Palestinian men – and, in some cases, women – sinking their boats sometimes and driving them back to the shore. In Gaza, this has been the routine for almost 13 years.

Netanyahu vs Gantz: Gaza Escalation as Reflection of Israel’s Political Rivalry

As soon as Israel declared the complete closure of Gaza’s fishing zone it prevented thousands of fishermen from providing for their families, thus destroying yet another sector in Gaza’s decimated economy.

The Israeli military justified its action as a retaliatory measure against Palestinian protesters who have reportedly launched incendiary balloons into Israel in recent days. The Israeli decision, therefore, may seem rational according to the poor standards of mainstream journalism. A slight probe into the subject, however, reveals another dimension to the story.

Palestinian protesters have, in fact, released incendiary balloons into Israel which, reportedly, cause fires in some agricultural areas adjacent to occupied Gaza. However, the act itself has been a desperate cry for attention.

Gaza is almost completely out of fuel. The Strip’s only power generator was officially shut down on August 18. The Karem Abu Salem Crossing, which allows barely limited supplies to reach Gaza through Israel, has also been closed by an Israeli military order. The sea, Gaza’s last resort, has, recently, turned into a one-sided war between the Israeli navy and Gaza’s shrinking population of fishermen. All of this has inflicted severe damage to a region that has already endured tremendous suffering.

The Israeli occupation forces completely closed the Gaza Strip’s fishing zone due to the alleged breach of the security truce on 16 August 2020 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

Gaza’s once healthy fishing sector has been almost obliterated as a result of the Israeli siege. In 2000, for example, the Gaza fishing industry had over 10,000 registered fishermen. Gradually, the number has dwindled to 3,700, although many of them are fishermen by name only – as they can no longer access the sea, repair their damaged boats or afford new ones.

Those who remain committed to the profession do so because it is, literally, their last means of survival – if they do not fish, their families do not eat. The story of Gaza’s fishermen is also the story of the Gaza siege. No other profession has been as directly linked to Gaza’s woes as that of fishing.

When the Oslo Accord was signed between the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993, Palestinians were told that one of the many fruits of peace would be the expansion of Gaza’s fishing zone – up to 20 nautical miles (approximately 37 km), precisely.

Like the rest of Oslo’s broken promises, the fishing agreement was never honored, either. Instead, up to 2006, the Israeli military allowed Gazans to fish within a zone that never exceeded 12 nautical miles. In 2007, when Israel imposed its ongoing siege on Gaza, the fishing zone was reduced even further, first to six nautical miles and, eventually, to three.

‘People of the Cave’: Palestinians take their fight for justice to the mountains

Following each Israeli war or violent conflagration in Gaza, the fishing zone is shut down completely. It is reopened after each truce, accompanied by more empty promises that the fishing zone will be expanded several nautical miles in order to improve the livelihood of the fishermen.

After the Egyptian negotiated truce that followed a brief but deadly Israeli campaign in November 2019, the fishing zone was expanded, again, to reach 15 nautical miles, the largest range in many years.

However, this respite was short-lived. In no time, the Israeli navy was sinking boats, firing at fishermen and pushing them back into the original small spaces in which they operated.

While Israel has redeployed its forces to the outskirts of Gaza in 2005, under international law it is still considered an Occupying Power, obligated to ensure the welfare and the rights of the occupied Palestinians living there. Of course, Israel has never honored international law, neither in Gaza, nor anywhere else in occupied Palestine.

In February 2018, Isma’il Abu Ryalah was killed by the Israeli navy while fishing in his small boat five nautical miles off the Gaza shore. Predictably, no Israeli was ever held accountable for Abu Ryalah’s murder. Soon after the incident, desperation – but also courage – prompted thousands of Gaza fishermen back to the sea, despite the impending danger posed by modern-day pirates masquerading as an army.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor or Informed Comment.

Via Middle East Monitor

The article above, this work by Middle East Monitor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Al Jazeera English: “Israel closes Gaza fishing zone over balloon bombs”

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Israelis are Protesting Netanyahu, but He is merely the Symptom of a Jim Crow State https://www.juancole.com/2020/08/israelis-protesting-netanyahu.html Sun, 02 Aug 2020 04:03:00 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=192337 ( Middle East Monitor) – Protests against Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, have raged on for weeks, turning violent sometimes. Israelis are furious at their government’s mediocre response to the coronavirus pandemic, especially as COVID-19 disease is experiencing a massive surge throughout the country.

Netanyahu warned protesters, thousands of whom have been rallying outside his residence in Jerusalem, against “anarchy (and) violence”. Scenes of utter chaos and violent arrests have been a daily occurrence in a country that is already in the throes of a political crisis, largely, if not exclusively, linked to the Prime Minister himself.

Desperate to create any distractions from his many woes at home, Netanyahu has been pushing for a confrontation with the Lebanese resistance group, Hezbollah. But that, too, has failed, as Israeli media has denied earlier claims that a violent confrontation was reported at the Israel/Lebanon border.

Hezbollah insists that it would be the group, not Netanyahu, that will determine the time and place for its response to Israel’s recent killing of Hezbollah’s influential member, Ali Kamel Mohsen.

Mohsen was killed in an Israeli aerial raid targeting the vicinity of the Damascus International Airport, likely another desperate attempt by Netanyahu to deflect attention from his troubled coalition government and his corruption trial to an issue that often unifies most Israelis.

The turmoil in Israel is not just about an obstinate, divisive leader who is manipulating public opinion, the media and the various political groups to remain in power and to avoid legal accountability for his corruption.

The Disunited Coalition

Israel is suffering a crisis of political legitimacy, one that goes beyond the embattled Netanyahu, and his coalition with the head of the Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) centrist party, Benny Gantz.

The political marriage between Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Kahol Lavan last April was fundamentally odd and unexpected. The announcement that Gantz – who endured three general elections in less than a year to finally oust Netanyahu – was uniting with his archenemy has devastated the anti-Netanyahu political camp, forcing Gantz’s partners, Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon, to abandon him.

But the new coalition government between the right and center became dysfunctional immediately after it was formed. Israel’s political marriage of convenience is likely to end in an ugly divorce.

The war between Netanyahu and his main coalition partner is now manifest in every aspect of Israel’s political life: in the Knesset (parliament), in media headlines and on the streets.

When the new government assumed its duties after one of the most tumultuous years in Israel’s political history, the mood, at least immediately, was somewhat calm; both Netanyahu and Gantz seemed united in their desire to illegally annex nearly a third of the occupied Palestinian West Bank. Israel’s rightwing camp was delighted; the center tagged along.

However, the international response to the annexation scheme forced Netanyahu to rethink his July 1 deadline. Now that annexation has been postponed indefinitely, Netanyahu is being denied a major political card that could have helped him replenish his fading popularity among Israelis, at a time when he desperately needs it.

On July 19, Netanyahu’s corruption trial resumed. Although the Prime Minister did not attend the opening session personally, his image – that of a strong commanding figure – was tarnished, nonetheless.

Gantz, who already agreed to the annexation plan, was too clever to fully associate himself with the risky political endeavor. That task was left to Netanyahu who knew the risks affiliated with a failed political scheme, but with no option except to follow through with it.

Awaiting the right opportunity to pounce on his beleaguered ‘partner’, Gantz found his chance in a report published by the Israeli daily newspaper, Haaretz.

The Budget Conspiracy

On July 22, Haaretz reported that, “Netanyahu decided to not pass the budget for 2020 and to call a general election to take place on November 18,” to avoid the possibility of being forced to “handing over the keys to Defense Minister and Kahol Lavan Chairman, Benny Gantz” so that he, Netanyahu, may “attend legal proceedings” related to his corruption trial.

According to this claim, Netanyahu only agreed to swap the Prime Minister seat with Gantz come November 2021 just to buy time and to avoid a fourth election that would leave him vulnerable to an electoral defeat and to a corruption trial without a political safety net.

Despite the risk of yet another election, Netanyahu is keen to wrestle the Justice Ministry from Kahol Lavan’s hands, because whoever controls the Justice Ministry controls Netanyahu’s fate in Israeli courts. Leaving Gantz with such a powerful card is neither an option for the Likud nor for Netanyahu.

Hence, the Likud is insisting that the budget agreement can only last for one year, while Kahol Lavan is adamant that it must cover a period of two years. The Likud conspiracy, as revealed in Israeli media, suggests that the Likud Finance Minister, Israel Katz, plans to use the next budget negotiations as the reason to dismantle the right-center coalition and demand another election, thus denying Gantz his chance to serve his term as a prime minister, per the unity government agreement.

Crisis of a Fake Democracy

However, the crisis is larger than the dispute between Netanyahu and Gantz. While Israel has long prided itself on being “the only democracy in the Middle East”, the truth is that Israeli ‘democracy’ was, from the start, fraudulent, in that it catered to Israeli Jews and discriminated against everyone else.

In recent years, however, institutionalized racism and apartheid in Israel were no longer masked by clever political discourses. Netanyahu, in particular, has led the charge of making Israel the right-wing, chauvinistic, racist haven that it is today.

The fact that Netanyahu recently became Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister, elected repeatedly by Israel’s Jewish citizens, indicates that the Israeli leader is but a reflection of the larger ailments that have afflicted Israeli society as a whole.

Reducing the discussion to Netanyahu’s many failures might be convenient, but the demonstrable truth is that corrupt leaders can only exist in corrupt and unhealthy political systems. Israel is now the perfect example of that truism.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor or Informed Comment.

Via Middle East Monitor

This work by Middle East Monitor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Ruptly: “Israel: Thousands stage protest against Netanyahu in Jerusalem”

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Progressive Dems, Young Jewish Americans are Challenging Right wing AIPAC and Expansionist Israeli Narratives https://www.juancole.com/2020/07/progressive-challenging-expansionist.html Thu, 16 Jul 2020 04:02:52 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=192061 (Middle East Monitor ) – While the US administration of President Donald Trump remains adamant in its support for Israel, the traditional democratic leadership continues to employ underhanded language, the kind of ‘strategic ambiguity’ that offers full support to Israel and nothing but lip service to Palestine and peace.

Trump’s policies on Israel and Palestine have been damaging, culminating in the outrageously unfair ‘Deal of the Century’, and his administration remains largely committed to the trend of growing affinity between the Republican establishment and the Israeli right-wing camp of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The views of the Democratic leadership, represented in the presumptive Democratic challenger in the upcoming November election, Joe Biden, are still those of a bygone era, when the Democrats’ unconditional love for Israel equaled that of Republicans. It is safe to say that those days are drawing to an end, for successive opinion polls are reaffirming the changing political landscape in Washington.

Once upon a time, America’s political elite, whose politics diverged on many issues, wholeheartedly agreed on one single foreign policy matter: their country’s blind and unconditional love and support for Israel. In those days, the influential pro-Israel lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) ruled the roost, reigning supreme in the US Congress and, almost single-handedly, decided on the fate of Congressmen and women based on their support, or lack thereof, of Israel.

While it is too early to proclaim that ‘those days are over,’ judging by the vastly changing political discourse on Palestine and Israel, the many opinion polls, and the electoral successes of anti-Israeli occupation candidates in national and local elections, one is compelled to say that AIPAC’s tight grip on US foreign policy is finally loosening.

Such a statement may seem premature considering the current administration’s unparalleled bias towards Israel – the illegal US embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the dismissal of the ‘Right of Return’ for Palestinian Refugees, and the administration’s support of the Israeli plan to illegally annex parts of the West Bank, and so on.

However, a distinction must be made between support for Israel among the ruling, the increasingly isolated clique of politicians, and the general mood of a country that, despite numerous infringements on democracy in recent years, is still, somewhat democratic.

On June 25, a whopping number of nearly 200 Democratic House members, including some of the most staunch supporters of Israel, called, in a letter, on Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials to scrap their plan to illegally annex nearly 30 percent of the West Bank.

“We express our deep concern with the stated intention to move ahead with any unilateral annexation of West Bank territory, and we urge your government to reconsider plans to do so,” the letter said, in part.

AIPAC: US officials can criticise Israel annexation plans, ‘as long as it stops there’

While the wording of the letter was far from being dubbed ‘threatening’, the fact that it was signed by stalwart Israeli allies, such as Florida Congressman, Ted Deutch and Illinois Congressman, Brad Schneider, speaks volumes about the shifting discourse on Israel among the center and even conservative corners of the Democratic Party. Among the signers were also prominent figures in the Democratic establishment, like Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and House Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer.

Equally important, is that the influence of the younger and more progressive generation of Democratic politicians continues to push the boundaries of the party’s discourse on Israel, thanks to the tireless work of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues. Along with a dozen Democratic lawmakers, Ocasio-Cortez issued another letter on June 30, this time addressed to US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

Unlike the first letter, the second one was assertive and markedly daring. “Should the Israeli government continue down this path (of annexation), we will work to ensure non-recognition of annexed territories as well as pursue legislation that conditions the $3.8 billion in US military funding to Israel to ensure US taxpayers are not supporting annexation in any way,” the letter read, in part.

Imagine if this exact wording was used by Democratic representatives in July 1980, when the Israeli Parliament unlawfully annexed East Jerusalem in an action that was – and remains – contrary to international law. The fate of these politicians would have been similar to the fate of others who dared to speak out at the risk of losing their seats in Congress; in fact, their political careers altogether.

But times have changed. It is quite unusual, and refreshing, to see AIPAC scrambling to put out the many fires ignited by the new radical voices among Democrats.

The reason that it is no longer easy for the pro-Israel lobby to maintain its decades-long hegemony over Congress is that the likes of Ocasio-Cortez are, themselves, a byproduct of the generational and, likely, irreversible change that has taken place among Democrats over the years.

The trend of polarization of American public opinion regarding Israel goes back nearly twenty years, when Americans began viewing their support for Israel based on party lines. More recent polls suggest that this polarization is growing. A Pew opinion poll published in 2016 showed that sympathy for Israel among Republicans morphed to an unprecedented 74% while falling among Democrats to 33%.

Then, for the first time in history, support for Israel and Palestinians was almost equally split among Democrats; 33% and 31% respectively. This was a period in which we began seeing such unusual mainstream news headlines as, “Why Democrats are abandoning Israel?”

This ‘abandonment’ continued unabated, as more recent polls have indicated. In January 2018, another Pew survey showed that the Democrats’ support for Israel dwindled to reach 27%.

Not only are the rank-and-file of Democrats walking away from Israel as a result of the growing awareness of Israel’s relentless crimes and violent occupation in Palestine, young Jews are also doing the same.

The changing views on Israel among young American Jews are finally paying dividends, to the extent that, in April 2019, Pew data concluded that Jewish Americans, as a whole, are now far more likely (42%) than Christians to say that President Trump was “favoring the Israelis too much.”

While many Democrats in Congress are increasingly in touch with the views of their constituencies, those at the helm, such as Biden, remain stubbornly committed to agendas that are championed by AIPAC and the rest of the old guard.

The good news from Washington is that, despite Trump’s current support for Israel, an incremental, but lasting structural change continues to take place among Democratic Party supporters everywhere and throughout the country. More sobering news is that Israel’s traditional stronghold over the country’s Jewish communities is faltering – and quickly so.

While AIPAC is likely to continue using and improvising on old tactics to protect Israel’s interests at the US Congress, the long-dubbed ‘powerful lobby’ will unlikely be able to turn back time. Indeed, the age of total dominance of Israel over the US Congress is likely over, and hopefully, this time, for good.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor or Informed Comment.

Via Middle East Monitor

This work by Middle East Monitor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

MEMO from last year: “US congresswoman: Critiquing Israel means you believe in human rights”

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Annexation was Always the Israeli Goal in the Palestinian West Bank https://www.juancole.com/2020/07/annexation-israeli-palestinian.html Wed, 08 Jul 2020 04:03:24 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=191942 ( Middle East Monitor ) – Wednesday, July 1, was meant to be the day on which the Israeli government officially annexed 30% of the occupied Palestinian West Bank and the Jordan Valley. This date, however, came and went and annexation was never actualized.

“I don’t know if there will be a declaration of sovereignty today,” said Israeli Foreign Minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, with reference to the self-imposed deadline declared earlier by Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. An alternative date was not immediately announced.

But does it really matter?

Whether Israel’s illegal appropriation of Palestinian land takes place with massive media fanfare and a declaration of sovereignty, or whether it happens incrementally over the course of the coming days, weeks, and months, Israel has, in reality, already annexed the West Bank – not just 30% of it but, in fact, the whole area.

It is critical that we understand such terms as ‘annexation’, ‘illegal’, ‘military occupation’, and so on, in their proper contexts.

For example, international law deems that all of Israel’s Jewish settlements, constructed anywhere on Palestinian land occupied during the 1967 war, are illegal.

Interestingly, Israel, too, uses the term ‘illegal’ with reference to settlements, but only to ‘outposts’ that have been erected in the occupied territories without the permission of the Israeli government.

In other words, while in the Israeli lexicon the vast majority of all settlement activities in occupied Palestine are ‘legal’, the rest can only be legalized through official channels. Indeed, many of today’s ‘legal’ 132 settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem, housing over half a million Israeli Jewish settlers, began as ‘illegal outposts’.

Though this logic may satisfy the need of the Israeli government to ensure its relentless colonial project in Palestine follows a centralized blueprint, none of this matters in international law.

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Conventions states that “Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive”, adding that “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

READ: Israel’s ‘annexation’ plan only supported by US

Israel has violated its commitment to international law as an ‘Occupying Power’ on numerous occasions, rendering its very ‘occupation’ of Palestine, itself, a violation of how military occupations are conducted – which are meant to be temporary, anyway.

Military occupation is different from annexation. The former is a temporary transition, at the end of which the ‘Occupying Power’ is expected, in fact, demanded, to relinquish its military hold on the occupied territory after a fixed length of time. Annexation, on the other hand, is a stark violation of the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Regulations. It is tantamount to a war crime, for the occupier is strictly prohibited from proclaiming unilateral sovereignty over occupied land.

The international uproar generated by Netanyahu’s plan to annex a third of the West Bank is fully understandable. But the bigger issue at stake is that, in practice, Israel’s violations of the terms of occupation have granted it a de facto annexation of the whole of the West Bank.

So when the European Union, for example, demands that Israel abandons its annexation plans, it is merely asking Israel to re-embrace the status quo ante, that of de facto annexation. Both abhorring scenarios should be rejected.

Israel began utilizing the occupied territories as if they are contiguous and permanent parts of so-called Israel proper, immediately following the June 1967 war. Within a few years, it erected illegal settlements, now thriving cities, eventually moving hundreds of thousands of its own citizens to populate the newly acquired areas.

This exploitation became more sophisticated with time, as Palestinians were subjected to slow, but irreversible, ethnic cleansing. As Palestinian homes were destroyed, farms confiscated, and entire regions depopulated, Jewish settlers moved in to take their place. The post-1967 scenario was a repeat of the post-1948 history, which led to the establishment of the State of Israel on the ruins of historic Palestine.

Moshe Dayan, who served as Israel’s Defense Minister during the 1967 war, explained the Israeli logic best in a historical address at Israel’s Technion University in March 1969. “We came to this country which was already populated by Arabs, and we are establishing a Hebrew, that is a Jewish state here,” he said.

“Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you, because these geography books no longer exist; not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there, either … There is no one place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population,” he added.

The same colonial approach was applied to East Jerusalem and the West Bank after the war. While East Jerusalem was formally annexed in 1980, the West Bank was annexed in practice, but not through a clear legal Israeli proclamation. Why? In one word: demographics.

When Israel first occupied East Jerusalem, it went on a population transfer frenzy: moving its own populati

Palestinians gather to stage a protest against Jewish settlements and Israel’s annexation plan of Jordan Valley in Jericho, West Bank on 22 June 2020 [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]

on to the Palestinian city, strategically expanding the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem to include as many Jews and as few Palestinians as possible, slowly reducing the Palestinian population of Al Quds through numerous tactics, including the revocation of residency and outright ethnic cleansing.

And, thus, Jerusalem’s Palestinian population, which once constituted the absolute majority, has now been reduced to a dwindling minority.

The same process was initiated in parts of the West Bank, but due to the relatively large size of the area and population, it was not possible to follow a similar annexation stratagem without jeopardizing Israel’s drive to maintain Jewish majority.

Dividing the West Bank into Areas A, B, and C as a result of the disastrous Oslo accords, has given Israel a lifeline, for this allowed it to increase settlement activities in Area C – nearly 60% of the West Bank – without stressing too much about demographic imbalances. Area C, where the current annexation plan is set to take place, is ideal for Israeli colonialism, for it includes Palestine’s most arable, resource-rich, and sparsely populated lands.

It matters little whether the annexation will have a set date or will take place progressively through Israel’s declarations of sovereignty over smaller chunks of the West Bank in the future. The fact is, annexation is not a new Israeli political agenda dictated by political circumstances in Tel Aviv and Washington. Rather, annexation has been the ultimate Israeli colonial objective from the very onset.

Let us not get entangled in Israel’s bizarre definitions. The truth is that Israel rarely behaves as an ‘Occupying Power’, but as a sovereign in a country where racial discrimination and apartheid are not only tolerated or acceptable but are, in fact, ‘legal’ as well.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor or Informed Comment.

Middle East Monitor

This work by Middle East Monitor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

TeleSur English: “Palestinian Women Demonstrate Against Israel’s West Bank Annexation Plans”

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Why Israel Elites Fear the Nakba: How memory became Palestine’s greatest weapon https://www.juancole.com/2020/05/israel-palestines-greatest.html Wed, 20 May 2020 04:03:37 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=191003 ( Middle East Monitor ) – On May 15, thousands of Palestinians in Occupied Palestine and throughout the ‘shatat’, or diaspora, participated in the commemoration of Nakba Day, the one event that unites all Palestinians, regardless of their political differences or backgrounds.

For years, social media has added a whole new stratum to this process of commemoration. #Nakba72, along with #NakbaDay and #Nakba, have all trended on Twitter for days. Facebook was inundated with countless stories, videos, images, and statements, written by Palestinians, or in global support of the Palestinian people.

The dominant Nakba narrative remains – 72 years following the destruction of historic Palestine at the hands of Zionist militias – an opportunity to reassert the centrality of the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees. Over 750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homes in Palestine in 1947-48. The surviving refugees and their descendants are now estimated at over five million.

As thousands of Palestinians rallied on the streets and as the Nakba hashtag was generating massive interest on social media, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, paid an eight-hour visit to Israel to discuss the seemingly imminent Israeli government annexation, or theft, of nearly 30% of the occupied Palestinian West Bank.

“The Israeli government will decide on the matter, on exactly when and how to do it,” Pompeo said in an interview with Israeli radio, Kan Bet, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Clearly, the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu has American blessing to further its colonization of occupied Palestine, to entrench its existing Apartheid regime, and to act as if the Palestinians simply do not exist.

The Nakba commemoration and Pompeo’s visit to Israel are a stark representation of Palestine’s political reality today.

Considering the massive US political sway, why do Palestinians then insist on making demands which, according to the pervading realpolitik of the so-called Palestinian-Israeli conflict, seem unattainable?

Since the start of the peace process in Oslo in the early 1990s, the Palestinian leadership has engaged with Israel and its western benefactors in a useless political exercise that has, ultimately, worsened an already terrible situation. After over 25 years of haggling over bits and pieces of what remained of historic Palestine, Israel and the US are now plotting the endgame, while demonizing the very Palestinian leaders that participated in their joint and futile political charade.

Strangely, the rise and demise of the so-called ‘peace process’ did not seem to affect the collective narrative of the Palestinian people, who still see the Nakba, not the Israeli occupation of 1967, and certainly not the Oslo accords, as the core point in their struggle against Israeli colonialism.

This is because the collective Palestinian memory remains completely independent from Oslo and its many misgivings. For Palestinians, memory is an active process. It is not a docile, passive mechanism of grief and self-pity that can easily be manipulated, but a generator of new meanings.

In their seminal book “Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory”, Ahmad Sa’di and Lila Abu-Lughod wrote that “Palestinian memory is, at its heart, political.”

This means that the powerful and emotive commemoration of the 72nd anniversary of the Nakba is essentially a collective political act, and, even if partly unconscious, a people’s retort and rejection of Donald Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’, of Pompeo’s politicking, and of Netanyahu’s annexation drive.

Despite the numerous unilateral measures taken by Israel to determine the fate of the Palestinian people, the blind and unconditional US support of Israel, and the unmitigated failure of the Palestinian Authority to mount any meaningful resistance, Palestinians continue to remember their history and understand their reality based on their own priorities.

For many years, Palestinians have been accused of being unrealistic, of “never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” and even of extremism, for simply insisting on their historical rights in Palestine, as enshrined in international law.

These critical voices are either supporters of Israel, or simply unable to understand how Palestinian memory factors in shaping the politics of ordinary people, independent of the quisling Palestinian leadership or the seemingly impossible-to-overturn status quo. True, both trajectories, that of the stifling political reality and people’s priorities seem to be in constant divergence, with little or no overlapping.

However, a closer look is revealing: the more belligerent Israel becomes, the more stubbornly Palestinians hold on to their past. There is a reason for this.

Occupied, oppressed and refugee camps-confined Palestinians have little control over many of the realities that directly impact their lives. There is little that a refugee from Gaza can do to dissuade Pompeo from assigning the West Bank to Israel, or a Palestinian refugee from Ein El-Helweh in Lebanon to compel the international community to enforce the long-delayed Right of Return.

But there is a single element that Palestinians, regardless of where they are, can indeed control: their collective memory, which remains the main motivator of their legendary steadfastness.

READ: Refugee granddaughters keep the memory of their grandparents’ Nakba alive

Hannah Arendt wrote in 1951 that totalitarianism is a system that, among other things, forbids grief and remembrance, in an attempt to sever the individual’s or group’s relation to the continuous past.

For decades, Israel has done just that, in a desperate attempt to stifle the memory of the Palestinians, so that they are only left with a single option, the self-defeating peace process.

In March 2011, the Israeli parliament introduced the ‘Nakba Law’, which authorized the Israeli Finance Ministry to carry out financial measures against any institution that commemorates Nakba Day.

Israel is afraid of Palestinian memory, since it is the only facet of its war against the Palestinian people that it cannot fully control; the more Israel labors to erase the collective memory of the Palestinian people, the more Palestinians hold tighter to the keys of their homes and to the title deed of their land back in their lost homeland.

There can never be a just peace in Palestine until the priorities of the Palestinian people – their memories, and their aspirations – become the foundation of any political process between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Everything that operates outside this paradigm is null and void, for it will never herald peace or instill true justice. This is why Palestinians remember; for, over the years, their memory has proven to be their greatest weapon.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor or Informed Comment.

Via Middle East Monitor

This work by Middle East Monitor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

TRT World Now: “Nakba Day 2020: Mustafa Barghouti , Palestinian National Initiative”

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How We Became Refugees: The Day My Grandfather Lost His Village in Palestine https://www.juancole.com/2020/05/refugees-grandfather-palestine.html Sat, 16 May 2020 04:03:14 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=190914 ( Middle East Monitor) – Starting on March 27, 1948, a beautiful, small Palestinian village called Beit Daras, came under Zionist militias attacks. With little means – a few old rifles and kitchen knives – the Badrasawis fought back, repelling the first raid and the second. The final attack on the peaceful village followed a scorched-earth military strategy, leaving in its wake scores of dead and wounded, and the entirety of the village on the run. Among the thousands of ethnically-cleansed Palestinians in Beit Daras, a family of six, including an infant, salvaged a few old blankets and some supplies and went searching for a safe place, with the hope that they would return home in a few days. Their nearly one hundred descendants are yet to return to Beit Daras, 72 years later.

Hope, Faith and Old Blankets

“Why bother to haul the good blankets on the back of a donkey, exposing them to the dust of the journey, while we know that it’s a matter of a week or so before we return to Beit Daras?” Mohammed told his bewildered wife, Zeinab. Many years later, Grandma Zeinab would repeat this story with a chuckle as Grandpa Mohammed would shake his head with an awkward mix of embarrassment and grief.

I cannot pinpoint the moment when my grandfather, that beautiful, old man with the small white beard and humble demeanor discovered that his “good blankets” were gone forever, that all that remained of his village were two giant concrete pillars and piles of cactus. I know that he had never given up hope of returning to Beit Daras, perhaps to the same small mud-brick house with the dove tower on the roof.

Beit Daras’ inconsequential existence of the present would espouse little interest, save two concrete pillars that once upon a time, served as an entrance to a small mosque, the walls of which, like those faithful to it are long gone. Yet, somehow, they still insist on identifying with that serene place and that simple existence. On that very spot, on the shoulder of that small hill, huddled between numerous meadows and fences of blooming cactus, there once rested that lovely little village. And also, there, somewhere in the vicinity of the two existing giant concrete pillars, in a tiny mud-brick home with a small extension used for storing crops and a dove tower on the roof, my father, Mohammed Baroud, was born.

Almost 1 million Palestinians were displaced in 1948
Relive the journey of Nakba refugees

It isn’t easy to construct a history that, only several decades ago, was, along with every standing building of that village, blown to smithereens with the very intent of erasing them from existence. Most historic references of Beit Daras, whether by Israeli or Palestinian historians, are brief, and ultimately, resulted in delineating the fall of Beit Daras as just one among nearly 500 Palestinian villages that were often ethnically cleansed and then completely flattened during the war years of 1947-1949. It was another episode in a more compounded tragedy that has seen the dispossession and expulsion of nearly 800,000 Palestinians. For Zionists, Beit Daras was just another hill, known by a code battle name, to be conquered, as it were. But it should be more than a footnote in David Ben Gurion’s ‘War Diaries’, or Benny Morris’s volume, ‘The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem’. It’s more than a few numbers on an endless chart, whether one that documents victims of massacres, or estimates of Palestinian refugees still reliant on United Nations food aid. For Palestinians, its fall is one of many sorrows in the anthology which is collectively known as Al-Nakba, or the Catastrophe.

My grandparents never tired of reminiscing about their beloved village. My grandfather was often mocked at for supposedly failing to understand the depth of his tragedy, by insisting on leaving the “good blankets” behind as he herded his children together to escape the village and the intense bombardment. He died merely 58 kilometers southwest of Beit Daras, in a refugee camp known as Nuseirat.

Beit Daras provided dignity. Grandpa’s calloused hands and leathery weathered skin attested to the decades of hard labor tending the rocky soil in the fields of Palestine. It was a popular pastime for my brothers and I to point to a scar on his battered little body and to hear a gut-busting tale of the rigors of farm-life. Grandpa ran his fingers over the fading scar on the crown of his head and chuckled, “I got this one at dawn. I went to milk the cow, usually your grandmother’s chore, and that cow had it in for me. I squatted behind her and then everything went black.” Tales of being trampled by the donkey or being run-over by a plough, possibly life-threatening injuries were all reduced to humorous anecdotes sure to provoke a flood of laughter from his grandchildren.

Nakba Day 1948 – Cartoon [Carlos Latuff/MiddleEastMonitor]

Grandpa similarly enjoyed reminiscing on the good old days when he had land, a house, chickens, goats, a strong back – everything he needed to provide for his family. Camp life provided nothing for which to harvest a sense of self-respect. Food that was once the fruit of hours of toiling in his own fields, was now provided in a burlap bag by some European country or by the United Nations. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges he faced was enduring a life of idleness. One activity however, that occupied his time was sitting with other men in the camp and discussing the politics of the day, debating just from whom and when liberation would come. Would their lands back home be ready for planting? Would they be able to rebuild right away?

Later in life, someone would give him a small hand-held radio to glean the latest news and he would, from that moment, never be seen without it. As a child, I recall him listening to the news of the ‘Arab Voice’ on that battered radio. It had once been blue but had now faded to white with age. Its bulging batteries were duct-taped to the back. Sitting with the radio up to his ear and fighting to hear the reporter amidst the static, grandpa listened and waited for the announcer to make that long-awaiting call: “To the people of Beit Daras: your lands have been liberated, go back to your village.”

In my life, I only heard my grandpa curse on one recurring occasion. His younger son, Muneer, used to make sport of him by running into the room where he would sit and crying out, “Father, they just made the announcement, we can reclaim our land today!” My grandpa would jump from his chair and dash for the radio when my uncle could not contain his laughter any longer. Knowing that his son had so maliciously fooled him once more, he would point his shaky finger at him and mumble under his breath, “You little bastard”, and he would return to his chair to wait.

The day Grandpa died, his faithful radio was lying on the pillow close to his ear so that even then he might catch the announcement for which he had waited so long. He wanted to comprehend his dispossession as a simple glitch in the world’s consciousness that was sure to be corrected and straightened in time. He was not mindful of balances of power, regional geopolitics, or other trivial matters. But it is not as if Grandpa was not a keen man, for he certainly was in all worldly matters of relevance to his humble existence. But, he decidedly refused to entertain any rationale that would mean the acceptance of an eternal divorce from a past that defined every fiber of his being. For him, accepting that the “good blankets” were gone was the end of hope, the end of faith, the end of life. Grandpa Mohammed was a hopeful man, with strong faith. I loved his company, and his pleasant stories of Beit Daras, its simple folk and much happier times.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor or Informed Comment.

Via Middle East Monitor.

This work by Middle East Monitor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Mondoweiss: “Palestinian refugees mark 72 years of the Nakba”

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