Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition hosts Nelson Mandela’s grandson at launch of Nakba tour

Sandra Whitehead, Wisconsin Muslim Journal, May 23, 2023

Photos by Mouna Photography

Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandela, the grandson of globally respected icon of resistance against injustice Nelson Mandela, meets members of Milwaukee’s Muslim community.

About 40 community and interfaith leaders joined the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition at the Islamic Resource Center in Greenfield May 15 to welcome the grandson of anti-apartheid activist and South Africa’s first president Nelson Mandela on the launch of his six-city U.S. tour to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, the 1948 expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland.

Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition president Janan Najeeb (left) welcomes activist and South African parliament member Nkosi Mandela (center) to the Islamic Resource Center in Greenfield.

Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandela, the South African parliament member and chief of the Mvezo Traditional Council, repeated the well-known message of his grandfather: “Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of Palestinians.” In his weeklong U.S. tour, Mandela spoke in Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago.

Following the dinner at the IRC, Mandela began his tour with a speech at Turner Hall in Milwaukee in which he called on the audience to consider what they could do individually and collectively to support the Palestinian cause. He spoke about how the BDS movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions) had been effective in South Africa and would work to liberate Palestinians.

“His message was uplifting,” said MMWC president and IRC director Janan Najeeb. “If it is possible for South Africa to be free after 350 years of colonialism and six decades of apartheid, it is possible for Palestinians to also one day be free.”

 MMWC president Janan Najeeb (left) welcomed community leaders to a reception for South African activist and parliamentarian Nkosi Mandela (right). Haitham Salawah (center) represented the U.S. Palestinian Community Network, which co-sponsored Mandela’s U.S. tour.

Continuing his grandfather’s legacy

Haitham Salawdeh, the U.S. Palestinian Community national treasurer and Milwaukee chapter co-chair, introduced Chief Mandela. The national tour was hosted by the U.S. Palestinian Community Network and the National Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression. Madison for Palestine was also instrumental in bringing Mandela for this tour.

Salawdeh thanked Mandela for visiting six U.S. cities “to tell the story of our people. Coming from the leadership of anti-apartheid and speaking on the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, your visit here today is historic.”

After thanking USPCN and Madison for Palestine for the invitation, Mandela said, “When the invitation came, I immediately accepted the call to duty.”

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Facial Recognition Powers ‘Automated Apartheid’ by Israel

“These databases and tools exclusively record the data of Palestinians”

An Israeli soldier under a surveillance camera at a checkpoint in Hebron in 2021.
An Israeli soldier under a surveillance camera at a checkpoint in Hebron in 2021. (Hazem Bader/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

Adam Satariano and Paul Mozur, New York Times, May 2, 2023

Israel is increasingly relying on facial recognition in the occupied West Bank to track Palestinians and restrict their passage through key checkpoints, according to a new report, a sign of how artificial-intelligence-powered surveillance can be used against an ethnic group.

At high-fenced checkpoints in Hebron, Palestinians stand in front of facial recognition cameras before being allowed to cross. As their faces are scanned, the software — known as Red Wolf — uses a color-coded system of green, yellow and red to guide soldiers on whether to let the person go, stop them for questioning or arrest them, according to the report by Amnesty International. When the technology fails to identify someone, soldiers train the system by adding their personal information to the database.

Israel has long restricted the freedom of movement of Palestinians, but technological advances are giving the authorities powerful new tools. It is the latest example of the global spread of mass surveillance systems, which rely on A.I. to learn to identify the faces of people based on large stores of images.

In Hebron and East Jerusalem, the technology focuses almost entirely on Palestinians, according to Amnesty’s report, marking a new way to automate the control of interior boundaries that separate the lives of Palestinians and Israelis. Amnesty called the process “automated apartheid.” Israel has strongly denied that it operates an apartheid regime.

“These databases and tools exclusively record the data of Palestinians,” said the report, which is based on accounts by former Israeli soldiers and Palestinians who live in the surveilled areas, as well as field visits to observe the technology’s use in affected territories.

The Israel Defense Forces, which plays a central role in the occupied territories of the West Bank, said in a statement that it carries out “necessary security and intelligence operations, while making significant efforts to minimize harm to the Palestinian population’s routine activity.”

On facial recognition, it added, “Naturally, we cannot refer to operational and intelligence capabilities.”

Government use of facial recognition technology to so explicitly target a single ethnic group is rare. In China, companies have made algorithms that sought to identify minorities as they passed by the country’s ubiquitous cameras. China’s government has also used facial recognition checkpoints to control and track the movements of Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other ethnic minorities.

Israel’s use of facial recognition at checkpoints builds on other surveillance systems deployed in recent years. Since protests in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah over the eviction of Palestinian families in 2021, the presence of cameras has increased in the area, most likely supporting an Israeli government video surveillance system capable of facial recognition known as Mabat 2000, according to Amnesty.

In one walk through the area, Amnesty researchers reported finding one to two cameras every 15 feet. Some were made by Hikvision, the Chinese surveillance camera maker, and others by TKH Security, a Dutch manufacturer.

TKH Security declined to comment. Hikvision did not respond to a request for comment.

A surveillance camera at a checkpoint in Hebron. “My whole life is watched. I don’t have any privacy,” a Palestinian activist said. (Hazem Bader/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

Government forces also use the cameras on their phones. Israeli authorities have a facial recognition app, Blue Wolf, to identify Palestinians, according to Breaking the Silence, an organization that assisted Amnesty and collects testimonials from Israeli soldiers who have worked in occupied territories.

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May 15, 2023
Mandela Nakba Day Tour – Milwaukee

NEW: MRSCP is partnering with Building Unity on a “Care-avan” carpool to this event from Madison and Janesville; if you would like to offer a ride or are in need of a ride, please click here then scroll down and fill out the form at the bottom to RSVP and get updated information 

U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) and the
National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR)

Turner Hall
1034 Vel R. Phillips Ave
Milwaukee, WI
6:30 PM – 09:00 PM

2023 marks the 75th anniversary of the Nakba (“Catastrophe” in English), when over 750,000 Palestinians were banished from their homes upon the formation of the settler-colonial state of Israel. Today, there are close to five million Palestinian refugees who continue to demand their Right to Return to the homes and lands from which they were exiled.

To commemorate the Nakba, the U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) and the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR) have arranged a brief U.S. Nakba Day 75 tour, to take place from May 15th – May 20th, featuring Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandela, elected member of the South African National Assembly representing the African National Congress – and grandson of the late Nelson Mandela – as the tour’s keynote speaker.

Mr. Mandela, also the tribal chief of the Mvezo Traditional Council, holds a degree and a post-graduate diploma in Political Science and International Studies from Rhodes University. Unabashed in his support for the Palestinian people, just like his grandfather, he speaks regularly about Palestinian liberation at conferences, rallies, and other events across the world.

Join us at Turner Hall in Milwaukee on the evening of Monday, May 15th, for this historic event!

Be sure to follow USPCN (@uspcn) on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and @uspcnmke for updates!

*Please note: We are not charging for admission, but instead asking if our communities would help us support this historic tour with a donation!*

In Hebron, a salad needs security coordination

The direct violence of the occupation is obvious, but what are the subtle ways in which apartheid seeps into Palestinian life?

Ameera Al-Rajabi, Community Peacemaker Teams, April 11, 2023

The Israeli occupation of Palestine is marked by the war crimes directly carried out by the occupiers, such as murder, demolition, displacement, and other violations that are blatantly apparent to anyone who visits Palestine or follows the news on social media. However, after reflecting on our lives as Palestinians, I have come to realize that there are small details in our daily lives that are not directly attributed to the occupation but still have profound effects on us. These details can only be seen or felt by those who live here and grow up with the reality of an obstacle lodged in each straightforward daily task or any plan for the future.

One clear example is that of a resident of the Tel Rumaideh neighbourhood in Al-Khalil/Hebron who wanted to buy a knife to cut vegetables for a salad. Checkpoints surround Tel Rumeidah on all sides; therefore, when residents want to bring items into their homes, including a kitchen knife, they must communicate with the District Coordination Office for security coordination between Palestinian and Israeli authorities to ensure that the item will not be used illegally. The term ‘illegal’ here refers to any behaviour that Israeli authorities may deem a threat to the security of Israeli individuals. In contrast, the same behaviour may be considered legal when it involves Palestinians.

A ‘security coordination’ process can take days or even weeks. The same procedures are required for any sharp tool, no matter how simple. Have you ever had to think twice about buying a kitchen knife for your home?

Another reality that highlights the occupation’s impact is the restriction of movement. In less than four months, I will be 24 years old, and so far, I have not experienced the feeling of walking on the seaside, the waves crashing against my body, or the cool salty air on my skin. This scenario exists only in my imagination and the TV series I am watching. Is this not a product of the occupation when I face a question on Instagram about whether I prefer the sea or the mountains and cannot answer because I have not had the chance to try?

The Mediterranean Sea is only 62 kilometres away, and it takes only two hours to get there. However, checkpoints are everywhere, and when I tried to get Israeli permission last month as a last resort in an attempt to visit my country, it was rejected and postponed to a time when I could not go. This was one of the biggest disappointments of my life.

Is it not a product of the occupation that every foreigner I meet has visited Jerusalem and other Palestinian cities in the occupied territories without any restrictions, while I have only visited Jerusalem twice in my lifetime, only after obtaining permission from the Israelis?

I spoke with a woman who met her husband 20 years ago in Gaza. She agreed to marry him, and they moved to his hometown of Hebron, where he built a house for them. However, a few years later, Gaza was completely shut down, and no Palestinians were allowed to enter, even if they were from Gaza but married someone from another city. She told me that her little brother, who was only eight years old when she left Gaza, is now 28 and about to get married. She has been trying to get a permit to enter Gaza for one day to attend her brother’s wedding because he was her favourite sibling, but she will likely not be able to attend.

The last story in my article, but certainly not the last in the lives of Palestinians, is about a woman who lives in the village of Khalet al-Dhabe in Masafer Yatta/South Hebron Hills. The Israeli army has ordered the demolition of the entire village on an undetermined date. The woman recounted how she fell sick one night, and because of the occupation, no vehicles were allowed in or out of the village. She had to ride on a donkey for three hours through empty lands full of predators to reach medical attention. If anything had happened, there would have been no one to help her.

Being occupied is not only about facing direct violence but also about the subtle ways in which occupation impacts our daily lives and curtails our aspirations. It makes us afraid of getting sick without a choice of treatment or mobility. We are deprived of the simplest essentials of life, like a functional kitchen or a day on the beach. The occupation restricts not only physical mobility but also emotional and mental freedom by imposing ceilings on people’s dreams and ambitions. And while the rest of the world develops, we are stuck in a time warp: living in caves, hiding from the occupation, and using animals to move.


The illusion of Israeli democracy has been shattered

Palestinians have been excluded from recent Israeli demonstrations. (Ilia Yefimovich, APA images)

Haim Bresheeth-Žabner, The Electronic Intifada, 20 February 2023

People across the world have watched the thousands of Israelis demonstrating against their government with at least some bemusement. After 75 years of Israel denying its own agency in the terrible catastrophe it has inflicted on the Palestinians, its new government is now blamed for doing something most Israeli governments have never done – openly discussing the aim of controlling the whole of Palestine through an exclusive Jewish apartheid state.

That this aim requires a less-than-democratic society seems obvious, and arguably Israel has never been democratic in any real sense. But now that Jews will also face some loss of rights, the old elites responsible for the Nakba – the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine – and all that followed are out on the streets.

They wish to defend their “Jewish democracy,” in which Palestinian flags and self-determination are outlawed.

The recent ructions present Jews abroad with a painful dilemma: Do they – as many do – continue to support Israel in an unqualified and unquestioning manner? Or is it a time for a somber, self-searching reflection – a rethink of their identity, no less?

Not something they would normally choose to embark on, and most seem to be shying away from the need to look in the mirror.

Exceptionalist strategy

The face of Jewish Zionism is hardly an appealing sight. The new Israeli government has been in power for nearly two months and the number and severity of Jewish terror attacks and anti-Palestinian pogroms by settlers and the army have climbed to terrifying heights.

Israel’s exceptionalist strategy has proved a success, allowing it to continue its occupation, its construction of illegal settlements and its denial of rights and the continued oppression of the indigenous people of Palestine.

The United States, Israel’s major funder and mentor, remains strongly wedded to the continued denial of Palestinian rights, even in the face of the current unrest. US President Joe Biden has perhaps proven himself to be even more damaging than Donald Trump to the Palestinian cause, which must be some kind of record.

Such uncritical and shameful US support for Israel has protected it from any sanctions. As long as Israel’s leaders sporadically mention their commitment to the two-state solution, this process of taking over Palestine has gone on mainly unnoticed.

The Western democracies – such as they are – are placated by this meaningless lip service, accepting it as the normative, required noise about the settler-colonial conflict in Palestine.

Terrifying plans in store

This went swimmingly for over five decades and would have continued for another five if Israel had not grown tired of the long series of elections and went on to elect the most right-wing government in its history. This was a government prepared to say aloud that Israel considers the whole of Palestine its own.

This claim is now a new one. Bezalel Smotrich, finance minister and ideological force behind the current right-wing Israeli administration, outlined in a 2017 article titled “Tipping the Scales” the options facing Palestinians (though he refers to them as “Arabs,” since the nationality of Palestinians is denied by his ilk). They may either accept that all of Palestine is rightly Jewish and live there as residents without citizenship, or simply leave the country.

For those who resist this generous offer, Smotrich reserves the promise of “decisive treatment by the security forces, with stronger intensity than is done currently and in conditions favoring us.”

In case such wording might be misunderstood, he describes his solution: “Whoever thinks he can stay here and continue to violently undermine Israel’s right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people will face a decisive IDF [Israel’s military] that will quash him with God’s help by military means.”

Of course, the West Bank must be annexed to make such changes possible and to make Israeli law the law of the whole of Palestine. One suspects that if this was all Smotrich was suggesting, no Israelis would have chosen to go out and demonstrate.

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What’s Behind the Calls for “Democracy” in Israel?

Hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in the last few weeks to rally against the Israeli government’s plans for so-called judicial reform.

In Jerusalem on February 20, 2023, Israelis protest outside Israel’s parliament against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government to overhaul the judicial system. (Ohad Zwigenberg / AP Photo)

Meron Rapoport and Oren Ziv, The Nation, FEBRUARY 24, 2023

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was produced in collaboration with +972 Magazine and Local Call, two media outlets run by Palestinian and Israeli journalists.

It is almost inconceivable for Palestinians to describe Israel as a “democracy.” That is also the case for many Israeli human rights activists. Seventy-five years of ethnic cleansing, military rule, Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian-owned land, an established system of discrimination that amounts to apartheid have all rendered, in their eyes, the terms “Israel” and “democracy” incompatible. The latest Israeli raid in Nablus, in which 11 Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers is just another flagrant example.

Yet, in the last few weeks, Israeli society has been torn apart by the question of democracy. Hundreds of thousands of protesters, the vast majority of them Jews, have filled the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Be’er Sheva, and other cities and towns in “defense of democracy,” calling for mass civil disobedience and even “rebellion” should the new far-right government implement its plans for so-called judicial reform. The term “civil war” (or in the Hebrew version, “a war of brothers”) has become a mainstay in the collective political vocabulary, alongside explicit warnings of potential bloodshed in the clash between the government and Jewish citizens.

The historic protests are growing not only in size but also in influence, as large sections of the Israeli elites—entrepreneurs, bankers, lawyers, intellectuals, security personnel, diplomats, former Supreme Court justices, and state prosecutors—have joined. Most remarkable among the protesters is Israel’s high-tech and cyber industries, responsible not only for some 20 percent of state revenues from taxes and 40 percent of its exports, but also for Israel’s internal and external image as a “start-up nation.” As of today, dozens of high-tech companies, in addition to hedge funds, have announced that they will withdraw their investments and bank accounts from Israel, if they haven’t already done so. Hundreds of renowned economists, including the sitting and past heads of the Bank of Israel, have warned of the implications the reform will have on Israel’s standing in the global economy, as have international banks and credit rating agencies.

Put together, these represent the most considerable threats to Israel’s economy in decades.

The government is also meeting fierce opposition from the heart of the civil service: In an extremely rare political statement, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Israel, Esther Hayut, called the reform “a plan to crush the judicial system” and threatened she would quit if it were to pass. She is joined by legal advisers to the government and the Knesset, as well as high-ranking officers in the army and the police, who are concerned with the government’s plans.

The reform that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is advancing was largely masterminded by two relatively lesser known Israeli politicians: Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Simcha Rotman, a member of Bezalel Smotrich’s extreme-right Religious Zionist Party and chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee. Both Smotrich and Rothman are lawyers who have led a years-long campaign against Israel’s judicial system, and particularly against its high court, claiming that it “took over” as part of a “deep state” run by the elites that continues to impose its liberal ideas on a mainly conservative Israeli public, and denies power to this public’s legitimate representatives in the Knesset and government.

Their reform is supposed to “heal” Israel’s democracy by returning power to the executive and legislative branches. Its first stage consists of four main elements: granting the ruling coalition total control over the appointment of new judges, making it almost impossible for the high court to invalidate new laws that infringe on human rights, allowing the Knesset to overrule such decisions in the rare cases that they are made, abolishing the courts’ ability to review decisions made by national or local authorities on the basis of their “plausibility,” and allowing ministers to ignore the guidance of their legal advisers. In Israel’s unicameral system of government—in which the Knesset is de facto controlled by the governing coalition, where there is no Constitution, and where the courts are currently the only check on the executive branch—such reforms would give the government near-unfettered powers. The next steps were not detailed yet, but they expect to further weaken the judicial system vis-à-vis the executive branch.

Yet knowing how enfeebled Israeli democracy is in the first place, and how the very same high court failed to defend the rights of Palestinians and other underprivileged groups over the years, one must wonder why Netanyahu chose his sixth term in office to push through these dramatic reforms.

The first and most obvious answer lies with his own legal predicament. Netanyahu is on trial on four charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. If convicted, he is likely to serve years behind bars. He therefore has every reason to seek to control the legal system, appoint judges that may deal with any future appeals, or appoint a new general attorney who will magically make his trial disappear. Pure and simple revenge against the legal system that put him on trial is also a motive.

The same personal motivations go for Aryeh Deri, leader of the Haredi Shas party and one of Netanyahu’s senior coalition partners, whose past convictions for bribery and tax evasion led the high court in January to disqualify him from serving as a minister. Deri has even more immediate reasons to weaken the court and overrule its decisions.

Deri is also a representative of a large community that has regarded the court as one of its principal enemies for decades, especially since it invalidated laws that run contrary to one of Israel’s Basic Laws (which act as quasi-constitutional). For example, the court quashed exempting yeshiva students from military service, one of the most sensitive core issues pertaining to Israel’s Haredi population. Other rulings by the courts, especially those concerning LGTBQ rights or allowing commercial activities on Jewish holidays, were criticized by Haredi parties.

The settler movement and its political supporters on the far (and not so far) right also have a long history of animosity toward the the judicial system. In 1979, the court ruled that land expropriations from Palestinians under the auspices of “security reasons” could no longer be used to build new Jewish settlements in the West Bank, as had been the case until that point. In 2020, the high court invalidated a law allowing the state to expropriate private Palestinian land upon which thousands of illegal settler homes had already been built.

With the rise of far-right extremists, it was clear that one of their goals would be to get rid of legal obstacles that prevent, or at the very least slow down, the implementation of an even deeper, and more long-lasting, apartheid system in the West Bank.

Smotrich, now finance minister, is the author of Israel’s Decisive Plan, in which he offered the Palestinians three options: accept Jewish supremacy, immigrate, or “be dealt with by the security forces with a strong hand.” Ben Gvir, who is playing a crucial role in Netanyahu’s new government as national security minister, was a member of the racist Kahane movement and an admirer of Baruch Goldstein, a settler who murdered Palestinian worshipers in Hebron in 1994. They both regard the presence of representatives of Palestinian citizens of Israel in the Knesset as “a mistake” that requires mending.

Thus, it is no wonder that the various elements of the new government perceive the results of the last elections, which gave them a comfortable 64-seat majority, as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the balance in Israeli society. Beyond making the Israeli occupation of the West Bank irreversible, the government has a whole barrage of illiberal goals it hopes to advance, which it is saving for the day after the courts are defanged: increasing the reach of the Chief Rabbinate; deporting African asylum seekers; shutting down the country’s public broadcaster and changing the landscape of Israeli media; reshaping the education system; and curtailing labor unions. Still, perhaps the most dangerous and far-reaching of them all is the plan to outlaw most of the Palestinian parties in Knesset. Such a move would essentially rob more than 20 percent of citizens of the right to vote, and would ensure the far right’s eternal rule.

What the government did not seem to anticipate was the reaction not only from the “usual suspects” among Palestinian citizens of Israel or the radical Jewish left but also from large sections of the centrist Jewish public, the business community, and foreign leaders such as French President Emanuel Macron and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. Even segments of the right, including many who voted for this government just three months ago, oppose the reform. According to various polls, between 40 and 50 percent of right-wing voters believe the government is going “too far” with its planned reforms, and the percentage among the general population is much higher.

The first demonstration of the current wave of protests was organized by the left-wing Standing Together movement in Tel Aviv at the beginning of January 2023, just days after Levin announced his reform. More than 20,000 people attended, a sizable crowd in Israeli terms. Yet, since then, the protests have continued to grow and spread with no end in sight. Crowds of 150,000 protesters, almost 2 percent of Israel’s total population, have become a common sight every Saturday evening, not only in Tel Aviv but also in other cities and towns, including in the West Bank settlement of Efrat. Never in its history has Israel seen so many protesters taking to the streets so often in such a short span of time.

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The theft of Harun Abu Aram’s body, home, and life

Harun was born into, paralyzed, and killed by Israel’s colonial system. The struggle to dismantle it begins in the cave where he spent his final years.

Harun Abu Aram in his village of Al-Rakeez in Masafer Yatta, West Bank. (Emily Glick)

Yuval Abraham, +972 Magazine, February 16, 2023

Harun Abu Aram is dead. For two years, he lay completely paralyzed in a dirty cave, without running water, plagued by pain. This was his life from the moment an Israeli soldier arrived in the South Hebron Hills, in the occupied West Bank, to confiscate an electric generator and shot Harun in the neck in January 2021. The army refused to allow his family to build a home for him, despite the fact that the family was on their privately-owned land, and so they were forced to live in the cave. This is what Israeli expulsions and ethnic cleansing look like in the region of Masafer Yatta.

On Tuesday morning, at 26 years old, Harun took his final breath. His mother, Farisa, who goes by the nickname Shamiya, never left his side. She bathed his immobilized body with a bucket of water. She stayed awake with him as he writhed in pain during the nights. His sisters loved him deeply, holding the phone to his face whenever relatives would call to ask about him.

I met his mother for the first time at the end of 2020, when Israeli bulldozers arrived to demolish the family home. She built it for Harun, who was meant to get married and raise a family in one of its rooms. An inspector from the Civil Administration, the military body that governs the occupied territories, berated Shamiya not to retrieve any of the family’s belongings.

The bulldozer plowed through the home with everything inside, including kitchen cabinets. Doha, Harun’s youngest sister, cried as she watched her home torn to shreds. I remember how the dust stuck to her hair, and how her mother, a proud woman, said: “They demolished, we’ll continue to build.”

Weeks later, Harun was shot after he attempted to prevent Israeli soldiers who had arrived at his village of Al-Rakeez from confiscating a communal generator.

Harun Abu Aram in his village of Al-Rakeez in Masafer Yatta, West Bank. (Emily Glick)

Harun Abu Aram in his village of Al-Rakeez in Masafer Yatta, West Bank. (Emily Glick)

‘Geographic terrorism’

The last years have seen armed soldiers aggressively trying to block Palestinian construction by confiscating their tools, often at the behest of Israeli settlers living nearby. Sometimes, settlers themselves try to stop Palestinian construction, as they reportedly did last Saturday in the town of Qarawat Bani Hassan, where they shot and killed 27-year-old Methqal Abd al-Halim Rayan. Other times, soldiers fly drones to take aerial photos and send them to the Civil Administration, whose inspectors then arrive. This is one part of Israel’s vast colonial system, one that systematically prevents Palestinians from building their homes in areas such as the South Hebron Hills.

The dreadful hum of these drones buzzed overhead during the countless times I visited Al-Rakeez, one of the smallest villages in Masafer Yatta. Drones that peered into the homes of the poor farmers, forcing them to build at night, in secret.

Harun’s killing is a result of this colonial system, and more specifically, of the sick worldview that deems Palestinian construction as a form of “terrorism,” thereby creating a pretext for the army to “counter” it with military might.

Israeli politicians like to call this the “battle for Area C.” During hearings in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee at the time, Likud MK Avi Dichter referred to Palestinian building as “geographic terrorism”; right-wing MK Gideon Sa’ar argued that it will “determine the future borders of the country”; and far-right MK Bezalel Smotrich, who today serves as finance minister, said that the Israeli army is responsible for the “battle.”

Palestinian residents from the village of Al-Majaz look on as the Israeli army trains in Masafer Yatta, June 21, 2022. (Oren Ziv)

Palestinian residents from the village of Al-Majaz look on as the Israeli army trains in Masafer Yatta, June 21, 2022. (Oren Ziv)

In one of his public appearances, Meir Deutsch, the head of the right-wing organization Regavim, which has been one of the major forces behind this “battle,” spoke of a “paradox” he recently witnessed. Soldiers, he said, were practicing live fire on cardboard targets in the South Hebron Hills, while 300 meters from them, Palestinians were busy building. “The enemy is taking over the territory, and our soldiers continue to shoot at cardboard targets,” he said.

These people, who have the power to send one of the most powerful armies in the world to persecute the most vulnerable people between the river and the sea — families who almost always build on their private land — have created a fantasy world for themselves, in which they are fighting against a pernicious plan by the Palestinian Authority to take over Jewish land.

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You Can’t Save Democracy in a Jewish State

Protesters in Tel Aviv hold placards that say “Israeli students fighting for democracy” and “Without democracy there is no academy.” (Jack Guez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

Peter Beinart, New York Times, Feb. 19, 2023

The warnings come every day: Israeli democracy is in danger.

Since Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government announced plans to undermine the independence of Israel’s Supreme Court, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have demonstrated in the streets. All of Israel’s living former attorneys general, in a joint statement, have warned that Mr. Netanyahu’s proposal imperils efforts to “preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” Liberal American Jewish leaders are cheering on the protests. Earlier this month, Alan Solow, the former head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said he and other American Jewish notables “share the concerns of tens of thousands of Israelis determined to protect their democracy.” In a public declaration, Mr. Solow and 168 other influential American Jews warned that “the new government’s direction mirrors anti-democratic trends that we see arising elsewhere.”

On the surface, the battle between Mr. Netanyahu and his critics does indeed look familiar. In recent years, from Brazil to Hungary to India to the United States, anti-government protesters have accused authoritarian-minded populists of threatening liberal democracy. But look closer at Israel’s political drama and you notice something striking: The people most threatened by Mr. Netanyahu’s authoritarianism aren’t part of the movement against it.

The demonstrations include very few Palestinians. In fact, Palestinian politicians have criticized them for having, in the words of former Knesset member Sami Abu Shehadeh, “nothing to do with the main problem in the region — justice and equality for all the people living here.”

The reason is that the movement against Mr. Netanyahu is not like the pro-democracy opposition movements in Turkey, India or Brazil — or the movement against Trumpism in the United States. It’s not a movement for equal rights. It’s a movement to preserve the political system that existed before Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition took power, which was not, for Palestinians, a genuine liberal democracy in the first place. It’s a movement to save liberal democracy for Jews.

The principle that Mr. Netanyahu’s liberal Zionist critics say he threatens — a Jewish and democratic state — is in reality a contradiction. Democracy means government by the people. Jewish statehood means government by Jews. In a country where Jews comprise only half of the people between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, the second imperative devours the first.

To understand just how illiberal the liberal Zionism championed by Mr. Netanyahu’s leading opponents is, consider the actions of Yair Lapid, his predecessor as prime minister. Last month, Mr. Lapid penned a nearly 2,000-word essay in which he wrote, “If this Netanyahu government does not fall, Israel will cease to be a liberal democracy.” It didn’t include the word “Palestinian.”

That becomes less surprising when you realize that as foreign minister, in 2021, Mr. Lapid implored the Knesset to renew a law that denies Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip who are married to Palestinian citizens the right to live with their spouses inside Israel proper. The law is blatantly discriminatory; Jews can immigrate to Israel and gain immediate citizenship whether they have relatives in the country or not. And far from denying the legislation’s discriminatory nature, Mr. Lapid celebrated it. The law, he explained in a tweet in July 2021, “is one of the tools meant to ensure the Jewish majority in the State of Israel.”

When Tucker Carlson and Viktor Orban employ this kind of logic — when they promote policies designed to ensure that the percentage of white Christians in their countries doesn’t dip too low — American Jewish liberals recognize it as anathema to the principle of equal citizenship on which liberal democracy rests. Yet many now see Mr. Lapid as liberal democracy’s champion because he opposes Mr. Netanyahu’s judicial changes.

Another major figure in the anti-Netanyahu movement is former defense minister Benny Gantz, who last month urged Israelis “to protest for safeguarding Israeli democracy.” But as defense minister in 2021, Mr. Gantz designated six leading Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organizations in what the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem called “an act characteristic of totalitarian regimes.” Israeli troops later forced their way into the organizations’ offices, seized documents and then welded shut the doors. Do those sound like the actions of someone interested in “safeguarding” democracy?

The problem runs deeper than just these politicians. When American Jewish leaders like Mr. Solow express solidarity with those “Israelis determined to protect their democracy,” they are not only deluding themselves about Mr. Netanyahu’s leading opponents. They are deluding themselves about Jewish statehood itself.

A protester holding a Palestinian flag in Tel Aviv at a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government. (Tsafrir Abayov/Associated Press)

For most of the Palestinians under Israeli control — those in the West Bank and Gaza Strip—Israel is not a democracy. It’s not a democracy because Palestinians in the Occupied Territories can’t vote for the government that dominates their lives. When Mr. Gantz sends Israeli troops to shut down their human rights groups, West Bank Palestinians can’t punish him at the ballot box. They can complain to the Palestinian Authority. But the P.A. is a subcontractor, not a state. Like other Palestinians, its officials need Israeli permission even to leave the West Bank. In Gaza, too, Israel determines, with help from Egypt, which people and products enter and exit. And Gaza’s residents, who live in what Human Rights Watch calls “an open-air prison,” can’t vote out the Israeli officials who hold the key.

This lack of democratic rights helps explain why Palestinians are less motivated than Israeli Jews to defend Israel’s Supreme Court. As the Israeli law professors David Kretzmer and Yael Ronen note in their book, “The Occupation of Justice,” “in almost all of its judgments relating to the Occupied Territories, especially those dealing with questions of principle, the Court has decided in favor of the authorities.” Enfeebling the court would undermine legal protections that Israeli Jews take for granted but most Palestinians did not enjoy in the first place.

To be fair, roughly 20 percent of the Palestinians under Israeli control enjoy Israeli citizenship and the right to vote in Israeli elections. Yet it is often these Palestinians who protest most vociferously against Israel’s democratic credentials. In 2009 the Palestinian Knesset member Ahmad Tibi quipped that Israel was indeed “Jewish and democratic: Democratic toward Jews and Jewish toward Arabs.” To many liberal Zionists, that might sound churlish. After all, Mr. Tibi has now served in Israel’s Parliament for almost 25 years. But he understands that the Jewish state contains a deep structure that systematically denies Palestinians legal equality, whether they are citizens or not.

Consider how Israel allocates land. Most of the land inside Israel proper was seized from Palestinians during Israel’s war of independence in the late 1940s, when more than half the Palestinian population was expelled or fled in fear. By the early 1950s, the Israeli government controlled more than 90 percent of Israel’s land. It still does. The government distributes that land for development and leases it to citizens through the Israel Land Authority. Almost half the seats on its governing council are reserved for the Jewish National Fund, whose mission is “strengthening the bond between the Jewish people and its homeland.”

This helps explain why Palestinians comprise more than 20 percent of Israel’s citizens but Palestinian municipalities, according to a 2017 report by a variety of Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups, encompass less than 3 percent of Israel’s land. In 2003, an Israeli government commission found that “many Arab towns and villages were surrounded by land designated for purposes such as security zones, Jewish regional councils, national parks and nature reserves or highways, which prevent or impede the possibility of their expansion.” Unable to gain permission, many Palestinian citizens build homes illegally — which are therefore subject to government demolition. Ninety-seven percent of the demolition orders in Israel proper between 2012 and 2014, according to the 2017 report, were against Palestinians.

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A Massacre Took Place in Jenin

January 26, 2023

This morning, Israeli forces murdered at least 9 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin. They bombed homes, tear-gassed a hospital children's ward, shot at residents, and prevented access to medical aid. This unhinged massacre is the most violent Israeli invasion of the Jenin Refugee camp since 2002.

This Sunday, Secretary Blinken is going to Palestine to meet with the new Israeli government. Rather than another photo op with empty political slogans, it’s incumbent upon him to use this trip to announce a shift in US policy toward Israel.

We demand President Biden and Secretary Blinken make a clear public statement that the actions of the Israeli government will not be tolerated or funded by our tax dollars. It’s time for the U.S. to stop its foreign aid to Israel. 

2022 was the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank in nearly 20 years, with the most deaths since the United Nations began recording fatalities in 2005. The new, far-right Israeli government and its forces remain adamant about continuing, if not increasing, their brutality. We're only 26 days into 2023, and Israel has already killed 30 Palestinians, including five children—setting a pace to double the murder of Palestinians in 2022.

While the brutal invasion of Jenin’s refugee camp is not an exception to the new Israeli Knesset, its outward, right-wing extremism, and determination to violence against Palestinians should be an immediate trigger for the United States to finally take a firm stand against the apartheid government. 

AMP unequivocally condemns the United States’ absurd and tone-deaf call to Palestinians to continue security coordination instead of condemning Israel’s crime and massacre. If the Israeli government expects this massacre to pave the way for annexations within the West Bank, they must rest assured that it will not be accepted by the Palestinian people, by Americans, and nor should it be accepted or enabled by the U.S. government. It’s overdue for the United States to stop enabling Israel's violence against the Palestinian people, and put an immediate end to Israel's settler-colonial, apartheid system.

Rights Advocates Alarmed Over Israel’s New ‘Fascist, Racist, and Settler’ Government

“The occupation and apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories have made Jewish supremacy the de facto law of the land and the new government seeks to adopt this into their official policy”

Israelis carry banners and flags as they gather in front of the the Knesset to protest Israel’s new far-right government in Jerusalem on December 29, 2022.(Mostafa Alkharouf, Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

JESSICA CORBETT, Common Dreams, Dec 29, 2022

Global concerns about the new Israeli government—especially what it means for Palestinians—continued to grow Thursday as Benjamin Netanyahu took the oath of office to again serve as prime minister, this time leading the most far-right and religiously conservative coalition in the country’s history.

The embattled leader was sworn in following a 63-54 vote of confidence in his new government by the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. He has appointed 30 ministers and three deputy ministers from his Likud party as well as Noam, Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Power”‘), Religious Zionism, Shas, and United Torah Judaism.

“It is already clear that the emerging coalition will be disastrous for human rights between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.”

The coalition finalized Wednesday features “a mix of an ultra-Orthodox and right-wing bloc,” with some of the most “right-wing politicians we’ve seen,” Al Jazeera‘s Sara Khairat reported Thursday from West Jerusalem, as protesters gathered. “They were on the fringes of politics and now here they are on the main stage.”

Some ministry appointments were only possible because of a pair of laws passed by the Knesset on Tuesday—one enabling Aryeh Deri of Shas to serve as minister of the interior despite his recent tax fraud conviction and another allowing Religious Zionism’s Bezalel Smotrich to take on multiple posts.

“These laws… dovetail with Netanyahu’s own attempt to escape potential liability for his long-running corruption/bribery trial,” wroteMondoweiss‘ Jonathan Ofir. “If such exceptions can be made for Smotrich and Deri and cemented into law, this paves the way for the same being done for Netanyahu, when the need arises.”

Another controversial pick is Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar Ben-Gvir, the new national security minister, who in 2007 was convicted of incitement to racism against Arabs and supporting a terrorist organization. As Common Dreamsreported last week, the government reached a deal to lift the ban on parliamentary candidates who incite racism.

In a joint statement Thursday, several advocacy groups said that “it is already clear that the emerging coalition will be disastrous for human rights between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.”

“Previous Israeli governments have already entrenched military control over millions of Palestinians, severely harmed their human rights, and made the possibility of a just future more difficult,” they continued. “The senior figures in this new government have made it clear that they intend to exacerbate this trend and advance dangerous measures.”

The organizations—including Adalah, B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, Peace Now, and Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI)—warned that “the occupation and apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories have made Jewish supremacy the de facto law of the land and the new government seeks to adopt this into their official policy.”