News in brief

Cleansing Palestinians

Palestinians are being forced from their homes throughout the Occupied Territories and in Israel itself.

Some 13 Palestinian families were ordered to abandon their homes in the village of Khirbet Ibzik, in the fertile Jordan Valley, on four occasions in one month. The Israeli army displaced the 70 residents (including 38 children) for 24 hours at a time, on 16, 23 and 26 December and then again on 13 January.

The reason? The army said it was carrying out manoeuvres in the area.

On 20 December, Israeli government agents and police came to the Bedouin village of Al-Araqib in the Negev desert in southern Israel and demolished it yet again.

Sheikh Sayeh Abu-Madi’am, an inhabitant of Al-Araqib, was imprisoned for 10 months on Christmas Day, for the crime of trespassing on his own land 19 times.

Ateret Cohanim (‘crown of the priests’), a settler association, is buying houses in occupied East Jerusalem one-by-one or seizing them in large numbers through legal manoeuvres.

On 21 November, the Israeli high court rejected an attempt to challenge this process, an appeal by 104 residents of the Silwan area of East Jerusalem.

The 104 were trying to overturn a 2002 decision by the so-called ‘custodian of absentee property’ (referring to land abandoned in 1948 and since resettled). The custodian decided to ‘free’ the land on which the 104 have lived for decades.

After the high court ruling, Ateret Cohanim started eviction proceedings against the 104.

Israeli COs

In December and January, two Israeli Jewish teenagers won exemption from military service in the Israeli army after serving over 100 days in prison each for their conscientious objection.

On 28 December, following seven periods of imprisonment, Hillel Garmi, 19, was granted exemption from service by the army’s ‘conscience committee’.

Garmi, who served 107 days in prison in total, was one of the initiators of the ‘High School Students’ Letter against Occupation’ in December 2017.

Upon his release Garmi said: ‘The five months I have spent in prison have been dedicated to the struggle against occupation and siege, to the five million Palestinians who effectively live under the rule of the Israeli government but do not have the chance to elect it.’

Fellow conscientious objector Adam Rafaelov, 18, completed his eighth prison term on 22 January (he served 104 days in total) and was granted exemption the same day.

Rafaelov became a political activist after meeting Garmi in military prison.

Yemen: US senate push

As PN went to press, there was still a flicker of hope that the partial ceasefire would be strengthened in and around the Yemeni port of Hodeidah, which handles 70 percent of Yemen’s imports.

The war in Yemen moved towards a ceasefire in December, in part because Saudi Arabia came under pressure from the US government, which itself was under pressure from US senators.

It wasn’t enough that the US and Britain had become two of the most important supporters and suppliers of the Saudi-led coalition destroying Yemen.

It wasn’t enough that Yemen had become ‘the world’s worst humanitarian crisis’ (UN secretary-general António Guterres in April).

It wasn’t enough that the Saudi-led coalition was attacking Hodeidah, halving the flow of desperately-needed food and medicines.

It wasn’t enough that 14 million Yemenis, half the population, were facing ‘pre-famine conditions’ (UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs Mark Lowcock in October).

It wasn’t enough that Saudi and UAE airstrikes had killed at least 1,248 children in Yemen, according to the UN, or that a third of the 18,000 Saudi/UAE airstrikes in Yemen had hit non-military targets.

It was only after the assassination and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in Turkey on 2 October that the US suspended its in-air refuelling services for the Saudi air force.

This came as US senators considered a resolution to cut back US involvement in the Saudi war in Yemen. Sponsored by Republicans and Democrats, it was passed by the senate on 13 December.

The Yemen resolution may now also pass in the new, Democrat-controlled, house of representatives which took its seats on 3 January. However, US president Donald Trump can veto the bill, and he can only be overridden by a two-thirds majority in both houses.

There has been no similar parliamentary push in the UK to limit British support for the Saudi war effort.

Yemen: BAE criticism

In an unusual step, BAE Systems, Britain’s largest military manufacturer, criticised one of its biggest customers on 26 January.

Roger Carr, BAE chair, told Sky News: ‘Two issues damaged the position of Saudi Arabia in the eyes of the world – the Khashoggi affair is one of them and also the war in Yemen.’

In relation to Jamal Khashoggi, ‘[p]oliticians didn’t believe the way that was done and handled was appropriate or acceptable and that’s exactly right’, said Carr (emphasis added). His words suggest that assassinating the Saudi journalist was not wrong in itself. Carr said BAE was helping Saudi Arabia to end the Yemen war ‘as soon as possible’.

Western Sahara

The European Union is undermining the Western Sahara peace process.

On 16 January, the European parliament agreed that a new trade deal between the EU and Morocco would extend to the resources of Western Sahara, despite a 2016 European court of justice (ECJ) ruling against such exploitation.

Green MEP, Heidi Hautala, a vice-president of the European parliament, denounced the deal.

Western Sahara has been illegally occupied by Morocco since 1975. The ECJ confirmed in 2016 that it is against international law to extract resources from Western Sahara without the prior consent of the Saharawi people.

The European council argued that it had fufilled the ‘consent’ requirement by consulting some figures in Western Sahara (but not the internationally-recognised representative of the Saharawi people, the Polisario Front).

Among the groups the European commission said it had consulted were 97 Saharawi civil society groups – whose only involvement was to write to the commission protesting against the EU trade deal and refusing to take part in the consultation process.

The NGOs never received a reply to their protest letter, and their views were not recorded in the EU’s report on the consultation process.

In January, the European parliament also voted two-to-one not to refer the agreement to the ECJ to determine whether the consent requirement had actually been fulfilled. This referral had been requested by the MEP leading on trade with Morocco, Marietjes Schaake of the Netherlands.

The EU is Morocco’s biggest trade partner (€35bn-worth both ways in 2016). EU boats fish in Western Sahara’s waters, which hold the most profitable fishing grounds in the region.

The EU aims to pay Morocco about €20m a year just to gain access to Saharawi (and Moroccan) waters, and a further €19m a year in ‘sectoral support’, building facilities to support the fishing industry. These facilities are mostly in occupied Western Sahara, according to Western Sahara Resource Watch. (EU fishing ships also pay millions in fees to Morocco to fish in Saharawi waters.)

Meanwhile, as PN went to press, a Norwegian ship was fleeing South African waters to avoid having its cargo of frozen fish impounded and confiscated by a South African court.

The Green Glacier arrived at Cape Town harbour on 25 January but did not dock. After some hours circling outside the harbour, it suddenly headed back towards Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where it had just come from.

It’s believed the ship contained fish caught in the waters off Western Sahara, and the ship’s owners feared they might share the same fate as the Saharawi phosphate which was impounded in South Africa in 2017, on the NM Cherry Blossom. (PN 2606–2607)