Top News from Israel & Palestine: March 31, 2021

What We’re Reading

The U.S. Scene

2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Israel, West Bank and Gaza,

“This section of the report covers Israel within the 1949 Armistice Agreement line as well as Golan Heights and East Jerusalem territories that Israel occupied during the June 1967 war and where it later extended its domestic law, jurisdiction, and administration. The United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017 and Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights in 2019. Language in this report is not meant to convey a position on any final status issues to be negotiated between the parties to the conflict, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the borders between Israel and any future Palestinian state.”


  • “State Department revives pre-Trump use of ‘occupied’ Israeli territory language, but with caveats” (JTA)
  • “US report reaffirms Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, speaks of occupation” (Jerusalem Post)
  • “In return to pre-Trump norm, State Dep’t report refers to ‘occupied’ territories” (The Times of Israel)
  • Nahal Toosi via Twitter: “I just asked the Biden administration’s State Department officials if they believe the West Bank is occupied by Israel. They would not say.”
  • “Biden sticks to Trump’s language on Israel, scraps ‘Occupied Territories’ from report” (i24 News)
  • “US rights report keeps Trump language on Israel, Palestinian territories” (Al-Monitor)

The glaringly dishonest attacks on Biden’s humanitarian aid to Palestinians,

“Last week, the Biden administration announced $15 million in COVID-related humanitarian aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. In response, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) accused the administration of “bowing to terrorists” and implied that aid to the Palestinians “no matter what pot of money the U.S. assigns those funds to” violates U.S. law and defies the will of Congress…These people and groups have the right, of course, to object to U.S. assistance to the Palestinians, even if many would counter that opposing humanitarian aid during a pandemic is cruel and even immoral. But it is demonstrably false to argue that resuming aid cut by President Trump violates the law and the will of Congress. And at the core of this falsehood is a re-writing of history to suggest that Congress has barred all aid to the Palestinians, and that this is why President Trump cut it off.”

Meet the Democrat Aiming to Be Israel’s Biggest Champion in Congress,

“Rep. Elaine Luria, a second-term Democratic congresswoman from Virginia, has quickly emerged as perhaps the most outspoken defender of Israel from her party in Congress. A self-described “unabashed supporter” of the U.S.-Israel relationship, the 45-year-old Navy veteran has made a concerted effort to be a vocal proponent of this bond – even if that means going against the party line. Luria tells Haaretz that her support for Israel and outspokenness on antisemitism is informed by her own experience growing up as a Jewish woman in the South. She says she did not encounter explicit antisemitism growing up, “but things were what they were. My parents couldn’t attend certain elementary schools, there were certain social things in Birmingham that Jews were not allowed to be part of.””

Andrew Yang continues criticism of BDS movement,

“New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang took aim at the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in an interview on Friday. Yang said the movement, which supports a variety of boycotts of Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians, goes beyond reasonable criticism of the Israeli government. “BDS specifically as an organization, as a movement has refused to disavow extremist elements that have essentially said Israel does not have a right to exist,” said Yang on the progressive show Secular Talk. “So that’s quite extreme.””

Lawfare & Weaponizing Antisemitism to Quash Criticism of Israel

U.S. Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Filed by Jewish National Fund Against Palestinian Rights Nonprofit,

“The JNF had accused the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR) of engaging in “material support for terrorism,” citing their speech and expressive activity, including their support for the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The JNF—a quasi-state institution in Israel that acquires and administers land for the sole benefit of the Jewish people—also sought to hold the USCPR liable for their participation in the “Stop the JNF” campaign, an advocacy campaign that sought to highlight the JNF’s own unlawful and discriminatory practices. In an opinion handed down yesterday afternoon, the court characterized the plaintiffs’ arguments as, “to say the least, not persuasive.””

Also See – “US judge dismisses lawsuit linking Palestine solidarity group to ‘terrorism‘” (Middle East Eye)

PBS Suspends Debut of Israeli Documentary on evangelicals-Israel Relations for ‘Editorial Review’,

“PBS has decided to postpone airing the documentary “Til Kingdom Come,” which examines the close relationship between American evangelicals and Israel, in the light of accusations that the film misleadingly spliced together two separate parts of a speech by former President Donald Trump. The review appears to have been triggered by a report, issued March 21, by the pro-Israel watchdog group CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. CAMERA said the documentary contained inaccurate editing of a quote by Trump during a January 2020 appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after releasing his long-awaited Middle East peace plan. Per CAMERA, the documentary presented the then-president’s quote as stating that “the United States will recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory that my vision provides to be part of the State of Israel, including the West Bank described so vividly in the Bible.” This is the actual quote by Trump: “The United States will recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory that my vision provides to be part of the State of Israel,” with the reference to “the West Bank described so vividly in the Bible” coming from a different part of the speech. The word “including” also is not part of the original quote.”

New antisemitism definition excludes BDS, but Palestine activists say it’s still flawed,

“The Palestine BDS National Committee (BNC) published a critique of the JDA on its website. The statement acknowledges that the JDA provides a “coherent and accurate definition of antisemitism” that can be used as an important tool in combating  “anti-Palestinian McCarthyism,” but it also contains multiple criticisms…One of the BNC’s problems with the JDA is that its focus on Palestine reinforces “anti-Jewish racism with the struggle for Palestinian liberation.” They also point out that it excludes Palestinian perspectives and omits any mention of white supremacy…Palestine Legal Director Dima Khalidi expressed similar sentiments in a statement released by the group. “The JDA rightly intends to ameliorate the harm that IHRA’s promoters have done in equating anti-Zionism with antisemitism to censor speech,” it reads. “But the new definition risks reinforcing the impulse to decide for Palestinians and their allies what is acceptable to say about Israel and Palestinians’ lived experiences.”

Criticism of Israel and Its Policies Isn't Antisemitism,

“The Israeli government and its supporters have a keen interest in blurring the distinction between criticism of Israel and antisemitism, in order to paint any substantive, harsh criticism of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians as antisemitic. By these lights, opposing the occupation is considered antisemitic, BDS is antisemitic, criticism of Zionism is antisemitic, and the International Criminal Court in the Hague is of course without a shadow of doubt antisemitic. The Israeli government and its supporters have put tremendous effort into advancing this notion. Just recently, Haaretz published a comprehensive report on the witch hunt taking place in Germany against critics of Israeli government policy….Antisemitism is indeed a mounting threat around the world and must be fought as strongly as possible. However, turning this effort into one that is meant to defend Israel’s policies against criticism greatly weakens it, because it diverts attention from the much more dominant and dangerous expressions of antisemitism that are occurring.”


PODCAST: Will this Palestinian matriarch get to keep her Jerusalem home?,

“For the past year, as the coronavirus pandemic spread across the world, home has become an especially important source of shelter and safety. While some governments have responded to pressure from activists and paused evictions, Palestinians in East Jerusalem still face uncertainty. That’s the case with the Sumarin family, who live just outside Jerusalem’s Old City in the Palestinian village of Silwan. The Jewish National Fund and the Elad organization have long been promoting Jewish settlement in the area — often at the expense of the Palestinian residents. In April, after a decades-long legal battle, an Israeli court will finally decide whether the Sumarin family will be forcibly evicted from their home. On this episode of the +972 podcast, we teamed up with Unsettled Podcast to tell the story of the Sumarin family and their struggle to remain in the house they’ve lived in for generations.

Israeli forces rearrest Palestinian man celebrating release after 20 years in prison,

“The scenes of jubilation following the Tuesday release of Magd Barbar, a Palestinian man who spent 20 years in jail, were brought to an abrupt and violent halt that night when he was rearrested by Israeli forces. Barbar was later released on Wednesday afternoon, the Handala Center NGO said. The 45-year-old was first arrested in 2001 at the peak of the Second Intifada, and was charged with belonging to the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Marxist-Leninist group, and plotting military acts against Israeli targets. When he was arrested, Barbar was forced to leave behind a 15-day-old daughter and two-year-old son. Israeli forces raided Barbar’s home on Tuesday evening while hosting guests and relatives who came to visit him. Palestine’s Red Crescent reported that 12 people were wounded by rubber-coated bullets, tear-gas suffocation and beatings.”


Palestinian Authority receives more vaccine doses from China ,

“The Palestinian Authority received more COVID-19 vaccine doses on Tuesday. Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaileh said they received 100,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine, according to the PA’s WAFA News Agency. Both the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip have been administering vaccine doses to protect the Palestinian population from the coronavirus. The PA, which is the internationally recognized representative of the Palestinian people, expanded its vaccine drive this month after receiving 60,000 doses via the World Health Organization. The vaccine campaign began in Gaza in February after the arrival of doses from Russia and the United Arab Emirates.”

Israeli coronavirus mutation discovered in the country,

“So far, some 181 people are known to have been infected with the mutation, according to the paper, but health officials believe there could be hundreds more who were infected with the virus. Nonetheless, the British variant remains the dominant strain in Israel, still constituting at least 90% of all cases. The strain has not been associated with higher infection rates nor does it appear to cause more serious illness. Furthermore, the Pfizer vaccine appears effective against it.”

Israel endorses international plan to vaccinate 7,000 Gaza traders,

“Publications today indicate that Jerusalem has approved an international operation to vaccinate against the coronavirus thousands of traders from the Gaza Strip so that they can cross the border into Israel and travel to the West Bank. The operation is designed not only to reduce the growing spread of the pandemic in the Strip, but also to kickstart the Palestinian territories’ struggling economy — two motivations that both Israel and Hamas share. The outline agreed upon reportedly foresees the setup of a vaccination center at the Gaza Erez crossing point on the Israeli side. The center will be manned by foreign medical teams, probably by a humanitarian/relief organization. The Palestinian traders will be vaccinated with Pfizer doses, which is the same vaccine used by Israel in its immunization drive and recognized by Israeli authorities for the sake of the green passport system. Qatar will fund the purchase of the 14,000 doses for the two phases of vaccination of the 7,000 traders.”

Palestinian Elections

Barghouti to challenge Abbas in parliament, ahead of possible presidential bid,

“Palestinian prisoner Marwan Barghouti, convicted by an Israeli court of several acts of terrorism, has decided to run his own list of candidates in the upcoming election to challenge Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s official Fatah list, Barghouti’s associates said on Tuesday night. “The decision came after it was confirmed to Marwan Barghouti that the Fatah movement did not comply with what was agreed upon with regard to choosing the names on the movement’s list,” Barghouti’s brother Muqbil told Qatar-based Al-Araby TV.”

Also See

EU: Israel not granting visas to its delegation on Palestinian elections,

“Israel has yet to grant visas for a preliminary European Union delegation that wants to prepare for its representatives to observe the Palestinian elections scheduled for May 22 and as a result its observers may not be able to participate fully in the event, the EU said. “The delay has considerably reduced the EU option to observe the 22 May legislative Elections,” the EU Representative Office in Jerusalem said.”

‘Fatah to the bone’: Who is Palestinian official Nasser al-Qudwa?,

“Senior Palestinian official and diplomat Nasser al-Qudwa was sacked from the Fatah political party after his surprise announcement to run a separate list from Fatah in the May 22 legislative elections. His dismissal on March 11 came after a statement issued by Fatah’s Central Committee said it took the decision “in order to preserve the unity of the movement”. The statement also said the ultimatum given to al-Qudwa to retract his intention to run in his new National Democratic Forum list had expired. For his part, the senior official and diplomat responded by saying: “The decision taken by an influential party in the Central Committee raises concern and pity over the state of affairs in the movement, as it does not respect the internal order or the political logic.” Al-Qudwa also stressed he will remain “Fatah to the bone” and that he will remain invested in “the interests of Fatah”. He also backed Marwan Barghouthi, a Fatah leader currently serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison, for president in the July 31 presidential election. The saga, which reflects the political divisions within Fatah and outdated agenda to the younger Palestinian population as a whole, comes 15 years since the last legislative elections, which rival movement Hamas won with a comfortable majority.”

Will Fatah change approach to women during upcoming elections?,

“The Palestinian Fatah movement and the Democratic Reform Current headed by dismissed Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan have been witnessing remarkable activity by female cadres ahead of the May 22 legislative elections in an attempt to avoid past errors, including overlooking the important role women play, that helped to Fatah’s loss in the polls in 2006. The neglect of women by the Fatah movement seemingly pushed women to vote for Hamas in the 2006 legislative elections, showing the need to enhance and renew women’s presence in Fatah’s leadership. This led Fatah’s Sixth Congress in 2013 to issue recommendations to promote women’s representation in the movement.”

The Israeli Domestic Scene

Coalition Machinations - Headlines,

  • “Lapid said ready to be 2nd in rotation with Bennett but won’t let him form gov’t” (The Times of Israel)
  • “Sa’ar tells Yair Lapid to let Naftali Bennett be prime minister” (Jerusalem Post)
  • “Likud Blasts President for ‘Meddling’ in Elections as He Mulls Whether to Let Netanyahu Form Government” (Haaretz)
  • “Israel president: ‘Unconventional’ unions needed after vote” (Associated Press)
  • “Religious Zionism’s Smotrich says he’ll back Netanyahu as PM” (The Times of Israel)

Israel has no planned approach, response to ICC, with 9 days to go,

“Senior ministers have not held a meeting to discuss and decide on Israel’s approach to the pending International Criminal Court investigation in the three weeks since receiving the official letter from the Hague announcing the probe, a senior government source said on Wednesday. Jerusalem’s response to the ICC is due on April 9, a month after ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda sent the letter notifying Israel that she is opening a war crimes investigation. The probe against Israel is expected to include 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, the riots at the Gaza border in 2018, and the settlement enterprise, including east Jerusalem. Among the senior officials who could be vulnerable to war crimes suits are Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who was IDF chief of staff in 2014, and others, as well as hundreds of IDF officers.”

Israeli Right-wing Group Used Forged Documents to Tarnish Leftist Activists,

“Earlier this month, a judge deemed an Ad Kan document against Neta Hazan, a Combatants for Peace activist, was targeted by Ad Kan inadmissible and inauthentic. In addition, the judge supported Hazan’s claim that the document was forged. This in addition to a past event, where two Ad Kan’s documents were published by the media, implicated Ezra Nawi, a left-wing activist. After a police investigation of the documents, it determined that at least one of them was forged. In 2015, Ad Kan was established and started assigning members to infiltrate left-wing and human right organizations, which Ad Kan perceives as anti-Israeli, with the purpose of exposing incriminating information. The revealed information is then disclosed with media outlets and law enforcement agencies.”

“It is only a matter of time until a genocide survivor sues an Israeli defense company”,

“Attorney Eitay Mack, who dedicates his life to greater public oversight of Israel’s military export, and to exposing alleged arms and technology deals with dark regimes, explains to Israel Defense that if the current path continues, the country could find itself in a lot of trouble”

Normalization & News from the Region

China, With $400 Billion Iran Deal, Could Deepen Influence in Mideast,

“China agreed to invest $400 billion in Iran over 25 years in exchange for a steady supply of oil to fuel its growing economy under a sweeping economic and security agreement signed on Saturday. The deal could deepen China’s influence in the Middle East and undercut American efforts to keep Iran isolated. But it was not immediately clear how much of the agreement can be implemented while the U.S. dispute with Iran over its nuclear program remains unresolved….China is even ready to play host to direct talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, hinting that American dominance in the region has hindered peace and development.”

Also See – “Palestinians welcome Chinese peace initiative” (Al-Monitor)

Bahrain appoints first-ever head of mission in Israel,

“Bahrain has appointed Khaled Yousif Al-Jalahma as head of its diplomatic mission to Israel, state news agency BNA reported on Tuesday following a deal to establish relations last year…The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said that a team from Bahrain would arrive in Israel in the coming weeks to make the necessary arrangements for the Bahraini embassy, set to be located in Tel Aviv.”

Turkey tells Israel it is ready to exchange ambassadors again,

“Turkey on Monday informed Israel that it is ready to dispatch an ambassador to Tel Aviv once the Israeli government commits to simultaneously reciprocating the measure, a senior Turkish official told Israel Hayom. The main point of contention between the two former allies remains the presence of senior Hamas officials on Turkish soil.”