This statement in support of Palestinian self determination and UNRWA by the Hoping Foundation, and signed by celebrities including Hugh Grant, Gary Lineker, Mary McCartney, Olivia Wilde and many others was published last week and got virtually no coverage here in the UK. In fact, I came across it by accident on the Twitter timeline of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Anyone who follows this issue will recall the trolls hounding Gary Lineker a couple of months back, after he dared to object to Palestinian children being put in cages. Lineker’s objection was ‘anti Semitic.’ I’ll just leave that there. And no doubt the celebrities named below – including a clearly unapologetic Lineker – will take similar flak for daring to stick out their necks in defence of the Palestinians. Respect. Would that more public figures had their courage.

We wish to express our horror at the unprecedented attack on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) by US President Donald Trump. This UN institution was set up almost 70 years ago specifically to protect, and provide urgently required humanitarian relief, to Palestinian refugees.

So the real target of this lethal attack is the Palestinian people themselves. It has been launched with the clear aim of dismantling their rights, by dismantling the institution that is charged with protecting them.

UNRWA was established in 1949 by the UN General Assembly, to safeguard the Palestinian victims of the 1948 war, after their country and society were destroyed, and the majority made refugees. The United Nations recognises the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people; the same rights afforded to all peoples of the world. We wish to highlight here the fact that Palestinians’ human rights include their internationally recognised rights as a people. These rights are inherent, so cannot be removed by brute force, or alienated from them.

2017 closed with the US President’s announcement of his intention to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, ripping up the internationally recognised rights of Palestinians to their land, while attempting to impose a ‘peace plan’ that destroys all hope for peace. 2018 opens with President Trump’s new attempt to force Palestinians to accept this grossly unfair ‘deal’, by threatening and endangering the international agency responsible for their basic needs as refugees.

It is repellent to us that such tactics are being used in the 21st century, in direct contradiction of international law, and to human decency. Demanding the surrender of basic human rights, and from a people without a country to protect them, is truly shocking to witness.

Directly threatened by this American funding cut are millions of Palestinian refugees: more than half a million children in over 700 UN schools; primary health care for mothers, infants, and the sick; those requiring urgent emergency food assistance especially in Gaza and Syria.

We stand for dignity for the most vulnerable, and we stand with Palestinian refugees who are facing a terrible moment. We call on the UN Secretary General to immediately convene a conference that can establish a stable funding system in order to protect UNRWA’s vital work. Peoples across the world have always supported the Palestinian struggle for freedom, and understand that Palestinian refugees – the most vulnerable – are the key to hope, and to any chance of a peaceful future.

Signatories:

Alfonso Cuarón; Andrew O’Hagan; Antony Gormley; Bella Freud; Brian Eno; Claire Foy; David Morrissey; Emma Thompson; Eric Cantona; Esther Freud; Gary Lineker; Gillian Anderson; Hanif Kureishi; Hugh Grant; James Fox; Jemima Khan; Karma Nabulsi; Ken Loach; Laura Bailey; Livia Firth; Mary McCartney; Olivia Wilde; Paul Laverty; Peter Gabriel; Peter Kosminsky; Robert Del Naja; Stephen Frears; Steve Coogan; Tilda Swinton; Tracey Emin; Vanessa Kirby; Viggo Mortensen; Will Self.

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I was startled by Tuesday’s story on the homepage of The Independent website that the UK Prime Minister David Cameron made an 11th hour election declaration affirming his unequivocal support for Israel. In particular, Mr Cameron draws an ‘important distinction’ between Israel’s right to ‘self defence’ and Hamas’s ‘indiscriminate’ firing of rockets into Israel from Gaza last summer.

A cynic might connect Mr Cameron’s timing with a perception that the Labour leader Ed Miliband has lost the so-called ‘Jewish vote’, and a desire to shore up that support for his own party. Regardless, coming just a week after a UN report confirmed that Israel knowingly targeted UNRWA schools sheltering civilians during the Gaza siege, and 12 days after DCI-Palestine released ‘Operation Protective Edge: A War Waged on Gaza’s Children‘, Mr Cameron’s dubious characterisation of the 51-day Gaza siege and the unwavering support for Israel that results from these claims will alarm anyone concerned about peace and justice in the region.

I certainly agree with the Prime Minister that there are ‘important distinctions’ at issue in this conflict. That’s where our agreement ends, however. For instance, for me the seven-year blockade of Gaza is a salient distinction here. As Noura Erakat wrote last summer in The Nation, despite its putative withdrawal in 2005 ‘Israel maintains control of the territory’s air space, territorial waters, electromagnetic sphere, population registry and the movement of all goods and people.’ In other words, the blockade is a de facto occupation whose purpose is to traumatise and humiliate Gazans whilst relieving Israel of its legal obligations as an occupying power, and to deny the Palestinian right of resistance.

Unlike Mr Cameron, in considering the events of last summer I would recognise the relevance of Palestinian children being strapped to the hoods of Israeli army jeeps where they might act as human shields. I would acknowledge the desire of a people to farm the land and fish the waters where they have lived for centuries without racist settlers running over their children and uprooting their olive trees, whilst Israeli soldiers fire live rounds at Palestinian fishermen trying to make a living within the tenuous and meagre boundaries determined by the Israeli government, which nonetheless denies it is an occupier.

Before gushing approval of Israel’s ‘defensive’ tactics, I would consider the ‘apartheid’ conditions in which the Palestinians live in the Occupied Territories as described by the Conservative MP Alan Duncan in a powerful speech at RUSI last Autumn. I would also note Israel’s decision to withhold Palestinian tax revenues – in other words, Palestinians’ own money – in retaliation for their application to join the International Criminal Court. And I would draw attention to Israel’s 90 ceasefire violations in January-March of this year alone.

Mr Cameron’s remarks brought to mind an open letter I published on this blog last summer; here is a link. The letter was written on 29 July 2014, almost a month before the death toll in Gaza had reached 2220 of which more than 500 were children. It was written before the massacre at Shujaiya, and before Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, Amnesty International, DCI-Palestine and others had launched their investigations of the bloody siege, and produced their reports which concluded without exception that Israel had committed war crimes in Gaza. These gruesome events and the authors’ chilling conclusions confirm and animate the thoughts I had expressed around the half-way mark in Operation Protective Edge, a hasbara translation of the Hebrew name ‘Operation Sturdy Edge’.

Mr Cameron tells us he stands with Israel. I stand with human dignity, the right to self determination, and respect for international law. Sadly, this is the critical distinction on which we appear to disagree entirely.

“They went into one room where nine-year-old Saddam was sleeping,” [Sameeh Daana] said. “I kept asking them to let me wake him up while they were outside the room because he will be terrified if they woke him.”

The army refused and woke up Saddam at rifle point, Daana said.

“The soldiers questioned him in Hebrew and the boy doesn’t even understand Hebrew. They questioned him about throwing stones,” he added.

His child wet himself in fear when the soldiers burst into the home, and still hasn’t fully recovered from the experience, Daana said.

He added: “He has been living in a state of terror since then and he refuses to sleep alone but in his sister’s room.”

From On Video: Israeli Soldiers Raid Homes, Question Kids as Young as 9

by Paul Goldman, Tel Aviv producer, NBC News

I’ve been planning a piece about children for a couple of weeks now, but it’s tougher than it sounds. Because let’s face it: writing about kids can seem cheap, for who can remain unmoved by a small child’s terror, her distended belly, his blackened eyes, her tiny body wrapped in muslin in preparation for burial?

In fact, I have hanging over my desk a photo of a little girl from Gaza, her face smeared with blood, one fresh, swollen tear glistening below her left eye while another charts a wobbly path down her cheek. You might know this photo: it appeared on the cover of The Guardian on 31 July 2014 under the headline ‘The World Stands Disgraced’. Those were the words of Pierre Kraehenbuehl, commissioner-general of UNRWA, the day after Israel bombed an UNRWA school in which Gazan families were sheltering, despite the fact that the Israel Defense Forces had been given the co-ordinates of all of its facilities repeatedly by UNRWA.

The photo is big – it measures 57cm x 80cm – and it was a Christmas gift from my husband. ‘I didn’t want to upset you,’ he said gently when I’d pulled off the wrapping paper and he saw my stricken face, ‘but Gaza was a defining event of 2014 for you. I wanted to mark that.’ And so he tracked down the agency that represents Khalil Hamra, the Palestinian-Egyptian photographer, and bought the rights, and I spend each day working in the shadow of a young girl who’s witnessed events and felt a terror I cannot begin to imagine, and which my own small children will never face.

She is not a reminder of what happened last summer, or what continues to happen each day in Israel/Palestine. I don’t need that. But this is a close as I can get to holding her hand; as such, she comforts me far more than I can ever comfort her from the expansive desk of my study in central London.

You might say that arguments about human rights, justice and international law should stand on their own merits without recourse to such ‘sentimentalising.’ I would say the opposite: what are these rights and principles for? And more importantly, whom are they for? How can their ‘merits’ be assessed in isolation from their outcomes, from the people whose dignity and safety they aim to safeguard?

If you have a moment, go back to the top of this blog and read the story of Saddam again. Forget his soiled pyjamas, the Hebrew he could not understand, his ongoing trauma. Read about the soldiers. Consider the choices they made, to disallow his father from waking the sleeping child, to shove a rifle in the boy’s face, to jabber at a terrified nine year-old in a language he didn’t know. The supposedly abstract principles that seek to guide these choices weren’t created to ensure lively debate at North London dinner parties. They provide a baseline of decency and humanity to those on the ground with the power to choose, and in their aftermath a measure by which to judge those choices.

Although Barack Obama has been a profoundly disappointing president for too many reasons to list here, I often think back to remarks in his book Dreams from my Father, which I read before he was elected when hope was still on the table. Describing the decision of white witnesses to testify on behalf of black co-workers who’ve been discriminated against, he writes ‘[t]hey choose our better history.’

‘How do we transform mere power into justice, mere sentiment into love?’ Obama asks. ‘The answers I find in law books don’t always satisfy me… And yet, in the conversation itself, in the joining of voices, I find myself modestly encouraged, believing that so long as the questions are still being asked, what binds us together might somehow prevail.’

The other day, a guy in the comments section of an article in the Financial Times called me a ‘troll’ and said I was living in a ‘fantasy land’ because I challenged his view that peace can only be achieved through war. I’m no troll, but his second charge is spot-on: I have a fantasy in which people make other choices, not just because they’re morally superior but because they make other outcomes possible.

Occasionally, I find myself in good company. Last week, I saw Open Bethlehem, Leila Sansour’s love letter to her Bethlehem-born father, a mathematics professor. Although the film centres on Sansour’s 10-year project to ‘promote global engagement with the city’s plight and fuel more inclusive tourism,’ I was struck whilst watching it, and more forcefully still in the Q&A with Sansour that followed, by the slender and fragile cord that keeps hope rooted to pragmatism, and by which pragmatism is sustained by hope. Sansour is an entrepreneurial dreamer with an ambitious plan.

And then on 15th March came the second anniversary of the Hares Boys‘ incarceration. If you’ve forgotten them or didn’t know about them at all, these are the five Palestinian teenagers who were put into 1m x 2m ‘cells’ and tortured until they ‘confessed’ to throwing stones at an Israeli settler’s car, causing her to rear-end a stationary truck. There were no eyewitnesses, and the truck driver changed his story after the allegations against the boys appeared in the media, suddenly remembering that he’d stopped because of stone-throwing and not because he had a flat tyre as he’d originally said.

Notwithstanding the boys’ dubious confessions and the lack of other evidence, like 99.74% of Palestinians tried in Israel’s military courts, the boys were convicted and moved from an Israeli interrogation facility to an Israeli prison, both run by the British security firm G4S. Like 75% of Palestinian children they were subjected to physical violence while being held, in violation of the UN Convention Against Torture. And like two-thirds of Palestinian children arrested in the Occupied Territories, they were rounded up during the night, blindfolded and bound, denied legal representation or the presence of their parents during questioning, and removed to Israel for questioning in contravention of Article 76 of the 4th Geneva Convention.

As it happened, the following day was the anniversary of Rachel Corrie’s death. Of course, Corrie was the young American activist killed while attempting to stop an Israeli bulldozer from demolishing a home in Gaza. Although her International Solidarity Movement colleagues alleged that the bulldozer driver could see Corrie clearly, an Israeli court ruled her death accidental, a decision which was upheld by the country’s Supreme Court.

According to the Israeli rights group Yesh Din, in a 12-year period ending September 2012, only six Israeli soldiers were convicted for offences relating to Palestinian deaths. One such soldier was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment. For allegedly throwing stones, the Hares Boys are facing life sentences.

Since 1967, Israel has arrested and imprisoned close to 730,000 Palestinians, of which 500-700 each year have been children. So you see, the Israeli authorities are at no risk of sentimentalising the lives or deaths of Palestinian kids. On the contrary, their strategic objectives are terror and hopelessness, and their modus operandi is by any means necessary, a notion stolen from a Muslim-American convert whose ambitions of freedom, justice and equality for his people were rather nobler than theirs.

A final thought: last week, a troll trying hard to be clever demanded to know why I don’t speak out about children of war in Syria and other countries. First of all, I do. Still, there is a significant difference between these crises which explains the differential energy I devote to each. Hollywood’s self-described ‘liberals’ are not queuing up to defend the deaths of Syrian children at the hands of Bashar al-Assad. Politicians like Eric Pickles here in the UK and Justin Trudeau in Canada are not queuing up to stifle debate about Assad’s crimes. Assad doesn’t have the West’s most powerful lobby groups bullying and bribing politicians into swapping their integrity for his impunity.

Indeed, just after hitting ‘save’ on my last update to this blog, I spotted a Guardian piece describing how Israeli officials threatened the UN into removing the IDF from a list of children’s rights violators. These are the particulars that (mostly) keep my eye on the ball in Palestine.

Here’s what a Palestinian childhood looks like:

Jewish teens attack Palestinians in two separate Purim incidents

Such attacks have become more common in recent years but media coverage has thinned.

Two individual Arab-Palestinian men were assaulted by mobs of Jewish teens in Jerusalem last Thursday night. Both incidents involved victims who were set upon and beaten so severely that they had to be hospitalized.

Soldiers Attack A Child In The Al-Aqsa Mosque

Israeli soldiers attacked a 10-year-old Palestinian child as dozens of Israeli fanatics stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque yards, in occupied Jerusalem, and also assaulted a mosque guard while trying to stop them.

An employee with the Islamic Waqf and Endowment Department said the soldiers attacked the 10-year-old girl in the area between the al-Qibli Mosque and the al-Magharba Gate, as dozens of Israeli extremists stormed the mosque’s yards.

Israel demolishes EU-funded shelters in Jerusalem

Israeli authorities on Tuesday demolished an EU-funded shelter in Arab east Jerusalem, the European Union said, denouncing the move…

EU funds have helped to pay for some 200 temporary buildings used as shelters in villages inhabited by Bedouin communities in the West Bank, just outside Arab east Jerusalem.

UNICEF: Israel violates international law in treatment of Palestinian children

WATCH: Soldiers taunt, set dogs on Palestinian teen

Israeli army decries video showing soldiers taunting and setting dogs on Palestinian, despite it being IDF policy.

Ten-year-old boy attacked and arrested for playing in the snow

On the afternoon of the 21st of February Saleh Abu Shamsiya, a 10-year-old Palestinian boy, was attacked by settler youth in the Al-Khalil (Hebron) neighborhood of Tel Rumeida. Saleh’s father and activist with the group Human Rights Defenders Imad Abu Shamsiya reported that the settlers, who looked around 18-19 years old, surrounded his son while he was playing in the snow and stabbed him in the arm with a sharp metal object about 15 cm long.

Israeli forces kill Palestinian teen in Duheisha refugee camp

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian teenager during a predawn arrest raid in Bethlehem’s Duheisha refugee camp, locals and medics said.

Jihad Shehada al-Jaafari, 19, was shot under his left shoulder while standing on the roof of his family home near the main road by the camp, witnesses said.

And here’s what international observers and human rights experts have concluded:

2012: Bound, blindfolded and convicted: children held in military detention

Executive summary: The Report finds that when the totality of the evidence is considered, a pattern of systematic ill-treatment emerges, much of which amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as defined in the UN Convention against Torture, and in some cases, torture – both of which are absolutely prohibited.

2013: Israeli Abuse Of Palestinian Children In Prison ‘Systematic,’ Says UN Report

The ill-treatment of Palestinian minors held within the Israeli military detention system is “widespread, systematic and institutionalised,” a report Wednesday by the UN children’s fund found.

UNICEF in the 22-page report that examined the Israeli military court system for holding Palestinian children found evidence of practices it said were “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.”

2014: REPORT: Israeli Cruelty to Palestinian Children From Abduction to Prison

As Israel conducts a wave of mass home break-ins and arrests across the West Bank in retaliation for the alleged kidnapping of three youth from one of its illegal settlements, a new report documents that Palestinian children are at much greater, ongoing risk from Israeli forces. According to the report issued today by the Euro-Mid Observer for Human Rights, Israel seized an estimated 2,500 Palestinian children and youth between January 2010 and June 2014 – with approximately 400 just 12-15 years old.