Top News from Israel & Palestine: February 16, 2021

What We’re Reading


Palestinians say Israel blocks shipment of vaccines to Gaza,

“The Palestinian Authority said Monday that Israel was preventing it from sending coronavirus vaccines to the Gaza Strip that are intended for frontline medical workers in the territory controlled by the Islamic militant group Hamas. Palestinian Health Minister Mai Alkaila said in a statement that Israel bore “full responsibility” for blocking the shipment of 2,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine that were acquired by the PA, which governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.”

Also See

Knesset debates Palestinian request to allow COVID vaccines into Gaza,

“An Israeli security official told The Times of Israel on Sunday night that the request was being examined by the National Security Council, a security body that belongs to the Prime Minister’s Office. “There has not yet been any approval to transfer vaccines to the Gaza Strip. There was a request by the Palestinian Authority to transfer 1,000 doses of the Russian vaccine to Gaza, and that is what’s currently being discussed,” Salmon confirmed. Ramallah requested permission to transfer the vaccines to medical staff in Gaza. However, MK Zvi Hauser, head of the Foreign Affairs and Security, argued that the vaccines were more likely to reach the Hamas leadership. “I don’t see Yahya Sinwar giving his vaccine to a kind nurse in Gaza,” Hauser remarked sarcastically, referring to Gaza’s de facto governor. There is relatively little interaction between Israelis and Gazans, argued Likud MK Avi Dichter, rejecting any Israeli epidemiological interest in providing vaccines to the Gaza Strip. “Gaza has been detached and isolated from Israel… the considerations are totally different,” said Dichter. “The Knesset must establish a clear condition that any vaccine that passes into the Gaza Strip requires the return of the four Israelis,” said MK Alex Kushnir of the Yisrael Beytenu party…“We must establish a new humanitarian equation, one demanded by the current reality. Israel and its leaders must not give up on the opportunity to return the bodies of the soldiers and bring them to burial in Israel,” Hauser said. Joint List MKs Ahmad Tibi and Ofer Cassif — who attended the discussion despite not being members of the committee — called the suggestion “a war crime.” “Preventing medical treatment is a war crime, a violation of international law, and even worse — it is an inhumane stance,” Cassif said.”

Also See

Israel’s obligation to Gaza in a pandemic and post-pandemic reality,

“Israel is obligated to protect the health and safety of all people living under its control, including by ensuring that the vaccine is available in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. This will necessarily require close cooperation with Palestinian authorities and the international community, but their involvement does not absolve Israel from its ultimate responsibility toward Palestinians living under occupation. Where needed, Israel must contribute to covering the cost of the vaccine and its distribution, unconditionally.”

Occupation, Annexation, Settlements, & Apartheid

Jewish National Fund Leadership Okays Plan to Expand West Bank Settlements,

“Jewish National Fund leadership approved a proposal on Sunday to officially change the organization’s policy so as to allow the organization to expand its purchase of land in the West Bank for the benefit of the Jewish settlement enterprise. The proposal is still awaiting the approval of the organization’s board of directors, which will only decide on the issue after Israel’s March 23 election. The decision to defer the board’s decision followed threats by several members of JNF leadership to resign, in additon to a request from Defense Minister Benny Gantz.  According to the proposal, which has faced criticism from the U.S. State Department, the JNF would acquire privately owned West Bank land, with priority given to land within settlements, land where construction is expected to face few obstacles and land adjacent to existing settlements that can be used for their expansion. ” Also See – “JNF Plan to Expand Settlements Could ‘Endanger Its Existence,’ Jewish Groups Warn” (Haaretz)

PM agrees to review controversial West Bank waste-to-energy plant plan,

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed Sunday to review controversial plans for a waste to energy incinerator in the West Bank settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, near Jerusalem, after a meeting requested by the city’s mayor, Benny Kashriel….Kashriel had warned the Environmental Protection Ministry that he would not allow the project to go ahead until he had all of the necessary information about its environmental implications.”

Six Lies About Israel's Wild West Settlement Outposts,

“I am referring to six outposts that are livestock and agricultural farms in the northern Jordan Valley, and are mentioned in that same request for information, submitted in August 2020 by several human rights activists. The outposts are known by the names of their chief cowboys – Tzuri, Uri, Asael, Menachem and Moshe – and there is also one belonging to the Amosi family in the Tene Yarok Farm. The basis of the request is the question of whether Jewish farmers living in these outposts indeed received an exceptional permit to graze their herds in areas declared “firing zones,” while the army and the Civil Administration expel Palestinian shepherds from those same areas and destroy their communities (see Khirbet Humsa in the past two weeks alone).”

Yamina leader Bennett likens Palestinian Authority to ISIS,

“Israel’s right-wing Yamina party Chairman Naftali Bennett on Sunday released a video in English in which he compared the Palestinian Authority (PA) to the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group. In the video, recorded at the biblical site of Joshua’s Alter on Mount Ebal, Bennett addressed the damage done to the alter’s outer wall by Palestinian municipal workers. “Imagine if ISIS would try to take apart the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower, what an uproar across the world we’d hear,” Bennett said.”

For a proper accounting of this incident at Mount Ebal, see Emek Shaveh’s newsletter.

The best way to avoid an ICC probe: Don’t commit war crimes,

“In the universe occupied by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his propagandists, Israel’s road to The Hague is being nefariously paved in the immaculate halls of European governments, where activists and politicians bent on harming the world’s only Jewish state are hatching antisemitic plots, using international law as a cloak. The truth, however, is far more painful. Military operation after military operation, Israel has ignored the black flag — a warning sign of immoral orders which ought to be defied — that flies over the rules of engagement dictated by its government cabinet and the IDF’s top brass. We have occupied land, built settlements, and whitewashed outposts as if there were no tomorrow, no Palestinians, and no world watching. In short, we ended up in The Hague because it was precisely where we have been heading for a very long time.”

Want Israeli-Palestinian Peace? Try Confederation,

“Some people argue that the two-state solution is, in any case, finished — that settlers are too numerous, Palestinians too fragmented — that anyway, the Palestinians ought to argue for equal rights in a single secular democratic state. But every argument that purports to make the two-state solution implausible makes a one-state future ludicrous: Imagine a single legislature trying to decide whether to allocate $100 million to build housing for returning Palestinian refugees not yet contributing to the economy, or to expand the Technion to advance the already thriving Israeli high-tech sector. Israel’s G.D.P. per capita is more than 10 times Palestine’s. And in what language, in other than a halting English, would the debate be conducted?”

Justice delayed long enough in World Vision Hamas case,

“Why is a highly explosive World Vision court case dragging on for so long? As The Jerusalem Post’s legal correspondent, Yonah Jeremy Bob, reported in the paper last week, it has been four-and-a-half years since Mohammad el-Halabi, World Vision’s Gaza operations manager, was indicted in the Beersheba District Court for diverting $7.2 million to Hamas – 60% of World Vision’s annual budget for Gaza – to buy arms and build terrorist tunnels to launch attacks against Israel…

On the one hand, the United Nations designated Halabi “a humanitarian hero” in 2014, and his father, Khalil el-Halabi, who served as head of UNRWA’s educational institutions in the Gaza Strip for many years, insisted recently that his son is “a Palestinian Dreyfuss” being held on trumped-up charges. On the other hand, the Foreign Ministry website states that he is actually a major figure in the terrorist/military arm of Hamas, and “in addition to the financial and logistical aid that El Halabi provided Hamas, he also exploited his visits to Israel, which were permitted due to his legitimate work for World Vision, to engage in serious terrorist activity.” Which version is true? We can only hope that the court will issue its ruling soon. If Halabi is innocent, then he should be released after nearly five years detention. If he is guilty, the court should issue its verdict and ensure he is duly punished. Whatever the case, justice needs to be seen and served without further delay.”

Settler Terror Continues

Israeli settlers arrested on terrorism charges amid rise in violence,

“Israeli Police on Monday said that, in a joint operation with the Shin Bet security service, they had arrested a number of people suspected of attacking Palestinians and Israeli security forces in the West Bank. The details of the case, including the suspects’ identities, are under a gag order, but Kan TV reported that they include at least three Jewish Israelis, aged 18 to 19. They were reportedly suspected of rock-throwing against Palestinians, illegal possession of weapons, and membership in a terrorist organization.”

Palestinian Cars Vandalized After Israel Evacuates Settlement Outpost,

“The windows of six cars of Palestinian laborers working in the West Bank settlement of Shiloh were smashed on Tuesday, hours after Israeli authorities evacuated a structure in the nearby outpost of Esh Kodesh. The unidentified perpetrators, who were masked apparently in order to conceal their identity, were caught on security cameras, and police said an investigation is underway. In the last two days, five Israeli suspects have been detained on suspicion of committing hate crimes. A court extended the detention of three of them on Monday. One suspect, who was questioned by the Shin Bet security service, had his detention prolonged by eight days. Two others, who were questioned by the police, had their detention extended by a week.”

Clashes in West Bank during anti-Israeli settlement protests,

“The Palestinian Authority (PA) reported several clashes on Friday at anti-settlement protests throughout the West Bank. Two Palestinians were injured by Israeli security forces gunfire in Beit Dajan east of Nablus. The forces responded to a protest against Israeli settlements, the PA-run WAFA News Agency reported. The Israeli military also dispersed a protest against settlement construction in Dayr Jarir northeast of the Palestinian capital, Ramallah. Palestinians and Israeli settlers also clashed at a similar protest in Biddya near the Israeli border, according to WAFA.”

Palestinian cars vandalized in broad daylight in suspected attack by settlers,

“Footage of the suspected hate crime was caught on a security camera, capturing the moment the group — believed to be young extremist settlers, known as “hilltop youth” — damaged at least nine Palestinian cars by the entrance of the settlement.”

Israeli settlers attack Palestinians in their own homes,

“In the past weeks, the streets, villages and towns of the West Bank have turned into arenas of real terror and fear, with daily assaults by settlers against Palestinians, whether in their vehicles, on the streets or in their homes…Commenting on the options Palestinians have to protect themselves from these attacks, Assaf said, “We need to form popular protection committees in all towns tasked with protecting citizens and villages and barricading the houses, particularly those located on the outskirts of villages that are under constant attacks. Also, surveillance cameras and lighting towers must be installed in the neighborhoods. A popular resistance should also be activated while responding to the settlers by blocking the main streets and roads.” On Jan. 28, a number of Palestinian resistance activists closed the Nablus-Qalqilya road in the northern West Bank in the face of settlers. Clashes erupted between the activists and the Israeli army, leading to a number of injuries. According to Assaf, similar action will be taken in the coming days. Assaf noted that protection committees made up of volunteers were set up in the past, but the committees they are currently seeking to establish will enjoy full political support and will be provided with the necessary capabilities. Such a dossier is being discussed at the highest political level, he added.”

Lawfare / Quashing Criticism of Israel

Legal firm offers to represent Zionist organizations across US campuses,

“The Zachor Legal Institute announced that it will be teaming up with Zionist organizations on campuses across the United States to combat anti-Israel rhetoric at universities countrywide. The initiative, termed Zionists on Campus, intends to work with existing Zionist campus organizations to protect student members and advocate for institutional change at the highest level within these universities to combat anti-Israel ideals. The Zachor Legal Institute will be the legal adviser to the newly formed campus project and will work directly with students wishing to combat anti-Israel and antisemitic rhetoric.”

Court revives challenge to Arkansas law that restricts state business with Israel boycotters,

“A federal appeals court struck a blow to the legality of an Arkansas law that aims to penalize the boycott Israel movement. In 2017, the state passed the law, which financially penalizes companies that do not renounce the boycott Israel movement. A federal Arkansas judge dismissed a challenge to it in 2019. But a federal appeals court revived the challenge on Friday and ordered the district court in Little Rock to reconsider the case.”

Why the success of Israel's strategy to silence critics is far from assured,

“Support for Israel’s colonial occupation since 1991, for the first time since 1967,  has declined among the western European and white American publics, who accuse it of being a racist, undemocratic or “apartheid” state. Israel – which had always defended its colonial policies by branding any critic of its settler-colonial nature an “antisemite” – realised that its rhetorical strategies and its hold on western public opinion were no longer as effective as they had once been. Emboldened by the continued support it received from Europe and Europe’s settler-colonies, who effectively silenced the world at the UN in 1991, it decided to move, along with its western allies, beyond media and government rhetoric to the realm of legal threats and prosecution. It is in this context that the IHRA definition of antisemitism has been adopted across the US and European countries. The world’s publics, however, have so far proven less malleable than their governments were at the UN in 1991. Israel’s legal strategy, and that of its European and US allies, aims to break their will. The success of the new strategy, however, is far from assured.”

The Palestinian Scene

Turkey invests $10 million in Jenin construction project,

“Turkey has invested $10 million in a new industrial zone currently under construction in the Palestinian city of Jenin. The move is a significant step for Turkey, which normally invests in the Gaza Strip and eastern Jerusalem. “There is a plan to build Turkish factories in the industrial area,” Palestinian Authority Economy Minister Khaled al-Osaily told Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency on Sunday. Turkey is not the only country investing in the project. Germany is investing €24 million ($29.1 million) in the initial construction phase, which will focus on preparing the external infrastructure and is slated to be completed in mid-2021. The second phase, to focus on the internal infrastructure, will be partly funded with the $10 million from Ankara. The investment will be channeled through the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB), which received the green light from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to transfer the sum to the P.A. The project itself was first conceived in 1999, but perpetual foot-dragging has thus far prevented it from getting off the ground.”

Gazans outraged over million-dollar mosque reconstruction,

“The announced replacement of a mosque in the west of Gaza City at a cost of more than $1 million has sparked widespread controversy among Palestinians in the coastal enclave, where 85% of the population suffer from poverty. The Al-Ahram al-Zahabia Construction Company announced on Facebook Feb. 5 that it had won a bid to replace the Khalil al-Wazir Mosque at a total cost of $1.093 million. The post was later edited and the amount removed.

The mosque, modestly constructed like most in the coastal enclave, was destroyed during the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza.  In 2018, Hamas’ Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs signed an agreement with the Malaysian Aman Palestin Foundation to fund the mosque replacement, on the condition that it be done in a Malaysian architectural style. The Aman Palestin Foundation is a Malaysian charity founded in 2004 to collect donations to help Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon and Syria. Palestinians expressed anger and criticism at the Ministry of Endowments and Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, for not directing the funds to development projects and feeding the poor instead of rebuilding mosques. According to the Ministry of Endowments’ statistics, there are 1,078 mosques in the tiny enclave of 365 square kilometers (227 square miles). Building luxurious mosques in the Gaza Strip has become a trend since Hamas took over in 2007. Al-Khalidi Mosque was built by a businessman with ties to Hamas, Abdel Aziz al-Khalidi, on the Gaza shore in 2013 at a cost of a half-million dollars.”

The Israeli Domestic Scene

Trying to oust Netanyahu, an ex-settler head says he can rebuild bridge to Biden,

“[Dani] Dayan is running for the Knesset on the party slate of Gideon Sa’ar, along with other right-wing politicians who have splintered off of Likud and other right-wing parties attempting to unseat Netanyahu. One of the central arguments New Hope is pitching voters is that its band of hawkish settlement supporters are best situated to repair ties with the Democratic party and left-wing American Jews. “Israel didn’t invest in bipartisan support over the last years,” Dayan told The Times of Israel last week, arguing that it was hampering Netanyahu’s ability to work effectively with the current Democratic administration in the United States. “Netanyahu lost confidence in the feasibility of maintaining Democratic support, and I think it was a mistake,” he added…Dayan was born and raised in a Zionist family in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He concluded a four-year term as Israel’s top diplomat in New York last summer. Before becoming an envoy, Dayan had unsuccessfully tried to enter the Knesset with the Jewish Home party. In an August interview with The Times of Israel, he ascribed his failure in politics to the clash between his hawkish views on diplomatic-security matters and his otherwise liberal values, calling himself a “political orphan.” He has in the past spoken out in favor of Reform Judaism in the US, which is openly denigrated by many Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox politicians in Israel, straining ties with the Diaspora. As a diplomat, he criticized the lack of religious pluralism in Israel.”

The U.S. Scene

US Jews are increasingly vocal on Israel. Why are their progressive groups still silent?,

“Given this context, it’s understandable that many progressive American Jewish groups don’t want to get pulled into myopic, intra-communal fights about Israel. On the other hand, a policy of silence cedes further ground to right-wing American Jewish voices and organizations that are happy to talk about Israel, allowing them to define the terms of the debate and present themselves as representing the priorities and mainstream opinions of American Jewry. The ability to entirely opt out from dealing with an issue that has life or death consequences for people living in Israel-Palestine is one that can only come from a position of privilege. Avoidance is neither a safe nor smart long-term strategy for progressive American Jews. “

Israel policy set to play a role in Ohio special congressional race,

“The Democratic Majority for Israel political action committee has made an endorsement in a special congressional election in Ohio, a sign of how Israel tensions within the Democratic Party have not abated since the party’s sweeping wins in November. The PAC affiliated with the pro-Israel group announced Tuesday that it is endorsing Shontel Brown, a Cuyahoga County councilwoman who has the backing of the party’s establishment and who has cultivated the mainstream pro-Israel community. The field ahead of the May primary for the special election is crowded, but the candidates attracting the most attention are Brown, who chairs the county’s Democratic Party, and Nina Turner, a former state senator who was prominent in the 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the flagbearer for the party’s progressive left.”