Palestine Briefing                                                             April 2016
MPs' plea to release Marwan Barghouthi after 14 years
Marwan Barghouthi could bring peace and independence to Palestine. But he's in jail.
Leading MPs from all parties have signed a parliamentary motion calling on the Israeli parliament to release the Palestinian MP Marwan Barghouthi who has been in jail continuously for the last 14 years. 

They call for his release so that he can "play a part in the process of reconciliation, unification and negotiation that will be needed before Palestine achieves its independence".

They cite the precedent of South Africa, where Nelson Mandela was released from prison so he could take part in negotiations for majority rule, and India, where Gandhi and Nehru were released by the British so they could take part in negotiations for independence. 

They point out that Barghouthi, now 56, "is still the candidate in the strongest position to win a presidential election to succeed Mahmoud Abbas, according to a recent poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research". 

The parliamentary motion was tabled by Tommy Sheppard of the Scottish National Party and its signatories include the Conservative chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Crispin Blunt, and the current Father of the House of Commons Sir Gerald Kaufman. 

Marwan Barghouthi is seen as one of the few political leaders who could unite the country, winning support from both Fatah and Hamas, and who would have the moral authority to negotiate on behalf of all Palestinians and to preside over a process of "truth and reconciliation" in a newly independent state. 

He has often been called the "Mandela" of Palestine and there are certainly many paralllels both in his life so far and in the role he could play in a newly independent Palestine. He has spent a total of 20 years inside Israeli prisons and he has been for many years now in Cell 28 in Hadarim prison, a few miles from the Meditarranean beaches of Netanya. 

He has regular visits from his wife Fadwa, but is allowed very little other contact with the outside world.  Yet he still plays an important role and the occasional statements smuggled out of prison carry a great deal of authority. 

Eight winners of the Nobel peace prize have signed the "Robben Island declaration" calling for his release, including President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. and the Argentinian Nobel laureate Adolfo Esquivel has nominated him for the Nobel peace prize this year. 

Israel's former president Shimon Peres said in 2007 that he would sign a pardon for Marwan Barghouthi, but it would have to be approved by the Israeli parliament and very few Israeli politicians have backed his release. 

Barghouthi was an MP and the general secretary of Fatah during the Second Intifada when he was abducted in broad daylight on the streets of Ramallah by Israeli secret service agents, dressed as ambulance workers, and taken to Israel. 

He refused to plead to an Israeli court on the basis that both his abduction and the trial were illegal and was duly found guilty of the deaths of five Israelis in military operations carried out by an armed wing of Fatah, known as "Tanzim". 

Outside the court he has always maintained that he was secretary of the political party only and had no involvement or foreknowledge of military operations. He never supported violent actions targeted at civilians and, unlike Nelson Mandela, he never carried arms himself. He always insisted that Palestinians had the right to resist the occupation of their country, by force if necessary, but he believed in a political and not a military solution. 

However the campaign for his release, and for the release of all the 6,204 Palestinian conflict-related prisoners currently held in Israeli jails, is not based on an argument about the innocence or guilt of individual prisoners or the legality of their trials, but on the argument - in the case of Marwan Barghouthi and other political leaders - that their release is necessary for the process of negotiation leading to a peace settlement and in other cases on the argument that the release of political prisoners must necessarily precede a political solution. 

  • A poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research’s poll found that if a presidetial election were held and Abbas did not run, 32 % would prefer to see Barghouti replace him, nearly 20 per cent Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, 8 % Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, 6% Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, 6% Muhammad Dahlan, 4% chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and 3% former prime minister Salam Fayyad.
  • The poll was conducted in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from September 17 to 19, covered 1,270 adults and had a 3-percentage point margin of error.
 
Early day motion 1378
RELEASE OF PALESTINIAN MP MARWAN BARGHOUTHI
Smuggled out of jail: Guardian article by Marwan Barghouthi on latest violence 
The current escalation in violence did not start with the killing of two Israeli settlers, it started a long while ago and has been going on for years. Every day Palestinians are killed, wounded, arrested. Every day colonialism advances, the siege on our people in Gaza continues, oppression persists.

Some have suggested the reason why a peace deal could not be reached was President Yasser Arafat’s unwillingness or President Mahmoud Abbas’s inability, but both of them were ready and able to sign a peace agreement.

The real problem is that Israel has chosen occupation over peace, and used negotiations as a smokescreen to advance its colonial project.

Every government across the globe knows this simple fact and yet so many of them pretend that returning to the failed recipes of the past could achieve freedom and peace. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

We were told that by resorting to peaceful means and to diplomatic channels we would garner the support of the international community to end the occupation. And yet the international community failed yet again to undertake any meaningful steps, neither setting up a framework to implement international law and UN resolutions, nor taking measures to ensure accountability, including boycott, divestment and sanctions, which played a crucial role in ridding the world of the apartheid regime.

So, in the absence of international action to end Israeli occupation and impunity or even provide protection, what are we asked to do? Stand by and wait for the next Palestinian family to be burned, for the next Palestinian child to be killed or arrested, for the next settlement to be built?

No people on the globe would accept to coexist with oppression. By nature, humans yearn for freedom, struggle for freedom, sacrifice for freedom, and the freedom of the Palestinian people is long overdue. During the first intifada, the Israeli government launched a “break their bones to break their will” policy, but for generation after generation the Palestinian people have proven their will is unbreakable and needs not to be tested.

This new Palestinian generation has not awaited instructions to uphold its right, and its duty, to resist this occupation. It is doing so unarmed, while being confronted by one of the biggest military powers in the world. And yet, we remain convinced that freedom and dignity shall triumph, and we shall overcome. The flag that we raised with pride at the UN will one day fly over the walls of the old city of Jerusalem to signal our independence.

I have spent 20 years of my life in Israeli jails, including the past 13 years, and these years have made me even more certain of this unalterable truth: the last day of occupation will be the first day of peace. Those who seek the latter need to act, and act now, to precipitate the former.
'Israel is showing contempt for
two-state solution' - MP
Foreign and Commonwealth Office 
Questions Tuesday April 12th 11.30 am

Conservative MP David Mowat said the Israeli government was "showing complete contempt for the notion of a two-state solution" by accelerating the rate of demolitions and evictions of Palestinians since the start of this year.
 
According to the UN there had been 446 demolitions in the West Bank by April 4th compared with 447 in the whole of last year, so the rate of demolitions had quadrupled.
 
Given that 120 of the demolished buildings were funded by EU or other donors, Labour MP Richard Burden asked the Minister how he was going to claim compensation from Israel.  
 

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con):
In 2016, there has been an acceleration of evictions and property destruction on the West Bank. By these continuing actions, the Israeli Government are showing complete contempt for the notion of a two-state solution—a fact recognised by President Carter. When will the Government update UK policy to reflect reality on the ground in this area?

Middle East minister Tobias Ellwood: During my meetings with the Deputy Foreign Minister and indeed with the Prime Minister, I found that they remained committed to the two-state solution, but he is right to recognise that measures are being taken and events are taking place that seem to take us in another direction. We need to ensure that people are able to come back to the table, and that we are able to make progress. There is no other solution to this. We cannot continue with the status quo.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): The Minister will know that Israel is demolishing Palestinian homes and other structures at three times the rate at which it did so last year. Given that a number of these structures are EU-supported and EU-funded, what are the Government going to do not simply to express concern but to hold Israel to account? What mechanisms are available to do so?

[The Minister did not reply, but the UN estimates 120 donor-funded buildings have been demolished by the Israeli Army so far this year and aid minister Baroness Verma said in a written answer in the Lords on March 12: “The EU is proposing to reassess their position on seeking compensation from the Israeli Government….. The UK government remains extremely concerned by reports that there have been nearly 300 demolitions since the start of 2016, representing more than a trebling of demolitions compared to the monthly average in 2015. The Embassy in Tel Aviv have recently raised demolitions with the Israeli authorities and will continue to raise this at the political level.”]

Question 15 Tommy Sheppard,  (Scottish National Party)(Edinburgh East): What representations he has made to his Israeli counterpart on the use of administrative detention in that country.

Mr Ellwood:  He highlights a challenge that we face. Britain has been working closely with Israel to change the approach that Israelis have taken on administrative detention. We have also funded and facilitated independent reports on the challenges that we face, and I raised this matter with the Deputy Foreign Minister, Tzipi Hotovely. I will continue to press Israel to move forward. Again, this takes us back—it is a retrograde step.

Early day motion 1245

DEMOLITION OF PALESTINIAN HOMES BY ISRAEL

That this House condemns the major escalation in demolitions by the Israeli government in the Occupied Palestinian Territories;
notes that 293 structural demolitions have taken place in the first six weeks of 2016, including numerous homes; expresses concern for the devastating effects such demolitions have on innocent civilians;
further notes that in 2015, 447 Palestinian structures were demolished; notes that, according to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, between 2010 and 2014 only 1.5 per cent of the over 2,000 Palestinian building permit requests were approved in Area C of the West Bank, leading to 10,000 present standing demolition orders;
notes Israel's continued uses of demolition as a means of collectively punishing Palestinians; welcomes the EU's continued opposition to Israel's illegal settlements, home demolitions, confiscation and evictions;
notes that the home demolitions have included EU-funded structures; calls on the Government to condemn these latest demolitions and the continued expansion of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories; and demands reparations for the destruction.
 
CFI chairman again attacks Palestinians for honouring 'terrorists'

Chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel Eric Pickles again raised the issue of streets - and in this case a school basketball tournament - being named after Palestinian "terrorists", as though it were something that only Palestinians did. 

The Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu made a similar claim in a letter of condolence to the family of a Palestinian boy burned alive by settlers last year: "In our society, in the society of Israel, there is no place for murderers," he said.

"And that's the difference between us and our neighbours. They consider murderers to be heroes. They name public squares after them. We don't."

That is not only highly inappropriate in what was supposed to be a letter of condolence to a bereaved family, but also disingenuous and dishonest. 
  • Scores of streets in Israel are named after Jewish "terrorists", including a suburb of Jerusalem where all the streets are named after members of Jewish militias who were hanged for "terrorism" by the British. 
  • Indeed, every country that has fought for its independence glorifies its "soldiers" who lost their lives. 
And if you read the two photo-captions below you may conclude that the Israelis are more guilty of this than the Palestinians. 

Here is the exchange at Foreign Office questions:

Sir Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con): There have recently been two initiatives in the region: the extension of fishing rights for Gazan fisherman with ​Israeli co-operation, and the naming of a basketball tournament after a terrorist who killed 36 people, including 12 children. Which of those two initiatives does the Minister think is more likely to bring about a two-state solution?

Mr Ellwood: He highlights the dilemma that we face. We need grassroots initiatives on a low level such as extension of fishing rights, for which I have pressed for some time. Oil and gas reserves can be tapped into off Gaza, which will also help the economy. At the same time, basketball courts and, indeed, schools and streets are being named after terrorists, which does not suggest that the Palestinians are as serious as they should be.
 
In the city of Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv is a monument commemorating members of the two underground organisations Irgun and Lehi, who were tried in British Mandate courts and sentenced to death by hanging, some for attacks on British soldiers, others for attacks on Arab civilians. They are regarded as martyrs and streets are named after them in most Israeli cities. 
Read a fuller account in Wikipedia...
 
 
On a hillside overlooking Hebron is the grave of Dr Baruch Goldstein who killed 29 people as they prayed in the Abraham Mosque. Settlers regard him as a martyr and gather on the anniversary to sing songs in praise of him. One of the songs says: “Dr. Goldstein, he aimed at terrorists’ heads, squeezed the trigger hard, and shot bullets, and shot, and shot.” The ceremonial plaza around the grave was dismantled by the Israeli army, but the park and walkway remain in place.
Read a fuller account
 

Abbas puts Obama to the test on UN settlement motion

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas flies to New York on April 22 determined to press the UN Security Council to a vote condemning the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank as an obstacle to peace. 

The last time the Security Council voted on a resolution condemning the settlements was in February 2011. At that time, the Palestinians garnered the support of 14 out of 15 Security Council members, including Britain, France and Germany.

The United States opposed the resolution and after failing to get the Palestinians to withdraw it, cast a veto. This was the only time in the past seven years that U.S. President Barack Obama used his veto.

Since then President Obama has hinted he would not automatically veto a Security Council resolution on settlements if it was in line with US policy.  The US regards the Israeli settlements as "illegitimate".