Israel says no more visas for ‘biased’ HRW staff

Israeli authorities reject Human Rights Watch request for work permit, accusing it of having a ‘pro-Palestinian’ agenda.

The Israeli foreign ministry accused the rights group of being pro-Palestinian [File: EPA/Jim Hollander]

Israeli has refused to issue a visa for a senior Human Rights Watch staff member, accusing the US-based rights group of pro-Palestinian bias and saying it will no longer grant visas to its staff.

HRW said on Friday that its Israel and Palestine Director Omar Shakir, a US citizen, had received a rejection letter on February 20, months after an application for the permit was submitted by the group on his behalf.

The Israeli foreign ministry said that the organisation was “not a real human rights group”, with a foreign ministry spokesman calling it “fundamentally biased” with a “hostile agenda”.

New York-based HRW, which operates in 90 countries, said it has documented violations considered illegal under international humanitarian law by all sides in the conflict, including the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas, the Palestinian group that governs the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli interior ministry cited a recommendation received by the foreign ministry, which said that HRW’s “public activities and reports have engaged in politics in the service of Palestinian propaganda, while falsely raising the banner of ‘human rights'”.

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In a statement, HRW said the decision came as authorities sought “to limit the space for local and international human rights groups to operate in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories”.

Emmanuel Nahshon, a foreign ministry spokesman, told the AFP news agency that the group was not banned, and any Israeli and Palestinian employees would still be allowed to operate in Israel, but said: “Why should we give working visas to people whose only purpose is to besmirch us and to attack us?”

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Speaking to local media, Nahshon said Israel was “fed up with them [HRW] coming here every time and taking advantage of their stay here. They don’t do anything but look for an anti-Israel agenda.”

Iain Levine, HRW’s deputy executive director of program, said: “This decision and the spurious rationale should worry anyone concerned about Israel’s commitment to basic democratic values.”

“It is disappointing that the Israeli government seems unable or unwilling to distinguish between justified criticisms of its actions and hostile political propaganda.”

In response to the decision to refuse his visa, Shakir said: “We are genuinely shocked. We work in over 90 countries across the world. Many governments don’t like our well-researched findings but their response is not to stifle the messenger.”

READ MORE: Trump stand on settlement encourages Israel’s land grab

According to Shakir, Israeli authorities said they would also refuse visas to other non-Israeli or Palestininan HRW staff.

Last year, HRW issued a report, “Occupation Inc.“, in which it accused foreign and Israeli firms operating in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank of contributing to human rights abuses.

In July 2016, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passed a law targeting human rights groups and NGOs that receive foreign funding. The law, applicable to about 25 organisations, compels them to declare funds in official reports, and according to HRW, imposes “onerous reporting requirements that burden their advocacy”.

It is not the first time the organisation has faced criticism and resistance from governments.

“We have little relations with governments in North Korea, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Cuba and Venezuela where there is zero appetite for human rights engagement,” Shakir said. “With this decision, Israel is joining the list.”

Source: News agencies

Palestinians decry West Bank industrial zone expansion

For years, Israel has increasingly taken control of Palestinian lands in Area C to build out its industrial zones.

There are four Israeli industrial zones and a quarry in the Salfit governorate [Ylenia Gostoli/Al Jazeera]


Salfit, occupied West Bank – Standing by the side of a highway near the main gates to Ariel West, an Israeli industrial zone in the heart of the West Bank district of Salfit, Jamal Omar Fazaa makes a sweeping gesture with his hand.

“This is my family’s land, exactly 186 dunums [18 hectares],” he tells Al Jazeera.

An old olive tree stands just a few metres from the Israeli bulldozers levelling the ground here. The crooked necks of yellow cranes dot the landscape along this stretch of Highway 5, an Israeli road that cuts through two adjacent industrial zones: Barkan, which houses more than 130 factories and companies, and the smaller Ariel West, which houses about 26.

Israeli media outlets recently reported that 60 new companies have registered to relocate to the area, despite the threat of retaliation from the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Omar Fazaa initially fought back against the theft of his land, but he no longer thinks the fight is worth it [Ylenia Gostoli/Al Jazeera]

Dunum by dunum, Fazaa’s land has been stolen since the 1980s. The 53-year-old teacher initially fought back, but today, he no longer thinks it is worth it. One of his sons works in a factory in the area and will have to renew his work permit, a system Palestinians say is used to suppress any “resistance” activity, such as claiming the right to one’s land. About half of the town’s youth work in the industrial areas, where factories are mostly Israeli-owned.

There are four Israeli industrial zones and a quarry in the Salfit governorate. Together with the 24 settlements and outposts that dot its hilltops, they form a belt that locals call “the finger” for the way it protrudes from the Green Line into the occupied West Bank, cutting a prospective Palestinian state in two. An estimated 72,000 Palestinians live in the district’s 18 towns and villages.

“When they started building this road in 2000, we came to protest,” Fazaa says, pointing at the main road into the Ariel West industrial zone. The protest cost him and some members of his family a few nights in jail and a 9,000-shekel ($2,400) fine, paid by the Palestinian Authority on their behalf. The family was never notified of the land confiscation, he says: “They usually bring the bulldozers, and if the owner comes, they’ll tell him about it.”

READ MORE: Israeli settlement law ‘violates rights and dignity’

Barkan and Ariel West are built on land confiscated from the nearby villages of Haris, Sarta and Bruqin. Fazaa has documents issued by Jordan before 1967, along with faded maps and papers that appear to list at least some of his property. None has been enough to claim his right to the land in question, which would have required hiring costly engineers to survey the land and then fighting for it in court.

None of the documents Fazaa has presented has been enough to claim his right to his family’s land [Ylenia Gostoli/Al Jazeera]

The Israeli government has used various means to take control of West Bank lands over the years, including declaring military firing zones or designating areas as natural parks. It has also declared certain areas as state land through an interpretation of an 1858 Ottoman land law stipulating that a piece of land not cultivated for several years passes into the hands of the “sultan”.

Declaring state land is only possible in cases where the land is not officially registered as private property, but land registration in the occupied West Bank has been historically low, and the burden of proving ownership falls on the landowner. The Israeli government has allocated less than 10 percent of declared state lands for Palestinian use, while prohibiting Palestinian construction and development in about 40 percent of the occupied West Bank.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Knesset recently passed a law allowing the state to retroactively legalise settlement outposts built on private Palestinian land. While international law considers all Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal, unauthorised outposts are illegal under Israeli law as well.

In late 2016, the Israeli government deposited new master plans for the development of both the Barkan and Ariel West industrial areas. According to the Palestinian Land Research Centre, these master plans include 138 dunums confiscated from the Palestinian village of Haris and an additional 18 from Bruqin.

INTERACTIVE: Building the occupation

At least 30 Palestinian structures in Area C, where the industrial areas are built and which is under full Israeli control, have received stop-work orders this year for lacking building permits – a sharp rise from last year’s total of 50. This rise is consistent with the sharp increase in demolitions elsewhere in the West Bank.

On its website, Ariel West lures businesses with “the highest level of government benefits in the form of industrial grants and tax incentives”, owing to its location in National Priority Development Area A. Much of what is produced here is destined for export. The Barkan industrial park exports up to 80 percent of its products, according to its website.

Al Jazeera approached the Shomron regional council, which administers this area of the West Bank, for further information about the ongoing expansion and the companies slated to relocate to the area, but did not receive a response.

Israeli leaders have often defended settlement businesses on the basis that they provide work to Palestinians. But while wages in Israeli industrial areas may be higher than in Palestinian areas, workers are exposed to exploitative conditions and a lack of oversight on labour and environmental regulations, according to a report published last year by Human Rights Watch.

At least two Israeli and international companies moved their operations out of the Barkan industrial area in recent years amid pressure from the BDS movement, but the cheaper rent and labour costs continue to make the West Bank an attractive locale for business owners – and an uncomfortable option for some Palestinian workers.

“What choice do I have?” said Said, a former worker in a door factory in Bruqin, who spoke to Al Jazeera under a pseudonym. “If I don’t work, someone else will.”

Source: Al Jazeera


Don’t blame Trump for tiring of the two-state solution

A two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was in dire straits long before Trump’s presidency.

US President Donald Trump and first lady Melania meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara in the Oval Office of White House on February 15 [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]
US President Donald Trump and first lady Melania meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara in the Oval Office of White House on February 15 [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]


Geoffrey Aronson is a specialist in Middle East affairs.

If it was not understood before Donald Trump’s election, it is certainly the case today that there is a high price to pay for the failure over the past decades to establish a “two-state” diplomatic agreement enabling the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The reckless new US president has many faults, but responsibility for the failure to solve the conflict between the Arabs and Israel on this basis is not one of them … at least not yet.

Everyone is huffing and puffing about Trump’s breezy dismissal of the two-state solution during the recent visit to Washington of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But only last summer the Republican Party adopted an election platform that, unlike recent predecessors, pointedly failed to endorse a two-state solution, and deferred to Israel on the parameters of an agreement.

Trump’s comments are the consequence, not the source of the problems that have enfeebled the two-state option. Such disenchantment is the price we all are paying for the failure to leverage unprecedented support for such an outcome with a forceful international commitment to realise it on the ground.

From the breathless critical commentary surrounding Trump’s manifest disinterest in the shape of a solution to the conflict, one would think that everyone has always supported the creation of a Palestinian state on territories occupied by Israel in June 1967. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It took more than three decades to forge an international consensus in favour of a Palestinian state. Never forget the famous and always stillborn Jordanian option floated from time to time by various Israeli leaders, often with American support. Or the unitary Palestinian solution still formally embraced by Hamas but originated by the young Palestinian Liberation Organsation’s support for a democratic secular state in all of Palestine. Or Menachem Begin’s “autonomy for the people but not the land” that presaged the Oslo agreements.

Each of these options claimed the attention of its supporters. Some retain a powerful allegiance to this day. Why should the stillborn two-state option, which has long dominated the peace process agenda to no result, except to entrench occupation, enjoy a shelf-life any longer than these?

No framework for diplomacy

For the first time since 1967, the diplomatic environment inherited by Trump is barren of any framework for diplomacy.

Despair at the prospect of an agreement or even how to structure a diplomatic effort is Barack Obama’s sad legacy.

It is often forgotten that the “peace process” has not scored any achievement since 1996, with the troubled agreement on Hebron and some minor additions called for in Oslo.

The only deals made between Israel and the Palestinians in the past two decades have been outside the Oslo framework – and Israel’s partner on this track is Hamas, not Fatah/PLO.

Trump is also treading a well-worn path by his declared readiness to bless whatever agreement the parties themselves conclude.

The United States has always prided itself on being an “honest broker”. Whether it deserves the description is another matter entirely. But the year 2000’s Clinton Parameters are the closest Washington has ever come to presenting for consideration its own a map dividing the land (PDF).

That moment passed without consequence upon Clinton’s departure soon after. Nothing that has occurred since then during the George W Bush or Obama years has come close to emulating this short-lived, last-minute example.

The last thing [Netanyahu] or any Israeli leader wants is US support for a democratic state in Palestine in which Muslims and Jews are close to parity.

Long before Trump promised Israel a veto over the pace and direction of diplomacy, Democrat and Republican alike ran fast and far from anything that hinted at an imposed solution of any shape. In a speech last November summing up his failed diplomatic effort, former US Secretary of State John Kerry observed: “[T]he old saying is real: You can lead a horse to water, you can’t make him drink. If they’re not prepared to take the risks – everybody knows what has to be done – but if they’re not ready, then there’s no way to force-feed it.”

How is this materially different from Trump’s view that: “It is the parties themselves who must directly negotiate such an agreement. We’ll be beside them; we’ll be working with them.”

It is almost certainly the case that Trump’s off-the-cuff comments at his press conference with Netanyahu were not the result of any staff work worth the description.

Netanyahu in a bind

Nevertheless ,Trump’s surprise decision – what other kind of decisions does the new president make? – to raise the profile, if not the details, of a one-state solution, put Netanyahu in a bind.

Israel long ago annexed East Jerusalem in 1967 and the Golan Heights in 1981, and in their meeting Netanyahu asked Trump to recognise these actions.

But the Israeli prime minister has no interest in conferring citizenship on two million West Bank Palestinians to the Jewish State, let alone those trapped in Gaza.

The last thing he or any Israeli leader wants is US support for a democratic state in Palestine in which Muslims and Jews are close to parity. Does anyone believe that Israel would choose such an option or that Trump or any American administration would impose it?

Netanyahu can live well with US support for two states. Indeed if the international community has to embrace a framework for peace, he could not do much better than the system created by Oslo more than two decades ago, improved by the much-discussed “outside-in” effort to engage the Arabs in a diplomatic merry-go-round.

READ MORE: How Palestinians should respond to Trump’s ‘one state’

“The great opportunity for peace”, Netanyahu now explains, is not based upon bilateral direct talks that have been the core Israeli demand for decades, but a long-disdained “regional approach [from] involving our newfound Arab partners in the pursuit of a broader peace and peace with the Palestinians.”

He knows better than anyone that a US surrender of the two-state option opens up a radioactive one-state option. More of the same works far better for Israel.

OPINION: US and Israel join forces to bury Palestinian statehood

The fact of the matter is that Israel has ruled the West Bank and Jerusalem as the de facto sovereign for almost half a century, exploiting the areas’ advantages as its own and settling hundreds of thousands of its own citizens.

As Moshe Dayan, the former Israeli foreign secretary, presciently observed almost half a century ago, the challenge facing Israel is not to reach a solution to the occupation but to learn to live, and prosper, without one.

Geoffrey Aronson writes about Middle Eastern affairs. He consults with a variety of public and private institutions dealing with regional political, security, and development issues.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

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