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Unlike South Africa, the world is giving Israel a pass on apartheid

A UN Security Council resolution rejecting South Africa’s 1983 constitution shows that there is precedent and necessity to act against Israel’s Nation-State Law.

In a referendum on November 2, 1983, White voters in apartheid South Africa approved a new constitution to restructure their political system. In addition to consolidating executive power with the presidency, a tricameral parliament was established to grant segregated representation for Coloreds and Indians, with the White chamber holding the parliamentary majority. Non-whites were appointed to various public positions, and some economic and social restrictions were repealed. Black Africans, of course, remained excluded from the electorate.

Proponents of this reform hoped it would make apartheid more sustainable by assuaging growing opposition at home and abroad. It didn’t. The following year, the UN Security Council declared the new constitution “null and void” with Resolution 554 (13 in favor, with the U.S. and U.K. abstaining). Affirming the “legitimacy of the struggle … for the elimination of apartheid,” the Council accused the constitution of seeking to “continue the process of denationalization of the indigenous African majority, depriving it of all fundamental rights, and further entrench apartheid, transforming South Africa into a country for ‘whites only.’”

The resolution went further, rejecting “any so-called ‘negotiated settlement’ based on bantustan structures” or on the new constitution. It called on governments and organizations not to recognize the 1984 elections (the first under the tricameral system), and to support the transformation of South Africa into a non-racial democracy. In short, the world was not buying Pretoria’s attempts to beautify its regime. Apartheid had to go.

When Israel’s Knesset passed the ‘Jewish Nation-State Law’ one year ago this month, it effectively declared apartheid the constitutional law of the land. Yet the responses of the international community have hardly matched those toward South Africa 35 years ago. Some like the European Union have publicly raised concerns about the Basic Law’s effect on Israel’s minority citizens and democratic values; but for the most part, they have treated it as an internal matter that they cannot interfere with, at least until the Supreme Court completes its judicial review.

This tepid reaction is disturbing given the severity of the new law. Among other provisions, it asserts that the right to national self-determination in the state belongs to Jews only; it demotes Arabic from its status as an official language; and it encourages exclusive Jewish settlement as a “national...

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Don’t wait for Israeli archives to prove what Palestinians already know

Israeli authorities are deliberately concealing historical documents to undermine evidence of the state’s dark and violent origins. And the world is still falling for it.

The village of Safsaf (“willow” in Arabic) appears on page 490 of the newest edition of Walid Khalidi’s All That Remains, a seminal book that catalogues 418 Palestinian communities that were destroyed and depopulated during the Nakba. A Palestinian eyewitness account describes the day when Zionist forces conquered the village and rounded up its residents in October 1948:

On Thursday, Haaretz published a widely-shared investigative piece by Hagar Shezaf on how Israeli authorities are systematically concealing archival materials relating to the 1948 war, even after they have been officially disclosed. It begins with an Israeli historian stumbling upon a document four years ago that was written in November 1948 by the Haganah’s former chief of staff. The note, which was first unearthed by New Historian Benny Morris in the 1980s, is also quoted in Khalidi’s book:

It is strangely consoling to see official Israeli admission of the event. As Shezaf’s excellent article shows, and thanks to the vital work of Akevot – an Israeli organization that works to expand public access to documentation about the conflict held in government and private archives – along with other historians, archive research has made it irrefutably clear that Zionist forces consciously carried out brutal acts of violence against Palestinians to facilitate their expulsion.

Though this is hardly news, such archives remain valuable in providing what are essentially “confessions” by officials of the inhumane crimes they oversaw – crimes that are denied by Israel and its supporters to this day.

Yet, for many Palestinians, the bewildered reactions to these discoveries can be infuriating. They remind us of how thousands of Palestinian testimonies, and decades of Palestinian-led research, struggle to stir so much as a ripple in mainstream discourse about Israel’s history. A few Israeli documents, however, can swiftly rile up a storm.

The knowledge of this disparity has been a key reason for Israel’s obstinate archive policy: as one official blatantly told Shezaf, authorities deliberately continue to hide these documents in order to “undermine the credibility of studies about the history of the [Palestinian] refugee problem.” And many still fall for it.

This cruel double standard over who has “permission to narrate” the conflict has been raised before – and, it seems, it must be raised again...

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For Michelle Alexander’s critics, Palestinians don’t deserve civil rights

The uproar by Jewish establishment figures over Alexander’s New York Times essay in support of Palestinian rights echoes the reactions of white Americans to the Civil Rights Movement decades ago.

Michelle Alexander’s powerful New York Times essay on Saturday (“Time to Break the Silence on Palestine”), ahead of the commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, was arguably a milestone for the Palestine movement in the U.S.

First, for who wrote it: Alexander, the author of the seminal book The New Jim Crow, is a renowned lawyer and public intellectual respected for her activism and scholarship on racism in the U.S., who cannot easily be dismissed as “fringe.”

Second, for where it was written: in a leading mainstream newspaper, which more frequently features op-eds by Israel advocates like Bari Weiss, Matti Friedman, Bret Stephens, Shmuel Rosner, and even officials like Naftali Bennett.

Third, for when it was written: Alexander is the latest prominent Black American in recent months to vocally express — and be targeted for — her solidarity with the Palestinian people, after others like Tamika Mallory, Marc Lamont Hill, and Angela Davis faced similar public outrages and disavowals.

And fourth, for why it was written: to challenge the widespread fear of backlash, held by many progressive Americans, for publicly criticizing Israel and speaking up for Palestinian rights.

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The uproar over Alexander’s essay came swiftly from Jewish establishment groups and figures. Some of them are worth reading in full, if only to witness the hysteria and chutzpah of telling a Black woman how to remember one of the most significant African-American leaders in history, or how to interpret her knowledge of injustice:

  • The Anti-Defamation League (ADL): “We have great respect for Michelle Alexander & her path-breaking civil rights work, but her piece on the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dangerously flawed, ignoring critical facts, history & the shared responsibility of both parties to resolve it.”
  • The American Jewish Committee (AJC): “MLK’s memory is not a moral cudgel to wield against any cause or country you disapprove of. Michelle Alexander’s op-ed is a shameful appropriation. We all have a long way to go to reach the mountaintop. There’s no need to take potshots at democratic Israel.”
  • David Harris, CEO of AJC: “Michelle Alexander’s piece: in essence, calls for #Israel’s end / approvingly cites...
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A masterclass in Palestine solidarity

By using his platform to elevate marginalized Palestinian views onto the global stage, Marc Lamont Hill’s UN speech challenged the unequal parameters of permissible thought on the conflict.

Watching Marc Lamont Hill’s speech at the United Nations on Wednesday was like a breath of fresh air. Unlike the mundane and repetitive remarks made by aging diplomats, Hill delivered a powerful articulation of the Palestinian struggle and how he, as a Black American, identifies with their cause. More provocatively, Hill reflected upon the history of Black resistance to “American apartheid,” which ranged from nonviolent boycotts to slave revolts, saying that true solidarity “must allow the Palestinian people the same range of opportunity and political possibility.”

Pro-Israel advocates have portrayed Hill’s speech as a violent and anti-Semitic diatribe, focusing especially on his call to achieve “what justice requires, and that is a free Palestine from the river to the sea.” They claim that this phrase is a “genocidal” and “jihadist” slogan associated with groups like Hamas, and that it implies the elimination of the Jewish state, if not the Jewish people on the land. CNN, for which Hill was a frequent contributor, severed its ties with him following the uproar.

Aside from the fact that many of Hill’s critics deliberately misconstrued the content of his speech, the hysteria over the phrase “the river to the sea” is grossly misplaced. Groups like Hamas do not own, nor do they orchestrate, the source from which that phrase derives: the Palestinians’ collective desire to fulfill their human rights in their historical homeland. Conflating the two is politically dishonest and viciously dehumanizing; it encourages the belief that the Palestinian cause is something to be defeated, rather than respected.

The outrage is also hypocritical, given that the premise of the phrase is as embedded in Israeli-Zionist consciousness as it is in the Palestinian one. Take the first article of the Nation-State Law, which asserts that the land of Israel (stretching from the Mediterranean to the Transjordan) is the “historical homeland of the Jewish people.” Or, take the legislation being advanced in the Knesset, which would formalize Israel’s fifty-year de facto annexation of two-thirds of the West Bank. Or, take the words of center-left opposition leaders who, like right-wing officials, pledge to keep East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley under Israeli rule in any peace deal.

These...

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‘This is how you change the status quo’: Rethinking the Palestinian boycott of Jerusalem elections

Aziz Abu Sarah withdrew his historic bid for Jerusalem mayor after Israeli and Palestinian pressures, but he hopes his short campaign ‘provokes’ new ideas on how to build stronger, younger Palestinian political activism in the city.

Less than a month after declaring his candidacy to become the first Palestinian mayor of Jerusalem, Aziz Abu Sarah – a 38-year-old activist, social entrepreneur, and former +972 contributor – announced that he and his slate of candidates, “Al-Quds Lana” (“Our Jerusalem”), would be withdrawing from both the mayoral and city council races, which are scheduled for late October.

In a post on his Facebook page, Abu Sarah cited two reasons for his decision. First, Israeli authorities recently informed him that his legal status as a resident of East Jerusalem was “being checked” due to his “travels and work abroad” with National Geographic and his own tourism company, MEJDI Tours. Abu Sarah, like other Palestinians in the city’s occupied east, does not have Israeli citizenship, and his Jerusalem residency can be easily revoked by Israel on various grounds (since 1967, Israel has revoked the residency status of more than 14,500 Palestinians from Jerusalem).

Second, some Palestinian groups who were vehemently opposed to Abu Sarah’s list participating in the local election, in adherence to a longstanding boycott of municipal politics by Palestinian residents, were “applying strong pressure on our candidates and their families” to end their campaign. Under these precarious circumstances, he believed it was best to step down.

Abu Sarah was never naïve about his motives for running for office, or the significant hurdles that he would face. Throughout his campaign, he was clear about his distrust of Israeli political institutions, which have entrenched the 50-year occupation of East Jerusalem and denied the Palestinian community their most basic rights. At the same time, he was highly critical of the Palestinian leadership’s inability to provide an alternative, practical political strategy for the city’s residents, who have felt increasingly abandoned and directionless. “I wanted to push Israelis and Palestinians to rethink their situation,” said Abu Sarah.

Despite its short lifespan, Abu Sarah’s candidacy has rekindled the controversial discussion, including among Palestinians, about the future of their politics in Jerusalem and whether they should maintain or end the boycott of municipal elections. +972 Magazine spoke to Abu Sarah in Jerusalem the day after he announced he dropped out of the race. The...

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Want to combat Israeli authoritarianism? Listen to Palestinians

Jewish and international observers are constantly having to catch up to what Palestinians have always known about Israel. This needs to change.

In his 1963 book The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin wrote a profound personal letter to his young nephew (also named James), in which he poignantly described the dehumanizing world that Black people must face in America:

“You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do (and how you could do it) and where you could live and whom you could marry. I know your countrymen do not agree with me about this, and I hear them saying ‘You exaggerate.‘” [emphasis mine]

This passage captures a critical component of racial inequality. When people under oppression try to articulate the injustice they face to the society in power, their narratives are actively ignored, undermined, and delegitimized as absurd, false, or unimportant. To this day, Black Americans are regularly told that they “exaggerate” when they warn about white supremacists, police brutality, job discrimination, and other racial problems. This feeling of dismissal, expressed by Baldwin 55 years ago, resonates powerfully with the Palestinian experience.

The recent outrage over the political interrogations of prominent left-wing American Jews like Simone Zimmerman and Peter Beinart is an important and much-needed development. But for many Palestinians, it can be very frustrating to watch. Despite thousands of Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims being detained, interrogated, humiliated, threatened, deported, and banned for trying to enter Israel or the occupied territories, hardly any of them could garner the same local or international attention, or stir the same level of shock, among people with power and privilege who claim to be concerned about democracy and civil rights in the country.

Many Israeli and American Jews who have been subjected to such invasive practices, including those recently detained, have rightly stressed that what they faced was a mere fraction of what Palestinians and others are put through. However, the international reactions they received (through no fault of their own) are a jarring reminder of how “worthless” Palestinians and...

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In Haifa, a display of Palestinian grassroots power

The combined efforts of Palestinians in using their bodies, cameras, and voices to support detained protesters made it impossible for the police to hide the severity of their actions.

The release of 19 Palestinian citizens of Israel on Monday, who had been arrested since Friday, after police violently dispersed a demonstration in Haifa against last week’s mass killings in Gaza, is a fleeting speck in the context of recent events in the conflict. As the detained activists have emphasized, their experiences are nothing compared to what Palestinians are subjected to in the blockaded Strip. But after weeks of tragic news, the past three days have offered a moment of strength and hope that should not be overlooked.

The police’s response to Friday’s demonstration is hardly exceptional, even in the purported “capital of coexistence.” Harassment and repression are frequent features of political protests by Palestinian citizens, especially those in solidarity with Gaza. Last week, police launched “preventative” arrests and interrogations of several activists in their homes, hoping to deter them from participating in further demonstrations.

The courts, far from putting law enforcement authorities in check, routinely grant the police extensive impunity to keep protesters in detention and to avoid responsibility for their brutality, even when they clearly violate their own laws and regulations.

This past weekend, however, the protesters altered the rules of the game. Unfazed by the police’s repressive tactics, young and old activists and leaders returned to the streets in Haifa, and gathered outside the court to continue showing their solidarity with Gaza and with the detainees (including in the face of a right-wing demonstration calling to “return Haifa to Israel”).

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Supporters from afar – including Palestinians in Gaza – shared images of Friday’s demonstration on social media, tying Haifa to the global discussion on Gaza. Volunteer lawyers worked around the clock preparing and strategizing their cases and legal arguments. Friends and family members filled the courtroom on Sunday for nine hours in support of the detainees, refusing to leave until the judge finally issued his decision at dawn.

These combined efforts of Palestinians and allies to use their bodies, cameras, and voices to defend the detainees – and the skills of the lawyers in harnessing those efforts in court –  forced the Israeli police and the judge into a corner...

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How Childish Gambino explains the problem with Israel’s Eurovision win

Gambino’s new music video illustrates why audiences should focus on the injustices unfolding in the background of artistic performances – especially those representing the state.

In the music video for his new single “This is America,” the singer and rapper Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) dances in a warehouse while scenes of violence and chaos unfold around him. Among other messages, the video is a reflection of how art can be used to distract people’s attention from the brutal realities faced by Black Americans and other people of color in the United States. Gun murders, police sirens, running youths, and other images fill the background as Glover smiles and performs for the camera, trying to keep the audience’s gaze on him. “We just wanna party,” he sings, before pulling out a pistol and shooting a hooded man in the head. “This is America,” he says, and continues dancing.

Glover’s video rang through my mind when I heard that Netta Barzilai had won the Eurovision contest on Saturday night. Barzilai is a talented and charismatic singer, and her performance arguably deserved the popular vote. But like many Palestinians, I could not help but feel frustrated, even hopelessness, after hearing the news of her victory.

The idea that art and culture can be separated from their political context is a naïve luxury that oppressed people cannot afford. This is especially the case with an event like Eurovision, where countries routinely manipulate their candidates’ performances to boost their public image and deliver political messages. As the world’s eyes fixated on Barzilai raising her award in triumph, it seemed like the violence that had transpired in Israel-Palestine that week, like those in Glover’s video, had gone completely unnoticed.

A day before her win, Israeli snipers opened fire on Palestinians in Gaza as they marched in protest toward the fence for the seventh week in a row. In the weeks prior, Israeli settlers in the West Bank vandalized the homes and properties of Palestinian villagers – attacks which have spiked in recent months. To the north in Syria, Israeli and Iranian forces faced off in the wake of President Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA – a goal long-pursued by Prime Minister Netanyahu. On Saturday, right-wing Israelis chanted racist slogans as they marched through the Old City to celebrate...

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The myth of the Gaza 'border'

The Green Line disguises the fact that Palestinians in Gaza are no longer being oppressed outside the Israeli state, but are being caged and brutalized inside it.

Palestinian activists have long criticized the use of the word “border” to describe the 1949 armistice line that divides Gaza and Israel, and which protestors in the Great March of Return have been trying to cross at great risk to life and limb. By invoking the term, Israel insists that its open-fire policy toward the march is part of its legitimate right to defend its sovereignty and security. It further claims that, because the government dismantled its settlements in 2005, it no longer occupies the Strip and therefore bears no responsibility for its conditions.

These are disingenuous arguments. Israel’s blockade and control of Gaza stretches from its eastern and northern land crossings to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, with Egypt controlling the south. What it calls a “border” is actually a militarized network of naval ships, barbed wire, electronic barriers, lethal no-man zones, and surveillance systems that operate as the fence of an open-air prison. In legal terms, Israel retains “effective control” of the Strip (including people’s movement, its airspace, flow of goods, and other needs of daily life), and therefore remains its occupying power.

The human rights community has spent years articulating the nature of Israel’s occupation under international law and the responsibility of third-parties to end it. The law, however, is only worth as much as the will to enforce it; and half a century later, these efforts have failed to produce meaningful outcomes. It is not that the law is incorrect, but that it has been unable to mobilize political action or make Israel’s military rule less sustainable.

The Palestinians’ own ambiguities about the Green Line have further complicated matters. We focus on the military structures that have spawned since 1967, yet emphasize that the real problem is 1948. We cite Israel’s obligation to abide by international law, but chastise the law for being useless in practice. We combine settler colonialism, occupation, and apartheid as lenses to explain the ongoing Nakba, but arrive at different conclusions for what the solution entails. These debates are natural, but they also muddle the struggle’s priorities and the discourse it promotes.

Exploiting these uncertainties, Israel has turned Gaza into an area that is simultaneously separated from...

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Palestinians are the majority. Is it apartheid yet?

Israel has always valued Jewish supremacy over democracy. But new demographics could bolster the Palestinians’ efforts to challenge this system.

A resounding fear struck many Knesset members this week upon hearing that, on both sides of the Green Line, Palestinians may now outnumber Jews, 6.8 million people to 6.5 million. The statistics were given to the Knesset by an official from COGAT, the military body that governs the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. If the figures are correct, the ‘dystopic’ future of a Jewish minority living between the river and the sea appears to have finally arrived.

Israeli politicians, particularly on the center-left, have long warned about the changing population numbers. “If we do not wake up from the delusions of annexation,” said Tzipi Livni after hearing this week’s news, “we will lose the Jewish majority. It’s simple.” In 2015, former Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog conveyed the same message when he declared, “I don’t want 61 Palestinian MKs in Israel’s Knesset. I don’t want a Palestinian prime minister.”

Foreign officials, including US mediators, echoed the same mantra for years in the hopes of encouraging Israel to see the two-state solution as the only way to protect its Jewish character. These critics repeatedly warned that, in the absence of an agreement, Israel could only ensure its Jewish majority by becoming openly and unapologetically undemocratic.

But this has already been the case for decades. Countless Israeli military campaigns, laws, and policies since 1948 have aimed to keep non-Jews out of the state (namely Palestinian refugees) and curb the rights of those living inside it. While these policies principally target Palestinians and Arabs, they are also directed against African refugees and other ‘unwanted’ persons deemed socially and politically undesirable by the Zionist ethos.

The belief in the ‘demographic threat’ – an inherently racist and dehumanizing concept – breeds cruel consequences to this day. While the Law of Return allows any Jew in the world to acquire automatic Israeli citizenship and residency, the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law denies thousands of Palestinian families the right to unify and live in Israel, regardless of a spouse’s citizenship. Approving this law in 2012, former High Court justice Asher Grunis wrote that “Human rights should not be a recipe for national suicide.” Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked also did not mince words last month when she Read More

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What will Israeli politics after Netanyahu hold for the Palestinians?

Disrupting Israel’s insular political discourse will require fully activating the Palestinian leadership in Israel, grassroots and civil society organizations, and foreign governments and institutions.

In August 2017, three thousand Israelis greeted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a rally in Tel Aviv organized by the Likud party. A few days earlier, media outlets reported that the Israeli police were close to recommending criminal indictments against Netanyahu regarding various corruption scandals after several of his close aides agreed to plea bargains in exchange for their cooperation with the authorities.

Speaking to the crowd, Netanyahu accused the media and the political left of pursuing “an obsessive, unprecedented hunting trip against me and my family with a goal to carry out a government coup.” He claimed that corruption allegations – what he called “fake news” – were also used to target Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in 1992 and himself as Prime Minister in 1999, which led to Likud’s election losses and resulted in “the Oslo disaster,” “exploding buses,” and “more than 1,000 dead Israelis.” The Israeli people, he said, should not allow it to happen a third time.

The speech was a classic display of Netanyahu’s knack for rhetorical manipulation. But whatever he had hoped to achieve with his performance, it certainly did not stop the police’s preparations of their charges. In February 2018, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh handed his recommendations to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, and in the following weeks, more key witnesses gave themselves up to the police.

Although no indictments have been issued yet, and despite surviving the latest coalition crisis, Israelis are speculating whether the corruption scandals finally mark the beginning of Netanyahu’s political demise. The second-longest serving prime minister after David Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu has had a profound impact on Israel’s political scene since the 1990s. It is therefore troubling, especially to Palestinians, that if these corruption cases are the harbinger of Netanyahu’s downfall, it will have had nothing to do with the more egregious crimes for which he is responsible, and for which he – and future Israeli leaders – have yet to be held accountable.

Israel under “King Bibi”

Throughout his premierships, analysts predicted that Netanyahu would be brought down by any one of the allies holding up his fragile rule, from the ultra-orthodox Jewish parties to his personal rivals within Likud. “King Bibi,” however, survived them all. A skilled politician, he has been adept...

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The new Balfour Declaration

Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital echoes Lord Balfour’s denial of Palestinian rights a century ago. Today, however, Palestinians are more empowered to challenge it.

During a debate in the British Cabinet regarding its policy toward Palestine in 1919, Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour informed Lord George Curzon, another senior statesman, that the government was not interested in “consulting the wishes of the present [Arab] inhabitants of the country” to help formulate its decisions. The great powers were “committed to Zionism,” he said, and Zionism was “of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.”

Balfour’s sentiments echoed throughout President Donald Trump’s speech on Wednesday when he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv. Trump made no mention of the Palestinians’ history and belonging to the city, or the fact that over a third of its residents identify as Palestinian. He said that he would only support a two-state solution — and presumably, a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem — if it was “agreed to by both sides.” The U.S. decision, he insisted, “is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality.”

The irony of Trump’s timing is not lost on Palestinians: last month marked the centenary of Lord Balfour’s infamous letter to Lord Walter Rothschild, a prominent Zionist activist, which promised British support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Like Trump’s announcement, the Balfour Declaration was the outcome of several aligning interests and efforts, including the Zionist movement’s intensive lobbying, state officials’ evangelical Christian beliefs, and the imperial power’s strategic goals for the region. It not only prioritized Zionist claims over Arab rights, but elevated the Zionist movement from a nascent organization into a major political force.

In contrast, Britain actively interfered in Palestinian Arab affairs and repressed local resistance to its rule. Divisions and misjudgments within the Palestinian leadership mired its ability to mobilize effectively against the colonization of their lands. Arab rulers paid lip service to the Palestinian cause but abandoned and betrayed it for their own political ambitions. Remarkably, these realities remain as true of 2017 as they were of 1917.

It is too soon to tell whether Trump’s proclamation will have a similarly profound mark on the conflict; but in many ways, his speech has...

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‘A legal shield for the Palestine movement in the U.S.’

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit last week on behalf of a Kansas public school teacher who, as a condition for taking her job, was required under a new state law to declare that she would not engage in boycotts of Israel. The law is just one in a growing list of measures in recent years aiming to counter the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement in the United States.

Political boycotts in the U.S. are meant to be stringently protected under the First Amendment. “The state should not be telling people what causes they can or can’t support,” Esther Koontz, the Kansas teacher, said about her lawsuit.

That’s not necessarily the reality these days, however. “It’s clear that when it comes to talking about Palestine, there’s a suspension of the notion that the government has no authority to interfere in that right,” says Dima Khalidi, founder and director of Palestine Legal.

Established in 2012 in partnership with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Palestine Legal has been one of the key players holding the frontline against efforts to suppress BDS activity and speech about Palestine across the U.S., from state legislatures to university campuses. Khalidi and her staff responded to 650 such incidents between 2014 and 2016.

Just last month, Palestine Legal responded to false legal threats sent to activists and professors by a group called “Outlaw BDS New York,” which accused them of violating an anti-BDS law that never actually passed the New York State legislature. Along with its legal work, the organization also tracks anti-BDS laws in all 50 states (21 have already enacted such laws) and at the federal level.

I spoke with Khalidi last month about Palestine Legal’s work and to hear her perspective on the various threats to – and signs of hope for – Palestine activism in the U.S., including BDS. The following was edited for length.

How and why was Palestine Legal created? What compelled the need for its existence?

“The idea started with conversations among lawyers and activists who were thinking about what we could do legally on Palestine in the U.S. This was in the context of largely unsuccessful attempts – including by CCR, where I interned and co-counselled – to seek accountability for Israel’s violations of international law through domestic and international legal mechanisms.

“This was also happening in...

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