Nine members of Palestinian family were killed last month after an Israeli air raid on their home in central Gaza
By: Ali Younis
Noor al-Sawarka’s life changed forever on the night the Israeli army targeted her family’s home in the central town of Deir al-Balah.
The 12-year-old lost her parents and three siblings on November 14 after Israeli missiles struck the family dwelling some 15km (nine miles) south of Gaza City. The home – consisting of several shacks covered with corrugated metal sheets – was blown to smithereens.
The Israeli army claimed it targeted the house of a military commander belonging to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad armed group, an allegation immediately rejected by the victims’ family.
Noor said when she first heard the explosions she found herself running outside in an open field.
“I ran as fast as I could to the open land next to us,” she told Al Jazeera. “I didn’t know what happened and all I saw was thick black smoke.”
Her eyes sunk out of focus as she refused to say how she feels, two weeks after the bombing that turned her and two younger siblings into orphans.
Her sister, eight-year-old Reem, and brother, six-year-old Dia, also survived that night. Bruises were still visible on Reem’s lower lip, nose and forehead.
“After I went to sleep that night, I only remember that I woke up in the hospital,” she said.
Since then, Reem has had trouble sleeping at night fearing that bombs will drop on her again. She said she often hears the “zannana” – Arabic for the buzzing sound Israeli drones flying overhead make.
The bombing killed nine members of the al-Sawarka family: Rasmi Abu Malhous al-Sawarka, 46; his second wife Maryam, 45; and three of their 11 children – Mohannad, 12; Salim, three; and three-month-old Firas.
Rasmi’s younger brother, 40-year-old Mohamed, and his wife Yousra, 39, were also killed in the attack, in addition to two of their sons: Thirteen-year-old Waseem and seven-year-old Moaaz.
The al-Sawarka victims were among the 34 Palestinians killed by Israeli air raids over the Gaza Strip over two days, in an escalation of violence between Israel and the Islamic Jihad last month.
False Israeli claims
The two sides began exchanging fire following Israel’s killing of top Islamic Jihad commander Bahaa Abu al-Ata in Gaza. In response, the Islamic Jihad fired rockets into southern Israel, with Israel’s military saying it recorded more than 350 projectiles.
A ceasefire, reportedly brokered by Egypt, was declared the morning after the al-Sawarka family was targeted.
Mohamad Awad, a member of the al-Sawarka Bedouin tribe and a neighbour of the family, told Al Jazeera the Israeli bombing was a “war crime” because Rasmi and his brother Mohamed were civilians and had nothing to do with any armed group.
“They raised sheep and were barely making ends meet before they were killed,” he said.
Awad denied the Israel army’s claim that Rasmi was a member of Islamic Jihad, and said he was an employee of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA) government.
Awad called on international human rights organisations to investigate “Israeli crimes” against innocent Palestinians.
“The world cannot remain silent on the Israeli crimes against us,” he said.
Israel’s military said it was investigating the incident and the “harm caused to civilians”.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Israeli army spokesman Avichay Adraee said on Twitter the attack targeted the head of the Islamic Jihad’s rocket unit, whom he identified as Rasmi Abu Malhous.
“Rasmi Abu Malhous, leader of Islamic Jihad and the commander of the rocket unit in the central Gaza brigade, was the target of last night in the raid on Deir al-Balah,” Adraee said.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted an Israeli army official as saying Adraee’s claim appeared to have been based on false rumours spread online.
Awad said he is now helping Israeli rights organisation B’Tselem gather evidence and document witness testimony to investigate the bombing.
A B’Tselem official told Al Jazeera the incident was under investigation.
Awad said it was a “miracle” that many of the children survived. “God was looking down on these children and saved them,” he said.
After the bombing, he went to look for his cousin and the children and in the thick smoke, he heard a muffled sound of a baby crying from under the twisted metal rooves.
He said he lifted the debris and found month-and-half-old Farah, Rasmi’s baby daughter, lying on the sand, covered by a metal sheet.
“Farah was crying when I picked her up in my arm and she was unharmed,” he said. “God saved that baby girl.”
All of the surviving al-Sawarka children are now living with relatives and survive on aid from humanitarian organisations.
The Gaza Strip has been under a joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade for more than a decade, which has severely curtailed freedom of movement for its two million people.
Despite the US administration’s announcement to the contrary, there is no question as to the unlawfulness of Israel’s settler encroachment
By Peter Falk
Blind US support for the Israeli oppression against the Palestinians will not make Israel stronger because of the existence of the Palestinian resistance and global solidarity movement.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made headlines around the world two weeks ago in announcing that the US had shifted its position, and no longer viewed Israeli settlements as a violation of international law.
In one of the stupider public statements of our time, Pompeo explained that “arguments about who is right and wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace”. It is stupid, first, because there is no genuine argument about the unlawfulness of the settlements; until the US spoke out of turn, Israel was alone in defending their legality.
More definitively, the role of international law is to regulate the proper behaviour of sovereign states – not to make peace by negating the law’s relevance, which truly seems a cheer for the law of the jungle.
‘Reality on the ground’
Pompeo removed any doubt about this when he justified the shift by admitting that the US “recognised the reality on the ground”. In plainer language, lawless behaviour can become lawful if sustained long enough by force – a logic that not only defies international law, but is contrary to the core legal commitments of the UN Charter.
Particularly in the area of peace and security, international law can be somewhat ambiguous. Opposing positions can be reasonably maintained, resolved by either an authorised tribunal or by practice sustained over time.
The establishment of settlements on occupied Palestinian territory, however, is an example of an issue upon which it is not possible to make a responsible argument in support of legality.
The unlawfulness of the settler encroachment has been pointed out repeatedly by informed observers as the biggest single obstacle to peace, and the most vivid and unabashed Israeli defiance of international law.
So, has Washington given Israel its blessing to do whatever it wants in the future regarding settlements – and for that matter, in the entirety of the occupied West Bank? After all, if the White House now endorses Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights in Syrian sovereign territory, the West Bank may be thought of as small potatoes.
The clarity of international law on the issue of Israeli settlements arises in part from the unusual fact that they have been formally declared illegal by the most authoritative sources of international guidance. Several key examples illustrate this international consensus.
Consensus of illegality
Firstly, Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that an occupying power “shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”. This important provision of international humanitarian law is universally understood as prohibiting the establishment of Israeli settlements on any part of the occupied Palestinian territories.
If Israel was complying with international law, it should have ceased settlement activity and dismantled what had been built in the years after the 1967 war. Instead, Israel continued building, at an accelerated pace, advancing the lame rationale that Israelis should be able to live wherever they wish in Palestine.
Israel does not even view the areas of Jerusalem and the West Bank where settlements exist as being “occupied” in a legal sense, viewing this as part of the “promised land”.
Secondly, the International Court of Justice in 2004 strongly reaffirmed the unlawfulness of Israel’s settlement construction in occupied territory – and with a 14-1 ruling, the court showed a highly unusual degree of unity.
The court pointed out that the separation wall was built so as to put on the Israeli side 80 percent of the settler population, noting in passing that the settlements were established in violation of applicable law. Israel refused to comply with this conclusive judgment, emphasising its “advisory” character.
Thirdly, in December 2016, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2334, deeming by a vote of 14-0 that the settlements had no legal validity. The US abstained from the vote. The resolution noted that the settlements constituted “a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace”. It stressed exactly the opposite point to the one made by Pompeo.
No country can, by its decree, influence the legal status of Israeli settlement activity. What Pompeo declared was a shift in the political position of the US government. It is legally insignificant, but geopolitically significant.
The Trump spin room sought to minimise the shift by recalling that Ronald Reagan, while president, once indicated off-the-cuff that he didn’t think the settlements were illegal – but as is not so often noted, he went on to suggest that settlement expansion was “unnecessarily provocative”.
More relevant was the exchange of letters by former US President George W Bush and former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004, in which they agreed that any viable peace deal with the Palestinians would allow the settlement blocs along the border to be incorporated into Israel.
Again, such a side agreement was without legal legs, representing nothing more than a geopolitical pat on Israel’s back – but it was a good indicator of what Israel and the US would demand in future peace negotiations.
What makes the Pompeo statement different is its positioning in relation to other controversial Trump moves and its whitewashing language, which gives Israel an incentive to move ahead with annexation. This is another instance of US overreach.
Final nail in the coffin
Palestinian resistance remains strong, as the Great March of Return along the Gaza-Israel fence illustrates, and global solidarity initiatives are gathering strength – a reality that Israel seems to acknowledge, by defaming its nonviolent opponents as antisemites.
The new settlements rhetoric continues the pattern established by the Trump administration: repudiating the international consensus on key issues bearing on the rights and duties of states.
The highlights of this pattern in the Palestinian context have included moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, endorsing Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, and now, sidelining as irrelevant the illegality of Israel’s settlements.
This step has been condemned in diplomatic circles as a final nail in the coffin of the two-state solution. It moves the political compass towards a one-state outcome, with the likelihood being Jewish dominance and Palestinian subjugation in a state structure that increasingly looks and behaves like an apartheid regime.
Is this, then, the endgame of the Palestinian struggle? I think not. Palestinian resistance and the global solidarity movement will be telling the world a different story.
A small group holding Israeli flags were holding a counter protest as hundreds of protesters gather in front of the Israeli Embassy in central London in solidarity with Palestinian people in London, United Kingdom on 30 March 2019
By Asa Winstanley
A lot has been written about the pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian lobby over the years. Many take the view that the US and Britain have their foreign policy dictated to them by Israel and its influential lobby groups in the West.
I don’t intend to revisit the whole debate over the lobby in this column, but I’ve written before about how I consider this to be an inaccurate view, born of an essentially conservative worldview. It is a view that starts with the assumption that American and British foreign policies are essentially benign, and that the pro-Israel lobby has somehow corrupted them.
On the other hand, there are those on the left who hold to the equally mistaken view that to even use the term “pro-Israel lobby” is a conspiracy theory or (even more outrageously) anti-Semitic. This is, quite plainly, nonsense.
Many countries have powerful, well-funded and impressively connected lobbies working to promote their interests in Western capitals. Israel is no different in that regard. The pro-Israel lobby obviously exists, is well-funded, and has a significant impact on British political life.
Historically, however, the influence of the pro-Israel lobby is on the wane. It is a slow process for sure, and the lobby is certainly not be written off yet. But for those like myself who follow the activities of the lobby for a living, the general trend is plain to see.
Witness, for example, 2017’s documentary The Lobby by Al Jazeera. In this superb undercover investigation, we saw plainly that the lobby is still a force to reckon with. Most infamously, Israeli Embassy agent Shai Masot told ex-Labour, and now ex-MP, Joan Ryan — she was the chairperson of Labour Friends of Israel at the time — that she could partake in the “more than £1 million” worth of funding for junkets to Israel. Ryan stated that her group had put names forward for the embassy to consider.
At the time the film was made, these names seemed most likely to have been MPs, since LFI is quite well known for taking lawmakers on propaganda trips to Israel. Earlier this year, though – more than two years after the film aired — LFI denied this, stating that the funding was for trips for “young people” to go to Israel; the lobby group was probably hoping to influence future MPs. Either way, the money represented blatant interference in the British political system by a state which is extremely hostile to the opposition Labour Party, which was at the time Ryan’s own party, remember.
However, the Al Jazeera film contained another key scene. Shai Masot, its main antagonist, admitted to Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter that the pro-Israel lobby is in stark decline in Britain. Unlike in previous years, when almost every Labour MP would join Labour Friends of Israel, they are no longer doing that, he lamented. Conservative Friends of Israel has no such problem, apparently, but LFI seems to be in almost terminal decline. It no longer has stalls at the annual Labour Party conference, thanks mainly to the scrutiny that Al Jazeera’s film brought to bear and the growing awareness among normal Labour Party members of LFI’s insidious role.
There were also revealing comments about the declining role of the pro-Israel lobby in a second undercover Al Jazeera investigation focusing on America. The Lobby – USA was completed and cleared fully through all legal vetting, but it was censored by Al Jazeera’s owner, the state of Qatar, after it came under immense pressure by the very same lobby that the film exposed.
However, The Electronic Intifada was able to obtain and publish the entire film, making it free for anybody to view online. It contains many revelations about how the pro-Israel lobby operates and what makes it tick. There were two comments in the film, though, which particular stuck with me.
The first came from Jonathan Schanzer, of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies: “Anti-Semitism as a smear is not what it used to be,” he was caught admitting. The lobby constantly defames Palestinians and their supporters as motivated by racism against Jews, so it’s actually refreshing to see one of the lobby admit – albeit in private – that they cynically abuse the issue as a “smear” campaign.
Secondly, and most ominously for the lobby, a former lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, said that, “The foundation that AIPAC sat on is rotting.” This was a recognition by Eric Gallagher of the historical trends at play right now.
The influence of AIPAC and other pro-Israel lobby groups is on the wane because Israel itself is becoming more of a partisan party political issue, rather than the bi-partisan consensus issue that it far too often was for politicians in the past. In other words, you are far more likely to support Israel if you are a Trump voter or a Boris Johnson voter, than if you are a Bernie Sanders or a Jeremy Corbyn voter.
Our role, then, as people in support of justice for the Palestinian people, should be to accelerate these historical trends, expose the hypocrisy and never give up. If the pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian lobby is on the decline, let us all help it on its way.
As an integral part its ongoing propaganda, Israel, along with its fervent supporters and legions of paid and anonymous agents, zealously repeats and disseminates – in the media, on university campuses, in blogs and comment sections, at conferences and more – the same old, tired Zionist myths.
Propaganda guides and tool kits, such as the “global language dictionary”, offer ready-made arguments and counter-arguments to sell Israel to journalists and critics. Such talking points come with tips on what tone and rhetorical tactics to use, what words and formulas “work”, and how to discuss “sensitive” issues, such as Israel’s illegal colonisation and annexation of Palestinian land, Jewish settlements and the killing of civilians.
All of which are now set to get worse since US President Donald Trump has both rewarded and emboldened Israel by recognising its illegal and brutal colonisation (its “settlements”). By the same token he has offered yet another spectacular demonstration of the complete contempt of the United States for the rule of international law.
Setting such an example will only send the message to all the despots, autocrats and tyrants of various stripes around the globe that not only it is ok to steal, colonise, and brutalise weak and defenceless populations, but that you may even be rewarded by the West for adopting the “law of the jungle”.
The media is saturated with uplifting news about the “Israeli economic miracle”, its wealth and high living standards, and its thriving startup and high-tech industry. But have you ever heard from a mainstream Western media outlet or politician that a fifth of Israelis live below the poverty line, that people are forced to look through rubbish for food to avoid starving, or that Israel has the highest poverty rate in all of the developed world?
The answer is most likely not, and we should ask ourselves why. Other lies propagated by Israel’s disinformation machine include origin myths, the most famous being the romantic theme of Palestine as “a land without a people for a people without a land”, which strangely persists, despite its historical absurdity. Israel relies a lot on ignorance and gullibility.
This magnificent interactive photographic collection of pre-1948 Palestine is enough to pulverise that revisionist lie, which seeks to eliminate the very notion of the existence of Palestinians on the land before it was taken from them by Western colonial powers to be given to Jewish emigrants from Europe and elsewhere. Palestinians were made to pay for a Holocaust that Europe had committed, and in which they themselves played no part.
Besides the pathetic nature of such PR operations to counter critics and improve Israel’s disastrous global image, its effectiveness is more than a little uncertain.
When news and images of Israel’s killing and mutilation of Palestinian children, deliberate bombing of schools, and indiscriminate use of white phosphorus on entire neighbourhoods circulate around the world, it is hard to convincingly portray such a predatory, violent and terrorist rogue state as noble, democratic, peaceful or gentle.
Zionist myths By far the most common Zionist myth is the notion that Israel is the “only democracy” in the region – one that some even describe as a liberal, egalitarian, Western-style democracy. This grotesque, self-serving fairytale perpetuates the fallacy of a similarity of regimes, of a common destiny, and of a natural alliance between Israel and Western nations. Racist propaganda often pits this against the inevitably “barbaric”, backward and undemocratic Arab states and Muslim-majority societies.
This misleading description echoes the larger, even more sinister – but equally fallacious – Huntingtonian “clash of civilizations” discourse, which is itself the cultural reformulation in civilisational terms of the old ideologies of racial differences.
Repeating a lie multiple times does not make it true, although Israel’s agents clearly think it does. Israel is no democracy, and certainly not a “liberal, egalitarian” state. Two cold, hard facts can easily debunk this myth.
Firstly, there is the acquisition of Israeli nationality and citizenship through religion. The Law of Return allows any Jew, anywhere in the world, to emigrate to Israel and obtain full Israeli citizenship, whether or not they have ever set foot there or have any relatives living there. A privileged, royal path to citizenship is reserved exclusively for Jews, while being denied to members of other religions. Religious discrimination is thus institutionalised as official policy.
Archaic marriage laws Just imagine for a minute how “democratic” countries such as France, Germany, Britain or the United States would be if they decided that from now on, Christians from all over the world – but only Christians – could freely emigrate and settle there, and unlike members of any other religion, or even atheists, they would automatically be granted citizenship upon arrival.
This would amount to discarding their most fundamental and basic democratic principles, including their cherished secularism – but such institutionalised religious discrimination is exactly what Israel practices.
Secondly, there is the issue of marriage. Given the massive pro-Israeli propaganda machine, coupled with the silent complicity of our Western media and governments, many people might be unaware that in Israel, only religious authorities are allowed to officiate marriages. Civil, non-religious marriages are not permitted.
Even worse, inter-religious, mixed marriages are also forbidden by law, forcing inter-religious couples to marry abroad. When they return, the non-Jewish partner often receives second-class citizen treatment by the state.
Again, let’s imagine what would happen to the French, British, German or US democracies if we were to apply such archaic principles. Rather unthinkably for those of us living in actual democracies, the Israeli state manages to make those already backward practices even harsher, levying a two-year prison sentence on couples who get married by a religious authority not accredited by the state.
Despite all this, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his PR minions continually explain to us – with a straight face – how democratic, egalitarian, tolerant, open and enlightened the state of Israel has always been, and how it grants all of its citizens equal rights.
Israel was already a profoundly racist, unegalitarian, undemocratic, ethno-religious state before the nation-state law was passed last year. Now, it is even worse.
Conceived of from the start as an ethno-religious “Jewish state” – a description it has finally openly acknowledged through the nation-state law – just as other countries thought of themselves as “white states” (South Africa, the segregationist US), it is not surprising that Israel quickly instituted a veritable apartheid system.
This reality is easily visible to anyone on the ground, and has been abundantly documented for decades by the media, all major human rights organisations, UN-mandated independent teams on the ground, Palestinian and Israeli activists, NGOs and academics, who explain how Israel’s apartheid regime constantly invents new, creative ways to perpetuate and consolidate itself.
Jewish Holocaust survivors and their descendants have themselves denounced Israel as a structurally segregationist, and even fascist, apartheid state. One can safely assume that when you have survived Auschwitz, as did Professor Hajo Meyer, you can recognise fascism in action – particularly in your own country.
ANC veterans who spent their own lives fighting apartheid in South Africa have also declared that what they saw in Israel was in some respects worse than what they confronted at home. Even US President Jimmy Carter wrote an entire book on Israel’s apartheid, explaining how Palestinians were caged in an open-air prison worse than what the South Africans had to face.
Israel’s discrimination against its Arab citizens, among others, is thus not just a societal, economic or cultural phenomenon. Every country has a share of that. In Israel’s case, discrimination is institutionalised, inscribed in its justice system as well.
“Israeli law includes numerous provisions that explicitly assert and institutionalise a principle of inequality between Jews and Arabs,” notes Arab-Israeli professor and politician Yousef Jabareen.
“To cite only one example, the Israeli flag, with its Star of David, represents only the Jewish majority of the country. But this differential treatment is certainly not limited to the realm of the symbolic. It exists in all domains of life: the definition of the state and its symbols, but also immigration laws, citizenship, political participation, access to land, culture, religion, budgetary policies, etc.”
Similar to the Law of Return, the “settlements” in the occupied West Bank – often direct breaches of Israeli law itself and major violations of international law – are exclusively reserved for Jews.
Israel invests considerable resources there on infrastructure and social services, but non-Jews are not allowed to live in the settlements – even though they are often built on confiscated land privately owned by Palestinians.
These settlers live among a population of more than three million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, who live under an all-pervasive, brutal military occupation. Another two million Palestinians live under siege and ongoing military terror in Gaza. None have a right to vote in Israeli elections.
Again, imagine the outcry if Britain or the US started invading territories outside of their internationally recognised borders, illegally annexed the land and resources, and then began creating Christian-only settlements in those areas.
The dozens of Israeli laws that explicitly discriminate against Arab citizens and Palestinians in the occupied territories are well documented. They can be accessed through the Adalah searchable database, and they apply to all aspects of Palestinian life: citizenship, education, political and economic rights, residency, language, culture, religion, and so on.
Hyper-violent colonialism Even access to water, the most fundamental and life-sustaining resource, is the object of differential treatment by Israel, which has never hesitated to confiscate water or to use it as a war weapon to collectively punish entire populations.
Since the nation-state law has been adopted, Israel’s already systemic discrimination has become even worse, with new laws being passed to further entrench and expand inequality.
In addition to all of this evidence that Israel is no democracy, the state has also become globally infamous for its relentless, illegal, supremacist, hyper-violent colonialism; its annexation of land at gunpoint; its terroristic military; and its armies of fanatic Jewish “settlers”, who are little more than international rogues and land thieves.
During its half-century of illegal occupation and annexation, which is now doomed to get even worse, Israel has wilfully and knowingly violated almost every major international law convention, treaty and UN resolution, including the Geneva Conventions, the UN Charter, the 1947 Partition Plan, the Camp David and Oslo accords, and so on.
Such lawless behaviour has given Israel the distinct honour of being among the countries that for decades have been, and continue to be, regularly condemned by all major human rights organisations out there, and by the UN itself.
Distinctly Israeli terror It is difficult to find a worse rogue state than Israel. From its very inception, writ with ethnic cleansing, Israel has made the collective punishment of defenceless civilian populations, the killing of entire families, the deliberate mutilation of children, the bombing of schools and hospitals, and other barbaric atrocities as distinctly, recognisably Israeli as challah, hamin and gefilte fish.
Even Israeli soldiers themselves – thousands of them, often elite soldiers regrouped in veteran organisations such as Breaking the Silence – are exposing and documenting Israel’s systematic and deliberate targeting of defenceless Palestinians. As much as the ANC veterans know apartheid, and Holocaust survivors know fascism, when they see it, these brave soldiers surely know what they are talking about, as they were once a part of it.
But they, too, are probably just “antisemites” or “self-hating Jews”; instead of them, maybe we ought to believe the likes of Netanyahu, who continues to claim that Israel is the region’s “only democracy”?
On Nov. 20, Israel advocacy group Herut Canada at York University held an event with former soldiers from the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF). The IOF has held recruitment drives in Toronto, and it’s illegal for a foreign military to recruit in Canada.
As the Palestine solidarity club on campus, Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) York, we decided to protest our university administration’s decision to provide space for the event.
Despite us reaching out to the administration with concerns about harassment and intimidation by pro-Israel groups and their allies in the Jewish Defence League (JDL) — classified as a terrorist organization in the U.S. — the event was approved. Our concerns proved to be well-founded as JDL members began physically assaulting protesters soon after the event began.
Among those affected are York students and community members and their families whom the event was intended to intimidate into passivity.
But this is not how local and national media outlets reported the event. Despite there not being a shred of evidence, figures from the political elite as prominent as Justin Trudeau, Michael Levitt, Andrew Scheer and Doug Ford were united in claiming that pro-Palestine activists engaged in racist chanting and violence. But the available video evidence — widely shared over social media — reveals the exact opposite.
On Wednesday night, violence & racist chants broke out against an event organized by the Jewish community at York University. What happened that night was shocking and absolutely unacceptable. Anti-Semitism has no place in Canada. We will always denounce it & all forms of hatred.
Some of the manufactured controversy apparently revolves around our use of the Arabic term “intifada,” which means “uprising.” This is ridiculous, and the JDL and their allies are snowflakes for being offended. The term is to be understood within the context of ongoing Palestinian resistance to Israel’s continued illegal occupation of Palestinian land, violations of international law and documented war crimes. In fact, the majority of resistance activities against the occupation have been incidents of civil disobedience and nonviolent protest in the face of the might of the Israeli army. As late as last week, 34 Palestinians, including eight children, were killed by Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment and collective punishment.
#WATCH | Students at York University in Canada bravely protested and managed to disrupt an event where Israeli soldiers were invited by Herut Zionist organisation and the Jewish Defense League (JDL) extremist organization in the US. pic.twitter.com/wCyUkKsMrc
Let us be clear — we believe that the purpose of this event was to harass and intimidate York students and, in particular, Palestinian students. The documented instances of physical assault by members of pro-Israel groups bears this out.
But if members of pro-Israel groups at York University have the freedom to host a lecture by members of a foreign military that violates the rights of York’s Palestinian students and their families, it must also be recognized that Palestinians at York and supporters of their rights have the freedom to peacefully express their opposition to this.
This is our right under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And we will fight to protect it should the university administration — or the government — seek to deprive us of it.
Palestinians protest against US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in Gaza city on 8 January 2018
By Ramona Wadi
When, in December 2017, US President Donald Trump unilaterally recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the protests in Palestine swiftly ignited a ripple of international solidarity. Activists in many countries protested against the decision, while world leaders repeated their carefully-crafted statements and considered their duty done. UN resolutions on Jerusalem, after all, remained the pinnacle of what the international community was willing to do which, in essence, amounted to nothing.
Palestinians are now protesting against the US move to legitimise Israeli settlements. Diplomats have already positioned themselves rhetorically against US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement, while Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, once again belatedly, has reportedly threatened to cut off all ties with Israel and the US for the umpteenth time. Meanwhile, activist support for Palestinians with regard to opposing the US decision has been minimal and mostly generated through social media; certainly not on the scale with which the demonstrations for Jerusalem attracted media attention worldwide.
Supporting Palestine and Palestinians must be constant, as opposed to depending on variables mostly determined by visibility. Jerusalem’s significance, rather than the Palestinian cause, was a decisive factor when it came to international demonstrations supporting Palestinians two years ago. However, the US decision regarding Jerusalem was the prelude to other oppressive measures against the Palestinian people. While Jerusalem was singled out as the epitome of violations, the US-Israeli alliance carried out their plan to facilitate the travesty of legitimising further colonial expansion in Palestine. Meanwhile, the systematic US plan to deprive Palestinians of their rights was generalised under convenient statements such as “violation of international law” without any further collective action.
These discrepancies are a reminder of how important it is to allow the Palestinian narrative to guide international solidarity with Palestinians and their anti-colonial struggle. Jerusalem is one part of a wider history and memory rooted in forced dispossession by Zionist colonisation. It must be read and given the association with Palestinians and from Palestinians, in order to allow their narrative to resonate beyond the confines which Israel has forced upon the population.
Likewise, the repercussions of the US decision declaring settlements as “not illegal” is not merely in violation of what the international community has already stipulated. Furthermore, it cannot be separated from the other atrocities of which Israel is guilty with US approval. If settlements are purportedly “not illegal” according to the US, neither is the forced displacement that precedes the settlements, all of which constitutes the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians perpetrated by Zionists from before the 1948 Nakba.
Activism is replete with choices and dilemmas. The permeating political violence at times may constitute an obstruction as regards which cause to support and which issue should take precedence. However, there is one important distinction to make and which is imperative: activism must not be associated with, or influenced by, media and political sensationalism. If this happens, Palestine will be burdened with further misrepresentation when Palestinians are capable of representing themselves, their history and their memory; all they require are the spaces to do so.
Since the establishment of Israel in 1948, the Israeli Security Agency has been torturing Palestinians. Al-Shabaka Senior Palestine Policy Fellow Yara Hawari argues that the use of torture in Israeli detention is systematic and legitimized through domestic law, and outlines steps for the international community to hold Israel to account and bring an end to these violations.
The recent case of Samer Arbeed highlighted once again the systematic use of torture against Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons. Israeli soldiers arrested Arbeed at his home in Ramallah on September 25, 2019. They beat him severely before taking him to Al Moscobiyye detention center in Jerusalem for interrogation. Two days later, according to his lawyer, he was hospitalized as a result of severe torture, and lay in critical condition for several weeks. A judicial body had authorized the Israeli Secret Service, the Shin Bet, to use “exceptional methods” to extract information in this case without going through the courts. This led Amnesty International to condemn what happened to Arbeed as “legally-sanctioned torture.”
In August 2019, shortly prior to Arbeed’s arrest, the Israeli occupation forces began a targeted campaign against Palestinian youth and arrested over 40 students from Birzeit University. The arrests increased after Arbeed’s detention and, as many of the students have been denied access to lawyers, it is expected that many have also been subjected to torture.
The above actions are nothing new. Since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, the Israeli Security Agency (ISA) has been systematically torturing Palestinians using a variety of techniques. And though many countries have incorporated the prohibition of torture into their domestic legislation (despite it remaining a widespread practice under the guise of state security), Israel has taken a different course: It has not passed domestic legislation prohibiting torture’s use, and its courts have allowed for torture to be used in cases of “necessity.” This has given the ISA free rein to use torture extensively against Palestinian political prisoners.
This policy brief focuses on the use of torture in Israeli detention (both upon arrest and in prisons), tracing its historical as well as most recent developments. Building on the work of various Palestinian organizations, the brief argues that the practice of torture, embedded in the Israeli prison system, is systematic and legitimized through domestic law. It outlines clear steps for the international community to hold Israel to account and bring an end to these violations.
Torture and the Law
The question of torture occupies an important place in discussions on ethics and morality. Many have argued that the practice of torture is reflective of a sick and corrupt society. Indeed, torture requires the total dehumanization of a person, and once that occurs the boundaries of the degradation are limitless. Moreover, whilst the common excuse offered by security apparatuses for the use of torture is that it can yield life-saving information, this has proven factually baseless. Many leading experts, and even CIA officials, argue that information obtained under torture is usually false. Detainees can be coerced into confessing anything in order to stop the pain they are enduring.
So absolute is the prohibition on torture that it is considered jus cogens in international law, meaning that it is non-derogable and no other law can supersede it. Yet torture continues to be used by many countries around the world. Amnesty International defines it as a global crisis, stating that it has reported on violations of the prohibition on torture by a large majority of UN member states over the last five years.
The US-led “war on terror” following 9/11 particularly led to horrific cases of systematic torture, especially inflicted on Arab and Muslim prisoners. The Guantanamo Bay detention camp, established by the US in 2002 to hold “terrorists,” has been and continues to be a site of torture. Images of prisoners blindfolded, shackled, and kneeling on the ground in orange jumpsuits were shared across the world.
Yet perhaps the most defining images of this era came from the Abu Ghraib US military prison in Iraq. Leaked photos and soldiers’ reports revealed that the prison was the site of widescale torture, including the rape of men, women, and children. The US administration at the time condemned these acts and tried to suggest that they were isolated incidents. Human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, reported to the contrary.
Further, recent testimonies from Abu Ghraib reveal sinister links between US and Israeli interrogations. In a memoir, a former US interrogator in Iraq claimed that the Israeli army trained US personnel in various interrogation and torture techniques, including what became known as the “Palestinian chair,” in which a detainee is forced to lean over a chair in a crouched position with their hands tied to their feet. The excruciatingly painful practice was perfected on Palestinians – hence its name – and was adopted by the Americans in Iraq.
Despite these scandals, very little action has been taken to protect prisoners of war, and torture continues to be justified in the name of security. In Donald Trump’s first interview after being sworn in as US president, he declared that, in the context of the “war on terror,” “torture works.” Works of popular culture, such as television programs like “24” and “Homeland,” also normalizes the use of torture, particularly against Arabs and Muslims, and promotes the idea that it is justified in the context of the greater good. There has also been a recent rise in television series and films dramatizing the activities of the Mossad and Shin Bet, such as “Fauda,” “The Spy,” and “Dead Sea Diving Resort,” all of which heroize the activities of the ISA whilst demonizing Palestinians as terrorists. These series and films present to the world an image of Israel that allows it to justify its violations of international law, including torture.
Whilst Israel ratified the Convention against Torture (CAT) in 1991, it has failed to incorporate it into its domestic legislation. Moreover, despite the UN committee’s affirmation to the contrary, Israel claims that CAT does not apply to the Occupied Palestinian Territory. This allows Israel to assert that there is no crime of torture in Israel, with it actually permitted in cases of “necessity,” as was claimed in the Arbeed case. This “necessity” is also known as the “ticking bomb,” a security doctrine used by many governments to justify torture and violence in situations considered time sensitive.
Israel has also passed several rulings around the issue of torture that have bolstered and condoned the activities of its security services. For instance, in 1987 two Palestinians hijacked an Israeli bus and were subsequently captured, beaten, and executed by the Shin Bet. Although there was a gag order on the Israeli media, details of the torture and execution leaked and led to the establishment of a government commission. Whilst the commission concluded that “pressure [on detainees] must never reach the level of physical torture…a moderate measure of physical pressure cannot be avoided.” The commission’s recommendations were incompatible with international law due to their vague description of “a moderate measure of physical pressure,” and essentially gave Shin Bet free reign to torture Palestinians.
Over a decade later, and as a result of petitioning from human rights organizations, the Israeli Court of Justice issued a 1999 ruling to the effect that ISA interrogators were no longer allowed to use physical means in interrogations, thus outlawing the use of torture. The court ruled that four common methods of “physical pressure” (violent shaking, shackling to a chair in a stress position, prolonged frog crouching, and sleep deprivation) were unlawful. Yet the court added a clause that provided a loophole for interrogators, namely that those who use physical pressure will not face criminal responsibility if they are found to have done so in a ticking bomb situation or out of necessity for the state’s defense – in other words, if the detainee is found to be an immediate threat to public security. Children are not spared the ordeal of imprisonment and torture within the Israeli military system
Torture as a necessity in the name of security was reaffirmed in 2017 when the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled in favor of Shin Bet, who admitted to what they called “extreme forms of pressure” on Palestinian detainee Assad Abu Ghosh. The defense was that Abu Ghosh possessed information about an impending terrorist attack. The court considered it “enhanced interrogation” rather than torture, and declared that it was justified due to the ticking bomb doctrine. Such a ruling has been consistently repeated.
Though Palestinian human rights organizations regularly submit complaints to the Israeli authorities they rarely receive a reply, and when they do it is often to inform them that the case file has been closed due to a lack of evidence. In fact, 1,200 complaints have been leveled against the security services for torture since 2001, but no agent has ever been prosecuted.
The Israeli Prison System: Sites of Systematic Torture
Every year, the Israeli military prison system detains and incarcerates thousands of Palestinian political prisoners, mostly from the 1967 territories. Since the beginning of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the establishment of martial law over those areas, Israel has detained well over 800,000 Palestinians, amounting to 40% of the male population, or one-fifth of the population as a whole.
Israeli law also permits the military to hold a prisoner for up to six months without a charge under a procedure known as administrative detention. This period can be indefinitely extended, with the “charges” kept secret. Prisoners, and their lawyers, thus do not know what they are charged with or what evidence is being used against them. On the last day of the six-month period, those detained in this way are informed if they will be released or have their detention extended longer. Addameer-the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association has defined this practice as itself a form of psychological torture.
It is during the period of initial detention, whether administrative or otherwise, when prisoners are often deprived of contact with lawyers or family members that they are subjected to the most severe forms of interrogations and torture. If they reach trial, they face judgement from Israeli military personnel and are often denied adequate legal representation. This system is illegal under international law, and Palestinian and international human rights groups have documented a vast array of human rights violations.
Children are not spared the ordeal of imprisonment and torture within the Israeli military system, and are nearly always denied the presence of parental guardianship during interrogations. One such example was in 2010, when Israeli border police arrested 16-year-old Mohammed Halabiyeh in his hometown of Abu Dis. Upon arrest the police broke his leg and beat him, intentionally kicking his injured leg. He was interrogated for five consecutive days and faced death and sexual assault threats. He was then hospitalized, during which time Israeli agents continued to abuse him by pushing syringes into his body and punching his face. Halabiyeh was tried and prosecuted as an adult, as is the case with all Palestinian child detainees over the age of 16 in direct contravention of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. Israel arrests, detains, and prosecutes between 500-700 Palestinian children each year.
At present there are 5,000 Palestinian political prisoners; these include 190 child prisoners, 43 female prisoners, and 425 prisoners held under administrative detention, most of whom have been subjected to some form of torture. According to Addameer, the most common methods used by Shin Bet and interrogators include the following:
Positional torture: Detainees are placed in stress positions, often with their hands tied behind their backs and their feet shackled whilst they are made to lean forward. They are left in such positions for prolonged periods of time during the interrogation process.
Beatings: Detainees often suffer beatings, either by hand or with objects, and are sometimes knocked unconscious.
Solitary confinement: Detainees are placed in isolation or solitary confinement for long periods.
Sleep deprivation: Detainees are prevented from resting or sleeping and are subjected to long interrogation sessions.
Sexual torture: Palestinian men, women, and children are subjected to rape, physical harassment, and threats of sexual violence. Verbal sexual harassment is a particularly common practice in which detainees are exposed to comments about themselves or their family members. This type of torture is often considered effective because the shame around sexual violations prevents detainees from revealing it.
Threats on family members: Detainees hear threats of violence against family members to pressure them to cede information. There have been cases where family members have been arrested and interrogated in a nearby room so that the detainee can hear them being tortured.
Many mechanisms of torture require the complicity of actors within the Israeli military court system, including medical personnel. This occurs despite the fact that the code of medical ethics as defined by the Declaration of Tokyo and Istanbul Protocol includes the stipulation that doctors must not cooperate with interrogators conducting torture, must not share medical information with torturers, and must actively oppose torture. In fact, Israeli doctors have long been complicit in the torture of Palestinian detainees and prisoners. Over the years journalists have uncovered documents that reveal doctors signing off on torture as well as writing false reasons for injuries sustained in interrogations.
Doctors are also complicit in force feeding – another, albeit less common, mechanism of torture used by the Israeli regime. Force feeding requires a detainee to be tied down as a thin tube is inserted through a nostril and pushed to the stomach. Liquid is then dripped through the tube in an effort to replenish the body. Medical personnel must place the tube, which can end up going through the mouth or the windpipe instead of the esophagus, in which case it has to be retracted and replaced. Not only does this cause great pain, but can also lead to serious medical complications and even death.
In the 1970s and 1980s several Palestinian prisoners died from being force fed, resulting in a cessation order from Israel’s High Court. However, a 2012 Knesset law reinstated force feeding’s legality in an attempt to break Palestinian hunger strikes. In an address to the Israeli prime minister in June 2015, the World Medical Association stated that “force feeding is violent, often painful, and often [goes] against the principle of individual autonomy. It is a degrading treatment, inhumane, and may amount to torture.”
Disrupting Israeli Torture
For Palestinians, torture is just one facet of the structural violence they face at the hands of the Israeli regime, which entraps them in an open-air prison and deprives them of their fundamental rights. It is also one that receives little attention from the international community, usually because the Israeli authorities use arguments of state security bolstered by the “war on terror” narrative. This was the case with Samer Arbeed, who the Israeli media portrayed as a terrorist, resulting in most states maintaining silence on his treatment despite being petitioned and lobbied by many Palestinian and international human rights organizations. As with all violations against the Palestinian people, Israeli torture calls into question the utility of the international legal regime.
The following are some steps that those working for Palestinian rights in the international and domestic arenas can take with the aim of disrupting the systematic nature of Israeli torture:
Organizations and groups should build cases of individual criminal liability outside of Israel and Palestine for those involved in the torture of Palestinians. Accountability can be extended not only to those who commit the torture but also those that aid, abet, and omit information about it. This includes interrogators, military judges, prison guards, and doctors. As torture is a jus cogens war crime, it is subject to universal jurisdiction, meaning that third parties are capable of submitting criminal complaints against individuals. Whilst individual criminal liability does not necessarily address the systematic structure of torture against Palestinians, it puts pressure on involved Israeli individuals by limiting their movement and travel to other countries.
As the only viable independent judicial body capable of ending impunity for violations of Palestinian rights, the International Criminal Court has a responsibility to hold Israel accountable. The Office of the Prosecutor, with all the information and detailed reports that have been presented to it, should launch a formal investigation into violations within the Israeli prison system.
State signatories to the Geneva Conventions and international human rights organizations need to pressure the International Committee of the Red Cross to uphold its mandate to protect Palestinian detainees and open an investigation into all accusations of torture.
Palestinian civil society and institutions should continue to support those working to aid victims of torture. Such support can be enhanced by a dedicated and focused effort to expand these resources and make them accessible in all areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This should also include working to break the taboo of seeking therapeutic care and lifting the stigma around sexual assault. Sexual assault is usually not dealt with fully because victims are too ashamed to discuss their ordeal, and the lack of disclosure makes healing more difficult. Creating safer spaces for individual and collective testimonies is key to helping survivors recover.
With such concerted actions, Palestinians and their allies can work toward limiting the practice of torture so thoroughly embedded in the Israeli prison system and given cover by Israeli law, whilst also working toward helping those to heal who have suffered it.
Just yesterday, Netanyahu bragged about killing 36 Palestinians in Gaza, including 14 children and three women within two days
By Iqbal Jassat
As the tide of global public opinion begins to mark decisive turn in favour of Palestine’s legitimate freedom struggle and its legal right to resist Israeli occupation, Netanyahu will face the music.
Has Netanyahu’s criminal conduct grown in leaps and bounds? It certainly has even though his coterie of fellow thugs and band of die-hard white supremacists deny it.
The folly and contempt whereby he continues to commit violent and bloody massacres, suggests that for as long as the United States and Europe has his back, he cares not about any legal repercussions.
To hell with abiding by the prescribes of international conventions, is his attitude. To him and the settler colonial state, these legal instruments alongside the UN Charter as well as the Geneva Convention, mean nothing.
The disposition to both ignore and defy global imperatives to abide by dictates which govern human rights obligations, has been and remains a defining characteristic of Zionism’s political ideology.
A pattern of non-compliance is not only rampant, but abundantly clear. It is evident throughout Apartheid Israel’s seven-decade old history. One only has to take account of the huge number of UN Resolutions, both General Assembly and Security Council, demanding adherence and implementation, which to date have been defied, to understand the gravity of the situation.
Except for Israel, other countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria have been pummelled to the ground as punishment for ostensibly failing to implement UN Resolutions. Despite political chicanery which underpinned US imperial designs in fermenting wide scale death and destruction under the guise of the so-called “War on Terror”, now known to have been manipulated, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) was used to rubber-stamp full-scale wars of invasion and occupation.
That Netanyahu and his predecessors have been spared the fate of late Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, among others, reveals western double standards. And apart from imperial powers who view the apartheid regime as a strategic ally to sustain and extend their colonial dominance, it is equally outrageous for the International Criminal Court to wilfully allow Israel’s genocide of Palestinians to continue without any accountability.
According to the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR), there is no dispute that Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians. It refers to “a long history of human rights scholarship and legal analysis that supports the assertion.” And it also claims that “prominent scholars of the international law crime of genocide and human rights authorities take the position that Israel’s policies toward the Palestinian people could constitute a form of genocide.”
“Policies which range from the 1948 mass killing and displacement of Palestinians” to seven decades of military occupation and, “correspondingly, the discriminatory legal regime governing Palestinians, repeated military assaults on Gaza, and official Israeli statements expressly favoring the elimination of Palestinians.”
This is precisely what’s happening in Gaza currently. The genocidal carnage by Netanyahu’s killer forces unleashed upon its besieged population has wiped out entire families.
Aya Al Ghazzawi, a BDS activist based in Gaza, relates how hard it is to explain to her little sister that they are being “killed, shelled and ignored because we are Palestinians not born to Jewish mothers.”
Al Ghazzawi’s concern and anxiety captures the essence of the epic struggle Palestinians are confronted with:
“How can I comfort her while I myself still recall the three Israeli war aggressions I have experienced within less than a decade?
“How can I forget about the thousands whom these assaults reaped including my own cousin? How can I assure her that everything is going to be okay when I know that anyone of us can be the next target of an Israeli strike?”
We are reminded that the current wave of the settler colonial bombings isn’t the first time that it’s cruel army has wiped out an entire family. In 2014 they killed 11 members of the Balatas family in Gaza. In 2009, 48 members of the Samouni family were killed.
Ethnic cleansing, forced removals, dispossession, detention without trial, torture and wanton maiming added to the colossal crime of genocide resulting in thousands of Palestinian deaths, have unfortunately been reduced by the corporate media to a narrative of “statistics”.
It is this narrative that’s allowed sadists like Netanyahu and his cohorts to adopt fascist policies in furtherance of Zionist goals to annihilate Palestine.
The “othering” of Palestinians as mere disposable statistics, while Israeli perpetrators, armed and financed by the west, are seen as the only “humans” in this sad saga, partly explains why international institutions remain ineffective in rallying to halt this modern day genocide.
As the tide of global public opinion begins to mark a decisive turn in favour of Palestine’s legitimate freedom struggle and its legal right to resist the colonisation of its land and people, Netanyahu will face the music.
After all the Geneva Convention was written in the aftermath of World War II especially to deter and prevent the type of horrors Palestinians are subjected to. And failing that, to punish those responsible.
Construction workers build illegal settlements in occupied Jerusalem
By Ramzy Baroud
It is hardly a major surprise that the US government has finally decreed that illegal Jewish settlements built in defiance of international law are somehow “consistent” with the said law. US foreign policy has been edging closer towards this conclusion for some time. Since moving into the White House in January 2017, President Donald Trump has unleashed a total and complete reversal of his country’s foreign policy regarding Palestine and Israel.
Let us not have any illusion regarding the American approach to the so-called “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” prior to Trump’s Presidency, though. The US has never, not even once, stood up for Palestinians or Arabs since the establishment of the State of Israel on the ruins of historic Palestine in 1948. Moreover, Washington has bankrolled the Israeli occupation of Palestine in every possible way, including the subsidising of the illegal Jewish settlements.
Nevertheless, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement at a press conference on 18 November — “The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements is not, per se, inconsistent with international law” — is still very dangerous. In fact, it constitutes a political departure from previous US policies.
How? Historically, Washington has struggled in its understanding of international law, not because of its lack of legal savvy but because, quite often, US interests have clashed with the will of the international community. A recurring case in point is the Israeli occupation of Palestine, where the US has vetoed or voted against numerous UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions that either criticised Israel or supported the rights of the Palestinians.
Only in 1978 did a US administration dare to describe Israeli settlements as “inconsistent with international law”. That happened during Jimmy Carter’s Presidency, when Washington began fiddling earnestly with the “peace process” political model, which eventually led to the signing of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty at US Presidential retreat Camp David in 1979.
“Since then,” Joseph Hincks wrote in Time Magazine online, “Republican and Democratic Presidents have referred to settlements as ‘illegitimate’ but declined to call them illegal — a designation that would make them subject to international sanctions.”
That said, it was President Ronald Reagan who — although objecting to the principle of the illegality of the settlements — deemed them to be an “obstacle to peace”, demanding a freeze on all settlement construction.
Pompeo’s statement is, in fact, compatible with Washington’s self-contradictions regarding the construction of Israel’s illegal settlements in occupied Palestine. In December 2016, the Barack Obama administration declined to veto a UN Security Council resolution that described the settlements as a “flagrant violation” of international law, adding that they have “no legal validity”. Although Obama chose to abstain from the vote, that decision was itself seen as a historical departure from traditional US foreign policy-making, further highlighting the US unconditional and, often, blind support for Israel.
While, in some way, the Trump administration’s support for Israel is a continuation of the dismal trajectory of American bias, it is also particularly unique and disturbing. Previous US administrations attempted to maintain a degree of balance between their own interests and those of Israel. Trump, on the other hand, seems to have aligned his country’s foreign policy regarding Palestine and Israel entirely with that of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing camp.
US decision to back Israel’s building of settlements – Cartoon
Indeed, for over two years, the State Department has been giving Israel political carte blanche, agreeing to all of its demands and expectations and asking for nothing in return. As a result, Washington has accepted Israel’s designation of Jerusalem, including occupied East Jerusalem, as its “eternal and undivided capital”; agreed to Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights; and actively plotted to dismiss the issue of Palestinian refugees altogether. The latest announcement by Pompeo was but one of many such steps.
One theory regarding the ongoing surrender of US foreign policy to Israel is that Washington is slowly, but permanently, withdrawing from the Middle East, a process that began in the later years of George W Bush’s presidency and continued unabated throughout the two terms of the Obama administration. The current succumbing to Israel’s wishes is like America’s departing gift to its most faithful ally in the Middle East.
Another explanation is concerned with the apparently defunct “deal of the century”, a vaguely defined political doctrine that seeks to normalise relations with Israel, regionally and internationally, while keeping the status quo of its occupation and Apartheid regime untouched.
For that deal to be resurrected after months of inertia, Washington is keen to prolong Netanyahu’s premiership, especially as the long-serving Israeli Prime Minister is facing his greatest political challenge and even a possible jail term following various corruption charges.
Currently, Israel is undergoing a political crisis after two General Elections within six months — and the possibility of a third — coupled with a historic socio-economic and political polarisation among the electorate. To keep Netanyahu alive politically, his allies in Washington have thrown him some major lifelines, all in the hope of winning him more support among Israel’s dominant right-wing political camp. By rendering the illegal settlements “consistent” with international law, Washington is paving the road for Israel to annex all major settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank, for which Netanyahu will no doubt take the credit.
Israel has never been truly concerned with international law, but it needed this US green light to move forward with annexing at least 60 per cent of the occupied West Bank. Indeed, with the haemorrhaging of US concessions to Israel, Netanyahu is eager for more.
Desperate to strengthen his faltering grip on power, the Israeli leader agreed on 20 November to advance a bill that calls for the annexation of the Jordan Valley. The bill was drafted by Sharren Haskel, a member of the Israeli Likud — Netanyahu’s party — who tweeted following the Prime Minister’s decision that the US announcement was “an opportunity to promote my law for sovereignty in the [Jordan] Valley.”
The US decision to defy international law on settlements is not dangerous because it violates international law, for the latter has hardly ever been a concern for Washington. The danger actually lies in the fact that US foreign policy regarding the Israeli occupation has become a mere rubber stamp that allows Israel’s extreme right-wing government to determine single-handedly the fate of the Palestinian people and sow the seeds of instability and war in the Middle East for many years to come.
When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced earlier this week that the Trump administration would no longer recognize Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal, he displayed a keen understanding of the law’s relationship to politics, one that makes the blood of his liberal counterparts boil. “Arguments about who is right and wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace,” he proclaimed. “Dwelling on legal positions [doesn’t] advance peace.”
For many liberals, law is the sine qua non, the be-all and end-all, of justice. Liberal criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, for example, usually peaks at the mere concern over whether Israel sufficiently adheres to the major tenets of international law.
Pompeo’s comments signal a technical departure from his predecessor’s. In 2016, John Kerry declared Israel’s settlements to be “inconsistent with international law.” Similarly, during Israel’s sniper attacks on the Great March of Return in Gaza last year, five House Democrats implored Israeli soldiers to “exercise utmost restraint in the use of deadly force and to fully comply with international law.” Some liberal legal scholars have even argued that the Trump administration is trying to “kick the legs out from under the postwar international legal order” for recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. To achieve peace, according to this “flawed democracy” narrative, all Israel must do is better respect international law.
A new book by Noura Erakat, Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine, illustrates the folly of this position. A human rights attorney and professor of Africana studies at Rutgers University, Erakat argues that international law has, on balance, done more to entrench Israel’s settler colonialism than impede it. The book is a vital political intervention into contemporary debates on Israel and Palestine, as well as a compelling history of the last century, told through the lens of a critical-legal theory.
Erakat shows the immense amount of “legal work” Israel has performed to advance its twin goals of territorial expansion and demographic superiority. Though it could achieve these objectives through military prowess alone, Erakat argues, “as a liberal settler state, it has sought the legitimating force of law as well.”
At the heart of Israel’s legal work lies its persistent claim that the unique circumstances of Israel and Palestine constitute a state of exception, or a sui generis situation (literally “of its own kind”). By claiming that no existing legal framework fully applies to its relations with Palestinians, Israel has gradually established its own legal models: as a sovereign state with legal powers to declare such an exception, Israel can claim that it’s acting within the bounds of law.
“A sui generis framework maintains the veneer of legality while producing a violence that ‘shed[s] every relation to law,’” Erakat writes. Indeed, it was this very exception that Mike Pompeo invoked in his announcement this week. Trump’s reversal of Obama’s position on the legality of settlements was “based on the unique facts, history, and circumstances presented by the establishment of civilian settlements in the West Bank,” he said. This legal window dressing has proven essential for cultivating Israel’s (misleading) image as “the only democracy in the Middle East.”
Israel’s governing state of exception emerges from the British government’s creation of a “special regime” in post-World War I Palestine, when it sought to govern an area where native Arabs constituted 90 percent of the population. The Balfour Declaration of 1917, which called for a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, worked to deny Arab Palestinians the status of a recognized political community. Zionists justified this political erasure on the grounds that Palestine was, in the words of Lord Balfour, “absolutely exceptional.”
By incorporating the declaration verbatim into the Mandate for Palestine in 1922 — making Britain the mandatory power in Palestine — the League of Nations “institutionalized the framework of exception” by “transforming British colonial prerogative into international law and policy,” Erakat writes. Palestinians’ claims to legal redress were thus rendered nonjusticiable.
This predicament was only further entrenched with the establishment of Israel in 1948. “The state’s establishment retroactively legitimated Israel’s founding violence because, not only was the violence used in the service of a public interest defined by the nascent settler sovereign, it also embodied a claim of new lawmaking authority,” Erakat argues. “Therefore, once diplomatic recognition was extended to Israel, its actions in pursuance of its statehood become beyond legal and diplomatic challenge.”
New Legal Frontiers
Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in the aftermath of the June 1967 war created an opportunity for the state to make novel claims about international law that served to consolidate its land theft and ethnic cleansing.
The occupation forced Israel’s lawyers to confront a major question of international law: did Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza constitute an “occupation”? If so, international law would require that Israel work toward a political solution to restore a displaced sovereign’s authority — meaning Israel would have to give up control over these territories. On the other hand, if the territories were not occupied as a matter of law, international law would require that Israel grant citizenship to the territories’ Palestinian inhabitants, thus nullifying Israel’s goal of a Jewish demographic majority.
Yehuda Zvi Blum, Hebrew University law professor and Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, resolved Israel’s dilemma in a 1968 scholarly article. Consistent with the 1922 mandate’s political erasure of Palestinians, normalized later by Israel’s creation, Blum “exceptionalized” the West Bank and Gaza Strip by claiming that they had no sovereign power prior to the war, thus rendering void the law’s requirement that an occupying power maintain the sovereignty rights of a nation under occupation. Rather than completely eschewing occupation law, however, Blum insisted that Israel should abide by its humanitarian provisions for the sake of assuming quasi-legal control over the territories, and creating the appearance of abiding by occupation law.
Under this sui generis legal regime, Erakat writes, Israel “could exercise its authority . . . without either preserving the sovereign rights of its inhabitants or absorbing them under its civil jurisdiction,” thereby suspending Palestinians in a “legal vacuum with only attenuated legal claims to humanitarian relief.”
After decades of effective legal work by Israel, Palestinians’ already nearly nonexistent capacity for pursuing legal recourse was extinguished even further. Israel’s rule-of-law framework enabled it to enjoy “both the powers of an occupant and a sovereign in the [West Bank and Gaza], while Palestinians enjoy neither the rights of an occupied people nor the rights of citizenship,” as other scholars have written.
“An Armed Conflict Short of War”
The next major inflection point in Israel’s legal work occurred as Israel began to use exceptional military force — most notably public assassinations — during the Palestinian uprising of the early 2000s known as the Second Intifada. By claiming the right to use a greater amount of force than usually available to an occupying power under conventional interpretations of international law, Israel crushed the intifada with the legitimating force of a liberal rule-of-law framework.
Consistent with this sui generis tradition of applying its own legal framework, Israel strategically avoided classifying its military operations as either of the two types of war recognized under international law: neither an international armed conflict (IAC) nor a non-international armed conflict (NIAC). Instead, Israel claimed that it was engaged in an “armed conflict short of war.” To classify the conflict as a war against a liberation movement (IAC) would recognize Palestinians’ right to use force in pursuit of their self-determination, enshrined in international law in the 1970s. Similarly, calling it a civil war (NIAC) would “unravel the false partition separating Israel from the Occupied Territories,” Erakat writes, and “acknowledge Israel’s maintenance of a singular, discriminatory government.”
By claiming that these existing legal frameworks did not sufficiently apply to its self-proclaimed sui generis conflict with Palestinians, Israel asserted the sovereign right to create its own framework for regulating war. As Erakat puts it, “Israel deliberately exceptionalized its in fact non-exceptional confrontations with Palestinians in order to expand its right to use force and delegitimize any responsive force.” This set the tone for its massive military assaults on Gaza in the decade to come. In short, Erakat asserts, “Israel literally created new law for colonial dominance.”
Violations Become the Norm
Erakat’s goal isn’t to provide a book-length rebuttal to all of Israel’s novel and dubious legal arguments, but rather to show how Israel’s strategic deployment of international law at critical junctures over the past century — importantly, with the backing of the United States — has functioned to consolidate its political and military victories. Although Israel’s legal claims may lack merit, to denounce Israel’s actions as violations of the law is, by itself, a fruitless endeavor.
In a geopolitical context that strongly favors Israel, international law, for Erakat, is not a particularly helpful resource for winning Palestinian liberation. For one, it lacks a hierarchal enforcement model. Unlike US domestic law, international law has no supreme court to issue rulings that would be binding on all nation states. Rather, it is fragmented among various institutions and mechanisms that correspond with specialized areas of law.
Moreover, international law sources much of its substance from custom — how states, especially powerful ones, behave and what they believe is legal. In this context, the enforcement of international law “reflects the measure of political will and the prevailing balance of geopolitical power,” Erakat writes. “In cases where there is no political will to compel a state to comply with the law, violations become the norm rather than the exception.”
The United States’ drastic policy shift on Israel’s assassination program during the Second Intifada neatly illustrates the malleability of international law. Although several top US officials initially criticized Israel’s assassination program, Al-Qaeda’s attacks on September 11 changed the calculus. As Washington adopted its own assassination program on a global scale, “US opposition transformed into explicit collaboration with Israel,” tempering international criticism of Israel’s practices and bringing the “once unacceptable within the realm of possibility.” The ramifications of this shift, Erakat argues, were huge.
Had the United States maintained its opposition to targeted killings and to the framework of “armed conflict short of war,” Israel’s actions might have remained somewhere between a controversial proposition and a violation of international law. However, because of diminishing US protest . . . Israel’s violations steadily escaped the zone of brazen violations and moved into the scope of legitimacy.
As though to prove the point, Daniel Reisner, former head of the Israeli military’s International Law Division, boasted, “If you do something for long enough, the world will accept it. . . . International law progresses through violations. We invented the targeted killing thesis and we had to push it. At first there were protrusions that made it hard to insert easily into the legal molds. Eight years later, it is in the center of the bounds of legitimacy.”
Law’s Emancipatory Potential
That international law is not an effective starting point for achieving justice in Palestine is a vital insight for leftists developing a progressive foreign policy. Justice for Some makes clear that winning Palestinian freedom will require confronting the geopolitical power structure that gives international law its meaning. Insurgent Democrats like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are on the right track when they propose using US aid as leverage against Israel’s discriminatory practices. Because Washington’s diplomatic, political, economic, and military support for its client state in Israel has been a “necessary and sufficient condition” for Israeli colonialism, the United States has the power to uniquely influence Israeli policy.
Although Erakat provides a deeply compelling account of how international law has adeptly serviced Israel’s needs, she does not believe that law has no role to play in the road to liberation. To explain law’s operative value, she offers a metaphor for law as the sail of a boat: “The sail, or the law, guarantees motion but not direction. Legal work together with political mobilization, by individuals, organizations, and states, is the wind that determines direction.” The wind, in her view, is what can make law work for Palestinians.
To capitalize on law’s emancipatory potential, Erakat argues that “the law must be wielded in the sophisticated service of a political movement.” While a purely legal strategy may attract proceduralist liberals who fetishize law as the savior of the oppressed, it lacks the chops to challenge the power structure that has “placed Palestinians outside the law.” Only a radical political project can do that. For Erakat, the revolt of the Third World in the 1960s and ’70s, before it was ultimately crushed by imperial restructuring toward global neoliberalism, set a good example: it began to create a geopolitical context that made claims for legal redress by dispossessed people more justiciable.
Despite ubiquitous pleas from liberal Zionists, making sure that Israel complies fully with international law does not guarantee justice for Palestinians. International law isn’t designed for such a task. “Raise the sail,” or the law, “when useful, drop it when harmful, and stitch together a new one when possible,” Erakat recommends. As is the case in liberation struggles elsewhere, winning freedom in Palestine requires a mass political movement in which law functions as a tool rather than a substitute for politics. Only within such a movement can international law be deployed in service of justice, rather than against it.