Sudan’s democratic revolution stands at a critical juncture

Image: Revolution in Sudan. Author: Esam Idris, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

The resignation of Prime Minister Hamdock on Sunday 2nd January has removed the proverbial fig leaf of the military behind which it could control the democratic transition.  At last, we have two forces now contending for power, the unarmed people and the armed generals.

The 14 point agreement signed by Hamdock and the generals on 21st November 2021 after his release from house arrest received a firm rejection by the political parties and the civil society organisations, the doctors committee and Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) and the Resistance Committees. Such was the angry civic opposition that Hamdock could not form a civilian cabinet. 

The transitional framework since 2020 under Hamdock was favoured by all the foreign powers – the US, United Kingdom, European Union, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt. It was also supported by the United Nations Secretary General, the African Union, the IMF and the World Bank.

But the transitional agreement, the constitutional declaration and the Hamdock agreement were all deeply flawed because they did not address the issue of executive control by the military, its control of key ministerial posts and foreign policy, the accountability of the generals to civilian government for the violence unleashed and the military control of the economy.

There have been daily mass demonstrations and the last march of the millions on Thursday 6th January was one of the more than ten major nationwide protests since the coup on 25th October 2021. The message from the demonstrations could not be clearer. They want the generals out of political power and returned to the barracks. They want no compromise and no negotiations with the military. They want a civilian government.

The military response is fairly standard now. Swamp the protestors with tear gas. Often fire the projectiles directly at protestors deliberately causing death and injuries. Use live fire when under pressure. Shut all the bridges across the Nile connecting Khartoum with other cities. Shut down the internet and social media. But this has not stopped the protests.

But that is not all. In many neighbourhoods, the generals are using “more than excessive force” by deploying the entire security apparatus to suppress the protests: the army, security forces, police, anti-riot police, paramilitaries of Rapid Support Forces, the Central Reserve Police and the General Intelligences Services.

Under the state of emergency, the plain clothes General Intelligence Services has been raiding homes, arresting activists of the resistance committees to prevent them from organising. We still have no idea about how many arrested, at what locations they have been detained, under what conditions people are kept – whether they are kept in solitary confinement or being tortured.

Joint security forces are also reported to have raided hospitals, pursued injured people to detain them and hence prevent them from getting medical care. On 6th January they stormed into Al Arbaeen Hospital the second time assaulting patients and staff. The Emergency Department of Khartoum Teaching Hospital was also raided and gas canisters thrown into the building. 

It is quite common in the media to have a death count after the coup of 25th October. This stands at 62 on Sunday 9th January. But that is to ignore the nearly 700 injuries recoded within a month after the coup. This figure would be much higher after nearly three months.  Also forgotten are casualties of at least 246 deaths and more than 1,350 injuries by mid-July 2019. This incomplete record is unprecedented in Sudan’s history of uprisings since independence, with a handful of casualties in 1985 and around a score in 1964’s uprisings. 

Women have been at the forefront of the Sudanese democratic revolution. At any protest you can see them in groups raising the victory sign. So ‘patriotic’ soldiers of Sudan sexually abused women to drive them away from the protests. On Sunday 19th December, 13 girls and women were alleged to have been raped.   This aroused memories of 70 women who were raped during the 3rd June sit in which resulted in the Khartoum massacre by the Rapid Support Forces. Women have come out publicly protesting against sexual violence. No soldiers have been held to account for these infamies. 

The violence that was perpetrated in Darfur has now come home to Khartoum and Omdurman. The Sudanese people are not prepared to forget and forgive these atrocities. They want the army to be held to account.

Strikes have been a weapon to defy the military since the inception of the December Revolution in 2018.  Recently, important struggles have developed in some workplaces. Thousands of court workers went on strike between 2nd and 6th January, demanding a rise in their bonuses to cope with the escalating cost of living. Workers in the Bank of Khartoum have been demanding pay rises for the same reason. The bank was privatised in 2010 with 70 percent of its shares held by the UAE Bank of Abu Dhabi, with money flowing into the pockets of privateers. To clamp down on the mobilisations of bank workers, the management has sacked 200 workers and 500 more are at risk. These struggles have sparked off solidarity campaigns to bring together the strikers and the activists of Resistance Committees. The Sudanese Workers Association for the Restoration of Trade Unions (SWAFRTU) is reviving a united independent working class movement away from the grips of the establishment.

The Sovereignty Council formula was adopted for the transition after the fall of al-Bashir following the tradition established after the October 1964 revolution, which brought down the government of Major-General Abboud, and the 1985 military coup against President Nimeiry. Given the failure of all the transitions after the overthrow of a military dictator, this approach is flawed because it leaves with the generals the executive control of the Sudanese state.

Since 2019, this executive power of the generals has been on display. When it was on the defensive just after 2019, they were ready to sign a power sharing agreement to give them time. When a civilian was to assume the chairmanship of the Sovereignty Council, then the Prime Minister and ministers were arrested and the civilian government dissolved. Then the Prime Minister was reinstated with a new agreement. Al-Burhan and behind him the military council had total executive power.

The generals are continuing a long tradition of 52 years of military rule during which they have captured the state power.  They are a military capitalist stratum with a monopoly over the economy as well as of violence. Their declamations are ‘security’  ‘no chaos’, ‘stability’ ‘public order’, all uttered to preserve the existing order. The rich Sudanese with landed property, real estate, businesses would support the generals. The elite officer class has deep links with the oligarchy.

They want a government of technocrats which they can supervise.  Now the generals want a caretaker civilian government which can take decisions during the transition to the elections to be held sometime in 2023. Until then they do not want to transfer all executive power to a civilian government.

The generals are making calculations as to how to resolve the crisis. They could play long with the mediation efforts till the civil society gets tired of coming out on the streets. If all this fails, they​could unleash terror on civil society.  The government that emerged under al-Bashir after the 1985 uprising used brutal measures against civic society. When the Doctors Union went on their second strike, Mamoun Mohamed Hussein, its president, was executed. Meanwhile, all professional unions were dissolved and government-controlled replacements created. Activists were sent to infamous ‘ghost houses’ to be tortured, and over 70,000 government employees were dismissed.  He silenced civil society for three decades using the National Congress Party and the Islamic movement.

Here is the dilemma for civil society. How is the civilian government to be formed? Through what political mechanism? Who will assure that such a government would represent the people? How would political and economic power be wrested from the generals?

Hamdock when departing, suggested a round table conference bringing all the parties together to resolve the disputes and find a solution. Recently a committee of several university directors are integrating eight proposals from civil society organisations to end the political stalemate.  The UN has just launched a mediation process to bring all the parties to the table.

There are legitimate concerns that such mediations are there to undermine the democratic revolution.  There is an option not yet on the agenda: the election of a constituent assembly to represent the people of Sudan. Such an assembly would take power on behalf of the people. It would elect a representative civilian government, set up committees to formulate a new constitution, budgetary control, other issues such as accountability of the army and the economic control exercised by the army.  The demand for a constituent assembly would be revolutionary. It could galvanise Sudan and address the crisis of representation.

Such is the challenge faced by civil society against the military’s state capture. Political agitation and mobilisation should relentlessly highlight the corruption by the military, the economic strangulation of the nation, the economic stagnation of the country, on how developmental needs of the people in terms of health, education and jobs have been sacrificed to feed the bloated military.

The opposition needs to ensure that the military loses its moral legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of the Sudanese workers and peasants and lower middle classes. The urban movement has to connect with rural movement. All sectarian tendencies will need to be eschewed. The lessons from the previous uprisings in 1965 and 1985 need to be learnt to avoid the pitfalls. If they unite, organise and fight, the people of Sudan will win their fight for democracy.

Take action now:

First published on Labour Hub 12 January 2021 https://labourhub.org.uk/2022/01/12/sudans-democratic-revolution-stands-at-a-critical-juncture/

Three years on, the Sudanese people are determined to fight for democracy

Why we must oppose the subversion of the Sudanese democratic revolution by the military and foreign powers.

Sudanese women protest against President Omer Al Bashi in 2019. Author: Ola A .Alsheikh, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

On Sunday 19th December, the Sudanese people marked the third anniversary of their revolution for democracy by tens of thousands coming out on the streets in cities across the country.  The revolution shook Sudan politically, drawing in millions to fight to change the stultified political and economic order dominated by the Sudanese military.

As usual, the police and the military blocked bridges to prevent free movement of the protestors, especially in Khartoum, so that protestors in north Khartoum and Omdurman could not join the march to the presidential palace. Nonetheless many protestors from Omdurman forced their way across one of the bridges and others bussed in from the countryside. Needless to say, the internet and social media were blocked to stop people from organising.

As they moved to the presidential palace to occupy it, the protestors were met with a relentless barrage of tear gas canisters and grenades and beaten back. It is easy to assume that such non-lethal weapons are safe for the civilians. Unfortunately this is not the case.

Robust field reports with verification from the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors reveal that from the 25th October coup to 30th November, there have been 698 injuries. While there were 186 injuries caused by live fire resulting in 42 deaths, the largest number of injuries (330) were caused by tear gas. A significant number of these (193) caused trauma due to direct impact of blunt projectiles on protestors. Of these, 33 impacted on victims’ heads and four caused injuries to the eyes, one of which led to the loss of an eye. This indicates that the Sudanese security forces have often fired tear gas canisters and grenades directly at protestors to cause injuries.

The report by Sunday’s Observer highlighted the case of Amani Galal who lost her right eye to a canister fired by the security forces as they tried to break up a demonstration in 2019.  In spite of the life-changing injury, she has never missed a demonstration or a single protest over the last three years. After having fitted a prosthetic eye in Russia, she started an NGO with the aim of getting treatment for the injured overseas. There are 457 people on her list just from Khartoum with injuries from live bullets.

Such determination from activists is admirable and reflects their courage. They are not prepared to forget the deaths, injuries, rapes, imprisonments and trauma inflicted by the army on innocent unarmed civilians. Their sufferings and struggle are a testimony to their long struggle to wrest power from the military and to hold it to account for the terrible violence over decades.

Over the three years, the Sudanese people have taken to the streets in protests continually. Workers, doctors, teachers, university students, school students, and women have become politically active.  There has been a massive resistance from below organised by the Resistance Committees which has been met by bloody repression.

On one side is the unarmed power of the people whose demand is that the military should be removed from political power and a civilian government take over. On the other are the generals of the Sudanese military who want keep the status quo in whatever guise. How is this contradiction to be resolved? This resolution will decide the future of Sudan for decades to come.

A review of the developments following the December Revolution in 2018 which toppled the 30 year dictatorship of al-Bashir attests that the generals had pulled all the tricks available to them to undermine the transition to democracy. When on the defensive in 2019, the generals signed up to the transitional agreement and the draft constitutional document paving the way to a democracy. But just when a civilian chair was take over the Sovereignty Council they carried out the coup in October 2015.

General al-Burhan dissolved the Transitional Council and appointed self-selected persons and organisations excluding the civil society organisations represented by the Forces for Freedom and Change. This move was clearly to sideline social forces that were fighting for change and wanted to hold the military to account. His deputy, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (aka -Hemeti) openly stated that the coup was the best way forward. With his violent militia Rapid Support Forces now integrated in the army, he is the greatest threat to Sudanese democracy.

The Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdock who took over in September 2019 was arrested with all the cabinet members and political activists. After successive massive public protests, he was reinstalled as the Prime Minister on 21st November with a brief to lead a technocratic government which will, no doubt, be supervised by the military. What is the aim here? To take politics out of government, to neuter it. It will not be a government which will have a broad representation of different social forces of Sudanese society.

The UN secretary-general has urged the Sudanese people to support reinstated Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok so the country can have “a peaceful transition towards a true democracy.” The African Union which has mediated the power-sharing agreement has also backed the deal. The regional powers Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt have backed the military during the crisis and are fountainheads of counter-revolution in the region.

The US has developed considerable leverage on Sudan since the December Revolution. With the World Bank and IMF, it has suspended all aid to Sudan following the coup. Hamdock, a technocrat, has been the centrepiece of the US policy in Sudan with whom an austerity reform programme was agreed, tied to aid. It has yet to make a decision to fully back Hamdock now that he has been reinstated. Given its record of supporting the military dictatorship in Egypt and anti-democratic palace power system in Saudi Arabia and the  UAE, one has to be wary.

This does not bode well for the democratic revolution in Sudan. All calls for stability and security of Sudan lead to the status quo, with the facade of a technocratic government behind which the generals will maintain their stranglehold. The military has been entrenched in power for 52 years since Sudan’s independence in 1956. It has a vast economic empire. It drains most of the wealth of the nation at the expense of the welfare of the people. It is deeply corrupt. Its rule has been a disaster for the people of Sudan politically, socially and economically.

The Resistance Committees consider the position of the international community a betrayal of their democratic revolution. They have urged the US to withhold financial aid which could end up in the pockets of the military. They reject the deal agreed between the generals and Hamdock. Through their suffering and struggle, their vision for a democratic Sudan has solidified.

We must say no this subversion of the Sudanese democratic revolution and offer international solidarity for the resistance movement.

What you can do:

  • Join the hundreds of participants at the recent conference in solidarity with the Sudanese Revolution by adding your name to a statement condemning the military coup and supporting the revolution. Add your name here: https://forms.gle/p5SWbyBmKsvidBJq6
  • Invite a Sudanese speaker to your union branch meeting – contact action@menasolidaritynetwork.net for details.
  • Pass a resolution in solidarity with the Sudanese uprising in your trade union branch, calling on the British government to end all forms of cooperation with the Sudanese military and to work towards bringing those responsible for the killing of protesters to justice.

First published on The Labour Hub on December 27 2021 https://labourhub.org.uk/2021/12/27/three-years-on-the-sudanese-people-are-determined-to-fight-for-democracy/

The horror of a US drone strike killing ten members of the same family including seven children in Kabul

On Monday 30th August reports began to emerge that a drone strike in Kabul had killed a family.  The reports were fragmentary and there was uncertainty about the numbers. The earliest report was a brief one from CNN at 8.50pm Eastern Time. I picked this up when John Pilger tweeted saying that there were unconfirmed reports of nine members of one Afghan family including six children killed. Someone had taken a screen shot of the CNN report and tweeted it. 

Later the CNN journalists filed a detailed report with photos of eight of the ten who were killed.  If you have a look at these photos, they cease to be abstract numbers and names. Here are beautiful children and men in their prime whose lives were cut short. The New York Times also reported the details. The Los Angeles Times had a comprehensive report showing the photos, the incinerated husk of the family car with relatives gathering around it, the grieving relatives and the funerals. 

The two LA Times journalists who visited the site observed a hole where a projectile had punched through passenger side of the car.  The car was a heap of metal, melted plastic and scraps of what seemed to be human flesh and a tooth. There were metal fragments consistent with some kind of missile. The outside walls of the Ahmadis’ home were spattered with bloodstains that had begun to turn brown.

By complete chance, I watched the BBC news at 11pm on Monday which featured a BBC World Service Newsday report on this drone strike in detail, interviewing a relative who cried at the end. The air strike killed ten of his relatives including six children. The presenter was Yalda Hakim. There was a clip showing relatives combing through the remains in the burnt out car.  Ramin Yousufi, a relative of the victims, said, “It’s wrong, it’s a brutal attack, and it’s happened based on wrong information.”

Lyse Doucet, the BBC’s veteran correspondent who was in Kabul, when asked about the incident, made a general comment that this was one of the tragedies of the war. Yalda Hakim, instead of interviewing any US national security officials about the incident, went on to interview the Pakistani ambassador in the US about Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban.

The BBC news at 10 o’clock, presented by Mishal Hussain, had a more detailed segment. It showed BBC correspondent Sikender Karman at the Ahmadi family home near the incinerated car and the family member combing through the wreckage for remains of the dead. Someone picked up a burnt finger. He interviewed a family member and described the episode as an awful human tragedy.  Again there was a failure to question any US official.

The reports in the US media were detailed and graphic compared to what was published in the British media. As one would expect, the tabloids completely ignored the story. The next day on Tuesday 31st, some British newspapers carried a few photos of the dead on their front pages.

Using these reports, it was possible for me to piece together what had happened. After a day of work on Sunday, at about 4.30pm Zemari Ahmadi pulled into the narrow street where he lived with his extended family, with three brothers (Ajmal, Ramal and Emal) and their families in Khwaja Burgha, a working-class neighbourhood a few miles west of Kabul’s airport.  Seeing his white Toyota Corolla, the children ran outside to greet him. Some clambered aboard in the street, other family members gathered around as he pulled the car into the courtyard of their home.

His son Farzad, aged 12, asked if he could park the car. Zemari moved to the passenger side and allowed him to get into the driving seat. This is when a missile from a drone that was buzzing in the sky above the neighbourhood struck the car and instantly killed all those in and around the car. Mr. Ahmadi and some of the children were killed inside his car; others were fatally wounded in adjacent rooms, family members said.

Those killed by the strike were Aya, 11, Malika, 2, Sumaya, 2, Binyamen, 3, Armin, 4, Farzad, 10, Faisal, 16,  Zamir, 20,  Naseer, 30  and Zemari, 40.  Zamir, Faisal, and Farzad were the sons of Zemari. Aya, Binyamen and Armin were the children of Zamir’s brother Ramal. Sumaya was the daughter of his brother Emal. Naseer was his nephew. The loss of these loved family members to the surviving members must have left them all heartbroken and inconsolable. That fatal drone strike changed their lives forever. Their dreams and hopes were shattered.

For the last 16 years, Zemari had worked with the US charity Nutrition & Education International (NEI), based in Pasadena as a technical engineer. In an email to the New York Times Steven Kwon, the president of NEI, said of Mr. Ahmadi: “He was well respected by his colleagues and compassionate towards the poor and needy,” and recently he “prepared and delivered soy-based meals to hungry women and children at local refugee camps in Kabul.”

Naseer had worked with US special forces in the western Afghan city of Herat, and had also served as a guard for the US Consulate there before joining the Afghan National Army, family members said. He had arrived in Kabul to pursue his application for a special immigration visa for the US. He was about to be married to Zemari’s sister, Samia whose photo showing her grieving appeared in New York Times.  

In response to the killing of innocent children, US national security officials resorted to familiar justifications.  Firstly, they had targeted an individual planning suicide attacks on Hamid Karzai Airport in a defensive operation based on actionable intelligence. Secondly, they said there were secondary explosions, with the vehicle carrying substantive explosive material that killed people. This line was a well prepared public relations spin.

The Pentagon press conference fronted by a general and press secretary was equally revealing. There were two anodyne questions about the drone strike killings. Most questions were about the five rockets that were fired towards the airport, three of which never reached the airport and two of which were intercepted by the US defence system. When referring to the drone strike, everyone refrained from mentioning the children – they talked about civilian deaths. The party line was repeated without reservations. There was a promise of an investigation, but there is unlikely to be any transparency or accountability, as findings have never been released in previous drone killings.

Again, the gross failure to hold the Pentagon officials to account stood out. This moral blindness is the result of the underlying racism that accepts without reservation US attacks on civilians as legitimate and looks away from the deaths of civilians who are non-white. The same ranking applies to innocent children and the sympathies they evoke. There is a ranking system for deaths, with the deaths of US and allied soldiers leading the rank and Afghan deaths at the bottom.

The media coverage on Afghanistan in Britain was a classic inversion of truth and reality. Instead of holding the elites in the US, the UK and their allies to account for 20 years of war on one of the poorest countries in the world and their failure to bring freedom and democracy, the entire focus was on the bestiality of the Taliban who now had to be accountable to the so called ‘international community’. The savagery of the Afghanistan war was re-written in pictures showing soldiers rescuing children and dogs. 

Reports from all the journalists who interviewed the family members and also people in the neighbourhood clearly show that this was an errant strike. The US military was on alert after the suicide bombings at Kabul airport that claimed the lives of 13 US army personnel and over a hundred Afghans on Thursday August 26th. It had launched three strikes on what it believed to be IS-K (Islamic State-Khorasan).  Ground level intelligence is vital to avoid any collateral damage.

There was a failure of intelligence in the case of this drone strike. It lays bare the dangers of the Pentagon’s long term counterterrorism strategy of so-called over-the-horizon attacks.  Even when US troops were fully deployed in Afghanistan, with American special forces working alongside Afghan security forces, intelligence was often shoddy and led to mounting civilian casualties.

Secret drone strikes have been widely used in Afghanistan. Figures are extremely hard to pin down. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalists which maintains a database to map and count the drone strikes, between 2015 and now, 13,072 drone strikes were confirmed.  It estimates that anywhere between 4,126 to 10,076 people were killed and between 658 and 1,769 injured.

The horrific killing of members of the Ahmadi family as the US abandoned Afghanistan is symbolic of the total warfare on the Afghan people for two decades. Identifying the elusive terrorists among the Afghans made every Afghan a suspect.  Secret drone warfare portends the arrival of technological extermination for people on the periphery as the imperial powers attempt to subjugate and discipline them.

All people of conscience should speak out boldly and critically against these destructive wars based on the deception of bringing freedom and democracy. We must question the legitimacy of state terrorism which is hundreds of times more destructive than the terrorism of political groups or individuals. There are no military solutions to the political, economic and ecological issues that we confront across the world. Peace, dialogue and reconstruction are the way forward.

Image source https://can2-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/petitions/photos/000/302/044/original/no-more-attacks-afghanistan.png

First published on the Labour Hub 9 September 2021 https://labourhub.org.uk/2021/09/09/the-horror-of-a-us-drone-strike-killing-ten-members-of-the-same-family-including-children-in-kabul/

Israeli army’s lethal ‘shoot to kill’ actions cut down innocent Palestinian lives

IDF Soldiers Prepare Near Israeli-Syrian Border

Let us consider five episodes during which Palestinians were killed recently in the West Bank.

Friday July 23th  Israeli forces entered Nabi Saleh located northwest of Ramallah around 5 p.m. from the eastern area of the village. As they moved through the village, they encountered Palestinian residents. Confrontations followed with Palestinian youth throwing stones and Israeli soldiers firing tear gas, stun grenades, and live ammunitionIsraeli forces shot and killed a 17-year-old Palestinian boy Mohammad Munir Mohammad Tamimi. The bullet entered his back and exited out through his abdomen, tearing a large hole and exposing his intestines, according to information collected by Defence for Children International – Palestine. Mohammad was taken in a private car to a hospital in Salfit where he underwent four hours of surgery. He was stabilized and moved to the intensive care unit, but later succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead around midnight.

Tuesday July 27th 41-year-old Shadi Shurafi, a plumber went to check the village’s main water valve near the entrance of Beita (Nablus). He had a wrench in his hand. After finishing, he was heading home. He was shot dead by Israeli soldiers near the pumping station. He was alone and there were no other Palestinians around at that time.  He was a father of four – his son Leith aged 13 and three other younger children.

Wednesday July 28th  A 12-year-old Palestinian, Mohammed al-Alami was killed by IDF gunfire in the West Bank town of Beit Ummar’ north of Hebron.  He was subsequently rushed to hospital in Hebron and was later declared dead.  Mohammed’s father, Muayyad, was taking his children in the pickup for a picnic with 5-year-old Ahmed in front, 10-year-old Anan and 11-year-old Mohammed in the back.  They had shopped for snacks at the grocery store and were heading out of the village when Mohammed asked his father to turn back because they had forgotten some item. As he reversed near the hill which held Israeli soldiers, to head back to the village, the pickup was struck by 13 bullets fired by the soldiers. One of the bullets struck Mohammed in the chest. The others were just lucky to survive.

Thursday July 29th  A 20-year-old Palestinian man died hours after being shot by Israeli forces during the funeral of 12-year-old Mohammed al-Alami, who was killed the day before, also by Israeli military gunfire. He was one of the pallbearers carrying Mohammed’s body. He too was shot by soldiers, who opened fire during the funeral. According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, Shawkat Awad sustained gunshot wounds to his abdomen and head and was taken in a critical condition to a hospital in Hebron, where he died.

Friday Aug 6th  38-year-old Imad Duikat, a labourer, had been among hundreds of fellow villagers of Beita who gathered every Friday across from Evyatar, an illegal outpost whose settlers have left for the time being but the  dwellings are still there, intact. He was drinking water from a disposable cup when he was shot. It was about 2.30 p.m. when an IDF soldier took up his rifle and fired just one round – a .22 calibre “tutu” bullet – into Duikat’s chest. Blood spurted out of his mouth; the bullet did not exit. His infant son Ali, and his four sisters, will never see him again. 

These killings categorically show that the Israeli defence forces are operating a ‘shoot to kill’ policy. None of those killed endangered the soldiers who killed them. They were not terrorists but civilians. These five executions left behind grieving families, widowed women, orphaned children and distraught parents, shattering dreams and hopes. They were deliberately targeted by soldiers choosing shooting to kill as the preferred option. In all cases other options were available: arrests, aiming for the legs, not shooting, or simply letting the people be.

Gideon Levy rightly wrote, “All this can be called terror; there is no other definition. All this can be called the actions of death squads; there is no other description. It sounds horrible, but it really is horrific.”

According to the Israeli open-fire regulations, live ammunition may be fired in two situations only. First, shooting to kill is permitted when the lives of members of the security forces or other individuals are in danger. Even then, the use of firearms is only permitted if there is no other way to avert the danger, but only against the assailants themselves. Second, members of the security forces may only shoot at a person’s legs, as the last phase in an attempt to arrest the person in question, only after they have given warning and fired in the air, and only when no one else is in danger of getting hurt.

In using firearms in the Occupied Territories, Israel’s actions are also subject to the provisions of international humanitarian law. These allow security forces to open fire even under non-life-threatening situations. However, and most importantly, they restrict the actions of security forces so as to protect civilians who are not taking part in the fighting, and their property, as much as possible.

However these rules are entirely ignored by the Israeli armed forces despite claiming otherwise.   Soldiers have often fired indiscriminately, hitting passers-by; they targets civilians deliberately and they use firearms without ensuring sufficient distinction between armed groups and civilians.

In order to promote accountability, the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem regularly wrote to the Military Advocate General (MAG) Corps to conduct investigations for cases in which security forces harmed Palestinians.  But thousands of casualties have been largely ignored by the military law enforcement system. In most cases, no investigation was opened at all; in the rare cases that were investigated, no further action was taken. Other than a handful of cases, usually involving low-ranking soldiers, no one has been put on trial for harming Palestinians. Frustrated with this, B’Tselem ceased to demand investigations from MAG Corps in May 2016.

Shockingly, the day after the killing of  Mohammed al-Alami, Israeli soldiers raided the headquarters  of the Palestine branch of the Defence for Children International NGO  in El Bireh, and stole six desktop computers, two laptops, one external hard drive and a few binders. These contained all the evidence that the organisation had collected on the  killing.

More than 40 Palestinians have been killed there since the beginning of the year. The increase in the number of Palestinians killed this year – almost twice as many as in every other recent year – is due to a combination of circumstances such as the May uprisings against the Al-Aqsa intrusions, the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and attacks on Gaza. According to United Nations, in the period covering July 13th to 26th, overall, Israeli forces injured 615 Palestinians across the West Bank, including 24 children, the youngest of whom is a three-month-old baby.

The responsibility for these shootings lies squarely with the head of Central Command, Maj. Gen. Tomer Yadai and Israel Defence Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi. When he was appointed as Israel Defence Forces Chief of Staff two and a half years ago, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi said, “Our goal is fielding a lethal army.” He appointed Yadai who has now been removed because there was a call for his sacking because of the multiple incidents of killings of Palestinians. He was replaced by Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, the new head of Central Command, who still threatens Palestinians with the use of “trained lethal forces without hesitation.”

The Editorial in Haartez of August 4th 2021 said, “IDF soldiers’ quick trigger fingers are a badge of shame for the army and the lethal chief of staff who heads it. The IDF has proven to be a thug against people smaller and weaker than itself. Only utter contempt for Palestinian lives could explain such a bloody harvest.”

The whole of the Israeli media have just looked away and not reported on these killings, except for Haaretz. Their two veteran journalists Gideon Levy and Amira Hass have courageously investigated some of the incidents and have called for accountability.

To quote Gideon Levy, “It could be less horrific if the Israeli media bothered to report on it, possibly shocking Israelis. It could be much less horrific if IDF commanders took the necessary steps given their army’s murderous recklessness. But most of the media believed that the killing of a child interests no one or is unimportant, or both, so this shocking incident wasn’t reported on. If the soldiers had shot a dog – also a shocking act, of course – it would have attracted more attention. But a dead Palestinian child? What happened? Why should it interest anyone, why is it important?”

It would also be less horrific if the British and American media reported on the killing of innocent Palestinians. But they remain silent, discrediting their defence of human rights across the world.

Image: IDF soldiers. Source: IDF Soldiers Prepare Near Israeli-Syrian Border. Author: Israel Defense Forces, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

The crimes against indigenous children in Canada reveal the barbarism of the colonial system

The discovery of unmarked graves of indigenous children in Canada reveals the cruelty and inhumanity of the colonial system. In May, members of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation found 215 bodies at the Kamloops school in British Columbia. On 24th June, Cowessess First Nation announced the discovery of as many as 751 unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewanan. On 30th June, the Lower Kootenay Band community announced finding 182 unmarked graves of indigenous children between the ages of seven and 15 at St Eugene’s Mission School near Cranbrook, British Columbia.

The nearly 1,000 ‘virtual unearthings’ of the bodies were made by using a highly specialised ground penetrating radar which mapped the buried human remains. The initiatives were a persistent effort by the indigenous community groups, and not by the Canadian government or the perpetrators who had every reason to hide these remains forever. These revelations are a searing reminder of the sufferings of the indigenous communities.

Just imagine the trauma of a family whose child was abducted without notice, without consent. The accounts of survivors who lived through such abductions make harrowing reading.  Being loaded onto buses, trucks and trains without the opportunity to say goodbye to their parents and family, many cried all the way and were taken many hundreds of miles from home. The arrival at a residential school was equally traumatic. They were stripped of their clothing, their hair cut and given a school uniform. Brothers were separated from sisters, older brothers from younger and older sisters from younger.  They entered a world dominated by fear, loneliness and lack of affection.  The trauma is still fresh in the minds of some who experienced the abduction of their siblings.

To operate such a heartless system, the settler society dehumanised the indigenous communities. Institutional racism based on the supremacy of ‘white Christian’ culture was the driving force behind the policy of ‘aggressive assimilation’ that Canada copied from the United States. It was made mandatory for native children between the ages of seven and 16 to attend residential schools.

A partnership between the Canadian government and Roman Catholic, Anglican, United, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches administered the system. The system opened around 1883 and grew to about 150 schools across Canada. The government’s partnership with the churches remained in place until 1969, and, although most of the schools had closed by the 1980s, the last federally supported residential schools remained in operation until the late 1990s.

An estimated 150,000 indigenous children were forced into the residential schools. A landmark class action by the survivors of the system against the federal government in 2008 resulted in a court settlement.  The Canadian government apologised to the former students, and agreed to pay 1.9 billion Canadian dollars (about $1.85 billion) to surviving students and establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to document the experiences of children who attended the schools.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up immediately. It was led by Justice Murray Sinclair, an Ojibwa who was the first aboriginal judge in the province of Manitoba. Members of the Commission spent six years travelling to all parts of Canada to research and gather evidence.  Seven national events were held across the country between 2010 and 2015, marking the culmination of a process which saw the TRC hold 238 days of local hearings in 77 communities across the country.

In all, the TRC collected 6,750 statements from survivors, their families, and others directly affected by the schools. In 2015 it published a six volume, 4,000-plus-page report detailing the testimonies of survivors and historical documents from the time. By all accounts, this is an immense achievement reproducing the erased history of the indigenous communities for the first time.

The Commission could establish that 3,201 students died of malnourishment, tuberculosis and other diseases caused by poor living conditions. Many students also died from accidents, fires and during attempts to escape. Justice Murray Sinclair argued that this number is likely higher, perhaps five to ten times higher

The poor record-keeping by the schools of the children on their register and poor burial records made it impossible to establish a more accurate picture. The schools were left unregulated. The lack of a proper dietary standard meant students were undernourished, which increased their vulnerability to infectious diseases. 

It was known that the comparative mortality rate for indigenous children in these schools ranged between twice as high and five times higher than non-indigenous schoolchildren. The rates of infectious disease grew due to lack of regulation barring ill students from being admitted to the schools or being in class or dormitories, as well as overcrowding.

Furthermore, students were expected to grow crops or raise animals to provide themselves with food, to make and repair much of their clothing and to maintain the school building and grounds. This meant that the schools operated a “half-day system” with half the day spent in classes and the other half on institutionalised repetitive child labour in the guise of vocational training.

The residential schools were woefully underfunded compared to the schools for non-indigenous communities.  They were inadequately staffed with many staff being paid poorly on the grounds that they were carrying out missionary duties. During any economic recession the schools faced a financial crisis as well as health crisis because of cuts.

Many survivors recalled how their heavily regimented daily lives lacked privacy and dignity. At many of the schools, students were addressed by a number rather than a name, as if they were prisoners. Corporal punishment was administered if they were caught speaking their language. Children were forced to convert to Christianity. Such was the alienation of students that there were episodes when students tried to burn down their schools. At least 33 students died after running away, mostly from exposure to cold and drowning.

There were widespread bullying and beating involving both staff members and older students. Some former students testified before the Commission that priests at the schools had fathered infants with indigenous students, that the babies had been taken away from their young mothers and killed, and that in some cases their bodies were thrown into furnaces.  The commission found that the government had in effect blocked criminal investigations of some sexual predators employed at the schools.

The objective of separating children from their families was to prevent the transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to next. Thus aboriginal parents were completely alienated from their children on the grounds that they were unfit to look after them. Parental visits were strictly limited by placing schools hundreds of miles from home. Parents who travelled a long way and camped outside the schools were denied the opportunity to see their children. Many parents resisted by keeping their children out of these schools at risk to being punished because they saw those schools as dangerous and harsh institutions. Students were also subjected to forced enfranchisement as ‘assimilated’ citizens that removed their legal identity as Indians.

The legacy of the regimented residential schools has left a lasting impact on indigenous communities. Disconnected from their families and culture and forced to speak English or French, students who attended the residential school system were often unable to fit into their communities but remained subject to racism in mainstream Canadian society. It has been linked to an increased prevalence of post-traumatic stress, alcoholism, substance abuse and suicides which persist within indigenous communities today.  A disproportionate number of indigenous people are imprisoned in Canada. Indigenous children account for a much larger part of the child welfare system’s caseload than their share of the population.

The TRC came to the conclusion that for over a century, the central goals of Canada’s aboriginal policy can best be described as “cultural genocide”. Aboriginal lands were simply occupied or seized. Often, negotiated treaties were seemingly legal but marked by fraud or coercion. Populations were forcibly transferred from agriculturally valuable or resource-rich lands to remote and economically marginal reserves. Their movement was restricted through ‘pass laws’. Aboriginal languages were banned. Spiritual leaders were persecuted, spiritual practices were forbidden and objects of spiritual value were confiscated and destroyed.

The TRC’s call for action included an apology from Pope Francis for the role the Catholic Church played in the residential schools system.  But the pope has not apologised but only expressed “pain”. Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime minister said that Canadians were “horrified and ashamed” of the policy of forced assimilation but stopped short of launching a national investigation on the deaths in residential schools.

The TRC set out an agenda for true reconciliation between the indigenous and other communities. The establishment of the of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation as an archival repository for all the material it collected laid the basis for the compilation of the complete history and legacy of the residential school system for future generations.

However five years after it issued its recommendations, the Yellowhead Institute, a First Nation led research centre found that the Canadian Government and the Catholic Church have implemented only nine of 94 recommendations.

The government’s reconciliation agenda, which is still based on assimilation, is facing increasing opposition from native people due to Ottawa’s manifest failure to address the horrific social conditions faced by the majority of Canada’s indigenous people, both on and off reserve.

On 1st July when Canada was supposed to have a national celebration marking its 154 years of independence, the celebrations were muted because indigenous groups had called for the cancellation of the celebration after the discovery of the unmarked graves.

Apologies and reconciliation should not be allowed to deflect from thorough accountability. The most basic of questions about missing children — who died? why did they die? where are they buried? — have never been addressed or comprehensively documented by the Canadian government.

The Independent UN human rights experts called on the Canadian authorities and the Holy See of the Catholic Church to conduct prompt “full-fledged investigations”. They called on the authorities to probe “the circumstances and responsibilities surrounding these deaths, including forensic examinations of the remains found, and to proceed to the identification and registration of the missing children.”

Furthermore, “the judiciary should conduct criminal investigations into all suspicious death and allegations of torture and sexual violence against children, hosted in residential schools, and prosecute and sanction the perpetrators and concealers who may still be alive.”

For the last three centuries, vast swathes of the world fell under direct imperial rule accompanied by the most brutal violence against indigenous peoples by states which see themselves as democracies today. The barbarism of colonialism that has been buried needs to be exhumed and a comprehensive indictment against the colonial system fully assembled. There has to be justice and reparations for the survivors.­

Image: Canada. License: Creative Commons 3 – CC BY-SA 3.0. Attribution Link: Pix4free.org – link to – https://pix4free.org/ Original Author: Nick Youngson – link to – http://www.nyphotographic.com/ Original Image: https://www.thebluediamondgallery.com/highway-signs/c/canada.html

First published on the Labour Hub on 28th July 2021 https://labourhub.org.uk/2021/07/28/the-crimes-against-indigenous-children-in-canada-reveal-the-barbarism-of-the-colonial-system/

Amnesty condemns Israeli military shutting down a Palestinian health provider

The Palestinian Union of Health Workers Committee (UHWC) is one of the main providers of health services in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), running hospitals and health clinics which provide medical care to marginalized communities. It provides essential health services to thousands of Palestinians and also runs a programme for women’s health among many others.

More than 310,000 Palestinians have contracted Covid-19 and the virus has killed 3,500 of them. UHCW has been at the forefront of the Covid-19 response in the OPT, providing medical care to Covid-19 patients at its health facilities as well as through mobile clinics for hard-to-reach communities. It plays a vital role in raising awareness and offering public health guidance on the spread of Covid-19. Additionally, it leads local advocacy efforts to improve the Palestinian health system.

On 9th June, Israeli army forces raided the UHWC headquarters in Ramallah in the early hours without warning. They forced their way in by breaking the main door down and confiscated computers and memory drives which are essential to run its services effectively. This was immediately followed by a military order for the UHWC to close for six months.

Amnesty International has warned that the order to shutdown UHWC will have catastrophic consequences for the health needs of Palestinians across the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

This is not the first time that UHWC and its staff have been targeted by the Israeli military. Its Jerusalem office was shut down by Israeli authorities in 2015. Its Ramallah office was previously raided in October 2019 – when its finance director was arrested – and in March 2021 when two other members of staff were arrested.

The organisation has come under attack repeatedly from the Israeli authorities, with its employees facing harassment and arrests for its alleged affiliation with the Popular Liberation Front for Palestine, a Palestinian political party with an armed wing and listed as a terrorist organisation.

Associating a community organisation with terrorism in order to criminalise it is a very familiar tactic in nations across the world, in the context of the global war on terror, to delegitimise opposition, dissidence and resistance. 

The allegations against UHWC come from a report by NGO Monitor which claims to be a globally recognized research institute promoting democratic values and good governance. Its objective is to hold NGOs to account through transparency and adherence to human rights. Its primary focus is non-governmental organizations (NGOs), their funders, and other stakeholders, in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

NGO Monitor is based in Jerusalem. Its funders are organisations from the United States and a few from Israel. It is well endowed with a turnover of nearly 1.8 million US dollars in 2019. Among its International Advisory Board are prominent pro-Israeli supporters such as Professor Alan Dershowitz, Elliot Abrams and Douglass Murray, among others. Its Board of Directors and Legal Advisory Board have highly qualified individuals from the academic and business world who have varied associations with Israel.

Its activities aim to defund European finance for Palestinian organisations by allegations of association with terrorism. Its publication attacks human rights organisations such as B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch which have called out Israeli apartheid.  It opposes any resistance against Israel, such as the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

The claims that NGO Monitor makes of impartiality and defending human rights are patently false. It is a right wing organisation which is pro-Israel and seeks to delegitimise any opposition to Israel. This shows how pro-Israeli political organisations have the capacity to influence both knowledge and decision-making at an international level.

Saleh Higazi, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International said in a statement, “As the occupying power Israel has a clear obligation under international law to protect the rights of all Palestinians – including their right to health. So far they have completely failed to fulfil this responsibility throughout the global pandemic, pursuing a discriminatory Covid-19 vaccination policy. Israeli authorities must immediately rescind the shutdown order and put an end to the harassment of health workers.”

Appeals to Israel to respect international law have always fallen on deaf ears. Israel is being shielded by the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe from any criticism or pressure to change its policies. This provides an unconditional impunity, giving it free pass to act as it wishes, defying international law and conventions.

Israeli policies have strangled the Palestinian health care system for decades. The cumulative effect has meant the Palestinian healthcare system is in a state of chronic crisis with continuous shortages of money, investment in infrastructure, medication, medical equipment and a lack of specialist doctors and medical staff in general.

Per capita expenditure in Israel on health services is eight times greater than in the West Bank and Gaza.  This is reflected in the staffing of health services.  Israel has eight times more specialist doctors than the West Bank and Gaza, 1.76 compared to 0.22 per 1,000 residents.  While Israel has 4.8 nurses per 1,000 Israelis, the figure for the occupied territories is 1.9.

Furthermore, the Palestinian public health system is not able to provide specialized treatments for complex medical problems in fields such as oncology, cardiology and orthopaedics. Many patients needing such care are referred to private Palestinian health facilities in East Jerusalem and, if needed, to hospitals in Israel, Egypt and Jordan at a significantly higher cost.

The Israeli Ministry of Health also controls the import of pharmaceuticals to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It allows only the import of medicines registered in Israel and blocks imports from neighbouring markets which could provide medications at lower costs. Importing raw materials needed for the local manufacture of medicine is almost impossible because of restrictions by Israel.

All these constraints are reflected in health outcomes. The life expectancy of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza is about ten years lower than that of persons in present-day Israel.  Meanwhile, infant mortality and maternal death rates are four times higher in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the West Bank and Gaza, an average of nineteen babies die per one thousand births, while in Israel, the average is four out of one thousand. Four times as many Palestinian mothers die during childbirth compared to mothers in Israel, 28 compared to 7 per 100,000.

The incidence of infectious diseases is higher in the occupied Palestinian territories than in Israel. Disturbingly, some vaccinations against life-threatening diseases are not given in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Expensive vaccines that prevent Hepatitis A, chickenpox, pneumonia, rotavirus (the common cause of severe diarrhoea among infants and young children) and human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer, are not included in the Palestinian Authority’s national vaccination program because of lack of access and cost.

Needless to say, the healthcare situation in Gaza is extremely precarious, fragile and near to collapse.  The Israeli blockade for 14 years, reinforced by the Egyptians, the periods of non-cooperation by the Palestinian Authority and the four devastating aerial bombardments by Israel, have left a trail of destruction both of human life and resources.

The destruction of housing has created a mass of displaced people – the ruin of the economy, a mass of jobless. Food insecurity and rising poverty mean that most residents cannot meet their daily caloric requirements, while over 90 per cent of the water in Gaza has been deemed unfit for human consumption. A meagre electrical power supply, a badly-depleted water aquifer and the inability to treat sewage have only intensified the social health crisis.

The deaths of loved one caused by bombings have filled the living with grief and trauma. Those injured during bombings and live firings during the March 18th demonstrations near the border have left them with disabilities. Across the Gaza Strip, psychological trauma, poverty and environmental degradation have had a negative impact on residents’ physical and mental health; many, including children, suffer from anxiety, distress and depression.

On top of all this, the Israeli authorities are hell-bent on criminalising and closing down Palestinian civil society organisations built by Palestinians to serve the health needs of their community. The shutting down of UHWC is unforgivable and indefensible.

It shows that the Israeli apartheid system is a heartless and cruel system which has no regard for the wellbeing of Palestinian people. It is clear that Israeli policies want to decimate the Palestinian population in order to contain the demographic threat they are believed to pose.

We must be ever vigilant of what Israeli policies are doing to Palestinians under occupation and speak out critically against our government’s policy of looking the other way. We must support the struggle of Palestinians for freedom and self-determination. We must not remain silent.

Image by Chicago Man from  Creative Commons  marked with a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

First published on Labour Hub on 22 June 2021 https://labourhub.org.uk/2021/06/22/amnesty-condemns-israeli-military-shutting-down-a-palestinian-health-provider/

Why we must support Palestinian families resisting eviction in Sheikh Jarrah

The silence of the press and TV on the eviction of the Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem is deafening. The only explanation one can have is the effectiveness of the lobbying by the Israeli state and the collusion of journalists and editors in silencing this issue. It is patently clear that Arab lives do no matter to our media. This confirms the long history of anti-Palestinian racism as Ghada Karmi has so well argued.

Sheikh Jarrah is a predominantly Palestinian neighbourhood in East Jerusalem.  Some 300 Arab residents belonging to 28 extended families in Sheikh Jarrah could be evicted and made homeless.

The Israeli Haaretz newspaper interviewed and published the stories of several families.  I would just like to recount four of those stories.

At 72, Mohamed Sabbagh’s family fled from their home in Jaffa in 1948 when he was one year old. Their original home is now a synagogue. The family wandered around nearly a decade, beginning with a stay in an Egyptian town, then the Gaza Strip, followed by a journey on foot to Hebron, from where they moved to Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem their first home was a makeshift car garage. The Jordanian government brought his parents to Sheikh Jarrah in 1956, where they settled in a compound allocated to them. Over time this developed into a maze-like complex to accommodate the families of his four brothers, as well as his family, with his wife and two of their grown-up children, with their spouses and children – altogether, 32 members including 10 children.

Through his adult life, he did all sorts of odd jobs which included working as plumber, a driver and a hospital receptionist.  They remained together under cramped conditions because Palestinians cannot get permits to build extensions or move to newer locations.

Moving on to the Diab family with seven family members: Saleh Diab, 51, was born in Sheikh Jarrah after his father moved to Jerusalem in 1956 from Jaffa, as part of the Jordanian resettlement programme.

In early May, the family were sitting on the patio of their home when they heard a commotion. He popped out to see what was going on. There was a protest against evictions. The Israeli soldiers assaulted him and broke his leg.

Diab had his own business, a bakery but about seven years ago, but it went bust. He got a job in the bakery department of a large supermarket. He was fired from his job in May without a good reason. He believes that the real reason was complaints by some settlers to his employers about his political activism.

Abdel Fattah Skafi’s family comes from the Baka neighbourhood of West Jerusalem. They were forced out in 1948 and dispersed to different areas of East Jerusalem. Eventually his parents moved to Sheikh Jarrah in 1956 by arrangements with the Jordanian administration. At 71, he is now retired after working his entire life as a shoemaker with great pride.

Skafi and his wife share a small four-room space with three of their six children and their grandchildren, altogether 14 family members. His grandchildren are refusing to attend school, fearing that they would be evicted and won’t be able to come home. He fears that they are regressing in the current situation from being outstanding students.

Finally we come to El-Kurd family with six family members with one minor, who are threatened with eviction. The family was expelled from Haifa in 1948.

The response from 24-year-old Muna El-Kurd was to throw herself into campaigning against eviction. She rose to prominence internationally, with Arabic and international media regularly quoting her in their reports about the protests.  She has 1.2 million followers on Instagram.

On Sunday June 6th, Israeli police arrested her, suspecting her of “participation in disturbing the peace and in riots” that have taken place recently in Sheikh Jarrah. A video posted on social media showed her being handcuffed on arrest at her home and taken off to the police station.

The police allegations are false. They want to silence her because she is getting the message out about the Sheikh Jarrah evictions. She does not have a history of violence towards anyone.

Her brother Mohammed is also active in the protest movement and was summoned by the police on Sunday. He turned himself in. The outrage of these unjust arrests got worldwide attention and the police released both of them.

Reading their stories, one can only admire them for their resilience and strength in surviving against all the odds. Every individual in the families involved are under immense stress because of the threat of evictions. The children suffer from anxieties and their education is damaged. It is a living nightmare for them.

Through May and still continuing, Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood have held demonstrations in response to the imminent threat of forced eviction.  Amnesty International has documented arbitrary arrests of peaceful demonstrators, the use of excessive force, arbitrary use of sound and stun grenades as well as the arbitrary spraying of maloderant (skunk) water cannons at demonstrators and homes in Sheikh Jarrah. The Israeli police have placed the area under siege and continue to attack peaceful protestors and injuring hundreds.

Israeli forces have also been intimidating and arresting journalists who are reporting on Sheikh Jarrah. On May 28th,  the Al Kofiya satellite channel TV crew were attacked and their leading reporter Zaina Halawani and cameraman Wahbi Mikeh were arrested and removed from the neighbourhood. After five days in jail, the judge at Jerusalem’s Central Court released them on bail of 4,000 shekels ($1,230) each and ordered them to be put under house arrest for a month, forbidding them from communicating with each other for 15 days.

On June 5th, Al Jazeera News Channel’s journalist Givara Budeiri was arrested brutally when covering a demonstration and remanded in custody for several hours. Her left hand was fractured and she had to be treated in a hospital on her release.So what is behind these evictions? After 1948, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, was under Jordanian administration, which struck an agreement with the UN agency for refugees (UNRWA) in 1956 to build housing units for these refugee families. 

In the 1960s, the 28 families agreed a deal with the Jordanian government that would make them the owners of the land and houses, receiving official land deeds signed in their names after three years. In return, they would renounce their refugee status.  However, this was scuppered when Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem after the 1967 war.

Since 1972, several Jewish settler organisations, mostly funded by donors from the United States, filed lawsuits against the Palestinian families living in Sheikh Jarrah, alleging the land originally belonged to Jews during the Ottoman rule in 1885. 

Khalil Toufakji, a Palestinian cartographer and expert on Jerusalem, found a document in the Ottoman-era archives in Ankara which negates any Jewish ownership of the neighbourhood. However, when he presented the deed to the Israeli district court, it was promptly rejected.

In 1991, the Palestinian families accused their Israeli lawyers and legal representatives of forging their signatures on documents stating that the ownership of the land belonged to settlers. This skulduggery turned Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah from owners to tenants facing removal orders from settlers.

But it was not until 2008, after a US-based settler group, Nahalat Shimon International, bought the disputed land rights, that they used inherently discriminatory laws, such as the Legal and Administrative Matter Laws as well as the Absentee Property Law of 1950, to confiscate Palestinian land or property and transfer it to settler groups. 

In 2009, the Ghawis, along with the Hanoun family (a combined total of 55 people) were forcefully kicked out of their homes, their furniture and belongings strewn across the lawn.  The memory is still fresh in the minds of all residents in this neighbourhood.

In the first week of May, the Jordanian government ratified 14 agreements from the 1960s with Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah to strengthen their position against the Israeli courts. But all the families feel that they will never get justice from the Israeli courts which always favour settlers.

Israeli law allows Jews who may have historic property rights in East Jerusalem to recover those properties, but Israeli discriminatory apartheid laws do not allow Palestinians to claim their properties in West Jerusalem and elsewhere, even if they have the deeds.

Underlying all this is the policy of the Israeli government to limit the population of Palestinians in East Jerusalem to 30 percent or less. This is achieved by arrests, demolition of structures, land confiscation and forced displacement of Palestinians.

It is urgent that the Jordan, UNRWA and the international community take diplomatic and political action against this ethnic cleansing, dispossession and land theft. The Israeli government is shirking its responsibilities as an occupying power.

The good thing is that hundreds of Palestinians and Jews in East Jerusalem marched together on June 11th to stop the evictions.  We must support the grassroots organisations leading the resistance. International solidarity does matter. 

On Facebook, support the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement.  If you are a twitter user, you can get updates and share using the hashtags #SaveSheikhJarrah, #SheikhJarrah and #StopJerusalemExpulsions. You can also find a sample of tweets to share here.

Also follow Mohammed El-Kurd @m7mdkurd.  On Instagram, you can follow muna.kurd15 where she posts latest updates on the situation in Arabic but in most cases English translations are available.            

Don’t donate to funds claiming to help Sheikh Jarrah. The families are not taking donations and haven’t endorsed any funds. “We are committed to keeping the fight for Sheikh Jarrah a political one. It is not time for humanitarian support yet,” Mohammed el-Kurd tweeted.

Join the ‘Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions’ movement. BDS is a form of protesting, boycotting and working towards ending international support of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Find their call to action here.

Sign these petitions:

Stop Israel’s forced displacement of Palestinians from East Jerusalem

Facebook, we need to talk.

Demand an end to Israel’s forced displacement of Palestinians from East Jerusalem

Sheikh Jarrah -Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Image: Sheikh Jarrah Demo, June 11th. Author: Kara Newhouse Creative Commons image was marked with a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

First publishes by Labour Hub on June 16 2021 https://labourhub.org.uk/2021/06/16/why-we-must-support-palestinian-families-resisting-eviction-in-sheikh-jarrah/

The legacy of imperial genocides

German responsibility for the Herero genocide should be the beginning of many imperial reckonings

Germany accepting historical and moral responsibility for the genocide a century ago of the Herero people in present-day Namibia should just be the beginning for all ex-colonial powers to recognise genocides across the five continents.

As far as I know, the TV channels in UK did not broadcast this news. Most of the tabloids and the broadsheets ignored it except for the Guardian. The BBC news website reported it. Only Al-Jazeera English TV gave coverage to the story but it does not have a large audience.

Most people rely on TV for their news.  They are blissfully unaware of the Herero genocide, one of the first genocides of the twentieth century. School history books and teachers would not have covered such genocides. They are erased from history. The only genocide that is widely known is the Holocaust.

This comes at a time when there are calls for imperial reckoning. There is agitation for removal of statues of slave traders and colonisers from public spaces. European museums are under pressure to repatriate objects looted during violent imperial expeditions. Calls for formal apologies for past racist violence are getting louder.  There are demands for including imperial history and the roots of racism in the school curriculum.

News reports barely cover the context of the events and set it in a wider historical framework. One of the best jargon-free introductions to this is Sven Lindqvist’s Exterminate All The Brutes.  In this short, extraordinary book, Lindqvist weaves a narrative of his Saharan travel with historical reflections drawing on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, scientific theories, social debates and literary worksto tell a gruesome story of imperialism and racism over two centuries.

European world expansion, accompanied by a shameless defence of extermination and white supremacy, created a political climate, psychology and violence that led to a series of genocides which began to be regarded as the inevitable by-product of progress and modernity. This culminated in the most horrendous of all, the Holocaust.

The Heart of Darkness was written during the patriotic delirium after Kitchener’s return in 1898. He had defeated the mighty Mahdist army using a whole new arsenal – gunboats, automatic weapons, repeater rifles and dum-dum bullets at Omdurman. The entire Sudanese army was annihilated without once having got their British lines within a gunshot. Within five hours, eleven thousand Sudanese were killed and the sixteen thousand wounded were left to die. The British lost only forty-eight men. It was a sweet revenge for Gordon’s defeat and death in 1885. Churchill was present and he rejoiced with champagne on the Nile.

The weapons race among European nations had produced a technical superiority that enabled the annihilation of any conceivable opponent from other continents. The tools of imperialism – the ship’s cannons firing on ports of continents, the river streamer carrying Europeans and arms deep into the heart of continents and railways to ease the plundering of continents were put to full effect. Within decades, the ‘gods of arms’ had conquered another third of the world. Many Europeans took this military superiority as intellectual and even biological superiority.

During the nineteenth century, religious explanations for the extermination of indigenous people, often thought of as divine intervention, were replaced by biological ones. Both Charles Darwin and William Wallace, co-founders of the theory of natural selection, came to view the extermination of indigenous people as the result of natural selection, just as the weeds of Europe overran North America or the European rat exterminated native New Zealand rats. In his The Descent of Man, Darwin devoted a section on the extermination of the races of man. The extermination of the Tasmanians by white settlers within a short period was emblematic.

In Heart of Darkness, Conrad’s main character Marlow tells the story of his journey up the Congo River in search of Kurtz, a highly successful ivory trader. He witnesses the violence that is inflicted on the African people who are exploited relentlessly. When he reaches Kurtz’s trading station he finds posts with severed human heads on them. Kurtz had ruled with extreme terror to obtain ivory from the interior with the help of an African tribe that worshipped him as their god.

In 1891, King Leopold II of Belgium issued a decree which gave a monopoly to his representatives to obtain rubber and ivory, with the natives compelled to provide forced labour without payment. Those who refused had their villages burnt down, their children murdered and their hands cut off to set an example. When this was exposed by credible witnesses, King Leopold succeeded in London in suppressing this story as Queen Victoria was preparing for the imperial jubilee. The great powers condoned the genocide in Congo for they had been complicit in similar acts elsewhere.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Germany had no colonies. Scholars like Theodore Waitz and George Garland were able look at extermination more critically than other Europeans and saw through the naturalistic constructs. Europeans grabbed native lands and resources through land clearances, displacing the natives and privatising the commons.  The rapacity of white settlers destroyed everything the native thought, believed and felt.  Although physical force was the most tangible factor in extermination, the use of ‘cultural violence’ was equally efficacious.

Germany, with its unification under Bismarck and a massive leap in industrial advance in the late nineteenth century, was a major European power that did not have colonies and coveted a colonial empire. The Berlin conference of 1884 kicked off the so called ‘scramble’ for Africa. Germany embarked on the conquest of South-West Africa (now Namibia), German East Africa (now Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania), German Kamerun (now Cameroon and a part of Nigeria) and German Togoland (now Togo and eastern part of Ghana). 

It was in South-West Africa that Germans demonstrated that they too had mastered the art of hastening the extermination of indigenous ‘inferior’ people, an art long practised by the British and other Europeans.  German anthropologists had changed their tune and justified the annihilation of indigenous people.

Mimicking the North American example, the indigenous Herero people were banished to reserves. Their grazing lands and cattle were seized and handed to German settlers and colonial companies. The Herero leader, Maherero, wanted to avoid war and over two decades signed treaties with the German colonial government ceding large areas of land. The Germans just ignored the treaties as ‘superior races’ were wont to do. When German encroachments persisted, the Hereros rebelled.

In October 1904, General von Trotha issued orders for the Herero people to be exterminated. The German borders were a free fire zone where every Herero with or without weapons was to be shot. Most of the Hereros were driven out to the desert and the border was sealed off.  Almost the entire people, about eighty thousand, died in the desert, lacking water and food. German patrols found skeletons around dry hollows dug by the Hereros in vain attempt to find water. The few thousand that were left were rounded up and sentenced to hard labour in German concentration camps, which were just death camps.

This is the horror for which Germany has accepted historical and moral responsibility. After years of negotiations with the Namibian government, Germany will fund 1.1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) of reconstruction and development projects in Namibia to directly benefit the genocide-affected communities.

Herero paramount chief Vekuii Rukoro dismissed a deal agreed by the two governments as “an insult” because it did not include payment of reparations. It is indefensible for Angela Merkel’s government to offer the funds as gesture of reconciliation and avoid legally binding reparations.

Imperial nostalgia is still prevalent in the UK more than any other ex-colonial power. A 2020 poll showed that 32 percent of the people were proud of the British Empire while only 19 percent believed that it was something to be ashamed of. This is indicative of the most successful brainwashing for centuries.

But Britain has many skeletons in the proverbial cupboard across the world. Its colonisation of North America, Australia and New Zealand with Anglo-Saxon settlers was the biggest land grab in world history and it was based on extermination of the natives.  Its colonisation across the Third World was based on exploitation, and violence when there was resistance.

It is more than just the infamies of slavery and slave trade. It is more than toppling of nefarious statues. The The Late Victorian Holocausts in India, the plundering and burning to the ground of Benin City, and Kenya’s gulags are just some of the many examples. All this has been erased from history and concealed from people for a long time through the inculcation of patriotism.

We have before us a huge educational and political task to reclaim the savage, hidden history of Imperial Britain and reproduce it in our school textbooks, libraries, museums, public squares and universities.

Image: Shark Island, Lüderitz, Namibia was the home of the Shark Island Concentration Camp between 1905 and April 1907, as part of the Herero and Namaqua genocide of 1904–1908. Author: Johan Jönsson (Julle), licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

First published by Labour Hub 7 June 2021

https://labourhub.org.uk/2021/06/07/the-legacy-of-empire/

HOW NETANYAHU Unleashed a cold and CALCULATED WAR OF TERROR against Palestinians

At first sight, the current attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank and the relentless bombings of Gaza may look disconnected. But a closer investigation shows that the chain of events had political calculations behind them.

For the past two years, Netanyahu has been fighting for his political life.  On May 4th Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government, 28 days after the inconclusive election of March 23rd. The corruption case against him was a factor that led to this failure. Since 1996, he has demonstrated political wizardry by snatching power back just when he as on the brink of losing it. It is not inconceivable that he calculated that a small war against defenseless Palestinians would save him politically.

After all, there is a strong historical precedent for this. Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to al-Aqsa compound, the third holiest site in Islam, on September 28th 2000, accompanied by Israeli riot police led to protests and riots.  Palestinian youths hurled stones and chairs at the police who retaliated with tear gas and rubber bullets.

This set off the al-Aqsa Intifada which subsided after 2005, with an estimated death toll of 3,000 Palestinians, 1,000 Israelis and 64 foreigners. The Israelis used gunfire, tank, air attacks and targeted killings while the Palestinians resorted to stone throwing, gunfire, rockets and suicide bombings.

The visit was a part of Sharon’s campaign to lead the Likud party to outmanoeuvre Netanyahu. He wanted to show that the Temple Mount where al-Aqsa is located would remain under Israeli sovereignty. His reward was to be elected as the Prime Minister in February 2001 and he remained in power until he was incapacitated by a stroke in 2006.

Tensions have been building up in Jerusalem for weeks during the holy month of Ramadan which started on April 12th, because of the restrictions imposed on Palestinians wanting to pray at the al-Aqsa mosque. Simultaneously, the attempted evictions of four Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood became an explosive issue with Palestinians resisting and Israeli forces raiding neighbourhoods, resulting in arrests and injuries.

On the last Friday of Ramadan, May 7th, more than 70,000 congregated to pray after having been forced to go through iron security barriers and identity checks by the Israeli police. Throughout the day, protesters in Jerusalem were violently dispersed by the police, forcing many to retreat to the confines of the mosque. After prayers, Palestinians in the mosque compound began demonstrating, raising both Palestinian and Hamas flags.

Later that evening, armed Israeli forces entered the complex to disperse the worshippers using tear gas, stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets. The Palestinian Red Crescent reported that hundreds were injured and hospitalised. Many of the injuries inflicted were to the head and eyes. Israeli police reported that six officers were injured.

Palestinian civil society called for a day of anger on Saturday May 8th in response to the crackdown. Palestinians in towns throughout Israel including Jaffa and Nazareth demonstrated in a show of anger at the storming of al-Aqsa and the Sheikh Jarrah evictions.

The situation was extremely tense ahead of the 27th night of Ramadan, one of the holiest nights (Laylat al-Qadr) when worshippers stay up during the night performing prayers. Israeli police carried out further raids and arrests. Despite the intimidation, some 90,000 Palestinians filled the courtyard for prayers.

After the prayers, as the worshippers were leaving the Old City, Israeli police attacked them, wounding at least 90, according to medics, and arresting many. At the Damascus Gate, which was adorned with lights to mark Ramadan, Israeli police, some mounted, used tear gas, smoke grenades and rubber-coated bullets to attack Palestinians, wounding many.

After a relatively tense but on the whole quiet Sunday, on Monday May 10th heavily armed Israeli forces raided the al-Aqsa mosque in the morning and later in the evening. They fired tear gas and sound grenades at Palestinians to disperse people and caused damage to the interior of the building. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, 305 Palestinians were injured and 228 others hospitalised – some in a field hospital set up near al-Aqsa – including four in a critical condition.

Natanyahu could have stopped all this if he wanted to.  In Israeli political circles there was discussion that he would manipulate a security incident at the Gaza border to prevent a new cabinet being formed. Now all he had to do is to wait for the situation to escalate so that could turn the crisis to his own advantage.

Hamas issued an ultimatum for Israeli forces to evacuate al-Aqsa and Sheikh Jarrah by 6 pm on Monday. As expected, Netanyahu ignored the warning because he knew that it would play into his hands. A barrage of rockets from Gaza were fired towards Jerusalem. This was a godsend for Netanyahu who unleashed a savage aerial bombardment on Gaza, aiming to unite the entire Jewish citizenry.

 After eleven days of bombing, it can be seen what pain, suffering and destruction was heaped on a defenceless people. At least 232 Palestinians, including 65 children, have been killed in 11 days of Israeli bombardment. On the Israeli side, 12 people, including two children, have been killed. The scale of devastation on Gaza has been horrifying. The human and financial toll is indescribably unbearable for an already beleaguered society.

Entire families were wiped out when their homes were bombed. Residential tower blocks were demolished. It is not a matter of body count. Those injured, at least 1900, would in many cases, bear their wounds and disabilities for a lifetime. The psychological trauma especially for children, who are half of the population, can be debilitating.

The wanton destruction of at least 230 buildings and damage to at least 678 homes have displaced more than 75,000 who found shelter in schools.  Power supplies and roads were bombed. The already poor water supply was further restricted. Livelihoods in an economy on its knees have been destroyed. The Jalal Tower which housed many media agencies was given an hour to evacuate before its demolition. Altogether targeted Israeli air force attacks have destroyed the premises of 23 Palestinian and international media outlets to stop first hand media witness reports.

Israel used its well-honed public relations machine to cover up the ethnocide. Out came the tropes of Hamas using civilians as human shields, its willingness to sacrifice Palestinian children, Hamas placing rocket firing operatives on top of residential buildings, residential buildings used for tunnels, etc. These were repeated in the Western press without critical examination and verification.

What political calculation was Hamas making? After legitimately winning the Palestinian Legislative Elections in 2006, Hamas was never allowed to take power and was confined to Gaza by Israel with the support of the US and regional allies. Fourteen years of blockade followed, with three massive Israeli assaults. The worst one in 2014 destroyed the economy of Gaza and created immense problems for basic services. Most of the population depends on humanitarian aid.

It is inconceivable that Hamas leaders are irrational actors. They were fully aware that they cannot win militarily with rockets against the Israelis’ air power. That 10 percent of their rockets got through the seemingly impenetrable Israeli iron dome system must have been some sort of triumph for them. Their calculation was to win over the ‘hearts and minds’ of the majority of Palestinian community.

For the first time in many years, Palestinians in Gaza, Israel, West Bank and East Jerusalem have risen up in unity. In response to Palestinian mass protests in Israel, the Israeli response was to develop a narrative of civil war when in reality Jewish mobs roved around cities in Israel, attacking and lynching Palestinians in the street or trying to break into their homes. Palestinians reacted by staging protests, burning tyres, and attacking Jews. The general strike on 18th May by all Palestinians was yet another sign of unity and renewed solidarity.

The Palestinian Authority, set up following the Oslo Accords, is defunct. Its security forces are there to control Palestinians, especially any resistance against the Israelis. It is entirely dependent on Israel for revenues, and funded by the United States and Europe. It has no strategies to protect the Palestinians against house demolitions and displacement. The postponement of Palestinian Legislative elections this year has frozen politics. 

The leaders of Arab nations showed their bankruptcy. Their failure to support the Palestinians is laid bare.  The Arab masses have viscerally always been for the Palestinians. Their ruling dynasties are minorities armed against their own people.  The leaders of the world’s richest region have failed to use its wealth and strategic location to exercise power. They put all their eggs in the American basket and were reduced to pleas to the US.

The United Nations also showed its utter impotence. Four meetings of the Security Council failed to agree even a statement because of the US veto. The US callously went on to make it impossible for a ceasefire resolution to be passed for 11 days, letting the killings and destruction continue. Biden has to answer questions about how many Palestinian children had to die before he would call for a ceasefire. Moreover, the unconditional ceasefire reached with Egyptian mediation fails to address the issues that caused the eruption. The Security Council has yet to address the root causes of the conflict for seven decades.

Israel has once again proved that, as a nuclear armed regional power with its military fed by America with huge quantities of sophisticated weapons, it is free to kill civilians, destroy their homes and cut down necessary services as it wills. This is the horror of technological extermination. Its public relations internationally have generated sweeping and blind support from the media as a whole, covering up ethnocide. Unless there is a countervailing power to stop this, it does not bode well for peace, justice and stability in the region.

Palestinians cannot win militarily against Israel but in the long term they can win politically. They need to learn from their struggles to unite and organise a militant non-violent resistance. They need solidarity from people across the world. There have been rare times in history when people have refused to tolerate the intolerable. The mobilisation against the war in Vietnam and the Anti-Apartheid Movement showed that people can change the course of history.

The huge demonstrations in London and across the world in solidarity are a sign of hope. People need to join campaigning organisations such as Stop the War, War on Want, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Campaign Against the Arms Trade and BDS amongst many, to continue to work for justice for Palestinians and oppose Israeli apartheid.

Top image: Israeli rocket attack on a building Rafah Khan Yunis, Gaza. Source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/126296c3-3396-4306-bb71-e0f265076b27 Author: Zoriah, licensed with a CC BY-NC 2.0 license. End image: Labour Hub.

First published on Labour Hub https://labourhub.org.uk/2021/05/25/how-netanyahu-unleashed-a-calculated-war-of-terror-against-palestinians/

Breaking the silence on Israeli Apartheid

Human Rights Watch is calling for actions against Israel for committing crimes of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians.

Aftermath of an Israeli air strike in Rafah, 2009. Source: Exodus 1. Author: RafahKid Kid from Rafah, Palestine, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

For Human Rights Watch to call out the Israeli apartheid system in its recent report is certainly a landmark. The 213-page report, titled A Threshold Crossed, condemns Israel for “committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians” in the Occupied Palestinian territories (OPT) and in Israel itself.  It reinforces the recent finding of the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, which also broke the taboo by calling the singular organising principle of “Jewish supremacy” in Israel nothing less than “apartheid”. This consensus within human rights organisations has been long overdue since Palestinian, legal scholars, UN diplomats and activists have applied the concept of apartheid to Israel since at least the 1970s.

The report is strictly limited to assessing Israeli policies and practices towards Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and Israel and comparing them to the treatment of Jewish Israelis living in the same territories against the three primary conditions under the 1973 Apartheid Convention (ICSPCA) and the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). These are: an intent to maintain a system of domination, systematic oppression by one racial group over another and one or more inhumane acts, such as forcible transfer, expropriation of landed property, creation of separate reserves and ghettos, and denial of the right to leave and to return to their country and the right to a nationality.  As grave as apartheid is the crime of persecution, also set out in the Rome Statute, as the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights on racial, ethnic, and other grounds.

The intent of the Israeli government to maintain the domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians is beyond reasonable doubt. In 2018, the Knesset passed a law with constitutional status affirming Israel as the “nation-state of the Jewish people,” and establishing “Jewish settlement” as a national value.

To justify limiting and minimising the Palestinian population, Israeli authorities project Palestinians as an existential demographic “threat”.  At least 270,000 Palestinians who were outside the West Bank and Gaza when the occupation began in 1967 have been refused registration. The residency rights of nearly 250,000, mostly for being abroad for too long between 1967 and 1994, were revoked. Palestinians who had lived in the West Bank but left temporarily (to study, work, marry, etc.) are denied entry into the West Bank, including their non-registered spouses and other family members.

When Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, Palestinians who lived there were designated as “permanent residents,” a status normally given to non-Jewish foreigners.  Since 1967, At least 14,701 Palestinians have had this status revoked mostly for failing to prove a “centre of life” in the city. In Jerusalem municipality, government policy has set a target demographic “ratio of 60% Jews and 40% Arabs”. Today there are roughly 200,000 Israelis in East Jerusalem.

Since 2000, the Israeli government has largely refused to process family reunification applications. Requests by Palestinians for address changes in the West Bank and Gaza have been turned down. This freeze effectively bars Palestinians from acquiring legal status for spouses or relatives not already registered, and thousands of Gaza residents who came on temporary permits to West Bank are deemed illegal.

Within the West Bank, Palestinian ID holders are prohibited from entering areas such as East Jerusalem, lands beyond the separation barrier, and areas controlled by settlements and the army, unless they secure difficult-to-obtain permits. Nearly 600 permanent barriers including the separation wall have been erected, many between Palestinian communities. Land grabs for settlements and the infrastructure that primarily serves settlers effectively concentrate Palestinians in the West Bank, according to B’Tselem, into “165 non-contiguous ‘territorial islands.’” This planned fragmentation disrupts the daily life and economy of Palestinians.

Thousands of Palestinian homes across the West Bank including East Jerusalem have been demolished over the years because they are deemed not to have building permits which they cannot obtain. No compensation or resettlement is offered to displaced families. The purpose of this is to coerce Palestinians to abandon their homes and livelihoods and relocate into towns under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA).  In East Jerusalem, it is to force Palestinians out of the city.

Nearly two million Palestinians in Gaza have been effectively sealed off from the outside world by land, sea and air. Entry and exit of people and goods are severely restricted through one crossing each from Israel and Egypt. This has destroyed the economy and reduced access to basic services with 80 percent of people relying on humanitarian aid.

Water is critically scarce and an estimated 96 percent of the water supply has become “unfit for human consumption”. Electricity supply to homes is erratic and available for between 12 and 20 hours per day. On top of this, since 2008 Israeli defence forces have launched three major military offensives with air bombardment leading to death and destruction of homes and infrastructure. In 2018 and 2019, Israeli forces killed 214 demonstrators and maimed thousands when they approached the fences separating Gaza and Israel.

Generations of Palestinians in the OPT have been deprived of their basic civil rights, including the rights to free assembly, association and expression. Palestinians who have opposed occupations and are politically active are targeted. Hundreds of political and non-government organizations including media outlets have been banned.

More than 2 million dunams (1 dunam =1000 square meters) of land making up more than one-third of the West Bank has been confiscated from Palestinians. Israeli authorities have also made it impossible for Palestinians in Area C, the roughly 60 percent of the West Bank that the Oslo Accords placed under full Israeli control, as well as those in East Jerusalem, to obtain building permits. Meanwhile, 130 government-approved settlements and 100 unofficial ones are now homes of around 400,000 Israelis.

In Israel, at least 4.5 million dunams of land belonging to Palestinians have been confiscated and converted to state lands since the forced expulsion of nearly 700,000 Palestinians in 1948. These were turned into 900 Jewish small towns exclusively for Jewish residents which are allowed space for expansion. The vast majority of Palestinians – nearly 1.9 million – are hemmed into a handful of townships constituting 3 percent of the land. These are overcrowded, poorly serviced enclaves with little access to land and housing for growth. 

In the Negev, 35 Palestinian Bedouin communities have been denied legal recognition, making it impossible for their 90,000 or so residents to live lawfully.  These communities do not appear on official maps. Authorities have refused to connect most to the national electricity or water grids or to provide even basic infrastructure such as paved roads or sewage systems. They are denied access to their farms. Most have no educational facilities, and residents live under constant threat of having their homes demolished. Israeli authorities demolished more than 10,000 Bedouin homes in the Negev between 2013 and 2019.

For all intents and purposes, Palestinians in Israel are second class citizens with a two-track citizenship structure. Jews obtain automatic citizenship no matter where they are from under the Law of Return.  By contrast, Palestinians have to prove residency before 1948, inclusion in the population registry from 1952 and a continued presence in Israel or legal entry in, between 1940 and 1952.

The Israeli state has been relentless in maximizing the number of Jews, as well as the land available to them, in Israel and the coveted portions of the OPT for Jewish settlements. There is a determined incremental “Judaization” of areas with significant Palestinian populations by increasing Jewish settlers. There are no restrictions on the freedom of movement, or on the residence, work, farming, business, etc., for Jews anywhere.

The cover of the “peace process” launched after the Oslo accords has been used by Israeli government public relations to create the aura that occupation is temporary and Israel is an egalitarian democracy aiming to give Palestinians meaningful control over their lives. The reality on the grounds has been continual annexation of land for Jewish settlements. It has also led to the normalisation of Israel’s relations with many countries by giving it international legitimacy.

The key question is not whether there is apartheid in Israel but what is to be done about it. The first obstacle is that Western democracies including Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and the United States have neither signed nor ratified the Apartheid Convention. Hence these governments are going to ignore the report, and the mainstream media as a whole will not take up this issue.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor opened a formal investigation into alleged war crimes in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip since June 2014 following a request from the Palestinians. Human Rights Watch urges the chief prosecutor to investigate and prosecute those credibly implicated in the crimes of apartheid and persecution. Israel has said that it would refuse to co-operate with the ICC.

The initiative has to come from civil society against the backdrop of the obstacles that have been placed on any criticism of Israel by calling it “anti-semitic”. The BDS movement initiated by Palestinian civil society against Israeli apartheid must be supported fully. Palestinians have a decades-long tradition of popular non-violent resistance against repression. International solidarity for this resistance through building links and practical action is vital.

First published on the Labour Hub on 11 May 2021 https://labourhub.org.uk/2021/05/11/breaking-the-silence-on-israeli-apartheid/