Top News from Israel & Palestine: March 12, 2021

What We’re Reading

Settlements, Annexation, Human Rights

Jerusalem municipality rejects alternatives to Palestinian home demolitions,

“The Israeli-run Jerusalem municipality has cancelled all agreements with the Palestinian residents of Al-Bustan in East Jerusalem and rejected plans it had requested as an alternative to the demolition of their homes, the Silwan Defence Committee has confirmed. Committee member Fakhri Abu Diab told Wafa news agency that the municipality has objected to the community’s requests to freeze the demolition orders and is moving ahead to authorise them.”

Israel extends bans on PA governor entering Jerusalem,

“Israeli occupation authorities today issued the Palestinian Governor of occupied Jerusalem Adnan Ghaith an order banning any communication with President Mahmoud Abbas for seven days, while renewing the ban on him entering the occupied city for six months, reported Wafa news agency. The order also prohibits any contact between him and 51 high-ranking Palestinian security and political figures including members of the Fatah Central Committee. The decision also “prevents Ghaith from moving area and being present in the city of Jerusalem, except for his place of residence in Silwan, in the city centre.”‘ Also seeIsrael orders PA Governor of Jerusalem not to communicate with President Abbas” (WAFA)

Hamas claims Israeli drone, not Palestinian rocket, killed 3 fishermen,

“Three Palestinian fishermen died when they found an Israeli drone at sea rigged with explosives, Hamas said Thursday. Others have disputed the claim, however. The Palestinian political and military organization said the fishermen died when the drone exploded in the water off the coast of the Gaza Strip. However, the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights said the boat may have been hit by rockets being test-fired recently by Palestinian military groups in Gaza, Reuters reported Thursday.”

It's Not the First Time a Palestinian Dies This Way During a Nighttime Israeli Army Raid,

“A 69-year-old Palestinian woman suffered a fatal heart attack in her home when Israeli soldiers arrived in the middle of the night to arrest a relative – who wasn’t present. Last year IDF troops invaded some 2,500 homes in the West Bank….

According to data of B’Tselem, in 2020, a relatively quiet year, Israeli security forces carried out at least 3,000 nocturnal raids on Palestinian towns and villages. They invaded at least 2,480 homes and roughly woke up their occupants. According to data from the Palestinian coordination and liaison headquarters, from the beginning of 2021 until this past Monday, the IDF and the Shin Bet security service had carried out 692 patrols and 627 home invasions in Palestinian towns and villages, arresting 731 Palestinians, 63 of them minors. Virtually no night goes by without a raid, without an arrest.”

Israel/Palestine & the Region

Iran says container ship damaged in ‘terrorist’ attack in Mediterranean,

“An Iranian container ship traveling in the Mediterranean was damaged in an attack this week, an official said Friday, calling the incident a “terrorist act.””

Israel Has Struck at Least 12 Ships Carrying Iranian Oil to Syria, Report Says,

“Israel has attacked naval vessels heading to Syria several times since late 2019, fearing that oil sales are funding regional extremism, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. At least a dozen vessels, both Iranian and those carrying Iranian cargo, have been targeted, and were mainly carrying Iranian oil, according to the report.  The newspaper quoted unnamed U.S. officials as saying that some of the attacks targeted other cargo, including weapons. Israel declined to comment on the attacks, the Wall Street Journal said.”

Also see:

European, Arab diplomats attempt to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts,

“Leading European and Arab world diplomats announced potential “small steps” Thursday toward reviving Middle East peace efforts after upcoming Israeli and Palestinian elections. The officials — from the UN, EU, Egypt, Jordan, Germany, and France — did not release any specific details, however.”

Israel, UAE announce $10bn investment fund,

“The United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced yesterday that it was setting up a $10 billion investment fund aimed at strategic sectors in Israel….Reporting on the UAE-Israeli investment fund, Abu Dhabi’s official news agency WAM said that the Gulf kingdom will use the $10 billion fund to “invest in and alongside Israel, across sectors including energy manufacturing, water, space, healthcare and agri-tech.””

Israel Aerospace and UAE's EDGE to develop drones,

Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1) today announced it has agreed on a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with EDGE, the UAE’s advanced technology group to develop and manufacture an advanced C-UAS (Counter-Unmanned Aircraft System) solution tailored to the UAE market, with wider ranging benefits for the region and beyond. This is the first-ever publicized defense industries agreement between Israel and the UAE.”

Israeli drones used by Azerbaijan under spotlight in new TV report,

“Harop drones, a type of munition that acts as a drone but is also a warhead that slams into a target like a missile, played a key role in Azerbaijan’s recent war, according to a new report on Uvda, a program on Channel 12….In Azerbaijan, the report, which aired Friday, showed a military parade with numerous drones. Azerbaijan’s leaders and soldiers, as well as average people, praised the Israeli drones. These included the Elbit Systems Hermes 450 and 900 and the Harop and others. Azerbaijan put the drones on a pedestal in the parades, and some even said it might be good to have a monument to them.”

Jordan says Crown Prince canceled Al-Aqsa Mosque visit after Israel violated arrangements,

“Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said yesterday that Prince Al-Hussein bin Abdullah II, the Crown Prince, had canceled a visit scheduled to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to mark the Night of Isra wal Mi’raj due to Israel’s breach of access arrangements to the Mosque’s yards and the attempt to impose complications that would have restricted the movement of Palestinians.” Also seeJordan: Crown prince nixed Jerusalem visit due to Israeli ‘restrictions‘” (JPost) and “Israeli police obstruct worshipers access to Al-Aqsa, detain five” (WAFA)

Biden aides hold talks with Israel on Iran, regional issues,

“Top U.S. and Israeli national security officials met Thursday by secure video conference for their first round of talks on Iran and other regional issues as the Biden administration looks to avoid antagonizing Israel while attempting to resurrect the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal. The first virtual U.S.-Israel Strategic Consultative Group meeting led by national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat, comes as President Joe Biden’s national security team has stepped up efforts to engage the Israelis about his Iran efforts.”

Israeli Scene & Elections

Hundreds Protest Over 14-year-old's Murder in Arab Israeli Town,

“Hundreds are protesting for the ninth consecutive week against the violence plaguing Arab Israeli communities, as well as what they claim to be police inaction in the face of these crimes….Last week, over 10,000 people joined the crowds in the city to protest violence in their communities and the police response to it, as well as police brutality towards Arabs. They blocked off the main highway nearby, waving black and Palestinian flags.”

Labor Chair Slams Fellow Left-wing Leader Over ICC Remarks: 'Israel Doesn't Commit War Crimes',

“Labor Party chairwoman Merav Michaeli on Wednesday expressed opposition to the expected investigation of alleged Israeli war crimes by the International Criminal Court, and criticized Meretz party head Nitzan Horowitz for blaming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the settlement movement and Israel’s right wing for the investigation.

“It’s really not good. I don’t think the court has the authority to investigate Israel,” Michaeli said, adding that “Israel does not commit war crimes. It complies with international law governing war, unequivocally. Israel has a strong, independent legal establishment that faces terrible attacks, but that’s what protects us from these things.””

American Scene

Jewish groups ask Homeland Security chief to maintain ‘Made in Israel’ label policy,

“Together with 24 pro-Israel Jewish and rabbinic groups, the Zionist Organization of America spearheaded a letter to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas on Monday urging him to maintain the current U.S. policy of labeling goods from Judea and Samaria as “Made in Israel.” … It also included the assertion that the policy is “essential” for combating anti-Semitic discrimination and boycotts against Jewish products “made in the historic Jewish homelands of Judea and Samaria.””

Blinken grilled for maintaining Trump’s sanctions on war crimes court,

“Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended the Trump administration’s position on the International Criminal Court at a Wednesday congressional hearing and refused to say whether U.S. sanctions against war crimes investigators would be lifted…“Are you saying there is legitimacy to the sanctions that were placed under Trump on the ICC?” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D–Minn.) asked. “No, all I’m saying is that it’s something that is under review, and at the same time we have real concerns about some of the assertions of jurisdiction with which we disagree,” Blinken replied.”

No AIPAC conference? No problem. We’re meeting for coffee on Zoom.,

“Next week, AIPAC is expecting 900 activists to convene online for its National Council and replicate the last day of the typical policy conference when thousands of activists knock on doors on the Hill promoting three requests. There are almost 500 congressional meetings scheduled….

The virtual lobbying has been effective, according to a senior congressional staffer not with AIPAC who deals with foreign policy.

“The same work is getting done,” said the staffer, who asked for anonymity to speak candidly about dealing with lobbyists and activists. “It’s the same conversations. It’s just virtually. There isn’t a dinner, but people are attending panels, and the operation on the Hill doesn’t feel any different.”’

A Rundown School for Palestinian Children Awaits U.S. Aid,

“But while a number of people in Jaba say they are optimistic that the Biden administration will restore the needed funding, bipartisan legislation known as the Taylor Force Act, signed into law by President Donald J. Trump in 2018, could complicate efforts to do that. The act restricts the U.S. government’s ability to disburse aid that “directly benefits” the Palestinian Authority as long as the authority pays salaries to families of Palestinian security prisoners and slain attackers. Analysts, however, said that what “directly benefits” the Palestinian Authority must be defined by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.”

Attacking NGOs/Civil Society

Federal court dismisses $110 million tax suit against New Israel Fund,

“A New York federal court has dismissed a $110 million lawsuit against the New Israel Fund that accused the liberal group of violating U.S. tax laws in its funding for Israeli groups that advocate for social justice issues. The plaintiff, the Zionist Advocacy Center, agreed to the ruling posted Thursday by the Manhattan District Court and pledged not to file further lawsuits….

On the same day, Abrams was also defeated in a case he brought against UCLA. He sued to have the university reveal the names of presenters at a 2018 conference organized by Students for Justice in Palestine, but the judge rejected his argument that the names should be a matter of public record. Abrams can now file an appeal.”

Victory: California Court Rules for Pro-Palestinian Activists in Doxing Case,

Rejecting demands for the names of speakers at a private National Students for Justice in Palestine (NSJP) conference, a judge in California ruled today that disclosure would violate the presenters’ rights to freedom of association, speech and privacy.

The decision in the case, Abrams v. The Regents of the University of California, marks the first time that a court in the U.S. has acknowledged the McCarthyite environment faced by those speaking out for Palestinian rights. This decision rejects the notion that students lose their constitutional rights when advocating for the rights of Palestinians at a public university.”

Also see, “A Pro-Israel Lawyer is Weaponizing Public Records Law Against Palestinian Activists” (The Intercept)

From courts to campuses, US Palestine advocates are reclaiming their free speech,

“Despite the relentless attempts at repression, the context in which to fight for Palestinian rights has “fundamentally changed,” says Meera Shah, a senior staff attorney at Palestine Legal. The organization, which works to protect the civil liberties of Palestinian rights advocates in the United States, reported that it had responded to 213 incidents of suppression of Palestine advocacy in 2020, 80 percent of which targeted students and academics across 68 college campuses. Yet with U.S. courts striking down anti-boycott legislation as unconstitutional, and cross-movement organizing helping to undermine efforts to smear Israel critics as antisemitic, Palestine advocates are in a much better position to press the Biden administration “to do more and to do better,” Shah told +972 in an interview. “For those who are trying to speak out for Palestinians: keep on doing that, and we will have your back. We’re there for when the backlash comes.””

New Research // Long Read

The U.S. Billionaires Secretly Funding the Right-wing Effort to Reshape Israel,

“Kohelet was founded only in 2012, but it is constantly growing – today its staff employs 140 researchers – consistently heightening the influence it wields in the state’s decision-making centers: Knesset, government, courts. And by influencing these key levers of power it is effectively recasting Israeli right-wing ideology in an American-libertarian image: right-wing, Jewish nationalism coupled to conservative economics. From one flank, it promotes the settlements, from the other, privatization. The whole Land of Israel yes, socialism no. Even as Kohelet keeps a low public profile, its impact on Israeli society is inculcated not only by its connections with officialdom, but also by the network of right-wing, civil-society organizations it itself has created….

Tracking the annual donations, which pass through several nonprofit groups in the United States, we discover that the money leads to two names: Jeffrey Yass and Arthur Dantchik. Neither are household names in Israel, or in the United States, for that matter – and not by chance. The two billionaires are strictly low-profile, even though they are among the biggest donors to the Republican Party, notably its Trumpian wing. They are also among the major donors to conservative and libertarian organizations in their home country that resemble Kohelet politically.”