Sunday, December 10, 2017

Journalists must refuse Israeli junkets

Reporters working for mainstream media educated many people – myself included – about South African apartheid.

Some press associations are rightly proud of their anti-racist history. The National Union of Journalists for Britain and Ireland now celebrates how it supported the international campaign to boycott and isolate the white minority regime in Pretoria.

But the need to fight bigotry around the world did not end when Nelson Mandela was released from prison or elected president.

Palestinians endure the “worst version of apartheid,” Mandla Mandela – Nelson’s grandson – stated recently. He is among many South Africans who have argued that the system of racial discrimination enforced by Israel is more extreme than the one they encountered. His grandfather called Palestine the “greatest moral issue of our time.”

So far, the NUJ – of which I am a member – has declined to endorse the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions.

And the union’s code of ethics says nothing about what reporters should do if offered junkets by major human rights abusers such as Israel.

The need for clear guidance has become more pressing as Israel ramps up its propaganda activities.

Tantrum

Next year, the Giro d’Italia – a major cycling race – will start in Jerusalem.

Hoping to garner some favorable publicity, Israel and its supporters are already organizing press trips ahead of the event.

Richard Abraham, a cycling writer, has admitted that a recent visit he made to the Middle East was “paid for by the Israelis” as part of a charm offensive. Significantly, his disclosure was included in a reflective article for a publication called Rouleur, rather than in a news feature on the same topic that Abraham wrote for The Guardian – a more widely-read newspaper with a declared desire to discover and tell the truth.

By coincidence, I arrived in Italy last week on the day that the route for the 2018 Giro was unveiled. The announcement – made during a glitzy event in Milan – sparked a tantrum from the Israeli government, which objected when the Giro administrators referred to the starting location as “West Jerusalem.”

Israel’s tantrum proved effective. Promptly, the word “West” was dropped from the Giro’s official website.

The row illustrated how bringing an Italian competition to Jerusalem is a blatant propaganda exercise. Jerusalem is being promoted as a city of harmony. The reality that Palestinians in the city live under military occupation must not interfere with the image that Israel wishes to project.

Image manipulation

We got a taste of the image manipulation a few months ago. According to the Israeli authorities, the aim of starting the Giro in Jerusalem was to demonstrate how the city was “open to all.”

My traveling companion in Italy – Fareed Taamallah – has not experienced such openness.

A farmer and political activist in the Ramallah area of the occupied West Bank, Fareed lives around six kilometers from Jerusalem but is seldom allowed to visit that city.

“Israel says it is an open country, that it is a democratic state,” he said. “It is a democratic state for Jews and foreigners. When it comes to Palestinians, it is closed.”

His family has endured much torment because of the restrictions imposed by Israel.

Fareed’s daughter Lina – born in 2002 – has required treatment in Jerusalem’s hospitals for most of her life.

When she was about 18-months-old, Lina was diagnosed with kidney failure.

Lina needed a transplant and a South African friend of her family was identified as a compatible donor. Yet when the South African woman applied for a visa before the transplant operation, she was rejected by the Israeli authorities as she had previously visited Palestine and campaigned against the Israeli occupation. It was only after a documentary-maker – working in tandem with a lawyer – investigated why Israel was endangering Lina’s life that the visa was granted.

Fareed himself has been stopped from seeing his daughter in hospital on many occasions. Lina has to visit Jerusalem for check-ups and treatment every three months. Usually her mother, Ameena, accompanies Lina. A few times, both Fareed and Ameena have been refused permits.

“Humiliated”

In 2014, Lina had to undergo a knee operation in Jerusalem. Fareed wanted to be with his daughter on the day of her surgery. When he sought a permit from Israel’s Civil Administration – a military body that oversees the occupation – “an Israeli soldier told me ‘quit all your [political] activities,’” he said.

Among those activities were Fareed’s work on opposing Israel’s wall in the West Bank and on advocating a boycott of Israeli goods and institutions. Fareed, who helps run an ecological farming project called Sharaka, has insisted that he will remain politically active despite the pressure he has encountered.

“They play with my nerves,” Fareed said, adding that he has given up applying for permits to visit Jerusalem. The ordeal of spending hours waiting in an Israeli military building made him “feel very humiliated,” he said.

Fareed emphasized that his story is “not isolated.” It is common for Palestinians to be obstructed from receiving medical treatment by the Israeli authorities. Israel has a deliberate policy of restricting Palestinians’ movement.

Journalists are being courted by Israel, the very same state that stops parents from visiting their children in hospital.

Israel’s strategic affairs ministry is arranging propaganda trips as part of its aggressive efforts to counter the BDS movement. Lobby groups with whom that ministry works have bragged of taking reporters from well-known media outlets like the BBC and The Daily Mail in Britain and Le Figaro in France on junkets.

Journalists who take part in such trips are allowing themselves to be seduced by an apartheid state. By ignoring Palestinian calls for a boycott, they are siding with the oppressor against the oppressed – the last thing that a journalist should do.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 5 December 2017.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Why is Ireland's prime minister tagging the Israel lobby on Facebook?

Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, is regularly seen attending rock concerts or modeling novelty socks as he attempts to cultivate an image of being hip and humorous.

A recent inquiry made by Varadkar via Facebook about whether he resembled the cartoon character on his coffee mug appeared at first glance to be another example of such contrived lightheartedness.

For some reason, though, Varadkar had “tagged” one person in his post. That person, Barry Williams, happens to be Ireland’s most ardent supporter of Israel.

The taoiseach – as Ireland’s prime minister is called – offered no explanation about why the note was addressed to Williams, who runs the group Irish4Israel. And multiple requests for comment to Varadkar and his office went unanswered.

Why the silence? The Irish public is broadly sympathetic to the Palestinians’ plight. Any connections that Varadkar has to Williams and Irish4Israel are, therefore, matters of public interest.

If they are simply friends, that is not problematic as such. But if Williams is using that friendship to lobby on behalf of a foreign government – Israel – then the public has a right to know about it.

Varadkar has previously displayed greater sympathy towards Israel than most other politicians in the south of Ireland.

Overblown?

In 2004 – then a member of a local authority for the Dublin area – Varadkar appeared to defend US policies on the Middle East. Writing to The Irish Times, Varadkar described as “overblown” the criticism heaped on George W. Bush, then the US president, who had told Israel that it may retain some colonies it had built in the occupied West Bank as part of a “final peace settlement.”

Following his election to the Oireachtas – Ireland’s parliament – in 2007, Varadkar signaled that he was in favor of greater trade with Israel. When he later became a transport minister in the Dublin government, Varadkar sought parliamentary approval of an EU-Israel aviation deal during 2013 as a matter of “urgency.”

EU diplomats recently credited this “open skies” agreement with facilitating a surge of visits to Israel by tourists from certain European countries.

Varadkar appeared to distance himself from Ireland’s small pro-Israel lobby while Gaza was under attack the following year. In a tweet, he denied belonging to a “friends of Israel” group within the Oireachtas.

But Varadkar has never formally retracted his earlier declarations of support for Israel. And the need for transparency about where he stands is all the more pressing now that Varadkar is taoiseach.

Israel has made clear that it wishes to change what Benjamin Netanyahu, its prime minister, has called Ireland’s “traditional stance” of supporting Palestinians.

Mystery of the mug

Netanyahu was exaggerating the extent of elite support for the Palestinians. Like all other EU governments, Ireland has been hugely accommodating to Israel for a couple of decades at least.

Netanyahu nonetheless wants Ireland to go further. For example, he wants organizations that campaign against Israel’s human rights abuses to be denied financial assistance.

The agenda pursued by Irish4Israel is strongly in line with Netanyahu’s stance. The group frequently tries to portray Palestine solidarity campaigners as extreme and unreasonable.

When Mike Murphy, a veteran Irish broadcaster, recently participated in a trip to the occupied West Bank and wrote about the oppression he witnessed, the group called his article “vile.”

Aggressive tactics of that nature are unlikely to win Irish4Israel too many friends among the public.

But if the group has the prime minister onside, perhaps it feels emboldened. That’s all the more reason why Varadkar must end the mystery surrounding his mug.

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 15 November 2017.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Britain's murky alliance with Israel

The latest comments by Theresa May on Britain’s relations with Israel smack of duplicity.

Both states are “close allies and it is right that we work closely together” provided such work is done “formally and through official channels,” the prime minister has stated.

There are at least two problems with that remark. Constantly cosying up to the oppressor of the Palestinian people is not “right” even if all the required formalities are observed. And secondly, there is ample evidence to suggest that May’s government has accommodated a pro-Israel lobby that keeps the true nature of its activities under wraps.

May was responding to a controversy which led Priti Patel to resign as Britain’s secretary for international development over undisclosed discussions with Israeli politicians.

Those discussions were arranged by Stuart Polak, a lobbyist whose “energy and tenacity” was praised by May less than a year ago.

Since 2015, Polak has sat in the House of Lords. Under a code of conduct for that institution’s members, he should “provide the openness and accountability” necessary to “reinforce public confidence” in his conduct.

Polak is clearly not respecting that rule. In particular, he has failed to clarify his precise links to Israel’s arms industry.

As well as being in the House of Lords, Polak leads a consultancy named TWC Associates (previously The Westminster Connection).

Although Elbit Systems is listed as a client on the consultancy’s website, Polak has not disclosed what work he and his colleagues do for that Israeli firm.

Earlier this week, The Guardian depicted Elbit as relatively innocuous by reporting that it “specialises in defence electronics”.

The full picture is far more sinister. Elbit makes many of the weapons - including white phosphorous munitions and drones - that Israel has used in its major attacks on Gaza.

Along with supplying weapons to the Israeli military, Elbit owns at least five firms in Britain. Ran Kril, a senior Elbit representative, said recently that the firm is treating Britain as “an actual home market” similar to the US and Israel.

Elbit is taking part in a £1.2 billion programme called Watchkeeper, which is aimed at providing drones for the British Army. The firm has also signalled that it wishes to expand its cooperation with Britain’s weapons-producers

Polak has never revealed if he or his business partners have assisted Elbit’s efforts to gain a stronger foothold in the British market. He did not respond to a request for comment.

So far, Polak has withheld details about who paid for him to accompany the aforementioned Patel when she met Israeli politicians in August.

Yet a register of interests for the House of Lords reveals that he travelled to New York and Morocco the following month at the expense of the Israeli firm ISHRA Consulting. ISHRA’s website indicates that it is involved in lobbying for the arms industry and Morocco is known to have bought Israeli-designed drones.

Did Polak try to drum up any business for Israel during his travels? If Polak practises what he preaches, then he probably did.

Earlier this month, he marked the Balfour Declaration’s centenary by signing an article which argued that Britain “must continue to explore avenues for further trade” with Israel.

For more than 25 years, Polak has been a key player in Conservative Friends of Israel. His appointment to the House of Lords was presented as a reward for his pro-Israel advocacy by David Cameron, then the prime minister.

In a real democracy, Polak’s role in such a pressure group would be scrutinised, rather than applauded.

Conservative Friends of Israel is, by its own admission, among the most influential lobbying outfits in the Tory party and British politics more generally.

The group has extremely close relations with the Israeli government. The trips it organises for public representatives to visit the Middle East are jointly financed with the Israeli foreign ministry.

Prominent Tories have enjoyed such junkets. Theresa Villiers took part in one not long after she ceased being the cabinet minister responsible for the north of Ireland. She used the trip to subtly raise criticisms of how Britain last year endorsed a UN Security Council resolution opposing Israel’s settlement activities.

That Conservative Friends of Israel was eager to promote her criticisms raises further questions. Is the group conniving with the Israeli government to try and tone down Britain’s stance on settlements? Such efforts - if successful - would make Theresa May’s government complicit in enabling violations of international law (all Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Golan Heights breach the Fourth Geneva Convention).

Long before the controversy that triggered her resignation, Priti Patel had cultivated strong links with the pro-Israel lobby.

She had visited Washington to take part in a 2013 conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a group with considerable clout on Capitol Hill. The bill for her trans-Atlantic journey was footed by the Henry Jackson Society, a neoconservative “think tank” dedicated to American and British imperialism.

The Henry Jackson Society can count on a number of supporters within the British cabinet. Among them are Michael Gove, Britain’s environment secretary, who has been involved both with the society and with Conservative Friends of Israel. Gove has rhapsodised lately about how “Israel is a truly miraculous nation and a light unto the world”.

The choice of words is unfortunate, to put it mildly. The alliance between Israel and Britain is not miraculous. It is murky.

•First published by Middle East Eye, 9 November 2017.

EU representative told to treat Israel softly

An argument trotted out by European Union representatives to “justify” engaging with Israel is that they regularly raise concerns about human rights abuses.

The argument is premised on a fallacy. Far from pushing difficult questions onto the agenda at every available opportunity, the EU dodges topics that are deemed too sensitive for reasons of political expediency – as previously unpublished documents illustrate.

The documents contain talking points prepared for Carlos Moedas, the Union’s science commissioner, ahead of a 2016 visit to the Middle East.

Moedas was advised by officials planning his trip to avoid comments about Israel’s settlement activities when he met Ofir Akunis, Israel’s science minister.

Akunis had earlier alleged that EU guidelines on labeling goods from settlements in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights would “encourage terrorism.” He called such labeling “a dark stain on the moral fabric of Europe, which bears witness to the fact that the lessons of history have not been learned.”

“We suggest not raising this issue formally unless the Israeli side raises it,” the briefing for Moedas stated.

“Jewel in the crown”

Moedas used his trip to celebrate how Israeli firms and institutions avail of EU research grants. Scientific cooperation is the “jewel in the crown” of the EU’s partnership with Israel, according to his notes.

A few years ago, a controversy erupted over Israel’s participation in the EU’s science program Horizon 2020.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, and many of his colleagues protested against how the EU issued guidelines in 2013 stipulating that firms and universities based within Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights would be ineligible for research grants once Horizon 2020 was launched the following year.

Since that row was resolved, the EU has keenly promoted how Israel benefits from such funding. Emanuele Giaufret, the Union’s ambassador to Tel Aviv, tweeted recently about how Israel has pocketed nearly $534 million from Horizon 2020 so far.

During that 2016 trip, Moedas gave helpful suggestions about how Israel may play a bigger role in the EU’s research activities. He was particularly eager that Israel should become more involved in a scheme for low-carbon energy.

His advisers neglected to point out that it is fundamentally unethical to propose energy cooperation with a state that has bombed Gaza’s only power plant and stolen solar panels used by Palestinian communities in the West Bank.

Moedas paid a follow-up visit to the Middle East in May this year.

Briefing notes prepared ahead of a meeting arranged between him and Benjamin Netanyahu contained no reference to abuses of Palestinian rights. That was despite how the discussions were held amid a worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza – exacerbated by Israel’s drastic limitations on the supply of electricity to the territory.

Farcical

Instead, Moedas was urged to inform Netanyahu that Israel had received around $2 billion in EU science funding over the previous 20 years. Moedas was also advised to express pride in the strength of the EU’s cooperation with Israel – the phrase “jewel in the crown” was repeated.

Obtained under freedom of information rules, the briefing notes identify ordinary people as the “biggest challenges” to the EU’s relationship with Israel.

“Public opinion is dramatically shifting towards [a] greater call for accountability” and against subsidizing firms “perceived to be involved in violations of international law,” one briefing paper states.

The terminology here is deceptive. Elbit Systems – a recipient of EU grants named in the document – has not simply been “perceived” as being involved in Israel’s crimes. It has most definitely been involved.

Israel’s biggest weapons producer, Elbit has supplied drones used in attacks on Gaza. It has also provided surveillance equipment for Israel’s apartheid wall in the West Bank – a project ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice.

The EU continues to shower Elbit with millions of dollars in “research” funding despite the recent revelation that the firm is helping Israel evade an international ban on cluster weapons.

The notes for Moedas offer an especially farcical defense of a controversial EU-funded project named LAW TRAIN.

Focused on interrogation techniques, that project connects various European bodies with Israel’s police – a force headquartered in occupied East Jerusalem and known to systematically torture Palestinian detainees, including children.

Hooking up with the Israeli police force is acceptable – in the view of Moedas’ advisers – as the Union’s representatives “regularly” raise “possible cases of torture and abuse” in discussions with the Netanyahu government.

“The EU considers that cooperation and engagement with Israel, which make such dialogue possible, are more effective than isolation or boycotts,” the briefing paper states.

The facts tell a different story. The number of children locked up by Israel has risen from an average of 192 per month in 2011 to 375 per month last year. Most children detained by Israel experience physical abuse, human rights groups have documented.

If torture and detention of children are on the increase, then the EU’s approach of “engagement” and “dialogue” is clearly not proving effective. The ordinary folk demanding tougher action have evidently got things right.

Why won’t the elite admit the obvious?

•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 9 November 2017.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Why is Britain proud of the Balfour Declaration?

Almost 100 years ago, Britain decided to introduce a system of racial and religious discrimination in Palestine.

Arthur James Balfour, then foreign secretary, signed a pledge to support the key goals of the Zionist movement. As the world’s pre-eminent power, Britain would help establish a ‘Jewish national home’ -- a euphemism for a Jewish state - in Palestine, despite how its population was mostly Arab. Jews the world over were, in effect, treated as a nation. No such status was accorded to Palestine’s indigenous inhabitants.

The Balfour Declaration, as that November 1917 letter became known, was later enshrined in the League of Nations mandate under which Britain ruled Palestine between the two world wars.

During that period, Britain’s administration for Palestine helped entrench a form of ‘economic apartheid’, a term used by Norman Bentwich, its chief legal officer. Incoming settlers were favoured in access to land and employment; Palestinians were frequently dispossessed.

Not surprisingly, the British encountered much resistance.

Faced with unrest in the early 1920s, Winston Churchill, then colonial secretary, recommended that a ‘picked force of white gendarmerie’ should be formed. It would be comprised of men who had previously served in the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries -- crown forces based in Ireland.

The Black and Tans and Auxiliaries had resorted to large scale arson during Ireland’s war of independence, as well as sometimes operating as death squads. Their members and other British forces behaved with similar ruthlessness in Palestine.

In the 1930s, the civil administration in Jerusalem effectively put the military in charge of suppressing a Palestinian revolt against Britain and its support for Zionist colonisation.

Among the tactics Britain employed were the imposition of collective penalties on towns and villages that refused to obey their oppressors, the demolition of entire neighbourhoods and erecting a huge barbed-wire fence, complete with the most advanced surveillance technology of that era, along part of Palestine’s frontier.

State archives even refer to how Britain established a concentration camp -- the precise term used -- near Sarafand al-Amar, a village on Palestine’s coastal plain. The camp was used for the mass incarceration of those alleged to have taken part in the rebellion.

As part of efforts to crush that revolt, Britain knowingly recruited members of the Haganah, the largest Zionist militia in Palestine and a forerunner of today’s Israeli army. The result was that many of the forces who drove around 750,000 Palestinians from their homes a decade later had received British training. Britain had, therefore, prepared the groundwork for the Nakba (‘catastrophe’ in Arabic) -- the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

Relations between Britain and the Zionist movement have sometimes been fractious. Two armed Zionist groups, the Irgun and the Lehi, came to regard Britain as a bitter foe. They waged a campaign of guerilla warfare against Britain in the 1940s.

Britain has nonetheless continued to embrace the Zionist project. A number of British politicians have argued that they are duty-bound to support Israel, given that the Balfour Declaration led to that state’s inception. That does not mean they romanticize Israel. On the contrary, British governments have tended to view Israel as a vehicle for advancing their interests in the Middle East, even to do their dirty work.

That was dramatically so in 1956, when Britain and France persuaded Israel to attack Egypt over how Gamal Abdel Nasser, a staunch opponent of Western imperialism, had nationalised the Suez Canal. The offensive involved Israeli massacres in Gaza that have been omitted from many books on the Suez affair.

Israel was to declare war against Egypt once more in 1967. It did so by making heavy use of British weapons, notably battle tanks. The British embassy in Tel Aviv was pleased at feedback from Israeli generals about how those tanks had performed much better than was expected.

The June 1967 war ushered in a military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights that persists to this day. Marking the 50th anniversary of that occupation earlier this year, the London media was mostly silent about how Britain enabled it.

Britain’s policies on the Middle East have become increasingly shaped by the US in recent decades. Ronald Reagan resorted to the kind of duplicity that subsequent American presidents have replicated. He boosted military aid to Israel, while portraying Palestinians as the obstacle to peace. Margaret Thatcher echoed him by branding all armed opposition to Israel as terrorism.

Tony Blair has been demonstrably worse. Despite harping on about justice and statehood for Palestinians, Blair has proven to be a hardcore apologist for Israel.

While in Downing Street, Blair vigorously promoted ‘security cooperation’ between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. One effect of this cooperation is that the Palestinian Authority now boasts of locking up young Palestinians without charge or trial - in order to keep Israel happy.

Blair’s endorsement of Israel’s 2006 attack on Lebanon caused great anger within the Labour Party and the wider public. Yet it did not prevent him from being appointed as what British newspapers called a ‘peace envoy’ for the Middle East on the same day that he stepped down as prime minister. Blair used that position to sanitise the medieval siege that Israel has imposed on Gaza.

Largely unnoticed by the media, the bonds between the arms industries of Britain and Israel have been bolstered in recent times.

The British Army used Israeli cluster bombs during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The army has flown Israeli drones over both Iraq and Afghanistan, too.

The British embassy in Tel Aviv has even set up a technology centre staffed by Israeli weapons innovators. Along with trying to increase business with Israel, Britain has sought to smear Palestine solidarity activists. Theresa May’s government has invoked a contentious definition of anti-Semitism to muzzle some of Israel’s critics in British universities.

Earlier this year, May signalled that clinching a free trade deal with Israel would be a priority once Britain leaves the European Union. She has identified the right-wing coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu as a key ally.

May has praised the Balfour Declaration as ‘one of the most important letters in history’ and pledged to mark its centenary with ‘pride’. She appears unfazed by how Britain set in train a process that would deny Palestinians their basic rights. One hundred years later, Britain is trying to perpetuate the injustice it has caused.

•First published on the Pluto Press blog, November 2017.

Celebrating Balfour is a calculated insult to Palestinians

Theresa May will deliver a calculated insult to the Palestinian people this week.

Her promise to commemorate “with pride” the Balfour Declaration’s centenary indicates that the British government is becoming more gung ho in its support for Israeli aggression. Assurances given to human rights advocates by Foreign Office staff that the anniversary would be marked solemnly, rather than celebrated, have been nullified by Downing Street.

What exactly is May proud about?

On 2 November 1917, Arthur James Balfour, then foreign secretary, gave the green light for an act of large-scale larceny. Through his declaration to the Zionist Federation, Britain became the imperial sponsor of a Jewish state that would be formed in Palestine by expelling its indigenous people en masse.

Balfour regarded Palestinians as expendable and did not even bother consulting them. As he argued a few years after his declaration, Britain attached greater importance to Zionist aspirations than to “the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land”.

In a period when the principle of self-determination was gaining wider currency - and had been endorsed by Woodrow Wilson, the US president - the declaration was an anomaly. Palestinians were denied autonomy largely because of a lobbying offensive conducted by Chaim Weizmann, an influential Zionist based in Manchester. As a general principle, old Ottoman territories may be run “in the natural interests of the present inhabitants,” he argued, but an exception must be made in the case of Palestine. While paying lip-service to the rights of Palestinians, Weizmann insisted that they be accorded a lesser status than incoming Jewish settlers.

Today, Israel depicts the declaration as a magnanimous gesture towards persecuted Jews. The truth is far grubbier.

Zionism was a political ideology firmly opposed by Britain’s only Jewish cabinet minister in 1917, Edwin Montagu. In a trenchant memorandum, he warned that Jews “will hereafter be treated as foreigners in every country but Palestine.”

Montagu’s view was diametrically opposed to that of his cousin Herbert Samuel. A staunch Zionist, Samuel promoted the ideology as a vehicle for advancing Britain’s interests. Establishing a Jewish colony in Palestine would, according to Samuel, help prevent France from gaining control of the nearby Suez canal -- located on a key trade route connecting Europe and India.

Samuel was central to efforts aimed at making sure the declaration had practical effects -- particularly after it had been incorporated in the League of Nations mandate under which Britain ruled Palestine between the two world wars. In 1920, Samuel became the first British high commissioner for Palestine. Over the next five years, he introduced numerous measures to facilitate and finance the acquisition by the Zionist movement of land on which Palestinians had lived and farmed for generations.

Resistance to colonisation was crushed with great brutality.

When a major Palestinian revolt broke out in the 1930s, the British administration in Jerusalem told military commanders they may take whatever steps were deemed necessary. Communities were punished collectively for failing to obey their oppressors.

More than 100 men were rounded up in Halhul, a village near Hebron, during May 1939 on the pretext that it had a bad reputation. Eight of those men died from heat exhaustion after being held in an open air pen. The British authorities blamed their deaths on the weather but also admitted that they had been deprived of adequate food and water for several consecutive days.

In the latter stages of the revolt, Bernard Montgomery, a well-known figure in the British Army, instituted a shoot to kill policy. According to his order, anyone who assisted a rebel should be treated as a rebel. Such commands gave British soldiers carte blanche to terrorise Palestinians with impunity.

Members of the Haganah - the largest Zionist militia at the time - were hired by Britain to assist with the revolt’s suppression. The result of that collaboration was that many of the Zionist forces who drove around 750,000 Palestinians from their homes the following decade had received British training.

Britain thereby laid the groundwork for the Nakba, the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

The relationship between Britain and Zionism has not been seamless. Two armed Zionist groups, the Irgun and the Lehi, came to perceive Britain as a bitter foe in the 1940s. By waging guerilla warfare against Britain they caused Winston Churchill to waver from his support for Zionism and lament how the ideology had spawned “gangsters”.

Britain’s reaction to the gangsters’ exploits was nonetheless much more restrained than the way it deal with the 1930s Palestinian revolt. Alan Cunningham, the last British high commissioner for Palestine, maintained that Britain had to uphold its commitments to Zionism under the League of Nations mandate. Cunningham, by contrast, was indifferent to Palestinian suffering. At one point, he tried to excuse Britain for destroying Palestinian dwellings in the 1930s by claiming they were of “relatively little pecuniary value”.

Britain relinquished its mandate for Palestine in May 1948. Israel declared itself a state immediately afterwards.

The sponsorship of Zionism has continued. Many Israeli crimes against humanity have been abetted by Britain. The military occupation which began in June 1967 was facilitated by British battle tanks. Israel’s assault on Gaza during the summer of 2014 was enthusiastically backed by Britain, too.

Brexit might advantageous for Israel - at least in the short term. At a time when Theresa May’s relationship with her EU counterparts is somewhat tense, she appears to regard Benjamin Netanyahu as a steadfast ally. The Israeli prime minister will receive red carpet treatment when he attends the Balfour celebrations in London this week.

May’s pandering to Netanyahu demonstrates she is out of step with public opinion. While her government seeks to boost trade with Israel, ordinary people in Britain and around the world are boycotting Israeli goods and institutions.

There is a historical resonance behind how boycotting has assumed a central importance in efforts to make right the wrongs inflicted by Arthur Balfour and his colleagues. Boycotts offended Balfour’s aristocratic sensibilities when they were used to challenge the powerful.

Heading Britain’s colonial administration in Ireland during the late nineteenth century, Balfour supported legislation that would make the boycotting of landlords punishable by up to six months’ hard labour. The term “boycott” has been traced to Ireland in that period. It was named after Charles Boycott, a land agent whose employees refused to cooperate with him after he served a series of eviction notices.

It is apt that Palestinians are tackling Balfour’s toxic legacy with a tactic of which he strongly disapproved. Boycotting Israel is a moral imperative.

•First published by Middle East Eye, 31 October 2017.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Checking settlement exports "impossible," EU admits

The European Union has admitted that it cannot monitor whether producers working from Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank are fraudulently taking advantage of trade privileges.


Since 2000, the EU has allowed most Israeli goods to enter its markets without incurring taxes or customs duties.


Exports from Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights are not eligible for those perks, because the EU does not recognize those territories as part of Israel.


Yet a document – obtained under EU freedom of information rules – states that checking where Israeli goods originated from has proven “impossible.”


Dated from June this year, the document was sent from Lars Faaborg-Andersen, then the EU’s ambassador in Tel Aviv, to a senior official handling trade policy in Brussels.


Faaborg-Andersen noted that Israel’s introduction of a “new seven digit ZIP code system” has complicated matters. EU diplomats, he suggested, could not work out which codes applied to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights.


Despite how Faaborg-Andersen called Israel’s scheme “new,” it has been in operation since 2013.


The system means that Israel could have as many as 10 million unique postal codes, even though its population is less than 8 million, according to the newspaper Haaretz.


Deferential


The admission by Faaborg-Andersen indicates that attempts to distinguish goods from settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights from other Israeli exports proved ineffective throughout his four-year stint as ambassador.


Asked if the Union has been hampered from monitoring Israeli settlement exports since 2013, an EU spokesperson would not answer the question. The spokesperson merely stated that discussions on the related issues are “ongoing.”


The EU stipulated in 2015 that goods from settlements should be labeled as such. It is hard to imagine how labeling can be accurate if identifying the origin of goods has not been possible.


The logical conclusion is that all trade privileges should be revoked. The EU has the power to do so.


The agreement covering its relations with Israel allows the EU to apply sanctions over violations of human rights. Israel’s settlement activities involve daily abuses of Palestinians. Moreover, the building of colonies on a militarily occupied land is a war crime under international law.


There is a growing legal consensus that international law requires governments to not just label settlement goods but to prohibit their import entirely.


Instead of any real action, Faaborg-Andersen advocated that an “expert meeting” should be convened. He also stated that EU diplomats “politely declined” an invitation from Eli Cohen, Israel’s economy minister, to take part in a propaganda tour of settlements.


Faaborg-Andersen has not just been polite towards Israel’s hard-right government; he has been consistently deferential.


As soon as the EU’s labeling guidelines for goods from Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Golan Heights were published, Faaborg-Andersen sought to downplay their significance.


Portraying the guidelines as technical, rather than political, he has emphasized that products from Israeli settlements are “still welcome” on Europe’s supermarket shelves.


He has argued that the labeling requirements have “nothing to do” with any other issues concerning Israel or Palestinians. That was a bizarre statement given how Israel’s settlement activities place a chokehold on many aspects of Palestinian life.


Underdog?


This is by no means the first evidence that EU attempts to differentiate between goods from within present-day Israel and from its settlements in the West Bank have been circumvented.


Tnuva, an Israeli food company, has been filmed bringing milk from farms located in such settlements to processing facilities inside Israel.


By using such tricks, exporters can present their goods as “made in Israel,” thereby fraudulently enjoying preferential access to the EU’s markets.


Faaborg-Andersen, a Danish diplomat, has been out of step with European public opinion.


While ordinary people in many countries have protested at the oppression of the Palestinians by shunning Israeli goods, he has been hostile to the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.


Last year, he attended a conference at which an Israeli government minister threatened Palestinian political activists with “targeted civilian elimination.” That is the same term Israel uses for its extrajudicial executions, yet Faaborg-Andersen refused to condemn the threat.


In a farewell message before he stepped down as ambassador to Israel in August, Faaborg-Andersen argued that the EU’s relationship with Israel is its “most developed” with any state outside the 28-member bloc. He especially praised Israel for providing “under-the-table security cooperation and intelligence.”


His remarks indicate that the EU is forever snuggling up closer to the Israeli authorities – the same authorities that deny Palestinians their basic rights.


Along with the “under-the-table” collaboration to which he alluded, Israel is a key beneficiary of the EU’s scientific research program.


Manufacturers of weapons used during the major offensives against Gaza have been showered with EU grants in the name of “innovation.”


Faaborg-Andersen has peddled Zionist myths by claiming that when he first visited Israel in the 1970s (to work on a kibbutz), it was akin to “David struggling for survival against the surrounding Arab Goliaths.” In later years, Israel has moved from “underdog to the top dog” in the neighborhood, he added.


In truth, Israel has never been the underdog. For the past seven decades, Israel has behaved as a pit bull terrier towards the Palestinians.


The fiercer the pit bull gets, the more the EU humors it.


●First published by The Electronic Intifada, 28 September 2017.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Fired AIPAC hawk Steven Rosen expands Israel lobby's reach in Europe

Steven Rosen had a reputation for being one of the most effective pro-Israel advocates in Washington. By some accounts, he relished that reputation. According to a New Yorker profile, he once boasted of being able to gather signatures from 70 senators in a 24-hour timeframe.


While Rosen’s two decades with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) have been analyzed in the media, other aspects of his work have evaded scrutiny. One little-known fact is that he has helped the Israel lobby to expand beyond the US.


Rosen is among the lobbyists connected to a pro-Israel group with the deceptively bland name of European Leadership Network.


A biographical note prepared for a 2013 Los Angeles conference on financing pro-Israel activities billed him as a “senior strategic adviser” to that organization.


The European Leadership Network is coy about its relationship with Rosen. His name does not seem to feature at all on the group’s website. Neither Rosen nor the European Leadership Network replied to a request for clarification.


Is something being concealed here? One reason why the organization may not wish to broadcast its links to Rosen is that his reputation has been tarnished.


In 2005, he was charged with conspiracy to violate US law on espionage. It was alleged that he had passed on confidential information to a journalist and a foreign diplomat.


The case against Rosen dragged on for a few years before the charges were withdrawn in 2009.


Embarrassing


The case proved embarrassing for AIPAC, which fired Rosen, alleging that his “conduct did not comport” with its standards. Rosen sued his former employer over his sacking. Intriguingly, a judge dismissed Rosen’s lawsuit on the grounds that it was “impossible” to know what standards AIPAC expected of its staff.


Since his fall from grace, Rosen has been recruited by Daniel Pipes, an influential bigot who has recommended the mass incarceration of Muslims.


Rosen joined Pipes’ Middle East Forum, a club dedicated to promoting “American interests” and “Western values.”


The work conducted by Rosen in that capacity suggests he regards American and Israeli interests as synonymous. During Barack Obama’s presidency, Rosen argued repeatedly that the US should back away from demanding an end to Israel’s settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.


With branches in several cities, the European Leadership Network has conveyed the impression it is a moderate organization. It has jointly hosted events with influential “think tanks” such as the European Policy Centre in Brussels and Berlin’s Federal Academy for Security Policy.


It has held discussions with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. In France, the European Leadership Network has claimed that some of its advisers have become the main foreign policy aides to Emmanuel Macron, the president.


Facile


Arié Bensemhoun, head of the European Leadership Network’s French office, has made a series of ignorant comments. “In France, the Islamists want to kill the Jews,” he tweeted last year. “Like the Palestinians in Israel.”


The French press has suggested that Bensemhoun is more strident than other prominent players in the country’s pro-Israel lobby. Bensemhoun is fond of using terms such as “Islamofascism” and even “Nazi-Islamism.”


Such facile rhetoric echoes the racism of Europe’s far-right, which has portrayed Muslims as a threat to freedom.


The European Leadership Network purports to be interested in “dialogue” and the “pursuit of peace.” Its commitment to those noble ideas is questionable.


At least three of its earliest administrators – Raanan Eliaz, Roz Rothstein and Michael Dickson – are also serving or former board members in StandWithUs.


Headquartered in Los Angeles and bankrolled by the Israeli government, StandWithUs pumps out propaganda for the Israeli military – the same army which subjects Palestinians to a brutal occupation.


The aforementioned Steven Rosen has been named, too, as a “strategic adviser” to StandWithUs on documents filed with the US authorities.


One such document states that StandWithUs applies its “mission of education” through the European Leadership Network. It appears that the European Leadership Network was established, effectively, as a front for StandWithUs before being spun off.


The array of different groups in the Israel lobby can be bewildering. Keeping tabs on them involves wading through an alphabet soup of acronyms.


Though these groups may not be identical, they do have one thing in common. All want to shore up international support for Israel, a nuclear-armed apartheid state. Everything they do should, therefore, be monitored and exposed.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 11 September 2017.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The warped logic of pro-Israel bully Jonathan Hoffman

Should I feel flattered or afraid?


Each time I give a talk in London, there is a strong likelihood that the pro-Israel bully Jonathan Hoffman will attend.


Hoffman turned up at a recent event held to promote my new book Balfour’s Shadow.


Not content with heckling on the evening, he subsequently posted a review on the Amazon website accusing me of “glaring mistakes.”


Yet he failed to provide an example of even a minor error in the book.


Earlier this year, Hoffman was removed by police from a meeting at which I spoke in the British Parliament.


He followed that episode by complaining that I have written for Spinwatch – “that strange organization which seems obsessed with ‘Jewish power.’”


Hoffman failed to substantiate that smear for obvious reasons: there is no basis to it. Spinwatch has cogently rejected the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that Hoffman suggests it is peddling.


Brazenly offensive


Perversely, Hoffman has leapt to the defense of a journalist who made brazenly offensive comments about Jews.


Kevin Myers was recently fired by The Sunday Times over a column which implied there was a link between the Jewish religion of two presenters at the BBC and how they were among the best paid women working for the broadcaster.


Myers had recycled an age-old anti-Semitic trope. Yet Hoffman argued that Myers was really paying Jews a compliment.


A careful reading of Hoffman’s articles leads to the conclusion that he is not interested in fighting anti-Semitism per se. Instead, he sees allegations of anti-Semitism as a weapon to be used selectively. Myers – a right-wing pundit who has previously disparaged Africans and single mothers – is permitted to insult Jews for being Jews.


Hoffman’s indulgence of such anti-Jewish bigotry is undoubtedly related to Myers’ history of defending Israel and attacking supporters of Palestinian rights.


Critics of Israel are, by contrast, vilified by Hoffman.


He has, for example, alleged that Jackie Walker, a socialist Jew, is anti-Semitic because she has described Israel as a racist state.


No doubt inadvertently, Hoffman then proved her right by alluding to how Israel prohibits Palestinians from using what are effectively Jewish-only roads in the occupied West Bank.


By his own warped logic, he himself is an anti-Semite for acknowledging the existence of that state-sponsored racism.


Vitriolic


Hoffman has been even more vitriolic towards Hajo Meyer, an Auschwitz survivor who died three years ago.


Meyer poignantly spoke out against how Israel was dehumanizing the Palestinians as the Nazis tried to dehumanize Jews.


For drawing a parallel between his own suffering and that of the Palestinians, Meyer got labeled an “amazing dancing bear” by Hoffman.


It was by no means the only time Hoffman has displayed callousness. In March, he made fun of how a politician known to be sympathetic towards Palestinians suffered a heart attack.


And Hoffman has previously insinuated that a campaigner who uses a wheelchair had exaggerated his disability.


Hoffman’s penchant for disrupting Palestine solidarity events appears to be appreciated by the pro-Israel lobby. The Reut Institute, a “think tank” founded by a former adviser to the Israeli government, is known to have consulted him.


In 2011, Hoffman took part in a conference organized with that institute on countering Israel’s “delegitimization” – code for robust criticism of Israel and the state’s ideology Zionism.


That event took place more than a year after Hoffman had been photographed attending a demonstration to support Israel’s settlement activities in the West Bank organized by the far-right English Defence League.


He was again seen flanked by extreme right activists at an anti-Palestinian protest last month.


His willingness to embrace overt fascists may have lost Hoffman some friends. In 2012, he failed to secure re-election as a vice-president with the Zionist Federation, one of the oldest pro-Israel lobby groups in London.


That does not mean he has been shunned by fellow lobbyists. On the contrary, some of those who seek to cultivate a respectable image for Israel have remained happy to work with him.


Ahead of the 2016 referendum on Britain’s European Union membership he signed a joint article with Jeremy Newmark from the Jewish Labour Movement, a pro-Israel pressure group within Britain’s main opposition party.


Perhaps I should consider myself lucky. Though Hoffman has been rude towards me, I have not been subjected to his full boorishness.


During a presentation by Thomas Suárez, whose book State of Terror chronicles the role played by Zionist armed groups in the establishment of Israel, Hoffman shouted “answer my question, you bastards.”


Hoffman also tried to dismiss the book’s findings on the comically absurd basis that Suárez is a violinist, rather than a historian (in fact, Suárez is both).


Hoffman is undoubtedly a bully but nobody should allow themselves to be intimidated by him or by similar lobbyists. Their belligerence illustrates that Israel feels discomfited by Palestine solidarity activists.


They don’t like the message, so they slander the messengers.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 25 August 2017.

Friday, July 21, 2017

EU spreads lies about Israel boycott

A senior European Union representative has been advised to malign Palestine solidarity campaigners.


Vera Jourova, the EU’s justice commissioner, was given a briefing paper earlier this year about how to handle various topics in a discussion with the pro-Israel lobby.


Drawn up by Brussels officials, the paper provides some talking points about the EU’s “position” on the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. It alleges that “the encouragement of boycotts against cultural and academic institutions or artists” contradicts the “EU’s stand on non-discrimination and freedom of expression.”


That paints a false picture of the BDS movement. Its activities are subject to guidelines, which make clear that the cultural boycott does not target Israeli artists as individuals.


The cultural boycott is, instead, applied to artists who represent the Israeli state or institutions complicit in Israeli crimes or take part in branding exercises intended to divert attention away from the oppression of Palestinians.


Jourova’s briefing paper - obtained under freedom of information rules - was prepared ahead of a Holocaust memorial ceremony held in January this year.


The ceremony was hosted by Israel’s embassy to the EU and the American Jewish Committee, a pro-Israel advocacy group.


The officials who drew up the paper recycle almost verbatim accusations made in 2016 by Katharina von Schnurbein, the EU’s anti-Semitism coordinator. Von Schnurbein had claimed that “anti-Semitic incidents rise after BDS activities” in Europe’s universities. She was unable to provide specific examples of such incidents when asked.


Jourova’s office did not respond to requests for comment.


“Appalled”


The BDS National Committee, a Palestinian umbrella group that coordinates boycott activities, stated that it was “appalled” by Jourova’s briefing paper. The document “defamed the BDS movement as anti-Semitic,” Ingrid Jaradat, a legal adviser to the committee, stated.


A crucial detail omitted from the briefing paper is that the BDS movement has consistently denounced anti-Jewish bigotry.


Jourova’s briefing paper is at odds with previous comments made by other EU representatives.


The Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini stated last year that the EU “stands firm in protecting freedom of expression.” Although she opposed the boycott of Israel, Mogherini recognized that activists have a right to advocate BDS tactics. That right is protected by the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.


Despite the clarity of that statement, some of the EU’s institutions and governments have continued to cast aspersions against the Palestine solidarity movement.


Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has conflated opposition to Israel’s state ideology Zionism with hatred of Jews. On Sunday, Macron called anti-Zionism “a mere re-invention of anti-Semitism.”


Dishonesty


Macron’s comments echo a decades-long effort by Israel and its supporters to imply that Palestine solidarity activists have ulterior motives. The efforts have been undertaken since at least 1973, when Abba Eban, Israel’s foreign minister at the time, labeled anti-Zionism as the “new anti-Semitism.”


That deliberate dishonesty has been reflected by a dubious definition of anti-Semitism approved last year by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an intergovernmental body.


That definition is virtually identical to one which was proposed by pro-Israel lobby groups more than a decade earlier. It recommends that strong criticism of Israel – such as describing that state’s foundation as a “racist endeavor” – should be seen as anti-Semitic.


Even the definition’s lead author, formerly a senior figure in the American Jewish Committee, has strongly criticized efforts to use it to stifle speech critical of Israel.


Yet the German government has been particularly supportive of the definition. In late 2016, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, then the German foreign minister, contacted senior EU officials to argue that the definition was a “very useful instrument for combating anti-Semitism – both for the police and in science and education.”


The definition is not legally binding. Yet 24 of the EU’s 28 governments have endorsed it. According to internal documents, police services in a number of the Union’s countries are already using the definition for training purposes.


During a visit to Israel last month, Jourova issued a joint statement with her hosts applauding the European Parliament for endorsing the definition. She encouraged governments to use it while monitoring their citizens’ activities.


Not for the first time, the European Union’s representatives are sending out mixed signals. Supposed champions of free speech are trying to muzzle dissent. Solidarity is being smeared to placate an increasingly belligerent Israeli government.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 20 July 2017.

Friday, July 14, 2017

When Haaretz explains Israel's crimes

It is easy to romanticize Haaretz, to view the Tel Aviv daily as a liberal counterbalance to the more hawkish organs of Israeli public opinion.


Amira Hass and Gideon Levy, the paper’s best writers, have taken considerable risks to chronicle Israel’s crimes and demand that Israel be held accountable. While it is proper that their work should be circulated widely, Haaretz as an institution deserves no praise.


Some of its most senior journalists behave as stooges to an apartheid state.


Amos Harel is promoted by the paper as “one of Israel’s leading media experts on military and defense issues.” He is a practitioner of hasbara – the Israeli brand of propaganda.


Hasbara is frequently translated as “explaining.” And Harel tends to “explain” Israeli conduct in a sympathetic way.


Downplaying a disaster


Take his coverage of the energy crisis in Gaza.


“Limited cuts” to electricity were “announced” by Israel “at the urging of the Palestinian Authority,” he wrote earlier this month.


By qualifying these cuts as limited, he was downplaying how Israel had deliberately worsened a humanitarian disaster. Far from being limited, the cuts have reduced Gaza’s electricity supply to an all-time low.


Harel’s framing of the situation chimed with the Israeli government’s claim that the energy crisis was an internal Palestinian matter.


Israel reluctantly accepted a request from the Palestinian Authority, Harel inferred. He provided no background details about how Israel has a history of subjecting Gaza to blackouts and how the – undeniably cruel – PA acts as Israel’s lackey, not the other way around.


Harel’s messages can get muddled. A few days after describing the power cuts as “limited,” he reported that the electricity supply in Gaza had been reduced to less than three hours per day. He then quoted Gadi Eisenkot, Israel’s military chief, as saying that the Israeli approach was one of “intelligent risk management.”


Despite purporting to be an analyst, Harel did not analyze – or explain – the meaning of that repugnant euphemism.


Harel also transcribed a comment by Eisenkot that “it is in our interest for the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria to have hope.”


The “hope” being granted here apparently came in the form of some new houses that Israel had authorized for Palestinians. Harel did not point out that Israel has made strenuous efforts during its 50 years of occupying the West Bank – Judea and Samaria in Zionist parlance – to snuff out hope.


Harel evidently thinks it is appropriate to reach for the lexicon of perfume-makers when discussing the theft of another people’s land. “There is no such thing as a fragrant occupation,” Harel wrote in June.


“Subjecting a civilian population to your total control provides many opportunities for violence and abuse, far from the oversight of commanders,” he added. Commanders, he infers, are well-intentioned and violence against Palestinians is perpetrated by rogues. The truth, however, is that the occupation is inherently violent and abusive, and perpetrators of crimes against Palestinians are effectively granted total impunity by their superiors.


Hero worship


Harel labels Palestinian resistance fighters as “terrorists” yet casts Israel’s military commanders as heroic figures.


In another recent piece on Gaza, he reported that Israeli government ministers believed a general named Yoav Mordechai would “once again save the day” by averting a flare-up with Hamas.


Fixated on Mordechai’s ability to “save the day,” Harel neglected to explain how that particular commander has been accused of extreme violence. Mordechai led a battalion during Operation Cast Lead – an attack on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009. Soldiers under his direction reportedly took part in bombarding the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City and may have been involved in killing an eight-year-old hospital patient.


Today, Mordechai is in charge of overseeing the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. In that capacity, he is directly tasked with enforcing a medieval siege.


But you would not know that from Harel’s dispatches. Rather, he applauds Mordechai for extending the area in which Gaza’s fishermen may work – without observing that the fishermen are constantly fired upon by the Israeli navy – and for allowing the entry of some extra trucks into Gaza – without noting that the boundary crossings for people and goods are routinely closed.


The only problem with Mordechai is that he “can’t produce miracles,” Harel suggested in May.


Earlier this year, Harel interviewed Naftali Bennett, perhaps the most extreme minister in the Israeli government. Bennett argued that Lebanon should be sent “back to the Middle Ages” and that all its civilian infrastructure should be considered “legitimate targets” if another conflict breaks out between Israel and Hizballah.


That call for massacres was arguably genocidal; it was made by a politician who has boasted that “I have killed many Arabs in my life” and who participated in the 1996 massacre of more than 100 civilians in the Lebanese village of Qana.


You would learn little about Bennett’s record, however, if you relied on the interview by Amos Harel. To him, Bennett’s comments were “interesting.” Not once in his article did he express anything that could be qualified as disapproval.


At times, Harel’s columns read like briefing papers on military strategy. When it appeared that the massive 2014 attack on Gaza was nearing its end, Harel helpfully prepared a list of issues that would “need to be addressed” before future operations were undertaken.


When Harel criticizes the Israeli military he does so timidly. More than once lately, he has written about “mistakes” being made.


Elor Azarya, the Israeli army medic who shot dead a Palestinian lying on the ground, made one such “mistake,” Harel has implied. Azarya was filmed carrying out an extrajudicial execution but the soldier’s youth and “turbulent emotional state” meant there were “mitigating circumstances,” according to Harel.


This is the kind of garbage that Haaretz publishes regularly.


Egregious human rights abuses are downgraded to unfortunate errors on the pages of a “liberal” paper. No matter how heinous Israel’s atrocities are, Amos Harel has his explanations at the ready.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 13 July 2017.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

How Britain brought waterboarding to Palestine?

Were the Palestinians dispossessed by a sadistic lawyer?


Norman Bentwich was the chief legal officer with the British administration in Jerusalem between the two world wars. A committed Zionist, he drafted many of the ordinances that enabled Jewish settlers to seize land which indigenous Palestinians had farmed for generations.


Arguably, then, he was more responsible for uprooting Palestinians than anyone else in that period, except perhaps for his political overlords. There are strong reasons to suspect that Bentwich took pleasure in the pain that he caused.


In his book Mandate Memories, Bentwich admitted that a system of apartheid was introduced during that period, even using the term apartheid. The admission was not, it would appear, made through any sense of remorse. Rather, he applauded the violence by which the system was entrenched.


Orde Wingate, a British military commander who insisted that Palestinians be tortured and killed, imposed the “strictest discipline” and inspired “daring and devotion” among the Jewish troops that he mentored, according to Bentwich.


Over the past few years, I have plowed through the records left by many Britons who ruled Palestine from the 1920s to the 1940s. I was disgusted, if not surprised, by the sense of imperial hubris captured by these documents.


Yet it was a single line in Bentwich’s memoirs that unnerved me most. He noted casually that most members of a gendarmerie which the British dispatched to Palestine in the early 1920s “had been in the celebrated Black and Tan Brigade in Ireland, formed to crush the Irish rebels” during that period.


No excuse


My great granduncle, Patrick Hartnett, was shot dead by the Black and Tans – British forces stationed in Ireland during its war of independence. If a “rebel” meant somebody who was involved in an armed revolt – as Bentwich implied – then Patrick Hartnett was not a rebel.


Hartnett was a postman from Abbeyfeale, County Limerick. On 20 September 1920, he was chatting with Jeremiah Healy, a blacksmith, as they walked along a country road. The men were caught unawares by Thomas Huckerby, a member of the Black and Tans.


Huckerby shot the two men at close range, killing both of them.


A military court of inquiry accepted, in effect, that Huckerby had no excuse for his actions.


Such courts routinely handed down verdicts of “justifiable homicide” when examining killings by British forces. In Huckerby’s case, the court of inquiry merely recorded that Hartnett and Healy died because of “revolver shots fired by T.D. Huckerby.” Neither of the victims had been involved in the Irish Republican Army.


According to a local historian, Tom Toomey, Huckerby was “by far the most notorious of all the Black and Tans in County Limerick.” His other victims included John Hynes, a 60-year-old man shot dead on the way home from a pub.


Huckerby resigned from the Black and Tans towards the end of 1920. Although he had not been punished for his misdeeds, disciplinary charges were pending at the time he left the force.


Celebrated?


His barbarity was by no means atypical. The Black and Tans may have been “celebrated” in the mind of Norman Bentwich. To the Irish, they were feared and despised.


Patrick Hartnett and Jeremiah Healy were not the only ones killed by the British forces on 20 September 1920. Two men were also “done to death” – the words engraved on a commemorative stone – that day in Balbriggan, County Dublin, the town where I grew up.


The killings left a lasting bitterness. I can still recall one of the town’s residents ranting in the early 1980s against the “bastards” who killed those two men – Seamus Lawless and Sean Gibbons – more than six decades earlier. The killings took place during the “sack” of Balbriggan, when British forces burned down numerous houses and pubs and a factory on which hundreds relied for employment.


I was fascinated to learn that the gendarmerie sent to Palestine in the early 1920s was comprised largely of men who had served with the Black and Tans and a similar division called the Auxiliaries. It was that fact which prompted me to write my latest book Balfour’s Shadow.


British forces perceived their role in Palestine as similar to that which they had performed in Ireland. As Geoffrey Morton, one British officer, observed, they were “intended to be used not as real policemen but as shock troops.”


The gendarmerie to which Norman Bentwich referred was assembled in response to Palestinian anger at Britain and its sponsorship of the Zionist colonization project. The British authorities had declared a state of emergency in Palestine during the early 1920s. As a result, there were few bounds on what the British police could do.


Douglas Duff had worked with the Black and Tans in Galway. He confessed to “going berserk” after being dispatched to Palestine.


Duff, who became a police chief in Jerusalem, may have been a pioneer of waterboarding. In his memoirs, he wrote about how a torture victim would be “held down, flat on his back, while a thin-spouted coffee pot poured a trickle of water up his nose.”


Malcolm MacDonald, then Britain’s colonial secretary, stated during 1938 “that we must set our faces absolutely against the development of ‘Black and Tan’ methods in Palestine.” His plea came too late. Black and Tan methods had been used for almost two decades at that point.


Every so often, someone asks me why Irish people empathize with the Palestinians.


In the past, I have struggled to give a succinct reply. Now I am convinced that the question can be answered in four words: the Black and Tans.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 10 July 2017.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Do European Parliament staff work for Israel?

At this juncture, it would be foolish to predict the full consequences of Brexit. One probability, however, is that Britain’s departure from the European Union will cause Israel to lose a few apologists in Brussels.


Those apologists include Britain’s Conservative members of the European Parliament. Geoffrey Van Orden, a representative of eastern England, excuses Israeli aggression with the haughty demeanor one would expect from a retired military officer (which he is).


Earlier this year, he accused Palestinians of “violent and frustrated envy” at Israel’s “success.”


Van Orden is in regular contact with the Israel lobby. He has admitted to being consulted by Alex Benjamin, a leading pro-Israel advocate in Brussels, about how the lobby organizes itself.


Benjamin, who heads the Europe Israel Public Affairs group, used to be a press officer for the cross-party alliance to which Van Orden belongs.


Named the European Conservatives and Reformists, it is the third largest such alliance in the parliament. As well as the British Conservatives, it comprises the far-right Danish People’s Party and a number of Christian Zionists.


“Second homeland”


Bas Belder, a Dutch politician, is among those Christian Zionists; hailing from a Calvinist background, he views Israel’s activities as the fulfilment of a biblical prophecy. Belder has said that “no day passes” without him thinking of Israel, his “second homeland.”


Belder may have flouted the European Parliament’s rules.


Press reports indicate that he has taken part in a number of trips hosted by pro-Israel organizations over the past few years.


Under a code of conduct, the parliament’s members are required to declare all trips paid for by pressure groups. No declarations have been uploaded to the parliament’s website for Belder since September 2014. I asked Belder why he has not published details of how his visits to the Middle East were financed; he did not reply.


Belder has bragged of how right-wing members of parliament have used their “political weight” to insist that policy documents criticizing Israel be watered down. In 2015, he wrote an article for The Jerusalem Post about his role in thwarting an attempt to have the European Parliament formally call for the release of all Palestinian political prisoners and for the labeling of goods from Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank.


Cowards


Part of the European Conservative and Reformists’ work on Israel is undertaken by Elise Coolegem, the group’s adviser on Middle East policy. Last year, she and Belder signed an opinion piece, which recycled the Israeli government’s talking points on Hamas and Hizballah.


Coolegem has strong connections to Israel. Before her current job, she was an intern with the EU’s embassy in Tel Aviv and with the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, a “think tank” in the nearby city of Herzliya. That institute seeks to cloak Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians with a veneer of intellectual gravitas. Among the hawks steering its activities are a former head of Mossad, Israel’s spying and assassination agency.


Israel’s embassy in Brussels has an entire division dealing with the European Parliament. Coolegem is known to liaise with Israeli diplomats and pro-Israeli lobbyists.


I emailed Coolegem seeking details of her working relationship with Israel and if she has received any payments from the Israeli state. Rather than answering those questions, she referred my query to Jan Krelina, a spokesperson for the European Conservatives and Reformists. Krelina stated that the parliament’s rules forbid staff from being paid by “third parties” and “I can assure that all our employees strictly respect these rules.”


Krelina also stated that the “work of our staff requires professional contact” with various “diplomatic missions.” Fair enough. But there is a huge difference between “professional contact” and groveling.


Coolegem’s activities can be categorized as groveling, as can those of the politicians she advises.


The correct term for someone who defends a bully is a coward. The European Conservatives and Reformists are abject cowards determined to throw their “political weight” around in defense of that notorious bully Israel.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 29 June 2017.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Britain's great deception in Palestine

Consistency has never been Boris Johnson’s strongpoint.


When Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Foreign Office earlier this year, Johnson beamed as he pointed to the ‘desk where the Balfour Declaration was composed’. Johnson has both celebrated that November 1917 document as a ‘great thing’ and described it as ‘tragicomically incoherent’ and ‘bizarre’.


The Balfour Declaration is indeed bizarre. Britain had no legal or moral standing to dictate Palestine’s future in November 1917; it was still part of the Ottoman Empire. That did not stop Arthur James Balfour, then foreign secretary, from issuing his pledge to facilitate the development of a ‘Jewish national home’ - code for a Jewish state - in Palestine. Lip-service was paid to the ‘civil and religious rights’ of Palestine’s indigenous inhabitants but the idea that they could constitute a nation was not entertained. Through that deception, Britain threw its weight behind a colonisation project that is still continuing a century later. With the stroke of Balfour’s pen, Palestinians were condemned to upheaval and oppression.


That much became clear after Britain was tasked with administering Palestine under a League of Nations mandate in 1920. Over the next five years, the British authorities issued around 150 ordinances, many of which facilitated the dispossession of and discrimination against Palestinians.


As well as favouring Jews in access to land and employment, the British enabled the so-called Jewish Agency - a body representing settlers in Palestine - to behave as a de facto government. As part of their efforts to quell Palestinian dissent, the British trained and recruited Jewish forces. Replicating Britain’s policies in other lands that it controlled, one section of the population was armed so that another could be subjugated.


That does not mean that Britain relied on proxies; its own forces - including some illustrious commanders - were guilty of immense brutality. Bernard Montgomery, a military chief later credited with a key battle victory in the Second World War, advocated a ‘shoot to kill’ policy against all those who took part in or assisted a Palestinian revolt in the 1930s. Jaffa’s Old City was largely demolished in that period; men from a number of villages were rounded up en masse; hospitals were attacked and torture chambers established. Many suspected rebels were interned without trial in a concentration camp - the precise term used by British representatives.


Britain bears much of the responsibility for the Nakba (Arabic for ‘catastrophe’), the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Around 750,000 Palestinians were uprooted then by Zionist militia who had been mentored by the British Army. The expulsions from Haifa took place under British supervision.


The relationship between Britain and the Zionist movement has been occasionally fractious. Two armed Zionist groups even waged a campaign of guerilla warfare against the British in the 1940s. The relationship has nonetheless endured, albeit in an often grubby manner. Britain has tried at times to manipulate Israel - the state it sired - in order to advance its own agenda. That was certainly the case in 1956 when Britain and France persuaded Israel to attack Egypt over the nationalisation of the Suez Canal, which lay on a key shipping route between Europe and India. Israel again declared war against Egypt in 1967. Though Israel was now acting on its own initiative, it received substantial supplies of arms from Britain. The result was the seizure of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights - territories that remain under Israeli occupation 50 years later.


During the second half of the twentieth century, the British were forced to accept that they had been replaced by the United States as the world’s leading imperial bully. Henry Kissinger was among the key strategists in advancing American power. His approach towards the Middle East involved simultaneously courting Arab dictators and Israel. Britain connived in such efforts, which continued long after Kissinger ceased to play a direct US government role.


Tony Blair, for example, doubled up as a guarantor of arms contracts with Saudi Arabia and as a leading apologist for Israel. By applauding Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon - a criminal endeavour that involved spraying vast tracts of land with cluster bombs - Blair finally lost the confidence of his Labour Party colleagues. Yet that did not prevent him from bagging an international job focused on the Middle East ‘peace process’ within hours of saying farewell to Downing Street. That post ended without any tangible results, according to many pundits, yet it did allow Blair strengthen his connections with the Israel lobby. He was among the star attractions at the latest annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the most powerful pressure groups in Washington.


The Conservative-led governments of the past seven years have tried to hug Israel even tighter again. While serving as foreign secretary, Philip Hammond enthusiastically backed Israel’s 2014 offensive against Gaza. Not only was the British government unperturbed by how entire families were wiped out by the Israeli military, it has ordered significant quantities of Israeli arms tested out on Palestinian civilians. Securing a free trade deal with Israel, meanwhile, has been identified as a priority for Britain now that its membership of the European Union is coming to an end.


Following the recent general election, the newly retired MP Eric Pickles wondered how Labour candidates sympathetic to the Palestinian struggle could prove attractive to voters. Pickles’ remarks smacked of desperation. Foreign policy has been regarded as an elite issue by successive British governments; they have treated the views of ordinary people with contempt. The contempt may not be sustainable, especially if it is rejected at the ballot box. And while Britain’s support for Zionism remains solid after a century, the toxic alliance could ultimately collapse.


• First published by Left Book Club, 23 June 2017.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Pro-Israel group NGO Monitor teams up with Europe's far-right

The pro-Israel group NGO Monitor hunts for hidden motives where there are none. It has made many baseless allegations that human rights activists are hostile towards Jews.


Displaying enormous hypocrisy, NGO Monitor appears happy to ally itself with actual peddlers of bigotry. This week, it is jointly hosting an event in the European Parliament with a representative of the far-right Danish People’s Party.


Anders Vistisen, the politician in question, would be a suitable candidate to run Donald Trump’s Nordic fan club – if such a thing exists. In some respects, Vistisen has acted as a vanguard for the politics of division that the US president espouses.


Trump made his infamous call for a Muslim entry ban in December 2015. Vistisen urged similar measures in Denmark almost two years before then.


More recently, Vistisen has advocated that a barbed-wire fence should be erected on Denmark’s border with Germany in order to keep refugees out. He also favors the Australian model of detaining refugees in large camps.


Amnesty International has found that the Australian authorities have been deliberately cruel towards refugees. Those who arrive in boats are forcibly transferred to what Amnesty calls “abusive” camps in Nauru and Manus Island.


Promoting racism


Vistisen’s party promotes racism and religious intolerance.


Its former leader Pia Kjaersgaard has complained of Copenhagen hosting ethnic groups “at a lower stage of civilization.” Other members of the party have proposed that refugees be shot and that pressure be applied on Muslims to attend Christian services.


Although Vistisen styles himself as a champion of transparency, he is helping NGO Monitor to use deceptive tactics.


The flyers for this week’s event indicate it will focus on “evaluating” the impact of European Union funding to human rights and environmental organizations. There is no mention of the Middle East or explanation that NGO Monitor is an Israel lobby group.


The uninitiated could easily think, therefore, that NGO Monitor is some kind of charity watchdog.


This is not the first time that the group has been less than open.


Earlier this year, it circulated a paper in the European Parliament on funding of campaigning organizations. That paper, too, failed to spell out that NGO Monitor has a pro-Israel stance.


Evasive


Details provided by NGO Monitor to a register of lobbyists working on European affairs are comparably misleading. The only hint of the group’s Middle East focus is that a Jerusalem address is given for its head office.


I phoned Laura Silva from NGO Monitor’s Brussels office, asking why she is teaming up with the Danish far-right. She evaded that question by pointing out that other politicians are involved in next week’s event.


When I asked if NGO Monitor was itself a far-right organization, she replied: “I will not comment.”


NGO Monitor’s staff try to find clever and convoluted arguments to justify Israel’s crimes. Gerald Steinberg, the group’s founder, has contended that human rights are “utopian idealism” and “divorced from the reality of bitter and very violent conflict in much of the world.”


A new paper by NGO Monitor defends firms active in the settlements Israel has built in the occupied West Bank. Although all of the settlements are illegal under international humanitarian law, NGO Monitor suggests that firms operating within them are not violating human rights. This argument is at variance with the findings of most reputable lawyers.


NGO Monitor has strong connections to the Israeli government. Steinberg has worked as a consultant for the Israeli foreign ministry and other official bodies.


He draws on the same sources of funding as some key players in Israel’s settler movement. One named donor of NGO Monitor, the Orion Foundation, also gives money to Elad, a group that seizes Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem so that they can be taken over by Israelis.


NGO Monitor has its own fundraising arm in the US. Previously known as American Friends of NGO Monitor, the fundraising division now calls itself REPORT.


Donors to REPORT – such as the Klarman Family Foundation – are known to have supported Elad, too.


NGO Monitor prides itself on asking awkward questions about human rights organizations and how they are funded. The bitter irony is that for all the accountability it demands from others, NGO Monitor is coy about what it is really up to.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 23 June 2017.

Friday, June 16, 2017

New British minister Michael Gove gets funding from Israel lobby

Rupert Murdoch’s influence over British politics is finally sagging. His best-selling paper The Sun – which in 1992 claimed to have won a general election for the Conservatives – tried its best to lampoon opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn ahead of last week’s general election. The efforts backfired: against the odds, Corbyn’s Labour Party dramatically increased its vote.


Murdoch has nonetheless been offered a consolation prize. Michael Gove, a Conservative with a record of sycophancy towards the media tycoon, is back as a cabinet minister.


Since his bid to lead the ruling Conservatives failed last year, Gove has been writing a column for The Times – a Murdoch title.


Gove has used that platform to argue that Britain should be more strident in its support for Israel. In one article, he advocated that Britain should move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.


That would be a reversal of official British policy – which opposes Israel’s settlement activities in occupied East Jerusalem as they violate international law.


Gove has also worked as a pro-Israel lobbyist during the past 12 months.


Misleading


He has become a trustee of the Henry Jackson Society, which he has misleadingly called a “charity dedicated to upholding democratic values worldwide.”


The Henry Jackson Society is not actually dedicated to democracy – if democracy means ordinary folk having a genuine say in their nation’s affairs. Rather, the London-based outfit espouses a neoconservative worldview; it was founded in 2005 to make the case that the US and Britain “must shape the world more actively.”


Support for Israel is integral to its viewpoint. And the group’s staff frequently behave as mouthpieces for Israel – by, for example, depicting those who expose Israel’s human rights abuses as “terrorist” sympathizers.


The Henry Jackson Society is embedded within the wider pro-Israel network in London. In November last, Gove took part in an event that the Henry Jackson Society organized to mark the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, Britain’s 1917 pledge of support for Zionist colonization in Palestine. The event featured, too, an array of Israeli diplomats.


Earlier this year, Gove visited Washington. He met US government officials in his capacity as a lobbyist for the Henry Jackson Society, according to his parliamentary declaration of interests.


Most of his expenses for that trip were covered by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the most powerful organizations in Washington. Gove was a speaker at AIPAC’s annual conference.


Evangelical


He has been active, too, in Conservative Friends of Israel, a pressure group within his party that enjoys extremely close relations with the Israeli state apparatus.


It regularly brings members of parliament on trips to the Middle East. The trips are organized in tandem with and receive significant funding from the Israeli foreign ministry.


The staff at Conservative Friends of Israel include former employees of the Israeli state. Tanyah Murkes, who heads the group’s office in Tel Aviv, has previously worked in “public relations” for an Israeli embassy, for example.


Gove is especially close to David Meller, an entrepreneur in the jewelry and cosmetics trade who has been a senior officer with Conservative Friends of Israel.


When Gove held the post of education secretary in the British government a few years ago, he introduced “reforms” aimed at treating schooling as a commodity, rather than a basic right. Meller was involved in some of the projects under that rubric and was given a post in the education ministry while Gove was steering through his “reforms.”


A man named David Meller was among the donors to Gove’s failed Conservative leadership bid in 2016.


Gove now holds the environment portfolio in the reshuffled British cabinet. If his past performance is anything to go by, there is little chance that he will discard his neoconservative baggage and concentrate on saving the planet.


Before the 2015, general election Gove held the post of government chief whip. He still found time to engage in pro-Israel activities then. It is highly probable that he will do so again.


Parroting Israeli propaganda is almost mandatory for right-wing British politicians. Gove is evangelical in his support for Israel – to the point of praising that state as a “near miraculous” success story.


Perhaps Gove believes the hyperbole that he has churned out. His activities indicate, though, that he is not an independent analyst. He is a gun for hire.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 15 June 2017.

Friday, June 9, 2017

How Britain aided Israel's 1967 war

The British press can display a dubious sense of priorities when it comes to marking important anniversaries. Far more attention has been paid lately to how The Beatles’ album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is 50 years old than to how Harold Wilson’s government assisted Israel’s capture of Arab territories in 1967.


The assistance was both practical and diplomatic.


In March 1965, Levi Eshkol, then Israel’s prime minister, visited London to meet Wilson, his British counterpart, and other political figures.


Eshkol enquired if Britain would be willing to sell a large consignment of Centurion tanks. Denis Healey, Britain’s defense secretary at the time, proved receptive. “I see no reason to think that we shall not be able to meet your needs,” Healey told him.


The Centurion was the main British battle tank for around two decades following the Second World War and Israel had already placed orders for it before Eshkol’s trip.


By July 1965, Britain supplied Israel with more than 180 such tanks. Another 150 were transported between that month and May 1967.


They were not the only weapons that Britain gave Israel. Just one week before Eshkol’s government made a surprise attack against Egypt on 5 June 1967, a ship brimming with machine guns, tank shells and armored vehicles sailed to present-day Israel from the English port of Felixstowe. It was among a series of secret weapons deliveries.


“Handsome praise”


The Centurions were heavily used by Israel as it seized Arab territories.


The British embassy in Tel Aviv was pleased with that fact. It noted how Israeli military commanders were “particularly handsome in their praise” of the Centurion. The tank “apparently did far more than was ever expected of it,” according to an embassy memo.


Harold Wilson also gave advice to Israel on the circumstances under which attacking its neighbors would be deemed acceptable.


His book The Chariot of Israel refers to a letter that he sent Eshkol ahead of the war. The letter, Wilson explained, backed the US argument that Eshkol should only order military action against Egypt if its leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, blocked Israeli ships from the Straits of Tiran, the narrow Red Sea waterway that all ships must pass to reach the Israeli port of Eilat. “If we are to give you the international support we wish, it must be based on your undoubted [shipping] rights,” Wilson wrote.


Nasser had long been perceived as hostile to Western interests. In 1956, Britain and France had persuaded Israel to invade Egypt over Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal. While doing so, the Israelis committed massacres in Gaza that have been airbrushed by many historians.


Under a decision taken by Nasser in May 1967, oil tankers passing through the Straits of Tiran were required to submit documents saying that they were not destined for Israeli ports. The decision was taken amid an Arab League boycott of Israel.


Natural and proper?


Nasser did not present any existential threat to Israel. According to US intelligence assessments, Egypt’s military deployments in the Sinai were defensive and Israel would have no trouble defeating the combined armies of neighboring Arab states. That has even been acknowledged by the notoriously hawkish Menachem Begin when he was Israel’s prime minister in the early 1980s.


There was no proof in 1967 that Nasser was about to attack Israel, Begin declared 15 years later. “We must be honest with ourselves,” Begin said. “We decided to attack him [Nasser].”


As the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has documented, Israeli leaders had harbored a desire, and prepared plans, to conquer the remainder of Palestine that they had not seized in 1948. They only sought the appropriate pretext.


Begin himself called the 1967 conflict a war of “choice.”


Harold Wilson was enamored of Zionism, Israel’s state ideology.


The Chariot of Israel attributes his admiration for Zionism to what he learned about biblical prophecy during his childhood. The admiration was so intense that Wilson has ignored the victims of the Zionist project. His chapter on the 1967 war omits any mention of the 400,000 Palestinians displaced when Israel invaded Gaza and the West Bank that year.


Wilson’s government officially backed UN Security Council resolution 242, which urged Israel to relinquish the territories it seized in 1967. Yet in 1972, Wilson (then an opposition leader), said “it is utterly unreal to talk of withdrawal.”


“Israel’s reaction is natural and proper in refusing to accept the Palestinians as a nation,” he added. “It is not recognized as a nation by the world.”


There was something both contradictory and consistent about Wilson’s stance. Through the 1917 Balfour Declaration, Britain promised to help establish a “Jewish national home” in Palestine. The idea that indigenous Palestinians could belong to a nation was not entertained.


Britain had backed a racist colonization project in 1917. The war of June 1967 was a continuation of that project. Once again, it was enabled by Britain.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 7 June 2017.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Britain's concentration camp in Palestine

Theresa May’s election manifesto contains a pernicious lie. Near the bottom of page 37, it says: “Britain is already a significant influence for good around the world.”


With May as prime minister, Britain is a force for ill in global affairs. Far from defending the downtrodden, her government has courted dictators and oppressors.


May has sanitized the history of Britain’s meddling in the Middle East. She has made a commitment to celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration “with pride.”


That 1917 pledge to support Zionist colonization in Palestine “demonstrates Britain’s vital role in creating a homeland for the Jewish people,” May has said.


Her government has ruled out apologizing to Palestinians for the injustices inflicted on them because of Britain’s alliance with the Zionist movement.


The injustices are bigger than most people realize. While researching my new book Balfour’s Shadow, I learned that the British administration which ruled Palestine between the two world wars set up a concentration camp.


Mass incarceration


Although the term “concentration camp” has become synonymous with the Holocaust, it was in use long before then.


Early in the twentieth century, Britain established the first concentration camps of the 20th century during the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa. And British archives dating from the 1930s are peppered with references to a “concentration camp” in Palestine.


During 1936, a major revolt against Britain and its support for Zionism erupted in Palestine. The authorities responded with a policy of mass incarceration.


In June of that year, Arthur Wauchope, the British high commissioner in Palestine, received a telegram from London officials. The officials informed him about a parliamentary query on “what steps are to be taken” to provide “reasonable conditions at Sarafand concentration camp.”


A British military base had been installed next to the village of Sarafand al-Amar on Palestine’s coastal plain and was, in Wauchope’s view, a “healthy locality.”


Wauchope tried to depict the camp positively by noting that it had been approved by an unnamed director of medical services and that access to tobacco was “unrestricted” and “facilities are given for daily exercise.”


Wauchope was less rosy in a letter he sent to the Colonial Office in London the next month. He acknowledged that one of the two sections in the camp had “no water closets and bathrooms.”


The section in question was initially reserved for villagers and peasants (fallahin in Arabic), whereas the other section was used for “the urban and effendi [noble] class of inmates,” according to Wauchope. As it was disliked by prisoners, Wauchope “abandoned” that system of segregation, he stated.


A paper drawn up for British diplomats in Geneva the following year was less rosy again.


Emergency regulations, it noted, had enabled harsher punishments against Palestinians who shot at British forces or possessed illicit weapons. More than 460 “agitators were confined for months in the concentration camp at Sarafand without trial” as a result, the file added.


The Palestinian revolt lasted from 1936 to 1939 and the British resorted to large-scale detention and killed thousands of people in that period.


Reputation of cruelty


In 1939, Malcolm MacDonald, then Britain’s colonial secretary, was asked a parliamentary question about “how many concentration camps are established in Palestine.” He replied that there are “13 detention camps at present in existence in Palestine.”


Another question was put to him about “the number of people interned in concentration camps in Palestine and how many of them are fallahin.” MacDonald stated that “the total number of persons at present under detention in Palestine is 4,816, of whom about 2,690 are fallahin.”


Harold MacMichael, Wauchope’s successor as high commissioner, reported to the Colonial Office in June 1939 that “1,154 Arabs and 63 Jews were detained in concentration camp.” It is not clear if he deliberately wrote “camp” in the singular.


Britain ruled Palestine under a League of Nations mandate that gave it the task of creating the conditions required for building the “Jewish national home” – a euphemism for a Jewish state.


And the British response to the 1930s revolt demonstrated how it was wedded to the Zionist project. Jewish colonists were hired in significant numbers to the British police force tasked with quelling dissent. Among the tasks assigned to Jewish police officers was to guard over the huts and stores in the Sarafand camp.


Many of the Jewish police officers belonged to the Haganah, a Zionist militia and the forerunner of today’s Israeli army.


One British soldier, Orde Wingate, brought Haganah commanders into the “special night squads” that he led. Those squads gained a reputation for cruelty; their tactics included rounding up all the male inhabitants of villages who lived near an oil pipeline connecting Palestine and Iraq and whipping their naked torsos.


Israel glorifies this cruelty to the indigenous Palestinians to this day with a number of memorials dedicated to Wingate.


The British resorted to great brutality in crushing the revolt. The use of torture against Palestinian detainees was approved at a high level in the British administration; villagers were forced into cages; patients were shot dead in their hospital beds; and the Old City of Jaffa was largely demolished, leaving hundreds without shelter.


Around 5,000 Palestinians were killed during the revolt. On a proportionate basis, that casualty rate was higher than those caused by Israel during the intifadas which broke out in 1987 and 2000.


It was through such violence that Britain laid the foundations of the Israeli state.


That is the history in which Theresa May has expressed pride. Her claims that Britain has been a force for good merit nothing but contempt.


•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 1 June 2017.