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Palestinians hold general strike in support of hunger-striking prisoners

Over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners have refused food for nearly two weeks to protest prison conditions and practices like administrative detention. A ‘day of rage’ is planned for Friday.

A general strike in solidarity with hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners on took place across the West Bank and East Jerusalem on Thursday. Shops in commercial districts shuttered their doors, leaving normally busy streets and markets empty.

“Shops, institutions, banks, and schools all closed in support of the hunger strikers,” Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported. In addition, a “day of rage” was planned for Friday, with protests expected in a number of Palestinian cities.

Smaller protests have been taking place on both sides of the Green Line for nearly two weeks, outside Israeli prisons and also in town and city centers.

At least 1,200 Palestinian prisoners are taking part in the now-12-day hunger strike, demanding improved conditions in Israeli prisons. Among the demands of the prisoners are: an end to administrative detention, more family visits and more phones for contacting family, access to education, and an end to the use of solitary confinement. Prisoners had access to many of the conditions now being demanded, but Israeli authorities revoked some of them as retribution for the 2006 capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit and 2014 deadly kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers.

Individual hunger strikes have become more common in recent years, primarily undertaken by prisoners being held without charge or trial (in administrative detention), although larger groups of Palestinian prisoners have also launched larger hunger strikes over the years.

Civil rights group Adalah filed an emergency petition with the High Court of Justice on Thursday demanding that the Israel Prison Service allow the hunger-striking prisoners visits with their lawyers; prison officials have been preventing them from meeting with attorneys as punishment for not eating. Preventing lawyer visits with prisoners as a punitive measure is a direct contradiction of previous Supreme Court rulings, the civil rights group said.

Israeli authorities are also taking other punitive measures against the hunger-striking prisoners, ranging from solitary confinement to transfers between prisons to the confiscation of radios and salt from prisoners’ cells, Haaretz reported on Thursday.

Israel is currently holding some 6,500 Palestinians in its prisons, including over a dozen elected members of the Palestinian parliament, and hundreds of others who are being held in administrative detention. Israel uses administrative detention to imprison Palestinians without having...

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PHOTOS: When you could ride a train from Gaza City to Tel Aviv

The rail line, which is almost unimaginable today considering the blockade and permit regime, ran for just under a year — until the outbreak of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

It’s been nearly 45 years since you could hop on a train in Gaza City and ride all the way to Tel Aviv, a situation that is almost unimaginable considering the blockade and severe restrictions on movement enforced by Israel today. The rail line, which ran for just under a year, was operated mostly for Palestinian laborers coming to work in the central Israeli city.

The following photos, from the archives of the Israeli Government Press Office, were taken on November 1, 1972, the first morning the train brought Palestinians from Gaza to Tel Aviv.

According to a 2014 article on Hebrew-language news site Mako, the rail service was discontinued just under a year later at the outbreak of the October 1973 Yom Kippur War. Israeli authorities were considering closing it far earlier, however, due to very few Palestinians using it — starting even on the first day.

In its November 2, 1972 article about the launch of the train a day earlier, the Davar newspaper reported that a mere 25 passengers rode the 1,000-person capacity train that morning — partly, the reporter suggested, because nobody knew about it and also because the station, at Medina Square in Gaza City, was full of Israeli soldiers.

“It turns out that the workers getting onto buses at the Egged station across from the train station didn’t know about the train, and perhaps some of them feared riding the train due to the crowd of soldiers at the station,” Davar reported. “O.C. Central Command Rehavam Ze’evi suggested that army personnel clear out from the station, in order to give it a more civilian appearance.”

(It’s ironic, in the darkest possible way, that Ze’evi was reported encouraging Palestinians to get on a train into Israel. Aside from being assassinated, he is best known for advocating the forced population transfer — read: ethnic cleansing — of Palestinians out of the West Bank and Gaza.)

The train was supposed to run for a few months as a trial, after which its viability and future would be re-evaluated. It didn’t go well.

On February 26, 1973, Davar reported: “The military government in Gaza and North Sinai informed Transportation Minister Shimon Peres that it is ending...

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'There's an opportunity to embed Palestine in the progressive agenda'

A lot of smart people thought Barack Obama would be more sympathetic than his predecessors to the Palestinian cause, hopefully resulting in a more even-handed approach to the conflict. Obama, however, along with Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, failed to achieve peace and things on the ground in Israel/Palestine are measurably worse today than they were eight years ago.

The Trump administration, however, has thrown most campaigners on the issue of Israel/Palestine for a loop, and forced many to re-evaluate their priorities. “Even having prepared for the worst since the election, in practice things are still pretty shocking,” Rebecca Vilkomerson, head of Jewish Voice for Peace says.

JVP is the most prominent Jewish organization to have endorsed the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), a distinction that has driven a wedge between it and more mainstream Jewish groups and institutions — and also contributed to its growth. With 70 chapters across the United States, 12,000 dues-paying members and a quarter of a million online supporters, the group has become a major player in recent years.

The organization’s willingness to ally itself with the Palestinian cause — and Palestinians — has also put it and its members in the crosshairs of a new, no-holds-barred type of pro-Israel group taking root in the United States and elsewhere. Canary Mission, a shadowy website whose sole purpose is to smear pro-Palestine activists with allegations of anti-Semitism and concocted ties to terrorism, has profiles on JVP and Vilkomerson. Almost comically, on the Canary Mission website, JVP is placed directly next to Hamas.

Are such tactics having a silencing effect? Are state-sponsored attacks on pro-Palestinian groups and activists, seen most recently in Israeli-imposed travel restrictions and intelligence gathering against boycott supporters, a sign that the BDS movement is making gains? And what role does a Jewish-American organization have in fighting for Palestinian rights?

What is the future of activism on Israel/Palestine in the Trump era? I sat down with Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, to discuss strategies, hopes and fears for the coming four years. The following has been edited for length.

Israel passed a law barring entry to BDS supporters earlier this month. You wrote at the time that you hoped it would hasten the day when anybody can travel freely to Israel. Yet this is only one of many attempts to push back against BDS...

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Blacklists and travel bans aren’t new in Israel — the targets are

Palestinian activists and others have long faced actual travel bans, blacklists, and political persecution. Nevertheless, that some of the same methods are now being used against Israeli and American Jews is a worrying sign.

One of the Israeli government’s senior-most ministers said last year that Israeli BDS advocates must be made to pay a price for their political activism. A series of developments over the past month or so seems to demonstrate that he was completely serious, and that efforts to target nonviolent political dissidents are escalating to worrying levels.

First came the law banning entry into Israel of people who have made public calls for boycotts of Israel or its settlements. The law also bars entry for anyone who has even pledged to participate in such a boycott, which could easily be interpreted to include merely signing an online petition against buying settlement products.

Then, a few weeks ago, police detained a prominent Jewish-Israeli activist for allegedly “possessing BDS materials,” whatever that means. The official reason was suspicion of incitement. He was released after a short while — because possessing BDS materials is not a crime in Israel — but the incident demonstrated how the new entry law sent a message to regular Israelis: BDS is dangerous — something one might reasonably report to police.

This week, the same government minister who said BDS activists should “pay a price” for their political activism, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, proposed an official blacklist of individuals and entities that “willfully, consistently and methodically called publicly for a boycott of Israel [or its settlements],” according to a report in Haaretz.

Along with other policies and propaganda targeting Israeli human rights groups and anti-occupation activists, the government has made clear that there is no legitimate space for dissent in Israel these days. Human rights groups are painted as hostile foreign agents, foreigners who boycott settlements are forbidden from entering the country, and intelligence resources are even being directed to surveil and smear opponents of Israeli policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

The recent developments are only new, however, in as much as they are now targeting people whose ethnic and religious privilege once granted them relative immunity. Israel has for decades put actual travel bans on Palestinians engaged in international advocacy challenging the occupation, barring them from leaving Israel or the occupied Palestinian territories.

For seven years,...

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Who pays when Palestinians are harmed by Israeli forces?

Over the past 20 years, Israel has assembled an entire system to ensure it won’t have to pay compensation to Palestinians harmed by security forces in the occupied territories.

It is almost impossible for Palestinians to file successful civil suits against the Israeli military for harm caused to them in the occupied territories, thereby leaving them with no effective avenues for recourse, according to a report published by Israeli human rights clearinghouse B’Tselem on Wednesday.

As a result of a combination of legislation limiting Israel’s liability toward Palestinians, along with procedural hurdles erected by the military and civilian court systems, the number of civil suits successfully filed by Palestinians against the Israeli military has dropped dramatically in recent years.

Whereas between the years 2002 to 2006 Palestinians filed an annual average of 300 new lawsuits against the Israeli Defense Ministry, a yearly average of only 18 new suits were filed a decade later between the years 2012 and 2016 — a mere six percent of the previous decade’s figure — according to data the Defense Ministry provided B’Tselem.

The amount of compensation paid out by the Defense Ministry has also fallen dramatically over the years. From 1997 to 2001, Israel paid a yearly average of NIS 21.6 ($5.7 USD) in court-ordered compensation to Palestinians. “In contrast, from 2012 to 2016,” the report notes, “Israel paid an average of about 3.8 million shekels [approximately $1 million USD] — a decline of more than 80 percent.”

Read the full report: ‘Getting Off Scot-Free’

Taken together with a defunct military justice system that completely fails to offer justice to Palestinians wronged by Israel, the inability to seek civil recourse means that there are no effective mechanisms for achieving accountability for Israel vis-à-vis the Palestinian population ruled by its military.

The primary tool Israel uses to prevent Palestinians from successfully filing civil suits against the military, according to the report, is the designation of nearly all incidents in the occupied territory as “combat activities.” Such a designation exempts the state and its agents from any liability in civil — and for the most part in criminal — law.

In other words, Palestinians cannot sue the Israeli military for collateral damage in a combat operation. The problem is the broad expansion of what constitutes combat activities to include almost any action carried out by the army in the occupied territories, B’Tselem argues.

As the acting...

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Pot decriminalization could be the best explanation of apartheid yet

An Israeli and a Palestinian are hanging out somewhere in the West Bank. Maybe they’re activists decompressing after a particularly stressful protest. Maybe they’re old friends, an employer and an employee, catching up over a cup of coffee outside one of their homes. One of them pulls out a joint and shares it with the other.

Out of nowhere, an Israeli police officer shows up. He or she arrests the Palestinian. The Israeli walks free with a citation — a measly fine.

That is the situation that will be created if a bill to decriminalize marijuana, currently making its way through Israel’s parliament, becomes law.

That is the situation because there are dual legal systems in the West Bank: one set of laws and courts for Israeli nationals, one set of laws for Palestinians — in the exact same space.

Israel rules the West Bank as a military occupation, which means that for nearly 50 years the Israeli military has been the acting sovereign there and the law of the land is Israeli military law. That was good and fine, in theory, until Israeli settlers started moving into the West Bank.

You wouldn’t want Israeli civilians being brought before military courts created with the “enemy population” in mind, would you? Of course not.

So the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, did what any logical occupier who decided to transfer its civilian population into an occupied territory would do: it passed an “emergency regulation,” valid as long as Israel is in a declared state of emergency (which it always has been), that gives Israeli courts jurisdiction over crimes committed by Israeli nationals in the occupied West Bank — outside the State of Israel.

(For a great explanation of Israel’s dual legal systems in the West Bank, see this article in the Israel-Palestine Journal.)

So again, imagine this: an Israeli and a Palestinian are sharing the exact same joint. They are standing in the exact same place. They are caught by the exact same police officer. One becomes a criminal, brought to a military court with a 99 percent conviction rate, and faces time in military prison. The other goes free.

Is that apartheid? If not, what the hell is it? (Seriously. If you have a better term, let’s hear it in the comments section. Extra points for creativity and marijuana-related puns.)

Of course, the dual legal systems exist with or...

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WATCH: Trump Israel envoy praises Israeli leftists — for sending kids to the army

‘I don’t feel the same way about the Israeli Left as I do about the American Left, because the Israeli Left deeply, deeply care about their country,’ Trump’s nominee for ambassador to Israel is recorded saying.

Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next American ambassador to Israel has come under intense criticism for, among other things, saying the Jewish American pro-peace lobby J Street is “far worse than kapos – Jews who turned in their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps.”

But the contempt that Friedman, Trump’s former bankruptcy lawyer with no diplomatic credentials, feels for American leftists does not extend to left-wing Israelis who hold the exact same positions.

In a video published by prominent Israeli political blogger Tal Schneider on Wednesday, Friedman says he respects the Israeli Left because unlike left-wing Americans, they care about their country. Oh yeah, and they send their kids to the army.

“Israel has a very active left wing. I don’t feel the same way about the Israeli Left as I do about the American Left, because the Israeli Left are sending their kids to the army, and the Israeli Left deeply, deeply care about their country,” Friedman told a room full of people in his hometown of Woodmere, NY on the eve of the presidential election. “In their case it’s a matter of conscience.”

“The American Left — they just don’t care about Israel. So it’s a different dynamic. So I respect the Israeli Left but don’t agree with them,” Friedman continued. “Israel is a center-right country but they have a strong Left and those people, obviously have a right to be heard as well.”

Not all Israeli leftists send their children to the army, of course. Three young Israeli women are currently doing time in military prison for refusing to complete their compulsory military service, and specifically for refusing to serve in the occupation.

Furthermore, the left-wing Israeli group that has come under the most fire in recent years, called traitors and worse, is Breaking the Silence, a group of former Israeli army combat soldiers who speak out about their military service in the occupied territories.

Sections of the video were originally published a week ago by CNN, which reported on other parts of the speech but not Friedman’s remarks on Israeli leftists, which...

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Could a Palestinian politician best represent American Jewish values?

Progressive American Jews may be willing to stand alongside American Muslims, but are they ready to demonstrate the same solidarity for Arab citizens of Israel? Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, is a test case for where ‘pro-peace’ Jews draw the line.

Progressive American Jews have had a hard time in recent years finding an Israeli political movement they can truly stand behind. As long as there was a peace process, it was fairly easy for a “pro-peace” supporter to know whom to back. Without a peace process, without even the prospect of a peace process, the main metric through which many American Jews understand Israeli politics has all but collapsed.

The Labor Party, the party of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, was traditionally thought of as the foundation of Israel’s peace camp. Under the leadership of Isaac Herzog — although beginning with Ehud Barak — Labor has made a concerted effort to disassociate itself from the Left. Herzog regularly argues that he is in fact a member of Israel’s “nationalist camp,” and even rebranded his party as the Zionist Union.

Herzog’s process of moving away from whatever remains of Israel’s peace camp culminated, perhaps ironically, with the publication of his very own peace plan last week. In an attempt to ingratiate himself with a more “centrist” constituency, he included in his 10-point plan waiting at least 10 years before even attempting to restart peace talks. It was a slap in the face for anybody who sees the urgency of ending Israel’s 50-year-long undemocratic military regime over millions of Palestinians, and more fitting for the man he aims to replace: Benjamin Netanyahu.

Which begs the question, which Israeli politician best represents the values espoused by all those American Jews who believe the occupation must end? Could it be that the Israeli politician most closely aligned with progressive Jewish American values is a Palestinian?

Delivering a keynote address at the annual J Street conference in Washington this weekend, Ayman Odeh, leader of the third-largest bloc in Israel’s parliament, the Joint List, described a Jewish-Arab agenda to advance true and full equality, social justice, and peace.

I asked Odeh if, in the wake of Herzog’s plan to defer peacemaking, he believes there is a unique opportunity to present himself to progressive American Jews as the Israeli politician who is most closely aligned with their values.

“I think I share something, as a member...

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LISTEN: What does Trump mean for Israel-Palestine?

New American President Donald Trump has appointed several right-wing Zionist ideologues to key positions relating to Israel and the Middle East. But does that necessarily indicate a shift in Washington’s approach to the conflict and the region?

I was interviewed on the “Global Dispatches” podcast earlier this week (before the inauguration) about the incoming Trump administration, the future of the two-state solution, and the three key X-factors to watch in the coming months.

(The interview begins at around minute mark 2:50)

Read more:
The annexation of Palestine could be closer than you think
Trump’s wall would be a moral and practical failure — just like Israel’s
Nearly half of Americans support sanctions on Israel, poll finds
Dear Trump administration: Don’t mess with Jerusalem

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What we're doing to protect your privacy: +972 and HTTPS

As part of our commitment to promoting freedom of information and fighting censorship, we recently added an important layer of encryption to our website. Here’s why we did it, and what it means for you.

Over the past year we at +972 Magazine have dedicated significant resources into expanding our journalistic focus on censorship, freedom of information, and online free speech issues in Israel and Palestine.

We have covered attempts to impose military censorship on Israeli bloggers and social media users, the expanding use of gag orders, we’ve exposed the previously unknown scope of censorship in Israel, the arbitrary detention of Palestinian journalists, the shuttering of Palestinian media outlets, and more.

You can find all of those articles on a newly launched special coverage page: “Censorship & Freedom of Information.”

We are also committed to practicing what we preach. Almost exactly a year ago we told you that the Israeli military censor was compelling us to submit a small number of articles for prior review before publication — and pledged to fight any attempts to censor our journalistic work. We also instituted a policy whereby we will tell you, our readers, each and every time we are compelled to submit an article to the censor.

Many other internal policies have been instituted to help protect the integrity of our journalistic work, and to protect ourselves against state surveillance, interference, and intervention of any kind.

In that spirit, we are excited to announce that +972 Magazine just became the first media organization in Israel to use HTTPS to deliver you our content. HTTPS is a much more secure version of HTTP, the protocol through which most web traffic is transmitted to your computer.

You may have noticed that when you visit +972 Magazine these days there is a green padlock icon in your web address bar. You may already look for that green icon when you make financial transactions online — it indicates that the connection between your browser and the web site is encrypted and secure. (For a more detailed explanation, see the video below)

Why is HTTPS important for a news site?

For starters, it ensures that the information you are reading has not been intercepted and changed. You can be sure that any contact info on our bloggers’ pages has not been tampered with — which is vital for things like verifying Read More

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The annexation of Palestine could be closer than you think

A perfect storm of domestic Israeli politics combined with the changing of the guard in Washington could create an opportunity for those advocating annexation to finally make their move.

Senior Israeli government minister Naftali Bennett announced on Sunday that he will introduce legislation to effectively annex Israel’s third-largest settlement in the West Bank, Ma’ale Adumim, by the end of January. It is safe to assume, that when Bennett says “by the end of January,” he means after the January 20 inauguration of Donald Trump.

Bennett’s desire to incrementally annex parts of the West Bank are neither new nor secret. The chairman of the Jewish Home party has run on a platform of annexation since he first ran for office in 2013 and in every election since. Through short videos and aggressive sound bites, the Israeli education minister has attempted shift the public discourse, in Israel and around the world, toward his annexationist aims.

Bennett has also been clear that he does not expect to annex the West Bank in one fell stroke. “This is a process,” Bennett explained at the Brookings Institute two years ago. “I’m not suggesting that, you know, one day in midday we just [annex]. There’s a process of changing the global view of what’s going on here and it has to start with that… And it takes time. It’s an uphill battle.”

Other politicians have also been surprisingly open about the need to take a piecemeal approach to annexation. Former member of Knesset in Bennett’s Jewish Home party Orit Struck, during her time in parliament, along with senior Likud politician Yariv Levin, formulated a 10-step plan to advance annexation in the West Bank. One of the first stages was annexing individual settlements like Ma’ale Adumim.

Ayelet Shaked, also of Bennett’s Jewish Home party and now Israel’s justice minister, in the past advocated annexing the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. More recently she announced plans to apply Israeli civil law to the occupied territories, which is considered de facto annexation (the West Bank is currently subject to Israeli military law). A few months ago Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely made a direct demand of her government. Similar pleas and plans can be heard on an almost daily basis throughout the Israeli government and ruling coalition, not to mention in right-wing circles and media outside the government. And while demands from within...

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Five takeaways: What the UN Security Council resolution means

In a 14-0 vote and with the U.S. abstaining, the UN Security Council passes a resolution reaffirming the illegality of Israeli settlements. What does it all mean, and what comes next?

The UN Security Council on Friday passed a resolution condemning Israeli settlements, reaffirming their illegality, calling on Israel to cease all settlement activity, and rejecting any unilateral Israeli changes to the borders — including the annexation of East Jerusalem.

The big drama surrounding the vote was that the United States decided not to exercise its Security Council veto. The Obama administration, unlike previous administrations, had for the past eight years blocked all UNSC resolutions critical of Israel, and it was unclear how the U.S. would vote until the very last second.

What does it all mean? Why did it happen now? What comes next? Here are five quick takeaways:

1. This is far from the first UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, declaring that they are illegal, and calling on Israel to fulfill its obligations under international law vis-à-vis the occupied territories. With the exception of a few new references — to the French peace conference, for example — there is little new in the resolution. It does not introduce any new demands or interpretations of international law.

2. The key here is timing. This resolution came about because the Israeli government has become intransigent — it no longer even pretends to care about what the world thinks of its polices in the West Bank. The government is advancing a law to retroactively legalize the theft of Palestinian land. Senior ministers are declaring the end to the two-state era. Annexation of certain Israeli settlements is being seriously discussed. This was the Obama administration’s — and the international community’s — way of saying that it still cares. That despite far more pressing issues on the international agenda, the world’s position on Israel/Palestine remain steadfast.

3. In response to the threat of European (and American) pressure over settlements and Israeli policy in the West Bank, Israeli leaders have in recent years suggested that Israel does not need Europe — that it can build alternative partnerships and alliances with non-Western countries like Russia, China, India, and certain African states. This vote shows that although Israel might be...

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The IDF's new 'Visit Palestine' campaign refuses to say Palestine

The Israeli army’s new tourism campaign wants you to visit Palestine — just don’t call it that.

The Israeli military launched a truly bizarre rendition of a Visit Palestine tourism campaign over the weekend. Except the army couldn’t bring itself to say Palestine, the West Bank, or even mention that Palestinians live there.

The video was published on the Facebook page of the IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli military government that oversees the occupation of the Palestinian territories.

The video mentions sites like Wadi Qelt, the Mar Saba Monastery and Nabi Musa, sites in the West Bank to which Israel makes no claims. Likewise, while the army’s new tourism initiative advertises the Church of the Nativity as a site in “Judea and Samaria,” the biblical name for the West Bank, there is no mention of Rachel’s Tomb, also in Bethlehem but which Israel claims as its own.

There is no mention of the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Ibrahimi Mosque in occupied Hebron, which is also in the West Bank but which Israel claims as its own. The video opens with an image of the Dead Sea, the northern half of which is in the West Bank, but it does not mention the site’s name, which might infringe on Israeli tourism dollars.

In fact, the site doesn’t mention most of the West Bank’s most prominent tourism sites, almost all of which Israel lays claim to. It doesn’t mention the Qumran caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, the archeological park at Susya, Herodion, Tel Shiloh, or any other site of historic or Jewish import. Those sites are run by Israel and Israelis, and the tourism fees go to Israel.

The COGAT tourism campaign, ostensibly for the West Bank, doesn’t suggest visiting Palestinian cities like Nablus, Jericho, Ramallah or Hebron, and their rich markets, heritage sites and museums. It doesn’t mention the newly opened Yasser Arafat Museum or the Palestinian Museum. It doesn’t suggest checking out the café culture and nightlife in Ramallah, nor does it suggest that there is anything Palestinian worth seeing, or anyone Palestinian worth meeting in the West Bank.

The tourism campaign certainly doesn’t mention any sites worth visiting in occupied East Jerusalem, like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall, and Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The video,...

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