UK bans Israeli settler rabbi who called for killing of non-Jews

Published by The Electronic Intifada

Palestinian religious leader and rights activist Sheikh Raed Salah was arrested by the UK government in June, supposedly for “flouting” a ban on entering the country, as much of the UK press put it.

But it later emerged that Home Secretary Theresa May issued the exclusion order only two days before Raed Salah entered the UK for a speaking tour. Crucially, neither he nor his tour organizers had any idea there was such a ban in place. A lawyer acting for the Home Office admitted as much in the High Court on 15 July, saying Salah “didn’t do anything wrong.”

Following his initial arrest, UK courts have released Salah on bail pending the outcome of his challenge to a government order that he be deported, and have also rejected a government appeal aimed at having his bail revoked.

While the UK Border Agency (UKBA) gave no prior warning to Salah, it was revealed last Wednesday that the same agency gave a written warning of a ban to an extremist Israeli settler named Rabbi Yosef Elitzur, who has incited the murder of non-Jews, including civilians and children.

A UKBA letter to Elitzur detailing an exclusion order was published by the Voice of the Jews website on Wednesday. It said Elitzur fell foul of UK policy against “Unacceptable Behavior,” and gave examples including the justification of “terrorist violence” (“Restraining order from the UK to author of The King’s Torah” [Hebrew], 10 August 2011).

The letter is addressed 20 July, only two days after Salah was released on conditional bail pending a full hearing of a judicial review against his deportation from the UK. It states that Theresa May on 11 July (while Salah was still detained) “personally directed that you [Elitzur] should be excluded from the UK on the grounds that your presence here would not be conducive to the public good” — exactly the same grounds she used to exclude Salah.

It then goes on to specify Elitzur’s authorship of a book called Torat Hamelech or The King’s Torah, which details how Jewish religious law supposedly permits the killing of non-Jews and “advocates Jewish discrimination against Gentiles,” as the UKBA put it.

According to the letter, the book further states: “Anywhere where the presence of a gentile poses a threat to Israel, it is permissible to kill him, even if it is a righteous gentile who is not responsible for the threatening situation.” Israeli media reported quite extensively on the book from the time it was published (see “Another rabbi detained over ‘racist book’,” Ynet, 19 August 2010).

Why wait till now?

While Salah strongly denies making the anti-Semitic statements attributed to him by enemies, and cited by the Home Office, Elitzur make no bones about writing the racist book. The website of the Jewish religious school in Yitzhar (an Israeli settlement near the Palestinian city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank) openly lists Elitzur as the author of The King’s Torah, along with another rabbi, Yitzhak Shapira (“Od Yosef Chai” [Hebrew], accessed 11 August 2011).

Why the ban was only issued last month remains unclear. The King’s Torah was published in 2009, and got more attention in the Israeli press in 2010 when Elitzur and Shapira were arrested for incitement to racism. The Voice of the Jews article claims “Elitzur had no plans to travel to Britain in the near future, and the step was taken as a preventative one.”

Home Office confirms letter

The Electronic Intifada contacted the Home Office — the UK’s interior ministry — to ask why the letter had been issued now (the UKBA is part of the Home Office). Although a spokesperson confirmed the authenticity of the letter, the official refused to comment on the timing, stating only: “We can confirm that Mr. Elitzur has been excluded from the UK on grounds of unacceptable behavior. The government will refuse people access to the UK if we believe they might seek to undermine our society. Coming here is a privilege that we refuse to extend to those who seek to subvert our shared values.”

The spokesperson also declined to comment on whether the case had been coordinated with Israel, or if it had any links to Salah’s case, saying that they don’t discuss the details of individual cases.

Could the UKBA’s ban on Elitzur be designed to “balance out” the ban on Salah and make it appear as if UK policy is non-discriminatory, or to somehow equate Salah — a well-respected community leader who has not called for violence — with a racist extremist who has? It is difficult to tell from the evidence. However, it is clear that while allegations of racism against Salah are, at best, based on extremely shaky evidence, Elitzur’s racism is not in doubt.

“Settler revolt”

As a settler leader, Elitzur has been at odds with the Israeli state, mainly on the basis that Jewish settlers should have an even freer hand to colonize the West Bank. In 2009 he was involved in what Israeli journalist Didi Remez described as a “settler rebellion” against the so-called settlement freeze.

Elitzur detailed plans for how to thwart the Israeli army and police: “When in every settlement a police patrol car becomes an unwanted presence, and administration inspectors understand they have 10 minutes to run away before their tires are punctured, the government’s ability to enforce its decrees will drop sharply” (“Document: Settlers prep to terrorize West Bank,” Didi Remez’s Coteret blog, 6 December 2009).

Elitzur was arrested by the Israeli police in 2010 over his co-authorship of The King’s Torah (“Another rabbi detained over ‘racist book’ “, Ynet, 19 August 2010).

The case seems to have been quietly dropped since then, although it is possible the charges are still technically active. The UKBA letter to Elitzur was addressed to “Mr Yosef ELITZUR, Yitzhar, West Bank.” The copy appearing on the Voice of the Jews site included headers suggesting it had been faxed to the yeshiva.

Israeli goverment and US tax-exempt support for extremism

Despite apparently being at odds with the school, it emerged at the time that Israel actually funded Od Yosef Chai yeshiva. According to journalist Max Blumenthal, the school received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Israeli government departments in between 2006 and 2010. It also benefited from donations from a US tax-exempt, nonprofit organization called the Central Fund of Israel.

Blumenthal says Yitzhar and its yeshiva are notorious for hosting “a small army of fanatics who are eager to lash out at the Palestinians tending to their crops and livestock in the valleys below them.” The settlement also has apparent links to alleged Jewish terrorist Jack Teitel, and was apparently the launching base for 2008 attacks on the Palestinian village of Burin using homemade rockets (“How to Kill Goyim and Influence People: Israeli Rabbis Defend Book’s Shocking Religious Defense of Killing Non-Jews,” Alternet, 30 August 2010).

The timing of the UKBA letter to Elitzur, two days after Salah was released on bail, seems unlikely to be a coincidence. Did the government have reason to believe Elitzur was intending to travel to the UK, perhaps to speak or raise funds? We simply don’t know, and the government won’t comment. If we take Elitzur at his word when he says he was not intending to travel soon, the government ban smacks of tokenism after the ban of Salah. And why was Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, the other author of <em>The King’s Torah</em>, not also banned? Many questions remain unanswered, but perhaps the only thing Salah and Elitzur do have in common is that the Israeli government is unlikely to shed any tears over their respective exclusion orders from the UK.

Dena Shunra contributed reporting and translation from Hebrew to this article.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupationwill be published by Pluto Press in October. His website is

Palestine is Still the Issue: The meaning of the Norwegian terrorist’s love for Israeli war crimes

My fortnightly column for Ceasefire magazine, 6th August

By Asa Winstanley

Since Anders Breivik’s massacre in Norway two weeks ago, much of the Islamophobic right has been ostensibly scrambling to distance themselves from his terrorist act. English Defence League leader Stephen Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) appeared on Newsnight pointing out that Breivik called the EDL “naïve fools” in his 1500-page political manifesto, distributed over the internet on the eve of his “martyrdom operation” (Breivik’s term). Jeremy Paxman, outrageously soft-balling, failed to point out that Breivik also said of the EDL that “although having noble intentions [they] are in fact dangerously naïve” because they did not support his particular form of violence.

Another mass killer that right-wing Islamophobic zealots around Europe have certainly not distanced themselves from is the state of Israel. Breivik himself is clearly a big fan of Israel, having a free hand to regularly slaughter Muslims as it does. His rambling online book is full of flattering references to Israel: “So let us fight together with Israel, with our Zionist brothers against all anti-Zionists,” he wrote, “against all cultural Marxists/multiculturalists”. This is from page 1163 of his “compendium”, large chunks of which were reportedly copied from other Islamophobic sources.

Breivik’s extreme Zionism has led to some media attention on the gowning links between Israel and extreme right-wing, and fascist groups from around Europe. Die Spiegel recently ran an article on the subject (“Europe’s Right-Wing Populists Find Allies in Israel”, 29 July). But this has been a growing trend for years now, and still not enough attention is being paid to it.

The British National Party these days of course supports Israel. Their leader Nick Griffin during this controversial 2009 Question Time appearance boasted of his support for Israel saying the BNP was now “the only political party which, in the clashes between Israel and Gaza, stood full square behind Israel’s right to deal with Hamas terrorists”. The EDL is notoriously pro-Israel, waving Israeli flags during their thuggish demonstrations, even establishing a (failed) “Jewish Division”.

Blogger Richard Silverstein has paid a fair amount of attention to Israel’s growing links to European fascists. He recently wrote about a visit of Russian neo-nazis to the Knesset (Israeli parliament) – a story even I couldn’t quite believe until I read past the headline (Settler MKs Welcome Russian Neo-Nazi Holocaust Deniers to Knesset, Yad VaShem, 28 July).

So what is going on here? The common denominator all these right-wing parties and groups have is of course fanatical and bigoted hostility to Muslims. Many commentators have been perplexed by Anders’ Zionism, and have tried to analyse it as if it were some sort of contradiction. But it’s not. The BNP was notorious for anti-Semitism in its past and Griffin is often accused of Holocaust denial. Breivik also clearly has some anti-Semitic ideas, implying that the German Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves: “Were the majority of the German and European Jews disloyal? Yes, at least the so called liberal Jews, similar to the liberal Jews today that opposes nationalism/Zionism and supports multiculturalism” (page 1163 again).
Zionism and anti-Semitism are not contradictory: in fact they often complement each other and have a history of alliances. Tactical synergy led to the Zionist-Nazi Ha’avara (“transfer”) agreement of the 1930s.

German Jews were allowed to remove some of their funds in the form of German-produced capital goods which were then sold in Palestine (as well as in the US and Britain), and part of this investment would then be recouped later (you can read about that in Mike Marqusee’s brilliant political memoir “If I am Not For Myself: Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew”). There was also the attempt by the Lehi terrorist group of Yitzak Shamir (later prime minister of Israel) to establish links with Hitler during Second World War.

But there are deeper ideological links between Zionism and other ethnocentric right-wing reactionary nationalist movements. They share the same goal: Hitler wanted to get rid of Jews from Europe and the Zionist movement wanted to bring as many European Jews as possible to colonise Palestine. Zionism is “united with anti-Semitism in its retrograde tenets”, as Yasser Arafat said in his famous first speech to the UN in 1974 – “another side of the same base coin”.

To understand this seeming contradiction, we need to understand that, in a similar way to the Nazi hatred of Jews, the bile of the the Islamophobes is not based on any logical thinking or rational opposition to Islam. It is bigotry plain and simple: hatred of The Other. Whip up enough irrationality and politicians can distract you from their schemes – all while you are busy picking on the most vulnerable in society.

While the EDL weakly distances itself from Breivik’s particular form of terrorist violence, it has no qualms about using racist abuse, street violence and intimidation aimed at Muslim communities around the country. Blaming the victim, the EDL outrageously tried to lay the guilt on Muslims for Breiviks’ terrorist attack: “what happened in Norway is a wake-up call. The fact that so many people are scared – people have to listen to that,” says it’s leader (“EDL leader brands Norway gunman Anders Breivik a ‘ horrible monster’”, Evening Standard, 27 July).

At the same time, Breivik’s was clearly not some insane lone gunman, as his lawyer now claims. Read his manifesto and you can see that. It is very deliberately put together. He claims to have spend nine years compiling it, and details the whole process of the how is funded and carried out his terrorist murders. The book contains long, elaborate descriptions of how he built the bomb, and how he prepared for his “martyrdom operation” (although he survived, it appears that he had been willing to die).

It is reported that at his first court hearing Breiviks claims there are other cells of like-minded “cultural conservatives” ready and able to carry out similar attacks. This is probably another one of his fantasies – but if so (and the possibility should still be investigated) it is a calculated fantasy. He is hoping to inspire others to carry out similar acts. That is clear from the detailed instructions in his book. He seems to have spent months “email farming” on Facebook so that he would have a solid list of “nationalists in all European countries” to send is completed manifesto to.

Although the large budget he claimed to have amassed from playing the stock market means it would not be easy to imitate him, we cannot rule out the possibility he will inspire other racist fanatics.

All this only makes combating groups like the EDL, who directly and viciously build on the growing climate of Islamophobia, ever more important. The EDL says it is going to “march into the Lions den” of Tower Hamlets on the third of September. In the spirit of Cable Street, it’s vital to stop the hate-mongers in their tracks once and for all.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” will be published by Pluto Press in October. His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears in Ceasefire every other Saturday. His website is

New book exposes brutal treatment of Palestinian prisoners

First published by the Electronic Intifada

Asa Winstanley | The Electronic Intifada | 5 August 2011

Shlomo Gazit, an Israeli general and the first “coordinator of government activities” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip apparently wrote a book in 1985 about Israel’s occupation policies there called The Carrot and the Stick. It is quite telling that such Israeli terminology relates to Palestinians as if they are animals. A new book about Israel’s imprisonment of Palestinians contains strong evidence that these policies have been a lot more about the “stick” of physical and psychological torture than about the “carrot” of persuasion.

Threat: Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israel is a collection of essays from Pluto Press edited by Abeer Baker and Anat Matar. The contributors focus on different aspects of Israel’s system of political prisons. It is rare for such an anthology to be of such consistently high quality. Quite often essay collections can be a mixed bag but Threat is rarely less than interesting. Palestinian prisoners and the solidarity movements of their families and supporters have long been emblematic in the Palestinian liberation struggle. So the book is an important and welcome attempt to educate English-speakers on this neglected topic.

Consider, for example, this astonishing statistic: “almost half of all the prisoners held by the Israeli prison system are Palestinians who have been sent to prison by the military courts in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT)” (68). Furthermore, this share seems to have been consistently high over a long period: the figure stood between 45 and 60 percent during the first two decades after the 1967 occupation (72).

The contributors to this book are from a mix of Israeli, Palestinian and other backgrounds but most are lawyers, academics and professional activists for human rights groups in Israel such as Adalah (with whom Baker works as a lawyer) or B’Tselem. We can also read the words of Palestinian prisoners, recalling their own experiences.

We learn from Alon Harel and Yael Berda about what exactly “security prisoners” are. They are “deprived of many of the rights granted to non-security prisoners” (37). Yet the definition of “security prisoners” is not just those who engage in armed struggle — Palestinian political activists who do not use violence are also classified as such. Berda notes, “It is actually surprising how, under the harsh classification regimes of the security threat, many Palestinians have chosen nonviolent political and social action, even though it carries with it similar consequences to the violent actions” (54).

In reality, the Israeli secret police — the Shin Bet — decides who is a “security prisoner”. Known by its formal title the General Security Services (GSS), the Shin Bet runs a system that is “constructed and applied administratively by the GSS alone” (52). We also learn, in information relevant to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, that the closeness of Israeli universities to the Shin Bet has meant “merging the security apparatuses with bases of academic power” (52).

Apartheid behind bars

The prisoners are emblematic of the whole Palestinian struggle for many reasons, not least of which is the system of apartheid that they are fighting against. It is striking that this applied to the whole of historic Palestine, not just the occupied West Bank and Gaza. It applies to Palestinians living in Israel, too: “In January 2009, there were about 370 Israeli Arab citizens classified as security prisoners. A small number of Jewish prisoners are classified by the IPS [Israel Prison Service] as security prisoners but they are not subjected to the harsh conditions reserved for the Palestinians” (80).

Sharon Weill’s essay is a strong contender for best essay in the book. She proves that because of the separate and unequal legal systems for Israelis and Palestinians there — civil courts for Israeli Jews but military courts for Palestinians — the occupation of the West Bank is best understood as a system of apartheid. I was amazed to learn that “until 2004 the [Israeli military] judges did not need to have any legal background; they were just regular officers, usually very young” (147). She also includes a strong example of how Israeli apartheid applies to even its own (supposedly equal) Palestinian citizens: “While Israeli Jews have been excluded from the military courts’ jurisdiction as a matter of policy, Palestinians carrying Israeli IDs (especially those from East Jerusalem), committing an offense within the OPT, have always been tried there” (141).

Disturbing studies on torture and rape

There is a wide range of rich topics addressed. Palestinian sociology professor Nahla Abdo has a devastating critique of colonial feminism and the “Western Orientalist literature [that has since 2002] emerged to deal with the female military resistance” (59). Abdo shows how Western academics have tried to analyze female Palestinians fighters as a response to a supposed endemic misogyny in Palestinian society — to “wipe away the stigma of being female” as one has put it (59). She proceeds to convincingly dismantle this crude framework of assumptions. Abdo then moves on to sexism and racism in the Israel Prison Service and recounts disturbing case studies — from her own research and interviews with women prisoners — of sexual torture and rape by Israeli personnel.

If I have one reservation about the book it is its inevitable (considering the authors’ professional backgrounds) bias towards the “human rights” narrative, rather than the resistance narrative. For example, the failed case by the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din against the practice of transferring Palestinians to prisons outside the West Bank cited by Israeli lawyer Michael Sfard seemed in effect to be arguing for Israeli prisons to be rebuilt in the West Bank (197-198). The Israeli high court rejected the Yesh Din petition on patronizing and spurious grounds. But the fact that a liberal Israeli human rights organization was not instead arguing for all the political prisons to be emptied exposes the contradictions and limits of such legal activism within the system of apartheid Zionism.

The editors — and some of the authors — seem to be aware of this to an extent, and Palestinian prisoner Walid Daka’s essay concluding the book is a good antidote in this regard, since it critiques this tendency. Daka sees the Palestinian Authority as key to this transformation: “the ‘Palestinian Revolution’ was replaced by the ‘Palestinian Authority,’ the mobilization of these young people [in the PA armed forces] signals the replacement of struggle with the ‘rule of law’ and ‘resistance’ with the ‘prevention of armed chaos’ … These new slogans do not belong to a discourse of a liberation movement; they were invoked to make the movement disappear” (238-239).

I would have liked to read more from Palestinian prisoners in their own words: 8 out of the 22 contributions in the book are by Palestinians (including Palestinian citizens of Israel) who are often former or current prisoners. But to be fair, those included offer deep and insightful historical analysis as well as important and troubling eyewitness accounts of torture and ill-treatment in Israeli prisons.

Overall, there is a wealth of history, analysis, documentation and plenty of legal details in this book. And fortunately, the legal details rarely lead into dry or unreadable territory. Threat comes highly recommended.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation will be published by Pluto Press in October. His website is

Palestine is Still the Issue: Why Britain should thank Sheikh Raed Salah

My fortnightly column in Ceasefire Magazine.

By Asa Winstanley

Sheikh Raed Salah is a Palestinian activist and religious leader famous in the Arab world for leading non-violent demonstrations against Israeli abuses and discrimination in Jerusalem. As leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, he politically represents a significant proportion of the 1948 Palestinians – i.e. the 1.5 million Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship.

Despite numerous attacks on Salah by the Israeli state, including political arrests on trumped-up charges and even – he alleges – an assassination attempt, the Islamic Movement has never been proscribed in Israel since it is a purely political movement. Salah refuses on principle to take part in the Israeli parliament (the Knesset) but one faction of his movement does (usually referred to as the “southern branch” of the Islamic movement).

But you would not have known any of this from the hysterical reaction from the British press when he entered the country for a speaking tour last month. He has been demonised by most of the British press – led as usual by the Daily Mail in their never-ending quest for an Islamic immigrant bogeyman. They probably wish he had a hooked hand or an eye patch, but I guess the beard was enough for them.

Salah was arrested on the personal order of Home Secretary Theresa May, despite entering the country legally, with no problems at Heathrow.

Although Zionist bloggers such as Michael Weiss (of the Henry Jackson Society and the pro-Israel propaganda outfit “Just Journalism” – which was apparently named with a straight face) accused Salah of anti-Semitism, his accusations rested on Israeli sources such as discredited translations group MEMRI which was founded by Colonel Yigal Carmon, formerly a high-ranking member of Israeli intelligence. MEMRI refuses as a point of policy to translate from the Hebrew press, preferring instead to select clips that make Arabs and Muslims look bad.

Predictably enough considering the source of the anti-Semitism accusations were Israeli, most of the British press repeated them uncritically and seemingly without checks. Few even bothered to report that Salah denied having made the anti-Semitic statements attributed to him. Because who cares what Muslims say about themselves? Apparently.

But this week a High Court judge released Salah on bail. Not only did Mr Justice Stadlen comment that Salah had entered the country legally, since the Home Secretary’s told no one about her exclusion order until after Salah’s entry (although she now claims she signed it two days prior,) but the Home Office’s barrister admitted as much in court.

What I seemed to be witnessing in court while reporting on the case for Electronic Intifada was the government’s case falling apart. Their list of “unacceptable behaviour” seemed to be either based on anti-Semitic statements uncharacteristic of Salah (statements he strongly denied having made) or farcically lifted from half-hearted Israeli press releases. Indeed: I couldn’t help but suspect that Israel had encouraged the Home Secretary to arrest Salah, and provided material for the list, so flimsy were their “accusations” against him.

For example, they “accused” Salah of being linked to Turkish charity IHH. IHH is a totally legitimate Turkish aid group but it started to be attacked by a barrage of unfounded Zionist smear campaigns after it participated in the first Freedom Flotilla to Gaza last year. Another example of alleged “unacceptable behaviour” strong enough to bar Salah from the country which the government cited was an interview that the Middle East Monitor conducted with Salah in June in which he discussed the Palestinian right of return and the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.

Unsurprisingly (or perhaps surprisingly for those of us who have no faith in the British justice system) the judge found this all unconvincing. He didn’t make a judgement either way on whether or not Salah had actually said the anti-Semitic statements which he denies, since that is for the full judicial review set to take place in September. But he did say he was satisfied Salah’s legal team has a good case.

Despite being unjustly imprisoned for three weeks, despite being wrongly accused of entering the country illegally, and despite being demonised by the British press, Salah is staying in the country to clear his name. He is now free on bail. There is nothing stopping him from returning to Palestine, except for principles. Instead he has chosen to stay in the country under bail restrictions that prevent him from speaking to the public, force him to wear an electric tag, observe a night time curfew and report daily to immigration authorities.

If in the end he manages to clear his name it will be a blow to the government’s claim to a right of political detention. Salah will have done us all a favour by landing a blow to both draconian government measures and media scare-mongering.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” will be published by Pluto Press in October. His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears in Ceasefire every other Saturday. His website is


UK court releases Raed Salah as government case flounders

Originally published by The Electronic Intifada


After nearly three weeks in British jails, influential Palestinian activist and religious leader Sheikh Raed Salah was conditionally released today. He had been granted bail in the High Court on Friday, where The Electronic Intifada watched as the British government’s case against him floundered.

Leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Salah had been on a speaking tour in the UK when he was abruptly arrested on the way back to his London hotel on the night of 28 June. The full legal case against a government order banning him from the country is likely to be heard in September.

“We will continue to fight the Home Secretary’s exclusion order,” said Salah’s British solicitor Tayab Ali, who described bail as “the first step towards justice.”

In a press release, Daud Abdullah, director of the Middle East Monitor (MEMO), who had invited Salah to Britain to give talks to politicians and academics, said: “We are confident that the release of Sheikh Raed will be the beginning of a successful attempt to exonerate him from the character slurs and allegations that have appeared in some sections of the media.”

Salah was not present at the High Court on Friday, but the small court room was filled with his supporters. Towards the end of a long day of debate, the judge, Mr Justice Stadlen granted bail. He then spent nearly two hours detailing his rationale. He also imposed several restrictive conditions the Home Office had asked for. Salah will have to wear an electronic tag, report daily to an immigration center and observe a 6pm to 9am nighttime curfew. Perhaps most onerously of all, Salah will be barred from speaking to the public. The Electronic Intifada understands that this particular condition will in effect bar Salah from speaking to the press as well.

Arrested during speaking tour

On the night of 28 June, arresting police officers had told Salah he was going to be deported because of immigration offenses. Stadlen noted in summarizing his reasons for granting bail that this point appeared on the police custody record. But a government lawyer admitted in court on Friday that when Salah had entered the country using his Israeli passport on 25 June he had done so legally.

Steven Kovats QC was the barrister presenting objections to Salah’s bail application on behalf of Home Secretary Theresa May. He said since no one had informed Salah of any banning order, he was actually entitled to get on the plane to the UK and “didn’t do anything wrong in doing that.” It was an admission of something his supporters have said all along. In his summary, Stadlen clarified Salah “was admitted lawfully” on a six-month visitor’s visa, and said it was accepted Salah’s entry was not in contravention of an exclusion order.

Some UK journalists and bloggers had falsely accused Salah of entering the country illegally. Salah had no problems with his Israeli passport at Heathrow airport, but anti-immigration sectors of the press used this point to paint a picture of supposedly lax British border controls.

At a Parliamentary Select Committee hearing one week after his arrest, Theresa May claimed she had personally signed an exclusion order on Salah two days before he entered. She said she deemed his presence “not conducive to the public good” since he engaged in “unacceptable behavior” — one of the legal grounds possible under the law on exclusions. May said there would be a “full inquiry” into why “something went wrong” – he was let into the country without even being questioned by the UK Border Agency (Home Affairs Select Committee: The Work of the Home Secretary, 5 July, Parliament TV).

But it became clearer on Friday that Salah had been in the UK on at least four previous occasions between 1997 and 2009, and there had been no objections then from the government. Kovats said the government could not confirm or deny this, saying “we have no record of his movements” in our databases, but did not deny it was true. As an Israeli citizen, Salah does not need to apply for a visa before arriving in the country. Also, said Kovats, his passport was issued in 2011, so contained none of the old arrival stamps.

BDS, refugee rights advocacy “unacceptable behavior”

Raza Husain QC presented a long and detailed argument for bail on behalf of Salah. As it unfolded throughout the morning, refuting the Home Office’s objections in some detail, it became clear that May’s “unacceptable behavior” rationale was indeed a reference to alleged anti-Semitism. Husain made detailed rebuttals of the specific accusations that formed part of the government’s objections to bail.

The British press had circulated accusations of an anti-Semitic “poem” they attributed to Salah. But under instruction from Salah, Husain emphasized he absolutely denies writing the poem and “finds it offensive” because of its anti-Semitic content.

Husain made a point-by-point rebuttal of several accusations of anti-Semitism on behalf of Salah. He categorically denied anti-Semitic statements attributed to him, and contested that several other statements the government had cited were actually examples of legitimate free speech.

The Home Office listed as another example of “unacceptable behavior” an interview with MEMO in which Salah advocated the Palestinian right of return and the boycott divestment and sanctions movement (“Raed Salah: Israel preparing to complete the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians,” MEMO interview, 14 June).

The government did not even attempt to contest Husain’s rebuttals. Kovats replied they were not currently in a position to do so. He even admitted there were “disputes of facts” on whether or not Salah had actually said the statements – statements their own objection to bail document seems to have attributed to him. In his summary, Stadlen said he had heard no evidence to support the alleged statements.

Israeli indictments made on same day as UK order

It was also revealed on Friday that on the very same day May now says she signed the exclusion order, 23 June, two indictments against Salah were issued in a Jerusalem court. These related to an allegation of incitement from 2007 and an allegation of “obstructing a Police Officer” from April 2011.

This coincidence, along with Israel-like rationales in the government’s case for objecting to the bail application, seem to back up Salah’s accusation that Israel bears responsibility for his arrest in the UK. For example, the government objection to bail also alleged that Salah has links with the Turkish charity IHH, which they said was alleged to have provided Hamas with aid – a claim rejected by IHH.

The government submissions also alleged Salah has links to Hamas. Husain, acting on instructions from Salah, absolutely denied this. The only evidence the government seemed to present on this point was a statement Hamas had issued on one of its website protesting his arrest.

As a well-known and important Palestinian leader of popular resistance against Israeli discrimination in Jerusalem, Salah’s arrest evoked condemnation from the the whole Palestinian political spectrum, including appointed, UK-recognized West Bank Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (“Salam Fayyad says Sheikh Raed’s arrest will harm the PA,” MEMO press release, 30 June).

The government’s case seemed almost farcical at times. At one point, an individual from the Home Office team sitting behind Kovats passed the barrister a note. Kovats then made the point that the continuation of multiple hearings for Salah’s case was attracting unwelcome attention. This seemed to be a reference to the media, but the judge was not impressed. “That’s not a very attractive argument, is it?” said Justice Stadlen, causing the court room to stifle a laugh.

Salah had said soon after his arrest that he “will not yield voluntarily to the deportation” and that his lawyers will fight the court case. He is now seems to be making good on that promise.

At one point, Justice Stadlen read out parts of a transcript in which immigration officials interviewed Salah, asking if he was willing to leave the country. “Where to?” he is said to have replied, “I plan to end this visit.” He was also recorded as laughing, and explaining: “I am happy to go back but I want to finish my visit.”

Friends of Al-Aqsa Chairperson Ismail Patel said in a press release bail was “a tremendous relief. It is worth remembering that this situation was wholly avoidable and the Home Secretary’s arrest of Sheikh Raed Salah and attempt to deport him were not backed up with any firm evidence.” Patel was one of two people putting up bail money totaling £30,000 ($48,000).

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” will be published by Pluto Press in October. His website is

Palestine is Still the Issue: The Freedom Flotilla, Raed Salah, and Israel’s myth of invincibility

Originally published in Ceasefire

By Asa Winstanley

The second flotilla of activists intent on reaching Gaza by sea has so far been prevented from sailing by the Greek authorities. The Greek coast guard boarded two ships attempting to make a break for Gaza and forced them back to port. The reason given was unconvincing: they feared for the safety of passengers in light of what happened last year when Israel killed nine Turkish activists on the Mavi Marmara. So why, then, did they not instead pressure Israel to allow the ships to sail safely?

In Britain last week, Raed Salah, a prominent leader of Palestinian popular resistance in Jerusalem was arrested by UK border police. Home Secretary Theresa May had apparently banned Salah from the country – although no one seemed to have been told about the ban before he flew into Heathrow airport, entering legally on his Israeli passport.

Salah is an Israeli citizen, elected three times as the mayor of Um al-Fahm, one of the largest Palestinian towns in the 1948 territories. Salah is currently challenging the deportation order in the courts, and his lawyers have started libel actions against several British journalists who had accused him of anti-Semitism.

These events do seem to demonstrate Israel has a degree of control over the policies of other countries. But I argue these are in fact symptoms of shared economic interests (or perhaps we could say desperation in the case of Greece), and common ideologies of racism and colonialism in the case of the US and Britain.

For example, the British press furore that surrounded the entry of Salah did not focus on any alleged “threat” to Israeli interests. In fact the tabloids were generally hazy about where he even comes from. Instead the picture they put forward was along the lines of “isn’t it disgraceful this scary bearded Muslim extremist managed to sneak into our country?”

Considering that Israel has for years tried and failed to find some way of silencing Salah, it would not surprise me if it turns out they had some hand in his arrest (Salah himself said from prison that Israel bore the responsibility). But a British political and media establishment which so often uses Muslims as scapegoats has its own reasons to generate irrational fear about Salah.

Pro-Israel lobbyists like to talk about the “shared values” of Britain and Israel. They, of course, claim these are nice things like democracy and human rights. But in cases like the unjustified arrest of Raed Salah, we start to see the real shared values of Israel and Britain: in this case racism and Islamophobic scare-mongering.

We also see the reality of shared interests and common methods when comparing Israeli and British wars (such as in Afghanistan). Israel and Britain use similar justifications when killing civilians: they were just “collateral damage”. Torturers in the respective armies were just a few “bad apples”. Fighters on the other side use “human shields” (an accusation which in the case of Israel is a matter of projection bias: Israel’s genuine use of Palestinians as human shields is well documented by human rights groups).

With Greece, we should perhaps be more surprised. The country has a history of stormy relations with Israel. In 2009, Greece actually blocked an arms shipment during the Israeli onslaught against the Gaza Strip.

But the recent financial meltdown seems to have changed things. There have been reports of increased Greek-Israeli ties, such as tourism links, a joint air force drill, a proposed natural gas pipeline project and even the sale of large amounts of riot gear to Greece. It seems the tear gas reserves are being depleted by Greek police attempting to put down the popular Greek protest movement against IMF austerity measures.

For those who want to act in solidarity with Palestinian human rights, such ties can seem like formidable obstacles. But we should bear in mind that Israel is very much in the business of talking up and exaggerating its own power. It wants to re-build its myth of invincibility, so damaged by the 2000 and 2006 military defeats by volunteer resistance fighters in Lebanon. Now Israel is increasingly moving into the the arena of talking up its diplomatic power.

In this context, having to lean on a state in as dire financial straits as Greece is perhaps more of a sign of weakness than anything else. The very first Free Gaza boats in 2008 were allowed through with very little publicity. By demonising simple solidarity actions like the flotillas to Gaza and the “Welcome to Palestine” fly-in to Tel Aviv airport yesterday, Israel is humiliating itself in front of the world.

The act of attempting to deliver a cargo of letters to Gaza has led to a massive military, diplomatic and financial counter-operation – in a climate of near hysteria, with Israeli politicians talking as if they are in some sort of war. Speaking about the fly-in, one minister even invoked the 9/11 attacks: “We should… keep in mind what happened in the Twin Towers disaster”. A regime that resorts to such ridiculous, oxymoronic terms for its critics as “human rights militants” is very much on the wrong side of history.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” will be published by Pluto Press in October. His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears in Ceasefire every other Saturday. His website is

UK deportation order against Palestinian leader to be appealed

First published by Electronic Intifada.

Asa Winstanley | The Electronic Intifada | London | 1 July 2011

After a furor in the British press, a political leader of Palestinian citizens in Israel remains in a British jail tonight. Authorities cut his speaking tour short by arresting him this week.

Sheikh Raed Salah said from prison that he “will not yield voluntarily to the deportation” and that his lawyers will challenge it in the courts. Tour organizers said Friday a formal appeal would be lodged by the end of the day.

Activists accuse Israel of putting pressure on the British government to harass Salah, and Salah himself said “Israel carries the full responsibility for his detention in the United Kingdom.”

Leader of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Salah was arrested and handcuffed by police as he returned to his London hotel from a talk Tuesday night. Yet the UK Border Agency had allowed him to enter the country through Heathrow airport on Saturday, giving no indication anything was wrong.

UK police treated Salah like “a criminal”

Dr. Ibrahim Hamami, a London-based Palestinian activist told The Electronic Intifada on Wednesday that Salah had been given until 6 July to file an appeal against his deportation, and would also be able to seek release on bail. Salah had arrived legally on his Israeli passport without even being questioned, tour organizers said.

The police “treated us badly,” said Salah’s translator Hassan Sanalah, who was with him during the arrest. Sanalah told The Electronic Intifada on Thursday that one policeman “tried to push me [and said] ‘don’t interfere, I’m not talking to you, I’m talking to the man,’ to Raed Salah. I told him he doesn’t speak English but he didn’t care.” They refused to let Sanalah accompany Salah to the station, and said they would use their own translator.

Tour organizers Lubna Marsawa and Samira Quraishy arrived at the hotel just in time to witness Salah being taken away in a police van.

“You felt for him,” Quraishy told The Electronic Intifada yesterday. “He’s such a lovely man, so humble and so polite and so sweet. I felt so angry.” Quraishy works for the Middle East Monitor (MEMO), a group that organized the tour.

Marsawa, also a Palestinian citizen of Israel, tried without success to accompany Salah in the police van. She described the situation as “very humiliating … arresting someone like him [as if] he was a criminal.”

Marsawa added that police seemed to have have been given information that she and the other organizers were violent people. She described how a police woman ran at her, apparently “scared that I may attack them or something.”

Libel proceedings filed

Salah has been in the UK speaking to the public and politicians about the Arab uprisings, and to help the Palestine Solidarity Campaign launch a new campaign on Jerusalem. Before the arrest he spoke at public meetings in London and Leicester, as well as a roundtable in Parliament with MPs and researchers organized by Liberal Democrat Baroness Jenny Tonge. Organizers were given no notice from authorities there was any problem, said Marsawa.

The arrest came after a campaign this week by pro-Israel bloggers and right-wing tabloids such as the Daily Mail accusing Salah of anti-Semitism, a charge he strongly denies. MEMO said the charges were an “absolute lie and a malicious fabrication” and that Salah’s lawyers had begun libel proceedings against journalists in three British newspapers, including Evening Standard London editor Andrew Gilligan.

Gilligan then claimed on his blog he had received no such legal papers, but the offices of Farooq Bajwa & Co countered Friday by releasing a copy of the letter they had written to to Gilligan on behalf of Salah demanding a retraction (“Who is lying?,” 1 July).

According to Adalah- the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Salah has never been charged with incitement or anti-Semitism in Israel. The accusations of anti-Semitism in the British press cited unreliable sources such as MEMRI, a discredited translation service run by a former member of Israeli intelligence.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign meeting to launch the Jerusalem campaign at the House of Parliament’s Grand Committee Room went ahead in Salah’s absence on Wednesday evening, despite press reports it had been “banned” or moved to “an undisclosed location.”

Was Salah banned?

After the arrest, Home Secretary Theresa May issued a statement on the Home Office website on Wednesday saying Salah “was excluded and that he managed to enter the UK. He has now been detained and the UK Border Agency is now making arrangements to remove him [from the country]” (“Islamic movement leader detained,” 29 June).

Later that day, the Speaker of the House of Commons reported that “The Home Secretary informed me late last night that Sheikh Raed Salah has been arrested with a view to deportation on the ground that his presence is not conducive to the public good” (Hansard, Commons Debates, 29 June, column 978).

Some British journalists and pro-Israel bloggers are claiming he entered the UK in spite of a ban, and that the UK Border Agency had made a mistake. But Sanalah told The Electronic Intifada the police who actually made the arrest did not mention any ban or “exclusion.” They instead talked of “a deportation order against him.”

As late as Monday afternoon, one MP questioning Theresa May in the Commons seemed to think Salah had not yet been banned.

MP Mike Freer, a member of the Conservative Friends of Israel, said: “The Home Secretary will be aware that Mr Raed Salah has been invited to speak in the palace precincts [Parliament]. Given this man’s history of virulent anti-Semitism, will the Home Secretary ban him from entering the UK?”

May replied only in general terms about “excluding” visitors whose entry “is not conducive to the public good,” stating that the “Home Office does not routinely comment on individual cases.” There was no specific mention of a ban on Salah (Hansard, Commons Debates, 27 June, column 614).

Mail journalist warned of arrest

Meanwhile, Marsawa accused the Daily Mail of “strange” behavior, and both she and Sanalah spoke of the paper following them around the country. Sanalah said the Mail’s coverage was “politically motivated and racist.” The Mail is well-known in the UK for its anti-immigration editorial positions, and is often accused by critics of Islamophobia.

When Marsawa spoke to Mail journalist Nick Fagge in Leicester he seemed sure Sheikh Salah must have got into the country illegally, she said. Later that day, he said he wanted her to know police may visit Sheikh Salah that night. Marsawa told Salah about the journalist’s warning, but they did not take it seriously. However, when Salah returned to the London hotel with his translator that night he was in fact arrested.

Marsawa says Salah has spoken in Germany, France and Ireland in the past with no such trouble. He has also been in the UK on at least four previous occasions, but had then spoken to mostly Muslim and Arab audiences. “They [only] want the Muslims and the Arabs to make charity, to feed people and to be in the mosques,” Masarwa said.

Marsawa explained that Salah represents a large number of Palestinians in Israel, and was also an important leader for the wider Arab world. He is known as a defender of Palestinian rights in Jerusalem and a leader of ongoing peaceful resistance against the occupation of East Jerusalem, Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes and evictions from Palestinian neighborhoods such as Sheikh Jarrah.

Possible previous assassination attempt against Salah

The Islamic Movement is a legal political group in Israel that chooses not to participate in the Knesset (Israeli parliament), although a separate southern faction does stand candidates. Salah has three times been elected mayor of his hometown Umm al-Fahm, one of the largest Palestinian towns in Israel.

“Sheikh Raed was arrested so many times in his life. Israel was looking for a very single small reason to put him in jail … they would love to arrest him,” Masarwa explained.

In May 2010, Salah was on the Mavi Marmara when it was stormed in international waters by Israeli commandos who killed nine persons. Salah claimed at the time Israeli forces had tried to deliberately assassinate him. One of the victims, Ibrahim Bilgen, bore a likeness to Salah (“Did Israel try to assassinate Sheikh Raed Salah on Mavi Marmara but kill a Turkish engineer instead?,” Ali Abunimah’s blog, 2 June 2010).

In its September conclusions, a fact-finding mission dispatched by the UN Human Rights Council said Ibrahim Bilgen had been “one of the first passengers to be shot” by the Israelis “in a manner consistent with an extra-legal, arbitrary and summary execution” (“Report of the international fact-finding mission to investigate violations of international law …,” UN Human Rights Council Fifteenth Session, A/HRC/15/21, p 29, 37 [PDF]).

UK changing law to accomodate Israeli war crimes suspects

British foreign policy in recent years has been generally regarded as less warm to Israel than in other European states. But the country is moving to change its law to accomodate Israeli war crimes suspects.

Activists and lawyers have tried to use British universal jurisdiction laws to hold accountable high-profile Israeli political and military figures accused of war crimes such as Tzipni Livni, Dan Meridor and Major General Doron Almog. All have had to cancel trips to the UK after judges issued warrants against them.

Both the current Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government and the previous Labor government under Gordon Brown moved to change the law so that the government will be able to stop such prosecutions. In April the changes passed in the House of Commons and the law has now gone to the House of Lords for final approval. Critics say the changes will make it far more difficult to bring anyone accused of serious human rights violations before British courts.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation will be published by Pluto Press in October. His website is

Endemic pro-Israel bias in UK TV coverage, new book finds

Originally published by Electronic Intifada

Asa Winstanley | The Electronic Intifada | 25 June 2011

Glasgow University Media Group’s ambitious new study of British TV’s coverage of Israel and the Palestinians, More Bad News from Israel, is the second edition of 2004’s Bad News From Israel. Led by academics Greg Philo and Mike Berry, this work is precise, fair-minded and detailed. It constitutes irrefutable evidence of endemic pro-Israel bias.

Those of us regularly subjected to BBC and ITV news won’t exactly find this conclusion surprising but the importance of detailed documentary evidence like this book provides cannot be overstated.

The team had originally analyzed approximately 200 bulletins and questioned more than 800 persons. This new edition examines coverage from the past few years (369). Samples of coverage were taken from the main news bulletins on BBC and ITV (the most popular TV news programs in the UK). The authors identify key themes, such as coverage of casualties on “either side,” justifications for violence and “peace conferences” and international diplomacy. Audiences from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds were asked to complete a series of questionnaires and take part in focus groups. The vast majority reported that TV news was their primary source of information on Israel and the Palestinians.

The samples, taken from key moments in recent history, are well chosen. The focus of the initial study was coverage of the second Palestinian intifada’s outbreak in 2000 (in the first two weeks of which, Israel, by its own soldiers’ accounts, fired a million bullets at unarmed protesters). The next samples are taken from one year later (by which time Palestinian groups had started retaliatory bombings within Israel), and from coverage of the March and April 2002 Israeli re-invasions of the occupied West Bank.

The new chapters look at coverage of Israel’s 2008-09 winter assault on Gaza and the Israeli attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla a year ago (which was breaking news at the time the book was due to go to print).

Systematic preference for Israeli points of view

By fastidiously counting lines of transcript text, the authors identify a systematic preference for Israeli points of view. Israeli speakers were given twice as much space as Palestinians during the first few weeks of the intifada (215). Israeli casualties were disproportionately reported, accounting for approximately a third of the coverage, despite the actual ratio of 13 Palestinian deaths to one Israeli at that stage (223). After the Palestinian retaliatory bombing campaign began, this phenomenon worsened: “from October to December 2001 we found that there was significantly more coverage of Israeli casualties than Palestinian” even though the reality was actually still the opposite (259-60).

The study’s most telling findings concern the dominant explanatory framework and the lack of background or historical context in coverage. Even when individual journalists manage to make implicit criticisms of Israeli actions, such as on the killing of civilians, Israeli rationales were always reported — or even adopted by journalists themselves. “The journalists do not always sound happy about the Israeli rationales” but they were still included and “there is no comparable inclusion or discussion of the reasons for Palestinian action” (254).

The authors give many examples of this, including an ITV report from March 2002 that described Israeli collective punishment destroying civilian infrastructure around Bethlehem as “the ongoing fight against terror.” But there are “no commentaries such as ‘the Israeli attacks have reinforced the determination of Palestinian fighters to defend their land against Israeli terror’ [and] … we do not hear of Palestinian attacks as sending ‘a tough message to Israelis to end military rule’” (265). Such statements are unimaginable on British TV.

“All bang bang stuff”

One BBC journalist was told by his editor he wasn’t interested in “explainers” since “it’s all bang bang stuff” (180-1). But the audience studies here reveal “a strong feeling in the [focus] groups that the news should explain origins and causes” (315). This is unsurprising, considering that audiences questioned here often did not even know what nationality “settlers” were, or that there was a military occupation of the West Bank (400-1).

The two key historical events missing from the narrative of TV news are the Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe”), what Palestinians call the ethnic cleansing and dispossession of their homeland in 1947-48, and the military occupation that started in 1967 (333). One student in a focus group said: “I didn’t realize they [Palestinians] had actually been driven out” (292). As the authors put it: “these absences in public knowledge very closely parallel the absence of such information on the TV news” (294).

The new audience studies for this second edition looked at whether anything has changed since 2004. The answer for the most part seems to be no. Coverage of Palestinian casualties seems to have increased, but Israeli casualties are still over-represented proportionate to the level of Palestinian deaths (363). Overall, the “most striking feature” of the new samples was “the dominance of the Israeli perspective” (340).

Has the tide turned on perceptions of Palestine?

Many of us who follow Western perceptions of Palestine have gained optimism by detecting a slow but positive shift in public opinion in support of Palestinians over the last couple of years. Perhaps that is still true, but the new findings here give pause for thought. The framework of assumptions is still overwhelmingly influenced by the Israeli version of events. In other words, Palestinian actions are always assumed to lead to Israeli “responses.”

The original study revealed that the “Israeli response to Palestinian violence” formula was so all-pervasive that the infamous Israeli killing of Gaza schoolboy Muhammad al-Dura in the first days of the intifada was understood by many as as “response” to a killing of two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah — even though the latter event actually took place afterwards (305). The updated audience studies here suggest that this malign phenomenon has not changed.

Palestinian rockets from Gaza were still seen by many as the main reason for Palestinian civilian deaths: “Palestinians are seen as initiating the violence … [so] it follows that Israel is ‘retaliating’” (378). On the BBC during the sample period 27 December 2008 to 17 January 2009, Israel’s November 2008 violation of the ceasefire with Hamas was mentioned in only 4.25 lines of transcript, compared with 249 lines of text that emphasized the firing of Palestinian rockets into southern Israel (419).

The weakest part of the book is the chapter “Why does it happen?” which offers some tentative explanations for the problematic patterns in the studied coverage. The influence of the Israel lobby is over-emphasized here and there is little analysis of real shared values between the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel, such as imperialism, military hegemony, Orientalist assumptions and racism. There are revealing statements by some in the focus groups that I would have liked to have seen pursued. One person thought Palestinians and Israelis fight “because that’s what their ancestors did and that’s what they know how to do” (374).

Despite this flaw, More Bad News from Israel is a valuable tool in understanding mass media coverage and popular opinion on Israel and the Palestinians. If journalists are to present the Palestinian perspective to people in the West, these are important issues to understand.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book, Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation, will be published by Pluto Press in October. His website is

Palestine is Still the Issue: On American Principles for Negotiating With Official Enemies

My fortnightly column published by Ceasefire.

By Asa Winstanley

This week Barack Obama confirmed something the US government had been moving towards for a long time: opening negotiations with the Taliban. “America will join initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban,” Obama said in a speech Wednesday. This has been in the works for a while. On Channel 4 News Thursday, minor celebrity soldier Captain Doug Beattie said that British forces had been talking with the Taliban “on a local level in Helmand since 2007”.

The US military, along with satellites such as Britain, are being defeated by the Taliban. Nothing demonstrates this more clearly than the fact that, at exactly the same time negotiations were being made public for the first time last week, Taliban military activity was very much ongoing. Indeed, as reported by AP Saturday, quasi-puppet Afghan president Hamid Karzi announced to the world the US was in talks with the Taliban “even as insurgents stormed a police station near the presidential palace, killing nine people.

And yet, we are dealing with the very same United States establishment that absolutely rules out any talks with Hamas, despite the fact that the Islamic Resistance Movement forms the elected majority of the Palestinian Authority’s parliament; and despite the fact that Hamas has by now presented multiple offers to Israel of long term negotiated ceasefires.

In Gaza Hamas has even, at times, enforced truces with Israel, imposing them on smaller armed factions that had continued to fire rockets at Israeli positions – and even arresting Al-Aqsa Brigades fighters (members of the rival Fatah faction of Mahmoud Abbas, lately propped up by the US).

Ideologically, Hamas is a conservative movement which has much in common with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (indeed they share historical roots). Reactionary as they have proven to be, both of these Arab movements are a world away from the Taliban.

The Taliban is far more reactionary and brutal and has zero democratic legitimacy. Hamas on the other hand is essentially a popular resistance movement – a Palestinian nationalist movement with Islamist tendencies.

It is true that the corruption of the Fatah-dominated PA was an important factor behind Hamas’s 2006 election victory, but I find this is usually over-emphasised. The movement’s reputation for resistance to Israeli occupation was the main reason. Since then, it has more and more moved away from armed resistance and tried to make itself appealing to the West.

Instead of negotiating with Hamas when they won the elections, the US initiated a proxy conflict that sparked a mini-civil war in Gaza, until Hamas fighters ejected what had been termed the “Palestinian contras”.

It is quite instructive that even while the Taliban continues to fight America it gets negotiations. Hamas stops fighting Israel (a US client state by any definition), reconciles with Fatah, increasingly moves towards the “two state solution” – and yet is still shunned by the US government. It follows then, that the stated pretexts of Empire – pious declamations about democracy, freedom and women’s rights – cannot possibly be the real reasons for shunning Hamas.

It looks very much like the Taliban have forced America to sit at the negotiating table. The US are essentially trying to save face, because they know they can’t stay in Afghanistan forever: the American people simply do not support it any more. By now the war is so unpopular that even some Republican presidential candidates have started to call for American troops to come home. The message this “softer” American strategy sends is, in effect: if you want America or its regional clients to back down, do NOT stop fighting.

Indeed, the only meaningful negotiations Israel has ever had with Hamas have been over an occupation soldier captured by Hamas in Gaza, in 2006, and still held prisoner. Should the long-discussed prisoner exchange for him eventually go ahead, it would be proof that armed resistance by liberation struggles can still achieve concrete gains despite the military odds.

However, the Hamas government’s “morality campaigns” in Gaza in recent years have led to a decline in its popularity. At the same time, Fatah’a “security coordination” with Israel, corruption and a succession of scandals have meant they too remain unpopular. Recent polls show low approval ratings for both, with a majority of Palestinians in the occupied territories favouring no political party at all.

The fledgling Arab revolutions have changed the rules of the game. The Palestinian people are unlikely to tolerate Hamas and Fatah’s mutual delay in implementing the April deal to form a unity government and prepare for new elections.

Although Fatah and Hamas probably think they have diffused popular Palestinian discontent by signing their unity deal, the way things are going the third Palestinian intifada, an increasingly plausible prospect, is highly likely to cast them aside for a better, more unified strategy, transcending party politics.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” will be published by Pluto Press in October. His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears in Ceasefire every other Saturday. His website is

Palestine is Still the Issue: Arab Revolutions and the Recognition of Israel

My fortnightly column published by Ceasefire.

By Asa Winstanley

Last week French so-called philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy was in the press again making extraordinary claims about Libya. He insisted that the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) led by Mustafa Abd al-Jalil was looking to recognise Israel. The TNC intends to “maintain normal relations with other democratic countries, including Israel” Levy said. He even claimed to have delivered a message from the TNC conveying as much to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu himself.

This was immediately denied by a TNC representative in Benghazi. Algerian paper Echorouk said the TNC vice-chairman had denounced Levy’s allegation as “baseless” and insisted they had never asked Levy to convey such a message “to the Zionist entity leaders”, as the paper put it.

He also said the TNC would never recognise Israel and that “such groundless assertions were being propagated by the despotic Gaddafi regime and its henchmen” to tarnish “the image of the national transition council in the eyes of the fervent supporters of the legitimate Palestinian cause in the Arab world and elsewhere.”

This tells us a lot about the nature of the Zionist state and its crimes. The TNC was established to take control of the popular Libyan uprising against the despotic and sadistic Gaddafi regime which broke out in February. Abd al-Jalil himself is a former Gaddafi loyalist and minister. Since the the Libyan intifada was taken over by such elements, the TNC has been doing its best to show deference to its new funders in the EU, the US, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

This week I even saw Abd al-Jalil on TV making excuses for Qatar’s deportation of Iman al-Obeidi. Obeidi is the woman who was allegedly gang-raped by Gaddafi troops and famously appeared on TV screens around the world when she was dragged away by Gaddafi thugs after approaching international journalists at breakfast in a Tripoli hotel.

She was later able to flee to Tunisia, and then onto Qatar. She is now reportedly headed to the US after being deported by the Qatari regime (Channel 4 News has more on on recent developments in her story, alleging the TNC have treated her badly by “using” her in media appearances she was uncomfortable with). After Qatar deported her, Abd al-Jalil bizarrely told al-Jazeera that he “understood” Qatar’s position.

So the TNC is starting to look like a US-Saudi puppet regime along the lines of Iraq (or indeed the previous Gaddafi regime of the last decade). Despite that, it is highly unlikely to recognise Israel. The Libyan people would not allow it, even if the TNC wanted to.

One of the most striking images in the wave of Arab revolutions since the start of the year has been the presence of Palestinian flags on demonstrations throughout. From Tunis to Cairo to Benghazi, expressions of solidarity with the Palestinians have been there all along, represented in such slogans as “the people, demand, the liberation of Palestine” – a play off the most common chant of the revolutionaries: “the people, demand, the fall of the regime”.

The comparison with the puppet regime in Iraq is apt. The Levy episode reminds me of the time in 2008 when members of the US Congress were dismayed to discover that Iraq offered no flights to Israel, because of its lack of relations with the Zionist state.

They had been in Israel for the 60th anniversary celebrations of the 1947-48 ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from Palestine (al-Nakba, The Catastrophe, in Arabic – what Israelis sadistically call “Independence Day”). They decided to visit Iraq for a day but found they had to return to occupied Palestine via Amman. Outraged that billions of dollars in US taxpayer’s cash, was still not enough to buy normalization with Israel, they put forward a congressional resolution demanding Iraq recognise Israel or have its funding cut. But apparently, the resolution was non-binding. I imagine it was never heard from again.

If the US can’t even force puppet regimes like Iraq to recognise Israel, it has no chance should anything resembling democratic states begin to emerge in revolutionary Tunisia and Egypt. Israel relies on kings and other dictators to force through agreements with Arab states against the wishes of their people. And even then there is only Jordan and Egypt, with the latter agreement increasingly being challenged by Egyptians on the streets calling for cancelation or at least amendment of the unequal peace treaty with Israel.

Israel is a state founded on ethnic cleansing and war crimes. Its maintenance relies on a military regime in the West Bank, racial and sectarian segregation policy and law throughout historic Palestine, periodic festivals of massacres against Palestinians and Arabs such as in Gaza, and wars of aggression against country after country. Such a colonial entity implanted in the heart of the Arab world, will never be recognised as “legitimate” by the Arab masses.

It has been quite amusing all year to see Western supporters of Israel in total denial about the nature of the Arab revolutions. They tell themselves tall tales about how people in the region supposedly only resent Israel because of state propaganda that was used to distract attention away from regime crimes to external enemies.

But the reality now and through history has been the opposite: the Palestinian and Arab masses have always had to push Arab regimes into taking any action, however limited, against Israeli war crimes and occupation. It has been the people of the region themselves who have ensured that Palestine is still the moral issue of our time.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. He is the co-editor of “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” published by Pluto Press in October (with a foreword by Alice Walker).

His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears in Ceasefire every other Saturday. His website is .

Updated: British prime minister steps down as JNF patron

A spokesperson for David Cameron on Friday refused to comment on the rationale behind the British prime minister’s decision to step down from his position as honorary patron of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The move comes as pressure on the JNF steps up in Britain, and is being hailed by activists as a big victory in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign.

Campaigners with activist group Stop the JNF had written to Cameron earlier in May calling on him to cut his links with the JNF. Registered as a charity in the UK, the JNF is involved in development of illegal settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the destruction of Palestinian Bedouin villages in the Naqab (Negev) inside Israel and stands accused of institutionally racist practices and complicity in ethnic cleansing since 1948.

Cameron’s press office told The Electronic Intifada that the decision had been made after a review of all the charities Cameron supported: “This is not a particularly recent decision,” said a spokesperson on Friday. In a short statement Thursday, the prime minister’s office had said the JNF was one of a “number of charities” Cameron stood down from following the review which was undertaken “[f]ollowing the formation of the Coalition Government last year.”

The statement did not specify any reason for the move. When asked if it was related to the JNF’s involvement with Israeli settlements in the West Bank (which the British government, in line with international law, considers illegal) the spokesperson said they were “not going to get into any further details.”

The spokesperson implied that Cameron is only involved in local causes: “The charities that he’s currently involved with will normally be charities in his [local parliamentary] constituency … or a couple of national campaigns. There aren’t really any that deal with specific issues in specific foreign countries,” he stated. He would not comment on why this had changed after Cameron had become prime minister.

The JNF’s UK office refused to comment on the matter. A report in The Jewish Chronicle on Thursday suggested “time constraints” were behind the move, although the email statement did not mention this (“Cameron leaves the JNF,” The Jewish Chronicle, 26 May 2011). On the Spectator website Monday, staunchly Zionist columnist Melanie Philips used her blog to describe the move as “the latest act of aggression against Israel by HMG [Her Majesty’s Government],” and suggested that the time constraints justification are “unconvincing” (“Cameron drinks the Kool-aid,” Spectator blogs, 30 May).

The spokesperson refused to name the other groups, saying he didn’t “think it would be very fair on the other charities that he stepped down from to name them.” While the statement claimed a “full list of all the charities and organizations the prime minister and Mrs. Cameron are associated with is published on the Cabinet Office website,” several searches for this list were unsuccessful. The spokesperson declined to provide The Electronic Intifada with a link to the list.

According to a list on the JNF’s UK website, the move leaves former Prime Minister Gordon Brown as the only serving member of parliament left as honorary patron to the group. Other figures on the list include staunch supporters of Israel such as former prime minister and current Quartet envoy Tony Blair and Israeli government figures such as Shimon Peres. An open letter signed by campaigners calling for current Labour leader Ed Milliand to “break from this tradition” of party leaders patronizing the JNF was printed by The Guardian in October. So far he has not followed Brown, Blair or Cameron (who became patron while opposition leader).

The JNF is a quasi-governmental organization that controls large swathes of state land in Israel. This land is reserved for the use of Jews only — to the detriment of Israel’s 1.5 million Palestinian citizens, and the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were expelled from that land by Zionist militias in 1947-48.

The JNF has in recent years tried to re-brand itself as an environmentally-friendly charity, an effort critics have branded “greenwashing.” But pressure on the JNF mounted Saturday as Friends of the Earth (FoE) Scotland, at its annual general meeting, voted to endorse the Stop The JNF campaign. Chief Executive Stan Blackley said FoE Scotland was “pleased” to join the call for revocation of the JNF’s charitable status, according to a Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) press release (“Friends of the Earth Scotland endorses call …,” Stop the JNF website, 28 May).

The JNF has been connected with ethnic cleansing and abuse of Palestinian rights on both sides of the green line — the internationally-recognized armistice line between Israel and the occupied West Bank.

Journalist Max Blumenthal reported that the fund recently “set its sights” on al-Araqib in the Naqab (or Negev) desert. The Bedouin village has been destroyed 21 times since July 2010 so that the JNF can “develop” the area as part of the government’s Judaization campaign (“On Land Day, the Jewish National Fund’s Racist Legacy is Exposed,”, 30 March 2011). The JNF is also involved in funding projects in illegal West Bank colonies such as Sansana in the south Hebron hills.

According to Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, as of 2007 the JNF owned a total of just over 2.5 million dunams of land (a dunam is the equivalent of 1,000 square meters), the majority of which was seized from Palestinian refugees.

In the course of a 2004 legal challenge by Adalah, the JNF confirmed in a response to the court its discriminatory policies against non-Jews: “The JNF is not the trustee of the general public in Israel. Its loyalty is given to the Jewish people in the Diaspora and in the state of Israel … The JNF… does not have a duty to practice equality towards all citizens of the state” (“Land Controlled by Jewish National Fund for Jews Only,” Adalah press release, 29 July 2007).

Stop the JNF, which emerged in May of last year, is a working coalition of different campaigning groups including the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC). The campaign will be holding a series of workshops in London on 4 June.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. He is the editor of a book about the Russell Tribunal on Palestine coming out on Pluto Press later in 2011. His website is

Front page photo: Bedouins carrying signs reading “JNF robs Bedouin land” protest in front of the Jewish National Fund office in Jerusalem, 1 February 2011. (Anne Paq / ActiveStills)

I wrote this update to the story, and it appeared on the EI editors’ blog on the 9th of June:

Last month Asa Winstanley reported for The Electronic Intifada on how British Prime Minister David Cameron had stepped down as honorary Jewish National Fund patron. Asa, a journalist in London who blogs at and who can be followed on Twitter, wrote up the following update and analysis after the prime minister’s spokespersons broke the silence on Cameron’s resignation:

When I called the Number 10 press office to get a comment from British Prime Minister David Cameron for my story for The Electronic Intifada on his resignation as honorary Jewish National Fund (JNF) patron last week, the two spokespersons I talked to were polite enough. But it was clear there was a decision not to comment on reasons.

A few days after my story was published, this line changed. The Jewish Chronicle (JC) last Thursday published a new story in which they had managed to coax out new details: “a spokesman confirmed that the reason [for his resignation] was JNF’s links to Israel”

However, Number 10 is also now saying it was about “having an organisation that was specifically focused around work in one specific country. We spoke to JNF to say this had nothing to do with a policy issue.” To make things even more clear: “This has absolutely nothing to do with any anti-Israel campaign … The Prime Minister’s clear views on Israel are on record.”

So what are we to make of this? Was this a victory for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement or not? Stop the JNF thinks it was, but this seems to be contradicted by the new rationale published in the JC Thursday, 2 June.

In this context, it’s important to clarify two points. Firstly, BDS is about concrete results to challenge Israeli apartheid policies such as those funded by the JNF. It’s not just a list of things to boycott so we can feel good about ourselves. Secondly, it is worth clarifying that The Jewish Chronicle, under its current editor, is staunchly pro-Zionist (remember, this was the paper that recently published a columnist who expressed “pleasure” at the murder of Vittorio Arrigoni, the Italian ISM activist based in Gaza).

On the first point: it is clear that, regardless of the reasons for Cameron’s resignation, the move is clearly a big setback for the JNF in UK. The “Israel: right or wrong” crowd are very much gnashing their teeth about it. As well as the rantings of Melanie “Mad Mel” Phillips that I reported on in my original article, in the new JC piece Zionist Federation chairman Harvey Rose said the decision sent a “terrible message” to Israel supporters in the UK. Former JNF President Gail Seal said that it was “very damaging … It undermines the work we are trying to do for Israel. It’s broken a chain since 1901 where we have always had a British prime minister as a patron. It’s very sad and I’m very upset about it.”

On the second point: As far as I can tell, the first place this story emerged was in the JC on 26 May, in a very short piece buried on the website (I have not had a chance to check if it was in the print edition or not): “Cameron leaves the JNF”.

It seems that these few short paragraphs were essentially based on Stop the JNF’s detective work: i.e. keeping an eye on the JNF UK website, and noticing that Cameron’s name had been quietly dropped. It seems that the JC was caught in a dilemma: they clearly did not want to draw attention to Stop the JNF’s claim of victory, but it was obviously too big to altogether ignore. When the story was picked up and reported on by The Electronic Intifada, Harriet Sherwood in the Guardian and others, it seems the JC decided to try and salvage the narrative.

I think it would be naive for Palestine activists to take David Cameron as a political ally. He has not broken from long-standing British policy in support of Israel (even if he does not seem to be an ideological Christian Zionist like Tony Blair). This is also the man who, while in opposition infamously said “If by Zionist you mean that the Jews have the right to a homeland in Israel and the right to a country then I am a Zionist”.

Rationale aside, in my opinion, this is clearly a material advance in the campaign against the JNF and its funding of apartheid and ethnic cleaning throughout historical Palestine.


Review: “Shifting Sands” anthology a hit and miss


In the preface to the new anthology Shifting Sands: Jewish Women Confront the Israeli Occupation, dissident Israeli journalist Amira Hass brings attention to “part of this ‘other’ Jewish tradition, the tradition of those who tell jokes and break down walls” (xi).

Published by Whole World Press and edited by Osie Gabriel Adelfang, Shifting Sands is a collection of essays, prose and one poem by Jewish activists and writers. The anthology opens with Linda Dittmar’s account of her Israeli upbringing in pre- and post-Nakba Palestine. She works with Zochrot, the Israeli organization documenting the Nakba — the 1948 catastrophe in which more than 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homeland by Zionist militias.

Dittmar’s story gives clues as to why she would want to get involved. Soon after 1948, the neighboring Palestinian villages were no longer full of the signs of life she was used to seeing as a child: the felaha (villager) women selling produce door-to-door, the lights shining from domestic windows. As a child she could not understand why or how this happened, and her essay is a revealing account of “the silence in which everyone around … [me] colluded” (8).

Continue reading Review: “Shifting Sands” anthology a hit and miss