Solidarity

with the people of Palestine by Eddie Whyte

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. 

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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.

 

Ignoring the World Community

Christmas is approaching and as Christians all over the world prepare to celebrate one of the most important days in their religious calendar, the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus Christ, stands surrounded by Israel’s menacing apartheid wall.

The International Court of Justice has stated numerous times that the barrier is a clear violation of international law and yet still it stands. The Israeli state has become well-versed in ignoring the protests of the world community.

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Banksy – Christmas 2005

The protests have been numerous and ongoing since the manifest abandonment of the so-called Oslo Agreement of 1993 which was hailed as the breakthrough that was needed to secure peace in the Middle East and guarantee an independent Palestine. Over twenty years later, Palestine is still occupied and the recent election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, does not bode well for the future.

President-elect Trump recently nominated David Friedman as the next US ambassador to Israel. It is a disgracefully inflammatory choice from Trump, who, only last year, said that he would be “neutral” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He has since become increasingly bellicose and pro-Israeli in his public statements.

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A Small Part of The Apartheid Wall                          Photo: Eddie Whyte

The nomination of Friedman should set alarm bells ringing for everyone working for a peaceful and just solution to the problems in the Middle East. The proposed new ambassador is well known for his extremist views with regards to Palestine.

He is an open supporter of the aggressive colonization policies by the so-called “settlers” that are in breach of international law – those same policies which have very little support among many Jewish organizations in the United States and indeed face increasingly greater opposition from many people in Israel.

Friedman is known as an ardent supporter of the Beit El-organization and others groups who fund the illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory. Recently, it was also revealed that Trump himself has contributed financially to this organization which is firmly placed to the extreme right in the Israeli political map.

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Occupation is a Crime                Photo: Eddie Whyte 

The New York Times has been highly critical of the proposed appointment.  Friedman is a regular contributor to a right-wing Israeli news site where he has criticized US reconciliation talks with Iran, accused Obama of anti-Semitism and compared liberal American Jews who support peace talks with the Palestinians to Jews who collaborated with the Nazis during the war.

The approach currently prevailing in the Trump camp represents a clear break with previous US foreign policy which was concerned with maintaining at least a pretense of neutrality and poses a real threat to future peace negotiations.

In the run up to the election, Friedman declared himself an open opponent of the two-state solution and more recently has publically floated the idea of annexing the entire West Bank and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – a clear threat to Palestinian rights and clearly in violation of international law.

Wasel Abu Yousif, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) executive committee,  told The Jerusalem Post recently that “Such a move would be very dangerous, as it would entrench the occupation and violate all international legitimacy and laws.”

In the United States, Jewish groups are mobilizing and will urge the Senate to reject Friedman’s nomination. Should the appointment be approved, it is a sure sign that the Oslo Agreement and the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dead and buried.

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Another Part of the Apartheid Wall             Photo: Eddie Whyte

The positive forces in Israel and Palestine who have been working to build bridges and create the circumstances for a peaceful solution are now under even greater pressure. If they are to prosper in a country where extreme nationalism dominates and where the dehumanization of Palestinians is approved government policy they will need the assistance of the international community.

Even more so now, given that the world’s greatest superpower is apparently abandoning all previous pretense of neutrality and is clearly, and very publically, taking the side of the occupying power and flying in the face of both international law and world public opinion.

A few weeks ago over 100 trade union delegates, representing twenty nine unions and three million members from all over Europe, gathered in a historic first meeting in Brussels to challenge their governments’ complicity with the Israeli occupation and establish a cross European platform in solidarity with the people of Palestine. International trade union solidarity is now more important than ever.

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The New European Trade Union Initiative for Palestine             Photo: Eddie Whyte

A full twenty three years after the Oslo Agreement, none of the basic rights of the Palestinian people have been met and the recent turn of affairs in the USA would seem to indicate that a fair and peaceful solution which includes the Palestinians is becoming increasingly more distant.

International trade unionists need to raise the pressure on Israel and the USA and lobby our own governments to demand an end to the Israeli oppression and occupation that undermines the Palestinians’ right to self-determination. Israelis and Palestinians have the right to live in peace and prosperity. The latest developments show that the trade union movement must renew its efforts and remind the USA, along with the rest of the world, that it is the illegal occupying forces of the state of Israel that must be called to account if we are ever to ensure a just solution for all.

At the Brussels conference, an appeal was issued to more trade unions to get involved in Palestine – if your union is interested in affiliating to the campaign, please contact the organizers here.

New Trade Union Network for Palestine

Recently over 100 trade union delegates, representing twenty nine unions and three million members from all over Europe, gathered in a historic first meeting in Brussels to challenge European governments’ complicity with Israel and establish a cross European platform in solidarity with the people of Palestine.

Israel’s blatant disregard for international law is well documented. Perhaps less well known, is its co-operation agreement with the European Union providing it with access to trade and allowing more participation in EU programs and projects than any other non-European country.

The European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP) has recorded that whilst the Israeli government contributed €535 million to the EU’s research programs over a 6 year period, Israeli firms and institutions actually received even more funding in return –  €840 million worth. Israel is expected to benefit similarly from the new Horizon 2020 research funding program unless the repeated appeals from the international Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement are heeded.

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The very existence of this 16 year old Agreement is all the more remarkable given that Article 2 emphasises that it is based on a “mutual respect for human rights and democratic principles”(!) Not something one immediately associates with a state which continues to illegally occupy Palestinian land in contravention of international law and in defiance of countless statements of condemnation from international governments and organizations, including many from the EU itself.

The two day long trade union gathering heard calls for an end to the occupation of Palestine and the repeal of the much criticized agreement, seen by many as a legitimization of the illegal occupation in contravention of international law and UN Conventions.

The new initiative has been taken by a cross-European group of trade union organisations intent on developing a network strengthening ties between workers organisations in Europe whilst also reaching out to all sections of the Palestinian trade union movement. Indeed the PGFTU, the Arab Workers Union band the New Unions were all active participants in the discussions.

The campaign focus is on raising awareness on their respective governments’ complicity in Israeli human rights abuses and war crimes, and the culpability of corporations that support and benefit economically from the illegal occupation.

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The organising committee’s scathing criticism of the EU accuses it of failing to hold Israel accountable for its grave violations of international law, failing to address the illegality of the occupation of Palestine, failing to tackle the rampant discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel and numerous human rights abuses – including the denial of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homelands as adopted by the UN in resolution 194, almost a full seventy years ago.

The formation of this network is a major breakthrough for solidarity work within the European trade union movement, which has been consistent in its call for a just solution for the Palestinian people.

The EU has previously had no hesitation in applying various forms of sanctions against Russia when it annexed Ukrainian territory and has acted similarly towards about forty other states at various times over recent years. The shameful double standards being applied in the Israeli case are unacceptable and are interpreted by many as tacit support for Israel’s continued violations of international law.

Under massive international pressure, the EU ruled in 2015 that products from the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, should be clearly labelled as such. This month, almost a full year later, France became the third member state, after the UK and Belgium to enforce the decision.

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Delegates supporting the establishment of a new trade union network

Ironically, the original ruling led to the Netanyahu government threatening to boycott co-operation with the EU whilst The Independent reported an Israeli minister calling the decision “disguised anti-Semitism” – the usual red herring reserved for censoring open debate on Israel’s brutal occupation policies.

The same news report refers to European diplomats admitting “in private that the strength of the Israeli response made many member states wary of issuing their own specific guidelines.” The Israeli propaganda machines concerted efforts to stamp anything and anyone critical of their government policies as antisemites is clearly bearing fruit in some circles. Indeed, one of the issues raised at the Brussels meeting was the need to effectively challenge the misleading campaign by the Israeli government to redefine antisemitism to suit its own distorted political agenda.

However, the French government has now joined the ranke og major European nations that have broken through that self-imposed barrier and the remaining European governments should immediately follow suit. The European trade union movement will be doing their utmost to ensure that this happens sooner rather than later.

The global BDS movement has been under increasing attack from the Israeli propaganda machine in the last year and yet 2016 has heralded a series of major victories for human rights in Palestine. Prominent multinational companies such as Orange, CRH and G4S have followed Veolia’s lead in withdrawing their business from projects that infringe on Palestinian rights.

Also this year, an increasing number of European municipalities or city councils in countries as diverse as Norway, Spain and Ireland have declared their opposition to the Israeli occupation whilst major churches in the US have been divesting from Israeli banks and international companies who support the occupation.

The BDS Movement is expanding and its round up for 2016 points to major successes for the right to boycott Israel in support of Palestinian rights under international law from the European Union, the governments of Sweden, Netherlands and Ireland, as well as from Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union and the International Federation of Human Rights, as well as “hundreds of political parties, trade unions and social movements across the globe”.

Another major victory came in March of this year when the UN Human Rights Council, voted to create a database of Israeli and international corporations that are complicit in and profiting from Israel’s occupation – a development that will expose even further business interests who are complicit in Israel’s numerous and continuous violations of international law.

This latest coordinated trade union mobilisation in Brussels in support of the Palestinian people is certain to exert even more pressure on European governments to fulfil their moral and legal duty to ensure an end to Israel’s illegal occupation and the denial of Palestinian rights.

At the conference in Brussels, an appeal was issued to more trade unions to get involved – if your union is interested in affiliating to the campaign please contact the organizers here.

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The following unions are already affiliated to the network:

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), Fagforbundet (Norway), Union Syndicale Solidaires (France), La Centrale Générale-FGTB (Belgium), ACV/CSC Brussels (Belgium), UNISON (UK), The Norwegian Trade Union Federation LO in Trondheim, (Norway) Unison N. Ireland Region (Ireland), Derry Trades Union Council (Ireland), Belfast&District Trades Union Council (Ireland), Workmates – trade union section of Norwegian Palestine Committee (Norway), Trade Union Friends of Palestine (Ireland), Communications Workers Union (Ireland), Confederacion Intersindical Galega (Spain), Mandate Trade Union (Ireland), ELABasque Workers Solidarity (Euskadi), IRW-CGSP (Belgium), LBC-NVK (Belgium), Palestinawerkgroep-FNV (The Netherlands), CNE (Belgium), IAC (Spain), Civil Public and Services Union – CPSU (Ireland), Intersindical Valenciana (Spain), Irish National Teachers’ Organisation – Branches: Derry City, Newry, Dungannon, Armagh, Belfast West (Ireland), The Palestine Committee of Norway, Union section (Union of railway workers), IMPACT (Ireland), CGT France – 66, The Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA).

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