Top News & Analysis on Israel/Palestine: March 22-29, 2024


1. New from FMEP
2. Gaza
3. River to the Sea
4. Region/Diplomacy
5. US Scene
6. Redefining Antisemitism//Lawfare//Media
7. Long Reads/Perspectives

New from FMEP

FMEP Legislative Round-Up: March 29, 2024 (Lara Friedman) 1. Bills, Resolutions; 2. Letters; 3. Hearings & Markups; 4. Selected Media & Press releases/Statements

Settlement & Annexation Report: March 22, 2024 (Kristin McCarthy) – 1) Jordan Valley, Part 1: Israel Declares Massive Swathe of Land in Jordan Valley as “State Land”; 2) Jordan Valley, Part 2: Israel Expands Three West Bank Nature Reserves – Including an Outpost in the Jordan Valley; 3) Jordan Valley, Part 3: B’Tselem Documents Post-Oct 7th Acceleration of Settler-Terrorism in the Jordan Valley; 4) HR Group Petitions for the Demolition of Outpost Affiliated with U.S.-Sanctioned Settler; 5) Smotrich Moving to Appoint Settler as Top Dog on Outposts Demolitions, Over the Authority of High-Ranking Military Authorities; 6) Bonus Reads: Sanctions; 7) Bonus Reads

And keep your eye out for Kristin McCarthy’s Settlement & Annexation Report: March 29, 2024 later today!

See also these two events: 

  1. Gaza

Gaza’s risk of famine is accelerating faster than anything we’ve seen this century (Vox) – “Every resident of Gaza is at risk of crisis levels of food insecurity — and half are at risk of famine…It’s a crisis that has unfolded at a speed utterly unprecedented this century — and also one that was repeatedly predicted and entirely avoidable if Israel were not placing severe restrictions on aid.” See also At least 12 Palestinians drown trying to retrieve aid parcels dropped into the sea (CNN); Israel tells UN it will reject UNRWA food convoys into northern Gaza (UN News); Visualizing Gaza’s aid shortage as ‘man-made’ famine looms (WaPo) 

UN Security Council adopts Gaza cease-fire resolution after US abstains (Al Monitor) – “The UN Security Council on Monday adopted a resolution calling for an “immediate” cease-fire in the Gaza Strip after the United States abstained from the vote. The resolution, which passed with the support of the council’s 14 other members, was criticized by Israel for not conditioning a cease-fire on the release of the remaining captives taken by Hamas. The US decision to let the resolution pass rather than use its veto prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call off a planned trip to Washington for his senior advisers, Ron Dermer and Tzachi Hanegbi…The United States has used its veto three times during the Gaza war to shield Israel, its ally, from cease-fire resolutions that didn’t underscore Israel’s right to self-defense or condemn Hamas’ killing of some 1,200 people on Oct. 7. Most recently, the United States vetoed an Algerian-sponsored cease-fire resolution on Feb. 20 that it said would jeopardize negotiations over a hostage deal. The latest resolution, which was sponsored by the council’s 10 nonpermanent members, called for an “immediate” cease-fire during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan’s remaining two weeks, “leading to a lasting sustainable cease-fire” between Israel and Hamas. It also urged “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages” and demanded the “need to expand the flow” of humanitarian aid into Gaza…Speaking after the rare American abstention, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the Biden administration supported many of the resolution’s “critical objectives” but was disappointed the text did not include a condemnation of Hamas.” See also Gaza: Security Council passes resolution demanding ‘an immediate ceasefire’ during Ramadan (UN News); Israel Presses On With Strikes in Gaza After U.N. Cease-Fire Resolution (NYT); Netanyahu cancels delegation after U.S. does not block U.N. cease-fire call (WaPo); Israel’s Gallant meets with U.S. officials; Netanyahu axes delegation to U.S. over U.N. vote (WaPo); As Israel’s Gallant seeks arms in Washington, Netanyahu picks fight with Biden (Al Monitor); In reversal, Netanyahu sending delegation to White House for Rafah talks (Axios)

ICJ orders Israel to take action to address famine in Gaza (Al Jazeera) – “Judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) have unanimously ordered Israel to take all the necessary and effective action to ensure basic food supplies arrive without delay to the Palestinian population in Gaza. The ICJ judges said in an order on Thursday that Palestinians in Gaza face worsening conditions of life and famine and starvation are spreading…In its legally binding order, the court told Israel to take “all necessary and effective measures to ensure, without delay, in full co-operation with the United Nations, the unhindered provision at scale by all concerned of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance” including food, water, fuel and medical supplies. The ICJ, however, does not have a mechanism to enforce its rulings. The new measures were requested by South Africa as part of its continuing case that accuses Israel of carrying out genocide in Gaza.” See also World Court orders Israel to halt Gaza famine; Hamas says ceasefire needed (Reuters); World warns Israel to obey ICJ on Gaza aid as Netanyahu plans Rafah assault (Al Jazeera); Ireland backs bid to include blocking of aid in definition of genocide (The Guardian); Israel’s attempt to destroy Unrwa is part of its starvation strategy in Gaza (Kenneth Roth//Guardian)

Israel’s war on Gaza live: Over 70 killed in a day in the besieged enclave (Al Jazeera) – “The Israeli military expanded its attacks on Gaza City over the last couple of hours with the Shujayea neighbourhood facing heavy artillery and air attacks. Israeli forces targeted a sport club that had become an evacuation centre for many Palestinian families. At least 15 have been reported killed.” See also Israel’s war on Gaza live: 76 killed in Israeli attacks in last 24 hours (Al Jazeera, 3/27/24); At least 19 reported killed as Israeli forces fire on Gaza aid seekers (Al Jazeera, 3/23/24); War on Gaza: Footage shows Israeli drone killing four Palestinian civilians (Middle East Eye); Israel confirms Hamas’ Marwan Issa killed in airstrike earlier this month (Al Monitor); Israeli soldiers shoot and kill two unarmed Palestinian men in Gaza: Video (Al Jazeera) 

Israel Deploys Expansive Facial Recognition Program in Gaza (NYT) — “Mr. Abu Toha is one of hundreds of Palestinians who have been picked out by a previously undisclosed Israeli facial recognition program that was started in Gaza late last year. The expansive and experimental effort is being used to conduct mass surveillance there, collecting and cataloging the faces of Palestinians without their knowledge or consent, according to Israeli intelligence officers, military officials and soldiers. The technology was initially used in Gaza to search for Israelis who were taken hostage by Hamas during the Oct. 7 cross-border raids, the intelligence officials said. After Israel embarked on a ground offensive in Gaza, it increasingly turned to the program to root out anyone with ties to Hamas or other militant groups. At times, the technology wrongly flagged civilians as wanted Hamas militants, one officer said. The facial recognition program, which is run by Israel’s military intelligence unit, including the cyber-intelligence division Unit 8200, relies on technology from Corsight, a private Israeli company, four intelligence officers said. It also uses Google Photos, they said. Combined, the technologies enable Israel to pick faces out of crowds and grainy drone footage.”

In a week, Israeli army executes 13 children in and near Al-Shifa Hospital (Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor) – “In blatant violation of international law, particularly international humanitarian law, the Israeli army has executed 13 children by direct shooting in Al-Shifa Medical Complex and its Gaza City environs. This is a war crime and a crime against humanity, and is part of the genocide that the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip having been experiencing for the past six months. For over a week now, the Israeli army has been conducting systematic and horrifying military operations inside and around Al-Shifa Medical Complex. These crimes include extrajudicial executions and deliberate killings of Palestinian civilians. The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor field team has received identical testimonies about the killings and executions of Palestinian children between the ages of four and 16.” See also Israel pounds southern Gaza, besieges Al-Shifa Hospital for 10th day (New Arab); Witnesses Describe Fear and Deprivation at Besieged Hospital in Gaza (NYT); The First Flight of Their Lives: An Airlift After Agony in Gaza (NYT); Heavy fighting reported around Gaza’s al-Shifa and Nasser hospitals (The Guardian); 

Gaza’s Shadow Death Toll: Bodies Buried Beneath the Rubble (NYT) – “Gaza has become a 140-square-mile graveyard, each destroyed building another jagged tomb for those still buried within. The most recent health ministry estimate for the number of people missing in Gaza is about 7,000. But that figure has not been updated since November. Gaza and aid officials say thousands more have most likely been added to that toll in the weeks and months since then. Some were buried too hastily to be counted. Others lie decomposing in the open, in places too dangerous to be reached, or have simply disappeared amid the fighting, the chaos and ongoing Israeli detentions. The rest, in all likelihood, remain trapped under the rubble.”

Israeli Hostage Says She Was Sexually Assaulted and Tortured in Gaza (NYT) – “Ms. Soussana, 40, is the first Israeli to speak publicly about being sexually assaulted during captivity after the Hamas-led raid on southern Israel. In her interviews with The Times, conducted mostly in English, she provided extensive details of sexual and other violence she suffered during a 55-day ordeal. Ms. Soussana’s personal account of her experience in captivity is consistent with what she told two doctors and a social worker less than 24 hours after she was freed on Nov. 30…Ms. Soussana said she had decided to speak out now to raise awareness about the plight of the hostages still in Gaza, whose number has been put at more than 100, as negotiations for a cease-fire falter. Hours after her release, Ms. Soussana spoke with a senior Israeli gynecologist, Dr. Julia Barda, and a social worker, Valeria Tsekhovsky, about the sexual assault, the two women said in separate interviews with The Times. A medical report filed jointly by them, and reviewed by The Times, briefly summarizes her account.” See also Israel Publishes Video of Islamic Jihad Terrorist Confessing to October 7 Rape (Haaretz); How many hostages are still in Gaza since Hamas attack on Israel? What to know. (WaPo); Netanyahu gives Shin Bet, Mossad chiefs go-ahead to resume hostage talks (Times of Israel) 

Israeli strikes on Rafah raise fear ground assault could begin (Reuters) — “Israel bombed at least four homes in Rafah on Wednesday, raising new fear among the more than a million Palestinians sheltering in the last refuge on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip that a long-threatened ground assault could be coming. One of the airstrikes killed 11 people from a single family, health officials said.” See also Israel has ‘no choice’ but Rafah offensive, Netanyahu tells US members of Congress (CNN)

Buffer Zone and Control Corridor: What the Israeli Army’s Entrenchment in Gaza Looks Like (Haaretz) – “Under the radar, the IDF is creating a border buffer zone that occupies 16 percent of the Gaza Strip’s territory, and an east-west control corridor to monitor Palestinians moving north. This is what it looks like in satellite images.”

  1. River to the Sea

Palestinian Authority announces new cabinet amid U.S. pressure (WaPo) – “The Palestinian Authority named the members of a new cabinet Thursday, pledging a technocratic government that could help rebuild Gaza and fight endemic corruption. Mohammad Mustafa, appointed as prime minister earlier this month, announced the names of 22 new ministers who would join him in the government and outlined his vision, in a statement addressed to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The reshuffle at the highest ranks of the Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, comes amid U.S. and other international pressure to present a new face — driven by hopes, however tenuous, that the authority could overcome its credibility problems to play a role in rebuilding and governing what remains of the Gaza Strip after Israel’s ongoing military campaign…Khaled Elgindy, director of the Program on Palestine and Palestinian-Israeli Affairs at the Middle East Institute, a Washington think tank, said few ministers had any name recognition. The new cabinet lacks legitimacy because of the lack of elections and the Palestinian Authority’s continued security cooperation with Israel, Elgindy said.’” See also US welcomes new Palestinian cabinet, pushes for reforms (Al Monitor)

What It Takes to Give Palestinians a Voice (Robin Wright//New Yorker) – “On March 20th, ten days after his data collectors finished their work in the field, [Director of the Palestinian Center for Policy & Surve Research Khalil] Shikaki released the findings. Like Israelis traumatized by the worst violence against Jews since the Holocaust, the Palestinian public is now reacting to five months of the Israeli military response. Seventy-eight per cent of Gazans reported that a family member had been killed or injured since October 7th. The number of people killed now exceeds thirty-one thousand, including some thirteen thousand children. Almost two-thirds of Palestinians surveyed blame Israel for their suffering “and most of the others blame the US,” Shikaki’s poll reported. Only nine per cent blame Hamas. Shikaki’s poll also showed that only a third of Palestinians support Hamas today—a significant drop of eleven points from his previous survey, released in December. Respondents in Gaza and the West Bank held broadly similar views on this topic. However, no other party scored higher—a reflection of the abysmal state of Palestinian politics. Support for armed struggle has also plummeted seventeen points since December; there has been a five-point rise in support for nonviolence, and another five-point rise favoring negotiations. One of the most important changes was a fifteen-point drop in support for armed groups to provide local protection in the West Bank—although more than forty per cent of respondents still want them in the security vacuum.” See also Hamas’ popularity dips 11%, but only 7% of Palestinians blame it for Gaza war; Five Months Into the War, Residents of Both the West Bank and Gaza Justify Hamas’ Attack (Amira Hass//Haaretz)

Israel announces largest West Bank land seizure since 1993 during Blinken visit (WaPo) – “Israel’s far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, announced the seizure of 10 square kilometers (3.8 square miles) of Palestinian territory in the West Bank on Friday. The move marks the single largest land seizure by the Israeli government since the 1993 Oslo accords, according to Peace Now, a settlement watchdog group…Israeli settlements in the West Bank are considered illegal under international law. Still, Israel has used land orders like the one issued Friday to gain control over 16 percent of Palestinian-controlled lands in the West Bank. The newly seized area includes parcels in the Jordan Valley and between the settlements of Maale Adumim and Keidar. The announcement came as Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Tel Aviv for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the future of the war in Gaza.” See also Three Palestinians killed in Israeli bombing in Jenin camp (WAFA); Three Israelis Wounded in West Bank Shooting Attack; Israeli Army Searching for Assailant (Haaretz)

What We Know About Palestinians Detained in Israel (NYT) – “More than 9,000 Palestinians imprisoned under Israel’s military and national security laws are being held in Israeli detention facilities, the highest figure in more than a decade, according to rights groups, who say that many of the detainees are being held without charges and have been abused while in custody. The number of Palestinians in Israeli prisons has swelled since the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack and Israel’s subsequent invasion of Gaza. In Gaza, Israeli troops have arrested hundreds of people in the search for fighters, the Israeli military says, while security forces in the occupied West Bank have conducted an enormous crackdown that they say is intended to root out militants. But rights groups say that the arrests are often arbitrary, that the conditions in which Palestinians are held can be inhumane and that the spike in the number of reported deaths is concerning.” See also U.S. raises treatment of imprisoned Palestinian leader Barghouti with Israel (WaPo)

Analysis | Inside Israel’s Disturbing Denial of Starvation in Gaza (Dahlia Scheindlin//Haaretz) – “Among the ugliest spectacles of the ugliest phase of Israeli and Palestinian history is the attempt to deny the horrors committed by “our” side. Israeli authorities and pro-Israel keyboard warriors are cultivating denialism daily, and shamelessly. In addition to waging a war of shocking brutality against civilians, the narrative-makers are busy doing the unthinkable: denying hunger in Gaza…These efforts range from clownish to methodical…The most prominent actor downplaying the humanitarian crisis and hunger is Israel’s Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories, known as COGAT…What do these denialists want? The aims range from insisting on Israeli moral superiority to fending off a genocide verdict at the International Court of Justice. Or maybe, as [Gisha Executive Director Tania] Hary believes, “The idea that Israel’s not responsible is at the heart of everything – all roads lead back to that. It’s a vacuum of responsibility.” But most of all, they want you to ignore the evidence, ignore firsthand knowledge, ignore actual experts in the field with transparent data and methodology, but listen to the crackpots. Then a government that uses these tactics can say – and do – anything.”

Hebrew University’s Faculty of Repressive Science (Orly Noy//+972) – “If only the Hebrew University’s great sin (and it is a great sin indeed) was obliviousness. Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s suspension joins a long list of political persecutions and militaristic indoctrination promoted by the institution over the years…In a letter to MK Sharren Haskel explaining their decision [to suspend Shalhoub-Kevorkian], President Cohen and Rector Sheafer accused Shalhoub-Kevorkian of expressing herself in a “disgraceful, anti-Zionist, and inciting” manner since the start of the war, and deriding her for calling Israel’s policies in Gaza a genocide. But she is not alone in doing so. Not only do the Palestinian people and hundreds of millions around the world view the calamity in Gaza as a genocide, but the International Court of Justice, the world’s highest tribunal, has itself taken this weighty charge seriously and ruled that it cannot be dismissed out of hand.”

‘Madness’: Netanyahu’s handling of US relations under scrutiny after UN vote (Guardian) — “The Israeli prime minister’s handling of relations with the Biden administration, which led the US on Monday to decline to veto a ceasefire resolution at the UN security council, has been greeted by sharp criticism by Israeli commentators. After the US abstention, prominent columnists across the Israeli media condemned Benjamin Netanyahu’s growing friction with the US president, Joe Biden…In the Hebrew-language newspaper Ma’ariv, Ben Caspit described the approach of the Israeli prime minister as “delusional”, “madness” and “terrifying”, adding: “This man is putting us all at risk: our future, our children’s future, the strategic alliance that is the keystone of Israeli national security.” Equally damning was the lead editorial in the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which described Netanyahu as “Israel’s agent of destruction” who “has become a burden for Israel”…The centre-right Yedioth Ahronoth was no less scathing, featuring a cartoon of a diminutive Netanyahu arm-wrestling a much larger Biden, in which Netanyahu’s fist barely encircles Biden’s finger.”

The Smotrich Method: Israeli Settlers Obtain Mortgages, Build Illegally Elsewhere in the West Bank (Hagar Shezaf//Haaretz) – “An associate of Israel’s far-right finance minister obtained a mortgage for a lot registered in the zoning plan of one settlement, while his home was built in a nearby illegal outpost. Documents and aerial photos show that he’s far from the only one.”

Opinion | ‘Feeling Threatened’: An Israeli Prescription for Killing With No Criticism or Oversight (Amira Hass//Haaretz) – “”I felt threatened” became, long before October 7, an automatic defense whenever a Jew kills a Palestinian. “I felt” is a very personal and subjective state of being, but when spoken in IDF-ese, namely, in contemporary Hebrew, it becomes a rigid and objective truth sheltering all those under its wings…Last Thursday, the person who objectively felt subjectively threatened, killing a man who looked Arab, was a settler recruited to the “regional defense” battalion on guard duty near the settlement of Elazar, which lies on land belonging to the Palestinian village of Al-Khader. The Devil, ever so sly, gave this incident a particular twist: Sameh Zeitoun, the victim, was not only 63, the age of a grandfather, he was also a resident of Hebron who had converted to Judaism, assuming the name David Ben-Abraham.” See also Palestinian who converted to Judaism shot dead by Israeli soldier in West Bank (Middle East Eye)

  1. Region/Diplomacy

Israel hits Syria in heaviest raid on Iran proxies in months (Reuters) – “Israel carried out its deadliest strikes in months on northern Syria’s Aleppo province early on Friday and said it killed a senior Hezbollah commander in Lebanon, stepping up its campaign against Iran’s proxies in parallel with its war in Gaza. Israel has ramped up airstrikes in Syria against both the Lebanese Hezbollah militia and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) since the Iranian-backed Palestinian faction Hamas’s attack on Israel on Oct. 7, and in recent days its pilots have resumed regular practice for “deep” raids into Lebanon.” See also Syria: Over 40 killed in alleged Israeli strikes targeting Hezbollah warehouse (Al Monitor); Israeli airstrike in Syria kills more than 40 people, says war monitor (The Guardian); Israeli strikes in Lebanon kill 16, militant rockets kill 1 Israeli as cross-border violence soars (AP News 3/27); As strikes deepen, Israel warns Hezbollah it can ‘transition’ from Gaza to Lebanon; Lebanon’s Hezbollah says it launched dozens of rockets after Israeli strikes (Reuters); 

UN expert accuses Israel of ‘genocide’ in Gaza (Al Jazeera) – “There are “reasonable grounds” to believe Israel is committing genocide in the besieged Palestinian enclave of the Gaza Strip, according to a report issued by a United Nations-appointed expert. In the report, issued late on Monday, the UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories Francesca Albanese said there are clear indications that Israel has violated three of the five acts listed under the UN Genocide Convention…“The overwhelming nature and scale of Israel’s assault on Gaza and the destructive conditions of life it has inflicted reveal an intent to physically destroy Palestinians as a group,” she said…Entitled Anatomy of a Genocide, the report listed the violating acts as: “killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to the group’s members; and deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”. Albanese noted that Israel has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza since October 7. A further 12,000 are reported missing, presumed dead under the rubble. More than 70 percent of the recorded deaths have been women and children and Israel has failed to prove that the remaining 30 percent – adult males – were active Hamas fighters, she said.” See also UN expert says she faces threats after Israel-Gaza genocide report (Al Jazeera) 

Jordan’s government struggles to contain unrest as Gaza protests grow (WaPo) – “Hundreds of protesters gathered in the Jordanian capital Tuesday for a third straight night to call for an end to Israel’s war in Gaza, clashing with baton-carrying riot police before tear gas rained down on them. On Wednesday night, demonstrators were back on the streets. “Open the borders,” they chanted. Though there have been regular protests in Amman throughout the nearly six-month war, the government has largely managed to contain the situation by aligning itself with public sentiment — harshly criticizing Israel’s conduct of the war and championing the Palestinian cause. But the scenes this week appeared more spontaneous, the crowds larger and the anger more raw, sending shock waves through the country’s powerful security establishment.” See also Jordanian anti-riot police beat, arrest protesters near Israeli embassy (New Arab) 

  1. US Scene

Opinion: Why I’m resigning from the State Department (Annelle Sheline//CNN) – “For the past year, I worked for the office devoted to promoting human rights in the Middle East. I believe strongly in the mission and in the important work of that office. However, as a representative of a government that is directly enabling what the International Court of Justice has said could plausibly be a genocide in Gaza, such work has become almost impossible. Unable to serve an administration that enables such atrocities, I have decided to resign from my position at the Department of State. Whatever credibility the United States had as an advocate for human rights has almost entirely vanished since the war began. Members of civil society have refused to respond to my efforts to contact them. Our office seeks to support journalists in the Middle East; yet when asked by NGOs if the US can help when Palestinian journalists are detained or killed in Gaza, I was disappointed that my government didn’t do more to protect them…By resigning publicly, I am saddened by the knowledge that I likely foreclose a future at the State Department. I had not initially planned a public resignation. Because my time at State had been so short — I was hired on a two-year contract — I did not think I mattered enough to announce my resignation publicly. However, when I started to tell colleagues of my decision to resign, the response I heard repeatedly was, “Please speak for us.” Across the federal government, employees like me have tried for months to influence policy, both internally and, when that failed, publicly…So many of my colleagues feel betrayed. I write for myself but speak for many others, including Feds United for Peace, a group mobilizing for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza that represents federal workers in their personal capacities across the country, and across 30 federal agencies and departments.” See also State Department staffer resigns over Biden’s handling of Gaza (Al Monitor); State Dept. human rights staffer quits over Biden’s Gaza policy (WaPo)

U.S. Finds Israel in Compliance With Biden’s Demands on International Law, Humanitarian Aid (Haaretz) – “The U.S. has deemed Israel in compliance with U.S. President Joe Biden’s national security memorandum stipulating that recipients of U.S. weapons must be in compliance with international law, nor may they block the provision of humanitarian assistance…”These assurances are prospective, but of course our view of them is informed by our ongoing assessments of Israel’s conduct in the war in Gaza,” [State Department spokesperson Matthew] Miller continued. “We’ve had ongoing assessments of Israel’s compliance with international humanitarian law. We have not found them to be in violation, either when it comes to the conduct of the war or the provision of humanitarian assistance. We view those assurances through that ongoing work we have done,” he added. Dozens of Congressional Democrats, as well as leading international NGOs, have warned that Israel is not in compliance with the memorandum. Leading State Department and USAID officials similarly insisted that Israel’s assurances — as well as U.S. Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew’s endorsement — failed to account for realities on the ground.” See also Van Hollen: Israeli restrictions on Gaza aid ‘not currently in compliance’ with US policy (Al Monitor); Bernie Sanders: Too Few Democrats Call for Conditioning Israel Aid Because of AIPAC, Biden (Haaretz) 

U.S. Doubles Down on Defunding UNRWA – Despite Flimsy Allegations (The Intercept) – “The U.S. Government will defund the United Nations agency that aids Palestinians through next year — even as 1.1 million people in Gaza face threats of famine in coming months — on the basis of flimsy allegations by Israel against a tiny minority of the agency’s staff that have yet to be proven. Congress passed the defunding measure as part of a $1.2 trillion spending package to avert a partial government shutdown. In addition to stripping funding from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA, through March 2025, the bill includes the $3.8 billion the U.S. sends to Israel every year. The bill also contains a long-standing provision that would limit aid to the Palestinian Authority, which governs the occupied West Bank, if “the Palestinians initiate an International Criminal Court (ICC) judicially authorized investigation, or actively supports such an investigation, that subjects Israeli nationals to an investigation for alleged crimes against Palestinians.”’ See also Lara Friedman’s section on UNRWA in her 3/22/24 Legislative Round-Up; Congress to cut security grant funding, ban UNRWA funds and add Palestinian aid restrictions (Jewish Insider)

US says Israeli banks don’t have to close accounts of sanctioned settlers (Times of Israel) – “The US informed Israel this week that the Biden administration’s sanctions against violent settlers are not intended to compel Israeli banks to close the accounts of targeted individuals, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel. The clarification, sent in a letter from the US Treasury Department to the Bank of Israel and obtained by The Times of Israel, is intended to cool anger from Israel’s treasury chief over the fact that sanctioned individuals had lost access to local banking services, due to fears of violating the US penalties. Several major banks froze the accounts of those slapped with sanctions by US President Joe Biden’s administration earlier this year after the White House determined that the Israeli government was systematically failing to clamp down on settler violence. The sanctions have infuriated Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who characterized them as a draconian obstruction of Israeli sovereignty. In response, the far-right lawmaker threatened to take steps in his capacity as head of the treasury that would significantly impede the Palestinian economy, the Israeli official added, confirming a Thursday report in the Israel Hayom daily. Ostensibly wary of such retaliatory actions, the US administration agreed to send a letter to the Finance Ministry clarifying that the sanctions were not intended to cut off those targeted from the entirety of their assets.”

Majority in U.S. Now Disapprove of Israeli Action in Gaza (Gallup) — “After narrowly backing Israel’s military action in Gaza in November, Americans now oppose the campaign by a solid margin. Fifty-five percent currently disapprove of Israel’s actions, while 36% approve…Seventy-four percent of U.S. adults say they are following news of the Israeli-Hamas situation closely, similar to the 72% Gallup measured in November. One-third of Americans (34%) say they are following the situation “very closely.”’ See also Biden, Obama, Clinton heckled over Gaza war handling at New York fundraiser (Times of Israel); Protesters interrupt Biden, Obama, Clinton at $25 million New York fundraiser (Reuters)

Chuck Schumer and Democrats’ New Line on “Netanyahu’s War” (Alex Kane//Jewish Currents) – “Instead of constituting a substantive shift in US support for Israel, experts say, Democrats’ emboldened critique of Netanyahu should be understood as an attempt to respond to growing voter frustration without changing policy, as the Biden administration remains unwilling to use US aid and arms exports to Israel as leverage to demand a change in behavior. In this context, the choice to focus on Netanyahu “is a political decision to avoid outright criticism of Israel’s war conduct,” said Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace…the Democratic narrative about “Netanyahu’s war” doesn’t reflect reality—not only because the assault on Gaza enjoys broad support in Israel, but also because Israel could not continue its assault without a constant supply of US arms and military funding. Senior Democrats’ fixation on the Israeli prime minister thus serves to sideline debate about US policies that could actually bring the war to an end.” See also Opinion | Netanyahu Is Insulting, Not Engaging, the Biden Administration. It’s Time for Israel to Listen to America (Daniel Kurtzer//Haaretz); From ‘bear hug’ to barbs, how the U.S. and Israel differ on taking Rafah (Jewish Insider)

Jeff Yass, Billionaire Invested in TikTok and Israel’s Judicial Coup, Is Top Spender in 2024 Elections (Haaretz) – “Jeffrey Yass, the Jewish Republican billionaire whose donations to conservative think tank Kohelet allegedly played a significant role in efforts to overhaul Israel’s judiciary, has emerged as the single largest donor to outside spending groups in the 2024 election cycle. According to campaign finance filings, Yass has donated more than $46 million to conservative-leaning PACs and groups. In the 2022 election cycle, Yass was the fourth-largest political contributor, spending over $56 million, primarily for Republicans…Yass’ Susquehanna International Group…was the largest institutional shareholder in the company that merged with Trump’s Truth Social media company, which will net Trump more than $3 billion according to SEC filings.” See also FMEP’s April 2023 webinar, Spotlight on the “Kohelet Policy Forum”: How a Far-Right-Wing, U.S.-Funded Israeli Think Tank is Working to Shape Policy & Law in Both the US & Israel.

  1. Redefining Antisemitism to Quash Criticism of Israel // Lawfare // Media

Colleges Use His Antisemitism Definition to Censor. He Calls It a ‘Travesty.’ (Chronicle of Higher Education) – “When Kenneth Stern drafted the working definition of antisemitism 20 years ago as director of the antisemitism division for the American Jewish Committee, he wanted to help researchers better understand the frequency of violence targeted at Jewish communities…The definition has since been adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and in 2019, it was incorporated into Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which dictates what counts as discrimination on college campuses, by an executive order from President Donald J. Trump. Over the next few years, more than 30 states adopted the definition in some way, including two — Georgia and South Dakota — that passed legislation doing so in January and March. On Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas issued an executive order requiring all colleges in the state to update their free-speech policies to include the definition…Stern, who is now the director of the Bard Center for the Study of Hate, is alarmed by its use on college campuses. He believes colleges and politicians who adopt his definition into antidiscrimination policies could then censor anyone who criticizes or says something controversial about Israel. While the definition itself should help people identify clear harassment, using it in legislation allows colleges and lawmakers to clamp down on any protected speech, no matter if it’s harmful or offensive, Stern says.”

Meta oversight board urges company to end ban on Arabic word ‘shaheed’ (Reuters) – “Meta’s oversight board on Tuesday called on the company to end its blanket ban on a common usage of the Arabic word “shaheed,” or “martyr” in English, after a year-long review found the Facebook owner’s approach was “overbroad” and had unnecessarily suppressed the speech of millions of users. The board, which is funded by Meta but operates independently, said the social media giant should remove posts containing the word “shaheed” only when they are linked to clear signs of violence or if they separately break other Meta rules…Rights groups have accused Meta of suppressing content supportive of Palestinians on Facebook and Instagram against the backdrop of a war that has killed tens of thousands of people in Gaza following Hamas’ deadly raids into Israel on Oct 7…”Meta has been operating under the assumption that censorship can and will improve safety, but the evidence suggests that censorship can marginalize whole populations while not improving safety at all,” Oversight Board co-chair Helle Thorning-Schmidt said in a statement.”

  1. Long Reads/Perspectives

What Biden Would Do if He Were Serious About Ending the War in Gaza (Noah Lanard//Mother Jones) – “Experts disagree about whether the United States could immediately force Israel to end the war…Here are what some of Biden’s current options look like, according to experts I spoke with this month: [US/Middle East Project President Daniel] Levy and others agree that restricting arms sales is the most important step the United States can take to influence Israel and help bring the war to a close. The country’s reliance on US weapons is made clear by the fact that the United States has approved and delivered more than 100 separate military sales for Israel—almost one per day—since the war began…There is a strong case that even if the Biden administration wants to keep sending military aid to Israel, it is legally prohibited from doing so. Section 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act blocks the president from providing military assistance to a country that restricts access to US humanitarian assistance…Withdraw Support for Additional Military Aid…Support UN Ceasefire Resolutions…Push for a Permanent Ceasefire…There are other things Biden could do that are less directly related to the war, such as sanctioning top Israeli officials for their actions in the West Bank or moving to recognize Palestinian statehood. But after five months of war, there are still few signs that Biden will suddenly embrace the need to constrain Israel—and if he does it will come months too late.”

Toward an Intellectual History of Genocide in Gaza (Esmat Elhalaby//The Baffler) – “Meanwhile, fifty miles southwest of Jerusalem in the Gaza Strip, every university was made in response to, and in defiance of, its colonial situation. Every university in Gaza has now been destroyed. Alongside them, archives, libraries, cultural centers and auditoriums, publishing houses and bookstores, museums, churches, mosques, and countless artworks. The material loss—a city and its environs turned into dust—is paled only by the loss of human life. Flesh mixed with concrete. Air poisoned by armaments.”

“Heartbreak and Heartlessness” in Gaza: Crisis in International Humanitarian Aid (Yara Asi//Arab Center DC) – “Despite pleas from groups like the United Nations and many of its agencies (including the World Health Organization, World Food Programme, and United Nations Children’s Fund), and the inhumane conditions documented by people in Gaza through videos, photos, and testimonies, there has hardly been any political pressure on Israel to lift this siege. Donors and humanitarian organizations instead scrambled to work around Israel’s restrictions. Unsurprisingly, the efforts were insufficient; in mid-December, Human Rights Watch released a report detailing Israel’s use of starvation as a weapon of war in Gaza. Again, no serious action, aside from vague condemnations that often excluded Israel’s role in the crisis, was taken…Decades of literature critiquing humanitarian aid could never have imagined a better case study than the international approach to the occupied Gaza Strip in 2023/2024, as large parts of the small territory were being destroyed by the military of the same government that controls the entry of aid into it. Indeed, witnessing the global powers actively enabling and justifying what the International Court of Justice has deemed a “plausible” risk of genocide, while continuing to publicly lament the deteriorating humanitarian crisis it has created, has called into question the purpose and function of the entirety of the humanitarian aid system.”

At overburdened Gaza hospital, Palestinians try to instill Ramadan spirit (Ruwaida Kamal Amer//+972) – “The European Hospital near Khan Younis is overflowing with thousands of Palestinians displaced and wounded by Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip, which is now approaching its seventh month. Both the hospital’s corridors and its courtyard outside are filled with tents, the people’s suffering apparent for all to see. There are no verified figures on the exact number of people here — the hospital estimates about 30,000 people are crowded in the premises — but the families are clearly facing immense difficulties in obtaining the most basic needs, with the hospital ill-equipped to serve as a massive makeshift shelter. But despite the horrors of the war, the Palestinians here are trying their best to mark the holy month of Ramadan, with Eid al-Fitr approaching in two weeks’ time. Families and hospital staff have put up some decorations and distributed them to children to adorn the tents and corridors, hoping to create a festive atmosphere amid their horrid conditions.”