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June 18, 2015

It’s time to erase the Green Line

If the Israeli government makes no distinction between Palestinians on either side of the Green Line, there is no reason for human rights activists to do so.

By Neve Gordon

The Arab Bedouin village of Atir in the Naqab/Negev. (Photo by Amjad Iraqi)

Around 50 students sat on the concrete floor of a makeshift shack, absorbing the desert heat as they listened to Salim talk about the imminent destruction of Umm al Hiran and Atir, two unrecognized Bedouin villages located 20 minutes from my apartment in Be’er Sheva.

On May 6, the Supreme Courtruled that the villages could be destroyed, paving the way for the government to proceed with its plan to build a Jewish settlement called Hiran in place of Umm al Hiran, as well as to replace the adjacent village Atir with a Jewish National Fund forest. If these plans are actualized, approximately 900 Palestinian Bedouin citizens will be forcefully relocated from their homes.

Salim told the students what the village was planning to do in order to reverse the verdict, while insisting that the solution would not come from the courts. The courts, he said, operate in the service of power; “therefore we need to approach power directly; we need to convince Bibi [Prime Minister Netanyahu] to retract the demolition orders. We need to gather forces and protest against this immoral act,” he said.

At one point I turned to Salim and asked him why the residents of Umm al Hiran do not join forces with the nearby residents of Susya, who were also being threatened with eviction and demolition?

Just 20 kilometers separate Umm al Hiran from the small Palestinian village Susya. For over two decades Susya’s residents have been struggling against the efforts of Jewish settlers and the Civil Administration to dispossess them of their small swath of land. On May 5, one day before the ruling on Umm al Hiran and Atir, the Israeli Supreme Court decided not to issue an injunction against Susya’s demolition and the expulsion of its residents. There, too, the government can legally carry out its demolition plans at any moment.

Children wave Palestinian flags in the village of Susya in the south Hebron Hills. Susya was one of many villages visited by the Italian activists. (photo: NO TAV Movement)

Salim turned to me and answered: “They are in the West Bank and we are in Israel, they are living under occupation and we are citizens. We have rights as citizens. We are not the same.”

Somewhere along the 20 kilometers that separate the two villages lies the Green Line. If once the Green Line was conceived as a border that could provide a just solution between Israelis and Palestinians, it currently serves as a very effective mechanism of colonial control. It operates primarily as a separating device that has, since 1967, produced the fictive promise of two states. In reality, however, this Green Line helps sustain a racist regime. After all, it functions to obfuscate that the logic motivating the effort to uproot the residents of Umm al Hiran and the residents of Susya is one and the same: the Judaization of space.

Paradoxically, the Green line is not only utilized by the Israeli government to help sustain Israel’s colonial rule—it has also been appropriated by an array of other actors, including foreign diplomats, donors, human rights NGOs, and the Israeli public at large—both Jews and Palestinians.

Consider the field of human rights. Most donors and human rights organizations focus on one side of the Green Line; they either give funding to NGOs promoting the rights of Palestinians in the West Bank, or, alternatively, they provide financial aid to NGOs working in the pre-1967 borders, thus helping to reproduce the difference between the residents of Umm al-Hiran and Susya.

To be sure, Salim from Um al-Hiran is an Israeli citizen and Nasser al Nuajah from Susya is not. This difference, as any human rights lawyer will be quick to point out can, in certain instances, be meaningful vis-à-vis Israeli courts. Indeed, Salim’s answer to me is probably influenced by the human rights NGOs that have been helping his village to strategize in the face of imminent expulsion. And, yet, at this historical juncture, this distinction is being used to elide the fact that both Salim and Nasser are Palestinians whose land is being expropriated in order to advance Israel’s Judaization project.

While it is true that colonial regimes have always used modes of divide-and-conquer to control the inhabitants, what is novel in the case of Israel\Palestine is that progressive donors and liberal human rights NGOs are unwittingly reinforcing these distinctions and the logic that produces them.

Knesset Member Ayman Odeh, the head of the Joint List, is well aware of the divisive impact of such distinctions, and recently went to speak with the residents of Abu Ghosh, one of two Palestinian towns on the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem that were not destroyed during the 1948 war. He told the residents that for years they had been stigmatized for having collaborated with the pre-state Zionist military forces, and then added: “You are not collaborators, you are Palestinians.” Odeh understands that the only way to resist domination is by uniting the dominated and overcoming the strategic division it has created on the ground.

Human rights organizations and their donors need to make a similar conceptual shift. Their work should focus on creating alliances rather than reinforcing colonial distinctions. It is therefore time that they internalize that the Green Line is not a solution but a fiction—and a violently destructive one at that.

Neve Gordon is the co-author (with Nicola Perugini) of the newly released The Human Right to Dominate. This article first appeared in Al Araby Al Jadeed.


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Will Egypt send Morsi to the gallows?

Death sentence of deposed president was upheld Tuesday, but analysts are skeptical he will ever hang

Egypt’s court decision on Tuesday to uphold the death sentence against deposed President Mohamed Morsi for his alleged role in a series of jailbreaks and deadly attacks on police during the 2011 uprising means the country could soon carry out the first execution of an ex-head of state since Iraq hanged Saddam Hussein in 2006. But analysts say there is reason to be skeptical that Egypt will actually proceed with Morsi’s sentence — a risky move that would transform him into a martyr for the Muslim Brotherhood and its political allies.

Morsi, who rose to power in Egypt’s first democratic elections in 2012 before being swiftly toppled by a second military-backed uprising the following year, was first sentenced to death last month along with more than 100 other defendants who faced similar charges. His trial, widely decried as a sham by international observers, was part of the wave of sweeping reprisals the government of current president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has taken against the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters since Sisi’s military council took over the country. Hundreds of Brotherhood supporters (as well as pro-democracy activists) have been sentenced to death in mass trials, while the Brotherhood itself has been branded a “terrorist organization.”

Tuesday’s ruling, which was reached after consultation with Egypt’s grand mufti, underlined the Brotherhood’s shocking rise and fall. The group’s supporters, who were oppressed for decades under dictator Hosni Mubarak until his demise in 2011, heralded Morsi’s unlikely election in 2012 as a crowning achievement for the pan-Islamic political movement. They consider Sisi’s takeover just one year later to be an illegal military coup, with many clinging to the remote hope that their democratically elected leader might one day be returned to power. Executing Morsi would extinguish that prospect and, many Sisi supporters argue, close the book on the Brotherhood’s brief resurgence.

But analysts are not so sure. Many argue that turning Morsi into a martyr will only outrage and embolden the Brotherhood further, potentially spurring more peaceful or even violent protests. That narrative is favored by the Brotherhood itself, which has called for a popular uprising on Friday and declared Morsi’s latest sentence “null and void.”

Brotherhood spokesman Nader Oman, in an interview with Al Jazeera, promised resilience no matter the outcome. “The Muslim Brotherhood is an organization that has gone on for more than 80 years. Imprisoning our leaders will not stop us from fighting,” he said.

The strong-fisted Egyptian government will likely take that claim seriously. After the first sentence against Morsi was announced in May, the Brotherhood released a similar statement that portrayed him and the movement as the last defenders of Egypt’s post-Mubarak democracy. It called on supporters “to escalate revolutionary defiance activities every day until together we defeat the junta and topple the illegitimate military coup regime.” Whether that was meant as a call to arms is unclear, but just a few hours later, three Egyptian judges were gunned down in the Sinai peninsula, where a group allegedly affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has waged a string of suicide attacks on security forces.

According to Mohamad Bazzi, a professor at New York University and former Middle East bureau chief at Newsday, “That is another danger of an authoritarian government’s demonizing all Islamists as terrorists who must be suppressed: It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sisi’s actions prove to those who advocate violence that it is the only path. Ultimately, some Islamists will conclude that the only way to protect themselves and achieve power is by taking up arms.”

Thumbnail image for Egypt court upholds Morsi’s death sentence

Egypt court upholds Morsi’s death sentence

Deposed president and other members of the Muslim Brotherhood were convicted in connection to a mass jailbreak in 2011

Others say Egypt’s foreign backers, especially the United States, would not allow the former president to be put to death after such a flawed trial. Sisi has so far met minimal outside resistance to his crackdown, including mainly verbal reprimands from Washington, which, Sisi’s critics say, has chosen stability over democracy by continuing to inject Egypt with $1.3 billion in annual military aid. But some say putting Morsi to death would be a bridge too far, and that it might be politically savvier to simply let him rot in jail.

“It seems more likely that [Sisi] would try to maintain leverage both with the Brotherhood and also with Western governments, who would be shocked at the execution of a former president and political rival,” said Jon Alterman, the director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

There is also reason to believe a broader domestic reaction would arise from not only Brotherhood supporters but wide swathes of Egyptian civil society. Many of those who backed the second uprising against Morsi, who was accused of consolidating power and willfully undermining Egypt’s nascent democracy, have come to view Sisi in a similar vein. Executing his former political rival would only bolster his image as an anti-democratic military strongman.

“It would have a profoundly polarizing effect on Egypt,” Alterman said. Far from closing a turbulent chapter in Egypt, “I think it would more likely open a new one.”

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