Top News from Israel & Palestine: April 19, 2021

What We’re Reading

Occupation, Annexation, Human Rights

Hundreds protest evictions, police violence in East Jerusalem,

“Hundreds of left-wing activists demonstrated alongside local Palestinians against police brutality and planned evictions in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on Friday afternoon. Weekly demonstrations have been held for years in Sheikh Jarrah, with activists and Palestinian residents protesting the eviction of some Palestinian families in favor of right-wing religious Jews. This week saw higher turnout than usual at the weekly event, apparently spurred by the beating of Joint List MK Ofer Cassif by police officers last week. The violence drew condemnations from lawmakers across the political spectrum.”

Israeli forces deploy stun grenades, tear gas on Palestinians outside Al-Aqsa Mosque,

“Israeli forces deployed tear gas and stun grenades on hundreds of Palestinians on Saturday night as they left Al-Aqsa Mosque compound through the Damascus Gate exit in occupied East Jerusalem. Israeli police officers reportedly pursued the worshippers in the Damascus Gate area, whilst also physically assaulting some of them during the attack, according to the Palestinian Authority’s news agency Wafa. At least nine Palestinians were injured and one was arrested. Israel’s police banned gatherings Damascus Gate area since the beginning of Ramadan last week, whilst allowing gatherings for Israeli settlers in other areas of the holy city.”


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Israel prevents non-vaccinated Palestinians from entering Al-Aqsa Mosque,

“Israeli occupation authorities have prevented thousands of Palestinian worshippers from the occupied West Bank from entering Al-Aqsa Mosque on the first Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Arab48 reported. According to the news website, the Israeli authorities set a condition for the worshippers from the occupied territories to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to obtain access to the Muslim holy site. Meanwhile, the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip do not have sufficient quantities of vaccines, and therefore thousands were deprived of performing the first Friday prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

Religious Zionist Party filed bill to authorize West Bank settler outposts,

“The Religious Zionist Party filed a Knesset bill to authorize West Bank settler outposts. A similar bill was approved 60 to 40 in a preliminary reading in December prior to the Knesset’s dispersal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken of authorizing the outposts, but he was not present for the vote, neither was Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. It’s presumed that there are enough votes in the new plenum to pass such a bill, but it’s unclear if the 24th Knesset will be in power long enough to allow for the legislative process necessary for its approval. The private members’ bill filed by RZP MK Orit Struck would give de facto authorization for close to 70 outposts and would set a two-year timetable for their legalization.”


More Settlement News

Targeting of donor-funded aid to the Palestinian people more than doubled in the first quarter of 2021 - OCHA,

“The Israeli targeting of donor-funded aid to the Palestinian people more than doubled in the first quarter of 2021, compared with the monthly average in 2020, according to the March report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territory on West Bank demolitions and displacement. It warned that a Jordan Valley community is at risk of mass-demolition after 29 humanitarian aid structures were handed demolition orders, and re-activation of demolition orders in al-Bustan area of Silwan in East Jerusalem also raises risk of mass displacement.”

Why does international support for the ICC stop at Palestine?,

“By opposing an investigation in the occupied territories, powerful states are contradicting their own positions on the ICC simply to protect a political ally.”

US Policy

FMEP Legislative Round-Up: April 16, 2021,

“…(NO US AID TO VIOLATE PALESTINIAN RIGHTS) HR 2590 (text): Introduced 4/15 by McCollum (D-MN) and 13 original cosponsors…“To promote and protect the human rights of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation and to ensure that United States taxpayer funds are not used by the Government of Israel to support the military detention of Palestinian children, the unlawful seizure, appropriation, and destruction of Palestinian property and forcible transfer of civilians in the West Bank, or further annexation of Palestinian land in violation of international law.”…. The bill is being widely reported (see links below) as a measure to “condition” or “restrict” or “regulate” aid to Israel. Such characterizations – while great as click-bait in headlines – are hyperbolic, as the bill does none of these things. Nonetheless, the bill absolutely represents a powerful challenge to Israeli policies and to the longstanding U.S. approach of treating Israeli impunity – when it comes to U.S. aid – as one more entitlement. Here are the details of what the bill would do and why it matters.” Also see:  J Street supports conditioning US security aid to Israel (Israel Hayom)

In J Street speech, Abbas urges Biden to scrap US law deeming PLO a terror group,

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday urged the Biden administration to revoke a US law that deems the Palestinian Liberation Organization and its affiliates a terror group. In a video address to the national conference of the left-wing, pro-Israel J Street lobby, Abbas said he looked forward to ‘develop[ing] and strengthen[ing]’ ties with Washington, which Ramallah severed in 2017 after the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. However, he noted that doing so would require ‘the elimination of some obstacles, most important of which’ was addressing the 1987 Anti-Terrorism Act.” Also see: J Street finally wants the US to think beyond the two-state solution (+972 Magazine)

Report: Biden administration urges Israel to stop 'embarrassing chatter' on Iran,

“The administration of US President Joe Biden demanded that Israel cut down on the “chatter” concerning the alleged attacks against Iran’s nuclear facilities, Channel 12 News reported on Friday. The unsourced report described the US message as ‘resolute,’ using a Hebrew word that can also mean ‘aggressive,’ and said that it was relayed through ‘multiple channels.’”

Biden’s Palestinian aid package is a start — but doesn’t go nearly far enough,

“…the aid package prioritizes humanitarian relief, stabilization and containment over progress and change. Ensuring UNRWA’s humanitarian services continue is vital to maintaining stability, yes. But without simultaneous efforts to build on that baseline and establish a reality in which Palestinians are afforded more opportunities — rather than being indefinitely stuck on the receiving end of barebones aid — those services function as Band-Aids. What Palestinians really need is a systematic overhaul of political and economic barriers to development. Humanitarian painkillers cannot remedy fundamental political problems like the occupation or the blockade on Gaza.”

Israel - Post-Elections Machinations

Smotrich: Elections preferable to destroying the right and Zionism,

“Religious Zionism party chairman Bezalel Smotrich dismissed the pressure to allow the formation of a right-wing government that will rely on the outside support of the United Arab List faction….’The alternative is a full-fledged right-wing government! Only instead of trying to do so, you run into the arms of supporters of terrorism. Fifth elections are also far superior to this suicide. In a few months, it will crash and the right will return as big, a result which is better than the destruction of the right and Zionism.’”


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Israel opposition head calls for unity government,

“Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid called Sunday for a ‘unity government’, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flounders in efforts to form a coalition…Lapid, the centrist Yesh Atid party leader, called for a government that would ‘restore trust between the public and its leaders’. ‘We have to form a government that will unite us,’ he told a news conference. ‘Not a right-wing government, not a left-wing government but an Israeli unity government,’ he said, stressing the need to avoid yet another general election.” Also see: Lapid, Gantz meet as Yesh Atid leader hopes for chance to form coalition (Times of Israel)

Bennett may ally with anti-Netanyahu bloc to form key Knesset panel,

“Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party is expected to ally with the opposition parties in a vote on the establishment of a key parliamentary panel, despite having openly expressed support for a right-wing government led by Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Hebrew media reports on Sunday….The Arrangements Committee, the first Knesset committee to be formed after an election, determines which parliamentary committees will be formed and who will serve on them. Crucially, it also controls the legislative agenda in the new parliament until a new government is formed.” Also see: Mansour Abbas does not rule out Bennett as PM (Arutz Sheva)

Lawmakers eyeing special election for PM as way out of gridlock,

“Shas is trying to convince other parties to band together and vote to change Israel’s electoral system so that a special election for prime minister would take place, Channel 12 News reported Sunday. The plan was apparently a result of a meeting between Shas leader Aryeh Deri and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett. The hope is that this special vote would present Israelis with a clear choice for prime minister and give him or her a mandate to form a government, thus paving a way out of the political stalemate that has emerged following the March 23 election. Under Israel’s current electoral laws, the Knesset has to vote to swear in a government in a confidence vote, but the most recent election ended with neither political bloc securing such support to present a government for approval.”


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‘Lives gone’: Palestinians mark Prisoner’s Day,

“On April 17 of each year, Palestinians commemorate Palestinian Prisoner’s Day to express their loyalty to those imprisoned for defying Israel’s occupation, and as a reminder to the international community of their legitimate struggle for freedom. Israel detains about 4,500 Palestinians in its jails, among them 41 women and 140 children below 18 years. Since the beginning of 2021, Israeli authorities have arrested nearly 1,400 Palestinians. Nearly 550 inmates suffer from various diseases and require close monitoring and healthcare. At least 10 inmates suffer from cancer of varying degrees, including Fouad al-Shobaki, 82, the oldest of the prisoners. So far, 368 jailed Palestinians have been infected with the coronavirus. Some Palestinians have spent 40 years in captivity with 543 sentenced to several life sentences.”


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Palestinian Scene/Elections

Push for postponing Palestinian elections gains momentum on back of Hamas concerns: report,

“The push for postponing the Palestinian elections is gaining momentum inside the Palestinian Authority (PA), the al-Quds newspaper reported on Friday. The Palestinian newspaper cited a US source with knowledge on the matter as voicing belief that US President Joe Biden would not object to the prospect. The source told the paper that Washington was aware of the challenges, including the long-running spat between Fatah, the party dominating the PA, and Gaza-based terrorist group Hamas, as well as economic plights. The US official also warned that should Hamas, which rejects Israel’s legitimacy, secure prominent positions within the PA, this could damage, if not bury, the prospect of a two-state solution.”


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PLO, Fatah Committees Meet to Discuss Palestinian Elections,

“The Palestinian leadership will discuss all options related to the upcoming elections, said member of the Fatah Central Committee and the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee Azzam al-Ahmad. Ahead of a meeting by the PLO Executive Committee on Sunday, Ahmad said participants will mainly tackle the polls as they insist that they also take place in Jerusalem. In statements broadcast by the official radio station, he pointed out that President Mahmoud Abbas will review the most significant contacts with various international parties ‘to take the right decision in case Israel bans elections in Jerusalem.’”


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Israel & Gaza Strip

Hamas says 'Gaza still fights on' as Israel strikes enclave for second night,

“A Hamas spokesman said on Saturday that ‘Gaza still fights and doesn’t break’ after the Israeli military said it had conducted air strikes against targets in the besieged enclave after a rocket attack from the Palestinian side. In the second such exchange in as many days, the strikes hit what the military described as ‘terror targets’ operated by Hamas, which governs Gaza. They included a ‘training facility, an anti-aircraft missile launcher post, a concrete production plant and terror tunnel infrastructure,’ the army said.”


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Gaza records highest daily virus death toll since start of pandemic,

“The Gaza Strip recorded its highest-ever daily toll of coronavirus deaths, authorities said Sunday, as the Israeli-blockaded territory struggles with a dearth of vaccines. The Palestinian enclave, hemmed in by a large concrete barrier, the Egyptian border and the Mediterranean Sea, had been largely spared by the Covid-19 illness for much of last year. But in August, cases were recorded in its densely-populated refugee camps. They have sky-rocketed in recent weeks, forcing Islamist movement Hamas to impose a curfew and other health measures.” Also see: Palestine confirms 988 new COVID-19 cases, 34 deaths (WAFA)

Israel rescinds outdoor coronavirus mask requirement,

“Israel rescinded the mandatory wearing of face masks outdoors and fully reopened schools on Sunday in the latest return to relative normality, boosted by a mass-vaccination campaign against the COVID-19 pandemic. With almost 54 percent of its 9.3 million population having received both shots of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Israel has logged sharp drops in contagion and cases.” Also see: Coronavirus: Number of serious patients drops below 200 (Jerusalem Post)

Free Speech, Lawfare, & Weaponization of Antisemitism

Why is the EU helping to label Israel criticism as antisemitism?,

“By adopting the IHRA definition, the EU is playing into the agendas of Israel advocacy groups that undermine civil society work against the occupation.”

Arizona Holocaust-education bill stalls over IHRA anti-Semitism amendment,

“In Arizona, the issue of Holocaust education and the debate over how to combat modern versions of anti-Semitism have suddenly collided with the state’s legislature. Earlier this year, a bill to require education on the Holocaust and other genocides was introduced and passed by the Arizona State House unanimously. However, the bill has hit a snag in the Arizona senate, where there is a push to include an amendment that contains the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism.”

Amid Uproar Over Planned SFSU Event With Leila Khaled, Zoom Changes Policy to Give Universities More Control,

“Zoom has introduced a new policy on “academic freedom” for higher education users, which will limit its interference in the shutdown of controversial virtual events hosted on its video conferencing platform. The move comes as Eventbrite last week decided to remove a San Francisco State University-sponsored event on April 23 featuring Leila Khaled — a member of US-designated terrorist organization Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) – from its platform, as it violates the event management platform’s terms of service. The new policy, which according to the education outlet Higher Ed Dive was announced in recent days, states that ‘for Zoom meetings and webinars hosted by a higher education institution, the Trust and Safety team will only act on reports alleging content-related violations of our Community Standards or Terms of Service that come from the meeting’s host or the account’s owners or administrators.’ It said that exceptions to this policy will include only cases where Zoom sees ‘legal or regulatory risk, [..] an immediate threat to the physical safety of any person; or the meeting or webinar is unrelated to the institution’s academics or operations.’”

Not from the Onion

After years of delays and strife, Jerusalem Tolerance Museum nears completion,

“…to Reiter, and to others who expressed reservations privately, the idea of a museum dedicated to tolerance placing a massive edifice atop a Muslim cemetery, over the protestations of local Muslims, is the worst kind of irony. In this part of the world, sensitivities are raw, and symbolism of the past can exert a powerful force on the present. ‘Maybe there would have been justification [for building on the graveyard] if, say, an emergency ward was to be built,’ said Reiter. ‘But the big problem is that it’s a museum of tolerance. What tolerance do you show to the other, if you create a tolerance museum on a cemetery?’” [For background on the project, see explainer by Lara Friedman and Danny Seidemann]

Likud sends support to anti-Islam Wilders while courting Islamists at home,

“Likud has sent a letter of support to Dutch anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders, even while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may need the support of the Islamist party Ra’am (United Arab List) to remain in office. Michael Kleiner, president of Likud’s court, and Eli Vered Hazan, its director of foreign affairs, sent a letter to Wilders last week, commending his ‘courageous campaign.’…The letter to Wilders was dated April 12, the same day on which the Dutch lawmaker tweeted: ‘Stop Islam. Stop Ramadan. Freedom. No Islam.’”