The rights of Palestine.

July 8, 2014

palestineisrael

The history of modern revolutions is one in which – more often than not – oppressive regimes are threatened and overthrown by the forces of self-proclaimed ‘liberation’ whom themselves become the new oppressive regimes. The Cuban revolution replaced the US backed heartless and brutal regime of Fulgencio Batista, with the vicious and oppressive long lasting Castro regime. The French revolution sought to liberate the country from the excesses of monarchy, and resorted to Robespierre’s reign of terror, swiftly followed by Napoleon. The US revolution attempted to enshrine the concepts of human liberty, and the pursuit of individual happiness and did so to a great extent, whilst the Founding generation held slaves and extended democratic rights to propertied white men only (John Adams; the nation’s second President, warned against extending the vote to women). It is for this reason – the replacement of one form of deep oppression with another – that I tend to be reluctant to support a Palestinian state under its current leadership.

As a blogger on secularism and religion, I’m often asked about my thoughts on the Israel & Palestine conflict and which side I find myself on. I’ve neglected to write much on the subject, because I find it a difficult question to answer, whilst simultaneously a simple question to answer. It is a particularly difficult and confusing subject, where the balance of my opinions change from week to week.

It is a difficult question – not least because whatever you say on the subject, someone somewhere takes great offence in a way that no other subject can elicit – because I understand the grievances of both. I understand that Israel is a nation surrounded by nations that wish it extinct, that rockets are fired daily across its borders (today, a rocket from Gaza was intercepted over Tel Aviv), that its establishment (whilst poorly designed and implemented) was the result of historical oppression from Russia to Germany including centuries of anti-Jewish bigotry spewed by the Catholic Church, Mahmoud Abbas’s constant reference to Israel as Muslim and Christian only, and that the Arab press is horrifically racist in its representations of Jewish people as rats controlling some sort of hidden global conspiracy. I understand the paranoia and suspicion driving Israeli policy.

Equally, I understand that the Palestinians have a perfectly reasonable claim to the land and I find it hard to disagree with a ‘right’ to return though recognise how completely unrealistic Israeli acknowledgement of that ‘right’ is to any settlement deal. I understand that recent Palestinian history has been marred by forced removal as well as fleeing in fear from land, their chaining to a strip in Gaza and treated as prisoners, the Israeli right wing who have nothing less than viciously racist views that dehumanise Palestinians enough to make awful policy in the occupied territories palatable. Netanyahu’s deliberately provocative statements in the past, that the Palestinians suffer daily not only from the threat of Israeli bombs dropping around them, but from being used as shields by Hamas, and that the ceaseless building of settlements is a daily provocation. Indeed the average Palestinian is stripped of their natural human dignity by the political squabbles of the fanatical religious leaders of both sides of the argument. Earlier this year, Wajih al-Ramahi – a 15 year old Palestinian boy – was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers at the Jalazone refugee camp, for what seems to be no justifiable reason. This sort of crime – and the fear of this sort of crime – is a brutal reminder to the Palestinians that they are not free, and whose lives and liberty are to be treated as occupied and owned indefinitely by Israel.

However, It is an easy question, because my answer is; I take no side on this. I am critical of those who openly support Israel’s provocative policy of settlement development in the West Bank and defend their violent overreactions, and I am critical of those on the Western Galloway-left that are willing to abandon the principles of human rights, civil liberties, and freedom regardless of sexuality, faith, gender, belief and ethnicity if it means tacitly supporting any group that refers to itself as liberators fighting Israeli aggression.

I do however support the establishing of a state of Palestine. I feel I need to make that clear, because it seems that if you register concerns about the details of a future Palestinian state, you’re accused of abandoning the Palestinians in their fight for freedom, when in fact, the opposite is true. For the freedom of all Palestinians, the methods, and goals of their leadership requires thorough analysis and critique. To ignore those methods and goals, regardless of how oppressive they are, for the sake of supporting any reaction against Israel, is to abandon that freedom for a lot of Palestinians.

So, to be clear; my view is that the Palestinians have a right to be free, to self determination, to statehood, and to protection from oppression. That means all Palestinians, not simply Muslim, heterosexual Palestinians. The problem is, that isn’t what the Palestinian leadership has ever promoted. For that reason, it continuously amazes me just how willing Western ‘liberal secularists’ are to abandon their principles and overlook the stated goals and crimes of Hamas, in the quest to form a state of Palestine. The crimes of Hamas, are articulated by Amnesty:

“The human rights violations perpetrated … have included killings of fugitives, prisoners and detainees, injuries caused by severe physical violence, torture and misuse of weapons, the imposition of house arrest, and other restrictions that have been imposed on civil society organisations.”

– It is inexplicable given the circumstances, that anyone claiming to be of the left in the West, would support – in any form – the further enshrining of power for groups like Hamas. It cannot be considered an ‘ends justify the means’ situation – despite a lot of liberal secular Westerners claiming their reluctant support for Hamas is based on – because the end goal for Hamas is not a free state of Palestine, but a state as far removed from democratic, secular liberalism as possible. Indeed, Article (6) of Hamas’s charter notes:

“The Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinct Palestinian Movement which owes its loyalty to Allah, derives from Islam its way of life and strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine. Only under the shadow of Islam could the members of all regions coexist in safety and security for their lives, properties and rights.”

– Throughout Hamas’s charter, are references to the region being Islamic by divine right, and their goal to ensure all in the region are tied to it. Hamas’s reason for being, isn’t to ‘free’ Palestine, it is to chain Palestine to Hamas’s interpretation of a single faith. Secular liberals cannot reasonably offer any support to Hamas given their aims, methods, and public declarations. Dr. Mahmoud Zahar, co-founder and senior leader of Hamas, described gay people as being:

“…a minority of perverts and the mentally and morally sick.”

– The rights of the LGBT community are not going to be protected in a Palestinian state with Hamas allowed a say in its foundation and constituting. Any defence of Hamas – any defence whatsoever – by those claiming to be secular or liberal, is an insult to those of us who are.

As well as Hamas’s goal being the subordination of the entire region to Islam, President Abbas tends to be just as provocative and hints at religious war for Jerusalem being an obligation on all Muslims when speaking directly to Muslims in Palestine (rather than an international audience, at which point, he advocates two states). For Abbas, this is a religious conflict. In 2010, on Al-Jazeera, Abbas said:

“I say to the leaders of our Arab nation and to its peoples: Jerusalem and its environs are a trust that Allah entrusted to us. Saving it from the settlement monster and the danger of Judaization and confiscation is a personal commandment incumbent on all of us.”

– Abbas is clear with his “Judaization” anti-Semitic rant; the land belongs to Islam. A revolution to replace one oppressor, with another. Jerusalem has of course been occupied by Jews, invaded by Christians, invaded by Muslims, and should in the 21st Century be open to all to visit and enjoy, not controlled by one faith. I find it impossible to support the establishing of a state whose leadership is infected by religious supremacists. If Hamas achieved their stated aims tomorrow, I would suggest that the tacit support for their cause and defence of their actions from those Western secular liberals over the years, would shroud any future complaints of Hamas’s human rights abuses in a deep sea of hypocrisy, by those who were willing to turn a blind-eye to atrocities and Hamas’s commitment to further abuses, pre-statehood. What good is an international liberal left, if it is only willing to voice concerns over the oppressive nature of a state, after it has facilitated the establishment of the same oppressive state?

The basic law established in 2002 as a proposed constitutional framework for a future Palestinian state and enacted by The Palestinian Legislative Council enshrines one religion, and binds all who live in the proposed state of Palestine, to that one religion in some form, whilst offering the impression of freedom for all. Its authors therefore have assumed for themselves the privilege of state supremacy for one faith:

“The principles of the Islamic shari`a are a main source for legislation.”

“Arabic is the official language and Islam is the official religion in Palestine.”

“The Palestinian people are part of the Arab and Islamic nations.”

– This privilege for one faith cannot be an acceptable source of law making for anyone claiming to be a secular liberal. The implication is clear; a Palestinian state is to some degree an Islamic state. The two are to be considered inseparable. This is where I tend to part company with many of my fellow liberal secularists who seem unwilling to question, or worse, to offer tacit support to such a framework of state.

For me, Statehood must not precede human and civil rights, on a secular, liberal framework. Liberal, secular, civil rights and protections must precede statehood. The rights of all Palestinians – be they Muslim, Christian, atheist, Jewish, male, female, heterosexual, homosexual, transgender, Hindu, old, young – must be the starting point of any framework for statehood, with no privilege granted to any single faith.

Enshrining religion into the fabric of a new state brings with it human and civil rights abuses that are evident in the nations that enshrine Islam in the Middle East, and Christianity in Africa, regardless of assurances of “human rights protections”. In Jordan, the state inhibits the right to convert from Islam, does not recognise Baha’i marriages and the King has to be Muslim. In Lebanon (arguably the least oppressive Arab state in the Middle East), the right to legally change gender is prohibited, there are penalties for blasphemy, and Buddhists and Hindus are not allowed to marry. A Palestinian state must not enshrine the oppression of any group, must uphold civil rights with respect to belief, sexuality, gender, ethnicity and the basic right to expression and secular education. At the moment, the Palestinian leadership is far from a force for liberation, severely lacks respect for basic rights, and is extremely oppressive.

In 2012, the Arab Organisation for Human Rights released a report accusing the Palestinian Authority of:

“…inhumane practices and human rights violations.”

– In 2013, blogger Anas Awwad – a critic of the PNA – was arrested and charged with “extending his tongue” against the policies of the PA and President Abbas. Similarly, Ismat Abdul-Khaleq – a lecturer at a university in the West Bank – was arrested for criticising Abbas. Hamas enforced the wearing of the headscarf for all women entering government buildings. The Palestinian Education Ministry is run by Osama al-Muzayni, on his watch, schools in Gaza City have begun teaching children to speak Hebrew as the “language of the enemy”. The BBC found that at one schools in Gaza City, whilst the girls were quick to speak of the enemy of Israel and learning the language so they’ll know if an individual Israeli wishes to harm them, only one in thirty of the girls had actually met an Israeli. As well as not trusting the Palestinian leadership with the liberal and secular civil rights of all, I do not trust them with respect for free expression of the opponents of their policies, nor with the educating of vulnerable minds away from perpetual conflict and hate.

Palestinians are all who live on the land – regardless of gender, faith, ethnicity, sexuality, hair colour, eye colour – Palestinians are not a single religion or a single sect of a religion or a single history. Nor are adherents to one single religion inherently privileged above others. Nor is adherence to one particular religion enough to qualify those believers to legislate and punish others according to its dictates whilst enshrining their own privileg. For me it is simple; there can only be the illusion of human and civil rights, unless a constituted Palestinian state protects all, and privileges none. Palestinians have the right to self determination and a state of their own, with secure boarders and protected civil rights free from fear. Palestinians have a right to a state. Islam doesn’t.


Palestine at the UN

September 23, 2011

Ramallah is alive today. The calls for Palestinian Statehood is quite clearly popular. Though a vote for Palestinian Statehood in the UN, I can’t help but have a few issues with. I am convinced that Palestine needs to come to terms of Statehood with Israel before it comes to terms with the rest of the World. A State of Palestine is long overdue. But whilst religion plays its role, granting statehood is hardly likely to improve the situation, if it doesn’t include the support of the hated state next door; Israel.

We all know that Israel responds disproportionately every time. We can all condemn Israel non-stop, all day. But we hear very little about Palestine and the way it is run. The question has to be, should the international community be empowering Fatah and Hamas by UN recognition?

Even if we put aside the horrifically regressive policies of the Palestinian National Authority, with its law that says anyone caught selling land to a Jew will face death immediately – though after prolonged periods of torture, let’s put to one side the fact that Hamas have been known to use Palestinian civilians as shields and civilian homes as weapons bases for attacks against Israel, let’s also put aside the fact that religious buildings that aren’t muslim are always under threat from Hamas – including a Christian club in Qalqiliya which supported local sporting clubs and educational programs, which ended up burnt by members of Hamas after they sent this threat to the local authority:

“The act of these institutions of the YMCA, including attempting to convert Muslims in our city, will bring violence and tension.”

– Leave all that aside, What worries me, is the presentation to the UN today, is from Mahmoud Abbas – a man who many seem to think is a great moderate.

Abbas is the leader of Fatah. He took over leadership from Arafat; another fundamentalist nutjob. Fatah is a political party within the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. Even though the UN officially recognised the PLO as representative of the Palestinian people in 1974, and gave it the right to participate in debates in the Security Council, in 1976; its largest member Fatah still carried out terrorist attacks in which they took over and killed 11 people in the Savoy hotel in 1975 and the Coastal Road Massacre in 1978 killing 37 Israelis. To take over the Savoy in the centre of Tel Aviv, they threw grenades at anyone who came close, and threatened to kill all hostages unless the Israeli government released five Palestinian prisoners. The killings were planned by Khalil al-Wazir, the man who set up Fatah. Al-Wazir, who is viewed as a great martyr in Palestine, was not simply retaliating for Israeli aggression, he believed Jerusalem was divinely handed to Muslims, and that Israel had stole it from them. The problem here, is religious fundamentalism. Fatah hasn’t changed that.

Today, the Constitution of the Fatah Party states quite clearly:

12. Complete liberation of Palestine, and eradication of Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence.
13. Establishing an independent democratic state with complete sovereignty on all Palestinian lands, and Jerusalem is its capital city, and protecting the citizens’ legal and equal rights without any racial or religious discrimination.

– It wants Israel gone. How can a State like Israel really expect to support the Statehood of a Nation next door, who wish to see it destroyed? How is that responsible? To compare, as Abbas has done, and as many Pro-Palestine bloggers do, the Arab Spring to the Palestinian problem is not helpful and very short sighted. The Egyptian people do not wish the wipe their next door neighbours off the map. There is no mention of setting up a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital. It wants Israel gone, and Jerusalem entirely an Islamic city. It is a religious problem, nothing less.

Whilst Fatah is not considered a terrorist organisation (as dodgy, provocative and as dangerous as its constitution is), Hamas is. Earlier this year, Hamas and Fatah announced plans to join the two parties together into one government. Incidentally, Hamas’ constitution states its goals:

Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors.

Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims. “Let the eyes of the cowards not fall asleep.”

– Hamas are dedicated to terrorism against Israel, not because Israel is incredibly repressive when it comes to Gaza (though i’d argue, that comes from paranoia), but because it is Jewish.
Article 31 of the Constitution of Hamas backs this up further:


Article Thirty
Men of letters, members of the intelligentsia, media people, preachers, teachers and educators and all different sectors in the Arab and Islamic world, are all called upon to play their role and to carry out their duty in view of the wickedness of the Zionist invasion, of its penetration into many countries, and its control over material means and the media, with all the ramifications thereof in most countries of the world. Jihad means not only carrying arms and denigrating the enemies. Uttering positive words, writing good articles and useful books, and lending support and assistance, all that too is Jihad in the path of Allah, as long as intentions are sincere to make Allah’s banner supreme. “Those who prepare for a raid in the path of Allah are considered as if they participated themselves in the raid. Those who successfully rear a raider in their home, are considered as if they participated themselves in the raid.”

– Hamas are dedicated to a religious war against Judaism in general, here. Article 31 reads like a paragraph from Hitler’s Mein Kempf. But it goes further. It claims the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and Colonialism were all Jewish conspiracies. We know how this sort of extreme thinking turns out.
The Charter of Hamas goes on:

There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.

These people are designed for war. The fundamentalists that currently control the Gaza strip seems to assume that they have a right to kill whoever they want to kill, to threaten whoever they want to threaten purely because they’re Muslim, and Israel should just let it happen. It is not all Israels fault.

Hamas member “cleric Yunis Al Astal” stated in 2008 that Rome would soon become…

an advanced post for the Islamic conquests, which will spread though Europe in its entirety, and then will turn to the two Americas, even Eastern Europe.”

– To recognise these people as legitimate rulers, is simply provoking more violence from both sides. To happily advocate a Palestinian state that has two parties who despise Israel simply for being Jewish, one of those parties actively promoting continuous war and murder of anyone who happens to be Jewish is a serious miscalculation of what a Palestinian state; one that we all want to see, SHOULD entail. To ignore the issues that will certainly arise from formal recognition of the State of Palestine as it stands today – a short cut by an apparently ‘moderate’ Abbas who is ready to sign a deal with the monstrous Hamas – will bring with is grave consequences.

Fatah apparently renounced terrorism in 1988 as a means to an end. That being said, they still sponsor terrorist organisations. Force 17 is about to become the private security of Abbas. In 2007 Force 17 admitted kidnapped Moshe Levi, an Israeli soldier, and setting him on fire. His burnt body was found still on fire that same day.

Whilst Fatah is not considered a terrorist organisation, its leadership asked members of al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades (a terrorist organisation deemed so by the EU, USA, Canada, Israel and Japan) to join the Council of Fatah in 2003. Later that year, the BBC found that the Palestinian Authority through Fatah had been paying the al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades $50,000 a month, to which Fatah replied with:

“We have clearly declared that the Aksa Martyrs Brigades are part of Fatah. We are committed to them and Fatah bears full responsibility for the group.”
“The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, military wing of the Fatah movement will not be dissolved and Fatah will never relinquish its military wing.”

– Al-Aqsa Martyrs are responsible for countless suicide bombs. In 2002, a gunman from the group (paid for by Fatah, the guys we’re now considering giving keys to a Kingdom) opened fire on an innocent Bat Mitzvah celebration in Hadera, Israel killing six and injuring 33. A celebration for a twelve year old girl. The PA publicly condemned the attack, but blamed Israel for provoking it (how one can provoke shooting up a party for a 12 year old is beyond me), but their condemnations are laughable given that they continued to fund the group every month since. This past decade the Martyrs leadership has taken to radicalising and arming young teenagers to carry out suicide attacks against Jewish people.

Abbas’s talk of the Palestinians “hope and dreams” of statehood is admirable, though I feel slightly manipulated when he says it. I feel like he is not acknowledging that the people his party supports, and is entering into government with, want Israel gone. They have an irrational hatred of Judaism. Statehood, without the compromise, and backing of Israel, without a real peace deal, is going to solve nothing, and symbolically gives groups like the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade legitimacy through a corrupt and violent government that will be legitimised via the UN.

Abbas’s speech was just anti-Israel. Netanyahu seems ridiculously out of touch with his refusal to accept the illegality and outright provocation of settlements. Though it appears that Abbas is currently meeting with Netanyahu; hopefully peace talks and negotiations will resume.

Please do not take this blog, as my unreserved support for Israel. I have intense problems with the way Israel goes about its business. The burning of trees in Nablus and the confiscation of the 20 hectres of land in Palestinian Karyut this year is an act of aggression and terrorism. The provocation of settlements and violence through settlements is nothing short of an Israeli attempt to violate any sort of peace ideal. For Netanyahu to insist, in 2009, that no new settlements would be built, only to appropriate lane in Ramat Shlomo for 1600 houses, is provocative and dangerous. That being said, Israel exists. A dangerous and provocative Israel is already a State. Is it really wise to give another dangerous and provocative State, who despise their neighbours simply for their religious beliefs, and wish to wipe them off the map, UN recognition? Is it really wise to empower terrorists, to counter terrorists? Do we really believe democracy will flourish in a country where Hamas exists? I don’t think it is.