Deep concern as Israeli laws entrench the occupation
Israel has recently passed or initiated laws that can be considered an entrenching of its occupation of the Palestinian territories, bringing to an end the possibility of a just two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The measures adopted or going through the Israeli parliament are designed to facilitate Israel gaining control of more Palestinian land and silence legitimate criticism of Israeli policies.
The instruments Israel is using to control more Palestinian land include the regulation bill, which is designed to retroactively legalise 4,000 Jewish Israeli homes that were previously deemed illegal under Israel’s own laws.
The bill, supported by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, was condemned by human rights group Peace Now, which described it as a “fatal blow to democracy” that would “turn Israeli citizens to thieves and stain Israel’s law books”.
British Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East and North Africa Tobias Ellwood expressed “deep concern” about the bill and urged the Israeli government to “reconsider” it at the earliest opportunity. Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit called the law “unconstitutional”, indicating it was likely to be struck down by the Israeli Supreme Court.
In a further attempt to entrench its control, Israel has been considering annexing parts of the West Bank. This would involve passing a bill to apply Israeli law to land in the occupied Palestinian territories. A bill to annex the 40,000-person Jewish-only settlement of Maale Adumim was to be considered by the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee on Legislation.
However, this was postponed as Netanyahu was meeting with US President Donald Trump’s envoy Jason Greenblatt. The delay in the bill’s consideration is a signal that the Trump administration carries tremendous influence on Israeli actions, which could either check its expansionist policies or unleash an unprecedented land grab.
On February 12th, Israeli ministers endorsed a draft bill that would restrict the Muslim call to prayer. In the draft, the Muslim call to prayer, an integral part of Palestinian culture and history since the siege of Jerusalem in 637AD — has been insultingly characterised as “noise pollution”.
Those initiating the bill argued that the call to prayer disturbed non-Muslims or more specifically illegal settlers who have moved into predominantly Palestinian areas, including East Jerusalem.
MK Motti Yogev, one of the bill’s sponsors, defended it saying: “This is a social-minded law that aims to protect citizens’ sleep, without, God-forbid, harming anyone’s religious faith.”
However, Tzipi Livni, a leader of the Zionist Union party and a former Foreign minister, said “proud Israelis” should oppose legislation that would only “spread hate and ignite tensions” between Muslims and Jews. The bill drew condemnation from all sectors of Palestinian society, both Muslim and Christian.
Israeli MK Ahmad Tibi accused the bill’s proponents of “committing a racist act”. The bill should be seen alongside increasing actions by Israel to exert more control on al-Aqsa mosque, which antagonises Muslims and Christian Palestinians.
In another batch of proposed measures, Israel has moved to silence criticism of its policies by its own citizens and foreigners. The new law allows Knesset members to pursue the impeachment of lawmakers if their actions and ideology “negate the existence of the state of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, incite racism, or express support for an armed struggle against the State of Israel by an enemy state or terrorist organisation”.
An affirmative vote from 90 of the Knesset’s 120 members would be needed for the impeachment to pass. In reality, this would target Arab Knesset members, including Haneen Zoabi, who is a vocal critic of Israeli policies.
More recently Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan indicated his wish to set up a database of Israeli citizens “who are involved in promoting and supporting boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel or the settlements”.
This follows the passing of a measure in July 2016 that compels Israeli non-governmental organisations to declare sources of funding if they come from “foreign state entities” but not from private donations.
The European Union criticised the proposal, stating that “the reporting requirements imposed by the new law go beyond the legitimate need for transparency and seem aimed at constraining the activities of these civil society organisations working in Israel”.
Israel’s latest attempt to silence critics was the passing of a law on March 6th that bans proponents of BDS from entering the country. The first victim of this law was Hugh Lanning, chairman of Britain’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign. He was refused entry and sent home because of the campaign’s promotion of BDS.
Kamel Hawwash is a Britishbased Palestinian university professor and writer.