Top News from Israel & Palestine: January 14, 2020

What We’re Reading

Settlements, Occupation, & Human Rights

Even if Trump’s peace plan released now, Area C is still a battleground,

“In this twilight-zone time, when right-wing rhetoric has become the norm but the diplomatic situation is frozen, the baton of action has moved to Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the New Right Party.Bennett – like all defense ministers before him – is autocratically in charge of Area C of the West Bank, where all the settlements are located…Policies set by Bennett, largely unchecked by Netanyahu, can impact that battle, including his renewed push to stymie Palestinian development there with a campaign to halt illegal Palestinian building.When Bennett speaks publicly, as he did last week, of the ‘battle for Area C,’ he is not just parroting empty rhetoric but seizing a small window of opportunity to make his mark.”

Annexation Is Crazy, and Could Become Reality,

“As astonishing (and horrifying) as it sounds, the supposed sane alternative to Netanyahu agreed to the crazy step of annexing the Jordan Valley. In their defense it should be said that they left themselves an out: Before they sign, they want the heads of the defense establishment to brief Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz on the consequences of annexation. Such an apocalyptic briefing, if leaked to the media, would perhaps give Gantz a reason to stop the madness. There has been no briefing, no signed agreement, but the idea is far from dead.”

Israel to demolish 8 houses in occupied West Bank,

“Israeli occupation forces handed out demolition orders to eight Palestinian families in the southern occupied West Bank district of Hebron today. Local sources quoted the coordinator of the Protection and Steadfastness Committee, Fuad Al-Amouri, as saying that the houses were located between the Carmel and Susiya villages in Yatta…”

Stone throwing that killed Palestinian mother of 8 recognized as terror attack,

“Israeli authorities on Sunday recognized the 2018 stone throwing in the West Bank that killed Aisha Rabi as a terror attack, but refused to recognize the Palestinian mother-of-eight as a terror victim. The Defense Ministry’s criteria require individuals targeted in attacks to either be Israeli citizens or have an Israeli residency permit in order to be recognized as victims of terror and receive compensation from the National Insurance Institute. Rabi — who was killed after a 16-year-old Israeli allegedly hurled a massive rock at the windshield of her car as she traveled with her husband and daughter near the northern West Bank’s Tapuah Junction — does not fit either of those criteria…The suspect in the attack on Rabi, a student at the Pri Haaretz yeshiva in the northern West Bank settlement of Rehelim, was charged last year with manslaughter, aggravated stone throwing at a moving vehicle, and intentional sabotage of a vehicle. The suspect was a minor at the time of the incident and cannot be named…”

Transfer of Palestinian minors from prisons a 'violation of law',

“The Israeli Prison Service (IPS) transferred at least 33 Palestinian child detainees on Monday from Ofer prison to Damoun without the presence of adult representatives, a move slammed by Palestinian activists and civil organisations. In a statement, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society (PPS) warned it undermines the responsibility to provide caretaker rights for minors. ‘This move puts the minors at risk of abusive measures by the IPS in the absence of their adult overseers,’ PPS said.”

Sealed Off and Forgotten: What You Should Know about Israel’s ‘Firing Zones’ in the West Bank,

“Soon after Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, it devised a long-term stratagem aimed at the permanent control of the newly occupied territories. While it designated some areas for the future relocation of its own citizens – who now make up the extremist illegal Jewish settler population in the West Bank – it also set aside large swathes of the Occupied Territories as security and buffer zones. What is far less known is that, throughout the 1970s, the Israeli military declared roughly 18% of the West Bank as ‘firing zones’…According to the Office for the UN Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Palestine, there are around 5,000 Palestinians, divided among 38 communities that still live, under most dire circumstances, within the so-called ‘firing zones’.”

US Christian students come to Holy Land to connect to biblical and modern Israel,

“Five hundred college students streamed into a large party venue in southern Jerusalem with a panoramic view of the Old City…But they weren’t participating in Birthright Israel, the mega project that since it was founded in 1999 has brought upwards of 750,000 young Jews to the country. These young Americans were in Israel this month with Passages, an organization that brings practicing Christian college and graduate students from all over the United States to the Holy Land for a 10-day trip to connect with the biblical roots of their faith, and with modern Israel…With the program’s emphasis on building bridges between Jews and Christians through visiting Israel, participants come away more strongly identifying with Israelis than with Palestinians.”

Gaza conflict peaked in 2019, W. Bank terror is dropping - intel report,

“The volume of rockets in 2019 from Gaza hit new highs for a non-war year, while terrorism emanating from the West Bank continued to drop, a new report said on Monday.Forecasting 2020, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Center report obtained and published first by The Jerusalem Post said 2020 was likely to be a quieter year due to potential ‘quiet for quiet’ understandings between Israel and Hamas.

Maps, Technology, and Decolonial Spatial Practices in Palestine,

“This policy brief examines the varied ways that Palestinians have been excluded from maps of their own land, from the start of the British Mandate to the present day. It argues that poorly mapped localities alter the way that Palestinians understand space and alienate them from their homeland. It also explores alternative, subversive maps as ways of recognizing the past, appraising the present, and imagining the future. It concludes that maps, though intricately linked to both British and Israeli colonialism, and consistently used as vehicles of erasure, can be reclaimed as expressions of geographic imagination and a means of resistance.”

Occupied East Jerusalem

East Jerusalem’s Issawiya boils as residents decry months of police intervention,

“Mohammed Abu Hummus, a 53-year-old member of Issawiya’s Parents Committee, said the police’s heightened operations in the neighborhood go back to May 2019… Abu Hummus said that since May police have raided over 500 homes in Issawiya and arrested more than 600 residents — only about 20 of whom were indicted. He also said police officers have frequently set up roadblocks in the neighborhood, stopping drivers for questioning. “This discrepancy between arrests and charges shows that the police has stepped way beyond its bounds,” he said, adding that he believed it has increased its activities in Issawiya to ‘force its occupation on us. They know that we reject the occupation here. So they are now trying to make us gradually accept it as the status quo, but that will never happen,’ he said.”

Border Police filmed beating East Jerusalem Arab and his mother,

“Border Police guards violently beat an East Jerusalem Arab resident after he couldn’t show them his identity document, in an incident that was caught on security cameras, Channel 13 reported Monday. Omar Hendi, who works as a police-licensed security guard on the Jerusalem light rail, left his home in the Shuafat refugee camp on the outskirts of Jerusalem to go and buy food last week at a nearby restaurant when he was stopped by several officers. In the film, the officers approach and talk to him. after several minutes one of them throws Hendi across the road and pushes him up against a wall and three of the soldiers begin beating and kicking him.     Four officers stood by and watched. ‘I told them that I don’t have my ID on me, I left it at home. The soldier said he did not believe me and grabbed me by the shirt,’ Hendi told Channel 13. ‘Then everyone started hitting me.’” Video is here.

Unprecedented 1,200 East Jerusalem Palestinians got Israeli citizenship in 2019,

“Israel granted citizenship to 1,200 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem last year, an all-time high, government figures show. The figure is three times the number in 2018. The number of citizenship requests denied — 1,361 — was similarly at an unprecedented high last year…The sharp jump in approvals and rejections was not due to any change in the rate at which Palestinians are requesting the citizenship, the Haaretz daily reported Monday, but in the Israeli government’s expediting of the approval process following a High Court of Justice decision that criticized the inefficiency in the citizenship request system. The approved requests had all been filed before 2019. Those filed last year are expected to be dealt with by the end of 2020.”

Israel’s Left Under Pressure

Israel's 'Censor in Chief': The Activist Who Manages to Silence the Left,

“With the click of a computer mouse, Shai Glick has managed to bring about the censorship of films, boycotts of organizations and the closure of institutions that he finds unpatriotically left-wing. Is he a vigorous censor, an ardent informant or a hyperactive troll? It’s difficult to decide. For the past five years, this right-wing activist has been frantically running around behind the scenes of Israel’s cultural community. He’s the person behind many of the headlines that Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev has made during her four years on the job. He has taken aim at events that have too overt a whiff of being left-wing in his view, and has handed them to Regev on a silver platter. She in turn has then been able to take her own aim at them, threatening them with government budget cuts and nurturing her image as the warrior cabinet minister who is forced to defend Israel’s trampled honor. Those who believe that much of what is produced by the Israeli art scene is insufficiently patriotic left-wing propaganda would presumably have high regard for what Glick does, even if they aren’t aware of his involvement. But his list of his achievements might horrify those who value human rights and freedom of expression.”

'The Terrorist's Lawyer' Leah Tzemel's appointment frozen,

“‘The Terrorist’s Attorney’ Leah Tsemel will not presently be appointed to the role of Military Tribunal Committee Chairwoman in the Israel Bar Association. Yesterday’s news of Tsemel’s appointment sparked widespread public outcry and following the storm, the Bar Association decided to freeze the appointment…Following the report on Tsemel’s appointment freeze, Transport Minister Betzalel Smotrich tweeted, ‘I’m glad that common sense is prevailing.’ The “Choosing Life” forum of bereaved families and victims of hostilities, accompanied by the Im Tirtzu movement yesterday attacked the appointment, saying: ‘There’s no limit to the Bar Association’s disconnection and weakness. This is a spit in the faces of thousands of Israelis who were murdered over the years by despicable terrorists as the Devil’s Attorney Tsemel has protected some of them. This is unparalleled disgrace.’…MK Ofir Sofer (National Union) wondered, ‘How cynical was the decision to appoint a disgusting terrorist advocate to chair the Military Tribunal? What’s next, [feminist] Gaby Lasky for State Attorney? Absolutely disgraceful,’ concluded Sofer. The United Jewish Home responded, “It’s a shame and a disgrace and a screaming outrage….The terrorists’ attorney Tsemel must not be given a foothold inside the military prosecutor’s office.’”

Miri Regev: 'Leah Tsemel got thrashed twice',

“Culture and Sport Minister Colonel (res.) Miri Regev welcomed the decision to freeze the appointment of Attorney Leah Tsemel to chair the Military Court Committee at the Israel Bar Association. ‘Terrorist’s attorney Leah Tsemel was thrashed twice today. First, her appointment to chair the Military Court Committee was frozen. The very tenure of those who represent despicable terrorists whose sole purpose is to murder Israelis is a spit in the faces of the bereaved families and IDF soldiers,’ said Regev. ‘It’s our duty to fight terror and certainly not to give a platform and support to terrorists and those who defend and represent them. I urge the chairman of the Bar, Avi Chimi, not to be content with freezing her appointment but immediately dismiss her from office.’ Regev also said ‘The film that documents Tsemel’s operations and sends a message that supports and gives backing to terrorists was ultimately not included in the list of finalists for the Oscars. While the U.S. is eliminating Soleimani and fighting global terror, the last thing Americans and the world want is to idealize terrorists on screen. We all want to see them eliminated,’ the Culture Minister added.”

Trump Administration

Trump Officials Hint Peace Plan May Come Out During Israel's Election Campaign,

“Two senior officials in the Trump administration have hinted in recent days that that White House could present its Middle East peace plan ahead of Israel’s March 2 election, in a move that could aid the campaign of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel’s contentious third election in less than a year’s time.”

Jason Greenblatt isn’t sure Israelis, Palestinians ready for peace,

“I think they have a lot of very tough issues to work out. I don’t know if the two sides will come to agreement on those tough issues. I don’t think anybody can be sure. These are complex issues that the two sides are extraordinarily divided on, and even within the two societies, so I don’t think anybody can sit here and say peace can be achieved. But I think it would be a shame if we didn’t continue to try desperately.”

Israel in the Region & the World

ICC prosecutor: Netanyahu’s anti-Semitism charge is ‘particularly regrettable’,

“The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court this week shot back at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who last month accused her of ‘pure anti-Semitism’ for seeking to investigate possible war crimes committed in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. ‘This is a particularly regrettable accusation that is without merit,’ Fatou Bensouda told The Times of Israel in a wide-ranging interview. ‘I, along with my office, execute our mandate under the Rome Statute with utmost independence, objectivity, fairness and professional integrity. We will continue to meet our responsibilities as required by the Rome Statute without fear or favor,’ she added.”

With international law under siege, can the ICC bring justice to Palestinians?,

“Even with the legal proceedings going forward, the experts warn that heavy political pressure against the court could prolong the process, interfere in the investigation, and block the arrest of indicted suspects in the future. This pressure is principally coming from Israel and the U.S. — neither of which are signatories to the Rome Statute and both of which are openly undermining the court (the Trump administration has denied visas to Bensouda and other ICC personnel for investigating U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan). European reactions have also been apprehensive, if not antagonistic, toward the ICC campaign. Despite proclaiming their commitment to international law, European governments have discouraged Palestinian efforts to actually enforce that law, including through sanctions and accountability measures.”

How Israel benefits from US media linking it to Soleimani hit - analysis,

“..ambiguity and silence does seem the smartest course of action, and one that Netanyahu instructed his ministers to follow immediately after the killing.But there is also another way to look at the US media reports as well: it shows the degree of intimacy and cooperation that exists between the US and Israel, something that from time to time it is important for both Israel’s enemies and the American public to see.It is not necessarily bad for Israel, facing the security challenges that it does, when its enemies see the level of cooperation that exists between it and the most powerful military and intelligence power in the world. The very knowledge of that close coordination may deter reckless action against the Jewish state.”

King Abdullah: Annexation talk, absence of gov’t harm Israel-Jordan ties,

“Israeli annexation plans and its absence of a government are harming Jordan’s relations with the Jewish state, King Abdullah told France 24 in an interview published on Monday. Regarding the possibility that US President Donald Trump’s peace plan would soon be unveiled, he told the French television station on the eve of a visit this week to Brussels, Strasbourg and Paris: ‘We keep hearing that sometime soon the plan would be presented.’…Jordan and the European Union believe the resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines, with east Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state. The Trump administration has hinted that its plan is unlikely to include this scenario and has been quiet with regard to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election pledges to annex West Bank settlements, beginning with the Jordan Valley.”

Israeli Journalist Reporting from Saudi Arabia: 'I never thought I would see this in my lifetime',

“i24NEWS correspondent Henrique Cymerman traveled to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to report on how the kingdom has changed in recent months, or at least tried to change. ‘For the first time, Saudi Arabia is receiving hundreds of thousands of tourists,” he reported, citing the decision of the crown prince to approve visas from 50 different nations. There is ‘huge reform in the status of women,’ he said. He also quoted one woman who had just opened a cafe as saying, ‘I never thought I would see this in my lifetime, that as a woman, I would be the director and the founder of a business.’” [Another view: Saudi Arabia executed 184 people in 2019: Rights group]

Israeli politics

Israel’s Top Arab Politician: Gantz's Party Wanted to Treat Us Like a Mistress,

“‘I think Kahol Lavan wanted to treat us like a mistress. They wanted to use us for two or three months just to throw Bibi out and then form a unity government. [Kahol Lavan MK] Ofer Shelah sat with us secretly and asked us not to tell anyone. I told him that first we’ll finish the recommendations, then we’ll reveal the negotiations. And they, like a man who doesn’t want anyone to know he’s having an affair, were very angry. I did it intentionally, to show everyone that we were talking and the sky didn’t fall. We sat, took pictures and talked together.’”

Senior Israeli Journalist Forced to Retract Claim Arab Party Is 'Terrorist Group',

“A prominent Israeli journalist will have to publish a statement clarifying past remarks accusing an Israeli Arab party of being ‘a terrorist group with party funding,’ a court ruled on Monday. Balad, one of the four factions in the Joint List alliance, Israel’s third largest party, took Channel 12 News political reporter and analyst Amit Segal to court in March over comments made a month earlier on the channel’s flagship political program, Meet the Press, demanding 280,000 shekels ($81,000) in damages. Segal, known for his right-wing views, will publish a clarification on Twitter and read it out on TV, the settlement said.”

In huge U-turn, New Right joins up with hard-right National Union,

“In a massive U-turn, the New Right Party of Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked announced that it is joining up with the hard-right National Union Party for the upcoming election, despite having said less than 24 hours earlier that it was running alone. Announcing the new union, Bennett, Shaked and National Union leader Bezalel Smotrich called on Bayit Yehudi leader Rabbi Rafi Peretz to bring his party into a unified list of all right wing and religious parties to the right of Likud. ‘This is a great day. We have brought about a great unification of the ideological right and religious-Zionism,’ declared Bennett, despite having said on Tuesday that New Right was running as ‘the party of the liberal, ideological right.’”

Israeli Right-wing Parties Announce Last-minute Merger; Bennett Vetoes Kahanists,

“The Israeli right-wing parties Hayamin Hehadash and National Union announced Tuesday that they would run on a joint slate in the March 2 election, breaking an impasse in talks between the parties a day before the final deadline to register party slates. The agreement between the leaders of the right-wing Hayamin Hehadash party, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, and Bezalel Smotrich of the National Union leaves the door open for the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party to join the slate as well. However, Bennett has ruled out any partnership with the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party, which has joined forces with Habayit Hayehudi on a joint slate of their own.” Also see: Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut party won’t run with Bennett and Smotrich’s joint list

Wife of jailed Rabin assassin Yigal Amir registers party calling for his freedom,

“The wife of Yigal Amir, the man who assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at a peace rally 24 years ago, officially registered a new political party on Tuesday to run in March’s election, as the Central Elections Committee kicked off two days of party registration. Filing forms for the Mishpat Tzedek (Fair Trial) party, Larissa Trimbobler-Amir called for a retrial for her convicted husband and ‘all other innocent people unjustly incarcerated.’ Yigal Amir’s mother, Geula Amir, is placed number six on the list of eight candidates presented by the new party.” [From the archives: Nov. 7, 1995, Washington Post: ACCUSED KILLER: MURDER WAS MY OBLIGATION’]

With the Labor-Meretz Merger, the Party That Founded Israel May Be Over,

“Israel’s center-left was once wide enough to hold both Labor and Mapam, or Meretz in its current evolution. As recently as 1992, they won a total of 56 seats together, or 44 percent of the electorate. But the last two governments in which they cooperated, headed by Labor’s Yitzhak Rabin and then Ehud Barak, focused on the Oslo peace process. When the Second Intifada and the exploding buses and coffee shops came along, the two parties’ key policy was discredited in the eyes of most Israelis. Labor was no longer seen as the responsible centrist option. Parties with charismatic leaders but vague policies (Kadima, Yesh Atid, Kahol Lavan) captured Labor’s traditional position.”

The Israeli Left's Labor-Meretz Linkup: An Alliance Forged by Fear, Not Love,

“There is a reasonable possibility that the joint Labor-Gesher-Meretz ticket will get fewer seats in the next Knesset than the parties would have achieved on their own, (assuming, of course, that they would have passed the minimum 3.25 percent vote threshold separately). But they also faced the potential – and a rather catastrophic one at that – of about 150,000 left-wing votes going down the drain. That would lead to a right-wing coalition marked by corruption, immunity for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a move towards annexation in the West Bank.”

Israel’s Meretz party giving up on Arabs,

“Even before the decision of a joint run, Meretz signaled that it will not have an Arab candidate in a realistic slot on its list. This direction was confirmed after the unification. Knesset member Issawi Freij had saved Meretz twice: first in April 2019, when he managed to recruit thousands of voters in Arab settlements, particularly his own town of Kafr Qassem, and again in the September 2019 election, when he pushed for the party to join forces with Ehud Barak. This time around he has been pushed to the fifth slot on Meretz’s list. More so, with the unification, he is now placed in the 11th slot — a spot that is hardly electable.”

For Israel's Left, Jewish-Arab Partnership 'Unwanted,' Activists Charge After Merger,

“Arab activists in both Labor-Gesher and Meretz are furious over the joint run announced by the two left-wing parties, seeing downgraded representation as a slap in their faces. ‘In April, the Arabs saved Meretz, partly because of appropriate representation, with two spots in the top five,’ former Meretz MK Esawi Freige, a previous contender for joint party leadership, said. ‘Now, I find myself like an activist whose bulldozer was stolen and replaced with a shovel,’ Freige said. He will be the highest-placed Arab candidate in the consolidated slate, taking the 11th spot. This is an explicit statement to Meretz voters in the Arab community that partnership with them is unwanted, he thinks. ‘One can’t talk about partnership and equal treatment of the Arab community without giving it realistic and suitable representation,’ he said.”

Poll indicates left-wing merger will not end ongoing political deadlock,

“A TV survey released on Monday hours after the left-wing Labor and Meretz parties agreed on a merger indicated that the alliance would not pay dividends at the polls, nor would it break the political stalemate that has condemned Israel to its third election within a year. Labor and Meretz received five and four seats respectively in the September election. According to the Channel 12 poll, they will receive nine seats as a joint list come March 2. However, the largest party in the center-left bloc, Blue and White, did manage to widen its lead over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, with the survey predicting that Benny Gantz’s party would receive 34 seats compared to 31 for the premier’s faction.”