News in brief

Israel to be prosecuted

Israel is going to be investigated by the international criminal court (ICC) for its war crimes during its 2014 attack on Gaza.

On 5 February, the ICC ruled that it did have jurisdiction in Palestine (which joined the court in 2015 as a UN observer state).

The chief prosecutor for the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, will now formally investigate alleged war crimes by both the Israeli military and Palestinian groups.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the ‘biased’ ICC’s ruling as ‘pure antisemitism’.

Penn Club

At the end of February, the Penn Club, a modest Quaker hotel in Central London, announced that it was closing its doors.

The board wrote that this was ‘especially poignant in this 101st year of existence and particularly given the money and effort invested in major upgrading over the last few years’.

However, the Club now says it has a new home at Royal Foundation of St Katharine, an unusual hotel in East London.

It’s not clear if this means more than there being a ‘Penn Club table’ in the dining room and some Penn Club artwork on the walls....

Western Sahara

On 5 March, Human Rights Watch publicly condemned the Moroccan government’s harassment of Sultana Khaya, who regularly holds one-woman demonstrations calling for independence for Western Sahara.

Moroccan security forces have kept ‘a near-constant heavy presence’ outside Sultana’s house in Boujdour, Western Sahara, since November, preventing people from visiting her.

On 13 February, as Sultana was filming police from an open window, she was hit in the face by a rock thrown by a member of the security forces.

Morocco has illegally occupied Western Sahara since invading in 1975.

On 17 February, 27 US senators wrote to new US president Joe Biden asking him to reverse Donald Trump’s ‘misguided’ decision to recognise Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara , and to ‘recommit the United States to the pursuit of a referendum on self-determination for the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara.’

The people of Western Sahara were promised a UN-monitored referendum by Morocco in 1991 as the price of a ceasefire by the Western Sahara liberation group, Polisario.

While Polisario has recently had exchanges of fire with Moroccan security forces near a border crossing, the UN said on 26 February: ‘we have not received any information that the situation in Guerguerat has changed in any way’. This suggests that the area remains calm.

They cut the mustard

On 12 February, three French citizen weapons inspectors went on trial in Dijon.

Jacques Bourgoin, Jean-Marc Convers from Friends of the Earth and Étienne Godinot from the Movement for a Non-violent Alternative were arrested on 9 July 2020 for trespassing in the French equivalent of Aldermaston – the CEA Valduc nuclear bomb factory near Dijon in eastern France.

The three were holding a banner calling for the conversion of the Valduc site to peaceful purposes.

Monthly ‘citizen watch’ demonstrations continue in Dijon or at Valduc.


The UK budget, announced on 3 March, has been criticised for hiding further austerity – but not for the military.

Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies told the BBC that, with the cuts to planned spending announced last autumn, the government will be cutting spending and raising taxes ‘to the tune of nearly £50bn’ relative to their pre-pandemic plans of March 2020.

Military spending was given a huge ring-fenced four-year programme of increases last November. This represents ‘a real-term increase of between 10 percent and 15 percent in the defence budget: equivalent to some £4 billion more annually than had been promised,’ according to the semi-official thinktank, RUSI.

Doomsday 100

At the end of January, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced that its Doomsday Clock remained as close to midnight as it has ever been before.

Dr Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin, said: ‘The hands of the Doomsday Clock remain at 100 seconds to midnight, as close to midnight as ever. The lethal and fear-inspiring COVID-19 pandemic serves as a historic “wake-up call”, a vivid illustration that national governments and international organisations are unprepared to manage the truly civilisation-ending threats of nuclear weapons and climate change.’

Biden’s airstrike

New US president Joe Biden carried out his first military action less than six weeks after taking office – without providing any legal justification.

On 26 February, US airstrikes hit a compound in eastern Syria used by two Iraqi militias which are part of the Iraqi government’s popular mobilisation forces.

The US blames these groups, Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib sayyid al-Shuhada, for recent attacks on US forces in Iraq.

The trigger for the airstrike seems to have been rocket attacks near Irbil on 15 February and near Balad on 20 February which left US soldiers injured and one US civilian ‘contractor’ dead.

Settler attacks II

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem documented 49 violent settler attacks in the five weeks between 21 December 2020 and 24 January: ‘Twenty-eight involved physical assaults: 19 cases in which settlers threw stones at passing vehicles; three cases of shooting; and six attacks of other kinds. In the other incidents, settlers vandalised Palestinian property, damaged crops and attacked homes.’

Four Palestinian children were injured by stones thrown by settlers: Mahmoud a-Tmeizi, 13; Sama Buziyah, 11; Hala Mashur Qut, 10; and five-year-old Jad Suaftah.

In at least 26 of the 49 cases documented by B’Tselem, Israeli security forces were present during the attack. In five cases, they also attacked Palestinians.

In the six months before 21 December 2020, B’Tselem documented 108 incidents of settler violence.

The human rights group says settler violence against Palestinians, with the full backing of the Israeli state, ‘has long since been a routine part of the occupation in the West Bank’.

B’Tselem goes on: ‘Israel sends security forces to protect the assailants and turn a blind eye to the crimes committed before their very eyes. It also takes care not to take retrospective action against the perpetrators. By doing so, it privatises the oppression of the Palestinians and enjoys the fruits: the transfer of Palestinians’ means of subsistence and livelihood to Jews, who take over the land and treat it as their own. This is precisely what a Jewish supremacist regime looks like.’

According to international law, the West Bank and East Jerusalem are ‘occupied Palestinian territories’ and all Israeli settlements built there are illegal.

More than 600,000 Jewish settlers currently live in more than 250 illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Settler attacks I

Israeli settlers threw petrol bombs at two Palestinian homes on the evening of 21 January, according to the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa.

When local residents in the West Bank village of Burin tried to extinguish the fire, Israeli occupation forces appeared, firing rubber-coated metal bullets and teargas.

While one resident was arrested, no settlers were detained by the security forces.

Groups of settlers attacked Palestinian vehicles with stones and empty bottles on the same day in three other locations in the West Bank, according to a report in al-Monitor.

The attacks happened in al-Lubban ash-Sharqiya, about 16 miles south of Burin, just east of Bethlehem, and in north Hebron, down in the southern part of the West Bank.