Solidarity

with the people of Palestine by Eddie Whyte

Turn your TV to another channel

I have always considered the Eurovision Song Contest a harmless piece of kitschy nonsense although quite a few other people I know have an almost religious-like devotion to it. Maybe it is something to do with Ireland being the most successful country in the history of the contest, with a record total of seven wins. We are the only country to have won three times consecutively. Nothing succeeds like success. Still, I always looked at it as a fun event, an innocuous yearly happening that brings nations and families together across Europe and indeed further afield.

This year it is different, very different. Eurovision 2019 is being held in Israel, coincidentally during the same period the Israeli state is celebrating the 71st anniversary of its foundation. Netanyahu’s government sees the competition as the ideal opportunity to manipulate international public opinion, portraying Israel as a bastion of democracy and progressive politics whilst totally ignoring the occupation imposed on the Palestinians living under siege less than a one hour drive from the main concert arena.

The establishment of Israel is also commemorated by Palestinians around the world. They call it the “Nakba” or “catastrophe” of 1948, when military forces drove 750,000 Palestinians into a forced exile which has lasted to this day. Today there are over five million Palestinian refugees and their descendants spread all over the Middle East, rising to seven million the rest of the world is taken into account. Common to most of them is a wish for peace and to be able to return to their homes.

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“The Great Return March” along the Israel-Gaza separation line is to highlight the Palestinian right to return to their lands as enshrined in UN Conventions. The protests are a desperate attempt to draw the world’s attention to the injustices that are perpetrated in occupied Palestine on a daily basis.

Since the start of the protests last year almost 300 Palestinians have been killed and over 30,000 have been wounded by Israeli snipers. The dead and injured include men, women and children – journalists and medical staff – doctors, nurses and first aid workers attending to the wounded.

The Palestinians need our support. The international community knows the effect of the Israeli occupation, well documented by the UN and numerous human rights organizations. Yet the world continues to stand idly by while Israel actively pursues policies aimed at destroying the much heralded “two state solution” and Netanyahu’s newly re-elected government is fully focused on ensuring Israel’s complete annexation of Palestine.

Senator Frances Black’s Occupied Territories bill currently working its way through the Dáil should be warmly welcomed and it will hopefully encourage the Irish government to put pressure on Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza and demand that the refugee’s right to return be respected. We need to hold Israel to account for its continual violation of international law and human rights.

I have visited Palestine on several occasions – both Gaza and the West Bank. The conditions are worse now than ever before. Palestinians continue to be forcibly removed from their homes and entire villages are being regularly demolished. Israel’s apartheid wall continues to split families and separates farmers from the very soil they need to cultivate to earn a living. The fishermen of Gaza are deprived of the same rights by the Israeli navy who regularly shoot up their small vessels thus enforcing a sea blockade that deprives people of much needed food.

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Children at the Ghirass Cultural Center in Bethlehem

The Israeli military blockade of Gaza is a well-documented horror story that has now lasted for 12 years. The United Nations relief agencies describe the rapidly deteriorating conditions as “unliveable”. Gaza is often described as the world’s largest open air prison with 2 million people jammed into an area the size of the Ards Penninsula. The UN has warned Gaza is on the verge of a “humanitarian catastrophe”. The budget of the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) is expected to dry up “in a month” and is in desperate need of additional funds. “The worst-case scenario is we would not able to continue to feed half the population of Gaza,” Elizabeth Campbell, director of UNRWA’s Washington DC office told The Independent last week.

Meanwhile, on the West Bank, the Israeli colonies – or “settlements” as they are often misleadingly called – continue to grow dramatically with full Israeli government support and in direct contravention of international law. And yet whilst Trump has refused funding to UNRWA, massive economic support from the US and the EU continues to flow into Netanyahu’s coffers, shoring up both the Israeli economy and the armed forces that are used to wage war on Palestinian civilians.

The Eurovision events are in Tel Aviv – a town built on the ruins of bulldozed Palestinian villages. It is supposedly the world’s largest music show attracting around 200 million TV viewers. The Israeli propaganda agencies have been working overtime of late, targeting international media saying that Eurovision is a cultural event and should not become politicized whilst their own government is shamelessly exploiting Eurovision to whitewash the occupation and its war crimes against the Palestinians. The hypocrisy of the Israeli propaganda machine is second to none. In the words of Irish journalist Fintan O’Toole: “Everything about Israel is political, even Eurovision. Israel has used the song contest to present itself as a normal European society.” (Irish Times, 11th May 2019)

In an open letter published last week a group of over 30 Palestinian cultural centers and organizations from Gaza called for a global boycott. They are reiterating the call by so many other organizations which have been supported by artists worldwide, including here in Ireland. “We are asking the world to support our basic demands for liberty, to boycott the Eurovision song contest in Israel, and heed our plea for solidarity. When for so long the world has turned its back on us, we are still standing, and we ask you to stand with us.”

It is a request for solidarity which you can support from your own living room or wherever you have your TV. When Eurovision comes on, turn your TV to another channel.

 

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Criticism of Israel is not Antisemitism

The Irish government’s support for a new definition of antisemitism which includes equating criticism of Israeli government policies with antisemitism is a real threat not only to the fight against the blight that is antisemitism but to freedom of expression and the campaign for Palestinian rights. It is definitively a step in the wrong direction and must not be allowed to become official policy and incorporated into Irish law.

Open conflict has broken out in the Jewish community in Britain with Israeli government supporters slandering fellow Jews with accusations of antisemitism. The backdrop to the bizarre conflict is a new definition of antisemitism launched by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) where the Irish government is one of the 31 member states represented.

The IHRA describes itself as an alliance to coordinate and “strengthen the moral commitment of societies and to combat growing Holocaust denial and antisemitism.” Member delegations are a mixture of government officials and academic experts on the Holocaust.

Career diplomat Martina Feeney is the head of the Irish delegation which includes several other representatives from government departments as well as academics and representatives from the Irish Jewish Museum, Holocaust Education Trust of Ireland and the Herzog Centre.

The IHRA document that has created so much unrest in the UK consists of a “new” definition of antisemitism, which is in itself relatively unproblematic. The controversial core of the conflict however is the use of so-called “contemporary examples of antisemitism” which allow for criticism of the state of Israel to be classified as antisemitism – a move which totally ostracizes the massive opposition by Jewish people both internally in Israel and worldwide to certain Israeli state policies, not least the  occupation of Palestine. Attaching the blight of antisemitism to criticism of the nation state of Israel is definitively a step in the wrong direction.

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Attaching the blight of antisemitism to crtiticism of the nation state of Israel

Liberty – the UK human rights organization previously known as the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) – has expressed great concern, stating that the IHRA document poses a real threat to freedom of expression. At its Annual General Meeting in May this year, it warned public bodies not to adopt this definition of antisemitism “because it brings confusion to the fight against anti-Jewish prejudice as well as constituting a threat to freedom of expression.” Even attorney Kenneth Stern, a key person in IHRA’s work on the new definition, has warned that it is being used to “encourage punishment of legitimate expressions of political opinion”.

The IHRA maintain that the formulation of a “new” definition was necessary given the differing perceptions internationally of what constitutes antisemitism and how it manifests itself. According to the organization, the so-called “examples” are separate from the definition itself, but merely provide instances of how antisemitism can easier be identified. And yet it has now become abundantly clear that the definition and the accompanying examples are being used as part of a deliberate campaign to stifle opposition to the Israeli occupation.

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Ireland has not yet adopted the IHRA definition into law, nor should we. Photo: Eddie Whyte

The United Kingdom was the first state to approve the IHRA document as its official definition of antisemitism and Israel followed suit a few months later. In both countries, it is currently being used to target organizations which are critical of Israel and support Palestinian rights. Israeli government supporters have, for example, urged the UK authorities to ban the annual “Israel Apartheid Week” and the Palestinian led international Boycott Divest Sanctions (BDS) campaign which they accuse of antisemitism according to the new guidelines.

The last year has seen the British Labour party under massive, sustained pressure amid repeated accusations of antisemitism brought to bear by the zealots actively quoting the IHRA to challenge Corbyn’s leadership of the party.  It is no coincidence that Corbyn’s record of supporting Palestinian rights is second to none.

The Israeli government “hasbara” propaganda campaign to portray human rights organizations and pro-Palestinian supporters as antisemites has been on-going for many years. Last year, the news channel Al Jazeera documented how the Israeli Embassy in London collaborated with leading figures in both the Conservative and Labour parties to undermine their own parties from within and to “take down” elected representatives who did not follow the Israeli line regarding the occupation of Palestine. Now, the campaign against those who criticize Israel government policy has reached deep into the Jewish community in London.

The controversial Nation State Act, passed by a small number of votes in the Israeli Knesset earlier this year, was met with major demonstrations in Tel Aviv, supported by opposition parties, human rights organizations and non-Jewish minorities in the country. The law has been met with a wave of international criticism with its staunchest critics stating that the new legislation is yet another confirmation of Israel’s status as an “apartheid state” and that the law is racist.

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Israel’s occupation of Palestine continues unabated         Photo: Eddie Whyte

Among the more moderate critics in London is Sheila Gewolb, Vice President of the British Board of Deputies of British Jews, a respected organization that is part of the World Jewish Congress. In a rare intervention in internal Israeli politics, Gewolb declared the law a step in the wrong direction. Her concerns garnered support from others in the Jewish community in London, including the New Israel Fund, Yachad and religious leaders like Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner.

The statement led to open attacks on Gewolb, and the Jewish Chronicle recently reported a campaign to censure the vice president accusing her of “antisemitism,” with the IHRA document being quoted to justify the accusations against her. The two deputies who were pushing for a no confidence vote against Gewolb are now themselves subject to a “motion of censure” for supposedly bringing their own organization into disrepute. It is positively Orwellian.

In addition to Britain and Israel, the governments of Austria, Romania, Germany, Bulgaria and Lithuania have now all adopted the IHRA document. In June 2017, the European Parliament called on member states to do the same – without discussing or problematizing the so-called “contemporary examples” which have created such chaos in the London Jewish community.

Although it long been a part of Israeli government strategy to absurdly denounce critics of Israel’s occupation of Palestine as antisemites, it is now being done with the IHRA document in hand – and the targeting is now extended to include Jewish critics of Netanyahu’s right wing government.

Recently the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP), representing thirty unions and three million members from all over Europe, stated that there is strong evidence that the IHRA working definition is already being used in practice “to restrict, outlaw and criminalize…peaceful efforts for Israel’s respect of Palestinian human rights.”

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Three million union members say no           Photo: Eddie Whyte

The IHRA, in which the Irish people are represented by several government departments including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is now being used by the Israeli government as part of a cynical policy to cower domestic and international critics into submission.

Ireland has not yet adopted the “new” document into law and nor should we. It is a damaging step in the wrong direction not only to the fight against antisemitism, freedom of speech and civil liberties at home but also the right of the Palestinian people to raise their voices in protest at the forced occupation of their homeland.

Make Your Voice Heard for Khan al-Ahmar

Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has already lasted over fifty years. For many Palestinians, callous military rule and inhumane, coercive legislation is the only reality they have ever known.

This week a delegation of Norwegian trade unionists visited the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, along with B’Tselem, the Israeli information center for human rights in the occupied territories. We met the villagers themselves and dozens of dedicated human rights activists who are preparing to peacefully prevent Israeli bulldozers and military from demolishing the homes of 200 people, almost half of whom are children.

This small village, not far from Jerusalem, has been bruised and battered by Israeli state forces several times over. There is a tangible tension in the camp as we meet under cover of a Bedouin tent. Armed troops can arrive again at any time and raze the village to the ground.

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Recently images of the case went viral online following the publication of a video recording showing fully armed Israeli military attacking and beating men, women and children at the entrance to the village which has led to the village becoming an international focal point for the Palestinian struggle.

Israeli colonisation of the Palestinian West Bank is illegal according to international law and yet it continues unabated with over 600,000 Israelis now occupying Palestinian land. Emboldened by the advent of Trump to the Whitehouse, the right wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu is being given all the leeway it needs to crush the prospect of a two-state solution, negotiated through the Oslo accords, where both Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace.

Khan al-Ahmar is located near Jerusalem, between the new Israeli colony of Ma’ale Adumim and one of its elite suburbs, Kfar Adumim. Eid Khamis, the village spokesperson sees a clear strategy behind the recent brutal assaults on the villagers and events on a national and international scale. “The Israeli government wants to split the Palestinian West Bank in two and we are in their way.” Khamis, describes the campaign to demolish Palestinian homes as no less important than the decision to transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. “Both these decisions mean annexing more Palestinian land to Israel.”

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From the left: Eid Khamis and Hussein Abu Dahuk

During our time together Khamis was at pains to stress that the people living in the nearby Israeli colonies are not ordinary citizens or naïve pawns in a political game being manipulated by their government. They include several members of the Israeli parliament and a government minister.

The siege of Khan al-Ahmar is clearly an intricate part of an Israeli military strategy. The annexation of this area renders the negotiated two-state solution virtually impossible as it would cut East Jerusalem off from the rest of the West Bank and signal the end of any hope of a future Palestinian state.

According to the U.N. Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recent years have seen Israel aggressively escalating the demolition of Palestinian homes. Palestinian farming and shepherding communities are dotted all over the West Bank. The Israeli authorities are implementing a policy aimed at driving these communities out. The aim being to make living conditions intolerable and force residents to leave, ostensibly of their own volition.

Khamis explains that part of this policy is the refusal by Israeli authorities to grant permits for any construction of residential or public structures in communities like Khan al-Ahmar, whilst also refusing access to water and electricity or planning permission for paved access roads to the communities.

When, in the absence of any other alternative, residents build without permits, the authorities move in and demolish the “illegal” structures. In many of the local communities, families have had their homes demolished several times over.

The Israelis also destroy infrastructure laid or installed by the residents themselves – such as wells, roads and solar panels for generating electricity – and confiscate water tanks or cut water pipes.

The children of Khan al-Ahmar seem oblivious to the chaos surrounding them and are curious about their visitors but respectfully keep their distance whilst the grown-ups talk. If the village is torn down, children from the entire area, not just from Khan al-Ahmar, will lose their school and without it, they will have no access to basic education.

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The children of Khan al-Ahmar

The international pressure on Israel has grown steadily as the struggle for Khan al-Ahmar continues. Last week the European Parliament passed a resolution stating that the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar and the forcible transfer of its residents would constitute a grave breach of international humanitarian law and a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention – in other words, a war crime.

Israel has, been repeatedly, systemically and blatantly violating the human rights of the residents of these communities for decades. It is a policy that runs counter to international humanitarian law and it needs to be confronted by the international community. And it needs to be confronted – now.

Yesterday the Israeli military served yet another threat to the people of Khan al-Ahmar in the form of a letter stating: “You have until 1st October to demolish your homes and the army is willing to help you with transportation. if you don’t the authority will enforce demolition.”

More international pressure is clearly needed. Time is running out for the children of Khan al-Amhar. Make your voice heard. Contact your Ministry for Foreign Affairs and express your concern. Contact the Israeli embassy if you feel that is appropriate. Talk to your elected representatives and urge them to do the same. Do you what you feel is right but please do not let this massive injustice pass by unnoticed. 

The Next Frances Black?

On July 11th, the Irish Senate passed a motion proposing a ban on the import of goods and services from Israel’s illegal settlements in occupied Palestine. The Bill will now proceed to the second stage in the Seanad before proceeding to the Irish Parliament where a cross party majority is almost certainly guaranteed.

Vociferous statements of protest from various Israeli government spokespersons preceded the Senate debate and aggressive headlines in Israeli newspapers promised reprisals, creating an enormous amount of interest in the proposal both in Ireland and internationally with people from around the world following the Senate debate broadcast live online.

Israeli government representatives were quick to condemn the Senate decision as harmful to the “diplomatic process in the Middle East” and detrimental to the “opportunities for dialogue” between Israel and Palestine. A statement from the Israeli embassy in Dublin described the decision as “dangerous and extremist”.

The use of language is well worth noting here.  At a time when Israeli snipers are deliberately targeting and killing unarmed Palestinian men, women and children – often at distances of over 600 meters – the propaganda department in Tel Aviv chose to portray a democratic decision to actively adhere to and implement the Fourth International Geneva Convention from 1949 as “dangerous and extremist”. It is positively Orwellian.

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Senator Black celebrating with supporters after the Senate debate

The decision by the Dublin Senate is to be welcomed, coming as it does at a time when Israeli society is becoming more increasingly more polarized and the Netanyahu government more isolated, whilst it pursues a deliberate policy of undermining the hope of a two-state solution with considerable support from a US government no longer even pretending to be an impartial negotiator.

Pro-Palestinian supporters are right to greet the decision as a major breakthrough but a true and lasting victory will require that other legislators in other countries follow Ireland’s leadership. That leadership was provided by Frances Black, a non-affiliated independent Senator who managed to gather support from across party lines on a matter of principle.  The proposal was adopted in spite of strong opposition from the sitting government and massive interference from both US and Israeli officials.

In real terms, the proposal is straightforwardly a recommitment by the Irish state that it will actively pursue the intentions of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 which prohibits the import or sale of goods or services originating in an occupied territory. The Bill does not even mention Israel or Palestine, but rather prohibits “the import and sales of goods, services and natural resources originating in illegal settlements in occupied territories”.

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The Israeli apartheid wall cutting through occupied Jerusalem

Speaking the day after the debate Senator Black pointed out that the Bill was the very least we should expect of countries which claim they are committed to justice and human rights. Anything else would be hypocrisy.  It is to be hoped that other elected representatives in other national legislatures will follow Ireland’s good example.

Continued trade with the Israeli presence in occupied Palestinian territory only serves to legalize Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands and violates the obligations of the international community to enact the UN conventions they themselves are signatories to.

Where is the next national legislature that will recommit itself to respect international law and a Geneva convention that most nations subscribed to several decades ago and ban the import of  goods from the illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine? Ireland has shown us the way. Where will the next Frances Black come from?

The bill passed by the Irish Senate can be downloaded here – it is a useful template for other countries and legislatures

Rights for the Children of Palestine?

Heartbreaking images from the USA of young children confined in cages have dominated the international media this week. Thousands of people fleeing from persecution and civil unrest in Latin America have been imprisoned since the Trump administration introduced its “zero tolerance” policy to supposedly combat illegal immigration. Among them, more than 2,000 children forcibly separated from their families in the country that styles itself “The Home of the Free”.

Human rights organizations, church groups and governments around the globe condemned the new policy as a serious violation of human rights. The debate on social media led quickly to comparisons being made with the concentration camps in Europe in the 1930s. Not to be deterred, prominent spokespersons for the US government continued to defend this callous treatment of minors with Attorney General Jeff Sessions quoting passages from the Bible, live on international television, assuring us all that he had God on his side.

Meanwhile, several thousand miles away, Palestinian children languish behind bars – arrested and imprisoned under military laws and sentenced in a military court by a state that boasts of itself as “The Only Democracy in the Middle East.” Hundreds of Palestinian children are imprisoned every year by the Israeli military.  Neighbourhoods are surrounded, homes are invaded – often under cover of darkness, entire families harassed and held hostage, children dragged out of bed, blindfolded and bound. Parents are refused the right to accompany their children nor are they entitled to know where the soldiers are taking them.

UNICEF reports document Israel’s systematic abuse of child detainees with 75% subjected to physical violence during interrogation or detention.

The Israeli policy of deliberate targeting young children in order to intimidate the wider Palestinian community is not new. It has been going on for years and yet it receives comparatively little attention on the world stage. Like their American allies, the Israeli state is not overly concerned about international opinion or human rights and is equally fond of claiming God’s support for their every endeavour.

There is also a common thread in the respective propaganda wars being waged by Trump and Netanyahu as illustrated by the deliberate policy of demonizing and dehumanizing people in order to facilitate gross human rights abuses – and targeting their children to do so. Trump’s rhetoric brands people fleeing their homelands in search for a better life as “criminals.” Netanyahu uses the same reactionary language to portray 10-year-olds throwing stones at Israeli occupation forces, as “terrorists.”

The world community is currently mobilizing and appealing to Trump to rethink his position, protect children’s rights in the United States and release these children from their suffering. It appears to be working. Is it too much to ask that the same attention be given to children in Palestine?

Norway: small victories, great defeats

Israeli Government minister Gilad Erdan chose Christmas Day to publish a cheerful message on social media, praising the Conservative right-wing Norwegian government for its decision to stop funding organisations who support the international boycott, deinvestment and sanctions campaign (BDS).

Two days later, while Norway was still busy with Christmas celebrations, the Jerusalem Post newspaper quoted Norwegian government sources confirming Erdans allegations. A quick web search revealed no press releases or statements on government websites regarding what many in Norway assumed at the time were somewhat outlandish or exaggerated claims by Israeli propagandists.

However the web search revealed something else. In early December, Bjørnar Moxnes, chairperson of the left wing party “Rødt” had raised concerns in the media regarding a few sentences, well-hidden in Government’s budget proposals for 2018. He warned that the government was threatening to boycott organizations who in turn advocate boycotting Israel – describing it as “cowtowing to the Israeli occupation”, he promised to follow up the matter.

Surprisingly, neither Rødt nor any of the Norwegian parties traditionally sympathetic to the Palestinian cause seemingly chose to argue against the proposal during the parliamentary debate. Asleep at the wheel is a phrase that comes to mind. As a result, the proposal mentioned was passed with little or no attention paid in the Norwegian media and no debate in the national assembly.

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It is a perturbing state of affairs for those who support the BDS Campaign and indeed human rights issues in general. The Norwegian government plan to remove state aid to Norwegian organizations supporting a non-violent international human rights campaign is a new low goal for Prime Minister Solberg’s government and cannot be seen as anything else but a direct attack on freedom of expression and human rights work in Norway. The fact that both our media and most progressive politicians failed to raise this as a matter of principle is even more perturbing.

It also represents yet another development in the Israeli government’s globally coordinated attack on the BDS movement currently being conducted in conjunction with right wing conservative forces in selected countries.

Human rights organizations across the globe have expressed concern about the Israeli strategy which is clearly aimed at criminalizing political opinions that support Palestinian rights and criticize the Israeli occupation.

And yet in spite of all its claims of international victories the Israeli government recognizes that it is losing the battle for hearts and minds. Only last week it approved over £70 million for a new front organization to “fight the BDS movement” and what it calls the “delegitimization of Israel”

The Israeli occupation is well aware that it faces considerable, principled opposition on the world stage. Amnesty International has called on the Israeli government to stop threatening people and organizations that defend human rights. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) has urged states to respect and maintain citizens’ right to freedom of expression and organization. And the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP) demands for an end to the criminalization of the BDS movement and has been endorsed by 356 human rights organizations and humanitarian organizations, unions and church groups across Europe.

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There have also been clear policy decisions from some of the governments that are among Norway’s closest allies. The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stated that it regards BDS as a social movement, and that “governments should not interfere with the views of civil society organizations”. The Dutch Foreign Minister has declared that BDS is protected by freedom of speech, and the Irish Foreign Minister has said that there is a legitimate political position to support BDS.

The Solberg government has now chosen a completely separate line that not only undermines Palestinian rights but is a massive provocation for human rights activists here at home. Only a few months ago, more than fifty Norwegian organizations joined forces in a call that defended the right to pursue BDS work, fight for human rights and defend the Palestinian fundamental rights with peaceful means. Not all of the organizations backing the call were supporters of the BDS movement but were firmly behind Norwegian traditions of freedom of expression and the right to criticize Israel’s illegal and brutal occupation.

Among the organizations we find solidarity groups, human rights organizations, youth groups, church groups, political parties and trade unions. A further, and highly significant development came earlier this year when – after several years of fence-sitting – both Fagforbundet – the country’s largest trade union with 365, 000 members – and the Norwegian Trade Union Congress with almost 900,0000 members – passed motions in support of the international BDS campaign.

Erdan’s Christmas tweet gloating on what he called the domino effect of Israel’s anti-BDS campaign and equating BDS with anti-semitism and hate has awakened Norwegians to the fact that its government is apparently moving from a position of mediation and neutrality in Israel and Palestine, to a position firmly ensconced alongside Netanyahu’s collection of international puppets.

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It remains to be seen how Solberg intends implementing this new policy currently receiving so much praise in Israel and yet still relatively unknown in Norway. The Norwegian campaign for justice in Palestine has clearly entered a new phase.

Whilst supporters of the Israeli occupation may well be celebrating the Norwegian government’s change in tact as a major setback for the BDS movement, many here will see it as an urgent wake-up call. As the saying goes, small victories can often lead to great defeats.

The decision to support the Israeli attempts to criminalize non-violent political activism and human rights work both at home and in Israel and Palestine can count on massive opposition across political boundaries in Norwegian society – not least within church groups, youth groups and the trade union movement with its recently approved policies of support for the BDS campaign.

Major Boycott Victory in Oslo

The international boycott movement celebrated yet another major victory against Israeli apartheid this week. Pro-Israeli social media sites in Norway are at boiling point following the decision by the country’s largest trade union to support the BDS Movement and call for the Norwegian government to support the recognition of Palestine.

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Workers Day in Oslo – “Recognise Palestine”

Pro-zionist trolls were vociferous in their condemnation of the historic decision taken at Fagforbundets national congress held this week. Accusations of anti-semitism were rife and the Israeli embassy accused Norway’s largest union with its 360,000 members of  “not understanding the conflict”. The arrogance of the statement is par for the course from the Israeli government and its long track record of ignoring the international community.

This week’s decision follows the vote earlier this year by the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) to work “to achieve an international economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel.”  Norwegian and Irish unions have been key players in the international trade union movement which is raising the pressure on Israel and demanding an end to the occupation that undermines the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

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Patricia McKeown from the Irish trade union movement

Stein Guldbrandsen, who is a key figure in Fagforbundet’s solidarity work nationally and internationally told the union magazine that the illegal occupation is getting worse and whilst international resolutions and condemnation have little effect, applying economic pressure does actually produce results. “Boycott, de-investment and sanctions are peaceful measures that actually work,” he told Fagbladet.

The BDS movement has welcomed the decision and describes the Norwegian trade union movement as one of its most important partners in the Palestinian solidarity struggle.

Viva Palestine! Viva Norway Cup! Viva Celtic!

Thousands of young football players will gather in Oslo at the end of July. Some 2,000 teams will play around 6,000 matches during the tournament week, making the Norway Cup the world’s largest football tournament for children. Over the years, participants from 126 nations have taken part – not bad for a small country so far to the north in Europe?

Palestinian participation in Norway Cup started as far back as 1990 when Norwegian-Palestinian Fuad Timraz won the national lottery and generously used part of the windfall to cover the cost of bringing a Palestinian children’s team for the competition.

In more recent years, an independent voluntary group of dedicated volunteers from the trade union movement has been working hard every year to give these young Palestinians what they themselves have previously described as the “greatest experience” of their lives.

Arthur Timraz, the son of the man who started it all, is one of the steadfast trade union activists who work to ensure that the children’s stay is a memorable one. “I started off helping my father and have seen the pure joy experienced by the children during their stay in Norway,” he says. “Children are the key to peace. The trip to Norway helps show them that there is another world outside the refugee camps where their only experience is war and poverty.”

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Arthur Timraz says children are the key to peace

Three teams have been invited this year – 2 girls’ teams and 1 boys’ team – all 12 year olds. The girls are from Jerusalem and the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon whilst the boy’s team is made up of a group of orphaned youngsters from Gaza.

The Norway Cup has proven to be an invaluable experience for Palestinian children – transporting them, albeit temporarily, from the trials and tribulations of living under occupation. Their contribution to the friendly atmosphere of the tournament has not gone unnoticed. In previous years, the Palestinian teams have invited the opposition to dance with them after each match – regardless of whether they win, lose or draw.

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Last year’s team from Sabra and Shatila refugee camp

Thanks to a close collaboration between Celtic’s own charity organization Celtic FC Foundation and Celtic Supporters Club Norway (CSCNorway), the Palestinian children will play some of their games in the world famous green and white Hoops. Solidarity projects are an integral part of CSC Norway’s activities. Celtic has its own Social Charter, contributing to the benefit of the community and wider society. Naturally enough, the Norwegian CSC set up their own charity fund when the supporter’s club was founded in 1991.

Celtic supporters’ long tradition of supporting the Palestinian people is widely known. There are historical parallels between Ireland and Palestine – colonization, occupation, oppression and a small nation fighting for liberation against a greater military power. A fundraising campaign by Celtic fans last year made international headlines after UEFA fined the club for flying Palestinian flags during the Champions League match in Glasgow against Israeli team Hapoel Be’er Sheva.

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Representatives from CSC Norway hand over the Hoops

The supporters’ original £ 15,000 target was reached in a few hours. The funds were donated to Medical Aid for Palestinians and Lajee Cultural Center in the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, which Celtic supporters have worked with for several years.

In the end, the amount raised was more than 10 times the original target. It consisted of small amounts from over 9,000 contributors – it says something about Celtic supporters’ sense of solidarity with Palestine.

Preparations for the Norway Cup are well under way, and the organizers are hoping that all the children are given the necessary permits that will guarantee them a summer break in the peace and quiet of Norway. The teams are due to arrive on July 27 – 2 days before the tournament starts and leave again when the tournament ends on August 8th.

If you are in the Oslo area, take a trip up to Ekebergsletta and cheer on the teams from Palestine. Feel free to bring a Palestinian scarf – or a Celtic shirt. You will find the match schedule here (boys) and here (girls). Viva Palestine! Viva Celtic! Viva Norway Cup!

Stand up for Palestinian Rights

Every so often in life you meet people who leave a real and lasting impression. Last year, I travelled to the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon with Norway’s largest trade union – Fagforbundet – and Norwegian Peoples Aid. There we met Ahed Baar.

Ahed’s first memories are from the narrow alleyways of Shatila refugee camp in Beirut. He was born and raised there. In 1948, his parents and 750,000 other Palestinians were forced to flee their homes in Palestine by the Israeli war machine. They were told it would only be temporary. The family has lived in exile since. 70 years in exile.

In 1982, when Ahed was 16 years old, Israel invaded Lebanon. The aim was to destabilize the country and crush the Palestinian resistance movement. Beirut and the refugee camps were the main target and the civilian population was considered collateral damage.

Under massive military pressure, the Palestinian guerillas were forced to withdraw. Ahed and other teenagers moved with them, ending up in the Bekaa valley. The Israeli offensive forced Yassir Arafat and the Palestinian leadership out of Lebanon.

Who can forget the dramatic footage as ships loaded with young guerrillas sailed for Tunisia? Most of Lebanon including the refugee camps were now under Israeli control – unguarded and defenseless.

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PLO ships leaving port of Beirut              Photo:Ahmad Barclay & Hana Sleiman

That’s when it happened. Pro-Israeli forces stormed Shatila and slaughtered 2,000 Palestinians in what Robert Fisk called “the forgotten massacre”. Norwegian journalist Odd Karsten Tveit was among the first to enter the camp. Armed with only a tape recorder, his sound-only report was to become historic.

The photographs taken by other journalists afterwards show what Tveit described with words – countless dead bodies, Palestinian refugees, slaughtered without mercy. In some places the bodies lay in piles, where people had been mowed down in cold blood. Men, women and children – whole families were wiped out. The guilty were never punished.

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The Slaughter in Shatila          Photo: Robin Moyer

Our delegation and Norwegian People’s Aid visited the memorial to the victims along with Ahed. It took quite some time to get through the camp. We stopped continually along the way for a chat – he knows people here and they know him.  It brought back personal memories of walking through Ballymurphy in Belfast with Fr Des Wilson and Gerry Adams in the 1990s.

Palestinians in Lebanon are struggling to survive. Although born and raised in the country, they have few rights. They have no vote, no right to own property and no right to citizenship. They are subject to open discrimination especially in the labor market where they are banned from many professions. Nor are they entitled to use public schools and health services.

The conditions in the camps are appalling. People we met asked the delegation to tell the world about what we saw. UNRWA, the United Nations agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, led by Irish woman Gwyn Lewis, is in serious crisis due to lack of funding – something which has been well documented for a number of years. The Palestinians are the world’s forgotten refugees.

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Visiting Shatila: people have a quiet and determined dignity  Photo: Fagforbundet

And European nations have a particular responsibility here – our five largest pension funds have €7.5 billion invested in companies with business activities in and around illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Something which is in total contradiction of  United Nations guidelines and totally undermines Palestinian human rights and a potential end to the occupation.

People in the refugee camps in Lebanon are suffering – high unemployment, lack of facilities, outdated water and sewage systems, poor diet and crushing poverty. Children and young people are a particularly vulnerable group – one of the reasons Ahed and others started the Al Walaa Center in 2015. Their goal is an ambitious one – they are determined to save the next generation of Palestinian youth.

Seventy years after Palestinians were forced to flee their homes, they are still in exile and dependent on international goodwill to survive. The election of Trump in the United States means that positive forces in Israel and Palestine who want to build bridges and create peace are now under even greater pressure.

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Ahed Baar – Not charity but rights!

The message Ahed wanted us to bring home was simple and communicated with quiet and determined dignity:

“We do not need charity. We only need the same rights as all other world citizens have. And we need more people in the international community who will stand up for Palestinian rights.

We must work together to safeguard the youth and give them a future they deserve. ”

Surely that is a goal the international community should be supporting?

 

 

 

Rod Stewart: Respect Palestinian Rights

An new online petition from fans of Celtic football club appealing to Scottish rockstar Rod Stewart to respect Palestinian rights and cancel his planned concert in Tel Aviv in June, has passed 2,000 supporters after only twenty four hours.

Celtic fans have an affinity with oppressed peoples and a long tradition of supporting the Palestinian liberation struggle. Stewart is world renowned as a fervent “Celtic man” who even includes the team logo on his band’s drumkit and uses  film footage of the team as part of the backdrop to his concerts.

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Celtic fans have an affinity with oppressed peoples 

Many Celtic supporters are descendants of the Irish Diaspora in Scotland and relate readily to the historical parallels between Ireland and Palestine – colonization, occupation, oppression and a small nation struggling for its freedom against one of the world’s major military powers.

Just as South African anti-apartheid activists called for an international boycott which led to the downfall of the apartheid regime, Palestinians have been campaigning for a boycott of Israel as part of the international Boycott Divestment Sanctions campaign (BDS) which has been gaining considerable support in the last few years.

2016 was a year which saw several major successes for the BDS-campaign including the launch of a new trade union initiative, representing twenty nine unions and three million members from all over Europe, intent on ensuring an end to Israel’s illegal occupation and the denial of Palestinian rights.

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Israeli apartheid walls dominate the Palestinian landscape

The news of the Celtic fans’ appeal has now reached both the Scottish and Israeli mainstream media who are apparently waiting for an official comment from the legendary rockstar. Much loved by Celtic fans for his passionate support of the team, the decision to breach the international cultural boycott is putting the relationship under considerable strain.

The organisers of the campaign are asking Stewart to reconsider his position and respect Palestinian rights:

“As Celtic fans we support the Palestinian-led BDS movement for freedom, justice and equality. Thousands of artists across the world now refuse to perform in Israel. We are asking you to add your name to that list. Please cancel your concert!”

Is it too much to expect that the ageing, but ever popular, millionaire rockstar will show some solidarity with the fans of the team he loves and the Palestinian people? You can add your name to the petition here.

 

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