Palestine Briefing
Israeli bulldozers due to demolish two Bedouin villages

Two Bedouin villages facing an imminent threat of demolition by the Israeli army - one in the West Bank and one in Israel.
 
Israeli soldiers came to the village of Khan al Ahmar in the West Bank last week and posted demolition or stop-work orders on 39 houses and the village school.
 
The school has 170 pupils aged 6-14 from Bedouin villages and encampments in the E1 area east of Jerusalem.  It is built using car tyres and mud to escape an Israeli ban on brick or concrete structures.  It has been visited by many UK MPs, including William Hague and Ed Miliband.
 
Meanwhile the village of Umm al Hiran in Israel, where two people died and six houses were demolished in a dawn raid on January 18, is steeling itself for the arrival of the Israeli army's D9 bulldozer squadron to demolish the remaining 22 houses by Tuesday February 28 to make way for an Israeli village.
 
The truth is finally coming out about the dawn raid on a Bedouin village

The truth is only now finally coming out about the Israeli Army’s dawn raid on a Bedouin village in the Negev desert earlier this month that resulted in the death of two people – one Arab and one Israeli – and the demolition of six houses.
Initial reports from the Israeli police said an Arab man, Yakub Al-Kian, had deliberately rammed his pick-up truck into a group of policeman, killing the Israeli victim Erez Levy. They also said he was a “terrorist” linked to the Islamic State and had four wives.
A different story came from the villagers.  Al-Kian, they said, was in his pick-up truck at 5 am when he saw bulldozers approaching. He started driving towards his house to rescue his possessions, but the police opened fire without warning, spraying bullets at his moving vehicle.
The autopsy has largely confirmed the villagers’ story.  Al-Kian received one bullet in the chest and another in the knee, causing him to lose control of the vehicle which then veered off the road and hit a group of policemen.  He was left to bleed to death in his truck.
According to reports on Israeli television, an inquiry by the Israeli Ministry of Justice will soon confirm that everything else that was said about him was also untrue. He was not a terrorist. He had no links to Islamic State. He was a local teacher. He had one wife, who is a Ph.D., and a brother who is an inspector with the Israeli Ministry of Education.
This level of disinformation is all too typical of incidents involving the Israeli police and the army, who put out their own ‘facts’ which are widely reported in the international media who – by the time the full facts are known – have usually lost interest in the story.
In this case the information was given out by the Israeli public security minister, Gilad Erdan, who is now saying he got the information from the police and was acting “to back up his troops”.  He says an apology will be issued to the family.
But the incident does shine a light on the largely unreported campaign of ethnic cleansing that the Israeli government is conducting against Bedouin villages in the Negev.  Their target on the morning of January 18 was the village of Umm Al Hiran which they plans to demolish in its entirety in order to build, on its ruins, a village for Jewish Israelis only.
 
This is the fate that awaits all of the so-called “unrecognised” Bedouin villages of the Negev, but the Umm Al Hiran case is perhaps the most shocking because it will be replaced by a village in the same place with the same name “Hiran”, but with Jewish instead of Arab inhabitants.
 
This is not because of land ownership issues.  It was land that the state gave to the Bedouins in 1956 after their ancestral lands were taken off them and given to an Israeli kibbutz. Nor is it because there is a shortage of land – there are 3¼ million acres in the Negev.
 
It is part of a deliberate plan – the Prawer plan that is officially “frozen” but is still being implemented – to evict the inhabitants of the 35 so-called “un-recognised” Bedouin villages and to move them into townships – with echoes of  both apartheid-era South Africa and the 18th-century clearances in the Scottish Highlands.
 
The current Israeli strategy is to persuade villagers to demolish their homes themselves by threatening them with heavy fines or to send in the bulldozers when it is dark to pull down a few houses at a time in the hope that the world will not notice.
 
This strategy failed on the morning of January 18 when trigger-happy police opened fire on a moving car, causing the death not only of a Bedouin but of one of their own colleagues and bringing unwelcome publicity in the international media.
 
Their strategy of trying to portray the Bedouin villagers as “terrorists” has also failed because the villagers are so reasonable, telling the world that they would be perfectly happy for a Jewish village to be built next to them and live as neighbours.
 
Members of a delegation of Labour Party members who visited the village just ten days before the latest demolitions were told by Riad Al-Kian, a cousin of the villager who died: “We were never against building a Jewish village here. We only requested that we would be included as part of this village and we can live together as neighbours and also receive some of the development that the Jewish village is going to get.
 
“I don’t understand why the Prime Minister is giving orders to demolish houses in the Negev, because we are Israeli citizens and we pay taxes and we want to be part of society and all we get in return is violence and hatred.”
 
As it happened, on the very morning that the bulldozers moved into Umm al Hiran, MPs from Labour Friends of Israel were presenting a Bill in the House of Commons supporting co-existence between Jews and Arabs, but in this case it was the Israeli government that turned down a proposal for the two villages to co-exist.
 
Riad and his wife Maryam also fail to conform to the Israeli caricature of Bedouin as nomadic herders with little or no education. Maryam is a teacher at a local school and is studying for master’s degree and Riad runs a transport business.
 
The 500 villagers include a good many doctors, engineers or teachers, but they prefer to live in their village where, they say, the crime rate and the unemployment rate are zero rather than move into 
 
flats in new townships where both crime and unemployment are high.
 
They have little reason to be grateful to the Israeli government as the “unrecognised” villages receive no electricity, no water, no telephone lines, no metalled roads, no services of any kind. This is not because it is remote. On the contrary, the Jewish owner of a dog-kennel only 800 metres away is provided with all mod cons.
 
This is also a contrast with the new village that will be built on the ruins of their houses. This new Hiran will be built with all infrastructure in place and even with a cemetery already provided even before anyone has moved in.
 
“Unrecognised” villages are not shown on any official map and their residents are not allowed to build permanent structures or make any attempt to surface the roads or link up to water supplies. Often if the villagers try to pave the roads, army bulldozers break them up; if they install water pipes, they are disconnected; if they build stone houses, they are demolished. The Israeli government wants the buildings to look temporary, ramshackle, worthless.  
 
This makes it easier for them to sustain the myth that the villagers are nomads who originate from other countries. In fact it is historically verifiable that their families have lived in the Negev for hundreds of years. 
 
 
In the winter their solar panels don’t provide enough electricity even for lighting and Maryam has to heat water on a gas stove when she gets back from school to keep her baby warm. On top of that she is always listening out for bulldozers and wondering when they will come for her house(left).
 
“I don’t understand whether Netanyahu expects us to vaporise or what, because he doesn’t give us any sustainable solution to our situation,” she says.

Traditionally, the Bedouin have been less militant than the Arabs in other parts of Israel, with a number of them serving in the army, but the evictions and demolitions have started to change that. “We feel that this policy causes Arabs to have nothing but hatred in their heart towards the Jewish community. This is the real tragedy. We want our children to grow up knowing that it is possible to live together and work and study together and to lead a shared life, Jewish and Arab both.
 
“I would like you to tell me if you know of any state – other than apartheid states – that would treat their citizens like that because they are Bedouins and still present themselves as a Western progressive country.
 
“The international community is in many ways like the mother and father of the state of Israel and we think it is time that you should say to the Israeli government: ‘Stop for a second! Open your mind!
 
“We as a community are trying so hard to be peaceful and observe the law and are being treated like felons. Not only us but all of the Arab community are all suffering from the same form of racism and we think it is time that somebody would intervene and stop that.”
 
It is not too late. The 500 villagers are still there. Two families have agreed to demolish their own houses and another six were demolished in the raid on January 18. But 22 houses remain. The Israeli army hopes to clear the whole village by February 28. 
The villagers know that the only thing that will stop the Israeli government is an outcry from the international community. 
Boris misses two chances to urge end to demolitions
 
 
Foreign Office questions
Questions Tuesday February 21st 11.30 am
International Development questions
Questions Wednesday February 22nd 11.30 am

The Foreign Secretary missed two opportunities to make a protest to the Israeli government over the demolitions in response to questions from MPs. 
 
At Foreign Office questions on Tuesday Boris Johnson was asked by Labour MP Richard Burden if he would make representations to the Israeli government over the threat of demolition to Khan al Ahmar in the West Bank.
 
From his answer it is clear that the minister thought he was being asked about a village in Israel: "I, of course, deplore demolitions, although, as the Member will appreciate, there is a difference between settlements and demolitions taking place in the West Bank and demolitions within green-line Israel."

The SNP MP Margaret Ferrier raised the issue a second time: "I am going to give the Foreign Secretary another opportunity to answer the question from Richard Burden. An
 
entire community is about to be forcefully displaced. What representation has he made to his Israeli counterpart on this matter?"
 
Boris Johnson just referred the issue to his junior minister Tobias Ellwood to raise on his next visit to Israel. "When we have got to the bottom of the exact complaint she is making, I am sure he will raise it."
 
On the following day SNP MP Tommy Sheppard told aid minister Rory Stewart that the demolition of Khan al Ahmar would mark "a dramatic escalation" would compromise the work of the Department for International Development. "Can I ask the Government to call on the Israeli authorities to cease?"
 
The response that he got must rank as one of the most anaemic ever issued by the Department: "We remain absolutely clear, as the British Government, that it is necessary both to protect the security of the Government of Israel and to ensure that the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people are protected. We will continue to work carefully to monitor illegal demolitions."
 
Foreign Secretary: We still say settlements are illegal, but .......

In a reply to a question from the SNP MP Martyn Day the Foreign Secretary reassured MPs that he still believes that "settlements on the West Bank are illegal and constitute a barrier to a peaceful settlement".
 
But it soon became clear that UK policy on settlements has changed in a number of significant ways.
 
First, he now blames the Palestinians for the fact there have been no peace talks for nearly two years. 
 
Although the US publicly blamed both sides for the collapse of the Kerry peace initiative in April 2014, it has been clear for some time that Kerry himself thought the Israeli premier Benyamin Netanyahu deliberately torpedoed the talks by approving new illegal settlements. 
 
Since then the whole international community has lined up behind the demand that Israel must accept a total freeze on settlement building before peace talks resume - a view enshrined in the 14-0 vote in the United Nations Security Council in favour of Resolution 2334.  
 
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he will return to the negotiating table "the minute [Israeli prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu announces a settlement freeze".
 
But at Foreign Office questions on Tuesday Boris Johnson told Labour's shadow Middle East minister Fabian Hamilton: "At the moment I do not think that the Palestinians are committing to dialogue in the way they could and should be. It takes two to negotiate. We have seen no progress over the last eight years."
 
At another point he talked about a deal "that brings the Palestinians, finally, to the table" as though it were President Abbas who was refusing to sit down to peace talks.
 
Second, he told the Conservative MP Chris Davies that "negotiations should take place ...... without preconditions".
 
Israeli prime minister Netanyahu claims to be ready for talks "without preconditions" but what he means is that he will sit down to talks on condition that he can continue building illegal settlements. 
 
The Palestinians believe that sitting down to talks while the Israelis are still building settlements would give the Israelis no incentive to reach a deal. They would already have all they wanted. 
 
The UK played a key role in drafting the UN Security Council resolution 2334 which calls for a settlement freeze before talks start.
 
Third, he told Labour MP Andy Slaughter that it was UK policy to "continue to trade [with illegal Israeli settlements] on the grounds that that is the best way to support the economy of the region". 
 
This is the biggest departure from existing UK policy which is to "neither encourage nor support" trade between UK companies and companies trading in illegal settlements. 
 
Although a number of Palestinians in the West Bank benefit from jobs in Israeli settlements, the Palestinian economy as a whole loses $3.4 billion a year as a result of settlements which take 80% of the water and all the mineral resources. 
 

Read the debate
Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (SNP): Whether he made representations on Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories during the recent visit of the Prime Minister of Israel to the UK.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson: Yes, indeed. I met Prime Minister Netanyahu and repeated the historic UK position, which is that we believe the settlements on the West Bank are illegal and constitute a barrier to a peaceful settlement in the region.
Martyn Day: President Trump has caused great concern for peace in the Middle East by dismissing a 20-year US commitment to a two-state solution. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the UK remains committed to a two-state solution and will redouble its efforts?
Boris Johnson: Yes, I certainly can—and, if I may say so, I think the Member misrepresents what the US President said.
John Howell (Henley) (Con): Were the representations on settlements set in the context of Hamas fully restoring its military strength to levels before 2014—an illustration that peace does not entirely depend on this one issue? 
Boris Johnson: We are aware of the preparations being made by Hamas in Gaza and we remain very concerned about the situation. It underscores the reality that while Israel is of course at fault for the expansion of settlements in the West Bank—we have made that absolutely clear—on the other hand nobody should underestimate the very real security threat facing Israel. We are firmly on the side of the Israelis as they face that threat.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Is the Foreign Secretary aware that just two days ago dozens of stop-work orders, which are usually regarded as precursors to demolition orders, were distributed in the village of Khan al-Ahmar, including to a primary school that serves over 170 children from local Bedouin communities? He may or may not know that the school has been visited by a large number of Members of Parliament and that if demolitions take place there to make way for settlements the chances of a viable Palestinian state will disappear. Is he making representations on this matter, and what action will he take to ensure that Mr Netanyahu heeds those representations?
Boris Johnson: I, of course, deplore demolitions, although, as the Member will appreciate, there is a difference between settlements and demolitions taking place in the West Bank and demolitions within green-line Israel.
Sir Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con): Does he think that our opposition to settlements is somewhat diluted by treating all settlements equally? The Oslo accords and the late President Arafat recognised that there would be land swaps. Would it not be better, as the Prime Minister said, to concentrate on new settlements and leave the existing settlements for a final decision?
Boris Johnson: The Government’s policy is unchanged. We regard settlements as illegal insofar as they are in occupied Palestinian territories. Members will be absolutely clear that sooner or later—I hope sooner rather than later—there will be a deal and an understanding that involves land swaps. As he rightly says, we will have to show some sense when it comes to doing that deal.
Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP): I am going to give the Foreign Secretary another opportunity to answer the question from Richard Burden. The Israeli civilian administration personnel and police arrived at Khan al-Ahmar and served 39 stop-work orders, including to a school. An entire community is about to be forcefully displaced. What representation has he made to his Israeli counterpart on this matter? 
Boris Johnson: I refer the Member to the answer I gave a moment ago. The Middle East minister will be going to Israel very shortly. When we have got to the bottom of the exact complaint she is making, I am sure he will raise it.
Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): Alongside concerns about the rearmament of Hamas and the rebuilding of its network of cross-border terror tunnels, does he share the growing alarm at ​the new activities of Daesh in the Sinai desert, which, together with the activities of Hamas, point to the prospect of further violence in the region and a new wave of terror attacks on innocent Israeli citizens?
Boris Johnson: He is completely right. What he says underscores the need for a regional solution that brings together all the states surrounding Israel to do a deal that brings the Palestinians, finally, to the table, and brings concessions from the Israelis.
Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Is not the truth of the matter that the Israeli authorities have at no stage over the years ever wanted a viable independent Palestinian state? President Trump’s inane comments have strengthened the ultras in Israel. What encouragement can one give to the Palestinian people in view of the continuing destruction of their homes and the building of settlements by Israelis?
Boris Johnson: Every Israeli Prime Minister in the last 20 years has supported a two-state solution, and that is the right way forward. It is the policy of the UK Government and remains the policy of the US Government. The difficulty will be to get a deal that not only allows the creation of the Palestinian state that I think everybody wants to achieve, but protects the security of the state of Israel.
Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East) (Lab): But last week President Trump said very clearly on televisions across the world that he could “live with either one” of a two-state or one-state solution. I am sure the Foreign Secretary agrees it is deeply disappointing that the President could casually disregard so many years of international consensus on a possible peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian people. Did Mr Netanyahu give any hint at his recent meeting with the Prime Minister that he too was prepared to live with a one-state solution? If so, what was her response?
Boris Johnson: Let us be absolutely clear. As both the President and Prime Minister Netanyahu, and indeed the Palestinians, have said, there needs to be dialogue, but at the moment I do not think that the Palestinians are committing to dialogue in the way they could and should be. It takes two to negotiate. We have seen no progress over the last eight years. Let us not rule out the possibility of progress today.
Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): A few moments ago, the Foreign Secretary confirmed as Government policy something that this House resolved without a Division on 9 February—that there should be a halt to the planning and construction of residential settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Given that that is the case, why is the UK permitted to trade specifically with those illegal settlements?
Boris Johnson: It is the policy of the UK, and I think of many of our friends and partners, to continue to trade on the grounds that that is the best way to support the economy of the region. Many workers in the region come from populations within the occupied Palestinian territories, and their livelihoods depend on that industry. That policy is widely understood and supported, and we will continue with it.
Chris Davies (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con): We all look forward to the day when a sovereign Palestinian state exists alongside a safe and secure Israel. Does the minister agree that that can be achieved only through face-to-face negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis?
Boris Johnson: I certainly agree with that, and those negotiations should take place as fast as possible and without preconditions.
Vicky Foxcroft (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)
: Despite its continued violations of international law, Israel enjoys favoured trade status with the UK and the EU. Does the Minister agree that if the UK Government are serious about peace and justice post-Brexit, we must revisit trade negotiations with Israel while it continues to deny Palestinians their rights? 
Boris Johnson: If she is suggesting that we should boycott Israeli goods, I must say that I completely reject her advice.
Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP): Last week, on this issue of securing peace between Palestine and Israel, Donald Trump said: “So I'm looking at two-state, and one-state…I can live with either one.” Having heard that direct quote, how can the Foreign Secretary say that US policy has not changed or is not changing?
Boris Johnson: I am not here to defend or explain what the American President said, but he made it very clear that there should be dialogue, and he also made it very clear that he thought that the illegal settlements should ​no longer continue. The solution is a deal between the two parties, and that is what everyone in the House believes and wants.
 
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