Jerusalem Holy Site Muslim, Not Jewish: United Nations Resolution On Temple Mount Angers Israel

BY  @SHAOLINTOM ON 

“The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible,” Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, said. “And each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city.”

Israel suspended cooperation with the U.N. cultural organization Friday in reaction to the vote on Judaism’s holiest site. The text refers to the Muslim site Al-Buraq Plaza, but places the Jewish name, The Western Wall, in quotations. The wall a remnant of the first biblical temple, is the holiest site where Jews can pray, while for Muslims, the temple marks the place where the prophet Mohammed ascended up to heaven. The site is officially under Muslim administration and under Israeli law, Jews are not allowed to pray there to avoid potential violence. But activists have increasingly pushed for the right to go inside the temple in recent months, prompting Palestinians and Muslim-majority nations such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia to complain that Israel is trying to take back the site.

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An aerial view shows the Dome of the Rock (R) on the compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, and the Western Wall (L) in Jerusalem’s Old City Oct. 10, 2006. Photo: Reuters

Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules the Gaza Strip and is pledged to Israel’s destruction, called the resolution a “step in the right direction.” Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennet called the decision “shameful,” while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the vote as “the theater of the absurd.”

“What’s next? A UNESCO decision denying the connection between peanut butter and jelly? Batman and Robin? Rock and roll?” Netanyahu tweeted after the decision.

Out of the 57 nations present for Thursday’s vote, only six voted against the resolution. Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, the United Kingdom and the United States took issue with the draft, while a number of Arab and Muslim-majority countries joined Brazil, China and Russia to secure 24 votes in favor. Other member states, such as India, Italy and Spain, abstained. Serbia and Turkmenistan were absent.

The votes by Arab world countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan, which sponsored the bill, are not surprising. Only Egypt and Jordan have established diplomatic relations with Israel. Jordan has custodian rights over the site after Israel seized East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East War.

A number of other nations have been critical of Israel in recent years, voicing support for Palestinian statehood. Roughly 130 countries recognize Palestine. In 2011, Iceland became the first Western European country to recognize Palestine, followed by Sweden in 2012. That same year, a number of European nations, including France, Italy, and Switzerland, joined the successful vote to include Palestine as non-member observer state at the U.N. In 2014, the parliament of the European Union voted to recognize Palestinian statehood. This growing list of supporters has angered Netanyahu, who routinely criticizes nations that pursue Palestinian recognition.

While no European country voted for Thursday’s draft resolution, there was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm to block it as well. On the abstaining list, countries such as Italy, Greece and Spain have symbolically recognized Palestine in their respective legislating bodies.

Israel can claim a few diplomatic victories, however. A draft resolution similar to Friday’s was previously voted on in April, with the same text that Israel finds problematic. That vote saw 33 members including France voting in favor, after which Netanyahu personally wrote to French Prime Minister Francois Hollande, saying he was “honestly astounded to see our French friends raise their hands in favor of this shameful resolution.” France abstained Thursday.

It is typical of Israel to not only objects but gets angry when someone criticizes their policy, their mass killing of Palestinians or anything else about them. Forget about what’s right or what’s ethical. Israel wants everything to be in its favor. It’s acting like a spoiled child who wants everything his way and throws a fit if it doesn’t. 

 

Is the BDS movement facing new challenges in the US?

New bills have barred state governments from contracting or funding entities that support the boycott of Israel.


Demonstrators gathered outside New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office on June 9,
2016 to denounce his executive order targeting the BDS movement
By: 

Last April, more than 350 people travelled to Los Angeles, California to attend a conference against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Organised by the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, attendees gathered to strategise how to combat BDS, which advocates for economic action against Israel to pressure the Israeli government over its human rights abuses.

One of the speakers at the event was Noah Pollak, head of the Emergency Committee for Israel. Pollak had a message for proponents of the BDS movement.

“While you were doing your campus antics, the grown-ups were in the state legislatures passing laws that make your cause improbable,” he said.

Pollak’s message referred to an increasingly effective strategy pursued by pro-Israel groups in the United States.

BDS advocates are facing a barrage of bills that condemn the movement as “anti-Semitic” and bar state governments from contracting or funding entities that support boycotting Israel.

The aim of the bills, say pro-Israel advocates, is to prevent state contracts from funding what they see as a discriminatory movement.

“Israel’s diplomatic missions in the US have expressed full support and appreciation for legislative initiatives to boycott the boycotters,” said Shimon Mercer-Wood, spokesperson for the Consulate General of Israel in New York.

“The BDS movement is racist, discriminatory and hostile to freedom of speech. It is ironic that some try to paint anti-BDS decisions as a limitation of freedom of speech, since the movement itself is dedicated to silencing Israeli voices in the public space,” Mercer-Wood added.

Legislation that prohibits state funds from going to pro-BDS entities has been enactedin 10 states and is being debated in many more. However, in some states such as Virginia and Maryland, coalitions of free speech advocates and Palestine solidarity groups have banded together to defeat anti-boycott bills.

Freedom of speech?

The legislative measures are the most significant challenge the BDS movement has faced in the US.

Palestine solidarity activists say that the BDS movement is not anti-Semitic, and that the measures are an attack on free speech and seek to stigmatise action for Palestinian rights. There is also fear that the legislation could chill free speech by making people fearful of punishment if they support the boycott movement.

“The rash of anti-BDS legislation that we’re seeing is really a frantic attempt to stifle the success of the BDS movement,” said Josh Ruebner, the policy director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, which has lobbied against such legislation.

The BDS movement started in 2005, when more than 170 Palestinian groups endorsed the call for boycott and encouraged people around the world to join their campaign.

The goal of the movement is to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem, to ensure equality for Palestinians living in Israel and implement Palestinian refugees’ right to return to communities they and their families were expelled from in 1948, when Israel was founded.

A woman holds up a sign at a protest on June 9, 2016 against the New York governor for issuing an anti-BDS executive order [Sainatee Suarez/Al Jazeera] [Al Jazeera]

The call to boycott Israel has since been taken up by hundreds of progressive organisations in the US.

It has found success on college campuses, where Students for Justice in Palestine chapters have helped pass student government resolutions that endorse divestment from companies supplying the Israeli military.

It has also found success in academic associations and among churches, some of which have voted to divest pension funds held in companies such as Caterpillar and Hewlett-Packard, which sell equipment to the Israeli army.

In 2013, the American Studies Association endorsed the academic boycott of Israeli universities over their complicity in Israel’s control of Palestinians. The move sparked a fierce backlash in the US.

The New York State Senate became the first body to pass a bill to prohibit state colleges from funding academic groups that boycott Israel.

The New York measure ultimately did not become law. But since then, a wave of anti-BDS legislation has swept across the country.

Twenty states have considered anti-BDS laws. Nine have enacted the legislation, and in June, the governor of one state – New York – issued a first-of-its-kind executive order against the movement, according to a count by Palestine Legal, a group that defends the right to advocate for Palestine.

The number of anti-BDS laws debated and passed in the past year is unprecedented in scale, said Rahul Saksena, a staff attorney at Palestine Legal.

“Organizing that’s happening on the ground is not just gaining momentum but winning the hearts and the minds of people in this country,” said Saksena. “Israel advocacy organisations are seeing that, and it’s alarming them.”

While some of the bills are mere resolutions that put a state on record as being against BDS, others have more teeth to them.

States such as Illinois, New York, South Carolina and others have enacted measures that prohibit state pension funds or state contracts from going to companies or institutions that support BDS.

These measures require the state to compile (PDF) a public list – called a “blacklist” by pro-Palestine activists – of institutions that support the boycott. These entities could range from banks that have pulled investments out of the occupied West Bank to church groups that have voted to divest holdings in companies that contract with the Israeli army.

Attacking BDS

Civil liberties groups say that these measures are unconstitutional attacks on the right of activists to boycott Israel, and note that the US Supreme Court has upheld boycotts as protected advocacy under the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

But Eugene Kontorovich, a legal scholar who has helped to write some of the anti-boycott laws, told Al Jazeera: “The laws in question do not prevent or punish anyone for engaging in any speech. It is well established that states can require that companies that receive state money do not engage in what the state views as discriminatory activity, even when that activity is motivated by sincere beliefs.”

The dispute over whether anti-BDS bills are constitutional will most likely end up in a US court, Kontorovich said.

READ MORE: BDS is a war Israel can’t win

Meanwhile, the US Congress has also joined the attack against BDS.

Last year, Congress passed a trade law that includes language requiring the US to discourage European boycotts of Israel.

And in February 2016, Democrats and Republicans introduced legislation, backed by the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee, that would authorise states to take funding away from companies that boycott Israel.

Ruebner, the policy head of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, expects that more anti-BDS bills will be introduced in the coming months, especially since 2016 is an election year.

Introducing pro-Israel legislation could curry favour with some voters and donors. But, he added, Palestine solidarity activists will continue to advocate and lobby against anti-BDS measures.

“Palestine solidarity activists, First Amendment rights activists, are fighting back against these bills, in many cases successfully,” said Ruebner. “We’re not going to allow our legislations to try to punish civil society for responding to a call for social justice.”

Israel’s water cuts: West Bank ‘in full crisis mode’

Israel stands accused of using ‘water as a weapon’ as some West Bank homes have gone without water for a week.

'There are little excuses left not to give Palestinians back their water rights,' says Corradin [Getty Images]
‘There are little excuses left not to give Palestinians back their water rights,’ says Corradin [Getty Images]

Salfit, occupied West Bank – Salfit sits atop an underground wealth of water, but the city’s residents are forbidden from accessing it – and they are now in crisis, as Israel’s national water company, Mekorot, has reduced water supply to the northern West Bank.

Since the start of the month, residents of Salfit have been receiving between 30 and 40 percent of their normal water allowance, said Saleh Afaneh, the head of the local water and wastewater department.

“On the first day of Ramadan, the water stopped for 24 hours, with no notice,” Afaneh told Al Jazeera. “Since then, it has been coming in at less than half the capacity. We’ve done everything we can to try and make residents comfortable, but this is a crisis.”

“He hasn’t slept in two days,” the city’s mayor, Shaher Eshtieh, cut in. “We’ve never seen anything like this; we are in full crisis mode, working around the clock to help our people, but we are doing this on our own … We’ve continuously reached out to the Palestinian government, the prime minister even, but they’ve been no help, and the Israelis are denying there is a problem.”

A Palestinian Authority spokesperson did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.


READ MORE: Israel – Water as a tool to dominate Palestinians


Water shortages and cuts have also been reported throughout the northern Jenin and Nablus districts of the West Bank, although Israel’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit, the Israeli body in charge of the occupied West Bank, denied water had been cut or reduced at all.

In a statement, COGAT said the shortages in the Jenin area were reported due to a broken water pipe that had since been repaired. COGAT also stated that a pipe had burst in Salfit, although local water officials said they had no knowledge of this.

Water is running under our ground while our taps run dry … The people are getting angry. They won’t continue to accept this.

Shaher Eshtieh, Salfit mayor

The Israeli water company Mekorot, meanwhile, said that owing to shortages in the water supply, it had made “a broad reduction of the supply to all residents in the area”, referring to both Israeli settlements and Palestinian areas in the occupied West Bank.

Camilla Corradin, the advocacy task force coordinator for the Emergency, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (EWASH) group, told Al Jazeera that Israel is using “water as a weapon”.

“EWASH believes that Israel has managed to achieve a water surplus, thanks to its advanced water and wastewater technology and its control over Palestinian water resources,” Corradin said.

“There are little excuses left not to give Palestinians back their water rights, so that Palestinian towns and villages will no longer be left without the most basic of rights – water – in hot summer months.”