Yara Hawari – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Thu, 16 Sep 2021 04:08:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.18 Palestinians are Mobilized in the face of Israeli Ethnic Cleansing https://www.juancole.com/2021/07/palestinians-mobilized-cleansing.html Thu, 01 Jul 2021 04:02:40 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=198652 (Al-Shabaka ) – The ongoing Palestinian uprising against the Israeli settler-colonial regime in colonized Palestine did not begin in Sheikh Jarrah, the Palestinian neighborhood of Jerusalem whose residents face imminent ethnic cleansing. While the threat of the expulsion of these eight families certainly catalyzed this mass popular mobilization, the ongoing uprising is ultimately an articulation of a shared Palestinian struggle in the wake of over seven decades of Zionist settler-colonialism.

These decades have been characterized by continuous forced displacement, land theft, incarceration, economic subjugation, and the brutalization of Palestinian bodies. Palestinians have also been subjected to a deliberate process of fragmentation, not simply geographically — into ghettoes, Bantustans, and refugee camps — but also socially and politically. Yet the unity witnessed over the last two months as Palestinians across colonized Palestine and beyond mobilized in shared struggle with Sheikh Jarrah has challenged this fragmentation, to the surprise of both the Israeli regime and the Palestinian political leadership alike. Indeed, popular mobilization on this scale had not been seen for decades, not even during the Trump administration, which oversaw the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the normalization agreements between Israel and various Arab states, and the further acceleration of Zionist settler-colonial practices.

Beyond mobilizing on the streets, Palestinians have been using creative forms of resistance against their subjugation. This includes the revitalization of grassroots campaigns to save Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem from destruction and ethnic cleansing, the disruption of the Israeli regime’s economy, and the continuous engagement of a globalized world with clear messages demanding freedom and justice for Palestinians.

Jerusalem: A Catalyst for Unity

As in so many Palestinian communities, the residents of Sheikh Jarrah have been facing ongoing and imminent expulsions and ethnic cleansing for decades. Indeed, Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah have long been engaged in legal battles against the Israeli regime in an attempt to forestall expulsion, which would serve Israel’s ultimate goal of the total Judaization of Jerusalem.

In late April 2021, the Jerusalem District Court rejected the appeals of residents of Sheikh Jarrah against what the courts refer to as the “eviction” of eight Palestinian families, ordering that they vacate their homes by May 2, 2021. Refusing this order, the families threw their weight onto the “Save Sheikh Jarrah” grassroots campaign to protect the neighborhood from ethnic cleansing. The campaign, which has been recently popularized through social media, has attracted both massive local participation and international attention, not least because it encapsulates the Palestinian experience of dispossession. As a result, it has given momentum to other campaigns to “save” neighborhoods across colonized Palestine from ethnic cleansing and colonization, including Silwan, Beita, and Lifta.

Palestinians are reclaiming a shared narrative and struggle from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea Click To Tweet

Over the last two months, Palestinians across colonized Palestine have been protesting in shared struggle with Sheikh Jarrah, including Palestinians with Israeli citizenship in cities like Haifa, Jaffa, and Lydd. These protests and demonstrations were met with violent repression from the Israeli regime, a reaction that is neither unprecedented nor unexpected. Indeed, during the Second Intifada, 13 Palestinian citizens were killed at protests by Israeli regime forces in the deadliest crackdown since Land Day 1976. Throughout this ongoing uprising, violence from regime forces has been accompanied by armed Israeli settler mobs attacking and lynching Palestinian citizens, and raiding and destroying Palestinian homes, vehicles, and businesses.

However, it was the several days of protests at the al-Aqsa mosque compound that dominated international media, particularly as this was the site of successful mass protests in 2017 against the electronic barriers placed at the entrance to the compound. These latest protests in mid-May were also met with violent repression from Israeli security forces who stormed the compound, injuring hundreds of Palestinian worshipers with rubber bullets, gas canisters, and stun grenades.

As a result of this assault and the Israeli regime’s ongoing ethnic cleansing attempts in Palestinian Jerusalem, the Hamas government in Gaza retaliated with rockets targeting the city. Israel responded with over ten days of heavy bombardment of Gaza, which ultimately killed 248 Palestinians, including 66 children. Despite claims by the Israeli regime that it was only targeting Hamas military infrastructure, vital civilian infrastructure, entire residential buildings, and even media towers, were destroyed. UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet has said that these bombardments on Gaza may amount to war crimes.

Disrupting the Israeli Regime’s Economy

As Gaza was under attack, grassroots mobilization across the rest of colonized Palestine continued. On May 18, Palestinians called for a general strike in arguably one of the biggest shows of collective unity in years. It was soon adopted by the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel and, later, by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. But it was grassroots actors who took control of the narrative through various statements in Arabic and English calling for widespread participation and international support: “Launched from Jerusalem and extending across the world, we call on your support in maintaining this moment of unprecedented popular resistance,” one statement read.

The strike was organized in response to the attacks on Gaza and the struggle on the streets of Jerusalem. It saw wide participation and was particularly important for Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, who reiterated once again their connection to — and shared struggle with — Palestinians in Gaza and Jerusalem. It was also, however, a tactic of effective disruption of the Israeli economy. At 20% of the population of Israel, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship constitute a large part of the workforce; 24% of nurses and 50% of pharmacists in Israel, for instance, are Palestinian.

The Israeli construction sector is also mostly made up of Palestinians, predominantly from the West Bank, but also Palestinian citizens of Israel. On the day of the strike, nearly all manual laborers participated, which meant that the industry was completely put on hold for an entire day. Palestinian trade unions also came together ahead of the strike and called on international trade unions to stand in solidarity with them, and to take action against Israeli oppression. This kind of action was demonstrated by dockworkers in the Italian port of Livorno, who refused to load Israeli weapons and explosives onto ships a few days ahead of the strike, stating that: “The port of Livorno will not be an accomplice in the massacre of the Palestinian people.”

Protests continued in the days following the strike, albeit on a smaller scale and with less media attention. Nonetheless, the strike had lit a spark and the focus on economic oppression became a mobilizing theme. Building off the success of the strike, several weeks later, a campaign to promote Palestinian economic purchasing power was announced. Dubbed “Palestine Economic Week,” the event stressed that, despite the economic chokehold that the Israeli regime has placed on Palestinians, they still have collective purchasing power. This rhetoric is particularly reminiscent of the First Intifada, in which popular measures like the cooperative movement and the call to boycott Israeli produce challenged economic subordination and dependence on the Israeli regime.

The Zionist settler-colonial project has deliberately subjugated the Palestinian economy, which was shattered by the foundation of the Israeli state in 1948, and the subsequent occupation of Palestinian land. As the Zionist regime conquered most of the productive and agricultural sectors, it barred Palestinians from most areas of the new economy. This situation expanded to the West Bank and Gaza following the 1967 war, which brought these territories under Israeli military occupation.

This uprising has reiterated that the people are the locus of power through which Palestinian liberation must and will be achieved Click To Tweet

A series of “peace” agreements during the Oslo Accords of the early 1990s brought Palestinians under further economic subjugation, effectively handing over direct and indirect control of the Palestinian economy to the Israeli regime. The agreements also deepened the social fragmentation of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. While some claimed the economic protocols would bring economic prosperity to all, in reality, they nurtured Palestinian capitalist cronyism, further entrenching the wealth gap and class divisions in society.

Palestine Economic Week encouraged various activities across colonized Palestine — from Haifa to Ramallah and beyond — to promote Palestinian local produce and products over Israeli ones that have monopolized the market with their abundance and competitive prices. In this way, Palestine Economic Week put forward a more holistic notion of colonial domination as intertwined with capitalism, wherein economic liberation is a key aspect of the broader national liberation struggle.

Understanding the Unity in the Unity Intifada

Following the May 21 “ceasefire” between Israel and Hamas, international media attention was diverted away from the uprising, and the inevitable discussions on the reconstruction of Gaza have since dominated the news cycle. Despite the massive destruction and causalities in Gaza, though, many Palestinians considered the outcome a victory for Hamas.

It is important to stress however, that the uprising, which began before the bombing of Gaza, goes beyond Hamas and its victory narrative. As one Palestinian colleague in Gaza noted to this author: “This time, it felt different in Gaza. This time, we felt as though we were not alone.” Indeed, given the mass mobilization across colonized Palestine and the revival of grassroots connections in the face of enforced fragmentation, this new uprising has been dubbed the “Unity Intifada.”

Around the time of the strike, a manifesto titled “The Dignity and Hope Manifesto of the Unity Intifada” was published online, laying out a rejection of this enforced fragmentation:

We are one people and one society throughout Palestine. Zionist mobs forcefully displaced most of our people, stole our homes and demolished our villages. Zionism was determined to tear apart those who remained in Palestine, isolate us in sectional geographical areas, and transform us into different and dispersed societies, so that each group lives in a separate large prison. This is how Zionism controls us, disperses our political will and prevents us from a united struggle against the racist settler colonial system throughout Palestine.

The manifesto goes on to detail the various geographic fragments of the Palestinian people: the “Oslo Prison” (West Bank), the “citizenship prison” (lands occupied in 19481), the brutal siege in Gaza, the system of Judaization in Jerusalem, and those in permanent exile. The imposition of this colonized geography on Palestine, characterized by concrete walls, checkpoints, gated settler communities, and wired fences, has left Palestinians living in fragments separated and isolated from one another.

As the manifesto notes, this has not happened inevitably or at random. Rather, this deliberate policy of divide-and-conquer has been implemented by the Zionist regime to undercut a united Palestinian anti-colonial struggle. But Palestinians have not been passive. Over the years, many grassroots groups have made efforts to disrupt the fragmentation, including various youth protest movements like the 2011 demand for political unity between the West Bank and Gaza, the 2013 anti-Prawer demonstrations against the Israeli policy to ethnically cleanse Bedouins in the Naqab, and the campaign to Lift the Sanctions imposed by the PA on Gaza.

More recently, Palestinian women established Tal’at, a radical feminist movement that seeks — among many things — to transcend this geographic division while asserting that Palestinian liberation is a feminist struggle. This latest articulation of Palestinian unity follows from these continuous efforts to revitalize a shared Palestinian struggle.

Yet much of the international discourse has failed to recognize this. Indeed, the unfolding violence in the 1948 territories has often been misleadingly dubbed as intercommunal violence teetering on the edge of a civil war between Jews and Arabs, a framing that distinctly separates Palestinian citizens of Israel from Palestinians in Gaza and Jerusalem. This assessment fails to describe the reality of apartheid, in which Israeli Jews and Palestinian citizens of Israel live totally separate and unequal lives.

In fact, this inherits a decades-old tendency of referring to Palestinians with Israeli citizenship as “Israeli Arabs” in an attempt to disconnect them from their Palestinian identity. At best, their situation is portrayed in the mainstream as the unexceptional case of a minority group facing discrimination by the Jewish majority, rather than as the indigenous survivors of the 1948 ethnic cleansing who continue to resist settler-colonial erasure. The failure to recognize the latest protests within the 1948 territories as a distinct part of a greater, united Palestinian uprising is especially remarkable considering their aesthetics; most demonstrations were characterized by a sea of Palestinian flags and the sound of distinctly Palestinian chants.

Gaza, too, has slowly been disconnected from the Palestinian struggle by these mainstream discourses, discussed as an entirely separate issue to that of the rest of colonized Palestine. More often than not, the Israeli regime’s continuous bombardment is explained away as a war between Israel and Hamas, a distorted narrative that deliberately detracts from the fact that Gaza is, indeed, the linchpin of the Palestinian struggle, as Tareq Baconi argues.

Unity Against all Odds

While the range of mobilization and the scope of popular participation witnessed over the last few weeks have been impressive, the cost of this uprising has been, and continues to be, high. In addition to the brutality in Gaza, Palestinians elsewhere throughout colonized Palestine have been subjected to brutal violence and arrests. In the last few weeks, under the Israeli regime’s “law and order” operation, thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel have been arrested, most of whom are young, working-class men. The Israeli regime uses these mass arrests as a form of collective punishment to intimidate and frighten Palestinian communities.

In the West Bank, the PA is still committed to security coordination with the Israeli regime, and has been arresting various activists involved in the protests. The arrest of political activists, especially those critical of the PA, is not new; it follows a pattern of political repression in both the West Bank and Gaza. Indeed, on June 24, 2021, PA security forces arrested and beat to death Nizar Banat, a well-known activist and critic of the regime. Since then, demonstrations have erupted across the West Bank calling for an end to PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ rule. The protests have been met with brute violence and repression, though this behavior is unsurprising. The PA is notorious for abusing its power through this kind of violent intimidation.

The Fatah-dominated PA in the West Bank has been totally sidelined throughout the uprising, particularly in the face of Hamas’s victory narrative. Yet this uprising shows more than just the growing irrelevance of the PA and the struggle for legitimacy and power between the two dominant Palestinian parties. It has shown that grassroots and decentralized leadership can develop organically and outside of corrupt political institutions. It has also shown that Palestinians are hungry for unified mobilization.

The momentum for the uprising continues, and the feeling of unity is building despite the decreased media and international attention. Something has indeed changed: Palestinians are reclaiming a shared narrative and struggle from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. In doing so, they are recognizing that they face one single regime of oppression, even if it manifests in different ways throughout the fragmented Palestinian communities. Ultimately, just as the ones before it, this uprising has reiterated that the people are the locus of power through which Palestinian liberation must and will be achieved.

  1. This is often described by international policymakers as “Israel proper” and held to be distinct from Israel’s colonization of the West Bank and Gaza.

Via Al-Shabaka

—–

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

TRT World: “Palestinians protest demolition of homes in Silwan as tensions rise”

]]>
How the Israelis are Destroying Palestinian Jerusalem, One Institution at a Time https://www.juancole.com/2020/11/destroying-palestinian-institution.html Thu, 12 Nov 2020 05:03:01 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=194379 ( Al-Shabaka.org ) – The Israeli state has actively sought to destroy Palestinian Jerusalem since its creation in 1948. Al-Shabaka’s Senior Palestine Policy Fellow, Yara Hawari, examines the July 2020 attacks on three Palestinian cultural institutions in East Jerusalem as part of the Israeli regime’s systematic destruction of the city’s Palestinian identity. She offers policy recommendations for protecting Jerusalem’s Palestinian cultural and political institutions.

Read More

Overview

On July 22, 2020, Israeli police raided and looted the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, the Yaboos Cultural Centre, and the Shafaq Cultural Network in East Jerusalem. Their offices were ransacked, documents and files were taken, and computers, laptops, and phones were confiscated. All three directors, Suhail Khoury, Rania Elias, and Daoud Ghoul, were arrested and taken from their homes, which were also raided. Khoury and Elias were held for one day in Israeli detention, while Ghoul spent two weeks incarcerated and interrogated in Moskobiye prison. Much of the local and international media reported that they were arrested on suspicion of funding terrorism, a charge commonly levelled at Palestinian activists by the Israeli regime. 1

This attack on East Jerusalem’s cultural institutions is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, it follows a pattern of continuous attacks over decades on the Palestinian presence in the city. In May 2018, Israeli control over the city was further entrenched with the United States embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, highlighting a deteriorating trajectory for Palestinians in the city. It is also part of renewed efforts by Israeli state and quasi state actors to target Palestinian civil society, whether in the West Bank and Gaza or across the Green Line. This policy brief examines the recent assaults on Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem within the broader context of Israeli suppression of Palestinian civil society, and offers recommendations for pushing back against the destruction of Palestinian Jerusalem.

You might also like:

Destroying Palestinian Jerusalem

Jerusalem has always played a vital role in shaping Palestinian identity throughout Palestinian history. Although prior to 1948 it did not hold the strategic and economic importance of Palestine’s coastal cities, such as Jaffa and Haifa, it nonetheless always held social, political, and cultural significance for Palestinians. As Rashid Khalidi explains, Jerusalem’s “schools, newspapers, clubs and political figures had an impact throughout Palestine even before the country’s British Mandate boundaries were established after World War I.” 2

Following the British occupation of Palestine in 1917 and the official establishment of the mandate in 1922, Jerusalem became a site of political organizing against British colonial rule and Zionist settler colonialism. Specifically, Britain’s fulfillment of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which promised British facilitation of the establishment of a Jewish “national home” in Palestine, with land appropriations and continued Jewish immigration to Palestine, drove Palestinians to protest in large numbers throughout Jerusalem. During these early years of British rule, the city also became a hub for women’s political organization. In 1929, the first Arab Women’s Congress convened in Jerusalem, out of which emerged the first Arab Women’s Executive Committee, thus marking the beginning of an organized and political Palestinian women’s movement.

Jerusalem served as the political and administrative capital of Britain’s Government of Palestine throughout the three decades of British rule, and it maintained a unique designation in the lead-up to the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Indeed, the 1947 UN Partition Plan, falling squarely within the colonial trend of dividing up lands, proposed the partition of Palestine into a Jewish State and an Arab State, with Jerusalem (and Bethlehem) remaining a corpus separatum – an international city that would fall neither under Jewish nor Arab sovereignty. Palestinians rejected this colonial attempt to divide historic Palestine as a way to assert foreign rule in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem has always played a vital role in shaping Palestinian identity throughout Palestinian history Click To Tweet

The ethnic cleansing of Palestine was thus already underway when the Israeli state was created in 1948. In that year, Zionist forces conquered what became West Jerusalem, including the prosperous Palestinian neighborhoods of Talbiyya, Qatamon, and Baq’a, home to 60,000 Palestinians. Most of them were expelled from the area, some fleeing to the eastern parts of the city. None have been allowed to return. After the armistice lines were drawn in 1949, Jerusalem was divided into two parts: Israeli-controlled West Jerusalem and Jordanian-controlled East Jerusalem, effectively obscuring the city’s Palestinian identity.

Since the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel has illegally occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Syrian Golan. As a result of the war, Israel also de facto and de jure annexed all of Jerusalem. The Law and Administration Ordinance of 1967 saw the extension of Israeli law and administration over East Jerusalem. This city’s de jure status was further confirmed in 1980, when the Israeli regime declaratively confirmed it as such by passing the Jerusalem Law. Almost immediately, the Israeli regime shut down the Palestinian municipality in East Jerusalem, merging it with the Israeli municipality in West Jerusalem. Furthermore, emergency regulations were imposed on all occupied areas, rendering most Palestinian political organizations and their affiliates illegal.

Palestinian Jerusalemites were given “permanent residency” status by the Israeli government rather than citizenship, leaving them effectively stateless. This has allowed the Israeli regime to deny them full rights, including the right to vote, while also forcing them to pay taxes. Additionally, the Israeli regime frequently revokes the already precarious “permanent residency” status from Palestinians who choose to live outside the city, and, in some cases, from those who engage in political activity. Since 1967, the Israeli regime has revoked some 14,000 residencies from Palestinians, leaving them both stateless and homeless.

Urban planning has also been a key mechanism through which Israeli authorities have erased Palestinians from Jerusalem, particularly in their explicit efforts to maintain a Jewish demographic majority in the city. This includes limiting Palestinians to certain neighborhoods, denying them building permits, demolishing their homes, and providing inadequate resources and services to Palestinian neighborhoods. The construction of the separation wall in 2002 was also part of this concrete attempt to make Palestinian life unbearable in the city. The wall was built under the pretext of Israeli security and meanders its way through the entire West Bank. In Jerusalem, it cuts through previously contiguous Palestinian neighborhoods, and, in some cases, divides them completely. It severs much of East Jerusalem from the West Bank, forcing Palestinians to make the arduous journey through checkpoints should they want to cross the wall. All of this, and much more, amounts to an orchestrated and systematic policy to force out as many Palestinians as possible from Jerusalem and keeping those who remain in tightly controlled urban enclaves.

Disrupting Palestinian Jerusalem’s Cultural and Political Life

In addition to systemic policies which make life incredibly difficult for Palestinians in Jerusalem, Israel has also systematically disrupted Palestinian cultural and political life in the city. After East Jerusalem’s occupation in 1967 and its subsequent annexation, Palestinian cultural and political activity came under intense suppression from the Israeli regime. The application of the Defence Emergency Regulations, first introduced by the British Mandate in 1945, allowed the Israeli regime to enforce widespread censorship and suppression. Books were banned and any words considered potent, such as filastin (Palestine), sumud (steadfastness) and ‘awda (return), were omitted from curriculums, books, radio shows, and plays. Regarding the years following the 1967 occupation, Sliman Mansour, a founder of the League of Palestinian Artists, noted that Palestinians “were living in a kind of cultural ghetto, isolated from cultural developments. Movement was difficult. Many artists were banned from travelling. Artists were often arrested and their works confiscated […] It was an attempt to kill any creative and artistic spirit of Palestinians.”

For many Palestinians, culture was inevitably tied to the political, particularly as their very existence was considered a political act by the Israeli regime. As a result, many cultural spaces also doubled as spaces of political organizing, especially in light of Israel’s militarily enforced prohibition on Palestinian political institutions. The only exception to this was the Orient House in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, an institution which served as the sole Palestinian political representation in the city and as a hub for research and archiving of Palestinian history.

The Orient House was built in 1897 as a mansion by the prominent Husseini family. After 1948, the building served a more public function, housing both a guest house and office spaces. Following 1967, the upper floors were converted into offices for UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). In 1983, the whole building was rented by the Arab Studies Association, funded by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which conducted research and archival work, and established a library. During this period, it played an important role in reviving Palestinian national consciousness, so much so, that during the 1st Intifada, it was closed for three years. A few years later during the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, the Palestinian delegation was stationed in the Orient House, and throughout the 1990s, international diplomats were frequently hosted there. By this point, the building became a symbol of Palestinian sumud within the city.

On August 10, 2001, Israeli forces raided and looted the Orient House, stealing documents and archived materials, while also shutting down the institution’s offices. This was not a new practice neither in Jerusalem nor elsewhere. Indeed, Israeli armed forces have frequently raided and looted Palestinian institutions, from private and public libraries in West Jerusalem in 1948 to the Palestine Research Centre in Beirut in 1982. Yet the closure of the Orient House in 2001 was particularly significant because it had been recognized by all parties during the Oslo Accords process as the headquarters of the PLO, as well as East Jerusalem as the legitimate capital of a future Palestinian state. It heralded a new era of declining Palestinian political presence in the city. Since then, the Israeli regime has continued to prevent Palestinian political institutions from operating in Jerusalem.

All of this, and much more, amounts to an orchestrated and systematic policy to force out as many Palestinians as possible from Jerusalem and keeping those who remain in tightly controlled urban enclaves Click To Tweet

Palestinian cultural institutions have also faced frequent attacks and closure. For example, the Palestinian National Theatre, Al-Hakawati, established in Jerusalem in 1984, has constantly fought against censorship and threats of closure. It has had its activities shut down no less than 35 times since its opening, including in 2008 when the theatre attempted to host a festival ahead of Jerusalem being chosen as the Arab Capital of Culture for 2009. In 2015, the theatre published a public appeal following threats from the Israeli Law Enforcement and Collection Authority which not only froze the theatre’s bank account, but also threatened to seize the building. The Israeli authorities used the pretext that the theatre had accumulated massive debts to the municipality, the electricity company, and the national insurance agency without mentioning the illegality of the presence of these authorities in East Jerusalem. The theatre continues to face imminent closure to this day.

Since 2000, the Israeli regime has shut down more than 42 Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem under various pretexts, ranging from “illegal” political affiliation to unpaid bills. The “Anti-Terror” law passed by the Knesset in 2016 has caused even more widespread oppression of Palestinian institutions and civil society organizations. The law incorporates provisions of the emergency regulations and, as described by the human rights NGO Adalah, it is “designed to further suppress the struggle of Palestinian citizens of Israel [as well as those in East Jerusalem] and the pursuit of their political activities in support of Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” The law allows for the widespread use of “secret evidence” by the state in prosecuting offenders, making it difficult for offenders to adequately address the charges. Furthermore, the law broadens the scope of “terrorist activity” to include “public expressions of support or empathy for terrorist organizations.” In other words, when Palestinian political parties are considered terrorist organizations by the Israeli regime, Palestinian political expression is effectively censored.

A New Coordinated Attack

On the one hand, the aforementioned attacks on the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, the Yaboos Cultural Centre, and the Shafaq Cultural Network are part and parcel of the Israeli regime’s ongoing disruption of Palestinian cultural and political life in Jerusalem. On the other, they constitute new and coordinated efforts to defame and destroy Palestinian civil society and human rights organizations, particularly those with international funding. These efforts are being led predominately by NGO Monitor, an Israeli organization which, although claiming to be non-governmental, is a government affiliated organization that coordinates its defamation work with the Israeli Ministry for Strategic Affairs. Since 2015, this ministry has been led by Gilad Erdan, a politician who has long attempted to limit Palestinian freedom of expression. In addition, he has waged an all-out war on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and its supporters, which has included millions of dollars in resources and coordination with the Mossad, the Israeli secret services.

NGO Monitor started as a fringe organization whose unresearched and erroneous reporting was not taken seriously. Much of its efforts involved slanderous trolling of human rights defenders, such as with the case of Omar Shakir, the Human Rights Watch Director in Palestine who was eventually expelled from the country in 2019 after a drawn-out court battle which attracted international attention. However, since at least 2015, its work has become more aggressive and coordinated, with the main aim of having international funding withdrawn from Palestinian organizations, thus forcing them to close down. NGO Monitor fulfils this goal by focusing on two main tactics to attack Palestinian organizations and individuals.

The first is to accuse them of supporting or working with BDS. This is in light of the increasing efforts to criminalize BDS both in Europe and in the US, despite various legal bodies, such as the European Court of Human Rights, continually reaffirming the legality of boycotts as a form of political expression. The second tactic is to accuse organizations or individuals of “terrorist affiliations,” or of “funding terrorism.” Yet, according to a report by the Israeli Policy Working Group (a group of Israeli academics, journalists, and former diplomats working towards a two-state solution), despite NGO Monitor leveling this claim consistently and repeatedly against Palestinian organizations, it has yet to provide evidence of any organization participating in terrorist activities or violence. Indeed, the same report by the Policy Working Group – subtitled “Defaming human rights organizations that criticize the Israeli occupation” – reviewed NGO Monitor’s publications and stated that:

[T]he methods it employs are a far cry from the comprehensive investigations carried out by the human rights and civil society organizations it attacks. The publications appear largely based on selective internet inquiries and reverberating claims made by official Israeli sources. Moreover, it focuses its publications selectively on refuting the observations and conclusions published by targeted organizations.

In other words, accusations made by NGO Monitor are unfounded, backed by little and tenuous research, and slanderous. Yet, rather surprisingly, many in the international community are now heeding this organization’s accusations, which has had a chilling effect on Palestinian civil society. Indeed, the climate created by this growing campaign of defamation has led to funds being tightened, and, in some cases, cut and even altogether withdrawn. Recently, for example, the EU notified the Palestinian NGO network (PNGO) that it would be implementing a clause which obliges all partners not to deal with anyone on the EU sanctions list. Some fear this will lead to having to vet staff, contractors, and beneficiaries of aid as conditions for receiving funds. This sanctions list consists of those being sanctioned as well as organizations and individuals deemed as terrorists. Most Palestinian political parties, including Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), are on the list. While it does not list Palestinian individuals, this may change in the future with increasing pressure from Israel and organizations such as NGO Monitor.

Since 2000, the Israeli regime has shut down more than 42 Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem under various pretexts, ranging from “illegal” political affiliation to unpaid bills Click To Tweet

Not only is it problematic that much of the international community considers most Palestinian political parties, notably excepting Fatah, to be terrorist organizations, it also often succumbs to the Israeli regime’s broad and loose definition of “affiliation.” Since 1967, 800,000 Palestinians have been incarcerated by the Israeli military regime in the West Bank and Gaza, making up 20% of the total population of that occupied territory. Many of these Palestinians are tried and charged through the Israeli military courts which maintain a 99% conviction rate on the basis of “affiliation.” Israel is able to punish Palestinians for any political activity through its military orders which are justified on the grounds of security. Under these orders, Israel has forbidden protests or political meetings of over ten people, and it has banned the distribution of political articles or pictures. Israel also accuses and charges Palestinians of “affiliation” with political groups they deem terrorist organizations. Consequently, sharing a social media post or even pouring a cup of coffee for a member of a declared illegal organization can be considered “affiliation.”

The initial accusation against the three cultural institutions in East Jerusalem was “tax evasion and fraud,” yet it later became clear that they were also being detained on charges of financing terrorist organizations. On these charges, it is clear that NGO Monitor played a role with its reports and constant slandering of these organizations. Although the three directors have since been released, they still face these charges. Moreover, they also face the stigma of being accused of supporting terrorist organizations, which can have damaging repercussions in an environment of already decreasing and conditional international funding, and increasing restrictions by the Israeli regime.

Policy Recommendations

In light of this challenging and worrisome situation, the following are some suggestions for pushing back against the destruction of Palestinian cultural and political institutions in Jerusalem:

  • Palestinians, both in the diaspora and in historic Palestine, need to emphasize the importance of maintaining Palestinian institutions and organizations in the city. This should include financial support as well as substantive and continuous solidarity efforts.
  • Palestinians in the West Bank must push back against the undermining of Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital by the Palestinian Authority, which has instead prioritized investments in Ramallah as the administrative center of Palestine. Indeed, they need to actively reject the narrative of Ramallah as the pseudo Palestinian capital.
  • Third state actors should provide public and unconditional support for Palestinian institutions and organizations in Jerusalem, particularly those under attack from the Israeli regime. This should be done as a counter act in the face of the international community’s impotence, and in some cases complicity, with regards to entrenching Israeli control over Jerusalem.
  • Third state actors should also recognize and emphasize the importance of having Palestinian political representation in the city. In this regard, they should support reinstating the Orient House as a home for such representation, as the EU did in 2014, and apply political pressure to do so.
  • Third state actors and international organizations should neither use NGO Monitor nor the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs as legitimate sources of information on Palestinians or Palestinian organizations. Moreover, they should publicly recognize NGO Monitor as an arm of the Israeli state, with a particular agenda to demonize and criminalize Palestinian civil society.
  • The international community must reject the Israeli regime’s accusations of terrorist activities and political “affiliation” as illegitimate and unfounded, particularly as the definition of “affiliation” is left purposefully broad so as to target any Palestinian.

Notes:

  1. To read this piece in French, please click here. Al-Shabaka is grateful for the efforts by human rights advocates to translate its pieces, but is not responsible for any change in meaning.
  2. Rashid Khalidi, Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), 33.

Via Al-Shabaka.org

——

Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Btselem: “Israel continues forcing East Jerusalem residents to demolish their own homes, September 2020”

]]>
Israel-Palestine between Hi-Tech Dystopian Apartheid and a State for all its Peoples https://www.juancole.com/2020/07/palestine-dystopian-apartheid.html Tue, 28 Jul 2020 04:04:33 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=192254 ( Al-Shabakah) – Palestinian futures have long been discussed without Palestinian input or within an imposed and limited framework. Indeed, most ideas of the future in mainstream political spaces rather consistently establish the containment of the Indigenous Palestinians and security for the Israeli settler state as their primary concern. The most recent manifestation of this was the “Vision for Peace” published by United States President Donald Trump’s Administration. 1

This “vision” is a far cry from the revolutionary political mandate of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) that was established in the 1960s and which sought to liberate Palestine and its people from the Zionist settler colonial project that established Israel. 2 It is also a far cry from the two-state solution, which was imposed as the most appropriate and feasible future for Israelis and Palestinians and was embedded in the narrative of Israel and Palestine as two warring national groups rather than the outcome of the Zionist project.

The adoption of this narrative was implicit in the PLO’s Ten Point Plan in 1974 and became explicit at the Palestinian National Council in 1988. It was further cemented by the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s which laid out a timetable for achieving Palestinian statehood in the 1967-occupied lands. The PLO’s previous political framing of an anti-colonial struggle was turned on its head, shifting the focus from collective liberation to one that prioritized individual success and capital gain within a façade of a “state-in-waiting.”

This political and discursive shift also set about a fundamental transformation of Palestinian civil society, which became largely reliant on external donor patronage and bound much of the Palestinian capacity for collective imagination within a very specific political agenda, marginalizing both the refugees and the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

The effort to limit Palestinian collective visioning to a framework of statehood along the 1967 lines has been largely successful Click To Tweet

As Israel moves from de facto to de jure annexation of the rest of the occupied West Bank many third parties desperately hold on to the two-state solution as the one that best protects their diplomatic and trade interests with Israel. For some Palestinians the statehood framework still offers what they see as the most feasible future in the short term. Its nationalist dressing is also attractive especially as statehood has been the dominant prism through which liberation is imagined. Indeed, the effort to limit Palestinian collective visioning to a framework of statehood along the 1967 lines has been largely successful.

However there have been attempts to push these boundaries and some more radical attempts to transcend them altogether. This policy brief focuses on the possibilities for building a collective vision for a Palestinian future. It draws on Palestinian experience in visioning and discusses approaches to consensus-building that could advance a vision shared by the majority of the Palestinian people.

Future Visions: Their Promise and Pitfalls

In a serious attempt to push the boundaries a group of Palestinian citizens of Israel put forward a detailed future visioning in 2006-2007. Their efforts demonstrated an unprecedented collective articulation of the political and social aspirations of this particular part of the Palestinian people. The future visioning consisted of four documents; The Future Vision Document; An Equal Constitution for All; The Democratic Constitution; and The Haifa Declaration. They were collectively known as the Future Vision Documents (hereinafter referred to as the “Documents”) and were published and produced as a collective effort by Palestinian politicians, intellectuals, and civil society leaders.

The Documents laid out what the collective saw as the social and political demands of the Palestinian community in Israel, but interestingly they also put forward a concise Palestinian historical narrative. The result was a structured theoretical framework for Palestinian rights within the State of Israel. The Documents did not present new ideas; rather, they consolidated what many had been demanding for decades. This was, however, the first time these ideas were put forward in such a clear way and with a clear vision of what a more acceptable future for the Palestinian citizens of Israel could look like.

At their core, the Documents call upon the State of Israel to abandon its Jewish character and to embrace all its citizens. At the same time, they assert the community’s national Palestinian identity and affiliation with the Arab world as well as their Indigenous status. Indeed the historical narrative in the Documents is clear and centers the Nakba as the central temporal reference and the root of Palestinian tragedy. There are also clear and articulate descriptions of the genesis of the Zionist settler colonial project in Palestine:

Towards the end of the 19th century, the Zionist movement initiated its colonial-settler project in Palestine. Subsequently, in concert with world imperialism and with the collusion of the Arab reactionary powers, it succeeded in carrying out its project, which aimed at occupying our homeland and transforming it into a state for the Jews Haifa Declaration, pp. 11 – 12.

Israel is the outcome of a settlement process initiated by the Zionist-Jewish elite in Europe and the West and realized by Colonial countries contributing to it and by promoting Jewish immigration to Palestine, in light of the results of the Second World War and the Holocaust – The Future Vision Document, p.9.

The focus on the need for historical redress for the injustice of the Nakba is what sets these Documents apart from other initiatives by the Palestinian citizens of Israel that call for equality. However while the Documents briefly address the continued oppression of the other parts of the Palestinian people, calling for an end to the military occupation of the 1967 lands and explicitly demanding that Israel recognize the right of return of the Palestinian refugees based on UN Resolution 194, there is no further discussion of how the return of the refugees could be facilitated. Nor do they set the end of the occupation and the implementation of the right of return as a prerequisite for achieving the demands of the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

The focus on the need for historical redress for the injustice of the Nakba is what sets the (Future Vision) Documents apart from other initiatives Click To Tweet

Indeed these Documents focus clearly and deliberately solely on the condition of Palestinian citizens of Israel, consciously or not separating their cause from that of their fellow Palestinians elsewhere and sitting firmly within the two state framework. In summary, the call of the Future Vision Documents is not for a dismantlement of the structure but rather its reform. While they present a blueprint for the future, they do so within the confines and boundaries set by the settler colonial regime, completely disregarding their recognition of Palestinian Indigeneity.

There have been other efforts to envision alternative futures, including those put forward by initiatives promoting a single secular state for all the people living from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. For example, the One Democratic State Campaign (ODSC), established in Haifa, offers a ten point political program that includes the right of return for refugees and the restoration of their property as well as other provisions for ensuring equality. However, like the Future Vision Documents, the ODSC falls short of calling for decolonization despite its recognition of Israel as an apartheid and colonial state. There have also been attempts by individuals or groups to develop alternative visions for the future, including by focusing on specific issues such as on the right of return for Palestinian refugees. These include Salman Abu Sitta’s detailed plan for return as well as various grassroots groups in Palestine, including youth groups who are envisioning the rebuilding of their ethnically cleansed villages (see also my commentary When Palestinians Imagine.)

Collective Consensus-Building

The Future Vision Documents were produced through consultations and debates between various intellectuals, civil society leaders and politicians from the Palestinian community in Israel. However they were not a result of a broad consensus that drew on other segments of society, which may be one reason for the limits to their impact and their reach.

Consensus-building must be an essential part in the articulation of a future vision that would address the Palestinian people in their entirety. Consensus (ijmaa’ in Arabic) is defined as an agreement or accord that is reached by a collective or a group of people. The term can refer to both the process and the final decision itself. As opposed to voting by majority, which can lead to contentious outcomes and exclude large segments of people, consensus requires everyone involved to reach a negotiated agreement. The process can also facilitate building a network of trust and confidence among different groups and parties.

In the absence of sovereignty and self-rule (particularly in colonial situations), it is necessary to think about a more revolutionary consensus — one that is derived from the people in ways that are not necessarily possible through what is considered as standard democratic procedures and institutions. Palestinian history provides us with examples in which revolutionary consensus was part of the political process, including during the early days of the PLO and during the First Intifada as well as more contemporary articulations.

The initial founder of the PLO, Ahmad al-Shuqairyi, the Palestinian representative to the Arab League, formulated the organization’s first political documents, including the national charter and statutes. These were later approved by an assembly of 422 Palestinians who met in Jerusalem and who included notables, local heads, professionals such as doctors and lawyers, and representatives from women’s organizations (in the end women were only assigned a limited number of seats). There was a noticeable absence of those from refugee camps and from peasant or working class backgrounds. 3 This was a particular point of discontent particularly among students and young activists, as well as those within Fatah and Islamic groups. The lack of representation, the feeling that the PLO was subservient to the Arab states, as well as concern that the PLO was not a revolutionary body sowed the seeds for radical structural change. Consensus for change was reached among the guerilla groups, who themselves had significant popular and grassroots legitimacy as a result of their armed struggle with Israel. Yasser Arafat was elected Chairman of the PLO in 1969 in what was essentially a political takeover led by Fatah supported by other guerilla groups.

The takeover brought in a decade of political pluralism and incorporated not just the guerrilla groups and political parties but also unions and other collectives. The initial consensus on what form the Palestinian liberation movement should take — ie. revolutionary armed struggle and free of Arab states’ control — lasted until Israel drove the PLO out of Lebanon in 1982 (see Jamil Hilal’s recent Reflections on Palestinian Leaderships Past). Thereafter, as the guerrilla groups moved to the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) any remaining consensus was overshadowed by Arafat’s increasingly authoritarian methods of appointing and confirming representatives as well as an overrepresentation of diaspora elites.

In 1987 the revolutionary spirit moved to the streets of Palestine in a manifestation of the mass collective protest of the First Intifada. The uprising was the result of years of grassroots organizing which created the foundation for mass politicization and popular struggle. Unions, student groups, collectives, and political factions formed a coalition known as the Unified National Leadership of the Uprising. Decisions were made within this body and a rotating leadership system was established in the spirit of representation but also to respond to the frequent arrest of leaders. The uprising was centered on the notion of “people’s power” as a form of popular and revolutionary consensus. As Linda Tabar writes; “The left took the lead in this process… affirming the people as the means and the goals of the struggle, the movement ‘invested in people’s potential, abilities’ and their belief in their own agency…the left saw the people as the space in which to build autonomous forms of power that could buttress the struggle to create alternative realities.” 4

A more contemporary articulation of consensus can be found within the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement (BDS) which was established in 2005 following a call from 170 Palestinian unions, refugee networks, women’s organizations, professional associations, popular resistance committees and other Palestinian civil society bodies. They upheld a consensus on three basic demands: 1) The end of the Israeli occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the wall; 2) Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; 3) Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

In the absence of sovereignty and self-rule (particularly in colonial situations), it is necessary to think about a more revolutionary consensus Click To Tweet

The BDS Movement’s Call was broad enough that it addressed the essence of the Palestinian struggle by both problematizing Zionism as a structure but also in speaking to the entire Palestinian people in their three geographic parts. It was a very clear and articulate rejection of Oslo which had not only excluded two core parts of the Palestinian population (refugees and the Palestinian citizens of Israel) but also failed to tackle the key issue, Zionism, as a settler colonial project. In addition, the Call was a response to Palestinian leadership failure and inaction, particularly in the wake of the July 9, 2004 International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion of Israel’s separation wall. Although BDS exists as a movement that mobilizes international support to pressure Israel to uphold international law, it quite clearly presents a vision for the future through its three demands. The most impressive thing about BDS is not only how it brought a vast majority of Palestinian civil society, including political parties, behind the Call. It is also the way in which the organization has continued to function through consensus in its decision-making process despite the wide variety of political and social views that are represented in its leadership body, the BNC (BDS National Committee).

Importantly, BDS itself is not a political party nor is it a representative body of the Palestinian people. But as a political movement it demonstrates well the possibility of achieving consensus among Palestinians over core issues which could be revitalized into a political agenda and a future vision. Given the current climate of political polarization and a lack of democratic practice, this example of consensus is well worth remembering.

Challenges and Possibilities

A recent anthology of short stories called Palestine +100 was published in which Palestinian writers share their dystopian and fantasy imaginations of Palestine in 2048 — one hundred years after the Nakba. 5 Many of the stories have rather grisly plots in which the Israeli regime morphs and adapts its oppression of the Palestinian people into hi-tech nightmares. Even more frightening is that several of these futures are highly believable, particularly given the rapidly deteriorating situation on the ground. Now more than ever it is imperative that Palestinians articulate alternatives to such possible futures and move beyond a paralyzed Palestinian leadership that has been unable to counter the Trump administration’s “vision.”

With this in mind it is important to consider the stumbling blocks and ways around them. The first stumbling block in discussions of the future is that of “feasibility,” in other words what is considered possible in the context of the existing hegemonic framework. Yet what is meant by the idea of feasibility and who determines it? Feasibility is generally built on the notions of possibility, rationality, and practicality that are determined by those in positions of power. In the case of Palestine the Oslo framework has defined feasibility for over two decades, dictating that Palestinian futures must be defined within the confines of a two-state framework and that Palestinian sovereignty will only be granted in a staged, conditional process. Issues such as Jerusalem and refugees are relegated to “final status.” Richard Falk, writing on the Palestinian future, argues against the feasibility argument and in particular the two-state framework which he maintains consists of dead-end characteristics:

…horizons of feasibility limit Palestinian options to two: either agree to a further round of negotiations that are all but certain to fail, or refuse such negotiations and be held responsible for obstructing peace seeking efforts. 6

A “feasible” future is thus no way to ensure the fulfillment of Palestinian rights or liberation. Falk instead urges that “a politics of emancipation” be privileged in discussions about the future. Some Palestinians and Palestinian rights activists have also referred to this as a “rights first approach.” The fulfillment of fundamental Palestinian rights and sovereignty, and not feasibility, must be the basis of any future vision.

The second stumbling block for Palestinians to overcome is the notion of colonial permanence in future imagining. Writing about the case of French colonialism in Algeria, Frantz Fanon wrote that it “always developed on the assumption that it would last forever.” 7 Settler colonial and colonial regimes seek to control perceptions of reality in order to bind Indigenous and colonized people in a seemingly perpetual cycle of oppression. Imagining a future beyond this oppression is thus an important exercise that Palestinians must engage in. It must be stressed that this is not an exercise in fantasy but rather an exercise in imagining what a decolonized future would look like.

A ‘feasible’ future is thus no way to ensure the fulfillment of Palestinian rights or liberation Click To Tweet

The third area is shedding the discourse of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and neoliberalism. Years of NGO-ization and neoliberalism in Palestine have led to a de-politicization of language and have constrained the perceived realms of possibility (see Hazem Jamjoum’s Reclaiming the Political Dimension.) Revitalizing a local language of liberation and decolonization is essential and a shared lexicon is vital in the collective imagining process.

Achieving a shared vision for the future may seem impossible in today’s context of political polarization and fragmentation. Yet, as described above, we have examples in which Palestinians have reached consensus on core issues, enabling them to continue to work and mobilize and yet also incorporate political plurality. The culture of consensus is one that needs to be nourished and built on, particularly in the context of a geographically, socially and politically fragmented Palestinian society.

Notes:

  1. The full title is “Vision for Peace, Prosperity and a Brighter Future for Israel and the Palestinian People.”
  2. Fayez Sayegh, Zionist colonialism in Palestine (Beirut: PLO Research Center, 1965).
  3. Yezid Sayigh, Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement, 1949-1993, Oxford: Clarendon Press (1997), p.99.
  4. Linda Tabar, “People’s Power: Lessons from the First Intifada”, (Center for Development Studies, Birzeit University, April 2013): p.3.
  5. Basma Ghalayini, ed., Palestine +100: stories from a century after the Nakba, (Manchester, UK: Comma Press, 2019).
  6. Richard Falk, “Rethinking the Palestinian Future,” Journal of Palestine Studies, volume 42, Summer (2013): p.83.
  7. Frantz Fanon, A Dying Colonialism, New York: Grove Press, (1965), p.179-180.

Via Al-Shabakah

—-

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Foundation for Middle East Peace: “”Imagining Together a Shared, One-State Reality” w/ Peter Beinart & Yousef Munayyer”

]]>
In Palestine, Covid-19 Meets the Israeli Occupation https://www.juancole.com/2020/04/palestine-israeli-occupation.html Tue, 21 Apr 2020 04:02:49 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=190420 (Al-Shabaka.org) – The first measures taken against COVID-19 in the West Bank occurred in early March after the confirmation of seven cases in Bethlehem that were linked to a Greek tourist group. The Palestinian Authority (PA) declared a state of emergency and imposed a lockdown on the city, banning all entry and exit as well as enforcing a curfew on residents. The PA also announced restrictions across the West Bank, including prohibitions on travel between governorates and the shuttering of public spaces and education facilities. On March 22, following a steady increase in cases, the PA declared a curfew. 1

In the Gaza Strip, in mid-March Hamas authorities and UNRWA began converting schools into quarantine centers and clinics in preparation for a possible outbreak. On March 21, two Gazans returning from Pakistan tested positive for the virus and were immediately hospitalized. Twenty-nine people were identified to have come into contact with them and were placed in quarantine.

At the time of writing, the total number of confirmed cases in the West Bank is 247 and 12 in Gaza. Although the figures are relatively low, the worry is that the limited amount of testing available means that the number of infected people is in fact much higher.

COVID-19 Meets the Occupation

The West Bank and Gaza Strip are confronting COVID-19 from a reality of Israeli military occupation, which weakens the ability of the Palestinian authorities and the Palestinian people to respond effectively to the deadly virus. While many health care systems around the world are struggling to deal with the pandemic, the 53-year occupation has seriously depleted medical capabilities in the West Bank and Gaza. The donor-dependent system has shortages in equipment, medication, and staff due to such issues as military raids and restrictions on imports. In the Gaza Strip in particular – deemed unliveable by the UN as a result of over 13 years of blockade and multiple wars – the health care system already struggled to deal with medical cases before the pandemic. Indeed, Gaza currently has only 78 ICU beds and 63 ventilators for a population of two million.

It is imperative to highlight the Israeli occupation as an instrument of comorbidity Click To Tweet

Meanwhile, daily manifestations of the occupation persist, such as the continued demolition of Palestinian homes and military raids on Palestinian villages and towns. There have also been direct Israeli attacks on Palestinian attempts to confront the virus, such as the destruction of a COVID 19 clinic in the Jordan Valley and the arrest of Palestinian volunteers attempting to distribute supplies to impoverished communities in East Jerusalem. The Israeli occupation authorities are also failing to take any preventative measures to protect Palestinian political prisoners, who are being illegally incarcerated within a military prison system that fails to meet even basic health and sanitation standards.

Political Manipulations

The Israeli regime is using this global crisis not only to distract from its ongoing violations of human rights, but also as a political tool to gain diplomatic leverage. Indeed, international bodies have been commending Israel for its “cooperation” with the PA during this crisis; the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, called such coordination “excellent” during a recent speech. In reality, Israeli “cooperation” includes the Israeli Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) “allowing” a minimum of internationally-donated medical supplies to reach the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as was the case with a shipment of 3,000 tests and 50,000 masks from the World Health Organization (WHO) to the PA. This is far below the actual needs of the West Bank.

Those commending the cooperation also point to the issue of the thousands of Palestinian workers in Israel. In an attempt to prevent mass movement and the potential spread of the disease, Israel and the PA reached an agreement that, as of March 18, conditioned Palestinian workers’ continued employment on them staying in Israel for several months rather than returning to the West Bank. Yet the workers were not only deprived of proper protective equipment; Israeli authorities reportedly dumped workers who they suspected of having the virus at checkpoint entrances to the West Bank without informing the PA. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh reversed the decision on March 25, ordering the workers home. The worry is that the PA will not have the capacity to test people upon their return, and Israel has so far not offered to test them.

Shifting the Narrative

In effect, the Israeli regime, which maintains a violent military occupation and has depleted the capabilities of the Palestinian health care system, is being praised for allowing in tidbits of medical supplies from international actors, despite its responsibility under international law as an occupying power to provide the supplies itself. It is essential that international actors not only support vital humanitarian efforts for immediate medical relief in Palestine but that they also insist on Israel’s responsibility to finance Palestinian medical needs.

It is also imperative to shift the narrative from cooperation and to highlight the Israeli occupation as an instrument of comorbidity. In other words, not only does the occupation exacerbate the conditions that increase Palestinians’ susceptibility to infection, it is also directly responsible for those conditions. It is therefore disingenuous to argue that now is the time for cooperation and dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian authorities to confront the pandemic. Now is the time, as it was before, to demand the lifting of the blockade on Gaza and the end of the military occupation of the West Bank.

Notes:

  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.

Via Al-Shabaka.org

——

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

TRT World: “Occupation makes the coronavirus more dangerous for Palestinians”

]]>