Palestinians face biggest expulsion in years by settlers in Jerusalem

A private settler organization is planning “the most extensive expulsion scheme in recent years,” in the Batan al-Hawa area of Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem is warning.

The settler group, Ateret Cohanim, claims to own about an acre of land in the densely populated neighborhood near the al-Aqsa mosque.

The group has filed eviction claims against the 81 Palestinian families who live there.

B’Tselem says this concentration of evictions represents 45 percent of all Palestinians facing “dispossession on the basis of ethnicity” in East Jerusalem.

“Where will we go?”

The families are fighting the eviction claims in court, but resident Zuheir al-Rajabi tells B’Tselem that Ateret Cohanim is on a “vigorous offensive.”

Six buildings have already been taken over by the organization, emptying them of the Palestinian families who lived there. The Israeli settlers who have moved in are reinforced by private and municipal security guards, who regularly harass Palestinians, especially youngsters.

Najah al-Rajabi, 62, has lived in fear for the last 12 years, ever since settlers took over the building next to her.

“Now I’m afraid to go outside at night to pray,” she says in the video produced by B’Tselem at the top of this article.

B’Tselem has created an interactive website and a series of new videos to highlight the living conditions of Palestinians in Batan al-Hawa.

Najah’s home is tiny, with only one bedroom. She stores most of her belongings on a porch with a view of Silwan’s Kidron Valley. It also looks over her heavily guarded settler neighbors.

She is now waiting with anxiety, along with the dozens of other Palestinian families in Batan al-Hawa under threat of forced displacement, for the day she is forced to leave.

“Where will we go? They’re expelling us. It’s expulsion. Plain and simple.”

“Like we’re under house arrest”

Not all residents face their evictions with such fear. Zuheir al-Rajabi, who lives with his wife and four children in Batan al-Hawa, and serves on the neighborhood’s council, speaks with confidence that Ateret Cohanim will not succeed.

“I was born in this house. And I’ll go on living in this house. And I’ll die in this house. And I’ll leave it to my children, who will also stay in it as long as they live,” al-Rajabi tells B’Tselem in a video.

He says he possesses the records that show his family bought the house in 1966. But regardless, those who remain live in terror of the settlers and their guards.

Al-Rajabi says parents are wary to let their kids outside.

“We are forced to stay home, like we’re under house arrest,” he says.

Violence against children

On B’Tselem’s interactive website, one 10-year-old boy whose is only identified by initials recalls when he was playing marbles with his friends and 10 police officers approached them. Terrified, he hid the marbles.

“One of the officers came to see what I was hiding and shoved me in the chest. I nearly fell, but my cousin caught me,” the child recalls. “Another officer came and grabbed my leg to scare me.”

“They took my marbles with them.”

Another child, 13, tells B’Tselem that a police officer forced him and his friends to face the wall and then “kicked our legs hard until we spread them apart.”

“Then he beat us and spoke to us very rudely. He said: ‘Do you want me to fuck you?’ When I said no, he asked: ‘Have you ever been fucked?’ I said no, and he kept asking: ‘Do you want me to fuck you some other time?’ I turned around and said: ‘If you want to for yourself.’ He said: ‘I’m going to punch you now so hard it’ll flatten your face.’”

Backed by Israel

B’Tselem emphasizes that Ateret Cohanim is acting with the full backing of the Israeli-ruled Jerusalem municipality and the courts, which have consistently ruled in its favor.

The organization has been targeting Batan al-Hawa since 2001, using a variety of laws passed by Israel that give exclusive land rights to Jews.

The 81 families in Batan al-Hawa now facing eviction live on parcels of land that Israeli occupation authorities transferred to Ateret Cohanim in 2002, a move that was upheld by Israel’s courts.

In December, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution condemning as violations of international law “all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem.”

These include “construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians.”

But with Israel facing no accountability, its disregard of international law continues in Batan al-Hawa as it does across the occupied West Bank.


The scholar who shills for Israel

Toby Greene has disguised a fan letter to Tony Blair as sober analysis. (Chatham House/Flickr)

For the first time, I have been flattered by a pro-Israel lobbyist.

Toby Greene, the lobbyist in question, emailed me a few days ago, seeking help with a project he is conducting for Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “Given your knowledge of Israeli-Palestinian issues and EU politics, your insights would be invaluable for my research,” he wrote.

The flattery proved fruitless. I promptly told Greene that I supported the Palestinian call for an academic boycott of Israel. Before I could entertain his request, I would need clarity about who he represented.

Greene replied that his position at Hebrew University was being financed by the Israel Institute in Washington. He claimed, however, that the university and the institute merely “support and facilitate my research” and “like all academics in Israel, I have full academic freedom and I define my own research projects.”

I don’t buy that explanation and have refused to help Greene’s project – which apparently relates to how Israel is viewed by Europe’s political elites.

Cherishing freedom?

Greene is a lobbyist masquerading as an analyst. Apart from holding a post at Hebrew University, he works for a propaganda outfit called the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM).

He has previously been a staff member with Labour Friends of Israel. That pressure group – embedded in one of Britain’s largest political parties – coordinates its activities with the Israeli government, as a recent Al Jazeera documentary illustrated.

Greene inferred that his sponsors at the Israel Institute cherish academic freedom. Is that really the case?

The institute was established in 2012 by Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli diplomat, and is funded by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

The Schusterman Foundation has made clear that it is supporting academic research with the intention of “strengthening Israel at home and abroad.” The foundation’s declared mission includes funding “efforts to identify, mentor and train student leaders to support Israel and advocate for strong US-Israel relations.”

That is anathema to the whole concept of academic freedom.

Truly independent academics are focused on the production of knowledge, not on the “strengthening” of states or disseminating propaganda to further their political agendas.

I asked Ari Roth, director of the Israel Institute, if it had sponsored any academics who criticized Zionism, Israel’s state ideology. Rather than answering that question, he stated that “descriptions of our grantees can be found on our website.”

Dishonest

I could not find any criticisms of Zionism on its website. But I did find publications which were fundamentally dishonest. One of them claimed Israel had made “notable efforts to avoid civilian casualties” during its major offensive against Gaza in 2014.

Israel killed almost 1,500 civilians – including more than 550 children – in that offensive. That means around one in every 1,000 residents of Gaza was killed.

How can that be construed as a notable effort to avoid civilian casualties?

Toby Greene has told a similar lie. In 2014, he spoke of Israel’s “desire to avoid civilian casualties” while bombing Gaza.

He then had the impudence to scold Jon Snow from the broadcaster Channel 4, one of the few British journalists willing to challenge Israeli spin doctors. Accurately describing the effects of Israel’s attacks on children – as Snow did three years ago – meant he had “abandoned all pretense at objectivity,” Greene wrote.

Greene has a long record of downplaying crimes by both Israel and Britain.

Back in 2006, he advocated that powerful governments should be “ready to reward” Israel’s political leaders who make “positive steps” towards Palestinians. One reward that he recommended would be “international recognition that some of the settlement blocs [in the occupied West Bank] will remain as part of a future land-swap deal.”

That proposal echoed an argument by George W. Bush, then US president, in 2004 that it would be “unrealistic” for Israel to fully withdraw from the West Bank. By making that comment, Bush signaled that he would tolerate Israel’s settlement activities, despite how they violated international law.

Flexible flunky

Greene is also an apologist for Tony Blair.

When an official British enquiry issued a damning verdict last year on Blair’s determination to join the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Greene wrote a lengthy article that was highly sympathetic to the former prime minister.

To Greene, Blair’s only “sin” was “hubris: an overinflated misperception of his ability to shape international politics.” Causing hundreds of thousands to die and destroying an entire country are more grievous sins than hubris – though not, it would appear, in Greene’s mind.

Greene is still lying in the service of Israel. He recently alleged that an event held as part of a campaign to make Britain apologize for supporting Zionist colonization in Palestine was characterized by “anti-Semitic bluster.” A parliamentary investigation into the same event, which was held at Westminster, found no evidence to support the accusations of anti-Semitism made by the Israeli government and its surrogates.

Greene has written a book about the British Labour Party and Palestine. It is a 298-page fan letter to Blair disguised as sober analysis.

A note in the acknowledgements section of that book states: “Two employers, Labour Friends of Israel and the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, generously allowed me the flexibility to pursue my research while under their employment.”

The note is perhaps the most instructive thing about the book. Greene has implicitly admitted that he is a flexible flunky.

He is a scholar who shills for Israel.


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