Were the Oslo Peace Accords Doomed From the Start?

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Sandy Tolan / TomDispatch.

When I first traveled to Israel-Palestine in 1994, during the heady early days of the Oslo peace process, I was expecting to see more of the joyful celebrations I’d watched on television at home. The emotional welcoming of Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat back to Palestine. The massive demonstrations for peace on the streets of Tel Aviv. The spontaneous moment when Palestinians placed carnations in the gun barrels of departing Israeli soldiers. And though the early euphoria had already begun to ebb, clearly there was still hope.

It was the era of dialogue. Many Palestinians stood witness to Israeli trauma rooted in the Holocaust. Groups of Israelis began to understand the Nakba, or Catastrophe, when 750,000 Palestinians fled or were driven out of their homes during the creation of Israel in 1948. In the wake of the Oslo Declaration of Principles, signed on September 13, 1993 — a quarter of a century ago today — polls showed that large majorities of Israelis and Palestinians supported the agreement. Israelis, weary of a six-year Palestinian intifada, wanted Oslo to lead to lasting peace; Palestinians believed it would result in the creation of a free nation of their own, side by side with Israel.

“People thought this was the beginning of a new era,” says Salim Tamari, Palestinian sociologist and editor of the Jerusalem Quarterly.

“It was miraculous,” recalls Gershon Baskin, founder of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, “a high peak of optimism and hope.” Baskin, an American who emigrated to Israel nearly 40 years ago, remembers the emotional power of “these two parties who refused to recognize each other’s right to exist coming into a room and breaking through that and putting down a formula which, at the time, looked reasonable.”

Euphoria Never Lasts

Even then, however, there were disturbing signs. During that first trip, still in the glow of Oslo, I found myself in the heart of the West Bank, driving down new, smooth-as-glass “bypass roads” built for Israeli settlers and VIPs on my way from Bethlehem to Hebron. I was confused. Wasn’t this the territory-to-be of a future independent Palestinian state? Why, then, would something like this be authorized? Similarly, the next year, when Israeli forces undertook their much-heralded “withdrawal” from Ramallah, why did they only redeploy to the edge of that town, while retaining full military control of 72% of the West Bank?

Such stubborn facts on the ground stood in the way of the seemingly overwhelming optimism generated by that “peace of the brave,” symbolized by a handshake between Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in front of President Clinton on the White House lawn. Was it possible we were witnessing the beginning of the end of generations of bloodshed and trauma?

Already, however, there were dissenters. Mourid Barghouti, a Palestinian poet who, like thousands of his brethren, returned from exile in the early days of Oslo, was shocked to find former PLO liberation fighters reduced to the status of petty bureaucrats lording it over ordinary citizens. Israel, he wrote in his memoir, I Saw Ramallah, had “succeeded in tearing away the sacred aspect of the Palestinian cause, turning it into what it is now — a series of ‘procedures’ and ‘schedules’ that are usually respected only by the weaker party in the conflict… The others are still masters of the place.”

Another Oslo critic, Edward Said, the Palestinian intellectual and professor of comparative literature at Columbia, refused a White House invitation to attend the signing ceremony between Arafat and Rabin. Oslo, he wrote, should be considered “an instrument of Palestinian surrender… a kingdom of illusions, with Israel firmly in command. Clearly the PLO has transformed itself from a national liberation movement into a kind of small-town government… What Israel has gotten is official Palestinian consent to continued occupation.”

At the time, many Palestinians wrote off Said as someone intent on obstructing real, if incremental, progress. Arafat himself said that, living as he did in America, the famed professor “does not feel the suffering of his people.”

Or maybe he did. In my nearly 20 trips to the Holy Land over the quarter-century since Oslo, I watched the West Bank settler population quadruple, new settlements come to ring Jerusalem, and Israel keep full military control over 60% of the West Bank (instead of the previous 72%). All those settler “bypass” roads and limited troop redeployments turned out to point not simply to obstacles on the road to the culmination of the “peace process” but to fatal flaws baked into Oslo from the beginning. Indeed, the Oslo Declaration of Principles, which mentioned security 12 times but never once independence, sovereignty, self-determination, freedom, or Palestine, simply wasn’t designed to stop such expansion. In fact, the accords only seemed to facilitate it.

“It was designed to make sure there would never be a Palestinian state,” says Diana Buttu, Palestinian analyst and former legal adviser to the PLO.  “They made it clear that they weren’t going to include the phrases ‘two-state solution,’ ‘Palestinian state,’ or ‘independence.’  It was completely designed to make sure the Palestinians wouldn’t have their freedom.”

The Failure of Oslo

The question worth asking on this 25th anniversary of those accords, which essentially drove policy in the U.S., Israel, the Palestinian occupied territories, and European capitals for a quarter of a century, is this: Were they doomed from the beginning? Billions of dollars and endless rounds of failed negotiations later, did Oslo ever really have a chance to succeed?

“I think it’s wrong to retroactively say that it was all a trick,” says Salim Tamari from the Jerusalem Quarterly’s editorial offices, once located in that holy city, now in Ramallah. The initial agreement was void of specifics, leaving the major issues — settlements, Jerusalem, control of water, refugees and their right of return — to “final status negotiations.” Israel, Tamari believes, unlike the Palestinians, achieved a major goal from the outset. “The Israelis wanted above all to have a security arrangement.”

In “Oslo II,” implemented in 1995, Israel got its cherished security cooperation, which meant that Palestinian police would control Palestinian demonstrators and so keep them from directly confronting Israeli forces. Those were, of course, the very confrontations that had helped fuel the success of the First Intifada, creating the conditions for Oslo. Today, that’s a bitter irony for Palestinians who sacrificed family members or limbs for what turned out to be such a weak agreement. But at the time, for many, it seemed worth the price.

For Palestinians, Oslo remained a kind of tabula rasa of hopes and dreams based on the formula of getting an agreement first and working out the details later. “Arafat thought that if he was able to get into the Palestinian territories, he would manage his relations with the Israelis,” says Ghassan Khatib, former minister of labor and planning for the Palestinian Authority (PA) as well as a prominent analyst and pollster. “And he did not pay attention to the details in the written documents.”

More important to Arafat was simply to return from exile in Tunisia and then convince Israel to end its settlement policies, give Palestinians East Jerusalem, share the region’s water supplies, and come to an equitable agreement on the right of return for Palestinian refugees dispossessed in 1948. Yet Arafat and his cadre of fellow PLO officials from the diaspora, Khatib argues, “had no real understanding of or expertise in the Israeli way of doing things, the Israeli mentality, etcetera, etcetera.”

Just as bad, says Omar Shaban of the Gaza think tank Pal-Think, was the ineptitude of Palestinian institutions in convincing Israelis that they could govern competently. “We didn’t do a very good job… We did not build good institutions. We did not build real democracy. And we did not speak enough to the Israeli public… [to] convince them that we are here to work together, to build together,” and that “peace is good for the Israeli people.”

For Gershon Baskin, however, the failure of Oslo had far less to do with any cultural misunderstandings or bureaucratic mismanagement and far more to do with an act of political violence: the assassination of Rabin by an Israeli right-wing extremist in 1995. His death was “the major event that changed the course of Oslo.”

As Baskin, who served as an adviser to Rabin’s intelligence team for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, recalls, “I know what kind of direction Rabin was moving in when he agreed to Oslo.” In the early Oslo years, the prime minister’s deputies were at work on secret negotiations with the Palestinians — the Geneva Accords and the Beilin-Abu Mazen agreement — that would have made major territorial concessions and called for East Jerusalem to be the future Palestinian capital. Some Palestinians were not impressed; they noted that by approving of the Oslo accords, they had already agreed to cede 78% of historic Palestine, settling for the 22% that remained: the West Bank and Gaza. And they pointed out that some settlements remained in both of these unofficial agreements and that neither included any kind of Palestinian right of return — considered by Israelis as a potential death blow to their state and by countless Palestinians uprooted in 1948 as a non-negotiable issue.

“There’s so much revisionist history,” Diana Buttu says.  She points out that when American settler Baruch Goldstein assassinated 29 Palestinians praying in a mosque in Hebron in 1994, Rabin could have seized the moment to end the settlements.  Instead, she points out, he “entrenched the army, entrenched the settlements.  It’s very cute for them to say it all related to the assassination of Rabin.  But it really relates to what he intended to do in the first place.”

The Soldiers Take Control

Yet Baskin believes that when Rabin, having just addressed 100,000 Israelis at a peace rally in Tel Aviv, was gunned down, Israeli priorities changed strikingly. “It was a peace process taken over by the military and the security people who had a very different understanding of how to do it.” This “change of mentality,” he adds, went “from cooperation and bridge building to walls and fence building — creating a system of separation, of permits, of restriction of movement.” The division of the West Bank into Areas A, B, and C, or ostensiblyfull Palestinian control (18%), joint control (22%), and full Israeli military control (60%), was supposed to be temporary, but it has remained the status quo for a quarter of a century.

Whatever the motives and intentions of the Israeli architects of Oslo, they were soon superseded by Israelis who saw the claim of Eretz Israel — all the land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River — as a prime territorial goal. As a result, the endless expansion of settlements (and the creation of new ones), as well as seizures of Palestinian lands in the West Bank and even of individual Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem neighborhoods, has become the endgame for successive Israeli governments, abetted by their American counterparts. “The basic fact is that Israel has their cake and they’re eating it,” says Tamari. “They have the territories. They’re not withdrawing. They’re happy with the security of A, B, and C. There’s no pressure on them from the Americans. On the contrary.”

In the Oslo era, American presidents and secretaries of state, at most, issued mild diplomatic rebukes for settlement building, never threatening to suspend U.S. aid if Israel didn’t stop undermining the “peace process.” The last time that happened was when Secretary of State James Baker threatened to suspend $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel during the presidency of George H.W. Bush in 1992.

And so, steadily, with every new visit to the Holy Land, I would witness the latest evidence of an expanding occupation — new or larger settlements and military bases, more patrols by jeeps and armored vehicles, new surveillance towers, additional earthen barriers,giant red and white warning signs, and most of all, hundreds of military checkpoints, ever more ubiquitous, on virtually every mile of the West Bank. Less visible were the night raids on Palestinian refugee camps and the nearly 40%of Palestinian adult males who have spent time in Israeli prisons, where the military court conviction rate for them is 99.74%. Also on the increase was the Palestinian Authority’s expanding “security cooperation” with Israel. That, in turn, often pitted Palestinians against each other, embittering villagers and city dwellers alike against the governing PA.

As the system of control grew, draconian restrictions on movement only increased. Adults and children alike were forced to wait hours to return home from school or work or a visit to a hospital or relatives in Jordan. Meanwhile, occupied Palestine was slowly being converted into an archipelago of Israeli military control. Clearly, the “peace process” had made things far worse for Palestinians.

“I remember the nice days where there was peace without agreement,” says Shaban of Pal-Think, his tongue only partly in cheek. “Now we have agreement without peace.”

When “Peace” Is a Dirty Word

And so, in the post-Oslo decades, even “peace” became a dirty word to many Palestinians. “They thought that this agreement would lead into an independent Palestinian state,” says Ghassan Khatib, whose initial tracking poll, shortly after the iconic handshake on the White House lawn, showed 70% Palestinian support for Oslo. But when, he adds, “the public realized that this agreement was not good enough to stop the expansion of settlements, they realized it’s good for nothing. Because the peace process for the Palestinians is about ending the occupation. And settlement expansion is actually the essence of occupation.” Twenty-five years later, his polling finds that support for the “peace process” among Palestinians is now at about 24%.

On the ground, what now exists is not two states, but essentially a single state that leaves Israel in de facto control of land, water, borders, and freedom of movement. What connections existed between the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem have been splintered, with little prospect of any kind of reunification any time soon.

Today, when you travel to the West Bank and drive through what was to be the landscape of a free and independent Palestine, you find yourself surrounded by a militarized colonial settler regime. The word “apartheid” inevitably comes to mind, despite its unpopularity among the pro-Israel lobby and their charges in Congress. Sometimes, I wonder whether “Jim Crow” doesn’t best describe the new Palestinian reality.

For me, each successive trip has revealed a political situation grimmer and less hopeful than the time before. Israel’s pursuit of land over peace and the complicity of the American government essentially killed “the two-state solution.”

The final blow came this May when the Trump administration moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In the process, it became clear that U.S. Mideast policy is now largely directed not only by the pro-settler triumvirate of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and Middle East adviser Jason Greenblatt, but also by the Armageddon lobby. Those evangelical Christians are spearheaded by John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, which has surpassed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as the largest pro-Israel group in the U.S. They believe that Israel must remain in control of the Holy Land so that Jesus can return and mete out justice to sinners, after which believers will rise to heaven in the rapture. Hagee, who has described such a moment in detail from his pulpit, is a major contributor to the Israeli settlement of Ariel (population 20,000). It was no happenstance that he was the minister who gave the benediction at the U.S. embassy dedication ceremony in Jerusalem in May, as Israeli forces were gunning down unarmed protesters in Gaza.

Now, in an effort to end the long-standing right of return of Palestinian refugees, the Trump administration is canceling funding to UNRWA, the U.N. refugee agency that has provided food, shelter, education, and housing in the Palestinian refugee camps for nearly seven decades. The move, spearheaded by Kushner, is part of a broader “deal of the century” to pressure Palestiniansinto a peace agreement on American and Israeli terms. Clearly a bad deal for Palestinians, it is sure to sharply increase poverty and hunger in the camps, especially in Gaza. Strategically, it appears to be an attempt to force Gazans to give up their long-standing national rights, while increasing their dependence on humanitarian aid.

There is another solution, says Buttu.  Instead of approaching this as primarily a humanitarian problem, the international community could “put pressure on Israel to end the [economic] siege, and allow us to live in freedom. If we were able to have a seaport, an airport,” to import, export, and travel freely, “we wouldn’t need handouts.” Yet most of the world, she says, is “too terrified to confront Israel.”

Failed peace, dashed hopes, hunger, apartheid, Armageddon. Not much to celebrate, is there? And there may not be for quite a while. “The dream is still there,” insists Tamari, but he adds that, for the foreseeable future, “I think we’re going to continue to have the status quo. State of repression, colonization for many, many years to come. Until the global scene changes.” Say, a major decline in U.S. influence (something not so hard to imagine right now) or some other less predictable set of events. “Or until the Palestinians undertake a massive civil insurrection. That may tip the balance.”

An Ode to Joy

Many Palestinians see the recent Gaza March of Return and the nonviolent boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, which advocates cultural and economic boycotts of Israel, as examples of such civil insurrections. BDS supporters recently celebrated a genuine victory, with the announcements by Lana del Rey and 15 other artists that they were bowing out of the Meteor concert festival in Israel. Yet taken together, BDS and the March of Return don’t come close to the First Intifada, a six-year uprising involving virtually every sector of Palestinian society, which brought Israel to the negotiating table — ironically, for the failed Oslo Agreement.

Still, few are the Palestinians likely to tell you that the national dream is dead. In late July, for instance, I spoke with Laila Salah, a 21-year-old Palestinian cellist, then rehearsing to play Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in Jerusalem in an orchestra led by Palestinian violist Ramzi Aburedwan, the founder of the Al Kamandjati music school. Many of Laila’s fellow Palestinian musicians, risking arrest, snuck into the holy city, in part to play Beethoven but also to assert their right to be in their beloved Jerusalem, which they still dream of as their capital. When I asked Laila if she thought Palestine would have its own state one day, she compared her people’s freedom to the fourth movement, or Ode to Joy, in the 9th Symphony. “The fourth movement embodies our freedom,” she told me. “Or at least, being able to go freely around Palestine. It’s a wish to come true. I don’t know when. We might not be alive to see our fourth movement.”

With the endless march of settlements, Israel’s continued impunity, a fractured Palestine divided between the West Bank and Gaza, and a Trump administration empowering people who believe Armageddon is near, a solution to the Israel-Palestine nightmare may seem impossible.  But maybe, Laila, a just peace is coming sooner than you think.

After all, who predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall or the end of apartheid in South Africa?

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Israeli Questioning of U.S. Jews at Border Expose Deeper Rift

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by JOSEF FEDERMAN / The Associated Press.

JERUSALEM — When Simone Zimmerman arrived at the check-in window at the Israeli border with Egypt, it didn’t take long for the young activist to run into trouble.

Zimmerman, a Jewish American living in Israel, quickly became a person of interest after telling the border agent that she worked for an Israeli advocacy group that assists Palestinians. She says that led to a series of “super-charged” questions about her professional activities and political views.

The agent wanted to know why she worked with Palestinians, not Jews, and asked for the names of Palestinian contacts in the West Bank. Agents unlocked her phone, asked her opinion of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and threatened to deport her if she lied. After four hours, Zimmerman, who had taken a brief vacation in Egypt, was allowed to return to Israel.

A series of similar incidents at Israeli border crossings has highlighted a growing gulf between the country’s hard-line government and liberal Jewish Americans who say they support Israel but oppose its policies on issues including religion, President Donald Trump and especially the continued occupation of the West Bank.

This shift already appears to be having important implications for what historically has been a close relationship built on almost unquestioning bipartisan support. Some Jewish leaders have begun to criticize Israeli policies publicly, and some predict that the Democratic Party — home to an estimated 70 percent of American Jews — could soon turn away from its support for Israel.

A poll published by the American Jewish Committee in June showed deep differences between U.S. and Israeli Jews on issues like Israeli settlements, religious pluralism and Trump’s policies. Only 34 percent of American Jews, for instance, supported Trump’s handling of relations with Israel, compared with 77 percent of Israeli Jews.

A separate poll conducted by the Pew Research Center early this year found deep partisan differences in attitudes toward Israel, with Republicans more sympathetic to Israel than Democrats by a nearly 3-to-1 margin.

The differences between the world’s two largest Jewish communities have been in the making for years.

Non-Orthodox American Jews have long identified with liberal causes, such as civil rights and social justice, and have become well-integrated into mainstream American society. They have a high rate of intermarriage with non-Jews, are less engaged in Jewish communal life than their parents, and tend to hold relatively dovish attitudes in Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, according to Steven Cohen, a prominent sociologist who studies the American Jewish community.

In contrast, many Israelis have more conservative world views. They generally oppose mixed marriage, have a more collective identity and take a harder line toward the Palestinians, Cohen said.

“Essentially, you have a liberal American Jewry confronting an increasingly conservative Israeli electorate, specifically an Israeli Jewish electorate,” Cohen said.

Despite these differences, the Jewish American establishment — led by the influential pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC — has firmly backed the Israeli government and its policies over the years. But a series of decisions by Netanyahu’s government has begun to soften that support.

Netanyahu upset many American Jews by appearing to side with Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election. He openly welcomed Trump’s election in 2016 and has angered many American Jews by forging a close relationship with a U.S. president they see as anathema to their values.

The relationship hit a major turning point last year when Netanyahu, under pressure from religious political partners, called off an agreement to create an egalitarian space where men and women could worship together at the Western Wall, Judaism’s most holy prayer site. The Reform and Conservative movements, which represent most affiliated American Jews, slammed his decision.

Netanyahu’s government has also passed legislation aimed at curbing the influence of anti-occupation advocacy groups, banned gay couples from receiving state-funded surrogacy services and approved a ban on activists who support boycotts of Israel or Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Last month, Israel approved a “nation state” law enshrining the country’s Jewish character, angering many in Israel’s Arab minority, who said it rendered them second-class citizens.

Jewish American groups have strongly condemned the law, as have Israeli liberals who saw it as undermining democracy and needlessly provoking the country’s Arab minority. This week, a coalition of anti-occupation Jewish groups in the U.S. pledged to demand explanations from any visiting Israeli lawmaker who supported the law.

Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, wrote in The New York Times this week that some diaspora Jews “wonder if the nation they cherish is losing its way.” He said this sentiment is especially prevalent among younger Jewish Americans.

“Jewish millennials are raising doubts that their parents and grandparents never raised,” Lauder wrote. “Passing the torch to this younger generation is already a difficult undertaking. But when Israel’s own government proposes damaging legislation, this task may well become nearly impossible.”

Israel still has significant support in the American Jewish community. AIPAC continues to wield influence in Washington; the White House and Congress remain strongly pro-Israel; and the smaller but more politically engaged Orthodox Jewish minority fervently supports Israel.

Elad Strohmayer, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said Israel and American Jews have a special bond “that Israel does not take for granted and which must always be nurtured.”

He said all of Israel’s diplomatic missions in the U.S. are engaged in “extensive outreach to American Jews and work to strengthen the connection of all Jews to Israel, regardless of their denomination.”

Zimmerman, 27, said she grew up in a mainstream Jewish family in Los Angeles and was raised to show unwavering support for Israel. She only began to ask questions after heading to college, where she said she found it difficult to defend Israel against critics of its policies toward the Palestinians. This led to disillusionment with the Jewish establishment. She became involved with J Street U, the campus arm of a Jewish lobby group that supports Israel but opposes the occupation.

“That really for a lot of young Jews is how the process started for many of us. It was actually just about wanting the space to ask the hard questions that didn’t exist in the community,” she said.

Three years ago, Zimmerman formed “IfNotNow,” a grassroots group that opposes Israel’s occupation. The group claims to have nearly 2,000 trained activists, with chapters in 16 cities and a dozen college campuses.

“Our contribution is to bring the crisis of American Jewish support for the occupation into the center of public discourse and to force a difficult conversation,” she said.

In recent weeks, several other vocal critics of Israeli policies have been detained and questioned about their political views when entering the country. Among them was Peter Beinart, a journalist, TV commentator and university professor who is well known in Jewish circles.

Beinart warned “there is no question” American Jews are growing ever more distant from Israel. “The depth of animosity and alienation has grown dramatically,” he said, predicting that Israelis will be “shocked” by how critical of Israeli policies Democratic presidential candidates in 2020 will be and how much support they will get from young American Jews.

“When you think about how liberal American Jews think about Donald Trump, that’s the way they feel about Netanyahu,” he said. “That’s the emerging demographic majority in the United States.”

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Israel Detaining Jewish Activists for Supporting Palestinian Rights

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Ilana Novick.

Facing backlash against its controversial “nation-state bill” last month, Israel has detained Jewish writers and activists who oppose the law’s definition of Israel as an entirely Jewish state, with no mention of the value of democracy or equal rights for Palestinians.

On Sunday, writer, professor and political commentator Peter Beinart was on vacation, traveling from Greece to attend a family bat mitzvah in Israel when he was detained by the Shin Bet, Israel’s security agency, at Ben Gurion Airport in Jerusalem, he reported Monday in an article for The Forward.

Beinart’s was one of three such detentions at airports and border crossings in recent weeks.

Israel-born poet Moriel Rothman-Zecher arrived at Ben Gurion with his wife and infant daughter on July 29. Agents allowed his family through customs, but detained him for approximately three hours, claiming his involvement in nonviolent protests was a “slippery slope” to violence against the state, and asking him for the names of pro-Palestinian and peace organizations and of fellow activists and friends.

Rothman-Zechner called the experience “jarring and unpleasant,” but acknowledged how common and more abusive the situation is for countless Palestinians, and anyone else without his Israeli citizenship and white privilege.

He wondered how he would explain the incident to his daughter when she is older. “It’s painful to think about telling her one day, ‘Hey kid, on our first visit to Israel, your aba [father] was detained at the border because he thinks Palestinians are human beings deserving of equality,’ ” he said.

A week after Rothman-Zecher’s detention, Beinart’s former colleague, Simone Zimmerman, a founder of IfNotNow, an organization of young American Jews fighting Israel’s occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, was detained with a friend, Abigail Kirschenbaum, at the Taba Border Crossing between Israel and Egypt.

According to New York magazine, the two “were held for roughly three and a half hours, had their phones inspected, and were asked a litany of queries about their opinions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, their involvement with human-rights groups, and their interactions with Palestinians, among other topics.”

The incident involving Beinart occurred a week after that of Zimmerman and Kirschenbaum. While long an advocate for a two-state solution and Palestinian rights, in the past Beinart has been more cautious about separating his advocacy for the Palestinian people from his Zionism and defense of a Jewish state. Those nuances, however, may be lost on Israeli security forces.

“I was detained and interrogated about my political activities,” Beinart writes, describing how agents first detained him with his family, asking innocuous questions about where they were from and why they were in Israel before escorting Beinart separately to another room, where the questions turned accusatory and aggressive:

<blockquote>Was I involved in any organization that could provoke violence in Israel? I said no. Was I involved in any organization that threatens Israel democracy? I said no—that I support Israeli organizations that employ non-violence to defend Israeli democracy.</blockquote>

The agent then confronted Beinart about his participation in a protest on his last trip to Israel, one that Beinart explained was due to “the fact that Palestinians in Hebron and across the West Bank lack basic rights.” He described his involvement in The Center for Jewish Nonviolence.

The conversation took a strange turn after that, with the interrogator comparing the center with North Korea. As Beinart recalls:

<blockquote>He asked if the Center had incited violence, and I replied that, as its name suggests, it practices non-violence. My interrogator then replied that names could be misleading. The government of North Korea, he observed, calls itself a democracy but is not. I told him I didn’t think the Center for Jewish Nonviolence and the North Korean government have much in common.</blockquote>

Beinart recognizes that he had immense privilege due to being white and Jewish and armed with the number of a lawyer he called, who helped set him free. He also was the only one of the three recent detainees to receive an apology from Shin Bet and a rare admission of wrongdoing from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We are sorry for the distress caused to Mr. Beinart,” a Shin Bet spokesperson said in a statement, The Times of Israel reports. Netanyahu called the incident “an administrative mistake” and “immediately spoke with Israel’s security forces to inquire how this happened.”

For Beinart, Netanyahu’s statement didn’t go far enough. On Monday he tweeted, “Benjamin Netanyahu has half-apologized for my detention yesterday at Ben Gurion airport. I’ll accept when he apologizes to all the Palestinians and Palestinian-Americans who every day endure far worse.”



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Palestinian Teens Reach Finals of Silicon Valley App Pitch

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH / The Associated Press.

NABLUS, West Bank (AP) — Four Palestinian high school friends are heading to California this week to pitch their mobile app about fire prevention to Silicon Valley’s tech leaders, after winning a slot in the finals of a worldwide competition among more than 19,000 teenage girls.

For the 11th graders from the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the ticket of admission to the World Pitch Summit signals a particularly dramatic leap.

They come from middle class families that value education, but opportunities have been limited because of the omnipresent Israeli-Palestinian conflict, prevailing norms of patriarchy in their traditional society and typically underequipped schools with outdated teaching methods.

“We are excited to travel in a plane for the first time in our lives, meet new people and see a new world,” said team member Wasan al-Sayed, 17. “We are excited to be in the most prestigious IT community in the world, Silicon Valley, where we can meet interesting people and see how the new world works.”

Twelve teams made it to the finals of the “Technovation Challenge” in San Jose, California, presenting apps that tackle problems in their communities. The Palestinian teens compete in the senior division against teams from Egypt, the United States, Mexico, India and Spain, for scholarships of up to $15,000.

The competition, now in its ninth year, is run by Iridescent, a global nonprofit offering opportunities to young people, especially girls, through technology. The group said 60 percent of the U.S. participants enroll in additional computer science courses after the competition, with 30 percent majoring in that field in college, well above the national rate among female U.S. college students. Two-thirds of international participants show an interest in technology-related courses, the group said.

Palestinian Education Minister Sabri Saidam counts on technology — along with a new emphasis on vocational training — to overhaul Palestinian schools, where many students still learn by rote in crowded classrooms.

Youth unemployment, particularly among university graduates, is a central problem across the Arab world, in part because of a demographic “youth bulge.” Last year, unemployment among Palestinian college graduates under the age of 30 reached 56 percent, including 41 percent in the West Bank and 73 percent in the Gaza Strip, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.

Unemployment is particularly high among female university graduates, in part because young women are expected to marry and raise children, while young men are considered the main breadwinners. However, employers also complain that graduates studying outdated or irrelevant courses often lack the needed skills for employment.

Saidam said Palestinian schools have received 15,000 computers in the last couple of years. His ministry has also established 54 bookless “smart schools” for grades one to six where students use laptops and learn by doing, including educational trips and involvement with their society.

Meanwhile, the Technovation Challenge has already been a life-changing experience for al-Sayed and her teammates, Zubaida al-Sadder, Masa Halawa and Tamara Awaisa.

They are now determined to pursue careers in technology.

“Before this program, we had a vague idea about the future,” said al-Sayed, speaking at a computer lab at An Najah University in her native Nablus, the West Bank’s second largest city. “Now we have a clear idea. It helped us pick our path in life.”

The teens first heard about the competition a few months ago from an IT teacher at their school in a middle-class neighborhood in Nablus, where IT classes are a modest affair, held twice a week, with two students to a computer.

The girls, friends since 10th grade, each had a laptop at home though, and worked with Yamama Shakaa, a local mentor provided by the competition organizers. The teens “did everything by themselves, with very few resources,” said Shakaa.

The team produced a virtual reality game, “Be a firefighter,” to teach fire prevention skills.

The subject is particularly relevant in some parts of the Palestinian territories, such as the Gaza Strip, where a border blockade by Israel and Egypt — imposed after the takeover of the Islamic militant group Hamas in 2007 — has led to hours-long daily power cuts and the widespread use of candles and other potential fire hazards.

The teens now hope to expand their app to include wildfire prevention. They will also present a business and marketing plan at the California pitching session.

After the competition, they will give the app to the Palestinian Education Ministry for use in schools.

“This prize has changed our lives,” said al-Sayed.

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D.C. Elites Shocked at Trump’s Treatment of Putin but Give Israel’s Netanyahu a Pass

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Juan Cole / Informed Comment.

The inside-the-Beltway crowd was absolutely outraged and appalled by Trump’s performance at Helsinki. There, Trump violated all the principles of American hawkishness. He sat next to Vladimir Putin, leader of a rival power, signaling that Russia is a peer. He sided with Putin over the assessments of the CIA, the NSA and other US intelligence organizations (they are 16, and mostly redundant since they are under pressure to conform to one another). He denied Russian attempts to influence the 2016 elections. He declined to press Russian President Vladimir Putin on his annexation of the Crimea or border clashes with Ukraine, or the poisoning of his critics while they were in the UK, or Putin’s crackdown on the press and on his political opponents.

While Putin’s behavior has been objectionable, there is something profoundly hypocritical about the US elite pretending that the US doesn’t embrace people like Putin all the time.

Take Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He is guilty of most of the same infractions held against Putin. Netanyahu openly campaigned for the Republican candidates in 2012 and 2016. He openly interfered in US politics by insisting on addressing Congress to derail the Iran nuclear deal (a quest in which he ultimately succeeded, putting the US closer to war footing with Iran).

In fact, Netanyahu was one of those foreign influencers pushing Trump to do a “grand bargain” with . . . Vladimir Putin. The Israeli leader allegedly pushed for lifting of US sanctions on Putin and his circle in return for Putin pushing Iran out of Syria. (Note that in this scenario Netanyahu makes out like a bandit but the US gets almost nothing in return for essentially recognizing the Russian annexation of Crimea.)

Netanyahu runs spy rings against the United States far more aggressive and extensive than those of European countries, the seriousness of which Congressional staffers have found “sobering.”

Netanyahu is in the process of annexing the Palestinian West Bank, to which he has much less claim in international law than Putin does to the Crimea. (The Soviet Union assigned Crimea to Ukraine only in the 1950s, when the latter was a Soviet socialist republic, but Russian possession of it went back to the eighteenth century.) Netanyahu is presiding over an Apartheid state in which 4.5 million of the 12.5 million people controlled by the Israeli government are stateless and besieged or patrolled by the Israeli military.

Netanyahu has even had people poisoned.

So in Trump’s fanboy performance with Putin in Helsinki, Trump waxed lyrical about how close the US is to Israel, and did opine that Iran needed to leave Syria. Nobody in DC is complaining about that piece of sycophancy.

In Washington, it is all right to slam Trump for treason (it isn’t really treason since the US isn’t at war with the Russian Federation) or for making nice with Putin despite the latter’s various misdeeds. But it is political death to criticize Netanyahu’s interference in American foreign policy or aggressive Israeli land theft or Israel setting the US up for conflict with Iran.

But there is no domestic Russia lobby, so it is all right to slam Putin.


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Why Palestine’s Feminists Are Fighting on Two Fronts

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Fadi Abu Shammalah and Jen Marlowe / TomDispatch.

“I am here because I heard my town call me, and ask me to maintain my honor.” Fifty-seven-year-old Um Khalid Abu Mosa spoke in a strong, gravelly voice as she sat on the desert sand, a white tent protecting her from the blazing sun. “The land,” she says with determination, “is honor and dignity.”

She was near the southern Gaza Strip town of Khuza’a, the heavily fortified barrier with Israel in plain sight and well-armed Israeli soldiers just a few hundred meters away. Abu Mosa’s left arm was wrapped in a sling fashioned from a black-and-white-checkered kuffiyeh, or scarf, and a Palestinian flag. Israeli soldiers had shot her in the shoulder with live ammunition on March 30th as she approached the barrier to plant a Palestinian flag in a mound of earth. The bullet is still lodged in her collarbone. Three weeks later, however, she’s back at the Great Return March, a series of protests organized around five encampments stretching along a unilaterally imposed Israeli buffer zone on the 37-mile barrier between the Gaza Strip and Israel.

The Return March, which has just ended, was unique in recent history in Gaza for a number of reasons. Palestinians there are known for engaging in militant resistance against the Israeli occupation and also for the internal political split in their ranks between two dominant factions, Fatah and Hamas. Yet, in these weeks, the March has been characterized by a popular, predominantly nonviolent mobilization during which Gaza’s fractured political parties have demonstrated a surprising degree of unity. And perhaps most noteworthy of all, women activists have played a visibly crucial role in the protests on a scale not seen for decades, possibly indicating what the future may look like when it comes to activism in the Gaza Strip.

The Return March began on March 30th, or Land Day, commemorating the 1976 killings of six Palestinians inside Israel who had been protesting land confiscations. The March was slated to end on May 15th, the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, Arabic for “catastrophe.” The term is used to refer to the 1948 war that led to the creation of Israel and the displacement of approximately 750,000 Palestinians, as well as the depopulation of more than 450 Palestinian towns and villages. Seventy percent of Gaza’s blockaded population is made up of those who fled or were expelled from their lands and villages during the Nakba or their descendants. The vast majority of those participating in the Great Return March, including Abu Mosa, know those native villages only through family lore, yet their yearning to return is visceral.

During the March, 125 Palestinians were killed and a staggering 13,000 wounded. Abu Mosa saw many fellow protesters wounded or killed, especially on May 14th, the day the Trump administration opened its new embassy in Jerusalem when the protests escalated and some participants attempted to break through the barrier.

On that day alone, Israeli forces killed 62 Palestinians and injured 2,700 more. “Don’t ask me if someone close to me has been injured or killed,” Abu Mosa says. “All the protesters are my relatives and friends. We became one family.” After the carnage of May 14th, the grassroots committee organizing the March decided that the protests had to continue. The killings continued as well. On June 1st, a 21-year old woman volunteer paramedic was, for instance, shot in the chest and killed.

For Abu Mosa, a schoolteacher and mother of six, the March centers entirely on her dream of returning to her native town of Beer Sheva. And in its wake, she insists that she will go back, “and on my way, I will plant mint and flowers.”

Much like Abu Mosa, 20-year-old Siwar Alza’anen, an activist in an organization called the Palestinian Students Labor Front, is motivated by a deep desire to return to her native village. She is also marching “to send a message to the international community that we are suffering a lot, we are living under pressure, siege, pain, poverty.”

The Great Return March and the First Intifada

A small Palestinian flag flutters on the edge of Samira Abdelalim’s desk in Rafah, the southernmost town in the Gaza Strip. Forty-four-year-old Abdelalim serves as the director of the women’s department at the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions. Her steely eyes are framed with a simple navy-blue headscarf. Abdelalim hopes the Great March of Return will peacefully achieve the right of return to her people’s villages, self-determination, and the possibility of living “in peace and freedom” — but she’s realistic, too. “I know that the occupation will not end in one day,” she says, “but by cumulative work.”

Iktimal Hamad is on the Supreme National Commission of the Return March, the only woman among the March’s 15 lead organizers. Sitting in her Gaza City office, her light brown hair pulled into a tight bun, she speaks about her own double agenda — to end the Israeli occupation, but also to promote equality for women in Gaza. “Women can play a prominent role in the liberation of Palestine, because they are integral to the Palestinian community,” she tells us.

Abdelalim leads the March’s women’s committee in Rafah, one of five with 15 members for each of the encampments. With her fellow committee members, she organizes the women in the March, arranges logistics such as water and buses, and plans youth empowerment and cultural activities.

Her own activism began during the first Palestinian Intifada (Arabic for “shaking off”) or “uprising” and she insists that the goals and methods are the same in the present set of demonstrations. The First Intifada began in 1987 and was characterized by a highly coordinated, unarmed mass-mobilization against the Israeli occupation. Widespread acts of civil disobedience included strikes, boycotts, the creation of “underground” schools, grassroots projects to develop economic independence from Israel, and mass demonstrations. Women were that uprising’s backbone.

“The masters of the field are the protestors,” Abdelalim says of both then and now. “In the First Intifada, women and men used to stand shoulder to shoulder beside each other, struggling together.”

Abu Mosa, who is typical of many women in Gaza in not having been politically active in more than 25 years, tells us that the Return March brings back her memories of that earlier period. Even the smell of tear gas makes her nostalgic. “I feel this March is the First Intifada.”

Hamad was also a young activist during the First Intifada. Now 51, she remembers how women were “the vanguard” of that uprising. “There was a unified women’s council in 1989 and this council had the responsibility of the streets,” she recalls. Women led demonstrations and sit-ins, distributed leaflets, created neighborhood committees and participated in a unified women’s council. They even worked together in remarkable unity, whatever political faction they belonged to.

Women’s Activism After the First Intifada

The First Intifada ended with the signing of the Oslo Accords, a peace agreement negotiated in secret between the government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Made up only of Palestinians in exile, the PLO negotiation team was all male.

The Oslo Accords led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority and the return of the exiled PLO leaders to the West Bank and Gaza. Many of the grassroots activists who had led the uprising were promptly marginalized in the formation of new leadership structures — and women were excluded altogether.

According to Samira Abdelalim, the trajectory of the struggle, and particularly the role of women, then shifted radically. There was now an armed, institutional Authority governing a traditional, patriarchal society. “The male societies refused to include women in the decision-making units, and denied women’s [engagement] in policies and plans,” she explains. So, rather than confronting the Israeli occupation, Palestinian women began agitating for social, political, legal, and economic rights within Palestinian society. Abdelalim and other women activists organized around the task of creating laws to protect women from honor killings — that is, the murder of a female family member when she is perceived to have brought shame upon the family — and to prevent gender-based male violence.

The Oslo process was supposed to culminate in agreements on a set of thorny “permanent status” issues between Israel and the Palestinians. These issues included Jerusalem, water rights, border delineation, settlements, and refugees. However, trust in the process continued to erode over the years and the “final” status negotiations held in the summer of 2000 collapsed, setting the stage for the Second Intifada, which erupted on September 29th of that year.

Though that uprising initially began with large-scale demonstrations reminiscent of the previous one, it quickly turned toward armed resistance. According to political scientist Marie Principe’s research for the United States Institute for Peace, nonviolent movements create openings for a wide range of people, including women, children, and the old, to get involved in a way that violent campaigns don’t. Due to the armed nature of the Second Intifada, the space for the involvement of women, in particular, began to shrink radically. In this period, according to Abdelalim, women activists refocused their work in the international arena, attempting to expose the violence of the occupation to the world through documentation, media reports, and international conferences.

This sort of activism, however, was predominantly open only to women from a higher socio-economic class — those, in particular, who worked for NGOs, had access to university education, andhad some ability, however restricted, to reach the outside world, whether through travel or the Internet. Many of the women who had been out on the streets during the First Intifada were left without roles to play.

In 2006, Hamas (an Arabic acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement) won the Palestinian legislative elections over the previously dominant Palestinian National Liberation Movement, or Fatah. Some Gaza-based leaders of Fatah then sought to oust Hamas (with U.S. backing), leading to a bloody internecine civil war on the Strip in which Hamas violently gained control in 2007.

The Hamas-Fatah divide became a new focal point for women activists in Gaza. In those years, women generally called for Palestinian unity, remembers Abdelalim, insisting that their enemy should be the Israeli occupation, not a competing Palestinian faction. The official reconciliation negotiation team (which signed multiple unity agreements starting in 2011 that were never implemented) did not include women. Abdelalim and other women activists nonetheless held weekly demonstrations to protest the internal split in Gaza, even drafting a joint statement by women on both sides of the political divide calling for national unity.

Under the Hamas regime, however, the situation of women only continued to deteriorate. “Hamas took us back decades,” says Iktimal Hamad, noting the regime’s desire to impose Islamic Sharia law in place of the Palestinian law in force on the West Bank. “Hamas doesn’t believe in equality between women and men,” she says bluntly.

Palestinian society has indeed grown ever more religiously conservative over the past decades, especially in Gaza. Siwar Alza’anen remains among a small minority of women in that imprisoned strip of land who do not cover their hair. She admits, though, that most women in Gaza have little choice but to adhere to restrictive societal norms in dress and culture. They generally can’t even leave home without the permission of a male relative. Abu Mosa remembers protesting during the First Intifada alongside women with uncovered hair who were wearing short skirts. “Now they ask girls to wear head scarves at the age of 12,” she adds with obvious disapproval, though she herself does cover.

Yet throughout those repressive years, Hamad points out, women continued to play a central role in the Palestinian struggle through family education. Women were the mothers of the martyrs, the wounded, and the prisoners. A woman, as she puts it, remains “half of the community and the community is not complete without her contribution.”

Women Begin to Reclaim Their Activist Roles

Abdelalim and Hamad are hopeful that the current protests indicate a new phase for women’s activism in Gaza and may provide a path to greater gender equality. “What happened in this Great Return March is that women reclaimed their large role in the Palestinian struggle,” Abdelalim says. As Hamad observes, the number of women involved increased each Friday. In fact, according to Abdelalim’s estimate, women made up about 40% of the protesters, a remarkable figure given the history of these last years.

Because the protests are unarmed and popular in nature, men have even supported women’s involvement. Hamad is organizing for the first time not just with men from the national secular movements but from the Islamic movements as well, and she feels respected and appreciated by them.

Still, Abdelalim insists that women have never simply sat around waiting for men’s permission to act. “We’ve always claimed our role in the struggle,” she says.

Abdelalim, Hamad, Alza’anen, and Abu Mosa all spoke with pride about the unity exhibited during the Great Return March. As Hamad put it, “In spite of the internal political split, we succeeded in embodying the unified struggle.”

“No one raises the flag of their political faction,” adds Alza’anen. Instead, the chants for Palestine send a message of unity both to Palestinians and to the world.

Women’s participation in the March boosts their self-confidence, says Abdelalim. “The march broke the wall of silence between the women and [the rest of our] community,” she insists. And she’s convinced that this new sense of power will lead women to struggle to take part in decision-making on a larger scale, while becoming more courageous in demanding their rights. After marching at the border side by side with her father, her husband, her brothers, no young woman will be content to “stay at home waiting for men to give her small benefits.”

All four women hold expansive visions of what they want their national struggle to yield. Abdelalim says that she is “fighting to guarantee the best future” for her children. She wants her people to be free in their homeland. She imagines children playing with joy instead of fear and a future world lacking refugees, hunger, or war-related disabilities. “The future means young men and women singing, dancing, building their homeland,” she muses.

For Abu Mosa, “the future is hope and love for the homeland.” In her dream of the future, she describes an old man, right of return fulfilled, wiping away his tears so many years later. Her vision also has space for non-Palestinians. “I have no problem with Jews. If they visit me, I will host them in my house, and they can live in my country.” But, she adds, she will not tolerate the presence of the Zionists who displaced her family.

Alza’anen hopes the losses sustained during the March will not be in vain. The killings “motivate us to keep walking in the same direction, that our determination and intention will not collapse.”

Hamad is convinced that the liberation of Palestinian women is dependent on the national liberation that the Great Return March embodied. “Women,” she says, “will always be in the front lines of our national struggle.”

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Two Important International Votes Against Israeli Occupation

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Juan Cole / Informed Comment.

In a blow to the Trump administration and the government of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted, by 120 votes in favor, a resolution introduced by Algeria and Turkey condemning Israel for deploying excessive force against Palestinians at rallies near the border of Gaza.

After a thorough investigation, Human Rights Watch concluded that there are credible grounds for charging Israeli officials with war crimes at the International Criminal Court over the tactic of sniping at unarmed civilians who posed no immediate danger to Israeli troops (while over 100 Palestinians were killed and thousands injured by live ammunition since March, no Israeli troops appear to have been so much as injured).

The resolution was backed by 12 European states, including France, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Ireland, Norway, Finland, Portugal, and Greece. 16 European countries abstained, but none voted against the resolution.


Although the US and Israeli ambassadors to the UN attempted to deride the vote as mere anti-Semitism, in fact world leaders have been deeply disturbed by the naked Israeli violation of basic international legal norms in Tel Aviv’s response to the Gaza protests. For an Occupying power systematically to shoot down unarmed civilians in an occupied territory for mounting protests that posed no immediate danger to anyone is clearly a war crime under the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Indeed, repeated war crimes may amount to a crime against humanity.

The resolution instructed UN Secretary General António Guterres to institute some sort of protection for Palestinians from this use against them by Israel of indiscriminate and disproportionate force.

The resolution also condemned the firing from Gaza of rockets toward Israel.

The Israeli ambassador castigated the vote as tantamount to terrorism. “Instigation” has become right wing Israeli code for any condemnation of oppression of Palestinians, and is increasingly a thought crime in Israeli itself punishable by prison. Poets and bloggers are in jail for the same “crime” of which the UN General Assembly stands accused.

A similar resolution was supported by the UN Security Council, but the US cast the sole veto.

A US resolution condemning Hamas failed to receive the necessary 2/3s majority to be voted on.

American pro-Israeli propaganda, prominent in the editorial pages of the New York Times, attempts to blame the Palestinian party-militia Hamas for the deaths and injuries of Palestinians at the border rallies. However, Hamas did not set the rules of engagement of the Israeli army or force snipers to shoot unarmed medics, journalists, children, and ordinary protesters. The US press almost never mentions that 70 percent of the families in Gaza are refugees deliberately chased out of their homes in what is now southern Israel, and kept cooped up in the world’s largest outdoor prison.

In another important international vote, the 4 million strong Indian Student Federation has voted to boycott Hewlett Packard computers and other equipment on the grounds that the company is involved in the oppression of Palestinians by the Israeli occupiers. This step seems to me among the more significant victories for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement promoted by Palestinian civil society. BDS is not practiced by the State of Palestine itself.

The Indian student vote points to the significance of the UN General Assembly resolution, inasmuch as it will encourage more such civil society boycotts of Israel, which if they grow large enough could inflict substantial pain on the far right wing Likud government.


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Rights Group: Israeli Lethal Force in Gaza May Be War Crime

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by ILAN BEN ZION / The Associated Press.

JERUSALEM — Human Rights Watch said Wednesday that Israel’s use of lethal force against Palestinian demonstrators in the Gaza Strip in recent weeks may constitute war crimes.

The statement was issued Wednesday ahead of an emergency U.N. General Assembly meeting to vote on a resolution condemning Israel’s “excessive use of force.” A similar Security Council resolution was vetoed earlier this month by the United States for being “fundamentally imbalanced” and “grossly one-sided,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said.

Palestinians have held near-weekly protests since March 30, calling for a “right of return” to ancestral homes now in Israel. At least 120 Palestinians have been killed and more than 3,800 wounded by Israeli fire in protests along the border. The overwhelming majority of the dead and wounded have been unarmed, according to Gaza health officials.

The Israeli military has said its soldiers adhere to the rules of engagement to defend Israeli civilians and security infrastructure from attacks cloaked by the protests.

Human Rights Watch contended in its statement that the mostly unarmed protesters didn’t pose an imminent threat to Israeli troops or civilians, and therefore the use of live fire suggests a violation of international law. The organization said eyewitnesses recounted Palestinians were shot from a great distance from the fence, and others who “had not thrown stones or otherwise tried to harm Israeli soldiers” were shot from a closer range.

Israel has been accused of committing war crimes in its three wars in the Gaza Strip in the last decade. Last month the Palestinians urged the International Criminal Court in The Hague to launch an investigation into Israeli policies and actions in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, accusing Israel of systemic crimes.

Israel has called the Palestinian move “legally invalid.” Israel is not a member of the ICC and argues the court does not have jurisdiction.

The ICC has conducted a preliminary investigation since 2015 into alleged crimes in the Palestinian territories, including West Bank settlement construction and war crimes by Israel and Hamas in the 2014 war in Gaza.

Human Rights Watch’s Mideast director called on the international community to “impose real costs for such blatant disregard for Palestinian lives.”

“The U.N. Human Rights Council inquiry should identify and call for sanctions against officials implicated in ongoing serious human rights violations,” Sarah Leah Whitson said.

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After Latest Gaza Slaughter: Open an Investigation, End the Occupation

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan.

As the United States and Israel celebrated the official opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem on Monday, May 14, about an hour away the Israeli military was firing on thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians were part of a massive, nonviolent protest movement called the Great March of Return. On that day alone, Israeli forces killed over 60 Palestinians and injured 2,700. Among the injured was a Canadian emergency room doctor, Tarek Loubani, who had gone to Gaza to help injured Palestinians. Since March 30, the Israeli forces have killed over 119 Palestinians and injured over 12,000.

The Israel Defense Forces had sniper posts up and down the Israeli-built fence that keeps close to 2 million Palestinians in a state of virtual imprisonment in Gaza. “We were away from the protest area, 25 meters south of the protesters. It was calm,” Tarek Loubani said on the “Democracy Now!” news hour. “We could see the sniper posts. For sure, they could see us. I was just sort of talking to the medical team. … That’s when, unfortunately, I heard a loud bang, found myself on the ground and realized I had been shot.”

Dr. Loubani described his rescue: “The first rescuer who came to me was a man named Musa, a paramedic, who was excellent and who I’ve trained with and helped train. He sort of came over, was like, ‘Look, Doctor, what have you done to yourself here?’ looked at my leg, cut my pants and started work.” A bullet had passed through both of his legs. Musa asked if the doctor wanted a tourniquet. “I knew that I needed one, but I thought, ‘We only have eight.’ One of them was in my back pocket. I took it out. I threw it to them, and I said, ‘No, use it for somebody else.’ I knew there were many more gunshots to come.”

Dr. Loubani continued: “Musa Abuhassanin was a great guy. I’m talking about him in the past tense because about an hour after he rescued me, he ended up going back to the field on a call, and, unfortunately, he was shot in the chest. There was so much fire around him and so much live ammunition that his colleagues couldn’t get to him and couldn’t treat him.”

Dr. Loubani tweeted a photo captioned: “A haunting photo, Friday, May 11. Left: Mohammed Migdad, shot in the right ankle. Hassan Abusaada. Tarek Loubani, shot in left leg and right knee. Moumin Silmi. Youssef Almamlouk. Musa Abuhassanin, shot in the thorax and killed. Volunteer unknown. Photographer: shot and wounded.”

Loubani said he or any other trauma responder could have saved Musa, but the Israeli sniper fire prevented the well-marked medical personnel from reaching him. Reporting from the same protest, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, “Democracy Now!” correspondent and Puffin Fellow at The Nation Institute, told us: “The sniper bullets don’t come in quick succession. It’s not a barrage of fire. It’s methodical. It’s patient. It’s precise. You hear a shot, and someone falls down. Then his bloodied body is carried away. You wait a few minutes, you hear another shot, and another body falls.”

As far back as 2010, then British Prime Minister David Cameron called Gaza “a sort of open-air prison.” The United Nations has declared Gaza “unlivable.”

People around the globe have expressed outrage at the slaughter, including from inside Israel. Nine prominent Israelis, including Avraham Burg, former speaker of the Knesset, wrote that they were “appalled and horrified by the massive killing of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza. None of the demonstrators posed any direct danger to the state of Israel or to its citizens. The killing of over 50 demonstrators and the thousands more wounded are reminiscent of the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 in South Africa.”

In the midst of the six-week protest, Jerusalem-born, Israeli-American Oscar-winning actor Natalie Portman declined to go to Israel for her $2 million Genesis Prize, saying in a statement: “[T]he mistreatment of those suffering from today’s atrocities is simply not in line with my Jewish values. Because I care about Israel, I must stand up against violence, corruption, inequality, and abuse of power.”

At the United Nations, the U.S. blocked a Security Council motion to launch an investigation. President Donald Trump was represented at the U.S. Embassy ceremony by his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who in his speech blamed the violence on the Palestinians.

Lies take lives. An investigation is not enough. The occupation must end, and those responsible for the slaughter must be held accountable.

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