Top News from Israel & Palestine: April 22, 2021

What We’re Reading

Occupation, Annexation, Human Rights

Closure of Damascus Gate Plaza & Aggressive Police Measures,

“Since the beginning of Ramadan, the Israel police have blocked the steps around the Damascus Gate plaza for no justified cause. The police originally claimed the decision was made to prevent large gatherings of people due to public health considerations, yet these types of restrictions were not imposed during recent Jewish holidays. The explanation was quickly altered, which stated the necessity to allow for better flow of pedestrians into the Old City during Ramadan. Such reasoning was given despite the fact that this has never occurred in years prior, and there is a significant reduction in the number of Muslim worshippers due in part to Israel’s restrictions on entry of West Bank Palestinians this year.


On ordinary days, this area is a central gathering place for Palestinians and even more so during the month of Ramadan, particularly in the evenings. Banning Palestinians from sitting and gathering on the steps has sparked widespread anger and frustration among East Jerusalem residents. In previous years, thousands of Palestinians during Ramadan would congregate within and around the Damascus Gate plaza, which plays a central part in their festivities during the nights of this Muslim holy month. For Palestinians, closure of this area constitutes yet another move of the Israeli authorities to assert its control of Palestinian spaces in East Jerusalem and a blatant show of power.


Many of the incidents of friction and confrontation in the area stem from the closure of the Damascus Gate steps and unprovoked police aggression and use of excessive force towards Palestinians, which disrupt the peace and lead to escalation. Over the past week, Palestinian youth have protested the plaza’s closure. The Israel police dispersed them with disproportionate use of force. The police claim that there have been incidents of Palestinians throwing stones at police, and indeed Israeli vehicles were damaged amid the confrontations. However, during the last few nights, police forces have assaulted Palestinians in the Damascus Gate area with no prior provocation on their part, including the use of stun grenades and the deployment of mounted police charging into hundreds of Palestinians who were solely visiting the Old City for Ramadan.”

Jordan gives PA documents to help prevent Israeli evictions in East Jerusalem,

“Jordan’s top diplomat on Wednesday handed the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah documents intended to help prevent Israel from evicting Palestinian families from part of East Jerusalem, he said. Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi made the trip to the West Bank after an Israeli court reportedly gave the families until May 2 to leave their homes in the predominantly Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah or be evicted…Jordan’s foreign ministry said it had “found the documents proving that the ministry of development that built these houses had in 1956 finalized lease agreements for homes in Sheikh Jarrah.” It said the contracts between the Jordanian government, which owned the houses, and Palestinian tenants, were certified by UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees. According to the documents, the houses were for 28 families. Safadi said Jordan’s King Abdullah II considers Jerusalem “a red line.” “There must be international action capable of stopping unilateral Israeli measures,” the minister added. No comment from the Israeli” Also See – “Jordan backs Palestinians on Jerusalem elections, two-state solution” (Jerusalem Post)

Soldier shoots and kills Palestinian protestor during dispersal of weekly protest against illegal outpost,

“The lethal shooting of ‘Atef Hanayshi, who posed no danger to the soldiers’ lives, was illegal and cannot be justified. Live fire may be used only when soldiers or others are in clear and immediate mortal danger and when the threat cannot be averted in any other way. These conditions were not met. In any case, the military treats them as a recommendation only: Hanayshi is the 39th Palestinian killed in the West Bank by Israeli security forces’ use of live fire, in incidents in which Palestinians threw stones or were suspected of throwing stones, since 2015. None of the persons killed posed a threat to the lives of the forces or of anyone else.”

Climate breakdown and occupation are dismantling the lives of Palestinian shepherds,

“Nonetheless, experts reasonably predict that changing precipitation patterns and warming will significantly impact water resources and land cover, affecting agricultural and livestock sectors. In fact, the United Nations Development Programme has identified the South Hebron Hills as one the two most climate-vulnerable areas in the West Bank, along with the Jordan Valley. For Palestinian shepherds, this means that grazing land will continue to shrink in size and deteriorate in quality. But this year, as with the previous years, Palestinian shepherds in the West Bank are far more consumed with harassment and violence from Israeli soldiers and settlers than they are with their changing pastures. In 2020, the number of demolitions in the territory — which includes homes, animal shelters, and other infrastructure — was the second highest since the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) began documenting the practice in 2009.”

JNF Postpones Vote on Controversial West Bank Land Purchases,

“In a message to members of the board of directors, Chairman Avraham Duvdevani wrote that he had agreed to delay the vote following requests from members of the board, various organizations and movements, and representatives of the JNF abroad “who have asked to delve deeper into the subject and come up with a well-informed position.”…This is the first time that Duvdevani and his allies on the board have shown any sign of backing down from the controversial proposal, which has threatened to exacerbate already deep tensions between Israel and progressive Jewish groups who vehemently oppose the West Bank settlement project.” Also See – “U.S. Jewish Groups Ready to Fight JNF’s ‘Rogue’ Settlement Agenda” (Haaretz); “Amid growing outcry, KKL-JNF delays controversial vote on buying West Bank land” (The Times of Israel)

Starting from scratch every day,

“Every day for the past thirty years, Itidal has sat in the same spot at the port, waiting for her family to return to shore. When they return, she helps unload the fishing equipment from the boat, extract the catch from the nets and prepare the nets for use the next day. “No one can pull out live crab like me,” she says, smiling. Then, she goes to market to sell the day’s catch. “A woman’s place is in the public space,” says Itidal. “I’m not the only woman working in Gaza; many women here stand on their own two feet, despite the harsh conditions.”

Settlement University Crediting Students for Volunteering at Illegal Israeli Outposts,

“Ariel University in the West Bank is granting academic credit to students who provide assistance to farms in unauthorized, illegal outposts around the West Bank. The university, which is located in the settlement of Ariel, is granting credit to participants in a program of Hashomer Yosh, or Guardians of Judea and Samaria, which gives assistance to Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Hashomer Yosh said this week that although registration for the program is closed, volunteering is still available now at about 10 farms. Publicity about the program directed at potential student volunteers in March listed opportunities at 28 farms, including locations that have been the scene of violence and the seizure of Palestinian-owned land.”

Israel orders eviction of Bedouin families for military training,

“Israeli occupation authorities ordered today a number of Palestinian families in the Bedouin village of Ibziq, in the northern Jordan Valley region in the occupied West Bank, to leave their homes to make way for Israeli military training in the area. Muataz Besharat, who monitors Israeli violations in the area, told WAFA that Israeli army handed notices to a number of Bedouin families in the village ordering them to leave their homes for four days next week in order to make way for the training.”

Jewish extremists plan rally in Jerusalem’s Old City amid rising tensions,

“A Jewish extremist group has said it will rally in Jerusalem on Thursday in a show of “national honor,” amid rising ethnic tensions in the city. Police were preparing to counter any potential provocation or violence. In a statement Wednesday, Lehava said its activists will march to the Old City’s Damascus Gate to protest recent violence toward Jews, citing a number of assaults that were filmed and later uploaded to the TikTok video-sharing app, including one of an East Jerusalem teenager slapping two ultra-Orthodox boys on the light rail.”

The U.S. Scene

Over 300 U.S. Lawmakers Call for U.S. to Maintain Israel Aid Without Preconditions,

“Less than a week after House Democrats introduced legislation seeking to regulate U.S. aid to Israel, three hundred and thirty bipartisan members of Congress are urging leading members of the House Appropriations Committee to maintain full U.S. funding for Israel’s security needs without added conditions, according to a letter obtained by Haaretz. The letter — circulated for signature by Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch, chair of the Middle East, North Africa, and Global Counterterrorism Subcommittee, and Rep. Michael McCaul, the lead Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee — urges Appropriations Committee Chair Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro and ranking Republican Rep. Kay Granger to back “full funding for Israel’s security needs” in the appropriations bills for fiscal year 2022.”


Reaction & Additional Coverage

  • FMEP’s Lara Friedman comments: “330 Members of Congress weigh in to defend PERMANENT IMPUNITY – including immunity from even minimal oversight – as part of Israel’s US tax payer-funded entitlements.”
  • “Majority of House members express opposition to conditioning aid to Israel” (Jewish Insider)

Bipartisan legislation to support Arab-Israeli normalization introduced in House,

“A bipartisan group of House members introduced a bill Wednesday that seeks to promote normalization between Israel and Arab nations. The bill directs the State Department to study and submit reports to Congress on how the U.S. can support and expand last years’ agreements normalizing relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. The bill, sponsored by Reps. Brad Schneider (D-IL), Ann Wagner (R-MO), Sylvia Garcia (D-TX), Peter Meijer (R-MI), Greg Meeks (D-NY) and Michael McCaul (R-TX) is a companion to a bipartisan Senate bill introduced in late March. The legislation was the subject of a lobbying campaign by AIPAC during its virtual gathering in March. Meeks and McCaul are the top ranking Democrat and Republican, respectively, on the House Foreign Relations Committee, meaning the bill will have powerful backing in both parties as it moves forward in the House.”

Department Press Briefing – April 21, 2021,

QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you a couple of things. There is a UN report on settler violence against Palestinians – are rising drastically. Are you doing anything about rising settler violence?

MR PRICE: Well, we have been consistent in our condemnation of any steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution, and that includes settlement activity and violence. Again, a two-state solution remains at the center of our approach to this issue, and anything that sets that back is something that we will speak out against and do so consistently.

QUESTION: So you do expect your ally Israel to hold those who perpetrate crimes against the Palestinians, be it settlers or soldiers or security men and women, to be held accountable, as you began today to talk about accountability on yesterday’s verdict?

MR PRICE: Justice, accountability, rule of law – those are hallmarks of any democracy.

Biden Preparing to Declare That Atrocities Against Armenia Were Genocide,

“More than a century after the Ottoman Empire’s killing of an estimated 1.5 million Armenian civilians, President Biden is preparing to declare that the atrocities were an act of genocide, according to officials familiar with the internal debate. The action would signal that the American commitment to human rights outweighs the risk of further fraying the U.S. alliance with Turkey. Mr. Biden is expected to announce the symbolic designation on Saturday, the 106th anniversary of the beginning of what historians call a yearslong and systematic death march that the predecessors of modern Turkey started during World War I. He would be the first sitting American president to do so, although Ronald Reagan made a glancing reference to the Armenian genocide in a 1981 written statement about the Holocaust, and both the House and the Senate approved measures in 2019 to make its recognition a formal matter of U.S. foreign policy.”

US firms said using Israeli tech for controversial facial recognition,

“An Israeli company that makes facial recognition technology has gained several big-name clients in the US, even as rights groups increasingly raise concerns over the use of such surveillance methods, Reuters reported Wednesday. AnyVision, a Holon-based startup founded in 2015 by Neil Robertson and Eylon Ethstein, uses artificial intelligence technology to recognize faces, bodies and objects for security, medical and business purposes, among others…Among AnyVision’s clients, according to the Reuters report, are Los Angeles hospital Cedars-Sinai, oil giant BP, Macy’s, home improvement chain Menards, Mercedes-Benz, facilities of the Houston Texans and Golden State Warriors sports teams, casino operators MGM Resorts International and Cherokee Nation Entertainment…Negotiations for deals with Amazon and airports in Dallas and San Francisco have so far not led to purchases.”

The Palestinian Scene

Facebook says it halts hackers tied to Palestinian security,

“Facebook said Wednesday it has broken up a hacker network used by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ intelligence service in an attempt to keep tabs on journalists, human rights activists and government critics. The report by the social networking giant threatened to deal another embarrassing blow to Abbas’ Fatah party weeks ahead of parliamentary elections. Fatah, plagued by infighting and public malaise, already appears poised to lose power and influence if the vote takes place next month.”

Hamas warns against delaying first Palestinian national vote in 15 years,

“Any change to the timetable for the first Palestinian elections in 15 years would deal a heavy blow to efforts to reconcile the rival administrations in Gaza and the West Bank, a top official in the Hamas terror group warned Thursday. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas finally set election dates in January, days before US President Joe Biden took office promising to give negotiations more weight in the search for a solution to the Middle East conflict.” Also See – “Hamas says delaying Palestinian elections ‘could lead to serious reactions’” (The Times of Israel)

[Podcast] Special ECFR discussion on Palestinian politics,

“In this special ECFR discussion on Palestinian politics, MENA Policy Fellow Hugh Lovatt interviews Inès Abdel Razek, Advocacy Director for the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy (PIPD) and Amjad Iraqi, Editor and Writer at +972 Magazine, to discuss political shifts from the March Israeli elections and dynamics surrounding the upcoming Palestinian elections.”

UN Mideast Coordinator urges sides to allow elections in occupied Jerusalem,

“UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, urged today all sides to protect the right of Palestinians across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, participate in credible and inclusive Palestinian elections. Speaking before the UN Security Council’s virtual session on the Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, he said “the holding of credible elections in Palestine is a crucial step towards renewing the legitimacy of national institutions and reestablishing Palestinian national unity. I encourage international support to these efforts.””

Premier urges Britain to press Israel to allow election in occupied Jerusalem,

“Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh called today upon the United Kingdom to press the occupying state of Israel to allow Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem to run as candidates and cast their votes in the upcoming Palestinian elections, as well as to allow the entry of international observers to Palestine. His call came as he received the UK Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove at the Prime Minister’s Office in Ramallah in the presence of the UK Consul General to Jerusalem Philip Hall and the accompanying delegation.”

Normalization, Weapons, & News from the Region

Missile from Syria lands in Israel, triggers Israel strike,

“A Syrian anti-aircraft missile landed in southern Israel early Thursday, setting off air raid sirens near the country’s top-secret nuclear reactor, the Israeli military said. In response, it said it attacked the missile launcher and air-defense systems in neighboring Syria. Israeli media later described the Syrian missile as an “errant” projectile, not a deliberate attack deep inside Israel. In recent years, Israel has repeatedly launched air strikes at Syria, including at military targets linked to foes Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, both allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Such strikes routinely draw Syrian anti-aircraft fire. Thursday’s exchange was unusual because the Syrian projectile landed deep inside Israel.” Also See – “Syrian missile lands near Dimona nuclear reactor, interception fails” (Jerusalem Post)

Israel to keep lower profile on advancing ties with Sudan,

“No one in Jerusalem expects to establish the same scope of ties with Khartoum as with Abu Dhabi or Manama. Still, Sudan is important to Israel strategically. Haim Koren, Israel’s former ambassador to Egypt and South Sudan, currently serves as a senior research fellow at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzilya. He is considered one of Israel’s senior experts on the region. “If you consider Israel’s overall interests, such as access to the Red Sea, with its tremendous geopolitical importance, relations with East Africa and regional stability vis-a-vis Islamist groups in the continent, then you get a different picture on Sudan. For Israel, the strategic continuity with Egypt, Eritrea, Sudan, Ethiopia, the corridor along the Red Sea and the corridor leading to East Africa are extremely significant,” says Koren. For Koren, despite what is perceived in Israel as a slow and even hesitant Sudanese pace, Khartoum is fully committed to advancing diplomatic relations with Jerusalem. Sudan’s former leader Omar al-Bashir already took the first steps in that direction after severing ties with Iran in 2016. At the time, Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour said (a first from a Sudanese official) his country was open to the idea of normalizing ties with Israel.”

Suspected Smuggler Killed After Israeli Army Fires at Car Heading Toward Egypt Border,

“A suspected smuggler near the border with Egypt was killed early Thursday after an IDF soldier shot at the wheels of his vehicle. A military statement said that the soldiers were on an ambush near the border fence, when they identified three vehicles approaching it from the Israeli side. The soldiers fired at the vehicles after they failed to response to calls to halt, the statement read. The military believes that the men were attempting to smuggle drugs from Egypt into Israel.”

Israel, UAE sign multi-faceted healthcare cooperation accord,

“Israel and the United Arab Emirates signed a multi-faceted healthcare cooperation deal, Israel’s Health Ministry announced on Wednesday. The accord, which is the result of a joint effort by Israel’s Health and Foreign ministries, was signed by Israel’s Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and was attended by his Emirati counterpart Abdul Rahman Bin Mohammed Al Owais. As part of the agreement, Israel and the UAE will cooperate in a wide variety of fields and projects within the healthcare sphere. These will include joint efforts against pandemics, cybersecurity and data protection in healthcare, medical training, innovation, artificial intelligence and other high-tech endeavors.”

Israeli, UAE pilots take part in multinational military exercises in Greece,

“Besides Israel and the UAE, joining Greece for the drills are pilots from the United States, Canada, France, Spain and Cyprus…In a press release issued last week, the IDF said the drill was designed to bolster cooperation between the participant nations and foster experience exchange between the militaries. This is not the first time Israeli and Emirati pilots fly side by side in an exercise, with previous joint maneuvers including drills in 2016 and 2017.”

U.S. provides Iran with examples of sanctions it will and will not lift,

“U.S. and European officials said that progress had been made, but there were no substantive breakthroughs. “This week was much more specific,” said one Western diplomat who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations. “There are so many things that need to be resolved. I think at this very interim beginning step it is: What can we put on the table to show good faith and confidence building?”…Other obstacles also remain, including domestic political pressures on both sides. “Both Iran and America have an amazing quantity of hard-liners in parliament,” the Western diplomat said. One illustration came Wednesday, when former secretary of state Mike Pompeo made his first appearance on Capitol Hill since Biden’s inauguration. Pompeo spoke at a news conference at which congressional Republicans unveiled what they called the “Maximum Pressure Act,” aimed at preserving all existing sanctions against Iran and adding more. Pompeo played a key role in Trump’s efforts to isolate Iran. The legislation, sponsored by the Republican Study Committee, is designed to limit Biden’s efforts at rejoining the nuclear deal. The bill would also mandate congressional approval of any agreement Biden made with Iran.”

Israeli Envoy to U.S. Joins Arab Ambassadors in Planting Tree at UAE Embassy,

“Israel’s ambassador to the United States and the United Nations joined a number of his Arab counterparts in planting an olive tree at the United Arab Emirates Embassy, spotlighting environmental cooperation as part of the recent normalization of ties between Israel and several Arab countries. “Warmer relations will help get us to a cooler planet,” said Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to the United States, said at Tuesday’s ceremony. “Normalization is already accelerating climate cooperation between the UAE and Israel. ””

Why is Biden selling weapons to a country that helped make Yemen a ‘hell hole’?,

“The Biden administration’s recent announcement giving a green light to a massive $23 billion weapons sale to the United Arab Emirates makes a mockery of its commitment to put human rights at the forefront of its foreign policy. The Emirates’ disastrous roles in Yemen and Libya, along with its vicious human rights record at home, should disqualify it from acquiring advanced weapons…Faced with domestic crises that include a pandemic, a battered economy and exploding racial tensions, President Biden understands the need to focus his attention on domestic issues and wind down U.S. military entanglements from the past two decades. His recent announcement that U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, reflects this. But a $23 billion weapons sale to the UAE is a disastrous move in the opposite direction. It puts the U.S. squarely on the side of a serial human rights abuser and inflames a region already awash with way too many weapons. A new round of legislation by Senators Menendez and Feinstein is being introduced to put checks on the sale of the F-35s, but it is the entire sale that must be questioned. If Biden refuses to put domestic and human rights concerns ahead of the profits of weapons manufacturers, then Congress must step in and pass legislation to stop him.”

The Israeli Scene

As Palestinian vote looms, Israeli attention is elsewhere. That could backfire,

“No one has any time for it. We’ll wake up two minutes before they happen. With the effects of coronavirus and Iran and assembling the government to deal with, who has time to think about the Palestinians?” said Michael Milshtein, a former senior Israeli defense official. The Times of Israel spoke with several ex-security figures on how the vote might play out and found some strong disagreements. Israeli security agencies have declined to take any public stance on the elections. In response to queries by The Times of Israel, several political parties also declined to comment.”

With Two Weeks Left to Form Government, Netanyahu Escalates Attack on Key Player Bennett,

“In a statement to reporters, Bennett accused Netanyahu of seeking a fifth election, lamenting that despite his party’s exhaustive efforts to form a government, “Netanyahu is being evasive and attacking us…The State of Israel cannot be held hostage by politicians.” Bennett stressed that “the people want a government, but Netanyahu prefers elections.” The Yamina leader added that if Netanyahu ultimately fails at forming a right-wing government, “I will work to form a national unity government.” Netanyahu spoke shortly after Bennett, blaming him of being “willing to do everything in order to be a left-wing prime minister.” Netanyahu said a Bennett-Lapid government would be short-lived, adding that Bennett is prepared to join such a coalition only out of his personal ambition for power, which Netanyahu dubbed “limitless.””

PM calls heads of Ra’am, left-wing parties, seeking support for direct elections,

“The Likud leader’s objective is to rally support for holding direct elections for prime minister — a proposal he has thrown his weight behind as his other attempts at forming a government after last month’s elections have so far fallen flat.”