Palestine Update 440
Truth never damages a cause that is just
B’Tselem is one of Israel’s foremost human rights organizations. But it is the first time that it has challenged Israel’s claim to being a democratic state. In a report titled “A Regime of Jewish Supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is Apartheid,” B’Tselem challenges ‘the common perception in public, political, legal and media discourse is that two separate regimes operate side by side in this area, separated by the Green Line’. One regime, inside the borders of the sovereign State of Israel, is a permanent democracy with a population of about nine million, all Israeli citizens. The other regime, in the territories Israel took over in 1967, whose final status is supposed to be determined in future negotiations’. The report highlights racial discrimination in the areas of land, citizenship, freedom of movement and political participation. It goes even deeper and those who are on the side of seeking a just peace hope that the report will serve as an important step that opens spaces for Israelis and Palestinians to create a widespread account “on their relationship, political position and collective action in order to dismantle this Israeli apartheid”.
Palestinian general elections for 2021 have been announced at long last. They will include legislative elections on 22 May 2021, presidential elections on 31 July and the Palestinian National Council elections on 31 August 2021. About two million Palestinians in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip are eligible to vote. The UN and the EU welcomed the development. The absence of democracy for well over a decade in the Palestinian territories meant that there was neither accountability nor people’s participation in political affairs. Hence, this is a welcome development. The announcement that imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti will run for president in these elections has stirred huge interest and optimism. As a leader with a mass base and charisma, his chances are rated as being very high because of his mass base and the fact that he has been jailed for nearly two decades. With political changes in the USA, the outcome of the elections will be keenly watched. Of equally keen interest is the question of how Hamas will fare in the elections. Should Hamas win, what will the response of the international community be?
In parallel to the prospects of elections, there are other worries too. “…Palestinians are worried that Israel might block this year’s polls in East Jerusalem after the US recognition of the city as Israel’s capital in 2017 and amid preparations for the Israeli elections on March 22. Abbas has repeatedly said that the Palestinian elections will not be held without Jerusalem. Israeli intelligence services have started to warn Hamas officials in the occupied West Bank not to participate in the upcoming Palestinian elections. Israelis first summoned a senior Hamas official Sheikh Omar Al-Barghouti to the Ofer Detention Centre and instructed him not to take part in the presidential, legislative and National Council elections. Al-Bargouthi was released just recently. He is not the only one to receive such a warning.
Meanwhile, Israel continues to further weaken democracy by prohibiting even peaceful resistance. There is a huge chorus of protest against the persecution and intimidation’ of Palestinian anti-settlement activist Issa Amro. Amro is the founder of the Hebron-based group Youth Against Settlements, saying they feared he would spend time behind bars. The UN officials have condemned his prosecution and termed it as being politically motivated. A senior UN official has observed that “rather than prosecuting human rights defenders, Israel should be listening to them and correcting its own human rights conduct.”
Meanwhile the world watches with curiosity, and a degree of hope mixed with uncertainty, as to how the Biden administration will fare in ironing out the discord between Palestinians and Israel on the future. What chances will democracy really have as the future unfolds? Will Biden show courage and open up spaces for a just settlement? Will the powers that manage the backroom of US politics give him the leeway to do what it takes for a just and durable resolution?
The US does not have a credible track record of steering Israel and Palestine towards a convincing peace. Zionist lobbies have controlled and dictated US policy. And, for most part, that policy has camouflaged truth. Gandhi once said: “Truth never damages a cause that is just”. The question before us is: Will Biden create history and change the content of US policy to forge a new day in which the pursuit of truth and justice bring peace to both peoples?
B’Tselem’s Historic Declaration: Israel’s Open War on Its Own Civil Society
“A Regime of Jewish Supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is Apartheid,” was the title of a January 12 report by the Israeli rights group B’Tselem. No matter how one is to interpret B’Tselem’s findings, the report is earth-shattering. The official Israeli response merely confirmed what B’Tselem has stated in no uncertain terms. Those of us who repeatedly claimed that Israel is not democratic, governed by an apartheid regime and systematically discriminates against its ethnic and racial minorities, in favor of the country’s Jewish majority, purportedly have nothing to learn from B’Tselem’s declaration. Thus, it may seem that the report, which highlighted racial discrimination in four major areas – land, citizenship, freedom of movement and political participation – merely, restated the obvious. In actuality, it went much further.
B’Tselem is a credible Israeli human rights organization. However, like other Israeli rights groups, it rarely went far enough in challenging the Israeli state’s basic definition of itself as a democratic state. Yes, on numerous occasions it rightly accused the Israeli government and military of undemocratic practices, rampant human rights violations and so on. But to demolish the very raison d’etre, the basic premise that gives Israel its legitimacy in the eyes of its Jewish citizens, and many more around the world, is a whole different story. “B’Tselem rejects the perception of Israel as a democracy (inside the Green Line) that simultaneously upholds a temporary military occupation (beyond it),” the Israeli rights group concluded based on the fact that the “bar for defining the Israeli regime as an apartheid regime has been met after considering the accumulation of policies and laws that Israel devised to entrench its control over Palestinians.”
Israel’s leading human rights organization was not arguing that Israel was turning into an apartheid state or that it was acting contrary to the spirit of democracy or that Israel is an undemocratic apartheid regime only within the geographic confines of the occupied Palestinian territories. None of this. According to B’tselem, which has for decades diligently documented numerous facets of Israeli government practices in the realm of politics, military, land-ownership, water distribution, health, education, and much more, Israel is, now, wholly an apartheid, undemocratic regime.
B’Tselem’s assessment is most welcomed, not as a belated admission of a self-evident reality but as an important step that could allow both Israelis and Palestinians to establish a common narrative on their relationship, political position and collective action in order to dismantle this Israeli apartheid.
Imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti
Imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti will run for president in upcoming elections, according to The New Arab. Hatem Abdel Qader, a senior official in the Fatah Party, told The New Arab’s Arabic language service Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that Barghouti will run for Palestinian president from an Israeli prison. Abdel Qader believes that Barghouti “will constitute a strong competitor to any other candidate competing for this position, because of the appreciation, respect and acceptance he enjoys among a wide sector of the Fatah movement and, the general Palestinian public and other political factions”.
Qader said that opinion polls appear to be on Barghouti’s side and that he stands a good chance of winning if current President Mahmoud Abbas, whose presidency expired in 2009, makes the unlikely decision to abstain from running for parliament. In 2017, Barghouti led the largest prisoners’ hunger strike in Palestinian history and is regarded as a hero among the general public. In April, he will mark 20 years of detention in Israeli prisons.
UN criticizes Israel over ‘harassment and intimidation’ of Palestinian campaigner
UN investigators have criticized Israel over the ‘harassment and intimidation’ of Palestinian anti-settlement activist Issa Amro. The UN human rights observers Michael Lynk and Mary Lawlor on Tuesday criticized the conviction earlier this month of Mr Amro, founder of the Hebron-based group Youth Against Settlements, saying they feared he would spend time behind bars. Mr Amro, 40, is due to be sentenced on February 8. The UN officials said his prosecution was politically motivated.
“This is part of a clear and systematic pattern of detention, judicial harassment and intimidation by Israel of human rights defenders, a pattern that has increased in intensity recently,” the experts said. “Rather than prosecuting human rights defenders, Israel should be listening to them and correcting its own human rights conduct.”
Mr Amro was convicted on January 6 on three counts of protesting without a permit, two counts of disrupting Israeli soldiers’ activities, and one count of assault, in incidents between 2010 and 2016. He was acquitted on 12 other counts against him. He regularly leads protests against Israeli settlement construction in the flashpoint city of Hebron, where, under heavy Israeli military protection, some 1,000 settlers live among 200,000 Palestinians. “This conviction is part of a pattern where Israeli military law is used to restrict and penalize Palestinians for exercising their inviolable political and civil rights,” the UN rapporteur said.
A return to the two-state politics without a historical reckoning spells loss for Palestinians
US President Joe Biden announced the restoring of diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority and the resumption of humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people, in a bid to bring the country back to international consensus after the Trump administration pursued a different form of diplomatic relations which culminated in the Abraham Accords. According to Acting US Ambassador to the UN, Richard Mills, the move guarantees “the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a democratic and Jewish state while upholding the Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations for a state of their own.”
Of course, the prevailing discrepancy remains. The US will support “the Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations for a state” but that is as far as it will go. The “legitimate aspirations” will play a bigger role in the forthcoming process where the two-state compromise will return to its pedestal. Re-engaging the PA will be a trivial deed. Isolated as he is, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the US election result as an opportunity to act in oblivion of what the Trump administration achieved. Yet the previous tenure has reaped benefits for Israel which the current US presidency will be unwilling to revoke. Upon what foundations will the US-PA dialogue happen? Abbas, for sure, will have no say in determining any pre-conditions. Having already stated his disposition to re-engage diplomatically with the US, upon the basis of Trump’s departure and not the rescinding of policies which resulted in further territorial loss, Abbas will still be at a disadvantage.