Top News from Israel & Palestine: October 1, 2020

What We’re Reading

Settlements/Occupation/De Facto Annexation

Israel's West Bank annexation postponed for a year, not cancelled, says Friedman,

Israel’s pledge to halt the annexation of the occupied West Bank under its recent normalisation deal with the UAE and Bahrain would not stop it going ahead in future, David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, again emphasised on Wednesday. “We said in our statement that sovereignty will be postponed, and this does not mean that it has been abolished, but rather that it has stopped. It has been suspended for a year, maybe more, but it has not been cancelled,” Friedman told Israeli Army Radio.

Israel’s army of archaeological looters,

Today, Israel sponsors and promotes archaeological initiatives in Palestine with the sole purpose of linking only the Jewish narrative to our land, rather than embracing its entangled complexities….The Civil Administration’s displacement and looting of archaeological artifacts on occupied territory, which is prohibited under the Hague Convention, raises questions about the fate of other archaeological sites in Areas B and C of the West Bank. The Civil Administration has recently increased its demolition orders in Palestinian villages near these areas, and historically, it has denied Palestinians access to their agricultural properties and the right to build or develop any infrastructure, all of which has made the preservation of the sites difficult.

See also:

FMEP Webinar — Virtual Tour: Silwan and the Role of Archaeology in East Jerusalem Settlement Efforts  

Human Rights/Violence

Behind the lens: Remembering Muhammad al-Durrah, 20 years on,

Twenty years ago, a video of a 12-year-old boy being killed in Gaza reverberated around the world. Talal Abu Rahma, the cameraman who shot the video, remembers that day. “I received a lot of awards for that video. I was honoured in Dubai, in Qatar, even in London twice. I received awards from America and France. I really don’t know how these people think we could have staged it….A few people asked me how much we sold the pictures for. But France 2 told me the images would be distributed for free and I was in agreement with them. They said, “We will not make money from the blood of children.” The court case in Paris went on until 2013. We won. We didn’t receive any money at all from the case. It was the dignity of our job that pushed us to fight the case.”

West Bank village celebrates end of 20-year-old Israeli roadblock,

Hebron municipality, in the south of the West Bank, began long-awaited work Sept. 21 to expand and open the barrier known locally as the “Qalqas barrage” south of the city, which the Israeli forces closed more than 20 years ago. Some 5,000 people live in Qalqas village. A highway known as Street 60 lies along one side, just minutes to the Hebron city center. With the outbreak of the 2000 intifada, the Israeli army blocked the entrance to the town with a dirt barrier, thus preventing residents from taking Street 60 to the city and forcing them to take a longer and more difficult route. People also cross the barrier and Street 60 on foot to reach vehicles they leave parked there, risking being run over on the highway.

With His Administrative Detention Frozen, Palestinian Continues Hunger Strike in Hospital,

A Palestinian who has been on a hunger strike for 60 days over his administrative detention, only drinking water, is demanding Israel does not detain him again if he is released from hospital. Meanwhile, doctors fear for his life. The detainee, Maher Akhras, has spent the past month in Rehovot’s Kaplan Hospital, and although the hospital’s ethics committee approved force feeding him, doctors have refused to treat him against his will. Last week, the High Court of Justice ordered an injunction on his arrest, reasoning that the preventative justification for his administrative arrest was not present given his medical condition. Thus, his detention is effectively on hold. Akhras, who was initially arrested in late July, is continuing to refuse to receive treatment and is demanding a pledge that his arrest won’t be renewed upon his release from hospital.


Trump adviser predicts more Arab and Muslim countries will sign deals with Israel,

As many as seven Arab or Muslim countries are likely to follow the lead set by the UAE and Bahrain by signing agreements to normalize relations with Israel, according to Avi Berkowitz, special adviser to US President Donald Trump on Middle East negotiations….During an exclusive interview with Arab News on Tuesday, Berkowitz stressed that the door remains open to the Palestinians if they agree to negotiate, but Trump will seek alternatives if they refuse to engage. He added the refusal by some Palestinian leaders to negotiate will no longer prevent other Arab and Muslim countries from pursuing peace with Israel, or deter the US from talking with other Palestinian community leaders and groups.

UAE begins bid for UN Security Council seat,

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has launched a campaign for a seat on the United Nations Security Council. The UAE announced the effort on Tuesday to obtain a nonpermanent seat for the 2022-2023 term. The Gulf country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs said the UAE, given its experience and leadership in the region, can play a key role in helping solve global problems, the state-run Emirates News Agency reported…There are currently no Middle Eastern states on the Security Council.

Bahrain’s Rulers Are Eager for Close Ties With Israel. Bahrainis Are Not,

Bahrain’s ‘resistance’: Despite the kingdom’s decade-long decimation of dissent, there’s clear opposition to normalization with Israel. Deeply-felt solidarity with the Palestinians is only part of the story.

US, UAE broker Israel-Sudan rapprochement,

Khartoum must now decide whether or not to accept the proposal made by American officials in Abu Dhabi some 10 days ago for a quadruple package deal. The deal in the works is far from simple: Israel will achieve ties with a strategically important African country on the shores of the Red Sea; the United States will get a reinforced transitional regime in a country emerging from years of dictatorship; Sudan will be erased from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism and will also receive generous financial aid; and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will receive diplomatic glory over mediating such a deal, along with a hefty bill to pay. 

A true Brazilian warrior and an Israel lover,

– the challenges of this country are so numerous, so complex, so peculiar that only a very brave and determined person could face them successfully.  It is no surprise that Bolsonaro considers Prime-Minister Netanyahu as his role model – and Israel as his political, existential and spiritual inspiration.

Stifling Dissent

A Human Rights Controversy at the University of Toronto,

The University of Toronto’s law school allegedly rescinded a job offer for director of the law school’s International Human Rights Program in response to external pressure about the candidate’s scholarship and work on Israeli government violations of international law. If true, not only does this do serious harm to the academic freedom, integrity, and reputation of the university’s human rights program, it creates a dangerous chilling effect on other scholars’ rights to research and advocacy.

Repression of speech and scholarship on Palestine needs to end,

In an open letter, more than a thousand academics and lawyers call on academic and government institutions around the world to cease subjecting those defending justice for Palestinians to censorship and penalisation.

Human rights lawyers sue Trump administration for 'silencing' them,

Prominent US human rights lawyers are suing the Trump administration over an executive order they say has gagged them and halted their work pursuing justice on behalf of war crimes victims around the world. As a result of the order in June threatening “serious consequences” for anyone giving support to the work of the international criminal court (ICC) in The Hague, the lawyers say they have had to cancel speeches and presentations, end research, abandon writing ICC-related articles and dispensing advice and assistance to victims of atrocities. The effect, according to the plaintiffs, has been an unprecedented infringement of their constitutional right to free speech and a chill that has pervaded the world of international humanitarian law.

From the US

US Army receives 1st of 2 Iron Dome batteries, unlikely to buy more,

The United States received its first of two Iron Dome batteries from Israel on Wednesday just over a year after signing a purchase agreement, the Defense Ministry said, though the American military will likely not buy additional systems going forward.

Beinart predicts a rightward shift on Israel among millennial Jews,

According to Beinart, new generations — millennials and Generation Z — of Jewish Americans are splitting between two camps: less religious “universalistic” Jews who are disinterested in Israeli issues and “highly tribal” Orthodox Jews who align more with the Republican Party on issues related to Israel….[Lara] Friedman focused on potentially significant shifts in the U.S. political environment, including Rep. Eliot Engel’s (D-NY) primary loss to Jamaal Bowman and the resultant race to replace Engel as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and other similar defeats of longtime House members to upstart progressive challengers.

See also: The Arab Center Washington DC Fifth Annual Conference (for the full discussion cited partly above)


Degradation of Democratic Norms

Why are Israelis shocked when the army shows up at the Knesset?,

Tuesday saw a sight unimaginable for many Jewish Israelis: armed soldiers were stationed at checkpoints to assist the police in enforcing coronavirus regulations at an anti-government protest outside the Knesset…The presence of on-duty soldiers outside the Israeli parliament caused such public uproar that they were almost immediately removed from the scene, with Defense Minister Benny Gantz apologizing for stationing them there in the first place.There is no doubt that using soldiers for policing, particularly for the purpose of restricting one of the most basic democratic rights, rightfully enrages many Israeli citizens; the intrusion of the military into the civil sphere is a dangerous sign that goes against the very nature of democracy. But it is hard not to be taken aback by this rage, especially in a country in which the army is already so deeply ingrained into the civil sphere that it is difficult to tell the two apart….The Jewish citizen in Israel learns from a young age that the army is an integral part of the civil fabric, a body designed to serve us and our needs. Therefore, the Israeli public has no problem closing its eyes to (if not happily encouraging) all kinds of military abuse of Palestinians in the occupied territories, from violent and arbitrary arrests to indiscriminate killings to violent repression of demonstrations — yet is shocked to see this face so close to home. After all, what Israelis are witnessing now has been the everyday reality for Palestinians.

The disease Netanyahu fears isn’t covid-19. It’s dissent.,

Two factors have driven Netanyahu’s policy prescriptions since the pandemic began. One factor has been suppressing covid-19. The stronger motivation appears to be suppressing threats to Netanyahu’s hold on power.

Palestinian Politics/PLO/PA

Searching for a Strategy,

With even more normalization agreements rumored to be on the horizon—Sudan could very well be next—the Palestinian leadership faces a strategic dead end. Israel’s ongoing military occupation has not led to its international isolation but rather to further impunity: As Raja Shehadeh wrote in The Guardian, “Israel has managed to turn its occupation of Palestinian territory from a burden into an asset”—a testing ground for surveillance and crowd control technologies in high demand from authoritarian regimes like the UAE and Bahrain. Meanwhile, the Oslo framework for negotiations toward a two-state solution has not brought Palestinians any closer to self-determination. “If the lesson under Obama was that the US isn’t going to save you, the lesson under Trump is that the Arabs aren’t going to save you either,” Elgindy told me. Faced with this abandonment, many Palestinian policy analysts and intellectuals are asking: Where do we go from here?

‘Cautiously optimistic’: Palestinian factions unite on elections,

Fatah and Hamas reached a deal on Palestinian elections at the Palestinian Consulate in Istanbul last week, raising hopes the factions can unite after years of animosity as Israel continues to threaten annexation while it normalises relations with Arab nations. The proposal for parliamentary, presidential and national council elections is set to be discussed among all Palestinian factions in a leadership meeting this week, after which a presidential decree to officially announce election dates is expected.

Bonus Reading / watching

Foreign Influence: How Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs Funded Lobbying & Extremism in the U.S.,

Recording of this morning’s webinar with Lara Friedman from the Foundation for Middle East Peace in conversation with Or Sadan of the Movement for Freedom of Information (MFI) and Itamar Benzaquen of The Seventh Eye; together, MFI and The Seventh Eye secured the release of blockbuster documents on the Ministry of Strategic Affairs. Noa Landau, diplomatic reporter at Ha’aretz, who has long reported on the MSA and who covered the documents extensively, also joined the discussion.

With Huge Gifts to Birthright Israel, Wealthy Donors Influence American Jewish Identity,

Birthright is often celebrated as a crowning achievement of Jewish philanthropists’ generosity and communal dedication. But to view it in those terms alone is to neglect the political, economic and cultural structures in which American Jewish philanthropy operates, what I call in my research “the American Jewish philanthropic complex.” Birthright’s financing and its mission operated in tandem to craft Jewish identity as a basic right (a birthright) but one impossible to hold without a gift granted by a small set of very wealthy donors who exercised power over the terms of Jewish identity. By accepting these gifts, American Jews consented to their terms, surrendering what for many was a different birthright, that of democratic citizenship, to the capitalist logic that overwhelmed American Jewish philanthropy and American philanthropy more generally by the end of the 20th century.