Top News from Israel & Palestine: April 26, 2021

What We’re Reading

Jerusalem, Gaza, & Rising Tensions

Israeli police remove East Jerusalem barricades after protests,

“Israeli police on Sunday removed barricades from near the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem, in a move apparently aimed at easing tensions after days of violent confrontations. The barricading of the area near the Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem’s walled Old City – a popular gathering place for Palestinians during the holy month of Ramadan – was partly blamed for several nights of tensions. Israeli police said the barriers were put in place as part of coronavirus restrictions. The decision came “following consultations with local leadership, religious leadership, situation assessments, while taking into consideration the shop owners who need to make a living, and in order to lower the level of violence,” an Israeli police spokesman told AFP news agency. “Our forces are still deployed on the ground, and we won’t let violence resurge,” the spokesman said.”


Also See

Israel Shuts Gaza Fishing Zone After Third Night of Rockets,

“Israel closed off Gaza’s fishing zone completely on Monday after a third night of rocket attacks from the enclave. Militants launched five rockets from Gaza into southern Israel on Sunday night, the military said, following two nights of rocket fire that intelligence officials have linked to violence in Jerusalem. Four people from Sderot were injured after running for shelter, including a pregnant woman, Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon said on Monday. ” It is unlikely that the groups would’ve fired rockets without Hamas’ consent, sources in Gaza said.”


Also See

Report: Hamas rejects ceasefire offers, threatens 'major conflict' over Jerusalem,

“The Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, identified with Hezbollah, said Hamas officials had told it that there had been contact between Hamas and Israel in the past two days, via a third party, and that Hamas had rejected any proposal to reinstate calm as long as Israel continued its “current policy” in Jerusalem. Al-Akhbar reported that Hamas wants to “prevent any incursion by settlers to Al-Aqsa mosque, and stop the plans to ‘Judaize’ the city, and [for Israel] to allow Palestinians in east Jerusalem to take part in the Palestinian elections.” According to the sources quoted, Hamas issued a warning to Egypt that if Israel continued its current policies, it would “lead to an explosion in various areas, especially Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, even if that drags down the situation in Gaza and things develop into a major conflict.””

Israel said to warn Hamas of major retaliation if rocket fire continues,

“Israel has reportedly sent a message to the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip, warning that if rocket fire from the enclave continues it will draw a major military response. Over the past three nights, terrorists in the Strip fired some 45 rockets at southern Israel, causing damage in several Israeli communities near the border. In response, the Israel Defense Forces conducted a limited number of airstrikes on sites controlled by Hamas, which rules the enclave, and barred Palestinians from fishing off the Gaza coast.” Also See – “Israel does not want to deal with a Gaza battle right now, and Hamas knows it” (The Times of Israel)

Gaza Flare-up: What Happens Next Depends on Events in Jerusalem,

“Whether the flare-up continues depends mainly on what happens in Jerusalem. For the first time in many months, a violent incident on the Palestinian side made a lot of noise. Linked together are location (Jerusalem, with some of the clashes coming near the Temple Mount), time (Ramadan), and other incidents in Israel and the territories (Israel’s political crisis, the Palestinians’ general election that might be delayed). The Palestinians have managed to disabuse Israel of the hope that events in the territories can remain a sideshow that doesn’t affect the agenda in Israel.” Also See – “Jerusalem Is on the Brink of an Explosion – and Israel Has No Leaders to Prevent It” (Haaretz // Anshel Pfeffer)

As Gaza tensions simmer, IDF revisits retaliatory strike policy,

Military to suspend “strike-for-strike” protocol in favor of strikes on higher quality targets. IDF chief says that while all signs indicate neither side seeks a full-fledged conflict, Israel is gearing up for further escalation.

UAE condemns Jewish extremists’ violence in Jerusalem, calls for restraint,

“The United Arab Emirates on Sunday called on Israel to reduce tensions in Jerusalem and condemned a recent march by an extremist Jewish group in the city. The statement was a rare criticism of Israel from the Arab nation since the two countries signed a normalization agreement last year and have been pushing ahead with increasingly warm ties.” Also See – “UAE urges Israel to stop Jerusalem violence in rare rebuke” (Ynet)

Israel Took Steps to Quell Jerusalem Violence. Now It’s Up to Abbas,

“On the ground itself, it’s still not clear if Israel’s relenting on one specific issue will be enough to put an end to the situation. Other considerations, most importantly the internal Palestinian competition between Fatah and Hamas against the backdrop of the election, could affect how things transpire in the coming weeks.”

New players add volatility in Jerusalem tensions,

“The holy city of Jerusalem, a tinderbox of competing religious and political claims, has repeatedly triggered bouts of Israeli-Palestinian violence. This time around, there have been some additional sparks, including Jewish extremists who, emboldened by their political patrons’ recent election to parliament, staged a provocative march to Jerusalem’s walled Old City chanting “death to the Arabs.” Over the course of a few days, nightly Jerusalem street brawls between Israeli police and disaffected Palestinian residents of the city escalated to cross-border fighting between Israel and Gaza’s Islamic militant Hamas. Gaza militants fired an intense barrage of rockets into southern Israel and Israel launched several airstrikes at Gaza. Political posturing by Israeli and Palestinian leaders has added to the tense atmosphere.”

I write to remember the brutality of Jewish violence I saw in Jerusalem,

“I write because of the need to break down this madness into its most basic elements — so that perhaps I can understand it better. I write to give my testimony, because there is nothing else I can do. I write to remember. To remember that among the clouds of tear gas and the deafening sound of stun grenades shot at Palestinians, I saw a father holding the hand of his daughter, trying to flee together. To remember the terrified eyes of the teenager who was dragged by police officers after they charged into a group of young Palestinians. To remember the empty steps across from Damascus Gate, from which Palestinians have been banned since the beginning of Ramadan.”

Racism and Incitement in Jerusalem,

“Thursday’s events in Jerusalem are a stain on Israel’s leadership, on the Israel Police and on Israeli society. For long hours, hundreds of angry teenagers rampaged through the city center, attacking passersby and journalists, throwing rocks and bottles at police officers and chanting “Death to Arabs” and other racist slogans.”

Occupation, Annexation, & COVID-19 in the oPt

Sheikh Jarrah Families Send Letter to the International Criminal Court..,

“On 22 April 2021, representatives of 28 Palestinian families constituting approximately 500 Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem, and 191 endorsing organisations, sent a letter to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), calling to urgently include the imminent forced displacement of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah as part of the open investigation within the Situation in the State of Palestine. Specifically, the families called on her Office to include as part of the investigation the related war crimes and crimes against humanity, including forcible transfer, appropriation of property, persecution, apartheid, and other inhumane acts causing great suffering or serious injury to inter alia mental health arising from their forced evictions…The Sheikh Jarrah families continue to endure a lengthy, exhausting, and unaffordable legal battle since 1972 in order to confront the eviction lawsuits brought against them by a settler organization before Israeli courts, which unlawfully apply Israeli discriminatory domestic law to the occupied territory. The families are now pursuing accountability before the ICC. “

Settlers Attack Palestinian Farmers in Hebron Hills; No Arrests Made,

“A group of settlers attacked Palestinian farmers in the southern Hebron Hills in the West Bank on Saturday, while they were working  their fields near the Havat Maon settler outpost. David Shulman of the Arab-Jewish partnership Ta’ayush group and an Israel Prize laureate, told Haaretz that he saw from a distance about 30 settlers throwing stones and chasing after one of the Palestinians with sticks in their hands. The Palestinians, who were from the village of Humra, responded to the attack by throwing rocks back at the settlers.”

Settlers filmed throwing stones at Palestinians, attacking left-wing activists,

“Israeli settlers assaulted Palestinians and left-wing activists in the south Hebron hills on Saturday, the B’Tselem rights group reported. In a video from the scene, figures could be seen hurling stones at a car belonging to local Palestinians from al-Tuwani. Two Palestinians and two left-wing Israeli activists were injured in the incident, the latter two allegedly having been beaten by settlers, according to B’Tselem.”

Virus surge in crowded Gaza threatens to overwhelm hospitals,

“More than a year into the coronavirus pandemic, some of the worst fears are coming true in the crowded Gaza Strip: A sudden surge in infections and deaths is threatening to overwhelm hospitals weakened by years of conflict and border closures. Gaza’s main treatment center for COVID-19 patients warns that oxygen supplies are dwindling fast. In another hospital, coronavirus patients are packed three to a room…Israel, whose own vaccination campaign has been a success, has been broadly criticized for refusing to accept responsibility for vaccinating the Palestinians. Rights groups say that under international law, Israel remains responsible for Palestinians in areas it occupied in the 1967 Mideast war, including Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Israel says interim peace accords absolve it of that responsibility and that this is particularly true in Gaza, from which it withdrew in 2005, while keeping tight control over borders. So far, Gaza has received enough doses to fully vaccinate just over 55,000 people, with shipments arriving from the United Arab Emirates and the U.N.-backed COVAX program.”

How a U.S.-born Rabbi Became the Nemesis of Radical West Bank Settlers,

“The bruises from the last beating are still visible on his arms, but Arik Ascherman is determined to stick to his routine. He knows the young West Bank settlers will be waiting for him again – armed this time perhaps with something more lethal than sticks – but that doesn’t deter him. So with a quick goodbye to his wife, the 61-year-old rabbi gets into his dilapidated car and heads east, way beyond the Green Line, for his regular patrol duty shift, which is probably the best way to describe what he does. “If I stop showing up, my attackers will see that as a victory,” he says, driving along the unmarked dirt roads that lead to the agricultural lands of Taybeh, a West Bank town about 15 kilometers (9 miles) northeast of Jerusalem. It was here, less than a month ago, that young settlers from a nearby illegal outpost tore his earlobe when he tried to stop their flocks from eating the crops off of privately owned Palestinian fields. Out there on his own, Ascherman proved an easy target for his attackers, none of whom have yet been arrested or charged.”

The Privatization of Violence: Right-wing Jerusalem Thugs Are an Arm of the State,

“Individual, unbridled and messianic violence – which for decades has been met by one blind eye and one winking eye of the law enforcement authorities – is a vital component of the belligerence of the most Jewish country in the world. In its democratic way (namely, with the support of most of its Jews), this Jewish state is working on the erasure of the Palestinian past, present and future in this land. The appetite of those rioters, the ultranationalist right-wing posses in Jerusalem and the South Hebron Hills, increases with every judicial decision that permits the takeover by a right-wing NGO of a Palestinian neighborhood such as Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, with every uninvestigated attack against a Palestinian farmer on his own land by Israelis who emerge from Havat Ma’on or Yitzhar, with every license allowing the Civil Administration to declare Palestinian land as state land, and to allocate it to a settlement or adjacent outpost.”

Palestinian Elections & Politics

Palestinian Authority reportedly set to announce election delay within days,

“The Palestinian Authority has decided to postpone the upcoming elections and has informed representatives of the international community as well as Egypt of its decision, Army Radio reported Monday. It is expected there will be an official announcement from Ramallah in the coming days, and the Kan public broadcaster reported that the Palestinian leadership was set to meet on the matter on Thursday.” Also See – “Palestinians to discuss delaying vote over Jerusalem dispute” (Ynet)

Jerusalem’s legislative candidates affirm right of Jerusalemites to cast their votes,

“Candidates for the upcoming Palestinian Legislative Council elections held today a sit-in outside the Orient House in occupied Jerusalem to affirm the right of the Palestinian people in the occupied capital to cast their ballots in the upcoming legislative vote, scheduled for May 22. Israel has so far not responded to the Palestinian Authority’s request to arrange the elections in occupied East Jerusalem, together with the rest of the occupied territories, since under signed agreements Israel is expected to allow elections in six post centers in the occupied capital, as was the case in the 1996 and 2006 elections.” Also See – “Abbas expected to delay election, but could pay heavy price – diplomatic source” (The Times of Israel)

Palestine’s Political Prisoners and Elections,

“As fighters for freedom,  the Palestinian political prisoners’ political participation in the election and their candidacy to present their people and righteous cause is a natural, human, political, and legal right enshrined by the Palestinian Basic Law and international conventions….In this context, 16 Palestinian prisoners will run for the legislative elections expected to take place next May, of whom eight are in administrative detention, and two were arrested after declaring their candidacy. The Israeli occupation authorities detained the Palestinian prisoners for their political activities to ban them from running in the elections and affect the electoral process. The Israeli practice echoes what happened in 2006 when the Israeli authorities created all kinds of restrictions to render the second Legislative Council dysfunctional. In 2009, Israel arrested more than a third of the members of the Legislative Council, which resulted in halting all its functions since then. In 2017, 15 other members were arrested, six members in 2018, and 11 members in 2019. Currently, there are ten parliament members in Israeli prisons, of whom three were convicted and seven are in administrative detention.”

[Opinion] Canceling the Palestinian Elections Is Patronizing, Unjust – and Dangerous,

“And now it appears likely that Abbas is suffering from buyer’s regret so severely he is likely to call off the elections, propelled by considerations of power and ego, and backed by Israel and the Biden administration. But for Palestinians, denying their right to a democratic vote, silencing their ability to choose their representatives, this would be a patronizing, unjust and even dangerous decision.”

Hamas considers creating Christian media center,

“Father Manuel Musallam, head of the World Popular Organization for Jerusalem Justice and Peace, urged Hamas on April 13 to establish a Christian media center to defend the movement from claims that it mistreats Christians. A few days earlier, the Palestinian Central Elections Commission published the final list of candidates for the legislative elections to be held in May. Hamas’ electoral list only included one Christian among its 132 candidates after several Christians withdrew.”

The Israeli Scene

Far-right party leader: Arabs are citizens of Israel ‘for now at least’,

“Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich remarked Monday that Arabs are citizens of Israel, “for now at least.” Smotrich’s far-right party is a part of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right-wing-religious bloc. His refusal to join a right-wing minority government propped up by the Islamist Ra’am party is blocking one of Netanyahu’s few potential routes to forming a coalition.”

Ultra-Orthodox Dropouts Flock to Violent Jerusalem Protests, Pointing to a Worrying Trend,

“The number of such dropouts is huge: According to a 2019 study by the Knesset Research and Information Center, between 2,000 and 3,000 boys and men drop out of Haredi educational institutions every year and fail to find jobs. In the 2017-18 school year, the dropout rate was 4.6%, a much higher rate than the 1.4% rate in other state schools and 2.9% in the Arab sector…The result is there are thousands of young men on the Haredi streets without anything to do.”

Shock in Jerusalem community as ‘rabbi’ outed as undercover Christian missionary,

“An ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem’s French Hill neighborhood was in shock on Sunday after a prominent member of the community was reportedly outed as an undercover Christian missionary. Beyneynu, a nonprofit organization that monitors missionary activity in Israel, said Sunday that it had been “investigating the case of a covert missionary in French Hill for many years,” but had acted to expose him now “due to one of the missionary’s children proselytizing in school.””

U.S. Policy

[Opinion] Why Doesn’t Biden’s Democracy Agenda Include Palestinians?,

“The Biden administration is uncomfortable with Palestinian democracy for the same reason many Republicans are uncomfortable with American democracy. Because the wrong people sometimes win. In an interview with Said Arikat of the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds, another anonymous Biden official (or maybe the same one) warned that “all signs indicate that the multiple divisions within Fatah…will reduce its ability to mobilize the Palestinians in a way that enables them to defeat Hamas.” Why is that so bad? Because a Hamas victory “will complicate, or even completely dispel, prospects for the two-state solution.” For these reasons, the official said, the Biden administration “will look with understanding at the possibility of postponing the elections for some time.” Presumably until the Biden team feels confident that America’s favored candidates will win. The close reader may notice something curious about the Biden administration’s logic. It doesn’t think Palestinian elections are a good idea because a party that opposes the two-state solution, Hamas, might win. But a party that opposes the two-state solution, Likud, has been running Israel for more than a decade now.”

[Analysis] Conditioning U.S. Military Aid May Never Happen, but the Debate Should Worry Israel,

“The big story for Israel here is the fact that this has become an issue, that it crept from the margins into mainstream discourse and that it is becoming a legitimate topic of debate. These are unchartered waters for Israel and many of its friends and allies in both Congress and lobby groups. The legislative fate of the proposed bill is a secondary, almost insignificant aspect.”

[Opinion] America’s Unconditional Love for Israel Must End,

“America needs an open, honest discussion about why it still funnels billions of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars to Israel, a wealthy, developed country that routinely violates human rights on a massive scale, with no questions asked”

[Opinion] How Trump and Bibi’s Special Bond Damaged the U.S.-Israel Alliance,

“Now, as we approach 100 days since Trump has left office, the truth is being revealed. The lie at the heart of the relationship was that the U.S. evangelicals that were his base actually cared about Israel. The fantasy wrapped around that particular lie was the Rapture. The real reason they cared was they needed Israel to get to the religious happy ending foretold in the Christian bible and that, of course, does not turn out so well for the Jews. The lie Trump told his evangelical supporters at home and his Israeli ones abroad was that the policies he introduced would not largely be reversed once he left office. For the Israelis who worshipped Trump, it is now becoming clear that he was just a spray-tanned idol making long-term promises he could not keep. Indeed, this past week has confirmed that key elements of Israel’s special status in Washington may be in jeopardy—in large part as a consequence of Trump-era policies.”

Israel and Iran Are Pulling the United States Toward Conflict,

“There are no easy options available to the United States to divert a determined Netanyahu from the path of escalation that he is on. Netanyahu believes he knows how to handle Washington. He has considerable support within the Republican Party and among many Democrats; he also has calculated that the Biden administration will not want to jeopardize its domestic legislative agenda by engaging in a public dispute with Israel. Indeed, the only U.S. policy that might deter Netanyahu from the path leading to war would be firm refusal and strong diplomacy. Washington would have to make Netanyahu understand that further escalation with Iran would damage U.S.-Israeli relations and that the administration will not back down in the face of domestic political pressure. At the same time, the administration would need to press the other signatories to the nuclear deal to tell Iran in no uncertain terms that its actions are provocative, that some of its positions in the Vienna talks are unreasonable, and that the clock is running out for returning to full compliance. A firm stance with Israel and tough diplomacy on the nuclear deal just might allow the United States to avert the slide toward dangerous escalation between Israel and Iran.”

Lawfare & the Push to Redefine Antisemitism to Quash Criticism of Israel

Progressive reps push antisemitism definitions that allow for increased criticism of Israel,

“A group of progressive House Democrats plans to encourage Secretary of State Tony Blinken to consider alternatives to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism, suggesting two definitions that allow for broader criticism of Israel.  A draft of a letter to Blinken obtained by Jewish Insider, which is being led by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and has been signed by Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI), Andy Levin (D-MI), Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), urges Blinken to “consider multiple definitions of antisemitism, including two new definitions that have been formulated and embraced by the Jewish community,” pointing to the Nexus Document and the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism.”

In Other (Important) News...

Breaking With Predecessors, Biden Declares Mass Killings of Armenians a Genocide,

“President Biden on Saturday recognized the mass killings of Armenians more than a century ago as genocide, signaling a willingness to test an increasingly frayed relationship with Turkey, long a key regional ally and an important partner within NATO. “Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring,” Mr. Biden said in a statement issued on the 106th anniversary of the beginning of a brutal campaign by the former Ottoman Empire that killed 1.5 million people. “And we remember so that we remain ever vigilant against the corrosive influence of hate in all its forms.””

The White House is reviewing Western Sahara recognition. Here’s what’s at stake,

“Trump’s decision made the U.S. the first Western nation to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the territory, raising questions about how the U.S. might handle other contested territories such as Crimea and even Israeli settlements in the West Bank. It also has major implications for Israel abroad: If the Biden administration reneges on the Trump policy, there’s a chance Morocco could once again cease or not advance diplomatic ties with Israel. And the issue is far from settled in Washington, with 27 senators hailing from both parties signing a recent letter urging the Biden administration to take back its recognition of Moroccan sovereignty in the region.”

Scoop: Israeli cyber firm NSO negotiates with Jordanian intelligence,

“Israeli cyber intelligence firm NSO negotiated with the Jordanian government in recent months on a deal to sell new spying technology, two sources briefed on the matter tell me. Why it matters: The Jordanian intelligence services surveil terrorist groups, but they also monitor opposition activists and crack down on domestic criticism of King Abdullah II…Flashback: According to press reports, NSO has done business with the Jordanian government in the past. Haaretz reported last year that NSO uses the code name “Jaguar” for Jordan in internal documents. Worth noting: NSO came under harsh criticism in recent years over the use of its Pegasus spyware by several clients around the world to surveil human rights activists, opposition figures, reporters and political rivals.”