Virtual Nelson Mandela Lecture, hosted by the National Council of Provinces, Parliament of South Africa
Theme: Each one Teach One: The Power to Transform the World: Mandela in Conversation with Palestine

Presented by Na'eem Jeenah

(View the event on Youtube here)

17 July 2020

Honourable Deputy Chairperson of the NCOP, Comrade Sylvia Lucas, Honourable Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Comrade Lechesa Tsenoli, Honourable members, Comrades.

Before I begin, I want to extend my condolences and the condolences of my colleagues and comrades to the Mandela family on the loss of their daughter, our sister and comrade, Zindzi. Comrade Zindzi’s death reminds us of the many struggles we still have to win in our country and the world: against impoverishment, climate change, occupation, colonialism, apartheid, capitalism, and for justice, economic liberation, and freedom. It also reminds us of the very immediate and urgent challenge of Covid-19. May she rest in Peace, and may she and her parents be witnesses to us never dropping the spear.

One other comment before I begin is to note that Comrade Lechesa Tsenoli and I both signed the Global South Call against Israeli annexation of Palestinian territory, along with politicians, academics, artists, sportspeople, judges from various countries of the South, such as Brazil, India, Malaysia, Chile and Venezuela. We were in company of a number of former heads of state, including Kgalema Motlanthe. Such gestures from the leadership of our legislature are important for Palestinians who are being betrayed all over the world.

We have all heard the famous statement of the first president of the democratic Republic of South Africa, Comrade Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela: ‘We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.’ This statement has been quoted across the length and breadth of our country, and across the world. It is a popular quote in the Palestinian solidarity movement and among Palestinians. One can understand why, of course. It is Madiba! And for Palestinians, it is affirmation of their struggle by the global icon of justice, the freedom fighter, Nelson Mandela.

But beyond the identity of the person being quoted is the very important substance and meaning of the comment, its implications for solidarity, and for South Africa. Indeed, Madiba encapsulates, in this sentence about the Palestinian people, the essence of solidarity itself. Because solidarity is not just about doing for others; it is very much also about doing for ourselves. Solidarity is not about things like humanitarian assistance, pity, or giving; solidarity is a political act; more than that, it is a political process that creates political (and, dare I say, loving – in the Guevaran understanding of revolutionary love) relationships.

I stress this point because, in the era of NGOisation, and Palestine is a wonderful example of the worst meanings of this term, solidarity, for many, has come to mean less a process of struggling together and more one of privileged people being ‘human rights’ defenders’ or providing humanitarian assistance – whether campaigns for political prisoners or food aid. For too many people, solidarity is viewed in an individualistic way, to campaign for injustices perpetrated against this or that person rather than battling the overwhelming structures of oppression that keep entire oppressed populations under their jackboots. It is saddening that many of us, even erstwhile liberation fighters, have succumbed to the allure of neoliberal material benefits, and allowed the attraction of lucre to trump the demands of solidarity.

Chandra Mohanty wrote that solidarity must be based on a ‘common context of struggles against specific exploitative structures and systems.’ (Mohanty 2003, 49). 

Perhaps more familiar to us, is the teaching of Comrade Samora Machel: 

International solidarity is not an act of charity: it is an act of unity between allies fighting on different terrains toward the same objectives…

Solidarity is an assertion that no people is alone, no people is isolated in the struggle for progress. Solidarity is the conscious alliance of the progressive and peace-loving revolutionary forces in the common struggle against colonialism, capitalism and imperialism. In short, against exploitation of human by human.

Solidarity has no race and no colour, and its country has no frontiers. There is no solidarity just among Africans, no exclusively Asian solidarity, since the enemy of the people also has no country or race.

We therefore approach the question of solidarity with the Palestinian people not as privileged northerners do, but as people of the Global South, grappling with our own legacy (and current reality) of ‘exploitative structures and system’, of apartheid, and as a ‘conscious alliance of the progressive and peace-loving revolutionary forces in the common struggle against colonialism, capitalism and imperialism’. For us, then, international solidarity should never mean just doing charity for someone else. It is primarily about developing relationships between oppressed peoples – even if, in the case of some oppressed people, they have more privilege. As in our case, compared to the Palestinians. We have a state, a government, a parliament (even if these are also terrains of struggle), a sovereign nation… The Palestinian people have none of these. When Madiba says we will not be free until the Palestinians are free, he is tying our fate, the fate of an oppressed people (or formerly oppressed people if you wish, though I don’t agree with that description) with the fate of other oppressed people. In supporting Palestinian resistance and Palestinian struggles for justice, Mandela is telling us, we are charting a course for our own liberation.

But when looking at the Israeli occupation, Madiba didn’t just speak about the Palestinians. Long before the regular Israeli onslaughts on Gaza, such as in 2008-2009, and in 2014, long before Israel used the Oslo Accords to undermine the Palestinian struggle and as an excuse to construct illegal settler towns in the West Bank, long before Israel’s thousands of checkpoints made miserable the daily lives of Palestinians, long before the illegal hermetic siege of Gaza, Madiba said of Israel, in 1990: ‘If one has to refer to any parties as a terrorist state, one might refer to the Israeli government because they are the people who are slaughtering defenseless and innocent Arabs in the occupied territories.’ The PLO, he said, ‘we don’t regard… as a terrorist organization.’ This was a clear understanding of what constitutes terrorism and where our solidarity should lie.

But if our solidarity is founded on a context of shared struggles, and on love of other oppressed people, then surely it is hypocritical for us to pat ourselves on the back, telling ourselves that we are fulfilling our responsibility by statements and speeches on significant days, while continuing our lives as if the world is normal, and without concrete action towards realising the freedom of the Palestinian people, which will also be our freedom. It is not sufficient that we deploy the revolutionary slogans of our own struggle – such as ‘Each one, teach one’ – when talking about the Palestinian struggle, but do not imbue our deeds with the revolutionary fervour and actions that accompanied those slogans. Let us remember that Madiba’s statement – ‘…our freedom is incomplete…’ – was not made in the heady days of struggle; not in the 1960s, not after 1976, not in the 1980s. It was made in 1997. It was a commitment made not by the president of the ANC, but by the head of state of a democratic South Africa, suggesting that that state, supposedly a liberated state, was also ‘not free until…’ and implicitly committing the state to achieving its own freedom through that of the Palestinian people. Our stated solidarity and commitment must result in practical consequences for us, as a people, as a state, as a parliament. And I want to turn my attention now to a few of these – particularly as they are relevant to parliament and government.

Yesterday, 16 July, was the 57th anniversary of the address of Mama Miriam Makeba to the UN Special Committee on Apartheid. In her speech, which resulted in her passport being withdrawn and her not being able to return to South Africa, Makeba said: 

I ask you and all the leaders of the world, would you act differently, would you keep silent and do nothing if you were in our place? Would you not resist if you were allowed no rights in your own country because the colour of your skin is different from that of the rulers, and if you were punished for even asking for equality. I appeal to you, and to all countries of the world to do everything you can to stop the coming tragedy. I appeal to you to save the lives of our leaders, to empty the prisons of all those who should never have been there.

Who of us, especially the Black people among us, cannot see Palestine described in these words of Makeba, and, before her, in the words of Amilcar Cabral and Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, both of whom strongly supported the Palestinian struggle. We are not fooled by the apologists of apartheid and colonialism who demand that we should not equate Israeli racism to South African racism of the past. We who have lived as Black people under apartheid know it when we see it, we know what it feels like on our bodies, what it tastes like in our bloodied mouths. And racism, Madiba reminded us, 

is a blight on the human conscience. The idea that any people can be inferior to another, to the point where those who consider themselves superior define and treat the rest as sub-human, denies the humanity even of those who elevate themselves to the status of gods.

He could have been talking of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians.

This brings me to an important point. The UN committee that Mama Miriam Makeba addressed no longer exists. It presented its last report in June 1994. While the committee focused on South Africa, let us note that the 1973 ‘International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid’ is not about South Africa. Nor is the apartheid clause in the Rome Statute, adopted in July 1998 – four years after the ‘fall’ of apartheid in South Africa – about our country. In fact, South Africa is not ever mentioned in either document. The Convention is about apartheid, and it will remain relevant as long as apartheid exists anywhere in the world. 

Why then is it, I ask you, Deputy chairpersons, that while we see and recognise and are pained by the apartheid that we witness practised by Israel (and other states), South Africa still has not signed the Convention on Apartheid? Do we feel no shame not to have endorsed a legal instrument developed by the international community that was a weapon in our struggle and can be a weapon in the just struggles of other people? I believe that this is a critical task for this parliament to deal with: signing and ratifying the Convention on Apartheid (especially at this time when we are an elected member of the UNSC), and spearheading a campaign for the reactivation of the Special Committee against Apartheid so that it might be able to address manifestations of apartheid in, for example, Palestine.

There are also numerous considerations for us in terms of South Africa’s relations with Israel. Two and half years ago, the African National Congress resolved at its 54th National Conference in Nasrec to call on the government to downgrade South Africa’s embassy in Tel Aviv to a liaison office. This was certainly the kind of concrete action that reflects (or will reflect when it is completed) South African seriousness in our solidarity with the Palestinian people. That resolution was referred to and supported on numerous occasions by President Cyril Ramaphosa, Minister Naledi Pandor (even before she became Minister of International Relations and Cooperation) and Minister Lindiwe Sisulu (when she was Minister of International Relations and Cooperation). Minister Sisulu added that the downgrade process had already begun with the recall, in May 2018, of our ambassador to Tel Aviv, and the decision not to appoint a new ambassador in his place. Moving ahead on the process to downgrade the embassy, for which the ANC has called, will be a concrete expression of our solidarity. Parliament needs to hold DIRCO and the presidency accountable to ensuring that the process goes ahead, speedily.

There are also other aspects of our relationship with Israel that are concerning. Why have wee not banned, at the very least, the products of the illegal Israeli settlements from being imported into South Africa – no matter how they are labelled? Indeed, why have we not made it difficult for the importation of any Israeli products into South Africa? Our special concern should be for the large amount of Israeli-manufactured security-related equipment that dominates the South African market – from household security technology to commercial and industrial security technology. How can we claim to express solidarity with the Palestinian people when the security technologies used by most state-owned enterprises comes from Israel? How can we be tolerant of Telkom’s billing systems being outsourced to an Israeli company, which has exclusive control over our metadata? How can we express solidarity with the Palestinians but accept as ‘normal business’ when a South African icon, Clover, is bought out by an Israeli consortium?

Furthermore, what is our solidarity worth if we allow South Africans to join and fight with the Israeli Defense Forces, thus being responsible for the murder of Palestinians and the destruction of Palestinian livelihoods. After the 2008-2009 Israeli onslaught on Gaza (called Operation Cast Lead), a handful of NGOs in South Africa prepared and submitted to the National Prosecuting Authority a dossier, commonly called the ‘Gaza Docket’, which listed 75 South Africans who had been operational in the IDF during Operation Cast Lead. Many of those names were linked to social media accounts where these South Africans boasted of their role in the IDF, with some proudly posting pictures of themselves in the uniforms of the occupation army and displaying their weapons. Nothing has come of this Gaza Docket; no one has been prosecuted; no serious investigation, it seems, has been conducted. And yet you, our Parliament, has passed the Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act in 1998, which makes such activities illegal.

On the global stage, South Africa is currently both an elected member of the United Nations Security Council and the Chair of the African Union. Each of these is a weighty responsibility. Together, they place on our shoulders as a nation, and on your shoulders as legislators, a massive set of responsibilities. They also put us in a unique position to use these weighty responsibilities in order to give concreteness to our solidarity with oppressed peoples. We might have only six months left on the UNSC, but we should not miss the opportunity to use these months to lobby for the world body, which is heavily weighted against the Palestinians, to strengthen international law, pass critical resolutions, and craft new conversations around the Palestinian struggle. Solidarity should not be restricted to the streets, but should forcefully enter the hallowed chambers of the Security Council as well – even if, for now, only virtually. This is especially so when Israel treats the UN with disdain and dismissal. 

Our role in the AU is, perhaps, more important substantively. When Israel, the ‘terrorist state’ that Madiba referred to, is poised to turn a sufficient number of African states to support its bid for observer status at the AU, when Israel’s exploitation of blood diamonds from our continent has deadly implications for a large number of Africans, when Israel is supporting undemocratic regimes militarily against their own people, a critical South African voice in the AU is more important than it ever has been. We must ensure that Israel does not put its bum on an observer seat in the AU, a cause to which South Africa has been committed but is facing dissent from many other South African states. We must also cast the spotlight on the broader role of Israel on the continent, especially its military, intelligence and security involvement with states and non-state actors.

Not long after US president Donald Trump unveiled his annexation plan for Palestine in January this year, a plan that the Israeli government has enthusiastically embraced, President Ramaphosa said that it 

brought to mind the chronicled history that we as South Africans went through. The apartheid regime once imposed the Bantustan system on the people of South Africa without consulting them and with all the oppressive elements which that plan had… [Trump’s plan] sounds like a Bantustan type of construct.

Our president was, of course, correct in his assessment. However, a slightly deeper examination of the issue demonstrates that, in fact, since the 1990s when the Palestinian Authority was created, Israel never had any intention of allowing the creation of a Palestinian state. The most it was ever willing to countenance was the possibility of a Palestinian bantustan, where the so-called government of that entity would have fewer powers and less authority than did the ‘government’ of Bophutatswana. That is the current situation. What is referred to as a ‘Palestinian state’ today is, in effect, a glorified bantustan. Despite Israeli leaders occasionally paying tribute to a ‘two-state solution’, a Palestinian and an Israeli state existing side-by-side, there never was any Israeli intention to allow for a Palestinian state to exist. The Trump plan has made that clear for those who were previously confused – as our president acknowledged in February.

How, then, should South Africa respond in this context? How should this realisation be reflected in concrete political and policy positions? 

At some level, it is understandable that South Africa, as a member state of the UN and steadfastly committed to the notion of multilateralism in global diplomacy, continues to maintain its support – even if just rhetorically – for a ‘two-state solution’. However, especially in light of the Trump plan, which, as any political scientist will tell you, makes a mockery of the notion of ‘state’, and which proposes a Palestinian entity that will have no control over its borders, water resources, airspace, electromagnetic spectrum, coastline, nor army and not even an independent police force… In light of this, it is now necessary for us to revisit this ‘two-state’ idea. Such a re-evaluation, by the way, is no longer a radical idea, if it ever was. When even (liberal) Zionists are busy re-evaluating the idea and when many of them have already concluded that the only way forward for the Palestinian and Israeli people is to live together in one state, then it is certainly not radical for a leading state in the Global South, with revolutionary credentials, to engage in its own reassessment on this issue.

It is not sufficient to continue hiding behind the argument that this is the position of ‘the Quartet’, especially when one member of that quartet is the architect of this abomination of a ‘peace plan’ and another satisfies itself by whining and hand-wringing while doing nothing to ensure that Palestinian territory is not annexed in complete violation of international law.

It is also not sufficient to hide behind the argument that we are following ‘the Arab states’ or ‘the Arab League’. Since when has ethnicity granted a people the right of veto over principles and moral questions? These are the same Arab states whose authoritarian regimes oppress their own people, which have normalised relations with Israel, which have ensured long term civil wars in various parts of the Middle East and North Africa, which undermine democratically-elected governments (including on our continent). Why are they our teachers?

South Africa, it must be said, has not been shy, since 1994, to challenge ‘the way things are done’ on the global stage. We have been courageous and forthright, for example, in our calls for reform of the United Nations and other multilateral structures. Why then are we afraid of being forthright enough to call for a reassessment of this now-implausible and silly-tragic idea of a two-state solution? Why are we afraid to even begin that conversation publicly at the level of government, parliament and the ruling party? This debate must begin, publicly, in a manner that looks at the best interests of all the people who live in Palestine, Palestinians and Jewish Israelis.

Comrades, as we remember Tata Madiba this month, and as we prepare, especially, for Nelson Mandela Day tomorrow, we must soberly examine his comment about the necessity for seeing justice and peace existing everywhere. We cannot allow ourselves to fall into the trap that has long been set for us of extracting Madiba from his legacy as a freedom fighter and seeing him only as a teddy bear hugging children and White people. Let us not forget that Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was not sentenced to life in prison because he was a cuddly stuffed toy, but because he was a founder of Mkhonto we Sizwe, a leader of our armed struggle against an apartheid state. Let us remember too, that while Madiba committed ad devoted his entire life to justice and peace, Apartheid Israel is not interested in justice or peace. Unless it is the peace of the graveyard, or pieces of bantustans. It is interested only in war, in the theft of Palestinian land and in the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. Solidarity, as Madiba demanded of us, requires real and concrete support for Palestinian resistance, not talk of fictitious mediations between Israelis and the Palestinians.

Allow me to end this tribute to our leader Nelson Mandela with a quote from him from 1999, when Madiba, president of the Republic of South Africa, was seated next to PLO Chairperson Yasser Arafat in Gaza. Madiba declared on that occasion: 

All men and women with vision choose peace rather than confrontation, except in cases where we cannot proceed, where we cannot move forward. Then if the only alternative is violence, we will use violence.

A few weeks later, Palestinians launched the Second Intifada. 

Palestinians today find themselves in a position where they ‘cannot proceed’, where they ‘cannot move forward’. If we fail them, and if we fail the calls for real solidarity from Madiba and from the Palestinian people, we will push them further into a corner where there are no alternatives. Our solidarity must ensure that Palestinians have alternatives that will provide them a just and fair future, free from oppression and exploitation, occupation, colonisation and apartheid.

AMANDLA!

* Na'eem Jeenah is the Executive Director of the Afro-Middle East Centre

By Ramzy Baroud

The painful truth is that the Palestinian Authority (PA) of President Mahmoud Abbas has already ceased to exist as a political body that holds much sway or relevance, either to the Palestinian people or to Abbas’s former benefactors – the Israeli and American governments. Therefore, when the Palestinian Authority prime minister, Mohammed Shtayyeh, announced on 9 June 2020 that the Palestinian leadership had submitted a ‘counter proposal’ to the US Middle East ‘peace plan’, also known as the ‘Deal of the Century’, few people seemed to care.

Little is known about this ‘counter proposal’, apart from the fact that it envisages a demilitarised Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders. We also know that the PA is willing to accept land swaps and border adjustments, a provision that has surely been inserted to cater for Israel’s demographic and security needs. It is almost certain, however, that nothing will come of Shtayyeh’s counter proposal, and no independent Palestinian state will result from the seemingly historical offer. Why then did Ramallah opt for such a strategy only days before the 1 July deadline, when the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to launch its process of illegal annexation in the occupied West Bank and the Jordan Valley?

The main reason behind Shtayyeh’s announcement is that the PA leadership is often accused by Israel, the USA and their allies of supposedly rejecting previous ‘peace’ overtures. Correctly so, the PA rejected the ‘Deal of the Century’ because it represents the most jarring violation of international law yet. It denies the Palestinians’ territorial rights in occupied East Jerusalem, completely dismisses the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and gives carte blanche to the Israeli government to colonise more Palestinian territory.

In principle, Netanyahu also rejected the American proposal, though without pronouncing his rejection publicly. Indeed, the Israeli leader has already dismissed any prospects of Palestinian statehood and has decided to move forward with the unilateral annexation of nearly thirty per cent of the West Bank, without paying any heed to the fact that even Trump’s unfair ‘peace’ initiative called for mutual dialogue before any annexation takes place.

As soon as Washington’s plan was announced in January, followed by Israel’s insistence that the annexation of Palestinian territories was imminent, the PA spun into a strange political mode, far more unpredictable and bizarre than ever before. One after another, PA officials began making all sorts of contradictory remarks and declarations, notable among them being Abbas’s announcement on 19 May to cancel all agreements between the Palestinians and Israel. This was followed by another announcement, on 8 June, this time by Hussein Al-Sheikh, a senior PA official and Abbas confidante, that if annexation were to take place, the Authority would cut off civic services to Palestinians to force Israel to assume its legal role as an occupying power as per international norms. Then a third announcement was made the following day by Shtayyeh himself, threatening that if Israel were to claim sovereignty over parts of the West Bank, the PA would retaliate by declaring statehood within the pre-1967 borders.

The Palestinian counter-proposal was declared soon after this hotchpotch of announcements, most likely to offset the state of confusion that is marring the Palestinian body politic. It is the PA’s way of appearing proactive, positive, and stately. The Palestinian initiative also aims at sending a message to European countries that, despite Abbas’s cancellation of agreements with Israel, the PA was still committed to the political parameters set by the Oslo Accords in September 1993.

What Abbas and Shtayyeh are ultimately hoping to achieve is a repeat of an earlier episode that followed the admission of Palestine as a non-state member of the United Nations General Assembly in 2011. Salam Fayyad, who served as the PA’s prime minister at the time, also waved the card of the unilateral declaration of statehood to force Israel to freeze the construction of illegal Jewish settlements. Eventually, the PA was co-opted by then-US Secretary of State, John Kerry, to return to another round of useless negotiations with Israel. This won the PA another ten years, during which time it received generous international funds while selling Palestinians false hope for an imaginary state.

Sadly, this is the current strategy of the Palestinian leadership: a combination of threats, counter proposals and such, in the hope that Washington and Tel Aviv will agree to return to a bygone era. Unfortunately, but hardly surprisingly, it seems the Palestinian people, occupied, besieged, and oppressed, is the least relevant factor in the PA’s calculations. The PA has operated for many years without a semblance of democracy, and the Palestinian people neither respect ‘their government’ nor their so-called president. They have made their feelings known, repeatedly, in many opinion polls

In the last few months, the PA has used every trick in the book to demonstrate its relevance and seriousness in the face of the dual threat of Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ and Netanyahu’s annexation of Palestinian lands. Yet, the most significant and absolutely pressing step, that of uniting all Palestinians, people and factions, behind a single political body and a single political document, is yet to be taken. It is, therefore, no exaggeration to argue that Abbas’s Authority is gasping its last breath, especially if its traditional European allies fail to extend a desperately-needed lifeline. The guarded positions adopted by EU countries have, thus far, signalled that no European country is capable or willing to fill the gap left open by Washington’s betrayal of the PA and of the ‘peace process’.

Until the PA hands over the keys to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) so that the more democratically representative Palestinian body can start a process of national reconciliation, Netanyahu will, tragically, remain the only relevant party, determining the fate of Palestine and her people.

* Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books, his latest being These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

By Ramzy Baroud

The banning of deadly police practices by many American states and cities following the murder of George Floyd, an African American man, at the hands of Minneapolis police officers is, once more, shedding light on US-Israeli collaboration in the fields of policing, security and crowd control.

From California to New York, and from Washington State to Minneapolis, all forms of neck restraints and chokeholds that are used by police while dealing with suspects are no longer allowed by local, state, or federal authorities. Even the US president, Donald Trump, felt pressured enough to issue an executive order outlawing police use of the chokehold.

This is only the beginning of what promises to be a serious rethink in police practices that disproportionately target African Americans and other minority and marginalised communities across the United States.

The refashioning of the American police, in recent years, to fit a military model is a subject that requires better understanding than the one currently offered by mainstream US media. Certainly, US racism and police violence are intrinsically linked and date back decades, but the militarisation of the US police and their use of deadly violence against suspected petty criminals – and often non criminals – is a relatively new phenomenon that has largely been imported from Israel. 

While an urgent conversation is already under way in US cities regarding the need to reimagine public safety, or even to defund the police altogether, little is being said about the link between the US ‘war on terror’ and the American elites’ fascination with the ‘Israeli example’ in how the Israeli military deals with Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip and in the occupied West Bank.

‘The Israeli example (could serve as) a possible basis for arguing…that “torture was necessary to prevent imminent, significant, physical harm to persons, where there is no other available means to prevent the harm”,’ read the CIA General Counsel report of September 2001.

Equally important to the content of this argument made by the CIA was the actual date of the report – only a few days after the 11 September attacks in New York. That was the beginning of a new form of the Israeli-American love affair, which entirely redefined the nature of the relationship between Washington and Tel Aviv, removing Israel from the category of ‘client regimes’, and casting it into a whole new category – that of a model to be emulated, and a true partner to be embraced.

The language used by the CIA and other structures within the US intelligence community quickly seeped into the military as well, and eventually became the uncontested political discourse, epitomised by the words of the former US president, Barack Obama, in June 2010 when he said that ‘the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable.’ ‘Unbreakable’ indeed, since Israel, the long-time recipient of American financial support and military and intelligence secrets became a major exporter of ideas, security technology, and ‘war on terror’ tactics to the USA.

It is, however, critical that we do not reduce our understanding of this troubling rapport between the USA and Israel to only military hardware and intelligence sharing. The new American infatuation with Israel is essentially an intellectual one, as the USA began viewing itself as inferior to Israel in terms of the latter’s supposed ability to navigate between sustaining its own democracy and successfully defeating Palestinian and Arab ‘terrorism’.

For example, former US President George W Bush regarded extremist Israeli politician and author, Natan Sharansky, as a mentor. In January 2005, The New York Times reported how Bush had invited Sharansky to the Oval Office to discuss his book The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror. A barely visible Israeli politician thus became the moral authority for Bush’s invasion of sovereign Arab countries. It was during this period that Israeli torture tactics, including the infamous ‘Palestinian Chair’, became the crown jewel of the American military’s systematic violence used in America’s immoral wars from Iraq to Afghanistan, to elsewhere.

Writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in 2016, Rachel Stroumsa argued that the ‘Palestinian Chair’ was ‘but one of many examples of ties and seepages between the security practices of Israel and America’, adding that ‘the CIA explicitly justified its use of torture in depositions to the Senate Intelligence Committee by citing High Court of Justice rulings.’

The political, military, and intelligence marriage between the USA and Israel in Iraq quickly spread to include the US ‘global war on terror’, where Israeli weapon manufacturers cater to every American need, playing on the country’s growing sense of insecurity, offering products that range from airport security, the building of watchtowers, the erection of walls and fences, to spying and surveillance technology.

Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest military company, made a fortune from building surveillance towers and sensors, in addition to many other products, across the USA-Mexico border. The company, like other Israeli companies, won one bid after another, because its products are ‘combat-proven’ or ‘field-proven’, referred to as such because these technologies have been used against, or tested on, real people in real situations; the ‘people’ here, of course, being Palestinians, Lebanese, and Syrians. The fact that thousands of American police officers have been trained by Israelis, as evidenced by the burgeoning of violent military-like tactics used against ordinary Americans, is only one link in a long chain of ‘deadly exchanges’ between the two countries.

Almost immediately after the 11 September 2001 attacks, ‘the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs have paid for police chiefs, assistant chiefs and captains to train in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories,’ Amnesty International said in a recent report. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. The Israeli army manual, which holds little respect for internationally-recognised rules of conduct, infiltrated numerous police departments across the USA. Even the typical look of the American police officers began changing to resemble that of a combat soldier in full gear. The growing Israeli role in shaping the American security state allowed Israel to push its political priorities past its traditional stronghold over the US Congress to individual states and, eventually, to city councils across the country.

Even if some Israeli tactics that are currently applied by the US police are discontinued under the collective chants of ‘Black Lives Matter’, Israel – if not stopped – will continue to define Washington’s security priorities from Washington State to Texas, because the relationship – Obama’s ‘unbreakable bond’ – is much stronger and deeper than anyone could have ever imagined.

- Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books, his latest being These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons

by Yara Hawari

The first measures taken against COVID-19 in the West Bank occurred in early March after the confirmation of seven cases in Bethlehem that were linked to a Greek tourist group. The Palestinian Authority (PA) declared a state of emergency and imposed a lockdown on the city, banning all entry and exit, and enforcing a curfew on residents. The PA also announced restrictions across the West Bank, including prohibitions on travel between governorates, and the shuttering of public spaces and education facilities. On 22 March, following a steady increase in cases, the PA declared a curfew.

In the Gaza Strip, in mid-March Hamas authorities and UNRWA began converting schools into quarantine centres and clinics in preparation for a possible outbreak. On 21 March, two Gazans returning from Pakistan tested positive for the virus and were immediately hospitalised. Twenty-nine people were identified as having come into contact with them and they were all placed in quarantine. 

At the time of writing, the total number of confirmed cases in the West Bank is 247 and twelve in Gaza. Although the figures are relatively low, the worry is that the limited number of testing kits available means that the number of infected people is most probably much higher.

Coronavirus and the Occupation

The West Bank and Gaza Strip are confronting COVID-19 under the gun and with the reality of Israeli military occupation. This substantially weakens the ability of the Palestinian authorities and the Palestinian people effectively to respond to the deadly virus. While many health care systems around the world are struggling to deal with the pandemic, the fifty-three-year occupation has seriously depleted medical capabilities in the West Bank and Gaza. The donor-dependent system has shortages in equipment, medication, and staff due to such issues as military raids and restrictions on imports. In the Gaza Strip in particular – deemed unliveable by the UN as a result of over thirteen years of blockade and multiple Israeli-imposed wars – the health care system had already struggled to deal with medical cases before the pandemic. Indeed, Gaza currently has only seventy-eight ICU beds and only sixty-three ventilators to service a population of two million.

Meanwhile, daily manifestations of the occupation persist, such as the continued demolition of Palestinian homes and military raids on Palestinian villages and towns. There have also been direct Israeli attacks on Palestinian attempts to confront the virus, such as the destruction of a COVID-19 clinic in the Jordan Valley, and the arrest of Palestinian volunteers attempting to distribute supplies to impoverished communities in East Jerusalem. The Israeli occupation authorities are also failing to take any preventative measures to protect Palestinian political prisoners, who are being illegally incarcerated within a military prison system that fails to meet even basic health and sanitation standards. 

Political manipulations

The Israeli regime is using the global coronavirus crisis not only to distract from its ongoing violations of human rights, but also as a political tool to gain diplomatic leverage. Indeed, international bodies have been commending Israel for its ‘cooperation’ with the PA during this crisis; the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, referred to such coordination as ‘excellent’ during a recent speech. In reality, however, Israeli ‘cooperation’ includes the Israeli Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) ‘allowing’ a minimum of internationally-donated medical supplies to reach the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as was the case with a shipment of 3 000 tests and 50 000 masks from the World Health Organization (WHO) to the PA. This is far below the actual needs of the West Bank. 

Those commending the cooperation also point to the presence of the thousands of Palestinian workers in Israel. In an attempt to prevent mass movement and the potential spread of the disease, Israel and the PA reached an agreement that, as of 18 March, Palestinian workers’ continued employment in Israel would be conditioned on them staying in Israel for several months rather than returning to the West Bank. Yet the workers were not only deprived of proper protective equipment, Israeli authorities also dumped workers who they suspected of having being infected by the virus at checkpoint entrances to the West Bank – without informing the PA. The Palestinian prime minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, reversed the decision on 25 March, and ordered Palestinian workers in Israel to return home. The serious concern, however, is that the PA will not have the capacity to test people upon their return, and Israel has so far not offered to test them. 

Shifting the narrative 

In effect, the Israeli regime, which maintains a violent military occupation and has depleted the capabilities of the Palestinian health care system, is being praised for allowing scraps of medical supplies to enter from international donors, despite its responsibility under international law as an occupying power to provide the supplies itself. It is essential that international actors not only support vital humanitarian efforts for immediate medical relief in Palestine, but that they also insist on Israel’s responsibility to finance Palestinian medical needs.

It is also imperative to shift the narrative from cooperation, and to highlight the Israeli occupation as an instrument of comorbidity. In other words, not only does the occupation exacerbate the conditions that increase Palestinians’ susceptibility to infection, it is also directly responsible for those conditions. It is therefore disingenuous to argue that now is the time for cooperation and dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian authorities to confront the pandemic. Now is the time, as it was before, to demand the lifting of the blockade on Gaza and the end of the military occupation of the West Bank. 

* Yara Hawari is a Senior Palestine Policy Fellow of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network. She completed her PhD in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter, where she continues to be an honorary research fellow.

* This article was first published by Al-Shabaka

By Ramzy Baroud

Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, must be channelling the spirit of Houdini as he continues to plot his escape from one of the most convoluted political dilemmas in Israel’s history. It is no secret that Netanyahu’s political behaviour is almost entirely shaped by his desire to survive in office for as long as possible in order to avoid possible jail time.  But how long will the Israeli escape artist manage to survive, now that a date for his trial has been set?

After months of bargaining with the country’s political elite, on the one hand, and pleading to his own right-wing constituency on the other, Netanyahu has failed to create the necessary momentum that would render him immune from prosecution and secure his position at the helm of Israeli politics. 

Failing to form a government after the April 2019 elections, Netanyahu masterfully linked his fate as prime minister to all of Israel’s affairs, internal and external. Nevertheless, there is little evidence to suggest that Netanyahu’s diplomatic and financial conquests have yielded his hoped-for result of augmenting his support among ordinary Israelis, especially as Benny Gantz, who heads the Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) party, has continued to venture further to the right, thus slowly undermining Netanyahu’s support in every facet of Israeli society. The September 209 election demonstrated Gantz’s ability to overcome the Likud leader’s various political advantages in the eyes of Israeli voters.

On 2 March, Israelis are scheduled to return to the polling booths to vote in their third general election in less than one year. In that short period of time, Gantz, a former chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, managed to repeatedly alter his political positions to be even more right-wing than they had been, while still presenting himself as a centrist who is willing to engage with the ‘left’ in order to build a future government coalition.

Knowing that the noose has further tightened around his neck since the first elections in April 2019, Netanyahu resorted to Washington and US president Donald Trump, asking for the release of Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’. Indeed, the ‘Middle East plan’ - as Trump calls it – was revealed ahead of schedule in order to provide the despairing Israeli leader a final lifeline that would help him win his multiple battles in a decisive blow. 

Alas, for Netanyahu, things did not work out as planned.

The Netanyahu strategy was meant to unfold in a manner that would increase his support among Israelis and help stave off prosecution. Trump’s administration was to reveal the ‘plan’ that would give Israel everything Palestinian and give Palestinians nothing. Netanyahu would, of course, take full credit for this, his greatest achievement in office, and he would follow that by annexing all illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, as well as the entire Jordan Valley.

This, however, play out as he and his American benefactor had hoped, resulting in Netanyahu, on 4 February, reversinghis earlier decision to annex much of the West Bank before the scheduled elections. Instead, he told a campaign rally that such annexation was conditioned to his victory in the March elections. While many in the media parroted, without evidence, that the postponement of the annexation was a direct result of a request from Washington, the real reason was likely related to Netanyahu’s domestic political woes.

The Israeli prime minister must have been aware that Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ and the annexation of the West Bank cards were his last hope to secure a comfortable election victory, to be granted immunity, and to avoid serving jail time for corruption. But if he annexed parts of the West Bank and then failed to win the elections, the embattled Israeli leader would have no more wiggle room and zero political advantage for a future plea bargain. This explains the sudden halt in Netanyahu’s annexation plan, especially as the he had, at a recent campaign rally, presented annexation in the form of a political barter.

‘When we win,’ he said, ‘we will extend sovereignty over all the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria,’ referring to the annexation of the occupied Palestinian West Bank.  As a consolation prize and to avoid angry reactions by the country’s far right constituency, especially the politically well-organised Jewish settlers, Netanyahu announced on 20 February that he would revive a long-dormant plan to construct 3 000 new homes for illegal Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem.

‘Today I approved the construction in Givat Hamatos of 3 000 homes for Jews,’ Reuters reported, with 2 000 more homes expected to be built in the Har Homa illegal settlement as well.

These moves are particularly significant, for such construction will completely isolate the Palestinian city of Bethlehem from occupied East Jerusalem, thus killing any hope for Palestinian territorial contiguity in any future state. Netanyahu’s adversaries in the opposition, in the government, and in the Supreme Court are, of course, aware and wary of Netanyahu’s shenanigans. While Gantz often responds to Netanyahu’s opportunistic moves largely by altering his own political position to match or even surpass his opponent’s position, the prime minister’s support in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, is lukewarm at best. In fact, on 28 January, Netanyahu was forced to withdraw his request for immunity, knowing that the request would not receive the required support. 

Meanwhile, the legal proceedings regarding Netanyahu’s corruption cases continue unabated. According to the Israeli Justice Ministry, Netanyahu will be obligated to attend his trial in the Jerusalem District Court, even as prime minister, and regardless of what transpires in the 2 March elections. A three-judge panel will hear the case, forcing Netanyahu to divide his time between running Israeli affairs and fending off accusations of his  corruption.

This is an uncharted territory for Israel. Never before in Israel’s history has the ruling elite been faced with such legal and political dilemmas. Since Israel continues to operate without a constitution, and because this is the first time that a sitting prime minister will face a trial, the Supreme Court is the only authority that is able to interpret the country’s laws in order to advance the legal proceedings. But even that is problematic.

Ayelet Shaked, the controversial and often vulgar former justice minister, is already attempting to derail that possibility, openly warning the Supreme Court judges that any involvement in the political process would be ‘tantamount to a coup’. Israelis now find themselves at the cusp of a new era, one that is defined by the breakdown of the country’s legal system, prolonged political crisis and never-ending social instability. 

– Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books, his latest being These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons.

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