Top News from Palestine & Israel: February 3, 2021

What We’re Reading


Israel’s arrest of UN worker in Jerusalem requires decisive intervention,

“The Israeli authorities arrested UN employee and human rights activist, Shireen Al-Araj, on January 25, in front of the Magistrate’s Court in Jerusalem. She was summoned to an interrogation on charges of “contacting with foreign clients and persons”. Al-Araj, who holds an Israeli ID in addition to a UN diplomatic passport, had returned to the Palestinian territories after an Israeli ban that lasted for five years….

Al-Araj has been working with the UN in several organizations and programs, including the UNRWA, the United Nations Population Fund and the Office of the High Commissioner in Turkey. This means she has a bright record in the human rights, humanitarian and service fields, which rules out the Israeli accusations against her.”

See also “Rights Group Calls on Israel to Immediately Release Palestinian UN Worker” (Palestine Chronicle)

This is what Palestinian residents of Jenbah saw this morning after Israeli troops began extensive training among homes and fields of Masafer Yatta area communities,

“Israel has taken two unusally broad measures this week as part of its ongoing efforts to forcibly transfer Palestinian communities in order to take over their land. … To cover up the forcible transfer, military spokesmen tried to create the impression that the residents had “voluntarily agreed” to leave the area after “dialogue.” Yet when one side – Israel – has all power and can threaten defenseless Palestinians with demolition orders, bulldozers and weapons, consent is not on the cards. Rather, it is an act of coercion and violence by Israel’s apartheid regime, which advances the principle of Jewish supremacy by geographically and demographically engineering space.”

See also:

Israel Denies East Jerusalem Resident's Citizenship Because His Home 'Doesn't Make Sense',

“In 2018, Wasim Masis, 54, submitted an Israeli citizenship application. Like roughly 95 percent of Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem, Masis only has temporary residence status in Israel, but he is entitled to claim citizenship by law. On his application, he included his four-year-old daughter Nili, but not his wife, Georgette – although she lives with him in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, she’s originally from the occupied territories, and therefore cannot apply for citizenship….

The reasons given for the rejections include insufficient knowledge of Hebrew, minor criminal offences from many years ago and flimsy suspicions of ties with people suspected of security offenses. The most common reason has to do with the “center of life.” An applicant must prove that the center of their life is in Israel and that they have no intention of settling anywhere else, including in neighborhoods near East Jerusalem that are officially in the West Bank. This means that even Palestinians who were born in the city and have lived there all their lives must present a whole array documents, like municipal tax receipts, utility bills, proof of membership in one of the health management organizations, school transcripts, pay stubs and rental contracts….

The inspectors examined the food in the refrigerator, the clothes in the closets, the way the linens were kept, and asked about the sleeping arrangements in the house and about the state of the toothbrushes in the bathroom. The application was rejected, Masis filed an appeal, and three months later, inspectors and police officers paid the family another visit. … The Interior Ministry argued that the clothing, objects and furniture in the house were essentially props meant to convince the inspectors that the family lived there.”

Israel headed towards 1 million residents living in the West Bank,

“The latest edition of the “West Bank Jewish Population Stats Report,” commissioned annually by former Member of Knesset and National Union Party head Yaakov “Ketzaleh” Katz, shows a 2.62 percent growth in 2020, and a 17 percent in growth in the past five years, in the number of Jews who live in Judea and Samaria, more commonly known as the West Bank. According to the report, some 475,481 Jews currently call these regions home. The statistics do not take into account the more than 325,000 Jewish residents of Old City Jerusalem or the eastern neighbors of the capital city, who are also viewed as living over the so-called “Green Line,” or 1949 armistice lines, in towns and neighborhoods established since Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War…

The report claims that the Netanyahu government, under the influence of the Trump administration, has been advancing construction plans at a very high rate….Interestingly, while Katz said that Trump and members of his administration proved to be great friends of Israel, he is optimistic that communities in the West Bank will thrive even further with President Joe Biden in the Oval Office….He said that with Biden, “it will be much easier for any Israeli government to reject his plans. In other words, with this administration, we can say ‘no’ when it comes to pushing us back to the ’67 boundaries.”

Israeli forces dismantle tents, structures in northern Jordan Valley,

“Israeli forces Wednesday morning dismantled tents and other structures in Khirbet Humsa al-Fouqa community, southeast of Tubas city, in the northern Jordan Valley, according to local sources….Last night, Israeli troops stormed the community and prevented activists from building shelters for the some 85 residents whose tents were demolished yesterday and left without a shelter to protect them from the cold desert night weather.”


Covid-19: Jamaal Bowman calls on Israel to vaccinate Palestinians,

“Congressman Jamaal Bowman, a first-term progressive Democrat, has called on the Israeli government to provide vaccines for the “entire population of the West Bank and Gaza”, joining a growing list of US legislators asserting that Israel has a responsibility to inoculate Palestinians. Bowman, who represents a large Jewish community in New York, sent a letter to the acting Israeli consul general in the city on Monday, decrying that Palestinians have been “left out of Israel’s rapid vaccine deployment”….

In the letter, the congressman likens his experiences as an African American to Palestinians under the occupation.

“I hope you understand that this issue is personal for me. As a Black man living in America, I know the feeling of being neglected by my government and society,” the congressman wrote. “I can understand the feelings of hopelessness and despair that Palestinians living in the West Bank might feel, reading in the news that the Israeli government has no plans to vaccinate them from a deadly disease wreaking havoc around the globe. “I know what it feels like to see white Americans in the wealthy part of my district get different resources and treatment, while just a few blocks away, Black Americans are neglected.”” — The full letter is available here (Twitter).

Israel transfers 2,000 coronavirus vaccines to Palestinians,

“Israel transferred 2,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine to the Palestinian Authority’s medical teams on Monday, to aid them in the fight against the pandemic. Jerusalem is set to transfer another 3,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine in the near future, in accordance with recommendations by Defense Minister Benny Gantz and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Major General Kamil Abu Rukun.” See alsoIsrael Delivers 2,000 COVID Vaccines to Palestinian Authority” (Haaretz)

Palestinians, Tunisians to Be Among First COVAX Vaccine Recipients, WHO Says,

“The Palestinian territories and Tunisia will benefit from a first wave of coronavirus vaccines from the COVAX scheme, but poorer states in the Middle East face a big gap in early vaccine provision, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said on Monday. The Palestinian territories are expected to receive 37,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech starting in mid-February through COVAX.”

Palestinians begin COVID vaccinations in occupied West Bank,

“The Palestinian Authority (PA) has started COVID vaccination in the occupied West Bank after receiving 2,000 doses from Israel, Palestinian officials said. The Moderna vaccines are the first batch of the promised 5,000 shots to be delivered by Israel to inoculate medical workers.”

Israel blockade inflaming Gaza’s COVID-19 crisis: Report,

“In a report released on Wednesday, a group of international researchers described “challenges over access to healthcare and other essential resources, as well as the economic toll the virus has placed on individuals and their families”, a statement said….

Such challenges have been exacerbated by the ongoing air, land and naval blockade imposed by Israel, described in the report as “the dominant factor in the worsening humanitarian situation…[resulting in] the ill-preparedness of the local healthcare system, economy and communities to cope”. “Israel’s blockade has devastated the economy in Gaza, and this is having a major impact on the ability of people to comply with lockdown measures when doing so means losing their already limited sources of income,” lead researcher Caitlin Procter from the European University Institute in Florence said.

“Many do not seek medical treatment for other health conditions, driven by fear of being infected by COVID, and the severe loss of income that a diagnosis would incur. For the same reason, some healthcare workers were reluctant to treat COVID patients, and many individuals with symptoms do not go for testing.” In addition to the ongoing blockade, high unemployment rates, UN funding cuts, and Palestinian political divisions are factors contributing to Gaza’s moribund economy.

See also:

U.S. Democrats 'Heartened' by Israel's Vaccine Delivery to Palestinians, Urge Further Cooperation,

“Several Democratic lawmakers who raised concerns about Israel’s vaccine distribution to Palestinians in the West Bank have hailed the Monday delivery of 2,000 doses to the Palestinian Authority….

Bowman’s letter follows praise from Rep. Joaquin Castro, who previously said he was “disappointed and concerned,” on the planned transfer of vaccines to Palestinian medical workers. He called the plan “welcome news and hope cooperation continues to grow.” “COVID-19 does not see or care about nationality, borders, or religion,” Rep. Marie Newman tweeted. “I stand with Rep. Bowman in ensuring that every effort is being taken so that Israelis and Palestinians have equitable access to vaccines.” Sen. Tim Kaine, who previously raised the matter during Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s confirmation hearing, said he was “glad to see this news” about the plan. Rep. Andy Levin also called it “such welcome news,” adding that “it is critical that Palestinians have access to COVID-19 vaccines” and that he hopes “the Israeli government continues this urgent work so that we can put this pandemic behind us.””

Israel expands vaccination drive to anyone over the age of 16, starting Thursday,

“The Health Ministry on Wednesday ordered health providers to prepare to offer vaccines to the entire adult public starting Thursday…Until now, vaccines were open to risk groups and anyone over 35, with the elderly first to be immunized, as well as teens aged 16-18. Now, anyone over the age of 16 will be able to get the shots. Kids under that age were excluded from vaccine trials and therefore cannot be inoculated until additional research is conducted.

Israel has led the world’s most rapid inoculation campaign, with over a third of the population getting at least one dose, but the rate has been slowing down in recent days.”

Normalization & News from the Region

130,000 Israelis visited UAE since normalisation,

“”About 130,000 Israelis have visited the Emirates since the signing of the Abrahamic Treaty [the normalisation agreement] in September 2020,” Chargé d’Affaires of the Israeli diplomatic mission Eitan Naih said in a statement carried by the official Emirates News Agency.

Naih expected that “about 50,000 Israelis will visit the UAE on a monthly basis during the winter season, and the number of tourists will increase once the procedures related to the coronavirus vaccine were completed.””

Israel-Kosovo diplomatic ties slammed by Serbia, Turkey,

“Serbia’s foreign minister has expressed dismay over Israel’s decision to recognise Kosovo, a former Serbian province whose statehood Belgrade denies, saying officials were “not happy” with the development. The reaction came a day after Israel and Kosovo established diplomatic ties under a deal brokered by the United States, marking a victory for Pristina’s efforts to gain full global recognition of the independence it declared in 2008 following a war with Serbia in the 1990s….

In exchange for Israel’s recognition, Kosovo recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, becoming the first Muslim-majority territory to do so….Kosovo’s embassy plans drew criticism from Turkey, with Ankara saying the proposed move violated UN resolutions and international law.”

EU warns Kosovo against opening embassy in Jerusalem,

“The EU yesterday warned Kosovo against opening its embassy to Israel in Jerusalem, Shehab news agency reported Israeli media saying. “The EU’s position on the relocation of embassies in Jerusalem is clear. All embassies of the EU Member States, as well as the EU Delegation to Israel, are located in Tel Aviv,” EU spokesperson Peter Stano told journalists. He underlined that should it deviate from this agreement, Kosovo would be undermining its path towards EU integration.”

Arab League chief says Kosovo decision to open an embassy in Jerusalem violates international law,

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit today criticized a decision by Kosovo to open an embassy in Jerusalem and said that his decision violates international law.” See also “Turkey slams Kosovo decision to open an embassy in Jerusalem” (WAFA)

Foreign Ministry calls on Kosovo to go back on embassy decision and to abide by international law,

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates today criticized the agreement recently reached between Kosovo and Israel, describing it as disappointing, and called on the European country to go back on its decision to open an embassy in Jerusalem. “The agreement Kosovo signed with the occupying power (Israel) and declaring its intention to open an embassy in occupied Jerusalem is a step that contradicts everything that Kosovo is trying to do to persuade the world to recognize it,” said the Foreign Ministry in a statement.”

IDF: Anti-aircraft missiles fired at Israeli drone from south Lebanon,

“Surface-to-air missiles were fired at an Israeli drone over southern Lebanon on Wednesday afternoon in a major escalation of conflict, amid lingering tensions along the border, the military said. “Anti-aircraft missiles were just fired toward an IDF remote-piloted aerial vehicle during routine activity over Lebanese territory,” the military said in a statement….

The missiles fired at the UAV represented a significant increase in the level of violence along the border. Unlike in a case on Monday in which a small, off-the-shelf IDF drone was allegedly downed by Hezbollah as it performed a reconnaissance mission along the Lebanese border, the drone that was fired upon on Wednesday was a much larger and more advanced military model.”

Egypt asked for ‘goodwill’ gesture from Israel as condition for Netanyahu visit: Report,

“Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has reportedly asked Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to express support for a two-state solution to the occupation as a precondition for visiting Cairo before the Israeli elections scheduled for March, news website Walla reported on Wednesday. According to sources that spoke to the online Hebrew-language platform, Netanyahu wants to visit Egypt before the election, but Sisi has requested a gesture from him towards Palestinians in order to go ahead with the planned visit.”

The Biden Administration

US intends to restore humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people,

“Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, confirmed at a press briefing on Tuesday that “the United States does intend to restore humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people.” Price added that there is currently no clear time frame for resuming the financial aid. …

We’re not doing that as a favor, but because it’s in the interest of the United States to do so globally,” Price continued. “Our humanitarian assistance provides critical relief such as emergency food assistance, healthcare, education. And the suspension of aid to the Palestinian people has neither produced political progress nor secured concessions from the Palestinian leadership. It has only harmed innocent Palestinians.””

See also In shot at Trump, Biden official says cutting aid to Palestinians ineffective” (Times of Israel)

Palestinian Scene

Tarnished by its Gaza rule, Hamas may struggle in elections,

“Since then, Hamas has established its own quasi-state with its own civil service and security forces. But it has struggled to provide even basic services with Gaza’s economy devastated by three wars with Israel and a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade that has confined the territory’s 2 million people to what Palestinians often refer to as the world’s largest open-air prison. That some of its leaders have left Gaza has not helped. Hamas leaders who ascended the ranks when it was an underground militant group have traded their street clothes and motorbikes for business suits and shiny SUVs. Some, like Haniyeh, have decamped to luxury hotels in Turkey and Qatar, leaving lower-ranking officials and ordinary Palestinians to deal with the consequences of their policies.”

Qatar announces new aid grant to Palestinians in Gaza,

“The $360 million grant was requested by both Palestinians and the Israeli government and will go toward salaries, funding electricity and alleviating poverty. “The grant encompasses provision to purchase fuel to run power stations for electricity, assist impoverished families and pay for salaries of thousands of employees,” a Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesman conveyed in an email to Al-Monitor and other media outlets.”

Hamas urges Abbas to lift Gaza sanctions to facilitate elections,

“Hamas’s participation in the upcoming Palestinian general elections is contingent on the outcome of a meeting of Palestinian factions in Egypt next week, Hamas political bureau member Khalil al-Hayya said on Wednesday. Speaking to reporters in the Gaza Strip, Hayya said that Hamas has still not decided regarding its participation in the elections. The leaders of several Palestinian factions are expected to launch a “national dialogue” in Cairo on February 8 in a bid to reach agreement on the general elections….Hayya called on the Palestinian Authority to lift the sanctions it imposed on the Gaza Strip in 2017, including the suspension of salaries of thousands of former civil servants and stipends for families of Palestinians injured or killed during clashes with Israel.” See also “Hamas: PA must end sanctions on Gaza ahead of elections” (MEMO)

EU to pay $12,000 towards Palestine elections,

“EU spokesman Shady Othman has revealed that the bloc is to pay €10,000 ($12,021) towards the Palestinian elections and is willing to take part in monitoring them, Felesteen newspaper reported yesterday. The EU, Othman said, had received an official invitation to monitor the elections as it had done during the 2006 polls.”

Israeli Scene

Reports: Israel discussing possible attack on Iran,

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday met with senior security and army officials to discuss preparations for a possible attack on Iran, local media outlets reported. Israeli Kan news channel reported that Netanyahu met with Defence Minister Benny Gantz, Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi and officials in the ministries of defence and finance to discuss the possibility of transferring funds from emergency security bases to finance the expected operational plans against Iran. The meeting comes ahead of the cabinet meeting today which will be convened at the invitation of Netanyahu to discuss “developments related to the Iranian issue”.”

Why is Netanyahu suddenly courting Palestinian voters?,

“In this episode of The +972 Podcast, Editor-in-Chief Edo Konrad and Editor Amjad Iraqi sat down to talk about how the elections are pitting different strands of the Israeli right against each other, and the reasons behind the disintegration of the Palestinian-led Joint List.”

Israel’s Ra’am Party splits from Joint Arab List,

“Knesset member Mansour Abbas announced on Wednesday that his Ra’am party will split from the Joint Arab List ahead of the country’s March 23 elections, Channel 12 News reported. The Joint Arab List will now comprise the Balad, Ta’al and Hadash parties.”

Adalah: Killing of Arab nursing student product of Israeli cop culture that sees Palestinian citizens as enemy,

“Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the shooting by Israeli police officers in the northern Palestinian town of Tamra which left one resident dead yesterday. Ahmad Hejazi, a 22-year-old nursing student, was killed when police opened fire with assault rifles in a residential area of the town during an attempt to foil criminal activity….

“A residential neighborhood was turned into a battlefield and police gunfire once again harmed innocent Palestinian citizens, but Israeli police commander Shimon Lavi immediately heaped praise upon his officers. This is what it looks like when Israel’s police force routinely treats Palestinian citizens as an enemy and whitewashes its deadly actions.”

Israel: extremist rabbi who justified killing of non-Jews convicted,

“An extremist Israeli rabbi was convicted on Monday for inciting violence and hate crime against Palestinians. The maximum sentence for such an offence is five years in prison. Yosef Elitzur, who lives in the illegal settlement of Yitzhar in the occupied West Bank, was indicted in 2013 for “incitement to violence” in publications condoning the killing of non-Jews. Elitzur was among the authors of a book called Torat HaMelekh, which is said to be a rabbinic instruction manual outlining acceptable scenarios for killing non-Jewish babies, children and adults.

A description of the book’s hateful content published by Haaretz explained how, for example, “Thou Shalt Not Murder” applies only “to a Jew who kills a Jew”. Non-Jews are considered “uncompassionate by nature” and attacks on them are believed to “curb their evil inclination”. Babies and children of Israel’s enemies may be killed, it said, since “it is clear that they will grow to harm us.””

Weaponization of Definition of Antisemitism

Biden admin ’embraces’ IHRA anti-Semitism definition shunned by progressives,

“A senior US State Department official announced Monday that the Biden administration “embraces and champions” a definition of anti-Semitism that has become a point of tension between mainstream and progressive Jewish organizations in America. “As prior US administrations of both political stripes have done, the Biden Administration embraces and champions the [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s] working definition [of anti-Semitism]. We applaud the growing number of countries and international bodies that apply it. We urge all that haven’t done so to do likewise,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Kara McDonald….

Elaborating on the position, a State Department official told The Times of Israel, “We see the working definition as a critically important tool to help the public and government at all levels at home and around the world recognize traditional and contemporary forms of anti-Semitism when they encounter them. We must be able to identify the many manifestations of anti-Semitism in today’s world so that we can most effectively address them.””

Also see: 

US Jewish leaders praise Biden for backing IHRA's anti-Semitism definition,

““We commend the Biden Administration’s robust and unqualified endorsement of the IHRA definition, which reflects the broad support that exists for the most authoritative and internationally accepted definition of anti-Semitism, as well as the widespread view that it is critically important to define anti-Semitism in order to combat it successfully. This is especially essential at a time when acts of anti-Semitism and Jew-hatred are on the rise at home and abroad,” said Arthur Stark, Chairman, William Daroff, CEO, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Vice Chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.”

Biden urged to publicly support rights of citizens to boycott Israel,

“Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement on Monday, called on Biden to “defend free speech rights” in the United States, including the right to take part in the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement….”He should also oppose laws that penalize companies seeking to disentangle themselves from rights abuses inherent in Israeli settlements. And he should publicly repudiate Trump’s legacy of tarring criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic in spurious ways,” the statement continued.” See alsoBiden Should Defend the Right to Call for Boycott” (Human Rights Watch)

‘Rome is burning’: Jewish groups seek to bypass infighting over antisemitism,

“The Reform and Conservative movements joined with the Anti-Defamation League , World Jewish Congress and a handful of more liberal organizations in signing a recent letter to the Biden administration that packaged a limited endorsement of the definition with unrelated steps it could take to combat antisemitism….The open letter, which was released on Friday, attempts to strike a middle ground. It calls on the federal government to use the IHRA definition only “as an education, monitoring, and training tool,” and not to enforce anti-discrimination laws, which the letter said could “punish Constitutionally protected, if objectionable, speech.””

Democrats, Republicans Tell U.S. Jews: We'll Work Together to Combat Antisemitism,

“Rep. Kathy Manning, a first-term Democratic Congresswoman from North Carolina who was the first woman to chair the JFNA from 2009-2012, told a panel on Monday that her experiences running to bomb shelters in Sderot while fleeing rockets fired from Gaza prepared her for last month’s Capitol riots. “As my heart started to race, I thought to myself, ‘I’ve been through much worse. I’ve had to run to bomb shelters in Sderot with sirens blaring and rockets overhead coming in from Gaza,’” Manning said, adding that “Who knew that being chair of JFNA would prepare me so well to be a member of Congress?”

Democrat Lawmaker: Antisemitism Can’t Be Beat Unless Palestinian Rights Are Respected,

“”We cannot accept a situation where we consider Burma to be a democracy when the rights of its minority peoples were never even established. Of course, it’s highly imperfect, but an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere. Unless Palestinian human rights are respected, we cannot fight antisemitism.””

Long Read

Gaza and the One-State Reality,

“In contemporary conversations around Israel/Palestine, the Gaza Strip is construed as a state of exception, rendering the territory either hyper-visible or entirely invisible. Through the prism of the Covid-19 pandemic and Israel’s possible de jure annexation of portions of the West Bank, this piece argues that rather than being exceptional, the Gaza Strip represents the very embodiment of Israeli settler colonialism in Palestine. Its isola-tion and de-development constitute the endpoint of Israel’s policies of land theft and Palestinian dispossession. This endpoint, referred to as Gazafication, entails the confinement of Palestinians to urban enclaves entirely surrounded by Israel or Israeli-controlled territory. The Trump plan, otherwise known as the “deal of the century,” along with the  Covid-19 crisis, have inadvertently exposed the reality of Gaza as an enclave of the one-state paradigm.”