As Trump toured the Holy Land, Palestine went on strike

Jesse Rosenfeld reports: The rocks started flying at Israeli checkpoints across the occupied West Bank soon after President Donald Trump touched down at Israel’s David Ben Gurion Airport on Monday. Shops, restaurants and cafés were shuttered, schools were closed, and government offices were empty as Palestinians responded to a call from over 1,200 hunger-striking prisoners in Israeli jails to greet the President with a general strike.

Although the leaders of both Saudi Arabia and Israel lavished Trump with pomp and circumstance, Palestinians turned their back on the president as he toured Israel and crosssed the Great Wall into Bethlehem, defying even their own leadership.

Business ground to a halt in Ramallah, the administrative center of the Palestinian Authority and seat of governance for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Although Abbas had traveled alongside Trump all the way from the Islamic summit in Riyadh to Ben Gurion airport, Palestinians were unimpressed. They responded by turning their communities into ghost towns. On the eerily calm streets of Ramallah, only the pharmacies stayed open while young men, teenagers, and boys made their way out of town to the Qalandia checkpoint to clash with the soldiers that symbolize 50 years occupation to them. One of them died there, shot by an Israeli soldier after allegedly trying to stab him. [Continue reading…]

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Palestinians for Trump: ‘He might be the one’

Politico reports: The Qalandia checkpoint, the main border crossing separating this Palestinian city from East Jerusalem, is not a great place for anyone in a hurry.

On a recent hot afternoon, all passage was halted without explanation as hundreds of Palestinians with permits to work, study or seek medical treatment in Israel—or who actually live there—were packed into a maze of thick iron cages surrounded by barbed wire and monitored by guard towers waiting to be searched, interrogated and, for many, once again humiliated.

After a lengthy delay, small groups were permitted through the turnstiles into the screening areas—some only after being among the unlucky temporarily locked between the heavy revolving bars by an unseen Israeli soldier in an armored guard station with tiny blast-resistant windows.

Though as an accredited American journalist I could have used a speedier route for my return to Jerusalem, I opted to pass through the checkpoint to experience it for myself. Countless Palestinians use the border crossing each day—a procedure Israeli officials say is necessary, like the physical barrier that cuts off much of the West Bank, to prevent terrorism. (The next day, a Palestinian woman stabbed an Israeli soldier at the same checkpoint, one in a recent spate of lone-wolf attacks.)

The daily routine at Qalandia is also a metaphor for the fits and starts of the long struggle to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—which, measured by Israel’s control of the West Bank and Gaza, will reach the milestone next month of half a century on the anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War.

But there is new glimmer of hope here that things can get moving: Donald Trump.

Trump will welcome Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to the White House on Wednesday ahead of his own planned official visit to the region later this month. In my conversations here with Palestinian officials, I found them surprisingly upbeat about an American president who came to office vowing to crack down on Muslim immigration and who has backed away from longtime U.S. support for a two-state solution.

“The hints are very positive,” General Jibril Rajoub, a member of the central committee of Fatah, the moderate wing of the Palestinian leadership, told me over lunch in late April in a trendy restaurant, Caspar and Gambini’s, on Ramallah’s Al Jihad Street.

A senior Palestinian official, in one of a series of interviews with Politico Magazine, put it this way: “He might be the one to bring the political settlement.”

It is a sense of optimism that virtually no one here anticipated—and one that feels genuine, if also calculated to get into the good graces of the new American leader. Trump’s personal chemistry with hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the pro-settler views of his new ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, were both seen as early omens that the new American president would have little, if any, interest in the Palestinian issue and might even encourage more Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank.

But Rajoub, an urbane diplomat who runs the Palestinian Football Federation and was a longtime adviser to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, said the quiet but seemingly earnest visits to Ramallah in recent months of CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Jason Greenblatt, the New York lawyer serving as a Trump envoy, were surprisingly positive. [Continue reading…]

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Israel approves first new West Bank settlement in 20 years

BBC News reports: Israel has approved the establishment of its first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades.

The security cabinet voted unanimously late on Thursday to begin construction on a hilltop known as “Geulat Zion”, near the Palestinian city of Nablus.

It will be used to house some 40 families whose homes were cleared from an unauthorised settlement outpost.

Palestinian officials have condemned the move and called on the international community to intervene.

It comes despite US President Donald Trump asking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month to “hold back” on settlement construction. [Continue reading…]

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‘Worst view in the world’: Banksy opens hotel overlooking Bethlehem wall

The Guardian reports: The Walled Off hotel may sound utilitarian, even bleak. Its owner says it has “the worst view of any hotel in the world”, while its 10 rooms get just 25 minutes of direct sunlight a day.

But, nestled against the controversial barrier wall separating Israel from the Palestinian territories, the West Bank’s answer to the Waldorf offers travellers something more elusive than any luxury destination.

The lodging in Bethlehem is a hotel, museum, protest and gallery all in one, packed with the artworks and angry brilliance of its owner, British street artist Banksy. [Continue reading…]

 

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Netanyahu calls for pardon of convicted soldier Azaria

Al Jazeera reports: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for a pardon of Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier found guilty of manslaughter after he shot and killed a wounded Palestinian last year.

“This is a difficult and painful day – first and foremost for Elor, his family, Israel’s soldiers, many citizens and parents of soldiers, among them me … I support granting a pardon to Elor Azaria,” Netanyahu said Wednesday on his Facebook page.

The country’s president, Reuven Rivlin, who has the authority to issue pardons, said he will wait for the legal process to run its course before making a decision.

“In the event that a pardon should be requested, it will be considered by the president in accordance with standard practices and after recommendations from the relevant authorities,” he said in presidential statement.

The remarks were made just hours after Azaria was convicted on Wednesday in the high-profile case that raised questions over rules of engagement towards perceived threats by Palestinians.

A judge read out the court’s decision for more than two hours before announcing the verdict. The 20-year-old soldier could now face a maximum 20 years in prison. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: David Enoch, a professor in the faculty of law and philosophy at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said that the trial and public debate surrounding it marked a “horrible deterioration in Israeli society.”

“It’s not as if racism or violence against Palestinians is new, but at least in the past there were attempts to be civilized. There was at least some sanity,” Enoch said. “Now, many of those asking for Azaria to be pardoned have not mistaken the facts of the case. They just see an Israeli Jewish soldier shooting a Palestinian terrorist, and they don’t care about anything else.”

Even before the verdict was read, some Israeli leaders, including senior government ministers, called for the soldier to be pardoned.

“He should not sit one day in jail. We expect the defense minister to stick to his promises and initiate an immediate amnesty for Azaria,” read a statement from the far-right Jewish Home party, headed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett. [Continue reading…]

The Associated Press reports: An Israeli advocacy group on Tuesday criticized what it called an “exceptionally low” prosecution rate by the Israeli military in cases of violence committed by soldiers against Palestinians.

The report by Yesh Din, a human rights group that is often critical of the Israeli military, came a day before a military court’s verdict is to be delivered in a high-profile manslaughter case against a soldier.

In its annual report, Yesh Din said the army opened 186 criminal investigations into suspected offenses against Palestinians in 2015, but just four of those investigations yielded indictments. The group said the 2015 figures, based on official army data, were the most recent available.

In the fall of 2015, a wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence erupted, characterized by Palestinian stabbing and car-ramming attacks on Israelis. The report said that of 76 Palestinians killed in clashes with soldiers in the West Bank in 2015, only 21 deaths resulted in investigations.

“The fact that in 55 incidents no criminal investigation was considered necessary raises doubts about the implementation of Israel’s declared policy on investigating civilian fatalities,” the report said. It said the data signaled an “inability and unwillingness” to address unlawful conduct. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli settlements grew on Obama’s watch. They may be poised for a boom on Trump’s

The Washington Post reports: Through eight years of escalating criticism from the world’s most powerful leader, Israeli construction in these sacred, militarily occupied hills never stopped.

Thousands of homes were built. Miles of roadway. Restaurants. Shopping malls. A university.

Here in Shiloh, a tourist center went up, with a welcome video in which the biblical figure Joshua commands the Jewish people to settle the land promised to them by God.

Israeli settlements may be illegal in the eyes of the U.N. Security Council and a major obstacle to Middle East peace in the view of the Obama administration.

But every day they become a more entrenched reality on land that Palestinians say should rightfully belong to them. As the parched beige hilltops fill with red-tiled homes, decades of international efforts to achieve a two-state solution are unraveling.

And global condemnations notwithstanding, the trend is poised to accelerate.

Already, Israel has a right-wing government that boasts it is more supportive of settlement construction than any in the country’s short history. Within weeks, it will also have as an ally a U.S. president, Donald Trump, who has signaled he could make an extraordinary break with decades of U.S. policy and end American objections to the settlements. [Continue reading…]

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Trump adviser says Israeli settlements are ‘not illegal’

Middle East Eye and agencies reports: Donald Trump’s adviser on Israel said on Wednesday that Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank are not illegal, adding that he believes the candidate agrees with him, putting the pair at odds with much of the world.

Speaking to AFP at a rooftop restaurant on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion after a pro-Trump rally, David Friedman also said the US presidential candidate was “tremendously sceptical” about the prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

About 150 people, including right-wing Israelis and evangelical Christians, attended Wednesday’s Trump rally outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, near the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

The compound is holy to both Muslims and Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount. Located in East Jerusalem, it was occupied by Israel in 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.

Asked whether Trump viewed the West Bank as part of Israel, as many far-right Israelis do, Friedman did not answer directly.

“I don’t think he believes that the settlements are illegal,” Friedman said. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli minister wants to annex half of West Bank and kick out the Palestinians

The Washington Post reports: A top Israeli minister said he wants the government to take complete control of more than half of the West Bank and remove the Palestinian residents of the territory.

While traveling with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a state visit to Russia on Tuesday, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel told the Times of Israel that the world should forget about a Palestinian state.

“We have to aspire to the annexation of Area C; these are areas where there are no Arabs at all,” Ariel said. “We would remove a few thousand, who do not constitute a significant numerical factor.”

According to the Oslo Accords, the West Bank is divided into three areas. Area C comprises more than 60 percent of the West Bank and is under complete Israeli military control, both for security and civil affairs. [Continue reading…]

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From Israeli jail, Marwan Barghouti initiates ‘nonviolent’ bid to ‘free Palestine’

The Times of Israel reports: A group of people close to leading Fatah activist Marwan Barghouti, jailed in Israel for murder, have reached an understanding with the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaderships overseas on a comprehensive plan to jointly campaign against the Israeli occupation until it is brought to an end, Palestinian sources told The Times of Israel.

The plan includes unprecedented steps within the framework of what is dubbed “nonviolent resistance” which, the sources predicted, could prove immensely problematic for Israel. The goal is to force Israel out of all areas beyond the pre-1967 lines via a nonviolent intifada coordinated by a unified Palestinian leadership under Barghouti, who has been jailed by Israel since 2002 after being sentenced to five life sentences for involvement in murder.

The contacts were managed secretly in meetings that took place over recent months by four senior Fatah officials: Barghouti, Qadura Fares, Sarhan Davikat, and Mohammed Horani. All of them were considered senior members of the Palestinian Tanzim organization during the 90s and the latter three are known to be personal friends of Barghouti. Bargouti also intends to run for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority in the next elections, and even has Hamas support for the move, the sources said.

The four met with all of the Hamas leadership, including Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas’s political wing, who is based in Doha, Qatar. Afterwards, they continued with meetings in Istanbul with the participation of Hamas leaders Moussa Abu Marzouk, Salah al-Aruri – considered to be behind many terror attacks against Israeli targets in the West Bank and in Israel – Osama Hamdan, Husam Badran and others. [Continue reading…]

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Companies are leaving the West Bank as international boycott campaign gains ground

Vice News reports: For the past 28 years, the Israeli cosmetics giant Ahava has manufactured its line of Dead Sea mud-based skincare products in a settlement located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. But this month, the company announced it would build a new facility 10 miles to the south, just across the internationally recognized border separating Israel proper from the Palestinian territory.

Though the company did not link the move to political pressure, instead citing “expanding production needs due the success in marketing Ahava products around the world,” it has long been targeted by activists who protest Israeli companies operating in the West Bank, which much of the international community regards as illegally occupied.

Ahava is not alone — a number of companies have chosen to abandon their operations in the West Bank, according to a new report by the Israeli anti-occupation group Gush Shalom that was compiled from publicly available information and published as a wiki-entry.

Twenty years ago, Gush Shalom drew up a list of Israeli companies doing business across the Green Line, the pre-1967 boundary between Israel and the West Bank that has been a sticking point in negotiations over a future Palestinian state. As of March, between 20 and 30 percent of those companies are no longer operating there. [Continue reading…]

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Israel feels the heat of U.S., EU and U.N. criticism

Reuters reports: The United States, European Union and the United Nations have issued unusually stern criticism of Israel, provoking a sharp response from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and raising Palestinians’ hopes of steps against their neighbor.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday described Israel’s settlements as “provocative acts” that raised questions about its commitment to a two-state solution, nearly 50 years after occupying lands the Palestinians seek for a state.

Ban also laid some of the blame for four months of stabbings and car rammings by Palestinians at Israel’s door, saying “as oppressed peoples have demonstrated throughout the ages, it is human nature to react to occupation, which often serves as a potent incubator of hate and extremism”.

Netanyahu’s response was quick and furious. Ban’s remarks “give a tailwind to terrorism”, he said, and ignore the fact “Palestinian murderers do not want to build a state”. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli killings and raids make for a dark Christmas at Bethlehem refugee camp

The National reports: This Christmas season in Bethlehem, death, depression and anger are in the air at Aida refugee camp, three kilometres from Nativity Church.

Aida, wedged between Israel’s West Bank separation barrier and an army checkpoint, has been a major flashpoint of clashes during the two-and-a-half-month-old wave of violence known in the Palestinian media as the haba shaabiya or popular rising.

At least 126 Palestinians and 19 Israelis have been killed since the beginning of October, according to the Palestinian Maan news agency.

Five of the Palestinian dead were from the Bethlehem area and two from Aida camp, including Abdul Rahman Shadi Obeidallah, 13, who camp residents say was killed by a sniper on October 5 as he stood in the street with friends. [Continue reading…]

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American donors funding West Bank settlements

Mitchell Plitnick writes: A great deal of support for Israeli settlements comes from the United States in the form of tax-deductible contributions from private donors. The Obama administration, like all administrations before it, opposes Israeli settlement in the West Bank and considers it an obstacle to peace. Yet, at the same time, the United States government effectively incentivizes support for the settlements by allowing American charities to disburse millions of tax-deductible dollars in support for them.

This problem has not gone unnoticed, even though it continues unimpeded at this point. The Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, is publishing a series of reports and data uncovered by journalist Uri Blau detailing the extent of private American support for the settlements.

This investigation by Blau pushes forward efforts that a number of US-based groups have made in the past. Most recently, T’Ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights brought attention to this issue by filing a complaint against one such group, Honenu, in New York. Earlier in 2015, the group Avaaz petitioned the IRS to revoke the tax-exempt status of The Hebron Fund, which directly supports the flashpoint Israeli settlement in that Palestinian city. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli army unit storms hospital and kills Palestinian

Al Jazeera reports: An elite Israeli military force that operates undercover stormed the al-Ahli Hospital in Hebron and shot dead a 27-year-old Palestinian, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said.

Abdullah al-Shalaldeh was killed by five rounds fired early Thursday after 21 members of the elite unit – known as Mustaarabin – barged into the hospital room of his cousin, Azzam al-Shalaldeh, a ministry statement said.

The commandos wanted to question Azzam – who required surgery after earlier being shot by Israeli security forces – and his cousin tried to prevent them from doing so when the Israelis opened fire. [Continue reading…]

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Lynch mob: Majority of Jewish Israelis want terror suspects killed on the spot even if they no longer pose a threat

972mag.org reports: Over half of Jewish Israelis (53 percent) believe that a Palestinian suspected of carrying out a terrorist attack “should be killed on the spot, even if he has been apprehended and no longer poses a threat,” a new survey shows.

The poll, conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute at the end of October, quizzed Jewish Israelis and Palestinian citizens of Israel on their attitudes toward the current wave of violence sweeping the country.

Respondents were questioned on a range of topics, including their attitudes to punishing perpetrators of terrorist attacks; their level of anxiety over the current situation; and possible underlying causes for the present escalation. [Continue reading…]

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Israel’s descent into jingoistic ‘orgies of feeling’

Neve Gordon writes:  I first understood that something had changed when I received a message to one of my WhatsApp groups saying “Gordon’s girlfriend.” This was followed by the snuff video of police officers shooting Asraa Zidan Tawfik Abed, a 30-year-old Palestinian mother from Nazareth. In the video, Asraa is surrounded by Israeli soldiers who are all aiming automatic rifles at her while she sobs and cries out. She clearly poses no threat whatsoever to those around her, and yet suddenly a police officer nonchalantly walks toward her, aims, and shoots, three times. Asraa falls to the ground, while someone in the crowd shouts, “Daughter of a whore!”

The video went viral, and, like so many Jewish Israeli viewers, the person who sent it to my WhatsApp group obviously found the violence amusing. I watched the disturbing footage several times before answering, “This is what woman hunting looks like.”

Two weeks later, an Israeli state prosecutor admitted that Asraa had had no intention of stabbing anyone, but he also added that the policeman who had gunned her down would not be charged. The message to the security forces was unequivocal: Shoot, no questions asked.

The snuff video of Fadi Alon from Jerusalem was even more horrific, and not only because Fadi was murdered by a police officer as he was trying to flee an angry mob, while Asraa was only wounded, but because the mob surrounding Fadi was caught on film taunting the police officers. They are heard demanding an extrajudicial execution while accusing the security forces of being spineless. Watching the police succumb to the mob, I understood for the first time what it must have meant to be in the Roman Colosseum in the midst of the madding crowd.

And, yet, the current situation in Israel is very different. Unlike ancient Rome, in Israel events are framed by a melodramatic political script that thrives on what Elisabeth Anker, following Nietzsche, calls orgies of feeling. [Continue reading…]

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