Eyes on Jerusalem
“Israeli forces raided the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of occupied East Jerusalem for the second night on Tuesday, spraying skunk water, a chemically enhanced type of sewage water, and physically assaulting residents and solidarity protesters. Several Palestinians were arrested, including Tala Obeid, Omar al-Khatib and Mahmoud Nabil al-Kurd, whose families face displacement from their homes in occupied East Jerusalem. Al-Kurd along with another Palestinian was released on Wednesday morning, but the detention of al-Khatib, a local activist, has been extended. Palestinians have been protesting against the forced displacement of people in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood following an Israeli court order. The Israeli district court in East Jerusalem approved a decision to vacate six Palestinian families from their homes in May in favour of Israeli settlers. The same court ruled that another seven families in Sheikh Jarrah are to leave their homes by August 1. Palestinians fear it is part of an ongoing effort by Israeli settlers to take control of Palestinian homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.”
“The leader of Hamas’ military wing, Mohammed Deif, warned Israel on Tuesday that the group was closely watching developments in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, saying Israel would pay a heavy price if “the aggression doesn’t stop.” “The military wing will not sit by, and it will respond,” Deif said.”
‘For the first time in 53 years, Israel has underhandedly began land registration procedures in East Jerusalem, exclusively registering land rights of properties to alleged Jewish owners without the public’s knowledge. Such a move is unprecedented and has potential acute ramifications on Palestinian properties across East Jerusalem, which could ultimately lead to widespread Palestinian dispossession in the city. These measures are being carried out under the guise of the 2018 Government Decision 3790 – “Narrowing Socioeconomic Gaps & Promoting Economic Development in East Jerusalem,” which includes a provision to promote land registration. The Israeli authorities have initiated these proceedings in the Umm Haroun section of Sheikh Jarrah, located in the Old City Basin, the most politically contested and religiously sensitive area of Jerusalem. Due to the acute absence of due process in the land registration procedures, the Sheikh Jarrah community association, together with Bimkom–Planners for Planning Rights and Ir Amim, filed an urgent petition to the Israeli High Court of Justice.”
“The Israel Police banned Jewish visitors from Temple Mount, Israeli media reported on Tuesday, after tensions in the Old City of the Israeli capital. According to media reports, the appropriate message was relayed to organizations arranging such visits. The purported move is designed to ward off further tensions after clashes and riots in eastern Jerusalem amid the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Jews, however, will be allowed to enter the area on Jerusalem Day next week.” Also See – “Netanyahu said to curb Temple Mount access in deal with ultra-conservative rabbi” (The Times of Israel)
“Following the District Committee’s closed discussion last week on the Har Homa E plan for 540 housing units, the committee published its decision on May 3 to approve the plan on the condition that a few minor modifications are made. Since the requested amendments are technical and fairly uncomplicated, they will likely be completed within the coming months. For example, one of the requests centers on issues of park and landscape in the area: the committee instructed the plan’s initiators to more significantly mark bike paths along the nearby road within the skeleton plan.”
“On Tuesday, JIPS researchers presented President Reuven Rivlin with a statistical review of the capital for 2021, which showed that Jerusalem continues to be the largest city in Israel. At the end of 2020, the capital’s population comprised 952,000 residents. The average age in Jerusalem, 24, was much lower compared to the national average, 30. In Tel Aviv, the average age was 36, in Haifa, 38. At the same time, the Jewish population in the capital is statistically older than the Arab one. In 2019, the average Jewish resident was 26 years old and the Arab resident was 22.” Also See – “Jerusalem’s Jewish majority hits new low” (Arutz Sheva); “Political pressure hinders Jewish construction in east Jerusalem, report finds” (Israel Hayom)
Occupation, Annexation, Settlements, & Human Rights
“Israeli settlers Tuesday evening torched Palestinian farmlands and attacked houses in Burin village, south of Nablus, according to an official. Ghassan Daghlas, who monitors Israeli colonial settlement activities in the northern West Bank, said that Israeli settlers set fire to a large tract of farmland in the eastern section of the town and attacked at least three houses. The settlers came from Bracha, an illegal colonial settlement inhabited by hardcore fanatic Jews.” Also See – “Israel settlers set fire to Palestine farmland in Nablus” (MEMO)
“Israeli forces have surrounded a house in the Palestinian village of Aqraba near Nablus, where the suspected shooter in Sunday’s West Bank attack is reportedly hiding, and a firefight has broken out. Residents of the village reported smoke and sounds of explosions and gunfire. According to Palestinian reports, the Israeli army has yet to apprehend the suspect.”
“The perpetrator of a drive-by shooting attack on Sunday that left three Israelis wounded is a U.S. citizen, Palestinian reports say. Residents of the West Bank town of Turmus Ayya identified the shooter, who is still on the loose, as Muntassir Shalabi. One resident told Haaretz that Shalabi recently returned from the United States, where he had lived for several years, and that he was in dire economic straits after rapidly losing money through gambling. Some of his family members denied his involvement in the shooting, which took place at Tapuah Junction. Three 19-year-old yeshiva students were wounded, one critically, in the attack.”
“Israeli forces today continued to blockade Aqraba town, south of the northern West Bank city of Nablus, for the third consecutive day, according to local sources. They said that the Israeli soldiers sealed off the town, paralyzing the movement of the town residents and preventing them from entering or leaving purportedly as part of their active pursuit of the suspected perpetrator of a drive-by shooting, which left three settlers injured, at the northern West Bank junction of Zaatara, also known to Israeli settlers as Tapuah.”
“Israeli settlers Wednesday overnight erected a several caravans to serve as the nucleus of a new colonial outpost near Beita town, south of Nablus, according to an official. Ghassan Daghlas, who monitors Israeli colonial settlement activities in the northern West Bank, confirmed that the settlers took advantage of the closure imposed by the Israeli military on the southern rural areas of Nablus to set up a number of mobile homes atop Jabal Sbeih (Sbeih Mountain) near the town.”
“The violent incident in Jaffa last month in which two Arab youths from the Amidar housing projects assaulted the head of the Shirat Moshe Yeshiva was a watershed moment in Jewish-Arab relations in the city. Since the national-religious settlement effort began in Jaffa in 2008, a host of institutions – including Shirat Moshe, the Gar’in Torani group, the Me’irim Be’yafo development organization, pre-military academies, a Bnei Akiva student village, religious seminaries for women and more – have systematically been built there. While in the past this community grew slowly, the recent violent incident there has redefined the rules of the game. The incident essentially constituted the first clash in the public arena between two parallel processes that Jaffa is undergoing: class-based gentrification and expansion of the Jewish presence there. The incident in question positions the settlers as victims in need of protection, while creating an open coalition between them and the police – reminiscent of the process spearheaded by settlers in Hebron, who from the moment they established their standing as the ones in need of protection gained the government’s support. A direct expression of this could already be seen the day after the event in Jaffa, in the police’s aggressive response to the protest by Arab activists against the religious settlers, and in the deployment of a ring of police officers near the entrance to the yeshiva at another demonstration. Days later, undercover police agents regularly patrol the area and interrogate passersby.”
“This was a display of weakness, stupidity and lack of proportion. It’s a clear case of excessive use of force – strong young men armed with guns facing a lone, weak, elderly woman who apparently had emotional problems. The use of excessive force against a threat like this is an expression of weakness. And this weakness was preceded by bad judgment and automatic, thoughtless obedience to the rules of engagement. The soldiers’ conduct attests to the anxiety felt by forces in the field, but it’s not clear what the source of this anxiety is – whether it’s the enemy, their commanders or both.”
“So why is this latest report from HRW so very important? Precisely because its publication reflects (and pushes further) the gains that the global movement for Palestinian rights has made in transforming the public discourse regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The reason that activists and public scholars and others have worked so hard to build recognition that Israeli actions equal apartheid, is to reach the goal of mainstreaming that understanding. When Bishop Tutu said “Israel has created an apartheid reality within its borders and through its occupation,” it was still too easy for US officials, congresspeople, media people in powerful venues to ignore his statement. As Palestinian and other academics began to use that definition routinely to describe Israeli policies, it moved the debate, but not enough. When more and more African-American and other progressive intellectuals, and UN officials, started to use the term, it got to be a little harder to ignore. And since Congresswoman Betty McCollum and Rev. Barber spoke out to identify and condemn Israeli apartheid, it has become harder still. So when Human Rights Watch, by far the human rights organization with the most direct access to power in Washington, says that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid, that action not only reflects the discourse shift fought for and won by so many who have gone before, it also pushes that shift even farther. It is precisely because the word apartheid is so charged, and so powerful that HRW and others have been reluctant to say the word, to tell the obvious. And it is precisely because the Palestinian-led and broader movements for Palestinian rights have accomplished so much in changing that discourse, that an organization like HRW is now willing to join the expanding chorus.”
The Israeli Scene
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel failed to form a new government by the midnight Tuesday deadline, putting his political future in jeopardy as he stands trial on corruption charges and prolonging a political deadlock that has only worsened after four elections in two years. Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, may now give a rival, eclectic camp of anti-Netanyahu parties a chance to form a government, which could oust Mr. Netanyahu from power after 12 consecutive years in office.”
“A 28-day mandate to put together a coalition ran out at midnight after Netanyahu failed to agree terms with potential right-wing partners, opening the way for President Reuven Rivlin to assign the task to another member of parliament. That is widely expected to be Yair Lapid, 57, whose centrist Yesh Atid party placed second to Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud. A power-sharing agreement has been widely mooted, in which Lapid would rotate in office with ultranationalist politician Naftali Bennett, 49, of the Yamina party.” Also See: “Here’s What’s Stopping Bennett From Forming an Israeli Unity Government” (Haaretz)
“Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett on Wednesday called on all political parties to join a broad unity government in order to avoid a fifth election.”
“Dissertations will be written one day about how this “divide and conquer” method arose. For example, some choose to highlight the pragmatic history of Abbas’ branch of the Islamic Movement regarding involvement in Israeli politics, while others emphasize the rightist-conservative alliance that’s arisen between Jews and Muslims. But the truth is clear: Abbas is kosher and Odeh is off-limits – because that’s how Bibi wants it right now.”
“Many Israelis don’t see sending COVID-19 doses to the PA or Gaza as an ethical act at all. “I think we have to admit that they are not nice neighbors,” said Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security. “We don’t have any moral responsibility to care for neighbors who pay money to terrorists, who turn to international organizations like the ICC in order to fight against us. We are in a war with them. I don’t remember the Americans sending vaccines to the Germans in World War II. I think the demand on Israel to aid its enemies is immoral.” “I prefer to send them to India, not to the PA,” he continued. “India doesn’t pay terrorists.”
“US President Joe Biden and Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen met on April 30 at the White House. A spokesperson for the American National Security Council said Cohen’s original meeting was with the agency’s chief Jake Sullivan, and that Biden “dropped by to express condolences for the tragedy in Mount Meron.’’ But diplomatic sources told Al-Monitor the meeting was anything but a “drop by” — the kind of meeting senior Israeli officials have grown accustomed to over the years. It was apparently a full meeting set up by the White House at the president’s request. Cohen, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s final weapon in his desperate bid to derail the looming US return to the Iran nuclear deal, had a lengthy one-hour sit-down with Biden last Friday.”
“The Israeli hackers-for-hire firm NSO Group promised it would publish a transparency report starting this June. The announcement from last week comes after a coalition of human rights groups published an open letter to the company and its investors calling out NSO for failing to comply with human rights disclosure practices. The letter, written by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Access Now and the Committee to Protect Journalists, among others, was sent to the spy firm’s owner Novalpina Capital and noted “concerns with NSO Group’s involvement in documented spyware abuses and its failure to respect the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.””
The Palestinian Scene
“By cancelling Palestine’s first elections in 15 years, President Mahmoud Abbas has relinquished Palestinian democracy and national reunification, and is setting the stage for future turmoil’
Normalization & News from the Region
“Jared Kushner is founding an organization called the Abraham Accords Institute for Peace, to work on deepening the normalization agreements he helped strike between Israel and Arab countries. The big picture: The Abraham Accords, signed in September 2020, were arguably Trump’s biggest foreign policy achievement and the biggest breakthrough for relations between Israel and the Arab world for 25 years. Details: The non-partisan, non-profit organization will have a five-year mandate and be funded through private donations. According to a statement, it will focus on increasing trade and tourism between the five signatory countries — Israel, Bahrain, the UAE, Morocco and Sudan — and developing programs to foster people-to-people connections between the countries. It will also “provide analysis of the benefits of normalization and the potential benefits additional Arab countries can receive if they join the Abraham Accords.” Kushner is founding the institute with former White House envoy Avi Berkowitz, who helped negotiate the agreements; Israeli-American businessman and Democratic donor Haim Saban; and three heavy hitters from the region: the Emirati and Bahraini ambassadors to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba and Abdulla R. Al-Khalifa, and Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.”
“U.S. President Joe Biden, in a phone call on Tuesday with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, underlined the strategic importance of the normalization of relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, the White House said in a statement.”
The U.S. Scene
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Jalina, for taking my question. Very quickly: Has there been any contact from the State Department – maybe the Secretary or anyone, any officer from the State Department – with the Palestinians since the PA President Abbas canceled the elections or postponed the elections?
And second, the COVID situation in the Palestinian territories is very desperate. I think less than 10 percent of the population or even less than that have been inoculated or vaccinated. Are there any plans, maybe, to distribute some of the surplus that the United States has? Thank you very kindly.
MS PORTER: When it comes to COVID-19, we certainly join in solidarity with the entire international community as we grapple with this pandemic together. When it comes to specific vaccine allocations to Israel, we have nothing to announce.
And to your first question – I believe it was on elections and contacts – we’ll have to get back to you on that.
“So far, J Street’s actions on aid restriction indicate that the group is still operating with significant caution. J Street will not be making a major push for the McCollum bill: It promised its allies in Congress that they won’t be asked to sponsor it, according to the staff meeting notes. At the same time, the organization encouraged members who met with congresspeople during a recent “advocacy week” to ask their representatives to support the addition of provisions to restrict aid—including language that “requires greater transparency around how equipment bought with US aid to Israel is used” and “makes clear that US aid to Israel should not be used to facilitate de facto annexation”—to future foreign aid appropriations legislation. “
“Where we disagree is over the challenge facing the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement in the U.S. in 2021. The challenge isn’t any longer as Rabbi Yoffie articulates it: to rally support for two states, or even to muster opposition to explicit efforts by Israel to permanently annex the territory it occupied in 1967.”
” The Methodist Church has sold its shares in the US-based company Caterpillar, citing the continued use of its equipment to destroy peoples’ homes as part of the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories, and its poor record in Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance, said a statement issued by Sabeel-Kairos, an international peace movement initiated by Palestinian Christians…Revd David Haslam, a member of the Methodist Finance Board, said; “The Methodist Church has now joined other church bodies in refusing to invest in Caterpillar. Recent photographs from Palestine have shown Caterpillar equipment demolishing Palestinian houses, destroying farmland, and extending Israeli settlements in violation of international law. It is nonsense for Caterpillar to claim it does not sell its bulldozers and earthmovers for use in Palestine, it knows exactly what its vehicles are being used for and should be utterly ashamed”. The Finance Board also last year sold its shares in Heidelberg Cement with which it had been engaging for some years in relation to its extraction of natural resources from confiscated Palestinian land, in order to construct illegal settlements. It was also performing poorly financially.”
Lawfare & Weaponizing the Definition of Antisemitism to Quash Criticism of Israel
“The debate over the letter comes as the Biden administration enters the final stretches of considering who to appoint as special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism – the highest-ranking public official in the country tasked with combating anti-Jewish prejudice. The role was elevated to an ambassadorial-level position last December, adding weight to its mission of combating antisemitism at a global level. The prospective envoy will have to be confirmed by the Senate prior to assuming the position. Sources familiar with the process have told Haaretz that an appointment should come within the next several weeks, though the intra-Jewish debate has gotten ugly as the appointment approaches.”
“Under Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the situation seemed to be nearing a “1948 moment”—referring not to the end of the British Mandate in Palestine but to the victory of the National Party in South Africa and its adoption of apartheid as an ideology and policy—one designed to systematize, deepen, and render into a comprehensive legal form the unequal arrangements that had arisen over time. While Israel drew back from any full formal move, the term “apartheid” is used increasingly seriously as a description for what had only been called occupation. The new administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has adopted a different stance. Incoming officials openly acknowledge part of the closed-door consensus: a two-state solution is not just one summit away. But they advocate a long-term goal of moving things back in that direction. Secretary of State Antony Blinken described the general approach the day before Biden took office: “The only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state and to give the Palestinians a state to which they are entitled is through the so-called two-state solution. . . . [I]t’s hard to see near-term prospects for moving forward on that. What would be important is to make sure that neither party takes steps that make the already difficult process even more challenging.” While the Biden approach seems like the only practical one to hardened veterans still hoping for a diplomatic solution to the conflict, it has two significant flaws: it is illegal and impossible. And that is not all; even if it were executed, over the long term it would deliver the precise opposite of what it promises…The Biden team’s downgrading of a short-term focus on conflict-ending diplomacy in favor of fostering salutary long-term trends is a laudable shift—but tying the approach to the corpse of the two-state solution and focusing on superficial palliatives will dig the existing hole deeper. Efforts to manage the current situation will involve meeting all sorts of absurd conditions dictated by legal and political constraints with admirable ingenuity, but the Biden administration’s bandwidth for the problem will be narrow. And no wonder: nobody really believes that such steps can advance the two-state solution.