Continued from node 10721

Greater Jerusalem Land-Grabs
February 2012 saw a new round of unrest over Jerusalem’s Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. The protest wave began after far-right Israeli politician Moshe Feiglin tried to make a publicized visit to the Temple Mount, and called on Jews to visit the site. Leaflets were distributed around the city calling for removal of “Israel’s enemies” from the site. Police finally blocked Feiglin from entering, and briefly closed the compound Feb. 12. Hundreds of Muslim worshippers clashed with police at the holy site on Feb. 24. Israeli authorities said that following Friday prayers, a large group of worshippers began hurling rocks at the Mughrabi Bridge leading to the Mount. In a rare move, Israeli police came to the entrance of al-Aqsa Mosque, using tear gas and stun grenades to scatter the protesters. The clash caused confusion amongst the large crowd of gathered worshippers, with several wounded—including police, authorities said. (Ha’aretzMa’an News Agency, Feb. 25; Ma’an News AgencyJewish PressTikun Olam, Feb. 24; YNet, Feb. 12; Jerusalem Post, Feb. 1, 2012)

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said of the new clashes: “This is a serious attack that intends to impose full Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa a prelude to the establishment of the supposed [Third] Temple.” The Palestinian Authority cabinet protested “continuous attempts by settlers and extremists to raid Al-Aqsa Mosque and conduct religious rituals on its campuses in a manner that provokes Muslim sentiments and creates a state of tension.” Tensions over the Haram al-Sharif sparked at least one clash on the West Bank, as protesters gathered near the Qalandia checkpoint outside Ramallah. A 25-year-old Palestinian protester died during surgery after being shot in the Qalandia clash. (Ibid)

Also Feb. 24, US representatives Elliot Engel and Jerald Nadler (both D-NY) were on tour of Mount of Olives Cemetery, along with American Jewish leaders Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents, and Abraham and Menachem Lubinsky of International Committee for Preservation of Har HaZeitim, when they were attacked by rocks in the Ras al-Amud neighborhood in front of a mosque, damaging a vehicle. The tour was organized by New York’s arch-conservative Jewish Press. The Mount of Olives is also a disputed site, being partially enclosed by Israel’s West Bank “separation barrier.” (Ibid)

The war of words remained ongoing, with the usual lack of discretion on either side. Pro-Israel media touted comments by Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, who at a Ramallah celebration marking the 47th anniversary of the founding of Fatah in January, quoted a hadith (saying attributed to the Prophet): “The hour [of resurrection] will not come until you fight the Jews. The Jew will hide behind stones or trees. Then the stones or trees will call, ‘O Muslim, servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me. Come and kill him.'” Days earlier, Israel’s hardline Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that the Palestinians don’t want peace and had entered the talks unwillingly: “Anyone who talks about a breakthrough with the Palestinians has no idea what he’s talking about… The only way forward is to manage the conflict, and not to end the conflict.” (Jerusalem Post, Jan. 9, 2012)

But Lieberman himself had been criticized in a classified US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks entitled “SUBJECT: RIGHT-WING LIEBERMAN UNABASHEDLY ADVOCATES TRANSFER OF ISRAELI ARABS.” The cable read:

Right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party leader Avigdor Lieberman told the Ambassador January 31 that separation of Israeli Jews from Israeli Arabs is necessary in order to promote Israeli security and maintain Israel’s Jewish identity. To accomplish this, Lieberman proposes that Israel redraw its border with the West Bank through negotiations to place some Israeli-Arab population centers that are close to the Green Line within Palestinian territory, and to include some Israeli settlement blocs within Israel…

Lieberman underlined his view that to avoid conflict, a separation of Israeli Jews from Israeli Arabs must occur. He said his proposal for such a separation is based on the Cyprus model, where, he said, the island’s Turks are separated territorially from the island’s Greeks. Lieberman said that the roadmap makes a mistake by advocating a two-state solution, wherein Israel retains two peoples within its borders, Jewish and Arab, while the Palestinian state retains only Palestinians. Lieberman asserted that states that are composed of different “nations” continue to experience conflict. The Ambassador noted that the United States maintains its diversity without experiencing such conflict…. [MondoWeiss, Aug. 25, 2011]

Under pressure from UNESCO, Israel agreed in February to remove the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb—two Jewish holy sites on the West Bank—from its list of “National Heritage Sites.” This of course immediately sparked a backlash from Israel’s religious right, with Science and Technology Minister Rabbi Daniel Hershkowitz calling the omission “like denying our elementary heritage.” (The Algemeiner, Feb. 1, 2012)

Following the clashes at the Temple Mount, Palestinian protesters also vented rage at the Rachel’s Tomb site Feb. 21, hurling stones and prompting closure of the compound. Jewish visitors were evacuated by the Border Guard. This again came in response to provocation; two days earlier, Israeli settlers sent out text messages calling for a mass Jewish convergence on the site, which is revered by Muslims as Bilal Ibn Rabah Mosque (named for an Abyssinian who was the Prophet Mohammed’s first muezzin, or caller to prayer). (YNet, Feb. 21, WAFA, Feb. 19, 2012) 

Over the past year, far-right Israeli settlers had staged a series of militant occupations of Jewish holy sites on the West Bank. Rachel’s Tomb, closely enclosed by the “separation barrier,” was the target of an ongoing campaign to claim it as an exclusively Jewish site. In one April 2010 incident, the shrine was vandalized by presumed right-wing settlers, with a Star of David and other graffiti sprayed on a wall. (Ma’an News Agency, April 15, 2010)

The site’s inclusion on the “Israeli” side of the separation barrier violated the spirit (at least) of the Oslo Accords, which placed it in Area C—that under ostensibly “temporary” Israeli control pending transfer to the Palestinians. Provisions of the Accords also guaranteed the “free movement” of Palestinians to the site, now bottlenecked by the barrier. (POICA)

There was also violence at the Cave of the Patriarchs on Feb. 28, as Palestinians holding a procession commemorating the 1994 massacre at the site by an Israeli settler were set upon by Israeli security forces. Troops used special “non-lethal” crowd-control weapons, including the “Skunk”—a vehicle mounted with canons spraying a foul-smelling liquid. (YNet, Feb. 28, 2012)

On Feb. 27, Jewish settlers attacked peace activists of the leftist Israeli party Meretz during their visit to al-Khalil Old Town and the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron. The activists were protesting the tours organized by the Israeli education ministry for Jewish students, ostensibly to acquaint them with ancient relics in al-Khalil—but actually aimed at building support for the settlement movement, the activists charged. Members of the organization Breaking the Silence accompanied the party officials, and explained to them the miserable living conditions of the Palestinians in the visited areas. A Meretz party official said that the Israeli soldiers did not interfere to stop the settlers’ attack. (Palestine Information Center, Feb. 27, 2012)

Israeli forces raided two Palestinian television networks on Feb. 29 in Ramallah, and briefly detained four employees. Soldiers confiscated computers used by editors and reporters in Watan TV’s newsroom and offices, as well as administrative and financial files. Troops also raided al-Quds Educational TV in al-Bireh and confiscated its broadcasting equipment. “This attack is nothing but piracy under a policy of systematic attack targeting Palestinian media organizations and journalists,” Watan TV said in a statement. (Ma’an News Agency, Feb. 29, 2012) Also Feb. 29, the chief justice of the Palestinian high religious court died of a heart attack two days after soldiers raided his home. Sheikh Fahmi Asaad Jaradat suffered his attack after soldiers occupied his home in the village of Zabuba, near Jenin, and took up positions on his roof, according to a Fatah statement. Fatah said it held Israel responsible for the justice’s death. (Ma’an, Feb. 29, 2012)

It came to light in Israel in March that Israel’s (military-run) “Civil Administration” in the West Bank had for years been covertly identifying and mapping available land, and naming the parcels after existing Jewish settlements—evidently, with an eye toward expanding these communities. The new outposts are mostly “illegal” under Israeli law (although all the settlements are illegal under international law). The Civil Administration released the maps in response to a request from anti-settlement activists under Israel’s Freedom of Information Law. In some places, the boundaries of the parcels outlined in the maps coincided with the route of the separation barrier. The Israeli state had argued before both its own Supreme Court and the International Court of Justice at The Hague that the route of the barrier was based on security needs. But the released Civil Administration maps and figures “suggest the barrier route was planned in accordance with the available land in the West Bank, intended to increase the area and population of the settlements,” wrote the daily Ha’aretz. A total of 569 parcels of land were marked out, encompassing around 620,000 dunams ‏(around 155,000 acres‏)—about 10% of the total area of the West Bank. Some 20 of the existing “unauthorized” outposts were built on land demarcated in the map, and the Civil Administration was endeavoring to “legalize” some of these outposts, including Shvut Rahel, Rehelim and Hayovel. (Ha’aretz, March 30, 2012)

Israel meanwhil that it would sever ties to the UN Human Rights Council after the UNHRC opened an investigation into West Bank settlements and their effect on the civil, political, economic and cultural rights of the Palestinian people. The US was the only country to vote against the investigation, called for by the Palestinian Authority. (Jurist, March 26, 2012)

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled on April 2 that the prominent Palestinian Husseini family could not claim ownership of a landmark but decaying building in East Jerusalem, the Shepherd Hotel—opening the way for a Jewish housing project. The Shepherd Hotel, built in the 1930s, served as the home of Grand Mufti Haj Amin Husseini. It was declared “absentee property” after it was captured in 1967. The title was transferred to an Israeli firm, which sold it in 1985 to Irving Moskowitz, a Florida businessman and patron of Jewish settlers. In 2009, the Jerusalem city government approved a project to replace the building with an apartment block. “This property, which is legitimately ours, represents the Palestinians’ rights to their land and to Jerusalem,” said Mona Husseini, the Grand Mufti’s grand-daughter. In dismissing the family’s case, the court said too much time had passed since Israeli authorities had transferred the property to private developers for a legal challenge to be brought. The family said it had been unaware at the time that the site had been sold off. (YNet, April 2, 2012)

UN agencies on the West Bank said April 22 that Israel had destroyed 21 homes of Palestinian Bedouin refugees—leaving 54 people homeless, including 35 children. A joint statement from the refugee agency UNRWA and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs condemned the demolition of the structures at Khalayleh north of Jerusalem, along with the removal the same day of refugees from two houses in East Jerusalem’s Beit Hanina neighborhood. Jewish settlers reportedly moved into the homes the same day. A day later, Israeli forces demolished and confiscated emergency tents provided to the evicted Khalayleh families by humanitarian organizations, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the UN Relief and Works Agency said in a joint statement. “The forced eviction of Palestine refugees and the demolition of Palestinian homes and other civilian structures in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is contrary to international law,” UNRWA’s West Bank director, Felipe Sánchez, said in the statement. (AFPMa’an News Agency, April 22, 2012)

The evictions came as Israel’s Housing Ministry published tenders for the construction of 827 new housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa. The new construction would significantly expand Har Homa to the south and east, bringing it closer to Palestinian towns Beit Sahour and Nuaman. (Ha’aretz, April 4, 2012)

There were also some moves against “illegal” settlers. An Israeli court in April ordered the eviction of six Jewish families from a Palestinian-owned home in the Tel Rumeida of Hebron. The Jewish families had lived there since 2005, and said that the property was purchased from its Palestinian owner by the (Jewish-owned) Tal Lebniya construction company. The Jerusalem District Court found that the home was owned by a Palestinian who left the property in 2001 after the Israeli military restricted the movement of Arabs in the area, and had been fighting since 2009 to reassert his ownership rights. The court ruled that the sale documents presented by the company were forgeries. The ruling came weeks after Israeli settlers were evicted by the Civil Administration from a home near the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron that they said they purchased legally. (JTA, April 22, 2012)

Israel’s Supreme Court on April 29 ruled that buildings of the Givat Ha Ulpana settlement outpost at Beit El on the West Bank, ordered destroyed because of a claim by Palestinian land-owners, would receive a reprieve. Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din, which helped the Palestinian claimants file the petition against the outpost in 2008, slammed the government for failing to raze the 30-apartment complex, which was inhabited by settler families. The stay was intended to allow time to find an “alternative solution.” In subsequent weeks, hundreds of settlers and their right-wing supporters mobilized to Givat Ha Ulpana. (Arutz Sheva, June 10; Jewish Press, April 30; Jerusalem Post, April 29, 2012)

Over 80 people were injured in clashes with Israeli forces near Ramallah in a rally commemorating the Nakba on May 16, as troops fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters. (Ma’an News Agency, May 16, 2012)

The Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed a European Union Foreign Affairs Council report on the West Bank issued in May. The report said Israeli settlement building and curbs on economic development jeopardized hopes for a Palestinian state. The statement by European foreign ministers accused Israel of accelerating settlement construction and tightening its control over East Jerusalem at the expense of Palestinians, while also criticizing Palestinian “incitement.” Israel’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the report as a “partial, biased and one-sided depiction of realities on the ground.” (Ma’an News Agency, May 16; Ha’aretz, May 13, 2012)

One of the last Palestinian farming villages still using irrigation systems from Roman times protested that its ancient way of life was in danger as Israel prepared to extend its separation barrier. The people of Battir village waged a legal battle to halt the wall’s expansion. Battir’s 6,000 inhabitants live in houses built into a hillside southwest of Jerusalem. On village lands, stone retaining walls transform scrubby hills into terraces of olive trees and vegetable gardens, watered by an ancient network of irrigation canals. UNESCO in 2011 awarded the village a $15,000 prize for “Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscapes.” Said local UNESCO official Giovanni Fontana-Antonelli: “The wall as projected so far will interfere with this ancient irrigation system by cutting part of the irrigation network.” The integrity of the terraces “will be totally dismantled.” (Time, May 11, 2012)

In June, Israel announced plans to “legalize” 13 of the 18 settlement outposts that had been challenged before the High Court of Justice: “Because the 13 outposts are not built on privately-owned Palestinian land, the legalization process could presumably make the petitions against them moot,” the court wrote. “The remaining five outposts cannot be legalized, because they are located on privately-owned Palestinian land, and so are slated for evacuation.” The first to go was be Beit El’s Ulpana neighborhood, which the court has ordered dismantled by July 1. Next in line was Migron, an outpost near Ramallah, ordered dismantled by Aug. 1. (Haaretz, June 1, 2012) Prime Minister Netanyahu announced a decision June 2 to evacuate the Ulpana neighborhood, and to not endorse a bill to override the high court on the issue. Netanyahu proposed to relocate the houses to a military zone inside Beit El. He pledged: “For each demolished house, we’ll build 10 new ones.” (YNet, June 2, 2012)

The settlers were not appeased. In evident response to government’s decision to evacuate Ulpana, vandals punctured the tires of 14 parked cars in the Israeli village of Neve Shalom June 8—one of the few villages in the country with a mixed Jewish and Arab populace. The words “revenge,” “death to Arabs” and “regards from Ulpana” were spray-pained on the vehicles. Neve Shalom (Arabic: Wahat al-Salam) village was established in the 1960s by Israeli Jews and Arabs who favored co-existence, to promote it by example. (YNet, June 8, 2012) 

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories Richard Falk on June 27  demanded  Israel cease its demolition of Palestinian homes on the West Bank. Falk reported that the demolition of Palestinian structures—including houses, animal shelters, water cisterns and roadways—had risen by 87% over the past year, with a total of 536 Palestinians displaced, including hundreds of children. Falk charged that in some cases the ostensibly punative demolitions were coorindated to faciliate settlement expansion. (Jurist, June 28, 2012)

A proposal in South Africa to ban products from the West Bank received a boost in June from an unlikely source—Israel’s own former Foreign Ministry director-general and ex-ambassador to South Africa, Alon Liel. Writing in the South African Business Day newspaper, Liel endorsed the plan to ban “made in Israel” labels for imported products from the West Bank. Liel wrote: “I can understand the desire, by people of conscience, to reassert an agenda of justice, to remind Israelis that Palestinians exist. I can understand small but symbolic acts of protest that hold a mirror up to Israeli society. As such, I cannot condemn the move to prevent goods made in the occupied Palestinian territory from being falsely classified as ‘made in Israel.’ I support the South African government’s insistence on this distinction between Israel and its occupation.” (JP, June 28, 2012)

In July, a report in newspaper Ha’aretz revealed that Israel’s government had drawn up plans to start compiling land registry records of assets controlled by West Bank settlers. The registry would bypass the regular “tabu” land-listing process, denying Palestinians the right to appeal the validity of ownership titles. Haaretz obtained documents indicating the registry was to be overseen by the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration. Jewish settlements were established on lands originally “occupied for military reasons” and subsequently classified as “state lands.” These lands had still not been transferred to settler ownership. Instead, authorities granted “permission” to the World Zionist Organization or housing companies to make use of the land. These entities were now seeking to hand over title to the settler communities—but under the normal “tabu” registration process (adopted by Israel from the Ottoman legal code), previous owners would have the right to challenge the new titles. To avoid such challenges from Palestinians, Israel’s deputy attorney general Mike Blass evidently drafted the plan granting the power to issue summary titles. (Haaretz, July 3, 2012)

Palestinians reported July 7 that Jewish settlers attacked the West Bank village of Yanoun, beating residents and killing three sheep. Four villagers were hospitalized. IDF troops rushed to the scene to find the sides throwing rocks at each other, and used tear gas to disperse them. But the only one arrested was a Palestinian resident. (Haaretz, July 8, 2012)

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) announced in July 6 formation of a fact-finding mission on Israeli settlements. Israel said that it would sever ties with the organization and warned that members of the mission would be blocked from entering the Jewish state. “The establishment of this mission is another blatant expression of the singling out of Israel in the UNHRC,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. In fact, the UNHRC had over the past year acted on rights accusations in Syria, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and the United States. (Jewish Chronicle, July 9; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, July 6, 2012)

Israeli security forces evacuated the settlement of Migron Sept. 2, arresting eight who had holed up in their homes and refused to be moved, as their supporters gathered nearby and chanted “Jews do not expel Jews!” Some of the houses had been painted with slogans such as “Bibi is good for Arabs.” The evacuation followed years of legal battles that began in 2006 when Peace Now brought a petition for removal of the settlement, and the Israeli government conceded that Migron was built at least in partly on land privately owned by Palestinians. But those removed from Migron were taken to the nearby “legal” settlement of Ofra, which was set for expansion to accommodate them. (LAT, Sept. 2, 2012) Protests and judicial postponements of the Ulpana demolition continued for months. The evacuation was finally carried out in October, after the government similarly promised Ulpana’s settlers to provide them with new homes on the West Bank. A bill to override the high court on the Ulpana settlement was defeated by the Knesset. Seemingly to appease the right, Netanyahu and Housing and Minister Ariel Atias immediately approved 851 new housing units—300 for Beit El and 551 for four other settlements. (Ha’aretz, Oct. 24; YNet, June 6, 2012)

A panel commissioned by the Israeli government recommended July 9 that the state “legalize” dozens of unsanctioned West Bank settlements. By then, there were over 200 settlements and outposts on the West Bank, home to more than 500,000 Israeli settlers. (Jurist, July 9, 2012)

The panel also asserted that the territories taken from Jordan in 1967 are not legally under “occupation”—therefore stipulating that the Fourth Geneva Convention banning the settlement of citizens from the occupying country in occupied territories did not apply on the West Bank. The report argued that the Israeli presence in “Yehuda and Shomron” (Judea and Samaria, the term increasingly used in Israeli official parlance) was not a “military occupation” because no other legal entity had maintained sovereignty there since before 1967. The report asserted that Jordan’s presence there prior to 1967 was itself an occupation, not actual rule, and that the 1922 British Mandate called for the creation of “a national home for the Jewish people” in the territory west of the Jordan River. The panel was headed by former Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy, who vocally opposed Israel’s 2005 Gaza withdrawal. MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) boasted of the report: “It said that every Israeli government can build anywhere in Judea and Samaria and it said, in a very clear voice, that this is not conquered land when it comes to international law… Every community, every outpost is totally legal.” (Arutz Sheva, July 12; JP, July 11; APNYT, July 10; Yeshiva WorldCommentaryJP, July 9, 2012)

An Israeli court on July 10 cleared former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of the most serious corruption charges against him, including fraud, concealing cash gifts and double billing, but convicted him on a lesser count of breach of trust. (LAT, July 10) In an apparent coincidence, the same day in Washington, the House Subcommittee on the Middle East dedicated a large part of its hearing to a discussion on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ alleged corruption in a hearing titled “Chronic Kleptocracy: Corruption within the Palestinian Political Establishment.” (Haaretz, July 11, 2012)

Human rights groups and UN agencies charged in July that Israeli settlers on the West Bank had stepped up attacks on Palestinians in recent years, in a climate of impunity. “The Israeli government has not shown the political will to protect Palestinian civilians,” said Jessica Montell of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. Montell and representatives from the UN Human Rights Council told a Ramallah press conference that settler violence against Palestinians was not random, but targeted at areas that settlers sought to take over, or intended as “price tag” attacks to deter the Israeli military from taking any action against settlements. Settler attacks on Palestinians causing injury or damage rose from 168 in 2009 to 411 in 2011, according to UN figures. Over the past decade, B’Tselem ahd submitted 352 complaints to the Israeli police on behalf of Palestinians. In 250 cases, an investigation was opened, but only 29 resulted in indictments, according to B’Tselem figures. (AP, July 11, 2012)

Early July saw West Bank protests repeatedly dispersed by the PA police. The protests were called to oppose a scheduled meeting between President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli vice prime minister Shaul Mofaz. Protesters called on Abbas to abandon peace talks with Israel altogether, holding signs reading: “No to negotiations with the murderer Mofaz.” (AlJazeera, July 3, 2012)

Israel’s Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria took what was hailed by settlers as an historic decision July 17, voting 11-2 to make the Ariel University Center of Samaria (AUCS) into the first full-fledged university intended for settlers. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz promised the AUCS would receive special funding over the next two years. (Haaretz, July 19; YNet, July 17, 2012)

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on July 22 ordered the demolition of eight Palestinian villages in the hills south of Hebron, saying the military needed the land for training exercises. A total of 1,500 residents were ordered evicted and their lands confiscated at the villages of Majaz, Tabban, Sfai, Fakheit, Halaweh, Mirkez, Jinba and Kharuba. Evacuation orders had been first issued in 1999, but were frozen by an injunction from the Israeli High Court of Justice. The Israeli military nonetheless claimed the land as part of its “Firing Zone 918,” viewing the Palestinians living there as illegal squatters. All of the villages in question had existed since at least the 1830s. However, all were in Area C, under complete Israeli control. (Ha’aretzIMEMC, July 23, 2012) Some lands taken over by the military on an ostensibly temporary basis wound up in settler hands. Settlers seized over 50 dunams of land in the Tubas area of the Jordan Valley, and began preparing to farm it, the village council head reported in late July. The land, which belonged to villagers, was previously used by the Israeli army as a tank yard. Settlers apparently took it over with no interference from the IDF as they abandoned it. (Ma’an News Agency, July 24, 2012)

It made international news in August when a Hamas spokesman offered ugly comments about a Palestinian official’s visit to the site of the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. Ziad al-Bandak, an adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas, made the high-profile visit, laying a wreath at the invitation of a private Polish foundation working for tolerance, and prompting Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum to say: “It was an unjustified and unhelpful visit that served only the Zionist occupation.” He called the visit “a marketing of a false Zionist alleged tragedy….at the expense of a real Palestinian tragedy.” (Arutz Sheva, Aug. 2; Reuters, Aug. 1, 2012)

Meanwhile, winning practically no mainstream international coverage, Israeli soldiers and police on the night of July 28 invaded al-Aqsa Mosque, attacking several worshipers. Clashes were reported and two worshipers were “kidnapped,” in the words of the Waqf foundation that runs the site. During the Ramadan celebration, then underway, hundreds of worshipers spent the night in the Mosque, in defiance of Israeli authorities. The clash came when police tried to forcibly remove the worshippers, who had succeeded in staying at the Mosque for three nights. (AlReselahJewish Telegraphic Agency, July 30; International Middle East Media CenterThe Muslim News, July 29, 2012)

That same day, hundreds of Israeli settlers and right-wing Knesset members held a procession from West Jerusalem to the Old City, sparking clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli police near al-Amoud Gate. The Temple Mount had been closed to Jews for Tisha B’Av, the Jewish holiday commemorating the destruction of the Second Temple, which overlapped with Ramadan that year. The move to bar Jews from the Mount was taken in response to fears that Jewish militants would create “provocations.” (Ibid)

Days later, Jewish settlers from Givat Ariel outpost vandalized Palestinian property in the village of Sinjil near Ramallah. Slogans left scrawled on walls included “Palestinians should die,” and “Stay away from our lands.” Settlers also left an improvised explosive device made from chemicals under a car. (Maan News Agency, Aug. 2, 2012)

Jerusalem on Aug. 17 saw a mob attack on Palestinian youths by dozens of Jewish teens, leaving one victim seriously hurt. Four minors between the ages of 13-15, including one girl, were arrested two days after the attack, which took place in the popular weekend hang-out of Zion Square. Eyewitnesses say about 40 young Israelis chased four Arab youths, while shouting racial insults and “Death to Arabs.” One of the Arab youths, Jamal Julani, fell as he try to fled, and was brutally beaten. He was in a coma for two days. “For my part he can die, he’s an Arab,” the lead suspect told reporters as he left court. “If it was up to me I’d have murdered him. He cursed my mother.” But Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin visited Julani  in the hospital. “It is hard to see you lying in the hospital because of an unimaginable, outrageous act,” Rivlin told Julani. “I came here in the name of the State of Israel, in order to apologize and express anger over what happened.” (JP, Aug. 23; NBC, Aug. 21; Haaretz, Aug. 20, 2012)

Unknown vandals sprayed the words “Migron Price Tag” on a mosque in the village of Imrish near Hebron in September, and unknown assailants burned the door of the Latrun Monastery (established by the Trappist order in the 19th century) and sprayed hate messages on the scene, including “Jesus is a monkey.” Shin Bet said that it had launched an investigation. (YNet, Sept. 12, 2012)

The Israeli government continued to fight in court to the right to build more than 40 settlements on private Palestinian land expropriated for military purposes. The case brought by Israeli human rights group Yesh Din challenged the non-enforcement of demolition orders for structures built in Beit El settlement. In a submission to the court, the State Prosecution acknowledged that some 40 settlements were erected totally or partially based on such military expropriation orders—a practice ostensibly barred after the Elon Moreh ruling of 1979, which stipulated that the army had power to confiscate land only for striclty military purposes, and not for civilian settlements. The state now argued that ruling “does not prevent exploiting the potential of these communities.” (Haaretz, Sept. 13, 2012)

The US electoral race was then underway, with the quesiton of Jerusalem providing an opportunity for controversy. Republicans accused Obama of throwing Israel “under the bus.” Perhaps in response to such criticisms, Obama at the last minute directed the Democratic Party to add text to the platform stating that “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel [and] an undivided city.” Yet the text was contradictory, also stating that the future of Jerusalem “is a matter for final status negotiations.” (The Caucus blog, NYT, Sept. 5, 2012; Democratic Party Platform, 2012)

On Oct. 6, prominent rabbis, public officials and Knesset member Arye Eldad held a send-off at Shilo settlement for Zvi Struck, a settler about to start a 30-month prison term after being convicted of abusing a Palestinian youth in 2007. The pro-settler website Arutz Sheva posted video and a report of the party which featured live music, many children and families, and Struck himself warmly greeting people. In the video, supporters of Struck complained that “the judicial system believes the Arabs first.” Itzak Shadmi, a settler leader, said that he was fundraising to support Struck’s family. (Israel National NewsHaaretz, Oct. 7, 2012) 

A group of settlers attacked Palestinian farmers in the Ramallah town of Beitillu on Oct. 7, burning dozens of olive trees, witnesses said. Locals told official Palestinian news agency WAFA that settlers from nearby Nehaliel settlement attacked the farmers while they were harvesting olives and set fire to dozens of trees. Israeli forces finally intervened in the incident. Earlier that day, settlers uprooted around 40 olive trees in the nearby Ramallah village of Ras Karkar, village council head Riziq Nofel said. (Ma’an News Agency, Oct. 7, 2012)

UN Middle East envoy Robert Serry on Oct. 14 expressed his alarm at attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinian farmers and their olive trees. In a press statement, he said Israel must do more to protect Palestinians and their property in the West Bank. Israeli rights organization B’Tselem counted 450 Palestinian-owned trees either damaged or uprooted since the harvest season began on Oct. 10. (AP, Oct. 14, 2012)  

Settlers and Israeli security forces clashed Oct. 31, after two “illegal” structures at the new outpost Hasruga were leveled near the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar. One Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) IDF soldier defected as a result of the demolition. (Haaretz, Nov. 1, 2012)

Israel in November announced plans to build hundreds of new homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The Land Administration on Nov. 5 published notices for bids to build 609 units in Pisgat Zeev and 606 units in Ramot in East Jerusalem, as well as 72 homes in the West Bank settlement of Ariel. (CNN, Nov. 11; Reuters, Nov. 6, 2012)

Dozens of Palestinian olive trees were cut down in the northern West Bank by presumed settler attackers on Nov. 7. Farmers found 100 olive trees cut down with chain saws in al-Sawiya, south of Nablus, local authorities reported.. “Racist slogans” were found scrawled on barrels in the field. (AFP, Nov. 7, 2012)

Israeli athorities issued “closed military zone” orders for four West Bank villages  Nov. 11, barring 13 prominent activists in groups such as Anarchists Against the Wall, Ta’ayush, and the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement from entering. (972, Nov. 11, 2012)

In a more critical move, the Israeli government announced plans Nov. 30 to build 3,000 settlement units in the so-called E-1 area of the occupied West Bank—a day after Palestine was admitted to the UN as an observer state in a vote opposed by the US and Israel. E1, lying between Jerusalem and the Ma’ale Adumim settlement bloc, was a particularly contentious area, as Palestinian leaders said settlements there would divide the West Bank and prevent the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he intedned to “promote planning and construction” in the E-1 area.  (Ma’an News AgencyGlobal PostBBC NewsAl Jazeera, Nov. 30, 2012)

The US State Department issued requisite protest of the announcement. The Palestinian Authority reiterated that it will not resume peace talks unless Israel froze all settlement building, as it had agreed to as part of the 2003 “roadmap to peace.” Yet Israel accused the Palestinians of violating peace agreements by seeking their new UN status, and warned after the vote that it would respond accordingly. (Ibid)

In November and December, the Israeli military again delivered evacuation orders to some 100 of Palestinian families in the Jordan Valley ahead of an IDF training exercises. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said that at that time Israel had designated some 18% of the West Bank as closed military zones—an area roughly equal in size to Area A, the 17.7% of the West Bank under Palestinian Authority control. Around 5,000 Palestinians lived in designated military firing zones in the West Bank, UNOCHA said, finding that since 2010, Israel had demolished the homes of 820 Palestinians located in lands designated as military zones. (Ma’an News AgencyIMEMC, Dec. 31, 2012)

Hundreds massed at the funeral of a Palestinian teenager killed in the southern West Bank on Dec. 13. Muhammad al-Salaymeh was shot dead by an Israeli border guard in Hebron’s Old City the day before, his 17th birthday. Hebron governor Kamel Hmaid and Palestinian parliamentary speaker Aziz Dweik were among those who marched in the funeral procession. Israeli forces prevented sal-Salaymeh’s family from burying Muahmmad in al-Raas cemetery next to their home, as it was close to an Israeli settlement, Kiryat Arba. The procession instead headed to a cemetery at Limboa, in the north of the city. Five people, including four teenagers, were hospitalized following clashes with Israeli forces in Hebron after Muhammad’s death. The Border Patrol officer who fatally shot the youth said she had no regets over her actions, even as it emerged that Mohammed was armed only with a toy pistol. (Ma’an News AgencyJP, Dec. 13, 2012)

Thousands of Hamas supporters rallied in Nablus Dec. 13—the first Hamas rally on the West Bank since the movement’s split from Fatah in 2007. The event followed similar scenes in Gaza in the wake of a new Israeli bombing campaign there (see below). (Ma’an, Dec. 13, 2012)   

Prime Minister Netanyahu said his government would press ahead with expanding Jewish settlements around Jerusalem despite Western criticism of its plan to build 6,000 more homes on Palestinian land. In addition to several thousand housing units that had just been announced, Israeli media said initial approval was granted Dec. 19 for construction of another 3,400 units in Jerusalem and in the West Bank. “We are going to build in Jerusalem for all its residents,” Netanyahu said in a meeting with foreign ambassadors. “Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years. Imagine that you would limit construction in your own capital, it doesn’t make sense.” (Maan News Agency, Dec. 20, 2012)

Some 20 settlers rioted in the West Bank village of Jallud, near Ramallah, on Jan. 2, 2013, shattering windows, assaulting residents, and vandalizing vehicles before fleeing. The incident took place hours after a similar incident was broken up the IDF, leading to a clash between the settlers and soldiers. After the settlers arrived in Jallud and began pelting Palestinian reisdents with stones, IDF forces were dispatched to the scene and dispersed the rioters. But they were apparently allowed to return. A military statement said: “The IDF treats such public disordered very seriously, as they may destabilize the area and force the IDF to divert attention from its primary mission—protecting Israel and its citizens.” (YNet, Jan. 2, 2013)

On Jan. 3, an Israeli undercover force raided the city of Jenin, sparking clashes with Palestinian residents. Agents dressed as Palestinians, accompanied by army units, entered the city’s industrial zone and surrounded a bakery and number of shops. During a raid on the home of 93-year-old woman, who was alone in the house, she was attacked by Israeli army dogs, requiring hospitalization. In the subsequent clashes, the troops apparently used live fire; one young protester was wounded in the leg by a bullet. A similar incident was reported Jan. 1 in the nearby village Tamoun. At least 30 people were injured with live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas during the clashes, after undercover forces arrested a member of Islamic Jihad. (Maan News Agency, Jan. 4, 2013)

But the greatest new land controversy began when the Israeli government plan to create a “greenbelt” around Jerusalem. Mayor Nir Barkat said the plan, focused on archeological preservation, would boost tourism—but critics charged the parks amounted to a land grab aimed at consolidating Israel’s grip on East Jerusalem. The new national parks would link and expand areas under Jewish control, from the Old City to the settlement of Maale Adumim. A key link in the chain was to be Mount Scopus Slopes National Park—to be built on what nearby residents protested is the only land available for the expansion of the crowded Palestinian neighborhood of Isawiya. The neighborhood’s 15,000 residents currently lived on 150 acres—an area smaller than that of the planned park. Some 112.5 acres owned by Isawiya residents and 75 acres owned by residents of nearby al-Tur were slated to become part of the park without any compensation to the owners, who would technically retain ownership under an “easement” type arrangement. (CSM, Jan. 20; The Guardian, Jan. 17, 2012)  

Leading the national park scheme was Evyatar Cohen, head of the Jerusalem district for the National Parks Authority and a former staffer for Elad—a hardline settler group. The NPA nonetheless dismissed charges that the park was driven by any political motive. Peace Now, however, said the real imperative behind the park was to create Israeli contiguity between the Old City and the E1 area on the outskirts of Maale Adumim, connecting the two via the Tsurim Valley park. The E1 area was slated for a new settlement for about 14,500, although work was halted in 2004 after US objections. A 2011 European Union report, however, found strong indications—including orders for forced removal of 2,300 Bedouin Arabs from the area—that the plan was moving ahead. The EU Heads of Mission Report on East Jerusalem concluded that the EU should consider legislation to bar companies in member states from doing business that supports the settlement expansion. (Ibid)

Palestinian activists in January 2013 established a protest encampment in the E1 Corridor, the area slated for settlement development. Some 250 activists maintained the tent city, dubbed Bab al-Shams (Gate of the Sun). “We the people, without permits from the occupation, without permission from anyone, sit here today because this is our land and it is our right to inhabit it,” read a statement released by the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, which coordinates the weekly Friday protests in West Bank villages against the separation barrier that eats into Palestinian lands. “We will not remain silent as settlement expansion and confiscation of our land continues. Therefore we hereby establish the village of Bab Alshams to proclaim our faith in direct action and popular resistance. We declare that the village will stand steadfast until the owners of this land will get their right to build on their land.” (Maan News AgencyHaaretzAlterNet, Jan. 11, 2013) 

The name of the village was inspired by that of a novel by Lebanese author Elias Khoury, which tells the story of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. PLO leader Hanan Ashrawi praised the project as a “collective effort initiated by civil society, including youth, social, and political organizations, who came together to support the right of the owners of the land to make use of it as they see fit.” She added: “What is happening at Bab al-Shams is a reminder of the apartheid regime that Israel has imposed for the exclusive use of land for Jewish Israeli settlers all over Palestine.” The UK, France and several other European countries summoned Israeli envoys to protest the EI development plan, while President Abbas called the E1 area “a red line that cannot be crossed.” (Ibid)

Residents of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa fought in the Israeli courts to halt construction of a highway that is to divide the district, also linked to settlement expansion. Work on the six-lane artery, an extension of the north-south Begin Expressway, sparked widespread opposition the quiet, middle-class Arab neighborhood that lies among Jewish areas in southern Jerusalem. Aluminum walls along the construction site were covered in graffiti against the expressway, with slogans such as “Don’t run over Beit Safafa.” (Haaretz, Feb. 20; Times of Israel, Feb. 18; The Economist, Feb. 16, 2013)

Beit Safafa, a village split between Israeli and Jordanian rule until it was reunited in the 1967 war, had become the most integrated of Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods, with frequent Jewish visitors and shoppers. The Jerusalem District Court rejected an appeal by residents to halt construction of the expressway, which would faciliate access to the city for residents of the Etzion Bloc settlements to the south. The road would divide the district just meters from some residents’ homes.  Kais Nasser, an attorney representing the community, called the road “racist planning meant only to connect the settlements to the north of Jerusalem.” He charged that the city had started with work without allowing public comment, as required by law. The Jerusalem city government countered that the residents were given opportunities to object over the 23 years that the plan made its way through the zoning bureaucracy. But residents also charged they were subject to a campaign of official harassment aimed at silencing their protests. Beit Sefafa business owners said income tax authorities had suddenly stepped up raids. (Ibid)

Deadly repression continues on West Bank
Instances of deadly violence by Israeli security forces on the West Bank remained too frequent. Hundreds of mourners on Jan. 23, 2013 attended the funerals of a woman and a teenager shot and killed by Israeli forces in the Bethlehem area. The woman, 22, was shot in the head that morning as Israeli soldiers in a civilian car opened fire at a group standing at the entrance to al-Arrub refugee camp south of Bethlehem. That same day, a 15-year-old boy from Azza refugee camp died in the hospital after Israeli forces shot him in the head during Friday clashes in Bethlehem on Jan. 18. His funeral erupted into clashes angry residents threw stones at Israeli soldiers, who retaliated with rubber-coated bullets and tear gas, injuring 10 Palestinians. At least six Palestinians had been fatally shot by Israeli forces that month. (Maan News Agency, Jan. 23, 2013)

And actual deadly repression merely augmented innumerable ongoing humiliations and harassment of Palestinians. Farmers in the northern West Bank village of Sebastiya in Nablus protested in January that their fields had become a dump for waste-water from the nearby Israeli settlement Shave Shomron. In early January, settlers began pumping their sewage into the al-Khallah area of Sebastiya, flooding fields and damaging crops, local mayor Nael al-Shaer told Ma’an News Agency. He urged the Palestinian Authority to intervene. Local farmer Ahmad Kayid said fruit crops were inedible because of the sewage. “Settlers are trying to spoil as much as they can of Palestinian fields in an attempt to force farmers to desert their lands completely,” Kayid told Ma’an. (Maan News Agency, Jan. 22, 2013)

Requisite UN protests of Israel’s actions on the West Bank continued to accrue. On Jan. 30, 2013, the UN Human Rights Council adopted the first report by the International Fact-Finding Mission on Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, finding that the “settlements are a major obstacle to the establishment of a just and comprehensive peace and to the creation of an independent, viable, sovereign and democratic Palestinian State.” (Jurist, Jan. 31, 2013)

Also on Jan. 30, UN Humanitarian Coordinator James Rawley released a statement urging that Israeli forces cease their use of live ammunition against civilians. It was reported that since November eight civilians, including three minors, had been killed by the use of live ammunition. Rawley called on the Israeli government to conduct “timely, thorough, independent and impartial” investigations into the incidents and to hold those responsible for the deaths accountable. (Jurist, Jan. 31, 2013)

Advances Toward Statehood 
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas delivered a fiery speech at the opening of the General Assembly’s 67th session in New York Sept. 30, 2012, charging: “Israel is promising the Palestinian people a new catastrophe, a new Nakba.” He asserted that in recent months, “attacks by terrorist militias of Israeli settlers have become a daily reality.” He said the stalemate in the peace process had led to the conclusion “that the Israeli government rejects the two-state solution,” but instead seeks to reduce Palestine to “small enclaves surrounded by large Israeli settlement blocs and walls, checkpoints and vast security zones and roads devoted to settlers.” He did say that “despite our real feelings of anger and disappointment,” the PA remained committed to negotiations, and “there is still a chance—maybe the last—to save the two-state solution and to salvage peace.”  He affirmed his rejection of terrorism in all its forms, “particularly state terrorism.” Abbas said his renewed statehood bid was not aimed at delegitimizing Israel, “but rather to assert that the state of Palestine must be realized.” (JP, Sept. 30, 2012)

Israel made abundantly clear that the would-be Palestinian state did not control its own borders. An international conference of non-aligned countries scheduled to take place in Ramallah Aug. 5 was canceled after Israel barred the entrance of four delegations from Jordan to the Palestinian territories. The foreign ministers of Cuba, Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh requested to enter the West Bank through the Allenby crossing, but were refused entry because their governments do not recognize Israel. (YNet, Aug. 5, 2012)

The PLO began distributing a position paper to European governments in October, detailing plans to seek an upgrade of Palestine’s status at the United Nations. In the document, obtained by Ma’an News Agency, the PLO emphasized that UN membership would not be a substitute for negotiations with Israel. But it also asserted Palestine’s right to self-determination does not require Israeli approval.  “Palestine asks the world to reaffirm that the Palestinians are not the exception to the international rule; that they will not be punished for pursuing a peaceful, political and diplomatic initiative on the basis of international law,” the document stated. (Ma’an News Agency, Oct. 25, 2012)

The message followed a private US memo sent to European diplomats in early October warning that any UN upgrade of Palestine’s status “would be extremely counterproductive” for the Palestinians, and threatening “significant negative consequences.” (The Guardian, Oct. 1, 2012)

In evident response to Abbas’ initiative to revive a statehood bid at the UN, Israel launched a campaign to demand restitution for Jewish refugees from Arab countries. This was explicitly portrayed as a means to head off moves towards a reckoning with the question of Palestinian refugees. The campaign was kicked off on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York on Sept. 21, with Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon serving a pointman. Ayalon presided at the opening affair along with Israel’s UN Ambassador Ron Prosor. Also on hand were top American Jewish leaders. Ayalon stated flatly: “We won’t achieve peace without solving the problem of refugees, including Jewish refugees. Justice isn’t a term for just one side. The same criteria must apply to both sides.” (Globes, Sept. 23, 2012)

According to Ayalon—whose parents were originally from Iraq—nearly a million Jews fled Iraq, Egypt, Morocco, Yemen and other Arab lands in 1948 and the following years. That figure exceeds the generally accepted number of 750,000 Palestinian refugees uprooted during the Nakba, with another 280,000 added to their ranks in 1967. It should be noted that the million figure also exceeds Israel’s official estimate of  860,000 Jews who fled Arab countries between 1948 and 1972. Ayalon pushed for a national commemoration, to be called Jewish Refugee Day—sometime in the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, a reference to the June 1941 Farhud massacre in Iraq during the festival, in which some 180 Jews were killed. He called upon the international community to recognize Mizrahi or Arab Jews as refugees, as it does other populations displaced across international borders. (USA TodayThe World, Oct. 11; Electronic Intifada, Oct. 5; The National, UAE, Sept. 17; Point of No Return blog, June 25)

Palestinian leaders of course condemned the effort as a propaganda ploy. “The two issues are totally separate—Israel is just trying to undermine the problem of the Palestinian refugees and their rights,” said Saeb Erekat, the senior Palestinian peace negotiator. Added Hanan Ashrawi: “Opening up this can of worms is not a joke. If you want to go down that path, we’ll go down that path with you all the way. They want restitution? We want restitution. We want all our property back. This guy is opening up Pandora’s Box. If you give the Palestinians their rights, the right to return, restitution and compensation, there will be no more Israel.” (Ibid)

In the past, Israel had actually blocked efforts by Middle Eastern Jews to seek compensation from Arab countries; the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty explicitly prevented Egyptian-born Jews from seeking restitution. Yehouda Shenhav, a professor at Tel Aviv University, commented that Israel wanted to keep restitution as a bargaining chip: “The State of Israel did block such claims, because it wanted to save those assets, or property, to use it against the claims of the Palestinians in future negotiation over their property and assets.” (Ibid)

The popular blog Electronic Intifada added: “Moreover, many, if not most, Arab Jews left their homelands voluntarily, unlike Palestinians, to begin a new life in Israel. Even where tensions forced Jews to flee, such as in Iraq, it is hard to know who was always behind the ethnic strife. There is strong evidence that Israel’s Mossad spy agency waged false-flag operations in Arab states to fuel the fear and hostility needed to drive Arab Jews towards Israel.” (Electronic Intifada, Oct. 5, 2012) 

The conspiracy-theorizing may weaken their case, however. If there were instances in which anti-Jewish attacks were fomented by Zionist agents, it hardly suggests that there wasn’t also much “authentic” violence, with Arab Jews falling victim to reprisals for Zionist purging of Palestinian Arabs. There were new pogroms against Yemeni Jews as recently as 2009, with scores displaced in reaction to Israel’s assault on Gaza. (World War 4 Report, Feb. 22, 2009) Moreover, this theorizing distracts from the more critical point: The Yemeni and Iraqi and Moroccan Jews who fled to nascent Israel in 1948 and subsequently, and  their children and grandchildren, are not clamoring to return to Yemen and Iraq and Morocco. They are not stateless, or living in refugee camps. They are (ironically) second class citizens within Israel (with the Arabs third-class), but they are citizens. And not all those who left the Arab lands can be legitimately considered refugees. The exodus of Jews from Arab countries since 1948 had at least as much to do with Israeli efforts to promote emigration as with their being pushed out by their Arab neighbors. 

Professor Yehouda Shenhav, who criticized Ayalon’s plan and also shares his Mizrahi background, is an advocate of a one-state solution—a single “binational state.” Counterintuitively, Shenhav posited a point of unity between Mizrahi Israelis and the Palestinians in their shared history of displacement—a “connection between two types of Arab refugees.” He proposed that this could form the basis for an alliance against the traditional domination of Israeli society by Ashkenazim. (Haaretz, Feb. 18, 2010)

The General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a resolution on Nov. 29 to upgrade Palestine to a “non-member state” at the United Nations, implicitly recognizing a Palestinian state. There were 138 votes in favor, nine against and 41 abstentions. The move fell short of full UN membership; this required sanction by the Security Council, where the US wields a veto. But it allowed Palestine access to the International Criminal Court and other international bodies. Addressing the assembly in New York ahead of the vote, Mahmoud Abbas said the UN bid was the last chance to save the two-state solution. “Sixty-five years ago on this day, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 181, which partitioned the land of historic Palestine into two states and became the birth certificate for Israel,” Abbas told the 193-nation assembly after receiving a standing ovation. “The General Assembly is called upon today to issue a birth certificate of the reality of the State of Palestine.” (Ma’an News Agency, Nov. 30, 2012)

At least 17 European nations voted in favor of the Palestinian resolution, including France, Italy, Spain, Austria and Norway. Britain, Germany and others chose to abstain. The Czech Republic was unique in Europe, joining the United States, Israel, Canada, Panama and small Pacific Island states likes Nauru, Palau and Micronesia in voting against the move. (Ibid)

Benjamin Netanyahu immediately condemned Abbas’ speech as “hostile and poisonous,” and full of “false propaganda.” He added in a statement released by his office after Abbas spoke: “These are not the words of a man who wants peace.” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the vote “unfortunate and counterproductive.” (Ibid)

It was  Sudan’s UN Ambassador Dafalla al-Haj Ali who read the resolution calling for upgrading the status of Palestine from “observer entity” to “non-member state observer” at the General Assembly—because Sudan held the rotating chairmanship of the Arab Group at the UN. Sudan’s own brutal campaigns in Darfur afforded right-wing commentators the opportunity to assert that a “genocidal Muslim state” was seeking to legitimize a “genocidal Muslim entity.” (WAFAFront Page Mag, Nov. 29, 2012)


Citizenship Controversies
Controversies about the nature of Israeli citizenship, amid the complexities of competing claims, continued to mount. On March 26, 2012, the US Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in MBZ v. Clinton that the ability of a US national born in Jerusalem to list Israel as place of birth on a passport was not a political question, and remanded the case for a ruling specifically on the issue. The US State Department argued that the question was political because it involved the government’s foreign policy on the sovereignty of Jerusalem. The case concerned a US citizen who was born in Jerusalem in 2002. His parents asked the State Department to record his place of birth as “Jerusalem, Israel,” but were told it could only be listed as Jerusalem because the US does not recognize any country as having sovereignty over Jerusalem. The parents filed suit in 2003 based on the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003, which they said allowed the listing of Israel as birthplace for those born in Jerusalem. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed the suit as a political question. The Supreme Court’s reversal of that dismissal was a victory for growing de facto US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. (Jurist, March 27, 2012)

Ahead of the Israeli elections slated for January 2013, an alliance was announced between the parties of the prime minister, Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud, and the foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu. Lieberman openly espoused policies hostile to Arab citizens of Israel, who constituted 17% of the population. With a party slogan of “No citizenship without loyalty,” he sought to oblige Arabs to declare loyalty to the Zionist state as a condition for citizenship, including the right to vote and become members of the Knesset. Central to Lieberman’s program was official recognition for the annexation of Jerusalem and the West Bank settlements, in exchange for the “transfer” of major Arab population centers in Israel to Palestinian territory. (The Guardian, Nov. 4, 2012)

A new law granting Israeli authorities the power to detain “illegal migrants” for up to three years took effect June 3, following a wave of Tel Aviv protests over the influx of African migrants who cross into Israel along its border with Egypt. The law even made asylum seekers liable to imprisonment—without trial or deportation—if determined to be staying in Israel for an excessive period. Additionally, anyone found to be aiding migrants or providing them with shelter could face up to 15 years in prison. The law amended the Prevention of Infiltration Law, passed in 1954 to prevent the entry of Palestinians. Seemingly in a holdover from the origins of the law in 1954, the African migrants were called “infiltrators” with the same ugly connotation as the term “illegals” in the US. (Haaretz, June 3, 2012)

Also June 3, Israeli daily Maariv published an interview with Interior Minister Eli Yishai, in which he complained that most of the “Muslims that arrive here do not even believe that this country belongs to us, to the white man.” Yishai himself is a Mizrahi Jew of Tunisian origin. (Ibid)

And there was growing conflict between Orthodox and secular Israelis. The wave of ultra-orthodox vigilante violence that had been mounting even within Israel took a grim turn Feb. 28, 2012 as a 70-year-old woman—herself an ultra-Orthodox Jew—was beaten by thugs who broke into her home, leaving her handcuffed and bleeding. The self-appointed “Modesty Patrol” apparently mistook her for a Christian missionary. As they beat her—breaking her right hand with a metal rod and using their cell phones to document the attack—they taunted her: “You are destroying the neighborhood with your missionary teachings.” (YNet, Feb. 29, 2012)

Amid outrage across the Jewish diaspora over a flurry of recent arrests of women seeking to pray at the Western Wall with ritual garments in defiance of Israeli law, Prime Minister Netanyahu in December asked Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency, to study the issue and suggest ways to make the site more accommodating to all Jews. (NYT, Dec. 25, 2012) 

An Arab teen who was violently accosted by two Haredi men in Jerusalem Dec. 24 said he did nothing to provoke the assailants. “I still don’t know what led them to attack me, I didn’t do anything, we didn’t even exchange words,” the 16-year-old resident of Beit Hanina neighborhood recalled. The youth suffered head wounds and was hospitalized in moderate condition.  (YNet, Dec. 25, 2012)

Following the “Judaization” of geography in Jerusalem—the censoring of old Arab place names by municipal authorities—a similar controversy emerged in Tel Aviv. An August speech by Tel Aviv-Jaffa city council member Ahmed Mashharawi, in which he proposed that the city add an Arabic inscription to its official logo, was edited out of a recording of the city council meeting that was posted to YouTube by municipal authorities. In a comment he wrote on Facebook, Mashharawi, of the Meretz party, wrote that he “couldn’t believe” someone would censor his comments out of the recording. “It began with closing [city council] meetings to the public and now they are censoring parts,” he wrote, adding, “Shame on you.” (Ha’aretz, Aug. 10, 2012)

Class divisions within Israel continued to manifest in protest. Police detained 89 demonstrators after more than 6,500 flooded Tel Aviv’s Habima Square the night of June 23 to protest the arrest of Daphni Leef, a leader of the previous summer’s mass movement against economic inequality and the high cost of housing in Israel. Police said the protest was illegal, because no permit had been applied for. Protesters responded that the lack of a permit was intentional, to make the point that permits are difficult to obtain. Clashes were reported from nearby Rabin Square, where protesters attempted to break into banks, smashing the window of one. The elite police “Special Forces” riot squad was mobilized to the scene. The gathering was publicized as an attempt to reboot the movement, under the slogan, “Emergency protest! Returning power to the people!” (The Nation blog, June 25; Haaretz, June 23, 2012)

Results of the January election found Benjamin Netanyahu weakened but holding to power, in a shift toward what Israeli media called “the center.” Netanyahu’s bloc, made up of Likud and Yisrael Beitenu, came out on top with 31 seats out of the 120 in the Knesset—down from 42. Coming in second, the new “centrist” Yesh Atid (There is a Future), led by ex-TV personality Yair Lapid, took 19 seats. The center-left Labor, once the mainstay of Iraeli politics, came in third with only 15 seats, with Arab parties winning another 12. The biggest party in the last Knesset, the “center”-right Kadima, dropped from 28 seats to none. (Foreign Policy’s Middle East Channel blog, JTA, Jan. 23, 2013)

But an election-time controversy demonstrated the degree to which ultra-right positions had become mainstreamed in Israeli politics. Israeli TV aired footage of Jeremy Gimpel, a candidate with Habayit Hayehudi (formerly the National Religious Party), speaking to a church group in Florida in 2011: “Imagine if the Golden Dome—I’m being recorded so I can’t say ‘blown up’—but let’s say the Dome was blown up, right? And we laid the cornerstone of the Temple in Jerusalem. Can you imagine? None of you would be here. All of you would be like, ‘I’m going to Israel, right?’ No one would be here, it would be incredible!” (Bartholomew’s Notes on ReligionHaaretz, Jan. 20, 2013) There was an outcry over this, and Gimpel failed to win his Knesset seat. In rare criticism of an Israeli politician, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a leading US Jewish organization, called on Gimpel to apologize to Muslims for his comment. (JTA, Jan. 22, 2013)

Even the “centrist” parties were increasingly rejecitonist in their stance towards the Palestinians. and Jewish-supremacist regarding their vision for Israel. Yair Lapid, the head of Yesh Atid, wrote on his Facebook page in the run-up to the election: “I do not think that the Arabs want peace… What I want is not a new Middle East, but to be rid of them and put a tall fence between us and them….to maintain a Jewish majority in the Land of Israel.” (Arutz Sheva, Jan. 20, 2013)

Days earlier he said that the left “makes the same mistake again when it negotiates the division of Jerusalem… The Palestinians must be brought to an understanding that Jerusalem will always remain under Israeli sovereignty and that there is no point for them in opening negotiations about Jerusalem.” He added that Israel will not allow a “right of return” for Palestinian refugees. “We need to be clear about Jerusalem as well and then they will understand that this is our solid position.” (Ibid)

Prison Hunger Strikes
Palestinian detainee Khader Adnan went on hunger strike Dec. 17, 2011, and by February rights advocates were warning that his life was at risk. This was also acknowledged by the Israeli Prison Service, which transferred him from military detention on the West Bank to a hospital in northern Israel. Adnan, said to be a leader of Islamic Jihad, was refusing all food in protest of his ill-treatment and his arbitrary detention without charge or trial—”administrative detention.” The father of two daughters and with a third child on the way, Adnan, 33, was a baker and a student at the West Bank’s Birzeit University. He was arrested by masked soldiers who raided his home at Arrabe near Jenin in the middle of the night. For the first two weeks he was subject to daily interrogations, during which he was shackled to a crooked chair with his hands tied behind his back in a position that caused him pain. There were then some 300 Palestinians under Israeli administrative detention (among a total of some 4,000 detainees), and Adnan’s case became symbolic, prompting support demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza, and solidarity hunger strikes by other detainees. Posters of his likeness became common, with statements like, “For every gram you lose from your weight, we gain a thousand grams in our dignity.” (BBC News, Feb. 8; 972Mag, Feb. 7; Amnesty International, Feb. 6; Samidoun, Feb. 5, 2012)

Adnan ended his hunger strike Feb. 21, after Israeli authorities agreed to release him in April. The announcement came less than an hour before a scheduled High Court of Justice hearing on his petition demanding that he be charged or released. Through the arrangement, Israel averted the possibility of widespread unrest that was expected if he had died. However, just two days after Adnan ended his strike, news emerged that a Palestinian woman had begun her own hunger strike against her detention without charge or trial. Hana Yahya al-Shalabi spent more than two years in administrative detention, and had been freed in October as part of the prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas. On Feb. 17, al-Shalabi, 29, was once again arrested by Israeli forces from her home near Jenin. She was on hunger strike for 40 days, before she was released in April. But Palestinian prisoner support group Addameer and Physicians For Human Rights-Israel raised questions about the deal in a joint statement, raising fears that she had been coerced. They noted that their officials, as well as Shalabi’s relatives, were denied access to her during the final days of her hunger strike. (NYT, April 2; AFP, April 2; Electronic Intifada, Feb. 23; Maan News Agency, Feb. 21, 2012)

The Palestinian Authority said that Israeli prison authorities stormed the cells of Palestinian prisoners on April 1, leaving 61 injured. The raid in Israel’s Nafha facility came after prisoners refused to give DNA samples, the PA’s own prisons ministry said. Minister Issa Qaraqe asserted that every prisoner has the right to refuse forcible DNA testing. PA lawyers filed a complaint in Israel’s courts to demand the end of forced DNA tests for Palestinians detainees. (Ma’an News Agency, April 1, 2012)

On April 17, marking Palestinian Prisoners Day, at least 1,200 detainees launched an open-ended hunger strike, demanding improvements in living conditions, as well as an end to solitary confinement, “night raids” on cells, and bans on family visits for prisoners from Gaza. Prison authorities responded by denying all striking inmates family visits, and separating them from the inmates not taking part in the protest.  Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas administration in Gaza, called for a new intifada to support Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel. (Ma’an News Agency, April 30, 2012)

The Israeli Supreme Court on May 7 ruled against two striking prisoners, Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahla, in their appeal seeking release from detention. In its decision, the court determined that “administrative detention” policies were necessary to combat terrorism, but suggested the authorities should consider releasing the two prisoners for health reasons. (Jurist, May 7, 2012)

On May 9, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Israel to try or release the striking prisoners to avoid risks to their health. (Jurist, May 10, 2012)

The striking prisoners agreed May 14 to a deal, ending the strikes in exchange for improved conditions. The Egyptian-brokered pact called for the prisoners—including Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahla, who had gone without food for 77 days—to be released at the end of their “administrative detention” terms. Four hunger strikers were transferred to civilian hospitals within Israel for treatment. Israel also agreed to release all detainees from solitary confinement, lift the ban on family visits for detainees from Gaza, and revoke the “Shalit law.” The “Shalit law” restricted prisoners’ access to families and to educational materials, as punishment for the five-year captivity of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. (Ma’an News Agency, May 16, 2012)

Amnesty International on June 5 urged Israel to release all prisoners of conscience and administrative detainees or immediately try them under international fair-trial standards. The statement also protested the use of solitary confinement as a punitive measure against prisoners on hunger strike. (AI, June 6, 2012)

Two detainees remained on hunger strike despite the deal: Mahmoud Sarsak, 25, a former player with the Palestinian national football team, held without charge since 2009, and Akram al-Rekhawi, who said Israel violated a pledge to release him when it extended his detention May 21. Sarsak was freed in June after more than three months on hunger strike. He denied Israeli claims that he was active in Islamic Jihad. During his hunger strike, the 25-year-old athlete lost nearly half his body weight. Akram al-Rekhawi ended his hunger strike in July, after 102 days, accepting a release deal. (Maan News Agency, July 23; The Guardian, July 10; AP, June 7, 2012)

But new strikes persisted. Amnesty International on Aug. 13 called on the Israeli authorities to investigate allegations that two Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike had been ill-treated. The two men—Hassan Safadi and Samer al-Barq—had been on hunger strike since June 21 and May 22 respectively. (Asian Image, Aug. 13, 2012)

The movement also drew support from Israeli “refusenik” prisoners. Yaniv Mazor, a 31-year-old Jerusalem resident, was sentenced to 20 days over his refusal to serve in what he called the “occupying army.” Interned at the IDF’s Tzrifin prison June 11, he announced he was going on hunger strike in solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike. (Haaretz, June 17, 2012)

And the movement even spread to detainees in the Palestinian Authority’s own prisons. Former Palestinian militant turned cultural activist Zakariya Zubeidi announced a hunger strike on Sept. 9 to protest his detention by the Authority without charges or trial. He stopped drinking on Sept. 17 after a Palestinian judge extended his detention for another 19 days. Zubeidi, a co-founder of the Jenin-based Freedom Theatre, was arrested, along with some 150 others, after unidentified assailants shot at the home of Jenin’s governor on May 2. Zubeidi had been a commander of the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades at the height of the second Initifada, but in 2006 he turned to “cultural resistance,” as part of an agreement with the PA under which Israel removed militants from its wanted list if they signed documents pledging to cease armed attacks. (DPA, Sept. 19, 2012)

Also Dec. 19, Israeli forces confiscated a protest tent that had been erected in East Jerusalem to support hunger-striker Samer Issawi, who had then refused food in Israeli prisons for 141 days.  Issawi’s sister Shireen was detained at the family’s home in Isawiya neighborhood the previous day, after she tried to access her brother’s closed court hearing. The family were blocked by Israeli forces at the court when they tried to greet Samer. (Maan News Agency, Dec. 19, 2012)

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed concern Feb. 13, 2013 for three striking prisoners, Issawi, Tarek Qa’adan, Jafar Azzidine. Pillay also expressed her own concerns as to Israel’s use of administrative detention, saying: “Persons detained must be charged and face trial with judicial guarantees in accordance with international standards, or be promptly released.” (Jurist, Feb. 13, 2012)

Violence broke out between Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops on Feb. 21 when demonstrators attempted to march on the West Bank’s Ofer Prison in support of the hunger strikers. As Israeli forces obstructed the march, protesters threw stones and burned tires; Israeli troops responded with rubber-coated bullets and tear gas. At least 29 protesters were injured in the clash—just one of many such incidents in the past days.  (Jurist, Feb. 21, 2013)

Qaadan and Azzidine suspended their strike Feb. 27, after an Israeli military prosecutor said their detention order would not be renewed. They had each gone without food for 93 days. Israeli authorities were intransigent in the case of Samer Issawi, who they said had violated terms of his parole following an earlier period of detention by travelling to an area of the West Bank he had been forbidden to. Unlike “administrative” detainees, he actually faced criminal charges. By the end of March, he had been without solid food for 236 days, and was approaching death. (IMEMC, March 25; Maan News Agency, Feb. 27, 2013)

Hundreds of people took to the streets in the West Bank and Gaza on Feb. 25 in the second day of protests following the death of a Palestinian prisoner who PA officials said died as a result of torture in Israeli custody. Hundreds marched from Birzeit University and gathered outside Ofer Prison, where Israeli forces fired rubber bullets at the crowds, injuring 11. Thousands of mourners attended the funeral of the detainee, Arafat Jaradat, in the Hebron village of Sair. Gunmen from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades fired in the air as his body was carried through the streets, with Jaradat’s mother and pregnant wife collapsing at the funeral. (Ma’an News Agency, Feb. 25, 2013)

The hunger strikes came amid growing international concerns about conditions of Israel’s detainees. A delegation of senior British jurists in June 2012 released a report finding Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children in custody violates international law. The report charged that Israel was in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on at least six counts, and of the Fourth Geneva Convention on at least two counts. The study, “Children in Military Custody,” was funded and backed by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It documented testimony by UN workers, Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian children that minors were subject to shackling, hooding and solitary confinement. “To hold children routinely and for substantial periods in solitary confinement would, if it occurred, be capable of amounting to torture,” the report stated. It also accused Israeli forces of physical and verbal abuse against minors, and keeping them from their parents. Rights groups estimated some 700 Palestinian children are detained by Israel each year. (Electronic Intifada, July 4; Ma’an News Agency, June 28, 2012)

The report also stated that by applying separate legal regimes for Israeli and Palestinian children, Israel was in breach of international laws against discrimination. Israeli children cannot be jailed under the age of 14, while Palestinian children as young as 12 have been held by Israel. Israeli children must be given access to a lawyer within 48 hours, whereas Palestinians can be held for three months without legal counsel. The report found: “Under international law, no state is entitled to discriminate between those over whom it exercises penal jurisdiction on the basis of their race or nationality. Unequal or differential justice is not justice.” Israel was also violating international humanitarian law by transferring Palestinian children from an occupied territory into Israel, the study stated. (Ibid)

A UN special committee, composed of representatives from Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Senegal, on July 19 also condemned Israel’s treatment of child detainees. The committee detailed violent raids on homes without warrants, use of solitary confinement, and interrogators pressuring children to become informants. (Jurist, July 21, 2012)


Operation Pillar of Defense
The uneasy truce in the Gaza Strip would break down amid a major new Israeli offensive by the end of 2012. But the preceding months saw a steady level of violence and privation that generally failed to win international media coverage. 

A 69-year-old Palestinian man was killed and three others injured in an attack by the Israeli Air Force on tunnels and a supposed weapons depot near Gaza City on Feb. 12, 2012. The strikes came in response to a short-range rocket that was launched from Gaza the previous day, wounding an Israeli woman, the military said. No faction took credit for the rocket attack. Hamas at this time was officially trying to rein in attacks on Israel as it sought a political accommodation with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. (Ha’aretz, Feb. 12, 2012)

Gaza power authority officials warned that the Strip would soon have only six hours of electricity a day if more fuel was not delivered. A small delivery on Feb. 13 staved off a wide-scale blackout. The Palestinian Authority had taken over responsibility from the European Union for delivering diesel to the Gaza Energy Authority in late 2009, and the directors of Gaza’s only power plant said that the Palestinian Authority’s delay in payments for fuel contributed to the crisis. (Ma’an News Agency, Jan. 13, 2012)

On March 5, for the first time in five years, Israel allowed export of goods from Gaza to the West Bank. Two trucks carrying date bars traveled to the West Bank as part of an initiative by the World Food Program to feed Palestinian schoolchildren—after six months of negotiations. The shipments left Gaza via Kerem Shalom, the only one of the Strip’s four commercial crossings that Israel had not closed.  The permission, for 13 trucks in total, was the first exception to a ban on exports to the West Bank imposed by Israel in June 2007. Until the March shipment, all export was limited to markets abroad, with low demand and transportation costs high.  The restrictions played a major role in the fact that Gaza’s economy was essentially paralyzed, with an unemployment rate of 31.5%, and some 70% of the population receiving humanitarian aid. (Gisha, March 5, 2012)

March saw renewed hostilities, with air-strikes on the Gaza Strip and rockets fired from the Strip on southern Israel for four days before a new ceasefire on the 14th. The fighting began with a round began with a targeted killing by the IDF, ostensibly aimed at foiling a terror attack. Altogether, about 300 rockets were fired into Israel during the new hostilities—largely by Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees. Of these, 56 were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, Israeli military authorities said. The IDF said that 26 Palestinians were killed in the new fighting, of whom 22 were “terrorists.” (Ha’aretz, March 14, 2012)

Some 25 Palestinians were injured by what appeared to be tear-gas fired by Israel near Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza on May 16. A local medic said 25 people arrived in Beit Hanoun hospital “unconscious” after Israeli forces fired gas toward farmers and houses close to the border. The Israeli military said “riot dispersal means were placed adjacent to Erez crossing” and later detonated—seemingly in preparation for Nakba commemorations. (Ma’an News Agency, May 16, 2012)

An Israeli air strike June 19 killed two Palestinians near the Gaza Strip border, drawing the first Hamas rocket fire in more than a year. Gaza medical officials said the two men killed were civilians. The Israeli military said the strikes “targeted a terrorist squad identified handling an explosive device” near Israel’s border fence. Hamas said its Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades fired rockets into Israel in response. No casualties were reported. Although other armed groups had fired rockets across the border in previous surges of violence, Hamas had held its fire under unofficial truces with Israel. (AlJazeera, June 19, 2012)

Another Palestinian man was killed while riding a motorcyle west of Gaza City, and ten more wounded, as Israel resumed air-strikes on June 23. The new strikes were launched after militant groups in Gaza—although not Hamas—fired rockets into Israel despite reports that an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire had gone into effect the previous morning. Israeli gunboats also shelled a beach in northern Gaza. (JPMaan, June 23; Maan, June 22, 2012)

In July, 50 aid groups and UN offices signed a joint statement urging Israel to end its blockade of the Gaza Strip, calling it a violation of international law. Among the signatories were Amnesty International, the World Health Organization, and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The joint statement followed a call by UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos to end the blockade, which she said deprived Gaza residents of basic humanitarian needs. (Jurist, Nov. 6, 2012)

Israel’s Supreme Court in August upheld the government’s refusal to allow five female students from Gaza to reach their classes in the West Bank.  In rejecting the petition submitted by rights group Gisha and the Palestinian rights group Al Mezan, the judges accepted the state’s position that Israel was not obligated to allow Palestinian residents of Gaza to study in the West Bank, and that it may treat them as “enemy citizens” for purposes of passage. (Gisha, Sept. 27, 2012)

An Israeli soldier accused of killing two women—a 64-year-old mother and her grown daughter—who waved a white flag during Operation Cast Lead, the 2009 offensive in Gaza, reached a plea bargain with the military advocate general in August, and received a 45-day sentence. The soldier, identified only as Staff Sgt. S of the Givati Brigade, had his charges reduced from manslaughter to illegal use of a weapon in exchange for his guilty plea. (Ha’aretzYNet, Aug. 12, 2012)

There was no middle ground in reactions to the Haifa District Court ruling Aug. 28 rejecting a lawsuit brought by the parents of Rachel Corrie, the US Palestine solidarity activist crushed to death by an army bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in 2003. Israeli officials welcomed the ruling as a long-due exoneration, while the Corrie family and their attorney denounced it as a “black day for human rights.” Attorney Hussein Abu Hussein said that the ruling showed that there was injustice across the Israeli legal system. At a press conference, he displayed photographs which had been presented in court, that he said proved that the bulldozer operator must have seen Corrie. He also said the photos disproved the court’s finding that the bulldozers were active but not demolishing homes at the time of the incident. Hussein additionally argued that there was no basis for applying the “combatant activities” exception in the case, because there was no battle going on at the time of Rachel’s death. (Jerusalem PostCSM, Aug. 28, 2012)

A military investigation into the incident had cleared he Israel Defense Forces (IDF) of any wrongdoing in June 2003, but the Corrie family filed a civil lawsuit in a Haifa district court, seeking to overturn that finding and force the state to take responsibility for the death. In a 62-page opinion, Judge Oded Gershon termed Corrie’s death ”an accident she brought upon herself.” (Ibid)

In a case brought by Gisha, Israel’s Supreme Court on Sept. 5 ordered the state to release the secret 2008 “red lines document,” which established the minimum caloric intake required for the survival of residents of the Gaza Strip, as part of the policy that restricted the entrance of goods into Gaza. The Gaza bloackade, imposed in 2007, was “eased” but not lifted in June 2010.  Gisha director Sari Bashi said: “The court sent a clear message to the Defense Ministry that in a democratic society, the public’s right to know must be taken seriously. Had this information come to light earlier, the policy of restricting even food items from entering Gaza might not have lasted three years.” (Gisha, Sept. 6, 2012) 

After the ruling, Israel’s Defense Ministry turned over the document, entitled “Food Consumption in the Gaza Strip—Red Lines.” Two versions of the document, in the format of PowerPoint presentations, were provided to Gisha. The documents, produced in January 2008, cited a daily average of 2,279 calories per person, which could be supplied by four pounds of food, or 2,575.5 tons of food for the Gaza Strip’s entire 1.7 million population. The Defense Ministry had argued to the court that Israel had a right “to adopt a policy of economic warfare” against Gaza’s Hamas leadership. (UPI, Oct. 18; Gisha, Oct. 17, 2012)

Arab leaders were meanwhile moving towards recognition of the Hamas administration. The emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, in October became the first head of state to visit the Gaza Strip since Hamas took control over the area in 2007, pledging $400 million in aid to the Strip. (Jewish Policy Center, Nov. 1, 2012)

Israeli troops on Oct. 20 commandeered a Gaza-bound ship that tried to break through Israel’s blockade. European lawmakers and activists aboard did not resist, and the Finnish-flagged vessel was diverted to an Israeli port. (AP, Oct. 20, 2012)

On Oct. 23, Israeli air-strikes killed three Hamas militants, and a fourth the next day—a move ostensibly aimed at stopping rocket attaclks. But Hamas of course responded with a new round of rocket and mortar attacks, the heaviest bombardment on southern Israel in months. Three Thai laborers working on an Israeli farm were wounded, two seriously, when a rocket hit a chicken coop. Schools in the area were closed. Israel, in turn, responded with a series of air-strikes on presumed rocket launching sites in Gaza, killing four Palestinians, two of whom were “confirmed as militants.” The exchanges came to an end when Egypt brokered an “informal ceasefire.” (Reuters, Oct. 25; AP, Oct. 24, 2012)

A Turkish court on Nov. 6 opened a trial in absentia for former Israeli military commanders accused of killing nine Turkish citizens aboard the ship attempting to pass through the Gaza blockade in 2010. Prosecutors demanded life in prison for the Israeli commanders involved in the raid. Israel dismissed the trial of the four commanders as politically motivated. Hundreds of protestors showed up outside the courthouse to voice their opposition to Israel’s actions. (Jurist, Nov. 6, 2012)

War returned in earnest Nov. 14, when Israel launched multiple air-strikes across the Gaza Strip. Among those killed was Ahmed al-Jaabari, the head of Hamas’ military wing the Qassam Brigades, in a missile strike on his vehicle in Gaza City. The strikes were aimed at Hamas police and security forces headquarters across the Strip. “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead,” the Israel Defense Forces said. Immediate calls for revenge were broadcast over Hamas radio and the al-Qassam brigades vowed to strike back. “The occupation has opened the doors of hell,” the Qassam Brigades said in a statement.  (Ma’an NewsMa’an NewsNYT, Nov. 14; Reuters, Nov. 13, 2012) 

Hamas had actually been attempting to restrain Islamic Jihad before the new fighting, leading commentator Aluf Benn to wryly charge in Ha’aretz that “Israel killed its subcontractor in Gaza… Ahmed Jabari was a subcontractor, in charge of maintaining Israel’s security in Gaza.” The Nov. 10 rocket attack on an IDF jeep that sparked the new crisis was fired by  the Salah a-Din Brigades, military wing of the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza. The attack injured four soliders. (Ha’aretz, Nov. 14; Ha’aretz, Nov. 13, 2012)

More than 80 rockets were fired from Gaza after the opening Israeli air-strikes, hitting Beersheba and Ashdod. Ashkelon also targeted but those were apparently among the 27 rockets claimed to have been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. The Israeli cabinet authorized the army to issue emergency orders mobilizing reserve units for the new campaign, dubbed Operation Pillar of Defense (literally “Pillar of Cloud,” a biblical reference). The US State Department issued a statement saying: “We support Israel’s right to defend itself, and we encourage Israel to continue to take every effort to avoid civilian casualties.” (YNet, Nov. 14, 2012)

On Nov. 15, air raid sirens sounded in Tel Aviv  for the first time since the 1991 Gulf War. Reports conflicted as to whether a Tel Aviv-bound rocket, claimed by Islamic Jihad, hitempty land in a suburb or crashed into the sea. Israel now sent troops, tanks and armored personnel carriers to Gaza’s borders—raising fears of an imminent ground invasion. (AP, Nov. 16; WP, Nov. 15, 2012)

Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil arrived in the Gaza Strip Nov. 16 to show solidarity. Israel said it would suspend all military action during Kandil’s three-hour visit as long as the Hamas also ceased fire. (Reuters, Nov. 16, 2012) A rocket landed in Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem, that day—marking the first time since 1970 that a rocket had been fired at the city. Hamas claimed it was targeting the Knesset, but the rocket landed outside the city and there were no casualties. Two Israeli women and a man were killed when a rocket fired from Gaza hit a building in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi. (BBC NewsThe Guardian, Nov. 16, 2012) An Israeli air-strike on al-Maghazi refugee camp killed al-Qassam Brigades leader Ahmad Abu Jalal and three others, bringing the Palestinian death toll in the new campaign to 28. (Ma’an News Agency, Nov. 16, 2012) Israel hit the Hamas cabinet building in Gaza City the next day, causing extensive damage although no casualties. (Economic Times, Nov. 17, 2012)

The Israeli Cabinet on Nov. 16 authorized the call-up of 75,000 reserve troops as the air assault against Gaza intensified, adding to speculation a ground invasion was imminent. During Operation Cast Lead in 2008, Israel mobilized some 10,000 reserves in preparation for the ground operation. (RT, Nov. 17, 2012)

Dozens of Palestinians were injured as protests were held across the West Bank in support of Gaza under its third day of Israeli bombardment Nov. 16. At Kafr Kaddum village, a youth was hospitalized after a tear gas canister hit him in the back of the head. Hundreds of Palestinians, Israelis and foreign activists joined a march in the village, holding banners saying “Relief of Gaza.” In Bethlehem, Israeli forces fired tear gas and a foul-smelling chemical liquid as protesters gathered outside Aida refugee camp to support Gaza—and another youth was hit in the head with a tear gas canister. In Jenin, a youth was wounded by rubber bullets in clashes with Israeli forces near the Jalama crossing into Israel. Protesters who gathered at the Enav checkpoint east of Tulkarem after Friday prayers were also met with rubber bullets and tear gas. Near Ramallah, four were arrested at a demonstration in Nabi Saleh and two Palestinians were injured in a protest in Bilin village. Near Hebron, Israeli forces clashed with Palestinians at a weekly demonstration in Beit Ummar, dedicated in solidarity with Gaza. In Hebron city, political and religious figures led a march to the main square, demanding the Arab world do more to stop the bombardment. Marches were also held in Ramallah and Nablus. (Ma’an News Agency, Nov. 16, 2012)

Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi announced Nov. 17 that peace talks in Cairo were progressing toward a ceasefire. UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Navi Pillay urgently called for a truce. (Jurist, Nov. 17, 2012)

In news that shocked the world Nov. 18, an Israeli bomb destroyed a Gaza City home, killing 11 people, including nine from three generations of a single family—from a grandmother to a two-year-old child. Gaza’s Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, called the attack a “massacre” that “exceeded all expectations.” Israel said the target was a militant responsible for rocket attacks, but that the incident was under investigation. That same day, a youth was fatally injured when Israeli troops used rubber bullets and tear gas at a Ramallah protest against the Gaza bombardment. (Ma’an NewsMa’an NewsMa’an News, Nov. 19; NYT, Nov. 18, 2012)

Also that day, President Obama clearly signaled a “green light” for the bombardment. “There’s no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders,” he said. “We are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself. Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory.” (MSNBC, Nov. 18, 2012) Of course the US was routinely carrying out drone missile attacks on Pakistan and Yemen.

Gilad Sharon, the son of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, had a piece in the Jerusalem Post Nov. 18, whose understated title, “A decisive conclusion is necessary,” belied the exterminationist rhetoric within:

Why do our citizens have to live with rocket fire from Gaza while we fight with our hands tied? Why are the citizens of Gaza immune? If the Syrians were to open fire on our towns, would we not attack Damascus? If the Cubans were to fire at Miami, wouldn’t Havana suffer the consequences? That’s what’s called “deterrence”—if you shoot at me, I’ll shoot at you. There is no justification for the State of Gaza being able to shoot at our towns with impunity. We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima—the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.

There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. Then they’d really call for a ceasefire.

Were this to happen, the images from Gaza might be unpleasant—but victory would be swift, and the lives of our soldiers and civilians spared.

Mourners clashed with Israeli troops at two funerals Nov. 21 as protests continued. In Hebron, hundreds attended the funeral for a man shot by Israeli troops at a protest in the city’s Bir al-Mahjar neighborhood. After the burial, hundreds of young men began marching towards a Jewish settlement, to be set upon by Israeli forces with tear gas and rubber bullets. In Ramallah, thousands attended the funeral for a police officer who died two days after he was shot by Israeli forces at a protest in Nabi Saleh. A video of that protest showed Israeli forces threatening demonstrators who tried to administer first aid. At Nabi Saleh, where he was buried. mourners chanted “Martyr, rest, we will pick up the fight.” After the procession, masked youths hurled rocks at Israeli soldiers lined up at the village entrance, who again responded with tear-gas and rubber bullets. East of Hebron, Israeli forces closed the entrance to Bani Naim village amid clashes between residents and soldiers. In the northern West Bank, hundreds of protesters marched to al-Jalama crossing. Israeli forces declared al-Jalama village a closed military zone, and more clashes ensued. (Maan News Agency, Nov. 21, 2012)

Israel launched new air-strikes late Nov. 21, even as Egypt’s foreign minister Mohamed Kamel Amr announced a ceasefire to end the eight days of violence. Missiles fired by an unmanned drone hit Deir al-Balah in the central Strip, killing a youth and critically injuring another. Another air-strike killed a Palestinian in Gaza City’s Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, with six more wounded elsewhere in the city. The ceasefire, announced at a Cairo press conference with the US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, was to take effect at 9 PM—less than two hours after the air-strikes. The Palestinian death toll in the eight days of bombing stood at some 170, with another 1,000 wounded. Five Israelis had been killed, including one soldier. (Maa’n News Agency, Nov. 21, 2012)

Also Nov. 21, a bomb exploded on a bus passing Israel’s Defense Ministry complex in central Tel Aviv, wounding at least 10. Celebratory gunfire rang out across Gaza as the news spread, and Hamas praised the bombing, although no-one claimed responsibility. (Reuters, Nov. 21, 2012)

The Egypt-brokered ceasefire commited Israel to “Opening the crossings and facilitating the movement of people and transfer of goods and refraining from restricting residents’ free movements and targeting residents in border areas.” In other words, further easing the siege. (AFP, Nov. 21, 2012) Leaders in Gaza and Israel both claimed victory. Ramadan Shallah, chief of Islamic Jihad, which was also signatory to the ceasefire, called the war Israel’s “greatest defeat in history.” Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak meanwhile boasted that Israel dropped 1,000 times as much explosive on the Gaza Strip tha had landed in Israel. “A large part of the mid-range rockets were destroyed,” Barak told Israel’s Army Radio. (Ma’an News Agency, Nov. 23, 2012)

In a rare display of unity, leaders of Hamas, Fatah and other Palestinian factions on Nov. 21 celebrated the end of the war and called for parties to end the split with the West Bank. Thousands took to the streets of Gaza, calling for unity. Fatah leader Nabil Shaath, who came to Gaza three days earlier, during the Israeli bombing, told crowds in Gaza City: â€śHow glad I feel when yellow, green, red and black flags fly together, united by the Palestinian flag. We must all unite and work together.” This was a reference to the colors of Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and leftist factions. “Today our unity materialized, Hamas and Fatah are one hand, one rifle and one rocket,” senior Hamas leader Khalil Al-Hayya told several thousand in the main square of Gaza. (Ma’an News Agency, Nov. 22, 2012)

In New York, Human Rights Watch issued separate statements accusing both Israel and Gaza Palestinian factions of violating the laws of war by targeting civilian areas during the fighting. (Jurist, Dec. 24, 2012)

Iran, Syria, Egypt and Rumors of War

In January 2012, the plans for unprecedented US-Israel missile defense exercises were postponed by Washington, citing regional instability. (NYT, Jan. 16, 2012) But the US Congress was meanwhile advancing a nearly $1 billion package for Israel’s anti-missile program. The program included the high-altitude Arrow 3 rocket being developed by Israel Aerospace Industries and Boeing to destroy Iranian and Syrian ballistic missiles outside Earth’s atmosphere. (UPI, May 8, 2012) 

There was clearly an arms race underway between Israel and Iran. In May, Israel received its fourth German-made submarine—capable of launching nuclear warheads. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said only that the submarine would increase Israel’s capabilities “in the face of the growing regional challenges.” The Dolphin-type military submarine is one of six Israel has ordered from Germany, which subsidizes the sales. (AP, May 3, 2012) Germany’s Der Spiegel newspaper, citing unnamed sources, said it has learned that Israel was arming the submarines with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. Officials said the German government had known about Israel’s nuclear weapons program for decades, despite denials, and assumed nuclear arms would be used on the subs. (Der Spiegel, June 3, 2012) 

Iran, in turn, announced June 12 plans to build its first nuclear-powered submarine—days before talks with world powers on its nuclear program were set to begin. (Reuters, June 12, 2012) 

On July 18, a bomb went off in a tour bus in the Black Sea resort city of Burgas, Bulgaria, killing five Israelis and wounding some 30. Netanyahu immediately said: “All signs point to Iran. In just the past few months we’ve seen Iran try to target Israelis in Thailand, India, Georgia, Cyprus and more. The murderous Iranian terror continues to target innocent people. This is a global Iranian terror onslaught and Israel will react forcefully to it.” It was probably not coincidence that the attack came on the 18th anniversary of the bombing of the Jewish center in Buenos Aires, the world’s most deadly anti-Semitic attack since World War II, which investigators had linked to Hezbollah. (The ForwardJTASofia News Agency, July 18, 2012)

On the other side of the coin, Mossad and the CIA were widely blamed for the mysterious deadly attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists; three had been killed over the past two years. (World War 4 Report, Jan. 10, 2012)

In mid July, the mounting protests in Syria spread to the country’s largest Palestinian refugee camp, Yarmouk, an enclave of nearly 150,000 within Damascus. Security forces fired on protesters, killing at least five and setting off a cycle of funerals, demonstrations and further crackdowns—which  escalated to shelling of the camp. Similar violence hit other Palestinian camps in Syria. More than two-thirds of the 17,500 refugees in the southern city of Daraa fled an attack in June, the UN reported. While many returned, the camp remained under siege, with food and medicine in short supply. The Palestinian Authority placed the number of Palestinians killed in Syria since the start of the uprising as high as 300.  (AP, July 27; Al-Bawaba, July 25, 2012)

Syria’s 496,000 UN-registered Palestinian refugees, while not citizens, traditionally had greater rights than their brethren in other Arab countries, allowed to hold government jobs, attend state universities for free and serve in the military. The regime of Bashar Assad, like that of his father Hafez Assad before him, posed as a champion of the Palestinian cause, despite its bitter rift with Fatah. But as the violence mounted in Syria, Hamas quietly vacated its Damascus offices, after being pressed by the regime and opposition alike to take sides in the conflict. Palestinian factions openly allied with Assad had been targeted by the Syrian rebels, despite efforts to avoid involvement in the conflict. In the worst incident, 16 members of the Palestine Liberation Army were killed after rebel gunmen stopped their bus July 20. (Ibid)

Israeli warplanes swooped low over Lebanese villages Oct. 7 in a show of force apparently aimed at Hezbollah the day after a mysterious incursion by an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The Israeli Air Force shot down the drone shortly after it crossed into southern Israel from the Mediterranean, passing “over settlements and military bases in the Negev,” the IAF said. The craft’s launch point was unknown. Israeli officials said the UAV may have been on a mission to perform surveillance of the Dimona nuclear complex in the Negev, and pointed to Iran or Hezbollah. (SlateAP, Oct. 7; JP, Oct. 6, 2012)

Palestinians were also impacted by the continuing unrest in Egypt. On Aug. 5 an armed attack on an Egyptian military post near the Rafah crossing on the border with Gaza left 15 troops and border guards dead. Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood said that the attack “can be attributed to Mossad.” The IDF said the attack was carried out by “global jihadists”—the Israeli military’s term for ultra-fundamentalist Salafist groups linked to al-Qaeda’s network in the region. Despite the angry rhetoric, Egypt deployed bulldozers and earth movers to Rafah to destroy the estimated 600 tunnels used for smuggling contraband in and out of the Strip. (Aswat Masriya, Cairo, Aug. 7 via AllAfricaANSA, Aug. 7; Reuters, Aug. 6; Long War Journal, Aug. 5, 2012)

Hamas security forces on Aug. 15 arrested a senior Salafist sheikh who ahd been injured in an Israeli air-strike in June. Sheikh Abu Suhaib Rashwan was detained as he left a hospital, where he was recovering from wounds sustained in the air-strike in Rafah. The June 20 missile strike on a motorcycle wounded Rashwan and a companion who the IDF described as a “global jihad operative.” Israel accused the two of being behind an ambush along the Egyptian border two days earlier that killed an Israeli civilian. This wasn’t Hamas’ first crackdowns on Salafists since it took control of Gaza in 2007. It had carried out several arrests of Salafist militants in the past, notably following attacks on women and Christians. (Ma’an News AgencyAFP, Aug. 18, 2012)

Egyptian police and army officers meanwhile detained five supposed Salafist militants, including Palestinians, in two military operations on Aug. 18 in the northern Sinai town of el-Arish. There had been several such raids in the Sinai in recent days, some turning violent. (Ma’an News Agency, Aug. 18, 2012)

The international wave of Arab protests meanwhile returned to the West Bank. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on Sept. 6 announced he would resign if that was the will of the people, amid growing demonstrations over the rising cost of living. Salaries for the PA’s government workers were held up as the US Congress stalled on a request by President Obama to pay $200 million to the Ramallah government.  (Ma’an News Agency, Sept. 7, 2012)

Fayyad emphasized that the PA’s economic growth was hindered by Israeli restrictions. Fayyad charged that Israel had paralyzed economic development in Area C, the 60% of the West Bank under full Israeli military control. Israel frequently demolished development projects in Area C, and had not implemented provisions in the Paris Protocol of 1994 to allow Palestinians access to Israeli markets. Israel’s control of the West Bank’s borders hindered the export market, and restrictions on imports limited domestic industries. Israel repeatedly withheld the payments on import duties as “punishment” for Palestinian political maneuvers, such as negotiations with Hamas or the UN statehood initiative. (Ibid)

But Palestinian protesters demanded Fayyad’s resignation, and called on the PA to set a minimum wage, create jobs for the unemployed, and lower university fees.  Taxi and bus operators, angered over fuel prices, blocked roads in Jenin. (Ibid)

Palestinian Authority employees went on strike in December after receiving only part of their November salaries. Some 50,000 workers took part in the stoppage. West Bank security forces did not participate, but most public services were shut down, inclduing schools. “This strike is against Israel’s piracy,” said Bassam Zakarneh, head of the Union of Public Employees. (Maan News Agency, Dec. 23; Maan News Agency, Dec. 21; WAFA, Dec. 17, 2012)


Thanks to the AJ Muste Memorial Institute for the use of its library.

This work was commissioned by David Rubinson.

Dedicated to the memory of Farouk Abdel-Muhti