Category Archives: Settlers

UK Parliament briefing on Israel’s Nation State Law

UK Parliament interior

UK Parliament Hall

Briefings about Israel-Palestine for Legislators in the UK and US are very similar.

Organize-organize-organize.  Line up expert witnesses.  Secure a member of Congress or Parliament to sponsor the briefing.  Invite-invite-invite.  Hold your breath and see who shows up, praying for members of Congress and Parliament to attend or send their staff.

The Members of Parliament (MPs) might be forgiven for not attending the briefing on Israel’s new Nation-State Law on Feb. 26, 2019 given the current Brexit turmoil they find themselves embroiled in. About 30 people were there, hopefully some staff, and at least one Zionist who identified himself at the end of the meeting.

The seminar at the House of Commons in London was hosted by EuroPal Forum and  brought together experts in the legal, diplomatic and public policy fields.

Andy Slaughter

Andrew Slaughter – photo credit Chris McAndrew

MP Andy Slaughter convened the meeting and provided a strong introduction to the issue. Clearly, he doesn’t need an education on Israel-Palestine. (Slaughter’s interests include the Middle East and particularly Palestine. He is Secretary of the Britain-Palestine All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and Vice-Chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East.)

He mentioned Amnesty’s new report (Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa – Review of 2018), and the 25th anniversary of the massacre in Hebron where Baruch Goldstein killed 29 worshipping Palestinians, and even mentioned that AIPAC is calling Israel’s new political party racist! (The New Right הימין החדש‎, HaYamin HaHadash was established in December 2018). He concluded his remarks by saying that Israel’s Nation State Law is institutionalizing Palestinians as second class citizens before he apologized and said he had to leave the meeting. The speakers who followed were just as pointed and passionate.

Parliament Nation State event

Orfhlaith Begley, the MP representing the Sinn Fein from northern Ireland, said that Sinn Fein believes an international peace initiative is needed. The party is going to work on the Irish Parliament to recognize the State of Palestine. She mentioned there was a bill in the House of Commons to require Israel to treat Jews and Palestinians equally but it failed with the religious parties voting against it!! The British government has said nothing publicly about Israel’s Nation-State law.

UK Parliament 3

 

Salma Kami-Ayyoub, a legal consultant with Al-Haq and other organizations, summarized the provisions of the Nation-State Law and its three major impacts on Palestinians.

(1) Only Jewish people have the right to self-determination in the Land of Israel. (2) Settlement of Jews is a national value. (3) The Nation-State law is a Basic Law, equivalent to the Constitution. All future laws will have to be consistent with it as a foundational law for Israel. It is now a legal obligation of the State of Israel to promote the settlements. The law is “extremely damaging” because it forces the right of return out of the negotiations.

Where does this Nation-State Law apply?  Over the whole of historic Palestine, Kami-Ayyoub said.  There is no other constitution in the world that has a similar provision. She mentioned the rise in settler violence and asked why aren’t the settlers in Hebron called terrorists? She believes the UK government should impose sanctions. At the least, Parliament should investigate whether UK arms sold to Israel are being used to kill Palestinians.

She also mentioned the Namibia decision in 1971 as precedent which must be followed now.  I remember reading the decision a couple of years ago in my Human Rights Law class.  The International Court of Justice wrote:

The member States of the United Nations are under obligation to recognize the illegality and invalidity of South Africa’s continued presence in Namibia and to refrain from lending any support or any form of assistance to South Africa with reference to its occupation of Namibia.

UK Parliament 6

The final speaker, Kamel Hawwash, is a British-Palestinian Professor who gave an impassioned plea for action.

A predictable Q & A followed until a Zionist stood up and introduced himself as a British Jew who attends pro-Israel meetings in London and wanted to hear the other side. He listed a number of Israel’s achievements in health and science, and then invited the panel to attend some meetings to learn about Israel’s positive contributions to the world.

Professor Hawwash gave the best rebuttal by asking the Zionist — “Are Israel’s scientific achievements incompatible with ending the occupation?” he asked. No response, and the meeting ended soon after.

The exchange at the end was symptomatic of the typical discourse with Zionists on the issue of Palestinians and the occupation. They refuse to talk about the occupation, they ignore the elephant in the room, and they deflect by turning the conversation to other points, such as Israel’s scientific achievements.

 

UK Parliament 11

Maurice on left, Zionist in the middle

After the meeting ended, filmmaker Maurice Jacobsen tried to engage with the Zionists but said they kept deflecting and refused to respond directly on the issue of the occupation.  Undoubtedly, it was frustrating for both but it summarized for me what the greatest challenge may be to ending the occupation.  Not Israel’s new Nation State Law, although that presents a huge obstacle.

The biggest challenge is finding a coherent and meaningful way to talk about the occupation with the occupier and with the Zionists around the world that support Israel. Some pro-Palestinian activists may not be inclined to talk with Zionists, but Palestinians and Israelis will never live together as equals in the Holy Land if they refuse to talk and listen to each other.

Obviously, the Zionists appear content with the status quo since they have the upper hand and all of the advantages of the occupation flow to the State of Israel. They have no incentive to change the narrative that “Palestinians are terrorists and Israel must defend itself”. Thus it’s incumbent on the Palestinians and their supporters to provide a framing of the narrative where both can live together, side-by-side, respectfully and peacefully, as their ancestors did centuries ago.

This isn’t a sign of weakness or capitulation. The right of return must remain on the table. But the occupation will only end when both sides are willing to talk about it and listen to the other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Israel, Occupation, People, Politics, Settlers, Uncategorized

Whether Israeli settlers are committing genocide is not a political question; Al-Tamimi’s case can proceed.

On February 19, 2019, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals reversed the lower court, and ruled that the case brought by Palestinians against Sheldon Adelson and other Americans can proceed.  Al-Tamimi v. Adelson, 2019 WL 660919 (C.A.D.C., 2019)

“The plaintiffs, both Palestinian nationals and Palestinian Americans, claim the defendants, pro-Israeli American individuals and entities, are conspiring to expel all non-Jews from territory whose sovereignty is in dispute. They sued in federal district court, pressing four claims: (1) civil conspiracy, (2) genocide and other war crimes, (3) aiding and abetting genocide and other war crimes and (4) trespass. Concluding that all four claims raise nonjusticiable political questions, the district court dismissed the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. We now reverse.”

Martin McMahon

Martin F McMahon, Attorney for the Palestinians

The Palestinians’ complaint is over 200 pages and and the Court’s summary is chilling:

The plaintiffs are eighteen Palestinians who mostly reside in the disputed territory and a Palestinian village council. The defendants, all American citizens or entities, are eight high-net-worth individuals, thirteen tax-exempt entities, two banks, eight construction and support firms and a former United States deputy national security advisor. The complaint alleges that the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to expel all non-Jews from the disputed territory. Specifically, the individual defendants (excluding Abrams) funneled millions of dollars through the defendant tax-exempt entities and banks to Israeli villages called “settlements.” Armed with this financial assistance, the settlement leaders hired full-time security coordinators who trained a militia of Israeli settlers to kill Palestinians and confiscate their property. The defendant construction and support firms destroyed property belonging to the plaintiff Palestinians and built settlements in its place and, here in the United States, the deputy national security advisor publicly endorsed the settlements. All defendants knew their conduct would result in the mass killings of Palestinians residing in the disputed territory. 

The lower court dismissed their complaint because it decided that five political questions were raised, and the courts typically avoid political questions which are better resolved by the Executive or Legislative Branches. 

Baker, the fountainhead of the modern political question doctrine, did not definitively resolve whether the doctrine is jurisdictional. Indeed, at one point, the Supreme Court suggested that the doctrine is not jurisdictional.

The political question doctrine arises from the constitutional principle of separation of powers. The “doctrine excludes from judicial review those controversies which revolve around policy choices and value determinations constitutionally committed for resolution to the halls of Congress or the confines of the Executive Branch.” Japan Whaling Ass’n v. Am. Cetacean Soc’y, 478 U.S. 221, 230 (1986).

The DC Court of Appeals found that only two questions presented in the complaint are potentially political questions which might prevent the judiciary from considering the case. The first is who has sovereignty over the disputed territory? The other can be restated as: are Israeli settlers committing genocide?  To determine if these two questions are jurisdiction-stripping political questions, the Court of Appeals turned to the Baker factors. [Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186 (1962)].

The first potential political question presented—who has sovereignty over the disputed territory—plainly implicates foreign policy and thus is reserved to the political branches. As the Supreme Court has explained, in our constitutional system questions regarding the “legal and international status [of Jerusalem] are … committed to the Legislature and the Executive, not the Judiciary.” Zivotofsky ex rel. Zivotofsky v. Kerry (Zivotofsky II ), 135 S. Ct. 2076, 2081 (2015). What is true of Jerusalem specifically is true of the entirety of the disputed territory. In fact, the Executive Branch recently addressed the question who has sovereignty over the disputed territorySee Statement by President Trump on Jerusalem (Dec. 6, 2017), https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/statement-president-trump-jerusalem (“We are not taking a position [on] any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders.” (emphasis added) ).  On the other hand, the second potential political question presented—are Israeli settlers committing genocide—is a purely legal issue.  And it is well settled that genocide violates the law of nations. Simon v. Republic of Hungary, 812 F.3d 127, 145 (D.C. Cir. 2016)

 

Genocide has a legal definition. See United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide art. 2, Dec. 9, 1948, 78 U.N.T.S. 277, 280 (defining genocide, in part, as “[k]illing members of [a national, ethnic, racial or religious group]” “with intent to destroy [the group], in whole or in part”). Thus, the ATS—by incorporating the law of nations and the definitions included therein—provides a judicially manageable standard to determine whether Israeli settlers are committing genocide. We recognize that the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C.A. Sec. 1350 “enable[s] federal courts to hear claims in a very limited category defined by the law of nations and recognized at common law.” Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 U.S. 692, 712 (2004)

Naturally, the Department of Justice didn’t want the courts involved in this case and argued that the complaint could create an inter-branch conflict because, “[g]iven the level of political and military support provided Israel by the American government, a judicial finding that the Israeli armed forces had committed the alleged offenses would ‘implicitly condemn American foreign policy by suggesting that the [government’s] support of Israel is wrongful.’ ” Gov’t Appellee’s Br. 16.

However, the DC Court of Appeals concluded this concern, although entitled to deference, is now moot as the plaintiffs have waived any theory of liability based on the conduct of the Israeli military.

Ultimately, we believe that the court would create an inter-branch conflict by deciding who has sovereignty over the disputed territory. By answering the question—regardless of the answer—the court would directly contradict the Executive, which has formally decided to take no position on the question. We do not believe, however, that the court would necessarily create an inter-branch conflict by deciding whether Israeli settlers are committing genocide. A legal determination that Israeli settlers commit genocide in the disputed territory would not decide the ownership of the disputed territory and thus would not directly contradict any foreign policy choice. 

In the final analysis, the DC Court of Appeals concluded that the question who has sovereignty over the disputed territory does present a “hands-off” political question, but the question whether Israeli settlers are committing genocide does not.

If it becomes clear at a later stage that resolving any of the claims requires a sovereignty determination, those claims can be dismissed.

So Al-Tamimi and the others who brought this case climbed a very steep mountain to reach the courthouse doors. They have been admitted in, and now must climb Mt. Everest if they are going to prevail on their claims.

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Filed under People, Politics, Settlers, Uncategorized, US Policy

Occupation or Colonisation? Ilan Pappe

Pappe talkThis talk at Queen Mary University in London interested me for two reasons.

I learned about Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians  and the history of the Nakba from this man when I read his book “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” and I really wanted to see Professor Pappe speak in person.  (More about Ilan Pappe here.)

I also wanted to challenge Professor Pappe.  Last year he suggested (recommended?) that we jettison the term “occupation” in favor of “colonisation”. (Check out his comments and my response here.) Although I understood his argument, I disagreed with him but never had the opportunity to tell him directly. So I imagined I might be able to tell him in London — face-to-face — because it was the subject of his talk.

The event was clearly billed as a “students only” gathering with a warning that student ID would be checked at the door, but that didn’t deter me. I found my way to Queen Mary University on the East Side of London and the students who were gathered outside encouraged me to attend.

Thankfully, the room monitor waved me in without any questions. I was clearly several decades older than the students around me.

Pappe headshot

The evening’s talk was not what was billed in the title for the event. Professor Pappe’s presentation focused on Settler Colonisation as it challenges basic Zionist ideology.  He did not argue, as he has in the past, that the term “colonisation” should replace “occupation.”  I had no desire to challenge him on that point, especially when the students had so many good questions to ask him. It felt as though I would be usurping their time with Pappe if I had raised my hand too.

Pappe explained the difference between “classical colonisation” and “settler colonisation” where the settlers are looking for a place to redefine themselves, a national movement. The settler sees himself as indigenous, and sees the genuine indigenous people as a threat (a hurdle) to be overcome.

“The Palestinians are fighting an anti-colonialist war of liberation.”

He drew parallels to South Africa several times, and said the logic of dehumanization is firmly embedded in he Zionists’ DNA as well as Israel’s DNA.  Otherwise, they couldn’t do what they’re doing to the Palestinians and live with themselves.

“The Bible is not an action plan for colonisation.”

Sitting in a university in London, Pappe noted that the Zionists probably wouldn’t have succeeded with their settler colonisation plans without the help of the British. That acknowledgement helped me appreciate that the U.S. isn’t the only culprit in this tragedy.

Shivers went down my spine when Pappe mentioned that the Zionists’ massacres of Palestinians in 1948 was probably much, much worse than what he wrote about in The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. We probably don’t know, and won’t know, the extent of the massacres until Israel opens up its archives to the public.  The documents from 1948 would have become public this year but Netanyahu approved an extension of another 20 years before they will be declassified. (What are they hiding?)

Pappe said that the settler colonialists in Israel have perfected two models — the open prison (West Bank) which was astonishingly approved in the Oslo Accords, and the maximum security prison (Gaza) where collective punishment is the norm and the Israeli military is using its might to carry out massacres.

Pappe and students

Academics around the world are collaborating on the issue of how to do decolonisation. Pappe supports the One Democratic State. He didn’t mention Jeff Halper, but I suspect Pappe must be collaborating in the same effort.

Pappe sounds optimistic for the future of Palestine, and believes the young Palestinians (both in Palestine and in the diaspora) will succeed, but it may not happen in his lifetime, he admitted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Israel, Israel Defense Forces, Nakba, People, Politics, Settlers, Uncategorized

Bridges

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A Muslim-American journalist has recently been the target of serious anger and hostility by some other Muslim-Americans who claim he was wrong to visit the West Bank and sit down with Jewish settlers to hear their side of the story, the Zionists’ perspective. They claim he was a stooge for the Zionists, manipulated into presenting the two sides (Israel and Palestine) as equal and equally justified. The term of art is a “false equivalency”.

Wajahat AliWahajat Ali’s article in June 2018 issue of The Atlantic is long, but well worth the time to read carefully before delving into the controversy. I read it two times and was starting on my third time around when my attention was redirected elsewhere. Maybe I’ll go back to it.

 

I found his story interesting, illuminating and nuanced. I’ve heard that some pro-Palestine activists on the other hand consider Ali’s article “problematic,” one-sided (the Zionists’ side), normalizing the occupation, and promoting false equivalencies. Read the article for yourself and be the judge.

(I first heard that term “false equivalency” from a Zionist family member in 2001, complaining about something I said about Palestinians. I came to realize that people who hear two very disparate perspectives/sides discussed in the same breath might be offended because they don’t believe the other perspective deserves to be included or they believe their side was unfairly treated in the discussion.)

The unintentional beauty of this current ‘controversy’ — Muslims attacking a Muslim for meeting and writing about Jewish settlers in the West Bank — is that it highlights the challenge of understanding the ‘other’ (whether the ‘other’ is a Jewish settler, a white nationalist, a refugee or a migrant).

If half the energy expended by many who are dissecting The Atlantic article was directed, instead, to building bridges with the ‘other’ (whoever that may be in your life) …. the energy might have made a real difference.

Some may object and say “[t]he problem is that one cannot build a bridge to those who have consistently demonstrated in actions that there are no bridges to even be considered. Zionists will not change their attitude in the same way as those who endeavor to support justice will not change their’s. They are not, however, equal. Justice does not equate with continued, unmitigated oppression. It is fantasy to believe that this can be done.”

  • My notion of bridge-building does not envision a bridge expanding the wide divide separating us so that I can drag the ‘other’ back to my side.
  • My notion of bridge-building does not require me to accept or believe the ‘other’ perspective, it only gives me a channel to learn more about the ‘other’.
  • My notion of bridge-building does not weaken my convictions and beliefs; in fact, it may strengthen them because I will have the opportunity to examine my beliefs in the context of the ‘other’.

In my first year of law school, I took a criminal procedures class with 100+ other students. One day, Professor Kreitzberg asked me to stand up and argue in favor of the death penalty. (She knew I strongly opposed the death penalty).  I was shocked but I did as I was asked and mumbled through some half-baked ideas in favor of the death penalty. Then she turned to another student and asked him to speak in opposition to the death penalty, knowing full well that he personally supported it. He also did as he was instructed.

The lesson that my classmate and I both learned (and maybe some of the other students picked up on it too) was (1) it’s really tough to get in the shoes of the ‘other’ and (2) we are stronger advocates when we understand and can express the position of the ‘other.’ The same may be true in the Palestine-Israel conflict. Since Wajahat Ali is a lawyer by training, this lesson has probably been drilled into him too. His article in The Atlantic helped me understand the perspective of the Jewish settlers in a way that I never could have on my own. I don’t have access to the settlers. I can’t sit in their kitchens to talk with them, as Ali did.

Some argue that Wajahat Ali’s article about the Jewish settlers speaks over (perhaps drowns out) the voices of the Palestinians and Palestinian-Americans who are the ‘legitimate’ voices that the West needs to hear. I simply don’t buy it. The whole notion of ‘legitimate’ voices (implying that others’ are illegitimate) is very problematic in itself.

In the marketplace of ideas, competing voices and ideas are valuable and should be valued. Certainly, the Western narrative of Israel-Palestine has been heavily skewed by Israel’s Hasbara for many years, and push-back is warranted to influence and educate public opinion in the U.S. and elsewhere. But let’s not fall for the mistaken belief that there’s a monolithic Palestinian narrative, or a monolithic Muslim narrative. There isn’t. Maybe this fact is creating some angst for those who would like to control the Muslim narrative.

Wajahat Ali’s article has done a great service in furthering the art of bridge-building. Sadly, many on his own side of the bridge may not appreciate that fact yet.

 

 

 

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Filed under Media, Occupation, People, Settlers, Uncategorized, Video

Allowing space for conflicting narratives

My son’s high school classmate, many years ago, recently visited the West Bank. Wajahat Ali has visited the Middle East many times and is quite knowledgeable about the history and the current political strife. His feature length piece in the June 2018 issue of The Atlantic reflects his insights from the people he met on his journey.

Wajahat Ali

Wajahat Ali

A Muslim Among Israeli Settlers — What happens when a Pakistani American writer goes deep into the West Bank?  is a gift and a pure joy to read.

The reader might immediately draw assumptions and put Wajahat, an American Muslim, into a box.  The box that describes how Muslims are suppose to feel about Zionists and which side (Palestinians, of course) they naturally can be expected to gravitate towards.  Wajahat doesn’t fit into any boxes.

I know he will receive criticism — probably from many different boxes (errr……sides) — dissecting the fine points in his long article. People won’t find fault with the facts — facts are facts and I’m pretty sure that Wajahat and his editors have fact-checked his paper thoroughly. Instead, they will argue about his emphasis or lack of emphasis, about his opinion or lack of opinion (“why didn’t you say this or that?”), and about his (gasp!) objectivity!

“As a result of engaging with Zionists, I found that once you allow a space for conflicting narratives, even those that might repulse you, the characters take up room in your mind and your heart. You can no longer unsee or unfeel them. You have to negotiate their presence without compromising your core principles.”

Of course, the same can and must be said about engaging with Palestinians, with Hamas, with anyone we consider the “other”.

If everyone in the region has a shot at interpreting God’s will, then I’ll offer my own vision. I believe that Jews and Palestinians are religious cousins, more alike than different. They have lived together in the past, eaten each other’s olives, worked each other’s fields, married each other’s family members. Learning to live together again should not be impossible. But this isn’t happening, not anytime soon.

Thank you, Wajahat, for your clarity of pen and clarity of heart. We need many more writers, and leaders, who have the courage to step outside of their boxes and allow space for the conflicting narratives.

Be sure to read Wajahat’s article here and watch this short 14 minute video.

 

 

 

 

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Israeli/Palestinian Conflict 2005 – 2017

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A well-informed friend (neither Palestinian nor Israeli) recently prepared this timeline of key events during the past 12 years with a particular focus on Gaza. He wishes to remain anonymous at this time, but I am very grateful for his time and effort in pulling this timeline together.  Its value is not only the timeline’s comprehensive treatment but also its impartiality.

2005

 

Government of Israel (GOI) starts implementation of the so-called “Disengagement Plan”, which consists of the voluntary and unilateral withdrawal from all military bases and soldiers from the Gaza Strip, as well as the dismantling of the 21 Jewish settlements located within the Strip, being Gush Katif the largest of all. The “Disengagement Plan” had been designed by the Prime Minister at the time, Ariel Sharon.

 

GOI finishes the implementation of the “Disengagement Plan” successfully. Although facing some resistance from the young and more radical Jewish settlers there was no armed violence at all (unlike when Israel dismantled the settlement of Yamit in the Sinai Peninsula in compliance with the Camp David Accords from 1978). From there on, there has been no permanent Israeli presence or jurisdiction in Gaza. However, Israel retained control of certain elements, such as airspace, sea and borders, leading to an ongoing dispute as to whether Gaza is still “occupied territory” or not.

 

US Secretary of State Condolezza Rice visits Israel for the celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Itzaak Rabin and mediates the “Agreement on Movement and Access” to facilitate the reopening of the Rafah Crossing (that connects the Strip to Egypt, and from there to the rest of the world) under the management of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and the supervision of European border monitors. Rafah Crossing is reopened and becomes the first border crossing ever managed by the Palestinians (before they were in the hands of the Ottoman Empire, British Mandate, Egypt and Israel).

 

2006

 

The Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas (which is registered in the list of terrorist organizations of both the United States and the EU) unexpectedly wins a clear majority in the elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council (Parliament), after Fatah can’t politically sell the “Disengagement” as its own achievement through negotiations due to its unilateral character. The PNA´s bilateral relations with Israel deteriorate a lot, even though its President Mahmoud Abbas, remains a member of the secular party Fatah.

 

Following a Gaza beach blast, in which seven members of the same family were killed, the armed wing of Hamas called off its 16-month-old truce. Although GOI claimed its Army was shelling 250 mts away from the family’s location; Palestinians claimed that the explosion was Israeli responsibility. An Israeli internal investigation report claimed the blast was most likely caused by an unexploded munition buried in the sand and not by shelling. This investigation was criticized by human rights organizations.

 

After crossing the border the Gaza Strip into Israel in the South, the Palestinian “popular Resistance Committees” attacked an Israeli Army post, killing 2 soldiers, injuring 4 and capturing Corporal Gilad Shalit. GOI orders the Army to launch military operation “Summer Rains”. The kidnapping of Shalit leads to several collective punishment measures against the Strip, among them the reduction of the fishing space and the regular closure of the Rafah Crossing. This is considered to be the first stage of the blockade of the Strip.

 

Second Lebanon War starts after Shiite militia Hezbollah members infiltrated Israel in a cross-border raid, captured two soldiers and killed three others. Israel attempted to rescue the captured, and five more soldiers were killed. Israeli Army responded, attacking Lebanon from earth, air and sea. The conflict resulted in the deaths of 1,191 Lebanese people and 165 Israelis. Simultaneously, the Army launched a counter-offensive to deprive cover to militants firing rockets into from Gaza, killing 23 Palestinians.

 

A UN study declared the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip “intolerable”, with 75% of the population dependent on food aid, and an estimated 80% of the population living below the poverty line. The Palestinian economy had largely relied on Western aid and revenues, which had been frozen since Hamas’s victory in the legislative elections.

 

Brokered by Egyptian mediators, Fatah reached a deal to end fighting between the Hamas and Fatah factions, both groups agreeing to refrain from acts that raise tensions and committing themselves to dialogue to resolve differences. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas brushed off comments by President Mahmoud Abbas, head of Fatah, who indicated he could dismiss the Hamas-led cabinet. Abbas unsuccessfully urged Hamas to accept international calls to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

 

2007

 

Fatah-Hamas negotiations in Mecca (Saudi Arabia) produced an agreement on a Palestinian national unity government.

 

After the increasing of intra-governmental tensions within the PNA Hamas launches an strike against Fatah loyalists in Gaza, taking control of all the Strip within a few days of intense fighting. Since then the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have remained fragmented, both geographically and politically.

 

US Administration under George W. Bush promoted the Annapolis Conference, a peace conference marked the first time a two-State solution was articulated as the mutually agreed-upon outline for addressing the conflict. The conference ended with the issuing of a joint statement from all parties.

 

2008

 

Israeli Army launches Operation “Hot Winter” in response to rockets fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel. The operation resulted in 112 Palestinians and three Israelis being killed.

 

Israeli Army raids the Gaza Strip without a clear and direct reason for it, killing six members of Hamas. Hamas cancels the truce agreement that it had respected most of time. The armed wing of Hamas responds with rocket attacks on southern Israel.

 

Israeli Army launches Operation “Cast Lead”, a full-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip.

 

2009

 

Operation “Cast Lead” continues until January 18. After 22 days of fighting, Israel and Hamas each declared separate unilateral ceasefires. Casualties of the so-called “first Gaza War” are disputed. According to Hamas, they included as many as 1,417 Palestinians including as many as 926 civilians. According to Israeli Army, 1,166 Palestinians were killed, and 295 were non-combatants. “Cast Lead” is criticized by the Goldstone Report under the auspices of the UN.

 

Although Kadima wins the legislative elections its candidate for Prime Minister, Tzipi Livni, doesn´t get enough support in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) and the candidate of the Likud party Benjamion Netanyahu is appointed as new Prime Minister.

 

2010

 

Turkish and international activists of the “Freedom Flotilla” try to break Israel’s naval blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza, but were intercepted by the Israeli Army. When the Israeli naval commandos boarded the main ship (Mavi Marmara) the activists attacked them with knives and metal rods. 9 Turkish activists are shot dead after a quite negligent crisis management by GOI.

 

U.S. launches direct negotiations between GOI and PNA in Washington D.C.

 

GOI decides not to extend the construction moratorium in the settlements of the West Bank that had been agreed by the Obama Administration as a confidence-building measure with the PNA. A second round of Middle East peace talks between GPI and PNA takes place in Sharm el-Sheikh (Egypt).

 

2011

 

Two young Palestinians with no previous security offenses infiltrate the settlement of Itamar and murder five members of the same family in their beds. This incident creates a lot of mistrust on the Israeli public opinion about re-launching the Peace Process.

 

Egyptian and Palestinian militants perpetrate a cross-border attack in southern Israel and killed 8 Israelis, 2 soldiers and 6 civilians. 40 injured. 5 Egyptian soldiers are also killed. This incident becomes an example of the militarization process and chaos in the Sinai Peninsula during the “Arab spring” taking place in Egypt.

 

Palestine applies to the UN General Assembly for recognition of Palestine statehood, calling it a “Palestine Spring”.

 

Hamas liberates soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for the liberation of 1.000 Palestinian prisoners (with very diverse backgrounds) by Israel.

 

Palestine wins membership in UNESCO while UN vote on statehood is put on hold. In the Security Council, Palestine gets no support from France and UK while US threatens to veto it.

 

2012

 

Gaza militants launch over 300 rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel, wounding 23 civilians. Israeli Army retaliates with air strikes on Gaza targets, killing 22 militants and 4 civilians.

 

Israeli Army lunches Operation “Pillar of Defense” after perpetrating a “targeted killing” against Hamas´ armed wing head, Ahmed Jabari. Gaza officials said 133 Palestinians had been killed in the conflict of whom 79 were militants, 53 civilians and 1 policeman. Around 840 Palestinians are wounded. Hamas fires over 1,000 rockets at southern Israel, killing 6.

 

UN General Assembly upgrades Palestine to “non-member observer State” status in the United Nations, was adopted by the 67th session of the UNGA, coinciding with the celebration of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinians People. Vote: For: 138; Abs.: 41 Against: 9.

 

In response to the UN approving the Palestinian UN bid for non-member observer state status, GOI announces the approval of building of housing units in the E1 Area that connects Jerusalem and Israel settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, while effectively cutting the West Bank in two pieces.

 

2013

 

Likud party wins the legislative elections in coalition with Israel Beitenu and Benjamin Netanyahu is re-elected as Prime Minister.

 

2014

 

Three Israeli youngsters are kidnapped and assassinated while hitchhiking home from their religious schools in settlements on the West Bank. GOI blames the assassination on Hamas, and claims it was ordered by one of its leaders in exile, Salah Al Arouri, who lives in Turkey.

 

Israeli Army rounds up more than 150 Palestinians, including Parliament speaker Abdel Aziz Dweik and several members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (who are supposed to enjoy Parliamentary immunity).

 

Israel Air Force launches dozens of air strikes across the Gaza Strip overnight, just hours after the bodies of three abducted Israeli teenagers were found in a shallow grave near the southern West Bank city of Hebron. Following the discovery of the bodies, Netanyahu issues a statement once again blaming Hamas. Hamas denies involvement.

 

In retaliation to the abduction of the 3 Israeli teenagers, 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir is grabbed off the street after leaving his home in Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhood of Shuafat, is beaten up and burnt alive, provoking a wave of riots in East Jerusalem.

 

Israeli Army launches Operation “Protective Edge” against the Gaza Strip. More than 2,200 Gazans are killed and 10,000 injured –from them around 70% civilians according to the UN– after almost two months of shelling from earth, air and sea. 73 Israelis get killed, from them 66 soldiers and 7 civilians. This “third Gaza war” becomes the most lethal and destructive of all military operations launched by the Israeli Army against the Gaza Strip.

 

The international community, under the auspices of Egypt and Norway, celebrates a donor Conference for Reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. The PNA presents its National Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan, for which so far has not even 50% of the funding that was pledged by the donors at the Cairo Conference from 12 October 2014.

 

2015

 

Likud Party wins the early elections and Benjamin Netanyahu gets reelected as Prime Minister for his third term in a row and fourth term altogether (at the end of his current mandate he will become Israel´s longest serving head of Government). The ruling coalition becomes Israel´s most right-wing Government ever.

 

All UN agencies release a joint report under the name of “Gaza 2020” stating that if current trends remain (population growth, lack of drinking water, lack of natural resources, energy restrictions, etc.) the Gaza Strip will be uninhabitable by 2020.

 

The recurrent provocations by right-wing Members of the Knesset visiting the Haram Al Sharif in the old city of Jerusalem (third most important religious site for Islam, but also the most important for Judaism, as it is believed to be the site of the Temple Mount, where both Jewish Temples were erected before their destruction leads to the so-called “Knife Intifada” (sequence of attacks with knives against Israeli policemen and civilians).

 

2016

 

After several months of quiet the Jewish High Holiday season (New Year, Yom Kippur, Sukkot) leads to more visits to the Temple Mount by right-wing members of Knesset and even a couple Government ministers, provoking more riots and turmoil in Jerusalem.

 

2017

 

Yahya Sinwar replaces Ismael Haniye as head of Hamas for the Gaza Strip. Haniye replaces Khaled Meshal as head of the Political Office of Hamas in exile.

 

Three young Israeli Arabs manage to smuggle fire arms into the Haram Al Sharif and kill two Israeli Policemen at one of the entrances. GOI installs metal detectors and CCTV cameras at different entrances to the Holy Explanade, detonating a new wave of riots. After the killing of two Jordanian citizens by an Israeli security guard in Amman (Jordan) GOI finds the way out of the crisis, removing the detectors and the cameras after two weeks of violence.

 

Hamas announces it will allow the PNA to retake over some ministries, executing effective control over them and cancelling the “administrative committee” it had created last April after the PNA cancelled the payments for fuel (stopping the power station in Nuseirat) and reducing the payments for electricity (that it buys from Israel). It also announces that the Ramallah Government lead by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah can call for both legislative and presidential elections (the Legislative Council doesn´t work since 2007 and President Abbas rules by decree since 2010 as his mandate expired) creating new expectations for national reconciliation.

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Who by bulldozer, and who at gunpoint?

Rabbi Arik Ascherman originally presented these remarks at a Congressional briefing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, September 19, 2017.  They were subsequently published in The Times of Israel on Sept. 20, here. I share them on my blog to find an audience that might not have seen or read his plea earlier.  Shana Tova to my Jewish friends and family.

Rabbi Arik Ascherman

Rabbi Arik Ascherman

Presentation for Senate Briefing – September 19th, 2017

My name is Rabbi Arik Ascherman, and I am here to plead for the life of Aysar’s village. After 21 years leading Rabbis For Human Rights, I recently founded “Torat Tzedek Torah of Justice,” dedicated to the human rights of Israeli single parent moms and Palestinians alike, because the Torah teaches us that every human being is created in God’s Image. I come before you without a political agenda. Defending human rights does take place in a political context. What I mean is that, while we believe that the Occupation must end because it inevitably leads to human rights violations, it is beyond our mandate as a human rights organization to take a position on a one state versus two state versus ten state solution, or where borders should be.

This year, September 21st is both International Peace Day, and Rosh HaShana, the Jewish new year. Also known as Yom Hadin, the day of judgment, in two days we will pray, “On Rosh HaShanah it is written. On Yom Kippur it is sealed. Who will live, and who will die… Who will be content, and who will suffer.” Many of you know this prayer because the late Leonard Cohen put some of the words to music, “Who by fire, who by water” In Susya’s case, “Who by bulldozer, and who at gunpoint? Who by direct force, and who by slow strangulation? Who by Jerusalem, and who by Washington?”

Arik at US capitol

I’m here, rather than home in Israel preparing for Rosh HaShanah, because the fate of Susya will in all likelihood be determined in Washington. I will explain, but first a bit of background:

The Palestinian residents of Susya lived on both sides of what became the 1948 border. They fled or were expelled, depending on your narrative, from their lands on the Israeli side. Their village on the side under Jordanian control was Susya. In 1967 they again came under Israeli control. In this age of alternative facts, some say that Susya never existed. The truth is that there are pictures of a visit by representatives of the U.S. Consulate, it appears in British records, and there are signs in the archeological site that used to be Susya pointing out the caves that were once homes. There is a 1982 report from the Israeli government lawyer, Plia Albeck. She is known as the “mother of the settlements.” She certainly did not accept the idea that most experts on international law who are not over the top pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian adopt, that the Fourth Geneva convention applies in the West Bank, and forbids the creation of settlements even on so called State Land. She proudly explained in her memoirs that she did everything she could to find lands to establish settlements. In her 1982 report, she is trying very hard to establish a settlement in the area. However, she writes that she has a problem. There is a Palestinian village called Susya, surrounded by 3,000 dunam (750 acres) of privately owned and registered land. It would take me all day to explain the ins and outs of determining land ownership. Suffice it to say that it is highly unusual for Israeli officials to acknowledge Palestinian lands as privately registered, certainly in the South Hebron Hills.

Albeck indicated that there was one hill where a settlement could be set up, and the settlement also called Susya was established in 1983. Several years later the settlers asked Albeck for help, and she wrote to them that they had so clearly built beyond the area she said could be built upon that any attempt on her part to help them would only get them in more legal trouble. More recently, a report by the pro-Settlement NGO “Regavim” noted that there were some 23 homes in the settlement of Susya built on private Palestinian land. Nevertheless, Israel maintains that there is no issue of eifa v’eifa (discriminatory double standards), but simply maintaining law and order.

In 1986, the residents of Palestinian Susya were expelled from their homes in order to make an archaeological site out of an ancient synagogue located there. Make no mistake, we Jews do have ancient roots in our homeland. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians should try to establish their root in our shared land by denying the roots of the other. However, rather than make the synagogue alone an archaeological site, the residents were forced to abandon their entire village. Some of them moved on to their nearby agricultural lands, living again in simple caves. Harassment began in the mid-90s. The villagers were again expelled after a settler was murdered in 2001 (Not by somebody from Palestinian Susya, and no actions have been taken against the settlements where settlers who murdered Palestinians live.) Settlers accompanied the soldiers, who demolished the caves and filled in water cisterns.

The Israeli High Court ruled that this was an illegal expulsion, and returned the Palestinians to their lands. However, they were left “Nisht aher, un nisht aher,” (Yiddish-neither here nor there), because the Court neglected to address how they could replace their demolished homes. In 1971 the Israeli army, in contradiction to the Hague Convention that requires leaving civilian affairs in the hands of the civilian population unless there is an overriding military necessity, abolished Palestinian local and regional planning and zoning committees. The army assumed all planning responsibilities. For the most part, they either inadequately plan for Palestinian building, or don’t plan at all. All of Susya’s applications to build legally were rejected. In the most recent attempt, the army committee ruled in 2013 that it would be “unfair” to force the Palestinians to live in an isolated area without infrastructure. There are of course many isolated settlements. Electrical lines and water mains actually run right by Susya from settlement to settlement, but Palestinian Susya isn’t given access to this infrastructure. The real reason, as a representative of the U.S. Consulate who attended the meeting of the army planning commission with us heard, was expressed by a representative of the local settlement council, “We all know that this hearing is a joke. You would never approve a Palestinian village so close to our settlement.”

In 2011, the local settlement council and Regavim initiated a Court appeal to have Palestinian Susya wiped off the face of the earth. They demanded that all the structures that Palestinians were forced to build “illegally” be demolished.

Here Washington comes in. Contrary to what Israel tells many foreign governments, the Israeli High Court has never ruled that Susya must be destroyed. In fact, the case is still in court. However, neither has the Court prevented the demolitions. Currently, the decision to demolish or not demolish is a government prerogative. The court is interested in an agreement, and will not order the destruction of Susya if the Israeli government objects. It’s therefore legitimate and crucial for the international community to express an opinion. Given the settlement movement’s intense pressure on the government to demolish, the only reason that Susya is still standing today is because of international concern led by the U.S. As a result of that concern, Israel budged in 2015. They agreed to meet with the residents of Susya.

I was present at those meetings. The army offered to recognize and help build Palestinian Susya on their lands. The only disagreement was over which part of their lands the village would be built. Defense Defense Minister Lieberman then replaced Defense Minister Ya’alon. In August 2016, Lieberman asked the Court for more time to study the issue. He requested a postponement until just after the U.S. elections. He has continued to ask for postponements.

Frankly, the common wisdom in both Washington and Jerusalem, was that the current U.S. administration would quickly give the green light for Susya’s demolition. Apparently, that hasn’t happened until now. It seems that in Washington there was an understanding that there will be no chance for a renewed peace process if the U.S. backs down on elementary issues of fairness and justice.

Susya’s residents must be allowed to live on their lands, whether or not there will ever be peace, and no matter who will eventually be sovereign over this area. If we take our Prime Minister seriously when he declares that there will not be a Palestinian state on his watch that only increases our responsibility towards the Palestinians who will remain under our control for the foreseeable future. However, let’s be clear. The obstacle to peace is a lack of hope. Polls show that both Israelis and Palestinians want peace, but neither believe that the other side wants peace. If you allow Susya to be destroyed, hope will be diminished. The Palestinian trust in the ability of the U.S. to be an honest broker will be further compromised.

We are extremely concerned that Washington’s position has now changed, or that Israel believes that Washington has no intent continuing to vigorously engage Israel on behalf of Susya. While we are waiting for the next scheduled court deadline in late October, Minister Lieberman recently declared that the Ministry is working on plans to destroy Susya and the community of Khan Al Akhmar in the coming months. (Khan Al Akhmar is one of the West Bank communities of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe, intimidated into leaving Israel in the early 1950s. Along with Susya, Khan Al Ahmar is a very symbolic test case, because all the sides have drawn lines in the sand. Up until now, the international community has protected the school Rabbis For Human Rights helped build there.)

My questions to you are, “What can each of you do to ensure that the U.S. continues to vigorously lead international support for Susya. How many members of Congress will make personal phone calls to the President, his advisors, and the State Department?” I would prefer that human beings do not play God, deciding “Who shall live and who shall die.” But, that’s the reality. In two days I will stand before God to plead for a sweet and good year for myself, for my loved ones, for my people, for my country and for our world. I will pray for Susya, for Khan Al Akhmar, for Israelis in need of public housing and also for Israeli Bedouin communities such as Umm Al Hiran and Al Araqib. They too won’t exist in another year if Israeli government policy doesn’t change, or if there isn’t salvation from another quarter. However, our tradition teaches us that we cannot ask for God’s forgiveness and blessing before making every effort to make amends with our fellow human beings. In the same vein, I cannot come cleanly before the heavenly tribunal without standing first before you. You in this room and in this city are the tribunal with the ability to determine whether Aysar’s village will live or die. With power, comes responsibility. Please do not shirk your responsibility. If you do, this boy will not have a home. It is really that simple.

Some say that Israel’s democracy should make these decisions. That is disingenuous. Palestinians cannot vote for the Knesset. They cannot sit as judges on the courts that determine their fate, nor serve on the planning committee for their communities. Israelis cannot claim a democratic right to determine the fate of those not part of their democracy. Because Israel doesn’t have a constitution or a Bill of Rights, even Israeli Bedouin villages such as Umm Al Hiran or Al Araqib don’t have the protections that democracy is supposed to provide. Although Al Araqib existed before the State of Israel, and Umm Al Hiran exists where Israel placed its residents in 1956, they are a minority. The majority has “democratically” decided to destroy them. Al Araqib has been demolished nearly 120 times since 2010. Israel is currently seeking to complete the expulsion of the non-Jewish residents of Umm Al Hiran, in order to continue the building of Jewish “Hiran” on the rubble of Umm Al Hiran. As a Jew, an Israeli, a rabbi and a Zionist, it pains me to share with you these truths, but they are the truth.

Finally, it is not popular in Israel today to be a human rights defender. If you google, “Ascherman, knife,” you can watch me being attacked by a young knife wielding settler in October 2015. It wasn’t the first time I was physically attacked, nor the last. At the recent sentencing hearing, I said I was not interested in punishment, but rehabilitation. Every young person, whether or not I agree with him or her, and whether they are Jewish or not, should have their entire life ahead of them to fulfill dreams and contribute to society. Having expressed that to an Israeli court on behalf of my attacker, I certainly feel qualified to make the plea in the court before which I now stand -You. “Do not take from Aysar his dreams and his future.” The power is in your hands. Not to make a decision is to make a decision.

Thank you. Shana Tova. I wish you a good and sweet new year. Gmar Khatima Tova-May the final seal for Susya, Umm Al Hiran, Khan Al Akhmar, Al Araqib and for all of us, be the seal of life.

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