UN takes first step to end Israel’s impunity

Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 28 September 2017

A UN list of companies that do business with Israel’s illegal settlements would boost the global movement for Palestinian rights. (Ryan Rodrick Beiler/ActiveStills)

UN officials are finally moving to hold Israel accountable for breaking international law, though they are facing fierce resistance from Israel and its allies.

“After decades of Palestinian dispossession and Israeli military occupation and apartheid, the United Nations has taken its first concrete, practical step to secure accountability for ongoing Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights,” said Omar Barghouti, a founder of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. “Palestinians warmly welcome this step.”

On Wednesday, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported that the UN’s human rights office began sending letters to some 150 companies around the world warning them that they may be added to a database of firms doing business with Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

This week Nickolay Mladenov, the top UN political official in Jerusalem, told the UN Security Council that “Israel’s illegal settlement activities have continued at a high rate” in gross breach of UN resolutions.

There is a growing legal consensus that international law requires governments to prohibit all trade with the settlements.

“This could snowball”

Israeli officials have admitted that many firms – though they did not provide names – have already responded to the letters by assuring the UN human rights office that they will not renew their contracts in Israel or seek new ones.

“These companies just can’t make the distinction between Israel and the settlements and are ending their operations altogether,” a senior Israeli official told Haaretz. “Foreign companies will not invest in something that reeks of political problems – this could snowball.”

The senior Israeli official confirmed what a top EU diplomat had reported back to colleagues in Brussels.

In a June memo written when he was the EU ambassador in Tel Aviv, Lars Faaborg-Andersen admitted that the EU had no reliable way to distinguish exports from settlements from other Israeli goods.

The Israeli official’s comments also echo the findings of a secret report by two influential Israel lobby groups leaked to The Electronic Intifada earlier this year.

The report, which was endorsed by the Israeli government, concluded that most of the “collateral damage” being done to Israel by the BDS movement is a result of a growing “silent boycott” – groups, individuals and companies who make undeclared decisions to refrain from engaging with Israel, either because of their support for Palestinian rights, or simply to “avoid unnecessary problems and criticisms.”

Household names

Last month, The Washington Post named some of the American companies warned by the UN that they may be listed in the database.

They include household names such as Caterpillar, TripAdvisor, Priceline.com and Airbnb.

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Ilan Pappe: No, Israel Is Not a Democracy — And Never Was

Ilan Pappe, Jacobin: No, Israel Is Not a Democracy – And Never Was

Israel is not the only democracy in the Middle East.
In fact, it’s not a democracy at all.

Ilan Pappe, Jacobin, May 5, 2017
Excerpted from Ten Myths About Israel, Verso Books

In the eyes of many Israelis and their supporters worldwide — even those who might criticize some of its policies — Israel is, at the end of the day, a benign democratic state, seeking peace with its neighbors, and guaranteeing equality to all its citizens.

Those who do criticize Israel assume that if anything went wrong in this democracy then it was due to the 1967 war. In this view, the war corrupted an honest and hardworking society by offering easy money in the occupied territories, allowing messianic groups to enter Israeli politics, and above all else turning Israel into an occupying and oppressive entity in the new territories.

The myth that a democratic Israel ran into trouble in 1967 but still remained a democracy is propagated even by some notable Palestinian and pro-Palestinian scholars — but it has no historical foundation.

Israel Before 1967 Was Not a Democracy

Before 1967, Israel definitely could not have been depicted as a democracy. As we have seen in previous chapters, the state subjected one-fifth of its citizenship to military rule based on draconian British Mandatory emergency regulations that denied the Palestinians any basic human or civil rights.

Local military governors were the absolute rulers of the lives of these citizens: they could devise special laws for them, destroy their houses and livelihoods, and send them to jail whenever they felt like it. Only in the late 1950s did a strong Jewish opposition to these abuses emerge, which eventually eased the pressure on the Palestinian citizens.

For the Palestinians who lived in prewar Israel and those who lived in the post-1967 West Bank and the Gaza Strip, this regime allowed even the lowest-ranking soldier in the IDF to rule, and ruin, their lives. They were helpless if such a solider, or his unit or commander, decided to demolish their homes, or hold them for hours at a checkpoint, or incarcerate them without trial. There was nothing they could do.

At every moment from 1948 until today, there had been some group of Palestinians undergoing such an experience.

The first group to suffer under such a yoke was the Palestinian minority inside Israel. It began in the first two years of statehood when they were pushed into ghettos, such as the Haifa Palestinian community living on the Carmel mountain, or expelled from the towns they had inhabited for decades, such as Safad. In the case of Isdud, the whole population was expelled to the Gaza Strip.

In the countryside, the situation was even worse. The various Kibbutz movements coveted Palestinian villages on fertile land. This included the socialist Kibbutzim, Hashomer Ha-Zair, which was allegedly committed to binational solidarity.

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Israel seizes solar panels donated by Dutch government

Israeli soldiers carried out raid on solar farm which allegedly did not have proper building permits

solar-panels-west-bank.png

Bethan McKernan, The Independent, 3 July 2017

The Netherlands has lodged a complaint with the Israeli government after dozens of Dutch solar panels donated to a West Bank village were confiscated by Israeli authorities.

The hybrid diesel and solar power electricity system was installed last year in remote Jubbet al-Dhib, a village home to 150 people in an area of the West Bank occupied by Israel.

The panels were not built with proper permits and permissions, the authorities said, confiscating equipment belonging to the £307,000 humanitarian project last week.

Critics points out that building permissions for new Palestinian homes and infrastructure are almost impossible to obtain.

The village mayor told Palestinian outlet Ma’an News that the panels were destroyed, although Comet-ME, the aid organisation which installed the panels, said that between 60 and 90 were taken away intact and other equipment at the site destroyed and left behind by Israeli forces.

The Dutch Foreign Ministry has asked for the equipment to be returned to Jubbet al-Dhib and is considering what “next steps can be taken”, according to a report in Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz published on Saturday.

The issue has sparked anger both in the Dutch government and in the Palestinian territories over how it was handled.

Cogat, the Israeli military agency responsible for coordinating Israeli policy in Palestinian areas, said that several work-stop orders were issued before the day of the raid. Villagers maintain that they did not know the site had been targeted until Israel Defence Force (IDF) soldiers showed up.

Of particular note is that Jubbet al-Dhib is very close to Israeli outpost villages – settlements illegal under both Israeli and international law – which enjoy a full connection to the main power grid.

Cogat said in a statement that the village had “other electricity sources” other than the “illegal electricity room”. Haaretz said that before the solar panel system was installed, the 150 residents relied on a couple of “old and noisy” diesel generators for three hours of power a day.

More than 300 structures in the occupied West Bank demolished by the Israeli authorities in 2016 were at least in part funded by the EU or international NGOs, an Israeli military official said earlier this year.

Last year also saw the highest number of Israeli demolitions of Palestinian structures since rights groups began records.

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Is It True That Not a Single Senator – Including Progressive Dems – Cares About Palestine?

The pro-Israel letter 100 U.S. senators sent to the U.N. fails to mention Israel's illegal occupation or settlements

Ben Norton & Adam Johnson, AlterNet, May 2, 2017

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

All 100 members of the U.S. Senate sent a letter to the United Nations on April 27 that spread misleading pro-Israel myths. Included as signatories were the Senate’s two progressive leaders, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

AlterNet repeatedly contacted the offices of Sanders and Warren with a request for comment. Neither replied.

The 725-word letter does not mention Israel’s illegal military occupation of Palestinian land, which marks its 50th anniversary this June. Nor does it acknowledge Israel’s illegal colonization of Palestinian territory through ever-expanding settlements.

Even the U.S., Israel’s closest ally, has agreed at the U.N. that Israel’s occupation and settlements are flagrant violations of international law. The senators’ letter glosses over this elementary fact, and does not even acknowledge the existence of the Palestinian people.

The bipartisan senatorial campaign against the U.N. was led by hard-right neoconservative Republican Marco Rubio and Reagan-Republican-turned-Democrat Christopher Coons.

“Although, as Republicans and Democrats, we disagree on many issues, we are united in our desire to see the United Nations improve its treatment of Israel,” the senators wrote in the letter, which also demonizes the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

They claimed “member states and agencies are using the U.N.’s privileged platform to advance an anti-Israel agenda.”

U.N.’s Pro-Israel Bias

In reality, the evidence shows that the U.N. has a pro-Israel bias. Emails leaked from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demonstrate how the U.S. State Department successfully exerted pressure with the goal of “deferring” U.N. action on Israeli war crimes, as previously detailed in my report on Salon.

While the State Department conceded that the 2009 U.N. Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, known commonly as the Goldstone Report, was only “moderate,” it was still not pro-Israel enough for the U.S. Messages from top officials illustrate how the government pushed to water down the report, “reframing the debate” about the atrocities and “moving away from the U.N.”

Moreover, U.S. government cables released by WikiLeaks show how former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon worked with the U.S. and Israeli governments to weaken the 2009 U.N. report on the war crimes Israel had committed in its recent war in Gaza, known as Operation Cast Lead.

The idea that the United Nations was “singled out for special scrutiny” is conventional wisdom in U.S. political circles. Those who make this argument, as the senators do in the letter, point to Agenda Item 7—a standing agenda item on the U.N. Human Rights Commission’s docket that debates Israeli human rights violations. Crucial context missing from this talking point is that the focus on Israel’s human rights record by less powerful U.N. bodies like the Human Rights Commission is the logical byproduct of a U.N. Security Council—by far the most powerful and consequential U.N. body—doing nothing to curb Israel’s human rights abuses through the decades.

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What really happened in the Umm Al-Hiran “terrorist attack”

New video deals another blow to Israeli police version of Umm al-Hiran raid

Last month as Israel tried to evict its Arab citizens from the village of Umm Al-Hiran in the Negev, they said that they had killed a “terrorist” (actually a local teacher) who tried to ram them with a car, killing one officer.

Palestinian witnesses told a different story, and now video has emerged that shows they were right. This incident (and the demolition of the village to make way for a Jewish-only settlement) sparked enormous outrage inside Israel among Palestinians, resulting in a day of general strike.

Last week Musa Abu al-Qi’an, 100-year-old resident of Umm Al-Hiran and father of the killed teacher who was featured in many news stories, passed away. He survived the Nakba and everything before and since, but did not survive the death of his son.

Ma’an News Agency, 12 Feb 2017

NEGEV (Ma‘an) 12 Feb — A new video broadcast by Israeli Channel 10 on Saturday further weakened Israel police claims regarding a deadly January raid in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev desert, showing that Israeli forces shot at a Bedouin man’s vehicle when he did not constitute a threat.

The video showed Israeli officers opening fire at the car of Umm al-Hiran resident Yaqoub Abu al-Qi‘an on Jan. 18, as he was slowly driving past with his headlights on, causing him to lose control of his vehicle and hit police officer Erez Levi.

Both Abu al-Qi‘an and Levi were killed in the incident.

The Channel 10 report added that Umm al-Hiran residents were still calling for an official investigation to the case, particularly regarding their assertions that Levi had in fact been killed by friendly fire.

Israeli police reportedly said after the broadcast that an investigation was underway over the fact that police officers did not provide Abu al-Qi‘an medical assistance, leaving him to bleed to death.

The Channel 10 video is the third filmed record of the Umm al-Hiran raid to undermine the official Israeli version of events, with Al Jazeera notably releasing footage earlier this month.

Israeli police had originally claimed that Abu al-Qi‘an had deliberately carried out a car-ramming attack, and that his headlights had been off while he was driving near the Israeli forces evacuating Umm al-Hiran in the early morning hours.

Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said that during a raid of the slain Palestinian’s home, police found three copies of a Hebrew-language newspaper from 2015 with the headline: “ISIS bomb that took down a plane,” suggesting that the old newspapers were evidence that the man carried out a terror attack.

However, according to Haaretz, the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, reported two weeks after the incident that they had yet to find any evidence connecting Abu al-Qi‘an to ISIS.

The Joint List, which represents parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, were quick to accuse Israeli police of spreading misinformation on Israeli media following the incident.

In a statement released by the Joint List at the time, the group argued that Israeli police lied in their claims in order to distract from Israel’s campaign to establish Jewish-only towns “on the ruins of Bedouin villages.”

Umm al-Hiran is one of 35 Bedouin villages considered “unrecognized” by the Israeli state, with more than half of the approximately 160,000 Negev Bedouins residing in unrecognized villages.

The unrecognized Bedouin villages were established in the Negev soon after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war following the creation of the state of Israel. Now more than 60 years later, the villages have yet to be recognized by Israel and live under constant threats of demolition and forcible removal.

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Israel Bulldozes Democracy

AYMAN ODEH, The New York Times, February 11, 2017

A Bedouin woman reacts to the destruction of houses by Israeli authorities on January 18, 2017 in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, which is not recognized by the Israeli government, near the southern city of Beersheba, in the Negev desert. (Menahem Kahana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

HAIFA, Israel — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is expected to visit Washington this week to meet with President Trump, presumably to discuss the political philosophy they share: power through hate and fear. A government that bars refugees and Muslims from entering the United States has much in common with one that permits Israeli settlers to steal land from Palestinians, as a new law that Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition pushed through Parliament last week did.

Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Netanyahu used blatant race-baiting tactics to win his last election, in 2015. Since then, he has made discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel central to his agenda. This takes many forms; a particularly painful one is his government’s racist, unjust land use and housing policies.

Arabs make up one-fifth of Israel’s population, yet only 2.5 percent of the state’s land is under Arab jurisdiction. And since the founding of the state, more than 700 new towns and cities have been built for Jews, while no new cities have been built for Arabs.

In Arab towns, the government has made building permits so difficult to obtain, and grants them so rarely, that many inhabitants have resorted to constructing new housing units on their properties without permits just to keep up with growing families that have nowhere else to go. As a result, Arab communities have become more and more densely populated, turning pastoral villages into concrete jungles.

In southern Israel, more than 100,000 Arab citizens face a particular crisis. In the Naqab desert, known in Hebrew as the Negev, there are 35 villages that are officially “unrecognized” by the state. The residents of these unrecognized villages have Israeli citizenship, yet the state has refused to provide even basic services like water, electricity utilities, paved roads and schools.

Worse, because the Israeli government refuses to recognize these villages’ existence, they all live under the shadow of demolition orders from the state. Residents never know when the police will come to evict them and bulldoze their homes.

These policies have existed for decades, but Mr. Netanyahu has turned them into a political bludgeon. Several weeks ago, when it became clear that the government would be forced to implement an Israeli High Court ruling to evacuate Amona, an illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank built on land stolen from Palestinians, Mr. Netanyahu vowed to destroy Arab homes throughout Israel in retribution.

The prime minister soon made good on his threat. That was why, a few weeks later, a huge force of armed police arrived to destroy homes in the unrecognized village of Umm al-Hiran.

I first visited Umm al-Hiran not long after I had been elected secretary general of the Hadash party. I spent several weeks living in the Naqab and took part in a nonviolent protest against the demolition of another village, Al Araqib. I was beaten by police and arrested. I had to call my wife, Nardin, from jail.

Ayman Odeh lays on the ground after he was injured during clashes that followed a demonstration against home demolition in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, near the southern city of Beersheba, in the Negev desert, early on January 18, 2017. (Keren Manor/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

After a long legal battle, the government has moved to destroy Umm al-Hiran so that a religious Jewish community can be built in its place. This new town would erase all traces of Arab presence, even replacing the town’s name with the more Hebrew-sounding Hiran.

The residents suggested a compromise: Create an Arab neighborhood within the new town so that their community could remain intact. The state rejected this idea: Hiran was to be for Jews only.

A few weeks ago, I had reason to call my wife from the Naqab again. This time, I was in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. On Jan. 18, as I stood with the residents of Umm al-Hiran, Israeli police who had arrived to demolish the village pepper-sprayed me and then shot me in the head and the back with baton rounds.

These bullets, which are about 3 inches long and 1.5 inches in diameter, have a hard plastic base and a high-density foam tip. Supposedly nonlethal, they have caused numerous serious injuries, including skull fractures and eye loss, and have been associated with at least one fatality. In my case, the bullet missed my eye and only grazed my skull.

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Israel passes bill to seize private Palestinian land for Jewish settlements


Israeli police clash with settlers in the West Bank outpost of Amona on Feb. 1, 2017. The Israeli parliament passed legislation to prevent more demolitions. (Oded Balilty/AP)

William Booth, The Washington Post, February 6, 2017

Israel’s parliament passed a contentious law late Monday that allows the state to seize land privately owned by Palestinians in the West Bank and grant the properties to Jewish settlements for their exclusive use.

The measure is designed to protect homes in Jewish settlements, built on private Palestinian property “in good faith or at the state’s instruction,” from possible court-ordered evacuation and demolition.

Thousands of homes in dozens of settlements and outposts may now be protected, at least temporarily. The bill is probably headed for a high court challenge.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supports the legislation and has told his constituents that no government had done more for the settlers. On Monday, the Israeli leader said he had informed the Trump White House that a vote on the legislation was imminent.

Israeli legislators in the opposition condemned the bill as reckless and warned that it would turn the world against Israel while goading prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague to take action against the Jewish state.

The bill passed on a vote of 60 to 52. 

The private Palestinian land would be seized by the government and held until there is a final resolution of the decades-long Israel-Palestinian conflict. Palestinian landowners could apply to the state for annual rents or be given another parcel.

Benny Begin, a member of parliament in Netanyahu’s Likud party and son of former prime minister Menachem Begin, spoke before the vote and labeled the measure “the robbery bill.”

Another Likud party member, former justice minister Dan Meridor, condemned the bill as “evil and dangerous.”

Meridor, a lawyer, warned the Israeli parliament that the West Bank remains under a “belligerent occupation” 50 years after Israel won the territory from Jordan in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Palestinians who live in the territory are not Israeli citizens. They don’t vote in Israeli elections. They live under a military authority.

If Israel’s parliament legislates for the Palestinians — rather than controlling them by military rule — then Palestinians would have the right to become citizens and vote in Israel, Meridor argued.

“Don’t cross a line we’ve never crossed before,” Meridor pleaded in a newspaper column. “No government in Israel has applied its sovereignty to the West Bank.” 

The Palestinian Authority said the measure was “an illegal land grab.” Former Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat compared the Israelis to “looters.”

Last week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement that new settlement construction in the West Bank “may not be helpful” in achieving a Middle East peace — a mild rebuke compared with those by the Obama administration. President Trump and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet in Washington next week.

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White House warns Israel on settlements

Trump was reportedly blindsided by Israel’s announcement of 5,500 new housing units to be built in the West Bank

Jordan Fabian, The Hill, 02/02/17

The White House on Thursday warned Israel to stop settlement announcements that could undermine peace with the Palestinians, according to the Jerusalem Post. 

The surprising statement comes as President Trump signaled he would depart from former President Obama’s Israel policy and forge a close relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a strong proponent of settlements. 

But Trump was reportedly blindsided by Israel’s announcement of 5,500 new housing units to be built in the West Bank, which would have been the first new settlement in around 20 years. 

“As President Trump has made clear, he is very interested in reaching a deal that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is currently exploring the best means of making progress toward that goal,” an official told the paper. 

“With that in mind, we urge all parties from taking unilateral actions that could undermine our ability to make progress, including settlement announcements,” the official added. “The administration needs to have the chance to fully consult with all parties on the way forward.”

In a separate statement Thursday, the White House made clear its opposition to the recent burst of settlement activity. But in a departure from the Obama administration, the statement does not call settlements an impediment to a two-state solution.

“While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal.”

“The Trump administration has not taken an official position on settlement activity and looks forward to continuing discussions, including with Prime Minister Netanyahu when he visits with President Trump later this month.”

Trump’s election is believed to have emboldened Netanyahu’s government, which has moved aggressively to expand its settlement activity.  

Netanyahu is set to meet with Trump at the White House on Feb. 15. 

Trump signaled during the transition he would make moves to align the U.S. closer with Israel’s government.  

He announced his intent to nominate David Friedman, a strong settlement supporter, as ambassador to the Jewish state.

In December, Trump’s team reportedly pressured Obama to scuttle a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction. But the previous administration allowed the controversial measure to pass, abstaining from the vote. 

But since entering the White House, Trump has backed off some of his more aggressive promises, including a plan to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  

Trump repeatedly said during the campaign he wants his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to help broker a Middle East peace deal. 

– This story was updated at 6:39 p.m.