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How the rule of the rabbis is fuelling a holy war in Israel

By Jonathon Cook | February 13, 2019

In which country did a senior, state-salaried cleric urge his followers last month to become “warriors”, emulating a group of young men who had murdered a woman of another faith?

The cleric did so with impunity. In fact, he was only echoing other highly placed colleagues who have endorsed a book – again without penalty – urging their disciples to murder babies belonging to other religions.

Where can the head of the clergy call black people “monkeys” and urge the expulsion of other religious communities?

Where does a clerical elite wield so much power that they alone decide who can marry or get divorced – and are backed by a law that can jail someone who tries to wed without their approval? They can even shut down the national railway system without notice.

Where are these holy men so feared that women are scrubbed from billboards, college campuses introduce gender segregation to appease them, and women find themselves literally pushed to the back of the bus?

Is the country Saudi Arabia? Or Myanmar? Or perhaps, Iran?

No. It is Israel, the world’s only self-declared Jewish state.

Which ‘shared values’?

There is barely a politician in Washington seeking election who has not at some point declared an “unbreakable bond” between the United States and Israel, or claimed the two uphold “shared values”. Few, it seems, have any idea what values Israel really represents.

There are many grounds for criticising Israel, including its brutal oppression of Palestinians under occupation and its system of institutionalised segregation and discrimination against the fifth of its population who are not Jewish – its Palestinian minority.

But largely ignored by critics have been Israel’s increasing theocratic tendencies.

This hasn’t simply proved regressive for Israel’s Jewish population, especially women, as the rabbis exert ever greater control over the lives of religious and secular Jews alike.

It also has alarming implications for Palestinians, both under occupation and those living in Israel, as a national conflict with familiar colonial origins is gradually transformed into a holy war, fuelled by extremist rabbis with the state’s implicit blessing.

Control of personal status

Despite Israel’s founding fathers being avowedly secular, the separation between church and state in Israel has always been flimsy at best – and it is now breaking down at an ever-accelerating rate.

After Israel’s establishment, David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, decided to subordinate important areas of life for Israeli Jews to the jurisdiction of an Orthodox rabbinate, representing the strictest, most traditional and conservative stream of Judaism. Other, more liberal streams have no official standing in Israel to this day.

Ben Gurion’s decision in part reflected a desire to ensure his new state embraced two differing conceptions of Jewishness: both those who identified as Jews in a secular ethnic or cultural sense, and those who maintained the religious traditions of Judaism. He hoped to fuse the two into a new notion of a Jewish “nationality”.

For that reason, the Orthodox rabbis were given exclusive control over important parts of the public sphere – personal status matters, such as conversions, births, deaths and marriages.

Biblical justifications

Bolstering the rabbis’ power was the urgent need of Israel’s secular leaders to obscure the state’s settler-colonial origins. This could be achieved by using education to emphasise Biblical justifications for the usurpation by Jews of the lands of the native Palestinian population.

As the late peace activist Uri Avnery observed, the Zionist claim was “based on the Biblical history of the Exodus, the conquest of Canaan, the kingdoms of Saul, David and Solomon … Israeli schools teach the Bible as real history.”

Such indoctrination, combined with a much higher birth rate among religious Jews, has contributed to an explosion in the numbers identifying as religious. They now comprise half the population.

Today, about a quarter of Israeli Jews belong to the Orthodox stream, which reads the Torah literally, and one in seven belong to the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredim, the most fundamentalist of the Jewish religious streams. Forecasts suggest that in 40 years the latter will comprise a third of the country’s Jewish population.

‘Conquer the government’

Both the growing power and extremism of the Orthodox in Israel was highlighted in the last week of January when one of their most influential rabbis, Shmuel Eliyahu, publicly came to the defence of five students accused of murdering Aisha Rabi, a Palestinian mother of eight. Back in October they stoned her car near Nablus, in the occupied West Bank, forcing her off the road.

Eliyahu is the son of a former chief rabbi of Israel, Mordechai Eliyahu, and himself sits on the Chief Rabbinical Council, which controls many areas of life for Israelis. He is also the municipal rabbi of Safed, a city that in Judaism has the equivalent status of Medina in Islam or Bethlehem in Christianity, so his words carry a great deal of weight with Orthodox Jews.

Last month, a video came to light of a talk he gave at the seminary where the five accused studied, in the illegal settlement of Rehelim, south of Nablus.

Eliyahu not only praised the five as “warriors” but told fellow students that they needed to overthrow the “rotten” secular court system. He told them it was vital to “conquer the government” too, but without guns or tanks. “You have to take the state’s key positions,” he urged them.

Law-breaking judges

In truth, that process is already well-advanced.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who should have been the first to denounce Eliyahu’s comments, is closely aligned with religious settlers. Tellingly, she and other government ministers have maintained a studious silence.

That is because the political representatives of Israel’s religious Jewish communities, including the settlers, have now become the lynchpin of Israeli coalition governments. They are the kingmakers and can extract enormous concessions from other parties.

For some time, Shaked has been using her position to bring more openly nationalistic and religious judges into the legal system, including to the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court.

Two of its current 15 judges, Noam Sohlberg and David Mintz, are law-breakers, openly living in West Bank settlements in violation of international law. Several more judges appointed to the bench by Shaked are religious and conservative.

This is a significant victory for the Orthodox religious and the settlers. The court is the last line of defence for the secular against an assault on their religious freedoms and on gender equality.

And the court offers the only recourse for Palestinians seeking to mitigate the worst excesses of the violent and discriminatory policies of the Israeli government, army and settlers.

Chosen people

Shaked’s colleague, Naftali Bennett, another ideologue of the settlement movement, has been education minister in the Netanyahu government for four years. This post has long been a critical one for the Orthodox because it shapes Israel’s next generation.

After decades of concessions to the rabbis, Israel’s school system is already heavily skewed towards religion. A survey in 2016 showed 51 percent of Jewish pupils attended sex-segregated religious schools, which emphasise Biblical dogma – up from 33 percent only 15 years earlier.

This may explain why a recent poll found that 51 percent believe Jews have a divine right to the land of Israel, and slightly more – 56 percent – believe that Jews are a “chosen people”.

Those results are likely to get even worse in the coming years. Bennett has been placing much greater weight in the curriculum on Jewish tribal identity, Bible studies and religious claims to Greater Israel, including to the Palestinian territories – which he wants to annex.

Conversely, science and maths are increasingly downplayed in the education system, and entirely absent from schools for the ultra-Orthodox. Evolution, for example, has been mostly erased from the syllabus, even in secular schools.

‘No mercy’ to Palestinians

Another key sphere of state power being taken over by the religious, and especially the settlers, are the security services. Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh lived for years in a settlement renowned for its violent attacks on Palestinians, and the force’s current chief rabbi, Rahamim Brachyahu, is also a settler.

Both have actively promoted a programme, Believers in the Police, that recruits more religious Jews into the police force. Nahi Eyal, the programme’s founder, has said his aim is to help the settler community “find our way into the command ranks”.

The trend is even more entrenched in the Israeli military. Figures show that the national-religious community, to which settlers belong – though only 10 percent of the population – make up half of all new officer cadets. Half of Israel’s military academies are now religious.

That has translated into an increasing role for extremist Orthodox rabbis in motivating soldiers on the battlefield. In Israel’s 2008-09 ground invasion of Gaza, soldiers were issued with pamphlets by the army rabbinate using Biblical injunctions to persuade them to “show no mercy” to Palestinians.

Call to kill babies

Meanwhile, the rapidly growing ultra-Orthodox population has been encouraged by the government to move into West Bank settlements purpose-built for them, such as Modi’in Illit and Beitar Illit. That, in turn, is gradually fuelling the emergence of an aggressive nationalism among their youth.

Once the Haredim were openly hostile, or at best ambivalent, towards Israeli state institutions, believing that a Jewish state was sacrilegious until the Messiah arrived to rule over Jews.

Now, for the first time, young Haredim are serving in the Israeli army, adding to the pressure on the military command to accommodate their religious fundamentalist ideology. A new term for these hawkish Haredi soldiers has been coined: they are known as the “Hardal”.

Brachyahu and rabbis for the Hardal are among the senior rabbis who have endorsed a terrifying book, the King’s Torah, written by two settler rabbis, that urges Jews to treat non-Jews, and specifically Palestinians, mercilessly.

It offers God’s blessing for Jewish terror – not only against Palestinians who try to resist their displacement by settlers, but against all Palestinians, even babies, on the principle that “it is clear that they will grow [up] to harm us.”

Gender segregation expands

The dramatic rise in religiosity is creating internal problems for Israeli society too, especially for the shrinking secular population and for women.

Posters for the forthcoming election – as with adverts more generally – are being “cleaned” of women’s faces in parts of the country to avoid causing offence.

Last month, the Supreme Court criticised Israel’s Council for Higher Education for allowing segregation between men and women in college classrooms to spread to the rest of the campus, including libraries and communal areas. Female students and lecturers are facing “modesty” dress codes.

The council has even announced that it intends to expand segregation because it is proving difficult to persuade religious Jews to attend higher education.

Violence of the mob

Israel has always been a society deeply structured to keep Israeli Jews and Palestinians apart, both physically and in terms of rights. That is equally true for Israel’s large Palestinian minority, a fifth of the population, who live almost entirely apart from Jews in segregated communities. Their children are kept away from Jewish children in separate schools.

But the greater emphasis in Israel on a religious definition of Jewishness means that Palestinians now face not only the cold structural violence designed by Israel’s secular founders, but additionally a hot-tempered, Biblically sanctioned hostility from religious extremists.

That is most keenly evident in the rapid rise of physical assaults on Palestinians and their property, as well as their holy places, in Israel and the occupied territories. Among Israelis, this violence is legitimised as “price tag” attacks, as though Palestinians have brought such harm on themselves.

YouTube is now full of videos of gun- or baton-wielding settlers attacking Palestinians, typically as they try to access their olive groves or springs, while Israeli soldiers stand passively by or assist.

Arson attacks have spread from olive groves to Palestinian homes, sometimes with horrifying results, as families are burned alive.

Rabbis such as Eliyahu have stoked this new wave of attacks with their Biblical justifications. State terrorism and mob violence have merged.

Destroying al-Aqsa

The biggest potential flashpoint is in occupied East Jerusalem, where the growing symbolic and political power of these Messianic rabbis risks exploding at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Secular politicians have long played with fire at this Islamic holy site, using archaeological claims to try to convert it into a symbol of historic Jewish entitlement to the land, including the occupied territories.

But their claim that the mosque is built over two Jewish temples, the last of which was destroyed two millennia ago, has been rapidly reconfigured for incendiary, modern political purposes.

The growing influence of religious Jews in parliament, the government, the courts and the security services means that officials grow ever bolder in staking a physical claim to sovereignty over al-Aqsa.

It also entails an ever greater indulgence towards religious extremists who demand more than physical control over the mosque site. They want al-Aqsa destroyed and replaced with a Third Temple.

The gathering holy war

Slowly, Israel is transforming a settler-colonial project against the Palestinians into a battle with the wider Islamic world. It is turning a territorial conflict into a holy war.

The demographic growth of Israel’s religious population, the cultivation by the school system of an ever-more extreme ideology based on the Bible, the takeover of the state’s key power centres by the religious, and the emergence of a class of influential rabbis who preach genocide against Israel’s neighbours has set the stage for a perfect storm in the region.

The question now is at what point will Israel’s allies, in the US and Europe, finally wake up to the catastrophic direction Israel is heading in – and find the will to take the necessary action to stop it.

February 20, 2019 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

In Hebron, Israel Removes the Last Restraint on Its Settlers’ Reign of Terror

By Jonathan Cook | The National | February 13, 2019

You might imagine that a report by a multinational observer force documenting a 20-year reign of terror by Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers against Palestinians, in a city under occupation, would provoke condemnation from European and US politicians.

But you would be wrong. The leaking in December of the report on conditions in the city of Hebron, home to 200,000 Palestinians, barely caused a ripple.

About 40,000 separate cases of abuse had been quietly recorded since 1997 by dozens of monitors from Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Italy and Turkey. Some incidents constituted war crimes.

Exposure of the confidential report has now provided the pretext for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to expel the international observers. He shuttered their mission in Hebron this month, in apparent violation of Israel’s obligations under the 25-year-old Oslo peace accords.

Israel hopes once again to draw a veil over its violent colonisation of the heart of the West Bank’s largest Palestinian city. The process of clearing tens of thousands of inhabitants from central Hebron is already well advanced.

Any chance of rousing the international community into even minimal protest was stamped out by the US last week. It blocked a draft resolution at the United Nations Security Council expressing “regret” at Israel’s decision, and on Friday added that ending the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) was an “internal matter” for Israel.

The TIPH was established in 1997 after a diplomatic protocol split the city into two zones, controlled separately by Israel and a Palestinian Authority created by the Oslo accords.

The “temporary” in its name was a reference to the expected five-year duration of the Oslo process. The need for TIPH, most assumed, would vanish when Israel ended the occupation and a Palestinian state was built in its place.

While Oslo put the PA formally in charge of densely populated regions of the occupied territories, Israel was effectively given a free hand in Hebron to entrench its belligerent hold on Palestinian life.

Several hundred extremist Jewish settlers have gradually expanded their illegal enclave in the city centre, backed by more than 1,000 Israeli soldiers. Many Palestinian residents have been forced out while the rest are all but imprisoned in their homes.

TIPH faced an impossible task from the outset: to “maintain normal life” for Hebron’s Palestinians in the face of Israel’s structural violence.

Until the report was leaked, its documentation of Israel’s takeover of Hebron and the settlers’ violent attacks had remained private, shared only among the states participating in the task force.

However, the presence of observers did curb the settlers’ worst excesses, helping Palestinian children get to school unharmed and allowing their parents to venture out to work and shop. That assistance is now at an end.

Hebron has been a magnet for extremist settlers because it includes a site revered in Judaism: the reputed burial plot of Abraham, father to the three main monotheistic religions.

But to the settlers’ disgruntlement, Hebron became central to Muslim worship centuries ago, with the Ibrahimi mosque established at the site.

Israel’s policy has been gradually to prise away the Palestinians’ hold on the mosque, as well the urban space around it. Half of the building has been restricted to Jewish prayer, but in practice the entire site is under Israeli military control.

As the TIPH report notes, Palestinian Muslims must now pass through several checkpoints to reach the mosque and are subjected to invasive body searches. The muezzin’s call to prayer is regularly silenced to avoid disturbing Jews.

Faced with these pressures, according to TIPH, the number of Palestinians praying there has dropped by half over the past 15 years.

In Hebron, as at Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, a Muslim holy site is treated solely as an obstacle – one that must be removed so that Israel can assert exclusive sovereignty over all of the Palestinians’ former homeland.

A forerunner of TIPH was set up in 1994, shortly after Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli army doctor, entered the Ibrahimi mosque and shot more than 150 Muslims at prayer, killing 29. Israeli soldiers aided Goldstein, inadvertently or otherwise, by barring the worshippers’ escape while they were being sprayed with bullets.

The massacre should have provided the opportunity for Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s prime minister of the time, to banish Hebron’s settlers and ensure the Oslo process remained on track. Instead he put the Palestinian population under prolonged curfew.

That curfew never really ended. It became the basis of an apartheid policy that has endlessly indulged Jewish settlers as they harass and abuse their Palestinian neighbours.

Israel’s hope is that most will get the message and leave.

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in power for a decade, more settlers are moving in, driving out Palestinians. Today Hebron’s old market, once the commercial hub of the southern West Bank, is a ghost town, and Palestinians are too terrified to enter large sections of their own city.

TIPH’s report concluded that, far from guaranteeing “normal life”, Israel had made Hebron more divided and dangerous for Palestinians than ever before.

In 2016 another army medic, Elor Azaria, used his rifle to shoot in the head a prone and badly wounded Palestinian youth. Unlike Goldstein’s massacre, the incident was caught on video.

Israelis barely cared until Azaria was arrested. Then large sections of the public, joined by politicians, rallied to his cause, hailing him a hero.

Despite doing very little publicly, TIPH’s presence in Hebron had served as some kind of restraint on the settlers and soldiers. Now the fear is that there will be more Azarias.

Palestinians rightly suspect that the expulsion of the observer force is the latest move in efforts by Israel and the US to weaken mechanisms for protecting Palestinian human rights.

Mr Netanyahu has incited against local and international human rights organisations constantly, accusing them of being foreign agents and making it ever harder for them to operate effectively.

And last year US President Donald Trump cut all aid to UNRWA, the United Nations’ refugee agency, which plays a vital role in caring for Palestinians and upholding their right to return to their former lands.

Not only are the institutions Palestinians rely on for support being dismembered but so now are the organisations that record the crimes Israel has been committing.

That, Israel hopes, will ensure that an international observer post which has long had no teeth will soon will soon lose its sight too as Israel begins a process of annexing the most prized areas of the West Bank – with Hebron top of the list.

February 13, 2019 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Subjugation - Torture, War Crimes | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Israeli Settler Drives into Sheep near Ramallah, Kills 12

IMEMC News & Agencies – January 1, 2019

In what appears as a premeditated terror attack, an Israeli settler rammed his vehicle into a herd of sheep in the village of al-Mughayyer, to the east of Ramallah, on Monday, killing 12 and injuring 18 others.

Local sources told WAFA correspondence that the settler rammed into the herd on purpose and with full force, to cause as much damage as possible. They said he ran over 30 sheep, killing 12 and injuring the others, of which six were in critical condition.

The attack happened on what is known as Alon settlement road.

Raising sheep is the only source of income for Khaled Abu Illia, victim of the premeditated terror attack.

Shepherds are often seen in the open pastures during this season, when the fields are covered with green grass.

January 1, 2019 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , | 4 Comments

Israeli politician calls for PA President to be killed

MEMO | December 17, 2018

A member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, called on Sunday for the President of the Palestinian Authority to have his head “chopped off”. Oren Hazzan MK made the comment about Mahmoud Abbas, as well as his Deputy, Mahmoud Al-Aloul, during a march held by illegal settlers in Jerusalem, Maan News Agency has reported.

Dozens of settlers gathered in and around Jerusalem’s Old City chanting racist slogans against Abbas and calling for him to be killed. In the evening, they gathered outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s house and burnt pictures of Abbas. Banners held by the settlers called for the PA leader’s assassination.

“We call for the complete approval of the settlements in Ofra and Amona,” Hazzan declared. Addressing his remarks to government ministers, he added, “We want to go back to Givaat. Stop evading your responsibility. We want to have the head of Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] and his deputy chopped off. The life of one of our soldiers is equal to the life of 100 terrorists. We want all the terrorists to be executed.”

Many Israeli officials refer to the Palestinians as “terrorists” whether or not they are involved in legitimate resistance activities.

Last week, Israeli settlers carried out attacks and instigated clashes with Palestinians in different areas across the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. On most occasions, the heavily armed settlers are protected by Israeli soldiers and police officers when they gather for demonstrations and terrorist attacks on Palestinians and their homes.

December 17, 2018 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, War Crimes | , , , | 1 Comment

Israeli settlers hang posters calling for killing Palestinian President

Ma’an – December 11, 2018

NABLUS – Israeli extreme Jewish groups hung posters of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Huwwara crossroads in southern Nablus, in the northern occupied West Bank, on Tuesday, calling for his assassination.

Locals reported that the Israeli army, deployed in the area, did not remove these posters.

The posters read “supporter of terrorists” and called for killing (assassinating) the Palestinian President.

The incident comes as member of the Likud party at the Israeli Knesset, Oren Hazan, had called for imposing closure on the Ramallah and al-Bireh district until the suspect of an attack carried out in the Ofra illegal Israeli settlement, two days ago, is detained.

Seven Israeli settlers were injured in the attack.

Israeli forces had raided Ramallah, on Monday, and were deployed just meters away from the Palestinian President’s house.

Israeli forces raided several institutions in Ramallah, including the Palestinian Authority (PA)-owned Wafa News and Information Agency, allegedly searching for the suspect.

December 11, 2018 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , | 2 Comments

Colombian police arrest 6 Israelis over running child sex network

Press TV – December 10, 2018

Colombian police have detained six Israelis accused of running a sex ring that exploited underage girls and forced them to have sex with Israeli tourists in the Latin American country.

Following a two-year investigation, Colombian security police managed to break up “an Israeli mafia that exploited and used girls, adolescents and women as sex slaves in Colombia,” said Prosecutor General Nestor Humberto Martinez in a press conference on Sunday, adding that two Colombian nationals were also nabbed in the sweep.

The chief prosecutor further said that the “mafia” had been selling tour packages to Israeli settlers with a destination to several cities in Colombia, but in reality they had been used as a front for sex services with minor females.

Among the detainees was Israeli alleged ring leader Mor Zohar as well as an unnamed Colombian police officer, who is accused of helping protect the criminal gang.

Martinez added that arrest warrants had been issued for eight other Israelis accused of the same crimes in the case.

According to a statement by the office of the attorney general of Colombia, all the arrested Israelis have Interpol Red Notices, the closest thing to an international arrest warrant. It added that the whole criminal network was allegedly led by Israeli Benyamin Mush, who has traveled in and out of Colombia and Central American countries.

Officials confiscated assets belonging to the suspects worth $45 million.

The testimony obtained from the victims revealed that the girls received between $65 and $126, and were forced to join a WhatsApp group code-named after the Jewish holiday Purim.

According to Colombian authorities, Israeli tourists would stay at hotels and take yacht trips and go to drug and alcohol-fueled private parties where women and minor females were offered as “sex slaves.”

The suspects, who are to stand before a judge in the northwestern city of Medellin, are facing multiple charges, including pimping minors, aggravated homicide, drug trafficking and money laundering.

Back in July, Israeli website Ynetnews reported that the Colombian police had arrested three Israelis as well as 15 others accused of being involved in sex trafficking in the tourist city of Cartagena that included the sexual exploitation of more than 250 women and girls as young as 14 years old.

The attorney general’s office at the time described the victims as “real slaves of the 21st century”.

December 10, 2018 Posted by | Corruption, Timeless or most popular | , , | 6 Comments

The ethnic cleansing of Palestine continues in Fasayil

International Solidarity Movement in coordination with Jordan Valley Solidarity | December 4, 2018

Fasayil al Wusta, Occupied Palestine – The ethnic cleansing of Palestine continues. Dunum by dunum, village by village, house by house, the people of Palestine face a slow, systematic genocide in their homeland. Two houses were demolished in the south of the Jordan Valley, in the village of Fasayil, on Sunday morning. The Israeli government did not issue a warning. The village of 1,300 people has been facing Israeli assaults on their land since the early seventies, with the construction of two settlements on either side, and a huge farmland in front of them, all less than a kilometre away.

But it was in 2010 that the Israelis came and virtually destroyed the entire village of Fasayil al Wusta. The residents have, since then, built the village back up.

Hassan Mohammed Hussein A´Zayed built a house for his son, who suffers from mental disabilities, and is sensitive to hot weather. “That house cost me 15,000 shekels to build, not only because of building materials, but because of the air conditioning (unit),” he said. The house only lasted one year before it was bulldozed on Sunday, the AC unit along with it.

A few metres in front of the newly destroyed house, one can see at least three other piles of rubble that used to be housing units, all belonging to Hassan. This was the seventh time a house of his was demolished. “They keep destroying them. Sometimes with warning, sometimes not. It´s a random policy. There´s no way of knowing what they´re going to do.” Hassan has 8 children.

Aeman Rashaeda, father of four, whose wife teaches at the nearby school, was the next to lose his house, on the same road as Hassan´s. When the Israelis approached him, they told him that it was forbidden to build, and that he was living in a closed military firing zone.

When the complete destruction of the village took place 8 years ago, 10 families immediately fled. This is a village that receives only 1,500 litres of water for each household per week; that can never get a permit to farm or build; that cannot dig a well deeper than 150 meters, enforced by Israeli occupation law.

Before the 1967 invasion of the West Bank, this village shared water from a natural spring 4 kilometers up a nearby mountain. It has, since then, been surrounded by 3 Israeli wells – the water now privatised – controlled for settler use. 60 percent of the Jordan Valley has been closed by the Israeli occupation for “military firing and security zone(s)”, but it´s been well known for years to have actually been used for agribusiness. Pick any one feature of the military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, and you will find a policy of theft, of racism, of genocide.

December 5, 2018 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , | 1 Comment

Israel wages a New War of Attrition in Jerusalem

“Jesus is a monkey”
By Jonathan Cook | The National | December 2, 2018

Czech president Milos Zeman offered Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist government a fillip during his visit to Israel last week. He inaugurated a cultural and trade centre, Czech House, just outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls.

At the opening, he expressed hope it would serve as a precursor to his country relocating its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. If so, the Czech Republic would become the first European state to follow US President Donald Trump’s lead in moving the US embassy in May.

It is this kind of endorsement that, of late, has emboldened Mr Netanyahu’s government, the Israeli courts, Jerusalem officials and settler organisations to step up their combined assault on Palestinians in the Old City and its surrounding neighbourhoods.

Israel has never hidden its ambition to seize control of East Jerusalem, Palestinian territory it occupied in 1967 and then annexed, as a way of preventing a viable Palestinian state from emerging.

Israel immediately began building an arc of Jewish settlements on Jerusalem’s eastern flank to seal off its Palestinian residents from their political hinterland, the West Bank.

More than a decade ago, it consolidated its domination with a mammoth concrete wall that cut through East Jerusalem. The aim was to seal off densely populated Palestinian neighbourhoods on the far side, ensuring the most prized and vulnerable areas – the Old City and its environs – could be more easily colonised, or “Judaised”, as Israel terms it.

This area, the heart of Jerusalem, is where magnificent holy places such as the Al Aqsa mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are to be found.

Under cover of the 1967 war, Israel ethnically cleansed many hundreds of Palestinians living near the Western Wall, a retaining wall of the elevated Al Aqsa compound that is venerated in Judaism. Since then, Israeli leaders have grown ever hungrier for control of the compound itself, which they believe is built over two long-lost Jewish temples.

Israel has forced the compound’s Muslim authorities to allow Jews to visit in record numbers, even though most wish to see the mosque replaced with a third Jewish temple. Meanwhile, Israel has severely limited the numbers of Palestinians who can reach the holy site.

Until now, Israel had mostly moved with stealth, making changes gradually so they rarely risked inflaming the Arab world or provoking western reaction. But after Mr Trump’s embassy move, a new Israeli confidence is tangible.

On four fronts, Israel has demonstrated its assertive new mood. First, with the help of ever-more compliant Israeli courts, it has intensified efforts to evict Palestinians from their homes in the Old City and just outside its historic walls.

Last month, the supreme court handed down a ruling that sanctions the eviction of 700 Palestinians from Silwan, a dense neighbourhood on a hillside below Al Aqsa. Ateret Cohanim, a settler organisation backed by government-subsidised armed guards, is now poised to take over the centre of Silwan.

It will mean more Israeli security and police protecting the settler population and more city officials enforcing prejudicial planning rules against Palestinians. The inevitable protests will justify more arrests of Palestinians, including children. This is how bureacratic ethnic cleansing works.

The supreme court also rejected an appeal against a Palestinian family’s eviction from Sheikh Jarrah, another key neighbourhood near the Old City. The decision opens the way to expelling dozens more families.

B’Tselem, an Israeli rights group, characterised these rulings as “sanctioning the broadest move to dispossess Palestinians since 1967”.

At the same time, Israel’s parliament approved a law to accelerate the settler takeover.

Over many years, Israel created a series of national parks around the Old City on the pretext of preserving “green areas”. Some hem in Palestinian neighbourhoods to stop their expansion while others were declared on the land of existing Palestinian homes to justify expelling the occupants.

Now the parliament has reversed course. The new law, drafted by another settler group, Elad, will allow house-building in national parks, but only for Jews.

Elad’s immediate aim is to bolster the settler presence in Silwan, where it has overseen a national park next to Al Aqsa. Archaeology has been co-opted to supposedly prove the area was once ruled by King David while thousands of years of subsequent history, most especially the current Palestinian presence, are erased.

Elad’s activities include excavating under Palestinian homes, weakening their foundations.

A massive new Jewish history-themed visitor centre will dominate Silwan’s entrance. Completing the project is a $55 million cable car, designed to carry thousands of tourists an hour over Silwan and other neighbourhoods, rendering the Palestinian inhabitants invisible as visitors are delivered effortlessly to the Western Wall without ever having to encounter them.

The settlers have their own underhand methods. With the authorities’ connivance, they have forged documents to seize Palestinian homes closest to Al Aqsa. In other cases, the settlers have recruited Arab collaborators to dupe other Palestinians into selling their homes.

Once they gain a foothold, the settlers typically turn the appropriated home into an armed compound. Noise blares out into the early hours, Palestinian neighbours are subjected to regular police raids and excrement is left in their doorways.

After the recent sale to settlers of a home strategically located in the Old City’s Muslim quarter, the Palestinian Authority set up a commission of inquiry to investigate. But the PA is near-powerless to stop this looting after Israel passed a law in 1995 denying it any role in Jerusalem.

The same measure is now being vigorously enforced against the few residents trying to stop the settler banditry.

Adnan Ghaith, Jerusalem’s governor and a Silwan resident, was arrested last week for a second time and banned from entering the West Bank and meeting PA officials. Adnan Husseini, the Palestinian minister for Jerusalem, is under a six-month travel ban by Israel.

Last week dozens of Palestinians were arrested in Jerusalem, accused of working for the PA to stop house sales to the settlers.

It is a quiet campaign of attrition, designed to wear down Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents. The hope is that they will eventually despair and relocate to the city’s distant suburbs outside the wall or into the West Bank.

What Palestinians in Jerusalem urgently need is a reason for hope – and a clear signal that other countries will not join the US in abandoning them.

December 2, 2018 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , | Leave a comment

Let’s talk about the lawsuit against Airbnb

By Kathryn Shihadah | Palestine Home | December 2, 2018

The global tourism company Airbnb decided this week to de-list properties it has offered for rent in Israeli settlements. Amnesty International has been pushing for Airbnb to make this move and praised it as “a stand against discrimination, displacement, and land theft.”

Ha’aretz reports that a group of American Jews now plan to sue Airbnb for religious discrimination.

Since the plaintiffs are Jewish, the lawsuit implies a charge of anti-Semitism – an accusation that has become more and more common lately.

A great deal of controversy has sprung up around the “Israel-centric” definition of anti-Semitism that essentially forbids even legitimate criticism of Israel.

This restrictive definition has even found its way into Congress as the (widely criticized) “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act” and similar bills in a number of states and even countries.

While America awaits Airbnb’s court date in Delaware, the court of public opinion is already in session. If we are going to judge this case, we’d better get familiar with the details. Drawing conclusions without understanding context would be irresponsible.

The charges

According to the lawsuit, Airbnb is in violation of the U.S. Fair Housing Act by discriminating on religious grounds.

Robert Tolchin, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, explained: “Airbnb has made a religion- and nationality-based decision…’We will not list for Jews in the West Bank.’” He elaborated, “It should be equal access for all.”

Some of the plaintiffs, among them Israeli-Americans, claim to own homes in West Bank settlements, and want to rent them out; others say they want to be future clients. All view Airbnb’s policy as “redlining” – targeting only Jewish-owned properties to be de-listed, while allowing Muslims and Christians in the West Bank to continue renting their homes.

They insist that this amounts to Airbnb taking sides in the dispute over the West Bank, where Palestinians hope to establish a state and which Israel captured in 1967, along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction against Airbnb to “block future discrimination against Jews and Israelis,” plus damages to cover lost rental income and legal fees.

Let’s talk about the charges.

Discrimination?

Tolchin claims that Airbnb’s decision to de-list settlement rental properties was “religion- and nationality-based,” and that Muslims’ and Christians’ homes are not subject to the policy. Among the West Bank population, only Jews are subject to the policy.

Airbnb insists that those specific properties – Jewish-owned homes in the West Bank – “contribute to human suffering.” Tolchin does not address this point in his statement, but it is an important part of the context.

The West Bank is part of occupied Palestinian Territory, not Israel. The land under question was confiscated from Palestinians and appropriated by Israelis. In violation of international law, Israel transferred some of its citizens into occupied territory to live on Jewish-only settlements.

To be clear, only Israeli Jews – not Israeli Christians or Israeli Muslims – live on these settlements. Airbnb’s “redlining” targeted not a religious group, but a body of people who live illegally on someone else’s land.

All Israeli Jews living on West Bank settlements – not just Airbnb hosts, but all 600,000 – live illegally on someone else’s land.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have lost their homes, businesses, farms, and orchards due to settlements; settlers do indeed “contribute to human suffering.”

Christians and Muslims in the West Bank are not subject to the de-listing policy – not because Airbnb is showing religious preference, but because these groups are casualties of injustice, not perpetrators.

Equal opportunity?

The plaintiffs are either rental home hosts in settlements, or potential customers. Thanks to Airbnb’s new policy, it will not be possible to arrange rentals on their website.

Conversely, thanks to Israel’s policy, Palestinians have not been allowed to live in their homes or farm in their fields for over 50 years. Instead, they live as refugees.

Attorney Tolchin’s plea for “equal access for all” drips with irony, as the whole point of settlements is that they are Palestinian-free zones on Palestinian land. “Equal access” in this context means “all Jews are equally welcome, and non-Jews are equally unwelcome.”

Likewise the “damages” the plaintiffs seek – lost rental income – pale in comparison to the damages Palestinians experienced in the loss of their homes, the decades of lost income, and the casualties of justice, innocence, and hope.

Taking sides?

The other accusation Tolchin mentions is Airbnb’s sin of taking sides.

Airbnb had a moral obligation to take sides when it learned the facts. Airbnb did not choose to pick on Jews, but took action against oppression, knowing that to stay neutral would be to side with the oppressive regime.

The summation

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Airbnb are not able to substantiate the accusation of religious discrimination, since Airbnb’s policy is in reality based not on religion, but on international law and human suffering.

The allegation of unequal access is likewise feeble: no one has less access to the properties in question than the Palestinians who actually own the land.

As for the accusation that Airbnb has taken sides, that one is true – it is just not illegal or punishable. In fact, it is a moral imperative.

The verdict

The court of public opinion, having explored context, is now free to deliberate.

How do you find the defendant?


RELATED READING:

Action Alert: tell Booking.com to follow Airbnb in de-listing Israeli settlement properties

The humanitarian impact of Israeli settlements in Hebron city

Israeli settlers, with IDF complicity, have destroyed 800,000 olive trees since 1967

December 2, 2018 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , , | 1 Comment

“Let’s Walk to the Haram,” youth initiative to pray at Ibrahimi Mosque

Palestinian youth at Ibrahimi Mosque
Palestine Information Center – November 30, 2018

AL-KHALIL – A Palestinian youth group calling itself “Let’s Walk to the Haram” has launched an initiative in al-Khalil aimed at reviving its Old City and encouraging citizens to pray at the Ibrahimi Mosque.

Young men and women of different ages are participating in this initiative, and they organize tours to the Ibrahimi Mosque, pray collectively inside it and raise public awareness on the importance of visiting the holy site and protecting it against attempts to Judaize it by Jewish groups, settlers and their right-wing government.

The Palestinian group has urged the Palestinian citizens in al-Khalil and the West Bank to participate in the tours it organizes at the Mosque and not to fear any assaults and acts of bullying by Jewish settlers during their presence in the Old City and the Ibrahimi Mosque.

The Ibrahimi Mosque is being exposed to systematic Judaization and attempts by settlers to change its interior appearance in order to make it look like a synagogue and to gradually prevent Muslims from entering it.

November 30, 2018 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , | 1 Comment

Jewish Americans sue Airbnb over West Bank listing ban

MEMO | November 29, 2018

A group of Jewish Americans sued Airbnb Inc on Wednesday in US federal court, accusing the home rental company of religious discrimination over its decision last week to remove listings for about 200 homes in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Reuters reports.

The 18 plaintiffs, including Israeli-American families and individuals who said they own or wish to rent affected homes, accused Airbnb of “redlining” Jewish-owned properties while letting Muslims and Christians rent their homes.

They said this effectively left Airbnb taking sides in the dispute over the West Bank, where Palestinians hope to establish an independent state and which Israel captured in 1967, along with East Jerusalem.

“We don’t believe this lawsuit will succeed in court, but we know that people will disagree with our decision and appreciate their perspective,” Airbnb said in a statement.

The complaint was filed in federal court in Delaware, where Airbnb is incorporated, and which the plaintiffs said has jurisdiction over the San Francisco-based company’s alleged violation of US laws against housing discrimination.

“Airbnb has made a religion- and nationality-based decision about who can list,” Robert Tolchin, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in an interview. “It decided in the United States, ‘We will not list for Jews in the West Bank.’ It should be equal access for all.”

The plaintiffs are seeking injunctive relief and unspecified damages, including for lost rental income.

A separate lawsuit challenging Airbnb’s policy was filed in a Jerusalem court on Nov. 22.

The Delaware case differed by claiming that “Airbnb is violating Americans’ rights, and this can’t be argued in an Israeli court under Israeli law,” Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, another lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in an interview.

Most world powers believe Israel’s settlements on occupied Palestinian land violate international law.

Roughly 500,000 Israelis live in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Airbnb’s delisting was announced on Nov. 19 and applies only in the West Bank, where Palestinians have limited self-rule under Israeli military occupation.

While concluding that “companies should not profit on lands where people have been displaced,” Airbnb said it had “deep respect” for the “many strong views” about what to do with disputed lands.

Palestinians in the West Bank have welcomed Airbnb’s decision.

The case is Silber et al v Airbnb Inc, US District Court, District of Delaware, No. 18-01884.

November 29, 2018 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Airbnb pledges to remove occupied West Bank settlement listings, Israel hits back

RT | November 20, 2018

Global home-rental company Airbnb says it will remove listings of homes located in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Israeli officials have predictably called the move anti-Semitic and a surrender to terrorism.

Human Rights Watch applauded Airbnb’s move, which came a day before the group’s publication of a (presumably damning) report on the human rights impact of tourist rental listings in settlements. Waleed Assraf, who runs an anti-settlement group for the Palestinian Liberation Organization, was hopeful other companies would follow Airbnb’s example, noting “this will contribute to achieving peace.”

Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin called Airbnb’s move “discriminatory” and ordered his ministry to formulate a retaliatory plan to “limit the company’s activities” in Israel, adding that the country would back settlement listers’ lawsuits in both Israeli and US courts.

Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the US and current deputy minister in PM Netanyahu’s office, called for a revenge boycott, deeming AirBnB’s policy “the very definition of anti-Semitism.” Settler council Yesha agreed that the company’s actions “can only be a result of anti-Semitism or surrendering to terrorism – or both.”

A statement on Airbnb’s website read “We concluded that we should remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians,” explaining that their policy for contested territories like the West Bank, Tibet, and Western Sahara involves “evaluat[ing] whether the existence of listings is contributing to existing human suffering” and “determin[ing] whether the existence of listings in the occupied territory has a direct connection to the larger dispute in the region.” About 200 listings are affected, though they have not yet been taken down.

Palestinian official Saab Erekat wrote to Airbnb’s CEO in January 2016 asking the company to end its relationship with Israeli settlements, and Human Rights Watch called on all businesses to cut ties with companies operating in West Bank settlements in its “Occupation, Inc.,” report shortly thereafter, explaining that the income from such companies relieves the Israeli government of the economic burden of sustaining the illegal settlements. The international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has also called for travelers to avoid the home-rental service.

The Israeli settlements, constructed on land captured during the 1967 war, are illegal under international law, but Israel has long disputed this. Settlements have been gradually encroaching on Palestinian land ever since the end of the conflict, accompanied by a heavy military presence and the violence that accompanies it.

November 20, 2018 Posted by | Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , | Leave a comment