tough cop, con cop (lily galili is the daughter of an IDF general)

The ‘banal’ trauma of Israel’s nightly raids on Palestinian children
Lily Galili, Middle East Eye, Nov 26 2020

IDF night raid in the occupied West Bank refugee camp of Jalazun,
north of Ramallah, Jun 16 2014 (Photo: AFP)

A sudden noise pierced the silence of a dark night. The infuriated banging on the gate of the blue-painted house terrified not only the family sleeping behind it but the whole neighbourhood. The cries of babies alarmed by the shrill noise blended with the ear-splitting sound of fists banging on iron. This is not the banal opening of a mysterious fictional story. It is the day-to-day life of Palestinian families in hundreds of villages all over the occupied territories: Israeli soldiers appear at the doorsteps of families in deep sleep, between 10 pm and 5 am, coming to search, arrest or detain a relative. Sometimes, they come with no particular reason. Too often, they leave accompanied by a blindfolded and handcuffed youngster plucked from his bed, followed from a distance by the receding sounds of crying, painful screaming and muted voices of despair of the family. Hundreds of Palestinian teenagers are arrested by the Israeli military every year in nightly raids, violating the military’s own regulations with regards to issuing summons for interrogation prior to detention, according to a report issued by the Israeli human rights group HaMoked on Wednesday. The report said summons would have enabled the boys to attend interrogation without the need for the traumatic experience of the nightly raids. Its findings are based on 81 testimonies from boys aged 14 to 17 who were arrested at various times in 2018 and 2019.

Last week, the coronavirus-stricken world found alternative ways to mark International Children’s Day. In Israel, under the title: “At night, while everybody is asleep,” several Israeli human rights organisations, including Breaking the Silence and Parents Against Children’s Detention, gathered to read testimonies of soldiers who participated in those nightly actions, as well as from Palestinian children and families who suffered from this practice and are victims of its long-lasting consequences. Parents Against Children’s Detention is the newest of those organisations, formed just two years ago by two Israeli mothers and activists, Moria Shlomot and Nirith Ben-Horin, who are committed to documenting and raising public awareness to the alarming scope of this undiscussed phenomenon and consistent violation of rights of those children. According to Parents Against Children’s Detention and Military Court Watch, 150 to 200 Palestinian children from the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem are held by Israeli authorities at any given time. Every year, Israel detains about 1,800 minors for varying periods of time. The fact that Israel has signed international conventions on children’s rights is ignored. Israeli criminal justice law relating to minors, which mandates that during these sensitive years of childhood and adolescence “use of authority must be carried out while protecting the dignity of the minor,” does not apply to Palestinian children in the West Bank, who are arrested and tried under the military system. This system is not mandated to consider the mental health and development of children. Many aspects of this practice and routine are plain illegal. The consequences are unavoidable. According to mental health workers affiliated with Parents Against Children’s Detention:

Palestinian children in detention experience disorientation, fear, shame and guilt. In many cases, due to serious threats, they also experience fear for the safety of their family.

Listening to the testimonies of the children and their families, it seems unavoidable. Avner Gvaryahu, executive director of Breaking the Silence, calls this repetitive practice “accumulative trauma.” Testimonies of children further confirm this assessment. A 14-year-old boy from al-Arroub refugee camp in the southern West Bank recounted the night of his arrest:

I woke up at 2.30 am, when 15 Israeli soldiers broke into our house… Some were masked. The commander told me I am under arrest. They handcuffed me tightly, my hands behind my back. It was painful. I complained, but they just told me to keep quiet. I was detained. Then came the interrogation. They said I threw a Molotov bottle on a settlers’ bus. I did not. They were very aggressive. After a few hours I chose to admit to it, just to get it over. Deep into the night, a member of the family was waiting for me at every possible checkpoint since they could not know when and from where I would be allowed to enter.

Another minor whose testimony was shared on International Children’s Day recounted a very similar story with slight variations. He said:

My interrogator made me sign some document. I do not read or write Hebrew, but he insisted, so I did. I was released late at night. It was freezing cold and rainy. I was afraid.

Here’s another testimony, of a 40-year-old mother of three from a village in the southern West Bank, Beit Ummar:

Loud screaming in Hebrew and banging on the door woke us up at 5am. I opened the door. Six soldiers accompanied by dogs entered the house. I told the soldier my husband just underwent open-heart surgery. It made no difference. My 10-year-old reacted with a severe asthma attack; the eight-year-old has been wetting his bed since the soldiers first came to the house two years ago. Now, he did it again… The soldiers pushed us all into one room. I tried to find a blanket to cover the children but the soldiers threatened me and would not let me. They left about three hours later, said nothing, explained nothing.

All stories sound similar, but each encapsulates different trauma. Still, they share one surprising common denominator: according to a Military Court Watch report:

Evidence suggests a strong geographic link between West Bank settlements (and their associated road network) and the military detention of children nearby. In 2019, the children who were detained lived on average within 900 metres of a West Bank settlement.

As Hercule Poirot, the famous detective would say:

It’s too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence.

Shlomot, the executive director of Parents Against Children’s Detention, couldn’t agree more. She told Middle East Eye:

Authorities claim the proximity causes friction and enhances violence of the Palestinians against the settlers. We want to offer an alternative explanation: due to the proximity of the settlements to Palestinian villages, the military imposes extra protection measures, including intimidation and spreading fear among Palestinians as deterrence. Hence the number of minors detained within this geographic circle.

Former Israeli MP and activist Mossi Raz was one of the many who volunteered to read the testimonies on International Children’s Day. There was nothing outstanding in the story he presented. Nobody died. Raz, talking to MEE, said:

This is exactly what struck me, the banality of it all. The coming and going of the soldiers whenever they want, the total distortion that became banal routine. This is the very essence of occupation – the every day and night intimidation and humiliation. There must be a total distinction between detention of adults and detention of minors. Unfortunately, these practices are deeply rooted and they will change only when occupation ends.

Shlomot says:

Our immediate aim is to make sure that detention of minors comes as a last resort only and for the shortest time. Even this minor expectation does not materialise. The brutality of detention of minors does not end with the night invasion into their family home. It continues with the minor being driven to a military base, blindfolded and humiliated by the soldiers in the vehicle; it continues with the wait for an Arabic-speaking interrogator to come, sometimes with no food and no access to the toilet. Some children report manipulative pressure imposed on them using their families, like threatening to revoke their father’s working permit or their aunt’s permit to get medical treatment in Israel. On top of everything else, the children are obsessed with guilt and tend to admit even when not guilty at all. Most of the time, they are detained for stone throwing, which is considered a security offence even when no damage is caused.

Despite some cosmetic reforms to the military law in the West Bank, there remains an abundant number of child arrests and detentions. “A child’s best interest,” as a guiding principle in international children’s conventions, certainly does not apply here.

Israel’s self-investigation shields its soldiers
Maureen Clare Murphy, Electronic Intifada, Nov 26 2020

Great March of Return protests along Gaza’s eastern boundary with Israel, Dec 2019.
Photo: Mohammed Zaanoun/ActiveStills

Only one Israeli soldier has been indicted over the use of live fire against unarmed protesters during the Great March of Return demonstrations held along Gaza’s eastern boundary. Israeli forces killed more than 215 Palestinians during those protests, which began in late Mar 2018 and were suspended last December. The vast majority of those fatalities are still under preliminary review by the Israeli military’s self-investigation apparatus, according to a new report by Yesh Din. Israel’s failure to earnestly investigate alleged violations committed by its forces may leave it liable to prosecution by the ICC. In addition to those killed by Israeli snipers during the protests, nearly 10k Palestinians were wounded by live ammunition and survived. Some of the injured are permanently paralyzed or have had limbs amputated as a result.

After filing freedom of information requests, Yesh Din learned that not a single incident of live fire that didn’t result in death has been reviewed by the military’s self-investigation apparatus. Some 20k more Palestinians were injured during the protests by means other than live fire, such as rubber-coated metal bullets and tear gas. The Israeli military permitted the use of potentially lethal force against Gaza protesters who soldiers deemed as “primary instigators.” Meanwhile, Israel invented a baseless new paradigm of international law in which it treats the Great March of Return as governed by the laws of warfare, claiming that the civilian mass protests were orchestrated by Hamas, the political and resistance organization governing Gaza’s interior. Yesh Din explains in its report:

As a rule, the military’s own directives set out that in any case of a Palestinian death outside of combat activity, a criminal investigation of the incident must be opened immediately. By categorizing the Great March of Return as part of its armed conflict with Hamas, even though demonstrators were unarmed, Israel created a separate legal framework for handling complaints related to the protests. These complaints have not come under the review of Israel’s military advocate general, as is the typical process concerning Palestinian fatalities and injuries. Instead, they are brought under a separate “fact-finding” mechanism. This appears to be another step the military has taken to counter criticism against it and bring Israel’s internal inquiry and investigation systems in line with the rules of international law.

But in practice, the “fact-finding” mechanism only serves to prevent justice for Great March of Return victims. Yesh Din states:

There is currently no publicly available information about the mechanism’s inquiries or what guidelines it follows. It appears from figures provided by the military that the fact-finding mechanism is limited to gathering information on fatalities. The failure to consider non-fatal injuries points to a deep flaw in law enforcement, where inquiries and investigations are conducted according to the outcome of the incident rather than its circumstances. However, the end result, death or survival, actually has no bearing on the legality of the offending soldiers’ conduct.

Yesh Din also faults the “sluggishness” of the fact-finding mechanism, noting that many of the soldiers responsible for killing and injuring Palestinians during the Great March of Return are likely no longer in active service. It would be difficult for authorities to gather evidence “to support a serious investigation” so long after the incidents occurred, the group adds. It concludes:

If Israel’s interest is to impede genuine, effective investigations into the killing and injury of hundreds of protesters, it appears that the clock is working in its favor.

Only 14 of the Great March of Return fatalities reviewed by the fact-finding mechanism were referred on to the Israeli military advocate general for investigation (three additional cases were investigated independently by the latter). Only one of those investigations, concerning the killing of 14-year-old Uthman Rami Hillis, led to an indictment. Yesh Din explains:

The indicted soldier was accused of firing at the boy without clearance from his commander and in defiance of the rules of engagement and the directives given to the soldiers.

As part of a plea bargain, the soldier was charged with a disciplinary offense, the military’s equivalent of community service and a demotion. Reference to Hillis’ killing was removed from the indictment. The Israeli military advocate general claimed:

Our investigation did not uncover evidence meeting the required threshold in criminal proceedings to establish a causal relation between the soldier’s fire and the harm to the rioter.

In other words, the Israeli military refused to take responsibility for the boy’s killing. Yesh Din states:

The soldier who fired at Hillis was sentenced to 30 days of military work, a suspended prison sentence and a demotion to the rank of private.

As a whole, Israel’s self-investigation apparatuses may appear to go through the motions of justice but their true purpose is to shield soldiers and their commanders from accountability. Yesh Din acknowledges:

Criminal investigations against soldiers suspected of harming Palestinians are opened only in the most severe cases.

Rarely are soldiers ever prosecuted for harming Palestinians. The handful who are convicted receive extremely lenient sentences. B’Tselem stopped cooperating with the Israeli military’s self-investigation mechanisms in 2016, saying that the system “serves as a fig leaf for the occupation.” Despite the inefficacy of Israel’s self-investigation apparatuses, they may make war crimes difficult to prosecute. The ICC only pursues war crimes cases when justice for serious crimes cannot be pursued in local tribunals. This is known as the principle of complementarity. Fatou Bensouda, the ICC chief prosecutor, warned Israeli leaders that they were liable to prosecution for ordering sniper fire against protesters in Gaza soon after the Great March of Return demonstrations began. Last December, after a preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine that began in 2015, Bensouda recommended that the court open war crimes investigations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She cited the Israeli military’s use of live fire against Gaza protesters as an example of an investigation within her scope. That body’s preliminary procedures also inch along at a snail’s pace. While recommending that war crimes investigations move forward, Bensouda asked a panel of judges for a ruling on the scope of court jurisdiction in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Nearly a year later, no such ruling has been made.

Why is the PA helping the occupation again?
Ahmed Abu Artema, Electronic Intifada, Nov 25 2020

The Palestinian Authority’s forces thwart resistance to Israel’s military occupation.
Photo: Issam Rimawi/APA

The Palestinian Authority is helping Israel’s military occupation once again. The step was taken, according to senior PA representative Hussein al-Sheikh, after commitments were received from Israel that it will respect previous agreements. Why has the decision to stop “security cooperation” and other interactions with Israel made six months ago now been overturned? One major factor is that life has become markedly harder for Palestinians. Because of the decision, the PA stopped accepting customs duties and other tax revenues collected by Israel. Those revenues constitute approximately two-thirds of the PA’s budget. Without them, public sector employees cannot be paid, and have not been paid. The victory of Joe Biden in the US presidential election is another factor. After being shunned by Donald Trump, the PA is hoping that Biden will be less hostile.

The NYT has reported that the PA is prepared to make concessions so that it can enter negotiations with Israel, facilitated by the US. If press stories are to be believed, the PA stands ready to change its law on assistance to prisoners. By doing so, the PA would capitulate to Israeli demands that it stop providing many prisoners with allowances. While those allowances are essential toward ensuring that prisoners and their families survive, Israel and its lobbying network have long portrayed them as rewards for “terrorism,” the term used by Israel to describe a wide range of resistance activities against the occupation and apartheid system it inflicts on Palestinians. There is also speculation that the PA would be willing to cease joining international bodies or signing up to international accords. Another possible step is that the PA would alter school textbooks so that they please Israel and its lobbyists, who allege that the education of Palestinian boys and girls involves incitement to hatred. These steps may be presented by the PA as “goodwill” gestures to Biden and the administration he is now assembling. But they would widely be seen by ordinary Palestinians as another case of the PA bending over backwards to try and placate our oppressor, Israel. The PA’s decision to resume helping Israel shows that it does not have any means to exert real pressure. The only choice it can make is over whether it agrees or refuses to cooperate with Israel.

Mohammed Shtayyeh, the PA’s prime minister, has been at pains to argue that only peace with Palestinians will “comfort” Israelis, regardless of what deals Israel makes with others. He was referring to how the UAE, Sudan and Bahrain have all normalized relations with Israel since the PA announced a halt to its cooperation. That message shows what really lies behind the decision to begin helping Israel again. The PA is concerned that Arab states have leapfrogged it and left it behind. The PA doesn’t seem to have a problem with the normalization as a matter of principle. Rather, the PA objects to how the normalization has taken place behind its back. It is true that the PA struck an angry note over the normalization spree. It even took some symbolic action by recalling the PA’s ambassadors from the UAE and Bahrain. The anger did not last long. At the same time as announcing it was resuming cooperation with Israel, the PA apparently returned its ambassadors to Bahrain and the UAE. Since it was established in 1994, the PA has worked closely with Arab governments.

True, there have been exceptions. The most notable exception was in the early years of this century, when Yasser Arafat was the PA president. Arafat was directly targeted by the Israeli military, which bombed his compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The US backed Israel’s brutality, with Arab leaders offering no real opposition. Arafat was marginalized by those leaders. When Bush 43 effectively called for Arafat’s removal in 2002, Arab governments responded with just a token defense of his leadership. Their relations with Arafat remained tense until his death in 2004, more than likely by poisoning. The second notable disagreement between the PA and Arab countries related to the conference that the Trump administration held in Bahrain last year. The event was billed as the launch of a new initiative to pump prime the Palestinian economy. In reality, it was shaped by a pro-Israel agenda and Palestinian rights were dismissed. While several Arab governments attended, the PA boycotted the event.

Before Trump became president, successive US governments had at least conveyed the impression that they were treating the PA as an important player, despite how the Washington establishment is clearly biased in favor of Israel. Trump changed that. During his time in the White House, the US disregarded the PA. It sought to foster close relations between Israel and Arab governments, without Israel being obliged to make any gestures toward justice for Palestinians. The PA felt increasingly marginalized over the past four years. Its leadership probably feared that alternatives to the existence of the PA were being discussed. Its fears were not irrational. Israel, after all, has formalized relations with the UAE. In recent years the UAE’s rulers have been advised by Muhammad Dahlan, a Palestinian “strongman,” as he is often called, known to please the West for his willingness to behave violently toward his own people. Dahlan has become the greatest adversary to Mahmoud Abbas, the PA’s president.

To properly understand the PA’s conduct, it is necessary to examine the circumstances surrounding its establishment. The PA was spawned by the Oslo accords signed between Israel and the PLO in the 1990s. It is the product of an arrangement that has enabled Israel’s theft of Palestinian land to go ahead without encountering any effective challenge. The PA lacks any political, economic or popular basis to confront Israel. Indeed, the consequence of “security coordination” has been that the PA has repressed those Palestinians who confront Israel directly. The PA has never been able to exercise genuine sovereignty over any part of Palestine. It has, therefore, been unable to establish a viable state. Claims by its diplomats that they represent the “state of Palestine” are deceptive. Under the Oslo accords, the PA has been given responsibility for administering 18% of the occupied West Bank. That means that the PA’s authority extends over just 4% of historic Palestine. In theory, the PA is in charge of security matters in a few West Bank cities and towns. In reality, the PA has always been subservient to Israel. Palestinians living in the area where the PA is nominally responsible for security often witness raids by Israeli forces. Putting heavily populated areas of the West Bank under the PA’s jurisdiction benefited Israel. It was able to shed some of the burdens of ruling directly over Palestinians. At the same time, Israel was allowed to retain complete control over around 60% of the West Bank. The construction of settlements, all illegal under international law, has continued in that area.

Israel has given the PA limited control over natural resources and farmland, while keeping control over boundary crossings. The 1994 Paris Protocol established that Israel collects custom duties and taxes on goods imported to the West Bank and Gaza via Israel. These revenues are then passed on to the PA, which relies on them heavily. As a result, the Palestinian economy has stayed hostage to the Israeli occupation. Israel has, by extension, been able to exploit the PA for political gain. The arrangements on security cooperation were a particularly large gift for Israel. Through this setup, the PA gives information to Israel about Palestinians resisting the occupation. PA forces have boasted that large numbers of operations against Israel have been thwarted due to the cooperation. The planners of the operations have been imprisoned. It is important to underscore, too, that the “security cooperation” was not really paused six months ago. As soon as the PA announced it was formally suspending that cooperation, it sent out signals to say that the cooperation would actually continue.

Following the PA’s establishment, many of its leading figures got involved in economic ventures. They were paid high salaries and Israel often gave them special treatment, for example by issuing them travel permits swiftly. In the early years of this century, a major scandal involving high-level PA figures was exposed. The PA figures were involved in importing cement from Egypt so that Israel could use it while building its massive wall in the West Bank. Mahmoud Abbas’ own family has seized opportunities to get rich. Two of his sons run highly profitable companies that are active in the West Bank and several Arab countries. Tied to a Palestinian elite doing well out of its interactions with Israel, the PA has shown an eagerness for a certain stability to be maintained so that elite interests are preserved. The PA’s ability to say “no” to Israel has been diminished as a result.

Israeli political, military and economic dominance, coupled with the PA’s desires to protect an elite’s interests, have rid the PA of any revolutionary willpower it may once have possessed. The PA’s structure has helped Israel continue the occupation, including the building and expansion of settlements. Key issues relating to Palestinian rights, such as the right of return for Palestine’s refugees and the status of Jerusalem, have been shoved aside. During the first intifada, Israel found itself facing mass popular resistance in the West Bank. Through “security cooperation,” the PA is now teaming up with Israel to suppress resistance. Compared to the late 1980s and early 1990s, Israel is now enjoying a golden age. The PA is helping it to keep the costs of occupation down.

Coronavirus disaster looms in Gaza
Maureen Clare Murphy, Electronic Intifada, Nov 25 2020

COVID-19 cases in Gaza more than tripled over the past month. Photo: Osama Baba/APA

The head of UNRWA, the chronically cash-strapped UN agency that serves some 5.6m Palestinian refugees, has sounded a more dire warning than usual as COVID-19 cases surge in the Eastern Mediterranean. UNRWA secretary-general Philippe Lazzarini said on Monday:

We are stretched beyond capacity and about to crash. We do not yet have sufficient funds to pay November salaries to our 28k staff, most of whom are Palestinian refugees. We need $70m to avoid additional painful measures in the coming weeks.

He attributed the precarious financial situation to a drop in core contributions to the agency after the US, formerly UNRWA’s largest donor, withdrew funding in 2018. Saudi Arabia, which gave $50m to UNRWA’s core programming in 2018 to help fill the funding gap created by the US, contributed just $2m to that budget last year. US funding to UNRWA is expected to resume once Biden takes the ropes from Trump, whose administration is packed with pro-settlement extremists who have sought to make Palestinian refugees disappear while decrying supposed anti-Israel bias at the UN. While the Biden administration will not be as gleeful as its predecessor when it comes to supporting violations of international law, Israel has little to worry about and can continue to count on the US to subsidize the occupation and shield it from accountability. Meanwhile, UNRWA’s staff are “the front-line of the response” to COVID-19 in the Eastern Mediterranean region where it operates. Lazzarini said:

Among UN agencies, UNRWA staff reports the highest number of COVID-19 cases.

Health authorities are warning that the medical system in Gaza, where nearly 75% of the population of two million are refugees, is on the verge of collapse as COVID-19 cases tripled in the besieged territory over the past month. Abd’el-Naser Soboh, the WHO’s emergency health coordinator in Gaza, told media:

Within a week, we will become unable to care for critical cases.

The capacity of Gaza’s health system has deteriorated after more than a decade of Israeli blockade and successive military assaults. It had already been overwhelmed by the flood of catastrophic injuries requiring ongoing treatment due to Israel’s use of live fire to maim and kill protesters in the two years leading up to the pandemic. There are currently some 7k active cases of COVID-19 in Gaza and more than 9k in the West Bank, though official figures are believed to be much lower than the actual rates due to limited testing. The Palestinian health minister in the West Bank says the true number of cases might be three times higher than the official figures indicate. The economy in the West Bank and Gaza will shrink by 8% in 2020 largely due to COVID-19 restrictions, the World Bank has projected. Meanwhile, some 121k Palestinians lost their jobs in the second quarter of the year alone. UNRWA’s funding shortfall will only worsen an already bad situation. The agency’s 13k employees in Gaza “will be the most affected,” according to UN OCHA. UNRWA’s chief noted:

While funding to UNRWA has decreased, the needs of Palestine refugees have increased significantly, as a result of conflicts and multiple socioeconomic crises. Their needs today cannot be compared with those in 2012. Yet, sadly, resources available are at the same level. Despair and economic uncertainty is a dangerous cocktail that the region does not need.

US Congress ties bows on gifts to Israel
Josh Ruebner, Electronic Intifada, Nov 27 2020

A Senate bill will set $3.8b/yr as a floor rather than a ceiling.
Photo: Ahmad Al-Bazz/ActiveStills

Before it recesses for the year, the US Congress is finalizing the text of a must-pass bill, the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes a slew of significant pro-Israel measures. The NDAA establishes Pentagon funding levels and sets out many DoD and foreign policy priorities. Last week, the Senate passed its version of the mammoth bill, totaling nearly 1,800 pages. The House, having passed its own version in July, rejected the Senate language. With the House and Senate unable to agree, the bill has gone to conference to reconcile differences between the two versions. During these backroom conferences, legislators hammer out an agreed-upon version of the bill before it is sent back to both the House and Senate for a final pro forma vote.

Most notably, the Senate version of the bill contains the provisions of the US-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2020, originally a separate bill which was tacked onto the NDAA in July. This bill would codify into law the Obama administration’s pledge of $3.8b/yr in weapons to Israel. Additionally, it would set this level of assistance to Israel as a floor, not as a ceiling. The bill promises Israel “not less than” $3.3b/yr in weapons grants in addition to $500m in missile defense projects. This bill would enable Congress to appropriate weapons to Israel at a level beyond that envisioned by the Obama administration’s munificent 2016 memorandum of understanding. The bill also contains a long wish list of other provisions for Israel, including most crucially a five-year extension of Pentagon authorization to stockpile weapons in the country. This stockpile can be accessed by Israel in an emergency to quickly augment US weapons already in its arsenal.

At the same time that the Senate tacked on this bill to the NDAA, it also refused to consider an amendment written by Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat senator from Maryland. Supported by 12 other senators, the amendment would prohibit US weapons for or training to Israeli forces in Palestinian territory illegally annexed under the Trump administration’s “peace” plan. In addition to the perennial authorization of $500m in joint US-Israel missile defense programs, the Senate version of the NDAA also includes a new provision to establish a US-Israel Operations-Technology Working Group. That group would work “to identify and expeditiously field capabilities that the military forces of both countries need to deter and defeat respective adversaries.” It is designed to further enmesh joint US-Israeli weapons research and development, funding and deployment. The Senate version also calls for the Pentagon to “expedite deliveries of precision-guided munitions to Israel.” Although the House version of the bill does not contain these significant new provisions for Israel, there is strong reason to believe that the final version of the NDAA that will be sent to the president will look more like the bloated Senate version.

That is because the speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi, appointed three conferees with impeccable pro-Israel credentials to iron out the differences with the Senate on provisions under the jurisdiction of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Those conferees are Eliot Engel (NY-D); Brad Sherman (Cal-D); and Michael McCaul (Tex-R). Engel is the outgoing chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, whose primary loss to newcomer Jamaal Bowman was a substantial blow to the Israel lobby. Sherman is a long-time hawkish Israel supporter who is seeking to replace Engel as the chair of the committee. In recent months, he has been slightly moderating his positions to appeal to the more progressive elements in the Democrat caucus. For example, he opposes the use of US tax dollars to implement Israeli annexation. McCaul is the highest-ranking Republican on the committee, and is one of the leaders in Congress seeking to undermine the BDS campaign.

These conferees’ support for the extra pro-Israel provisions in the Senate version of the NDAA is almost assured, as the House already passed a bill similar to the US-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act last year. That legislation was even more extreme than the Senate bill, allowing a loophole in the Arms Export Control Act to enable Israel to receive unlimited amounts of weapons, free of usage constraints, in an emergency declared by the president. It is likely that the House will accede to the Senate version of the NDAA when it comes to Israel. By doing so, Congress will deliver one final “unprecedented bonanza for Israel,” in the words of veteran Capitol Hill analyst Lara Friedman, as the culmination of an unmatched partiality in US policy during the Trump era.

Justin Trudeau taps top Israel lobbyist to police speech in Canada
Nora Barrows-Friedman, Electronic Intifada, Nov 26 2020

Justin Trudeau. Photo: Patrick Doyle/Reuters

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday named prominent Israel lobby figure Irwin Cotler as Canada’s “special envoy” for combatting anti-Semitism. In that role, Cotler will lead the country’s implementation of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) “working definition” of anti-Semitism, which conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish bigotry. Independent Jewish Voices Canada, a group that opposes imposition of the IHRA definition, said it was “deeply troubled” by the appointment. The group noted:

Irwin Cotler is one of the leading proponents of the ‘new anti-Semitism’ movement, which seeks to label criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic.

Trudeau’s announcement sends a clear message to civil society in Canada: Criticism of Israel will not be tolerated, and Israel’s lobby can set the terms of the debate. This comes just weeks after Ontario’s premier Doug Ford forced through a measure to adopt the IHRA definition without allowing the public to voice concerns or lawmakers to cast a vote.

Irwin Cotler is Canada’s former justice minister and the long-time unofficial adviser to Israel’s former defense minister and war crimes suspect Moshe Ya’alon. Cotler will become a special envoy to the IHRA delegation, Trudeau said.

Trudeau said last year that Canada would use the IHRA definition as part of its strategy to “combat racism and discrimination.” Trudeau said on Wednesday:

Irwin Cotler will support advocacy and outreach efforts with Canadians, civil society and academia to advance the implementation of this definition across the country and its adoption internationally.

Israel and its lobby have been pushing for the IHRA definition to be codified into law in the US, Canada and European countries in order to shield Israel from criticism over its human rights violations. In the past, Trudeau has acknowledged Cotler’s influence on the Canadian government’s extreme pro-Israel policies, including its smear campaign against the BDS movement. Michael Bueckert, vice president of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, tweeted:

This is only the latest effort to try to block organizing for Palestinian rights by smearing human rights defenders as anti-Semites. On Oct 25, Ontario premier Ford adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism by executive order. Civil rights groups and thousands of human rights supporters had participated in campaigns calling on members of Ontario’s provincial parliament to reject a private bill to adopt the IHRA definition. Many had prepared testimonies opposing its adoption into Ontario law. The testimonies were to be presented before the legislature’s Standing Committee on Justice Policy in a public hearing. Corey Balsam, national director of Independent Jewish Voices Canada, told The Electronic Intifada:

It was anti-democratic to just shut down the hearings. We were really gaining momentum. When the committee was announced, people started showing up and organizations were taking an interest.

Adoption of the IHRA definition has been opposed by hundreds of Canadian scholars who warn of its chilling effects on academic freedom and free speech. There have been dozens of examples around the world where the IHRA definition has been used to smear Palestinians and advocates of Palestinian rights, Independent Jewish Voices Canada notes, including at least three incidents in Canada. Moreover, adopting the IHRA definition conflicts with the beliefs of most Canadians. Just last month, a national survey found that the majority of Canadians don’t believe that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, despite well-financed efforts by Israel lobby groups. Three major Canadian cities, Calgary, Montreal and Vancouver, have rejected or declined to adopt the definition. Ford’s move to ram through the IHRA definition without public input is being welcomed by Israel lobby groups and pro-Israel lawmakers. Ford may have taken this undemocratic route to avoid what happened in 2016, when lawmakers rejected an anti-boycott bill. That bill would have blacklisted supporters of the BDS campaign for Palestinian rights. It was rejected after a debate in which supporters falsely accused the BDS movement of encouraging 1930s-style boycotts of Jewish-owned businesses. They also tried to tie Palestine solidarity activism to attacks by suspected Islamist militants in France. Bueckert noted that Michael Levitt and Anthony Housefather, members of Canada’s federal parliament and hardline supporters of Israel, co-authored an op-ed last year celebrating the IHRA definition because it goes after the BDS movement and speech critical of Israel. Bueckert tweeted:

After Ford signed the order adopting the IHRA definition, Ontario parliament member Kaleed Rasheed toldcivil society groups that the definition’s “illustrative examples” explicitly conflating anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel were excluded from the order. However that was refuted by other members of parliament, and Rasheed then denied making the claim. Since the Ontario government left it unclear whether the IHRA definition’s “illustrative examples,” most of which focus on Israel, are included in the executive order, “we can expect to see powerful actors interpreting the definition as they see fit,” Hammam Farah, a Toronto activist and board member of the Palestinian Canadian Community Centre Palestine House told The Electronic Intifada. Farah expects more cases of institutions denying jobs to scholars or refusing to give organizations funding and access to resources in fear of violating the vague IHRA guidelines. Palestine House and allied groups have condemned the order, saying:

The Israeli government knows that it lost the public debate and that it must resort to cowering behind anti-democratic laws to protect its colonial endeavor against the Palestinian people.

Farah explained:

Ever since Israel’s long-term campaign against BDS reached the Canadian government, we’ve found ourselves on the defensive, having to scramble to declare our opposition against government attacks on our freedom of speech.

Human rights and civil society organizations say that while they consider legal options to challenge Ford’s order, they will continue to expose Israel’s apartheid system and resist censorship efforts. Balsam told The Electronic Intifada:

We want to encourage other people to not be silent either. The fear is the institutionalization of that chill. We hope solidarity groups will continue to open up doors to talk about racism in Israel, Zionism’s relationship to racism and the impact that this definition has on Palestinians and on people of color. We can’t let them dictate the terms of the debate.

One Comment

  1. traducteur
    Posted November 27, 2020 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    All part of ‘encouraging the goyim to emigrate’.

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