An IIPM Initiative
Saturday, March 25, 2017
 
 

PALESTINE

Something's Gotta Give!

 

In spite of Israel’s will to maintain the brutal status quo, a churning is taking place in Palestine. Although any just and meaningful solution is still not in sight, a slew of non-violent movements have started to corrode Israel’s once formidable iron grip. Saurabh Kumar Shahi reports from Palestine
SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Issue Dated: February 5, 2017, New Delhi
Tags : Hani Amir | Obama | UNESCO | Jordanian Awqaf |
 

Everything in Hani Amir’s life is within 100 footsteps. Hundred steps to the gate. Hundred to the house. Hundred to the garden, 100 steps to the daughter’s drop-off point, 100 steps to his yard, 100 steps to the wall: the apartheid separation wall.

Hani Amir’s house is inside a double cage. But how did that come to be? When Israel was erecting the illegal apartheid wall in the West Bank, apart from annexing parts of it through setting up illegal Jewish Settlement, Hani Amir’s house came in the way. His piece of land, all of 100 yards by 70 yards in size, was at the tri-juncture of three Jewish settlements that Israel had planned: Elqana, Sha’are Tiqwa, and Ez Efrayim.

Amir was evicted. But he fought back and went to the courts. His plea was sent to international courts as well. After years of languishing, the verdict came and he was returned his land. But by this time, Jewish settlements were already in place. In the front was the 25 feet wall.

An agreement was reached, and Israeli defence forces erected a double-cage and gave him the keys. Just outside, on all three sides are the check-posts. Needless to say, Hani Amir’s life changed forever. And needless to say, for the worse.

“Who lives like this? Is this the way to treat a human being?” he enquires rhetorically of the visiting journalists. “I can’t leave this land. This is my land. But the suffering is immense. Every small chore has become a painful ritual. Who wants such attention? I don’t,” he adds in good measure. 

After all these cages and walls, one would believe that he will be left in peace. Far from it. While we were talking with Amir, several armoured vehicles from Israeli army started passing through the roads and check points near his house. The message was clear: We are here.

In ways more than one, Hani Amir personifies Palestine. Its occupation.

As we enter into 2017, Palestine is not on the priority list of the World Powers. If there’s a backburner behind the proverbial backburner, you’ll probably find Palestine there. President Barack Obama, belatedly, not to mention frustratingly, realised the grip that Zionist lobbies have on Washington’s policy. Sources inside Capitol Hill maintain that Obama genuinely believed at the dawn of his presidency that he can ramrod his way through a solution on Palestine. It was only after he settled in that he realised the infiltration Zionist lobbies had on the American life.

Sometime during his early days of presidency, Jeffery Goldberg, an American Jewish journalist who previously worked on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — Israel’s primary long-arm in DC — came out with an explosive report about the interference of the lobby. One particular section of that piece in The New Yorker created ripples on the Capitol Hill. It reads:

At dinner that night with Steven Rosen, I mentioned a controversy that had enveloped AIPAC in 1992. David Steiner, a New Jersey real-estate developer who was then serving as AIPAC’s president, was caught on tape boasting that he had “cut a deal” with the Administration of George W. Bush to provide more aid to Israel. Steiner also said that he was “negotiating” with the incoming Clinton Administration over the appointment of a pro-Israel Secretary of State. “We have a dozen people in his” — Clinton’s — “headquarters and they are all going to get big jobs,” Steiner said. Soon after the tape’s existence was disclosed, Steiner resigned his post. I asked Rosen if AIPAC suffered a loss of influence after the Steiner affair. A half smile appeared on his face, and he pushed a napkin across the table. “You see this napkin?” he said. “In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin.”  

Obama is said to have given up shortly after this expose.

Years later, on the issue of Iran Nuclear Deal, Obama once again took on AIPAC, and won. But it was only as much political capital he could have spent. A new battle with AIPAC was out of question.

Palestine’s regional allies had their own problems. As the situation deteriorated in Syria, the resistance axis comprising Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria and Iran started shifting their attention inside Syria. In between came the “betrayal” by Hamas, which when offered a chance by Qatar to stab the axis in the back, chose to do so without any qualms.

After such strategic shift in position, one would have expected that Hamas will see Qatar or Turkey replace Iran as their chief benefactor. But it did not happen, unsurprisingly. This led to a clear schism inside Hamas, where its military wing was willing to apologise and go back into the Iranian sphere of influence, while its political wing was happy dining in Doha. It was Hezbollah, according to the sources, which scuttled any such rapprochement and underlined that it shall have nothing to do with any organisation in future that keeps a tie with the Ikhwan al Muslameen, popularly known as Muslim Brotherhood.

Meanwhile those opting for political solution of the Palestinian crisis have not wasted time. While there appears to be little faith in the ways of the ruling Fatah movement, Palestinians have started exploring other avenues. And this has brought windfall success.

The biggest of them all is the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Started by a bunch of trade unions and NGOs from the Palestinian Territories under the guidance of Omar Barghouti, the movement has gone from strength to strength in the 11 years since its inception.

A slew of labour unions, student unions and churches adopted BDS resolution in the first five years. However, Israel took it lightly and kept saying from public platforms that it is a small fish and that they are not worried about its impact. Then something happened that shook the establishment to the core.

In the United States, as many as four student unions from top universities and five churches adopted the resolution in the course of a year and half. This came as a bolt from the blue for the Israelis and their lobbyists in the US.

Israel didn’t know how to oppose a non-violent movement. The advent of internet has snatched Israel of its total control over propaganda warfare, locally known as Hasbara. The advent of BDS only aggravated the situation. Consequently, Israel resorted to the only way it knows: over-react.

Not only did it stop Omar Barghouti from leaving its territory, it started lobbying political parties in the US and Europe to make BDS illegal, in clear violation of the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“I think after years of failure in stopping or even slowing down the growth of BDS and the growth of support for BDS around the world, especially in the West, Israel is resorting to its most powerful weapon, if you will, which is using its influence in the US Congress and through that its influence in Brussels and in the EU and so on to criminalise BDS from above, after failing to stop it from below. Because BDS is growing at the grassroots level – trade unions, academic unions, student groups, LGBTQ groups, women groups and so on, Israel is resorting to that attempt to delegitimise it from above. They’re working on passing legislation across the United States and state legislatures to criminalise BDS or to “blacklist” individuals and organisations involved in BDS, reminding us of the worst days of McCarthyism. So really, Israel is fostering a new McCarthyism, and nothing less than that because it’s calling on governments that it deems friendly to punish speech, punish activism and campaigning to uphold Palestinian rights under international law,” Barghouti explained in a recent interview.

But how does this impact the lives of average Palestinians under occupation? On the face of it one can argue that it does not help as illegal detention, murder in cold blood, confiscation of lands; everything has gone unabated. However, reporting from the ground, one can easily sense that a tipping point is at hand.  

Israeli society has shifted massively towards Right and Ultra-Right. The shift is so tectonic that there is no real Left left in its electoral politics. The Left of the Centre parties in Israel are more right-wing than any such party anywhere else in the world. Not only has this phenomenon killed the Oslo Accord for good, it has also assured that the Liberal West’s hope that one day the solution of the crisis will come out of Israel itself has been mercilessly dashed as well.

Such a scenario leaves the only option on the table: pressure from outside. Like it was done in the case of apartheid South Africa. It is in this realm of affairs that a movement like BDS has found such a huge traction.

The reaction from the Israeli side is predictable. Cornered, it has tried to play tricks that used to work 30 years ago; not anymore. One of the tricks is to try and change the status of the holy site in Jerusalem.

Israel has worked rather assiduously to annex the Muslim and Christian heritages in East Jerusalem. East Jerusalem, by international law, is illegally occupied by Israel. However, that has not stopped Israeli troops, both military and police, from forcibly restricting the movement of Palestinian worshipers.

And as if that was not enough, Israel, in a typically provocative gesture, is excavating under the foundation of Al Aqsa and the Dome of Rock, the third holiest Muslim shrine, in search of a mythological Jewish Temple. Numerous Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces and Jewish extremist groups trying to protect their mosque. 

To complicate the matter for Israel, a resolution recently passed by UNESCO called on Israel to “allow for the restoration of the historic status quo that prevailed until September 2000, under which the Jordanian Awqaf (Religious Foundation) Department exercised exclusive authority on Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif.”

The resolution further “stressed the urgent need of the implementation of the UNESCO reactive monitoring mission to the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls.”

This was as explicit as it could be. Israel reacted predictably, labelling UNESCO and those who passed the resolution as anti-Semite: its favourite dog-whistle. However, such a resolution was long time coming. In the changed global information landscape, Israel is finding it unable to control the narrative, and that has angered it immensely.

Says journalist and analyst, Ramzy Baroud, “Israel’s anger is, of course, fathomable. For nearly 50 years, following the illegal occupation and annexation of the Palestinian Arab city, Israel has done everything it could possibly do to strip the city of its universal appeal and Arab heritage, and make it exclusive to Jews only—thus the slogan of Jerusalem being Israel’s ‘eternal and undivided capital’. Israel is angry because, after five decades of ceaseless efforts, neither UNESCO nor other UN institutions will accept Israel’s practices and machinations. In 2011, following the admission of ‘Palestine’ as a member state, Israel ranted and raved as well, resulting in the US cutting off funding to UNESCO. The latest resolution indicates that Israel and the US have utterly failed to coerce UNESCO.

“What also caused much fury in Tel Aviv is that UNESCO used the Arabic references to Haram al-Sharif, Al-Aqsa Mosque and other Muslim religious and heritage sites. The same way they would refer to Egypt’s Pyramids of Giza and China’s Great Wall by their actual names. Hardly anti-Semitic.

Since its establishment atop Palestinian towns and village, Israel has been on a mission to rename everything Arabic with Hebrew alternatives. Recent years have seen a massive push towards the Judaisation of Arab Christian and Muslim sites, streets and holy shrines, a campaign spearheaded by the Israeli Right and ultranationalist groups. To expect UNESCO to employ such language is what should strike as ‘absurd’,” he added.

But inside Palestine, anger is simmering. It is pretty evident that in case of any further violation of al Aqsa complex by the Israelis, the next Intifada will not be far away. In my interactions with young Palestinians in the West Bank, it has become evident that the new generation thinks and perceives the issue of occupation in terms that are vastly different from how their predecessors used to perceive it. There is an evident shame that they have not been able to resist the Israeli occupation in a way Gazans have managed to do. If push comes to shove, Palestinian Administration under Fatah will be singularly incapable of stopping them from starting another Intifada.

The situation is particularly restive in the refugee camps as well as the cities such as Al Khalil (Hebron) where violence by Jewish settlers are a daily occurrence. Talking to the dwellers of the refugee camp, it was evident that anger is brimming due to the world’s betrayal of their cause. Fatah’s utter failure in integrating the next generation of Palestinians inside its leadership has made it mostly redundant. The situation is same in Jenin, where such anger was on display. Around the time of my visit, Fatah Movement had its own seventh congress scheduled in Ramallah. The gathering selected their Central Committee at the end of the session. The average age of the Central Committee was 68 years. This is hardly in sync either with the popular mood or the demography of the country, where a majority of the population is below 35 years of age.

While Fatah Movement sent subtle message to Israelis that they will remain non-violent, it was not immediately clear how their message will sync with the young Palestinians who look eager for Intifada if the status of Al Aqsa is changed by Israel.     

But if and when this Intifada starts, it will be different. This will be the first Intifada in the internet era. As mentioned earlier, Israel has started to falter in absence of its total control over the narrative. The Western press that used to do Israel’s bidding in the past has increasingly found it difficult to hold on to their integrity while dishing out propaganda pieces for Israel. Twenty Years ago, it was easy for the Western press to call a demolished school as a Hamas hideout.

The internet has made this impossible, for them to say so anymore, as any individual can take a photo and post it on the internet. Under the circumstances, the Western media is finding it difficult to recalibrate itself to submit to Israeli’s demand. It will be singularly impossible for them to manipulate if such a scenario erupts in the occupied West Bank.

Politically, the US and Europe are both losing patience over Israel’s increased expansion of illegal Jewish settlements as well. Europeans, and according to the sources even Americans, have realised that Israel wants to create more “facts on the ground” in order to make an independent Palestinian state geographically unviable. However, while Europe has started to take some punitive measures—although mostly cosmetic—the United States has belatedly realised that it had allowed the Israeli lobby to be too powerful, to the US’ own detriment, for any punitive measure to take shape.

But more than anyone else, it is the United Nations that needs to take a pro-active role. Palestine’s admission as an Observer Member was a welcome step. Better still was its membership of the several United Nations agencies. But for this membership, the resolution passed by UNESCO was not possible. However, a lot more needs to be done. 

“The United Nations, and all relevant platforms within the world’s largest international institution, must be persuaded to produce a workable mechanism to bring an end to Israeli occupation and offer Palestinians a true political horizon,” adds Baroud.

Obama also redeemed his legacy somewhat at the end of his term when he allowed an UNSC resolution condemning Israeli Settlement, and declaring it illegal, to be passed by not vetoing it. It has created a storm inside Israel that does not know how to react. However, it will need many more such resolutions—and more importantly their implementations—to change the situation on the ground.  

On the face of it, it does appear that the world has forgotten Palestine and the Palestinians. However, below the façade of calm runs the simmering unrest. If this blows up, the world will be truly helpless to deal with it. Unless, of course, they decide that enough is enough and Israel needs to pay for its years of subversion and stalling of the peace process.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017