Top News from Israel & Palestine: October 23, 2020

What We’re Reading

Settlements/Occupation/De Facto Annexation/Apartheid

Palestinian Hunger Striker Transferred to Israeli Prison Service's Medical Center,

Palestinian hunger striker Maher Akhras will be transferred to the prison service’s medical center on Friday after being released from Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot. Akhras has refused to eat for some 90 days in protest of his administrative detention. He was released from Kaplan because of his refusal to receive any medical treatment, and because his many visitors endanger others in the hospital in light of the coronavirus pandemic, according to his lawyer Ahlam Haddad. His administrative detention was renewed after his release, after having been suspended following his hospitalization in recent weeks, due to his deteriorated condition during his hunger strike.

Israeli court cancels decision on freezing administrative detention of Maher al-Akhras,

An Israeli court decided today to cancel an earlier decision to freeze the administrative detention, without charge or trial, of Palestinian detainee Maher al-Akhras, whose health situation has severely deteriorated after 89 days of hunger strike, according to the Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS). The PPS said the Israeli occupation authorities surprisingly moved Al-Akhras from Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot, where he has been imprisoned for more than one month, to the health clinic of Ramle Prison, and canceled a decision on September 23 to freeze his administrative detention. This, according to the PPS, means  that he will stay in prison even after the end of his current term.

Palestinian Volunteers Help Olive Harvesters in Ways the Palestinian Authority Can’t,

Volunteers with the Palestinian group Faz3a, whose members accompany olive harvesters to protect them from attacks by settlers, fill a vacuum. It’s a vacuum that the Palestinian Authority’s security forces never could fill in the West Bank’s areas B and C, where the Oslo Accords bar them from operating. Tens of thousands of Palestinian youths train in martial arts and the use of weapons for recruitment to the Palestinian security forces, including the police. Under the agreements with Israel, they must help the Shin Bet security service and the army monitor Palestinians, arrest and interrogate them. They’re expected to avert any harm to Israeli citizens. But they’re barred from protecting Palestinian civilians against attacks by thugs who are Israeli citizens. All the PA can do is “condemn” the violence. Its security agencies may pass the complaints of the assaulted Palestinians to the Israeli police (before coordination was halted in May), and write down the details of the assaults.

UAE investment in upgrading Israeli checkpoints only entrenches occupation,

We are alarmed by the Israeli-UAE plans to set an investment fund that will enable “modernizing” Israeli-operated checkpoints in the occupied Palestinian territories, said the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor in a statement today. The UAE government should refrain from and immediately halt any deals with Israel that may contribute to or embolden human rights violations against the Palestinians….Euro-Med Monitor cautioned that financing the so called “modernization” of the Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank would contribute significantly to hiding their destructive purpose and negative impacts on the Palestinians; to make them a permanent reality, and to entrench the occupation.

Palestinians Request Hearing on Israeli Top Court Order to Evacuate Illegal Outpost on Their Land,

The Palestinian petitioners who sought to have the Mitzpe Kramim outpost evacuated requested another hearing before Israel’s High Court of Justice on the August ruling, which said the outpost must be evacuated within three years. The justices ruled that deals pertaining to abandoned property in the West Bank could be recognized if proven that they were made in good faith. Attorney Hussam Younis, representing the petitioners, joined Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s request for another hearing, which he filed last month, but for very different reasons. Younis opposes the interpretation given in the “market regulation” ruling in the West Bank that says deals done with the Custodian of Government and Absentee Property may be recognized if at the time of the deal he believed the property to be government property. The Palestinian petitioners in the case oppose this ruling because of its wider implications.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat remains in critical health situation,

Chief Palestinian negotiator and Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)’s Executive Committee, Saeb Erekat, remains in a critical health condition, his family has said. His family told WAFA that he is still connected to an ECMO device which supports his respiratory functions. Erekat was earlier this week moved to a hospital in Israel due to a severe deterioration in his health after he had tested positive for coronavirus.

See also: ‘The enemy’ in the covid ward: Some Israelis oppose treating a Palestinian leader (Washington Post)


Israel strikes Gaza after rocket attack,

The Israeli military says it launched overnight air attack in the besieged Gaza Strip after Palestinian fighters fired rockets, with no reports of casualties or significant damage on either side. The military said Palestinian fighters fired two rockets into Israel late on Thursday. One was intercepted by the Israeli missile defence system, while the other fell in an open area.

Hamas said to be secretly operating cyber, counterintelligence HQ in Turkey,

The Palestinian terror group Hamas is secretly operating a facility in Turkey where it conducts cyberattacks and counterintelligence operations, according to a British newspaper report Thursday. Citing Western intelligence sources, the Times of London said the headquarters was set up two years ago and is overseen by Hamas military leaders in the Gaza Strip. The headquarters, which is separate from Hamas’s official offices in the city, was set up without the knowledge of Turkish authorities, the report said.

Israel travel ban: Gaza nurses protest loss of permits, layoffs,

A group of nurses from the besieged Gaza Strip have staged a protest in a public square, saying an Israeli travel ban has led the Jerusalem hospital they worked at for many years to fire them. Seven nurses, who worked at the Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem for at least 20 years each, gathered in Gaza City on Wednesday, wearing lab coats and holding banners that said: “Firing us is a death sentence for our profession and families.” They are angry at Israel – which has heavily restricted the ability of Palestinians to leave the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, even for work – and at the decision by Makassed to lay them off….The medics say there is no chance of finding full-time work in Gaza, where unemployment is close to 50 percent.

Arab world, Normalization, Peace “Dividends”

Gantz touts ‘major leap’ for Israeli security as US re-ups military edge promise,

Defense Minister Benny Gantz hailed an agreement signed with the Pentagon on Thursday to safeguard Israel’s military superiority in the region as representing a “major leap forward” for Israel’s security interests. Gantz on Wednesday night traveled to Washington for meetings with US defense officials — notably Secretary of Defense Mark Esper — largely focused on Israeli concerns over a proposed sale of F-35 fighter jets and other advanced weaponry to the United Arab Emirates. Israel has expressed concerns over the potential impact this could have on Israel’s military superiority in the region, known formally as its qualitative military edge, which the US is legally obligated to maintain under a 2008 law….On Thursday, Esper and Gantz signed a “joint declaration confirming the United States’ strategic commitment to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East for years to come,” Gantz’s office said. It was not known if Gantz had agreed to pull concerns over the sale or made any other concessions in exchange for the new US commitment.

Saudi Arabia will soon move to normalize ties with Israel, official predicts,

A senior defense official on Thursday predicted Saudi Arabia would soon move to normalize ties with Israel. The comments by the official, who spoke to reporters as Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited America, came amid reports that Sudan was poised to follow the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in normalizing diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. “Soon Sudan and later Saudi Arabia will come out of the closet,” the official was quoted saying by Hebrew media, without further elaborating. Saudi leaders have publicly ruled out forging ties with Israel before a Palestinian state is created, even as they have welcomed the normalization deals between the Jewish state and Gulf Arab states signed in Washington last month.

Israel, UAE agree Emiratis can stay without visas for 90 days,

Under the latest agreement deepening relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Emirati citizens will now be able to stay in Israel for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa, the UAE’s state news agency WAM reported today.

Berkowitz: A Biden win could harm normalization deals with Israel,

A victory for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden would harm the burgeoning normalization deals between Israel and its Middle East neighbors, US Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz said in an interview published Thursday….He assured the audience that the Trump administration still philosophically supports the annexation of West Bank settlements, even though it agreed to suspend sovereignty in favor of Israeli normalization deals with Arab countries.

Senate resolution lauding Abraham Accords gains vast backing,

A Senate resolution praising the recent normalization agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain is gaining broad bipartisan support.

The resolution, introduced September 17 by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Todd Young (R-IN) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), has been cosponsored by 91 senators as of Wednesday morning, according to an AIPAC list tracking the legislation’s backers. The resolution praises the normalization agreements as “historic achievements” which open up new possibilities in the fields of tourism, business, security and culture. It also reaffirms the Senate’s support for a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Knesset to vote on normalization agreement with Bahrain,

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will bring the newly signed normalization agreement with Bahrain for Knesset approval, his office said Thursday. He will also present the peace treaty with the United Arab Emirates for final ratification at Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Israel's secret embassy in Bahrain,

Israel has been conducting undercover diplomacy in Bahrain for more than a decade through a front company listed as a commercial consulting firm. Why it matters: The existence of the covert diplomatic mission in the Bahraini capital Manama shows the depth of a secret relationship that came out into the open with a White House ceremony last month. The existence of the secret diplomatic office remained under an Israeli government gag order for 11 years.

UAE firms touted to join Israeli 'Silicon Wadi' project in East Jerusalem,

The Israeli-run municipality of Jerusalem has recruited companies from the United Arab Emirates to invest in a modern industrial park, called Silicon Wadi, in the city’s occupied east. However Palestinian urban planning experts have told Middle East Eye that the plans and the UAE’s involvement has been kept unusually under wraps.

The world is endorsing Palestine’s disappearance in the name of ‘peace’,

Peace – the term favoured by the international community – is an Israeli conjecture. What Israel defines as peace, namely increased militarisation in the name of security, ties the loose ends of the colonial project together. If the international community does not oppose annexation politically, and if the PA continues to insist on applying defunct and exploitative policies to allegedly advance the Palestinian cause, the underlying message is nothing less than an endorsement of Palestine’s complete disappearance.

Palestinian Politics

Palestinian lawyers file lawsuit against Britain for 1917 Balfour Declaration,

Palestinian lawyers on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the British government for the 1917 declaration setting out London’s support for a national home for the Jewish people in ancient Palestine….The lawyers filed the complaint at a court in the West Bank town of Nablus and claimed “the suffering of the Palestinians” stemmed from the document. As well as the trade unions group, Thursday’s complaint was filed on behalf of the International Commission to Support Palestinian People’s Rights and the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate.

President Abbas reiterates commitment to just peace, readiness to resume talks,

President Mahmoud Abbas today reiterated commitment to just peace and immediate readiness to resume talks with Israel. Speaking in a phone call with Pope Francis, Abbas discussed and underscored the importance of developing bilateral Palestine-Holy See relations to the benefit of both sides and the prevalence of peace and love in the region and worldwide…He renewed his call for an international peace conference to launch a genuine peace process, pointing that his call comes in line with his commitment to achieving just peace based on the UN resolutions and immediate willingness to resume talks with Israel…Pope Francis affirmed that he was on the same page with Abbas regarding the importance of peace and dialogue, the need to convene the international peace conference, and the reinforcing the steadfastness of the Palestinian people.

Twenty Years Since the Second Intifada Began, Why Hasn’t There Been a Third?,

Conditions on the ground may be ripe for another popular uprising, but a lack of trust in the Palestinian leadership and lingering trauma from the events of 2000-2004 have prevented it – so far…Ashraf al-Ajrami, a former minister for prisoner affairs in the Palestinian Authority, sees disillusionment with the leadership as a prime cause, noting that “an intifada is the decision of people, not the leadership.”…The PA is a key element in preventing a third intifada, says Prof. Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah.

Israeli Politics

Alliance of Israeli Arab Parties Shows Cracks After Contentious Knesset Vote,

On the agenda at the alliance of majority-Arab parties’ meeting: a discussion of the continued erosion of the faction’s strength…The members of the Joint List say the crisis began after the March election, when the faction recommended that Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz be tapped to form the government. Then, the Joint List, comprised of four parties that ran on a joint slate, confronted internal disagreements over its attitude towards the LGBTQ community, with some segments of the party objecting to a ban on so-called conversion therapy…Also of concern are the coronavirus pandemic and a growing wave of violence in the Israeli Arab community. The lawmakers in the Joint List, part of the Knesset opposition, have had to face the fact that their influence on public discourse and government decision-making was limited…Ali Haider, who researches politics and the Arab community, agreed. “The Joint List misrepresented its possible influence inside the Knesset, but didn’t recognize the depth of the structural problem with the kind of political system in Israel, which is excluding the Arab population from fundamental decisions,” he said.

Averting Crisis, Compromise Reached on Top Jobs at Zionist Institutions,

A crisis that threatened to drive a deep wedge between Israel and the Diaspora Jewish communities was averted on Thursday evening, after a compromise was reached allowing the non-Orthodox movements and center-left parties to retain some influence in the key Zionist institutions. This agreement over the allocation of senior positions in the World Zionist Organization and its affiliate organizations – the Jewish Agency, United Israel Appeal and the Jewish National Fund – was reached after three intensive days of negotiations among the various delegations to the World Zionist Congress, which met this week….Under the terms of both the original and the revised agreements, the top job at the Jewish National Fund, the most powerful of the Zionist institutions, will be rotated between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and a coalition of Modern Orthodox parties. For the past five years, the position had been filled by a Labor Party appointee. The Jewish National Fund controls billions of dollars’ worth of land in Israel and is active in forestry, water and tourism projects.

To fight its ‘war’ on COVID-19, Israel is turning citizens into enemies,

The end [of COVID] is nowhere in sight, yet the Israeli government doesn’t seem to be changing its tune, and the security establishment remains firmly in charge of steering the country through the crisis. If you ask Yagil Levy, a professor of sociology at Israel’s Open University, there’s a word for that: “securitization.” The term was coined by the Copenhagen School for International Relations to describe the post-Cold War phenomenon in which Western democracies began framing purely civilian issues such as immigration, crime, natural disasters, and climate change as issues of national security.  Under securitization, governments try to convince the public that what the state is actually dealing with is a security issue, and thus it needs to adopt various kinds of conduct that go beyond politics as usual. Doing so, Levy says, often grants legitimacy to the violation of civil rights or the consolidation of power with the executive branch. According to Levy, who is best known for his extensive writing on militarism and ethnic divisions in the IDF, in a highly-militarized country such as Israel, securitization is not only a handy solution that the government can implement at a whim — it’s the only way Israel knows how to deal with emergency situations.

Israeli conscientious objector begins third stint in military prison,

Israeli conscientious objector Hallel Rabin began serving a 25-day sentence in military prison on Wednesday for refusing to join the Israeli army over its policies toward the Palestinians….This is Rabin’s third period of incarceration, while her appeal to the conscientious objectors committee is still pending….“People in power institute a policy of occupation and oppression of an entire nation,” Rabin wrote in her statement of refusal earlier this year. “I will not take part in a system which is based on inequality and fear. We live in a reality that raises us to be violent, and I refuse to take part in it or keep quiet about it.”

Lawfare/Stifling Dissent/Free Speech

A State Department Memo Suggests It’s About to Accuse Prominent Human Rights Groups of “Anti-Semitism”,

A State Department official familiar with the planning said that the report focuses on an effort by several NGOs to encourage the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to release a database of businesses “engaged in listed activities related to Israel’s settlement enterprise,” as required by a 2016 UN resolution. All three organizations cited by Politico as targets of the State Department effort—Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Oxfam—were signatories to an August 2019 letter urging the high commissioner to stop delaying the release of the list. None of those groups are overt supporters of the BDS movement.

Another quick thread re State Dept plan to label human rights orgs “antisemitic”,

Lara Friedman: Key thing to understand is that such labeling is a feature, not a bug, of efforts to promoting definition of antisemitism that focuses NOT on hatred/threats to Jews, but on criticism of Israel.

In a striking move, State Department plans to label 3 large human rights groups as anti-Semitic,

Politico reported that the statement will cite analysis by some pro-Israel groups concluding that the human rights groups back the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement targeting Israel….The groups say they do not support or oppose BDS, but they are sharply critical of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank. According to Politico, the West Bank issue would also feature in the State Department statement….The State Department anti-Semitism conference on Wednesday, in the vein of previous discussions of anti-Semitism by the administration, focused on anti-Semitism from the left and from militant Islamist groups. True to its theme, many speakers talked about the proliferation of hate online and how to combat it. No sessions focused primarily on white supremacist groups, which the Department of Homeland Security recently called the “most persistent and lethal” terror threat in the country and which have organized online in recent years. 

ADL Opposes State Department Proposal to Declare Certain International NGOs Antisemitic,

ADL issued the following statement: “We oppose broadly applying the antisemitism label to these human rights organizations; doing so is neither accurate nor helpful to the fight against antisemitism. Rather, this move would politicize the fight against antisemitism. To be clear, we have had very significant disagreements with these organizations and certain staff members over the years, particularly on their approach to Israel which often has been excessive and unfair. Nonetheless, we strongly believe that these organizations are crucial to ensuring robust civil society and democratic protections worldwide. To suggest that these groups are somehow constitutionally anti-Jewish is plain wrong. It would be shortsighted and counterproductive for the State Department to blacklist them in this way.”

The government must do more to address antisemitism and anti-Zionism on campus,

In late September, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, where I worked as assistant secretary from 2018-2020, required New York University to adopt that same definition as part of its anti-harassment policy. This was a natural outgrowth from last year’s Executive Order on Combating Antisemitism, which directed federal agencies to use the IHRA definition as well. I left the office this summer to return to the Brandeis Center and to give the fight against campus antisemitism the focused legal attention that it requires. It is good that federal regulators and some college and university administrators are responding to antisemitic incidents as they occur, but it would be better if they took more pro-active steps to prevent such things from happening. One such step would be for federal officials to urge all colleges and universities to follow NYU and Florida State’s lead, incorporating the IHRA definition into their policies and procedures…What is needed, however, is a comprehensive approach. This must include energetic administration of the executive order, proper guidance on reporting, greater inclusiveness in Middle East studies, and appropriate transparency for foreign funds. Otherwise, when college campuses fully open, the situation for Jewish students will only worsen.