Today is the funeral of Yacoub Abu Qian, the Palestinian schoolteacher murdered by Israeli police during the demolition of the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran last week.

Meantime, this: Sir Desmond Swayne accuses Government of ‘significant shift’ on Israel after silence on Bedouin village demolition

Swayne, a decorated former soldier, asked the Government’s spokesperson about the Backbench Business Committee’s decision not to schedule a debate on settlements “and the destruction of Umm al-Hiran,” a Bedouin village.

He said: “Is there a possibility of a Government statement on what appears to be a significant shift in Government policy over recent days as we cosy up to the incoming American Administration in granting complete impunity to Israel?”

Source: Senior Tory accuses May of giving Israel ‘impunity’


It’s been a hectic week but Wednesday’s Twitter feed was filled with such horrifying images of the destruction of the Palestinian Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev that the compulsion to write has shifted a couple of items on my bulging to-do list.

I feel numb as I type, but a few sharp. clear thoughts breach that familiar haze. For instance, how odd it is that the interconnectedness social media make possible means that the razing of an entire village occurs before our eyes in real time. Images of anguished and bewildered residents watching Caterpillar bulldozers demolish their homes flood our screens, and then we read stories in faux liberal papers like The Guardian, whose ‘news’ angle that justified any coverage at all is whether an alleged car ramming incident during the demolition was ‘terrorism’ or not. We learn about the car’s speed, the driver’s occupation, official accounts contradicted by eye witness testimony. The clear sight of destruction suddenly clouded by the implication of subjectivity. Apparently, it’s not what it looks like.

Yes, a ‘car ramming‘ is the headline on a story about the razing of a Palestinian village to make way for a brand new Jewish-only one, which might easily have sat right next door. This comes from the Jerusalem Post:

“‘We are in this fight for many years, it is a fight for peace,” said Umm-al-Hiran resident Abed al Rahman, 52, who was born in the village. ‘We don’t want to bother anyone, we are human beings who just want to live.'”

According to Wikipedia, ‘the community that is to form the projected village of Hiran consists of roughly 30 religious families living in a gated community in a Jewish National Fund Forest [financed by ‘charitable’ donations from Canadians, amongst others] some kilometres away from the Bedouin village. They are former West Bank settlers.’

In short, a model of cohabitation rejected in the spirit of annihilation that inspires Benjamin Netanyahu and his Judeo supremacist hate-mongers.

The fate of Umm al-Hiran follows that of towns like al-Birwa, al-Kabri, Kuwaykat, Bayt Dajan and 400 others that were ‘depopulated’ of indigenous Palestinians or destroyed outright in 1948. Like al-Majdal Asqalan which is now known as Ashkelon, Umm al-Hiran will be reinvented as Hiran.

The Guardian story appeared on the paper’s homepage on Wednesday at 16:58 GMT; by the time I went to bed both the story and the village were gone.

By contrast, here is an excerpt from what New Israel Fund fellow Emily Hilton wrote in a Times of Israel blog,

Waking up to the news of what happened in my Jewish democratic state this morning, I felt like I was grieving. I want so much to believe in an image of Israel that was fed to me when I was younger, one outlined in the Declaration of Independence. I want to believe that Jewish values play a role in creating a more just and fairer society and instead what I see are examples of Jewish violence and repression.

In the Jewish, democratic state, I watch Israel eat itself from the inside.

Back here again, we watch as politicians sit on their hands, avert their eyes, shift their feet, shout ‘Hamas is Hamas is Hamas‘ in the smoke and mirrors gibberish that echoes through the chambers of government, whilst pretending their cynical prevarication is tied to some strategic interest, or mooting threadbare claims about the ‘right conditions for peace’, rather than admitting to the cowardice and failure of moral leadership which more plausibly explain their silence.

On the contrary, our Prime Minister declares the state that commits these vile acts of ethnic cleansing ‘remarkable’, celebrates it as a ‘beacon of tolerance’. Weeks later, she goes further, attacking the US Secretary of State for his impertinence in naming the scandal of Israel’s 50 year ‘fuck you’ to international law, its unapologetic contempt for the Palestinian people alongside the Geneva Conventions, the United Nations, the world’s human rights NGOs and every other arbiter of decency.

We are told to ignore placards reading ‘Kill them all’ at Tel Aviv rallies in support of murderous IDF medics, the uprooting of olive trees and the incarceration of children, and directed instead to read forensic analyses of the Palestinian psyche, its people’s disposition towards their occupier a measure of their entitlement to human dignity. We demand that they swear allegiance to the Zionist conception of Jewish statehood on Palestinian land, as a condition of being considered for statehood of their own.


As the Palestinian-American academic Steve Salaita said recently on Facebook, Palestine is an inconvenience. There are few votes to be gained in supporting Palestinian rights, and the risks of doing so are high. Still, in my more optimistic moments, I begin to imagine the collapse of this bankrupt project and its replacement by a truly democratic place with full equality. Then I permit myself to wonder which world leaders will rewrite their own histories and the histories of their parties, snapping grinning selfies at the well-attended funeral of an elderly hero of the Palestinian resistance whose struggle was fought tooth and nail by those same leaders and their parties.

But it is 2017 and we know more than we ever did before, the facts come in thick, fast, inescapable, claustrophobic, and we say nothing. The newest line of attack from proponents of this colonialist barbarism is to connect the inhabitants of a poor Bedouin village in the desert with the Islamic State. And yet who in this picture is enacting an ethno-nationalist project driven by religious supremacy? As ever with Palestine, the story is this: don’t believe your eyes, let alone your heart, for the victims are the terrorists and the oppressors the oppressed.

But I persist: if this is not ethnic cleansing, tell me what is it? If Jewish-only towns and settler-only roads, hospitals, schools aren’t apartheid, tell me what they are?

For me, these questions are especially acute this week as I’ve been watching ‘The Lobby’, the Al Jazeera Investigation of pro Israel influence on UK policy.

While the series mainly focused on the limits of political lobbying, Wednesday’s indecent events in the Negev are a reminder of the end game here. Pro-Israel pressure isn’t about terms of trade or the location of a factory, an Olympic bid, a visa scheme or a contract to build a bridge. It’s a demand for silence on these vicious acts and the spirit that drives them. As Maria Strizzolo, a former aide to the MP Robert Halfon, tells AJ’s undercover reporter, posh London lunches and Tel Aviv nightclubs are exchanged for lobbing a verbal stun grenade onto the floor of the House of Commons that will distract its members from the bombing of a school sheltering refugees, the slaughter of young boys playing football on a beach, three generations of a family wiped out by a single missile, or indeed the razing of a village.

In the event, whatever Al Jazeera dug up, any lingering doubt about the influence of the pro-Israel lobby in the UK was surely erased by the government’s unseemly haste in dismissing its findings, and accepting the risible claim of Israel’s unctuous ambassador Mark Regev, that the Israeli official Shai Masot was a loose cannon, acting alone. Not a peep was uttered by Downing Street or the Foreign Office in defence of the UK government minister Sir Alan Duncan, who was named as a target of Masot’s plans to ‘take down’ politicians, nor that of Crispin Blunt, the Conservative Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee whose job is to hold the government to account on foreign policy issues.

I’ve also been struck by how quickly the mainstream media dropped the investigation like a hot potato. Following a few thunderous headlines in The Guardian and the Daily Mail, the UK press have resumed the prone position on Israel-Palestine. I confess that I’m especially amused by the reticence of self-appointed gatekeepers of the progressive left like Owen Jones and Zoe Williams, who spend their days crafting smug put-downs of the entitled and powerful, while reliably turning a blind eye to this racist ugliness.

Still, for me the biggest ‘reveal’ of The Lobby wasn’t the influence of pro-Israel groups or its embassy on the UK government and opposition parties, an open secret to some and an irrefutable fact for those with the stomach to say so. It was observing the cynical mechanics of the anti-Semitism smear in action, from open discussion about its usefulness as a weapon in the pro-Israel narrative to the admission by an aide to Joan Ryan, Chair of Labour Friends of Israel, that he had reported an incident of ‘anti Semitic harassment’ at the Labour Party conference even though ‘nothing anti-Semitic was said.’ How ironic, then, that the Jewish Chronicle would accuse the Al Jazeera team of ‘belittling anti-Semitism.’ Surely it’s the specious and willy nilly deployment of this serious accusation that sets back the fight against racism, rather than the exposure of its deliberate misuse.

Indeed, watching the exchange between Ryan and Jean Fitzpatrick, a pro Palestine activist who stopped by the LFI booth to question the viability of a ‘two state solution’ given the virtual annexation of the West Bank, the anti Semitism claim appears to be the only weapon in a morally depleted arsenal these days. That’s certainly all Ryan needs, for Fitzpatrick’s temerity in asking a few very straightforward questions at the LFI booth exposed her to the ordeal of a two-week anti-Semitism probe by the Labour Party’s compliance unit. By contrast, I discovered in the series two fleeting moments of surprising honesty on the part of pro-Israel activists. The first is when Michael Rubin admits he ‘doesn’t even know anymore’ whether something is anti-Semitic, and LFI Director Jennifer Gerber declares a comment anti-Semitic and then pauses before wondering aloud ‘isn’t it?’ Fortunately for both, their partners in crime are there to reassure them that anti-Semitism is whatever they say it is, and the moment passes.

Many people claim that social media function as a kind of echo chamber, where we only expose ourselves to thoughts like our own. Perhaps they’re right. But this week’s heartbreaking events and the situation that gives rise to them have reminded me that sometimes an echo chamber is the only place where we can breathe.