Media Roundup: Israeli Settlements, BDS, and Likud Humor

(Photo Credit: Abed al Qaisi)

Special Investigation: Israeli Settlements

In a special report, Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz has unveiled the private money behind illegal Israeli settlements from American 501(c)3 tax-exempt so-called charities to Israeli businesses run by pro-settler CEOs:

From N.Y.C. to the West Bank: Following the Money Trail That Supports Israeli Settlements, by Uri Blau, Ha’azretz – 7 December

A composite image showing the skyline of Manhattan, NY (top) and the Israeli settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim. (Photo Credit: Bloomberg, Reuters)
A composite image showing the skyline of Manhattan, NY (top) and the Israeli settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim. (Photo Credit: Bloomberg, Reuters)

Here, in a small, two-storey house on Ocean Avenue [Brooklyn, NY], close to the neighborhood’s main street, is the headquarters of the Hebron Fund.

The stickers on the entrance door may be fading, but they are familiar: “Hebron from the very beginning” and “Hebron for our forefathers and for us,” they proclaim in Hebrew. Several weeks earlier, Haaretz contacted Dan Rozenstein, the person listed as head of the non-profit group. He had refused to answer our questions or disclose the source of the $4.5 million the Fund transferred to the Jewish community [i.e. settlement] in Hebron between 2009 and 2013. […] 

The Hebron Fund is only one example of the many U.S.-based non-profit groups that raise money and transfer it to Israel for the purpose of financing and preserving the settlement project in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Thousands of documents from the files of dozens of American and Israeli not-for-profit organizations were examined by Haaretz as it undertook to reveal the true extent of this funding.

Haaretz has identified 50 U.S.-based organizations which transfer the bulk of their funding to settlements and operations across the Green Line (the pre-1967 borders.) Their revenues between 2009 and 2013 (the last year for which there is extensive data) exceeded $280 million – or over one billion shekels.

Does Your Jewish Charity Donate to the Settlements?, by Uri Blau, Ha’aretz – 8 December 

Explore the complete list of organizations at the center of Haaretz investigation into the tax-free U.S. donations that have enriched the settlements by more than $220 million in five years.

One argument that supporters of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement make is that Israeli society west of the Green Line (i.e. Israel “proper”) is deeply implicated in the occupation. Thus, proponents argue, a boycott of Israel should target both Israeli companies and settlement farms in the West Bank and the Israeli companies and institutions that enable and support the occupation from within Israel. As part of its special report, Ha’azrets documents the widespread support for illegal settlements in the Israeli corporate world:

Haaretz Investigation: Israeli Corporations Gave Millions to West Bank Settlements, Uri Blau, Ha’aretz – 15 December 

An illustrative image showing some of the industries that donate to the settlements in Israel. (Photo Credit: Bloomberg, Reuters, Dreamstime, Tomer Appelbaum)
An illustrative image showing some of the industries that donate to the settlements in Israel. (Photo Credit: Bloomberg, Reuters, Dreamstime, Tomer Appelbaum)

From energy giants to makers of chocolate spread, documents show public and private Israeli companies have donated millions of shekels to settlements beyond the Green Line. […]

One of the key non-profits operating in the territories is the Fund for Promotion of the Zionist Idea, which is located at the same address as the settlement organization Amana and directed by Amana head Zeev Hever. The fund supports the settlement of Itamar, the Ateret Yerushalayim yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem, a seminary in Elon Moreh and other settlement institutions.

One of the fund’s donors is chocolate spread manufacturer Hashachar Ha’ole, which donated 50,000 shekels in 2013. “Our company donates 6 percent of its revenue a year,” says CEO Moshe Weidberg. “This is a family business; each of us gets an amount to donate and chooses where to give it. I believe in a Greater Land of Israel, which you call ‘the occupied territories,’ and I wish I could donate even more,” Weidberg told a Haaretz reporter.

Tnuva, Israel’s largest food manufacturer, also donated to the fund, giving 164,500 shekels in 2007.

The Palestinian policy network, al-Shabaka, illustrates the consequences of settlements and occupation on the Palestinian economy:

How Israeli Settlements Stifle Palestine’s Economy
by Nur Arafeh, Samia al-Botmeh, Leila Farsakh, al-Shabaka – 15 December 

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Israeli revenue from the exploitation of Palestinian land and resources in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea is estimated at around NIS 500 million annually (around $130 million). To get a sense of the impact on the Palestinian economy, it is worth noting that the indirect cost of Israel’s restriction on Palestinian access to water in the Jordan Valley – and their inability to cultivate their land as a result – was $663 million, the equivalent of 8.2% of Palestinian GDP in 2010 (see Table E1 in this report). […]

Restricted access to the vast resources of the Dead Sea has prevented Palestinians from establishing cosmetics businesses and other industries, based on the extraction of minerals. A World Bank studyestimated that had there not been access restrictions, the production and sales of magnesium, potash, and bromine would have had an annual value added of $918 million to the Palestinian economy, the equivalent of 9% GDP in 2011.

Severe constraints on access to mines and quarries in Area C have also hindered Palestinians’ ability to extract gravel and stones. The estimated annual lost gross value added to the Palestinian economy from quarrying and mining is $575 million. In total, it is estimated that restricted access to and production in Area C has cost the Palestinian economy $3.4 billion. As discussed in an earlier Al-Shabaka policy brief, Israel even controls Palestinian access to their own electro-magnetic sphere – a policy to which the settlements contribute – creating losses of between $80 to $100 million annually for Palestinian telecommunication operators. […]

Dec 2015 Policy Brief Graphic 2

Moreover, as the economy in the West Bank has been marred by unpredictability and uncertainty – which is not surprising, given that the area is under military occupation – the cost and risks of doing business have risen. This has worsened the investment climate, constrained economic development, and increased unemployment and poverty. Overall, it is estimated that the direct and indirect costof the occupation was almost $7 billion in 2010 − almost 85% of the total estimated Palestinian GDP. […]

This harsh economic reality is the primary factor driving some Palestinians to work in Israeli settlements – the figure is estimated at just 3.2% of the total employed persons from the West Bank in the Third Quarter of 2015. Instead of being self-sufficient owners of means of production Palestinians have been dispossessed of their economic resources and rights by the Israeli military occupation and Israel’s settlements, and have been transformed into cheap labor.

In fact, most Palestinian workers in the settlements are in low skilled, low paying jobs: At least half of them are employed in the construction sector. In other words, less than 11,000 Palestinians are employed in Israeli settlement industry and/or agriculture. This means that less than 2% of the total employed Palestinian population would be impacted in the event of closure of Israeli industries in the settlements.

Palestinian workers in the settlements are subject to difficult and sometimes dangerous working conditions, and it is estimated that 93% do not have labor unions to represent them. Indeed, they are subject to arbitrary dismissal and withholding of their permits if they demand their rights or try to unionize. A 2011 survey found that the majority of Palestinian workers would leave their jobs in the settlements if they could find an alternative in the Palestinian labor market.

While it is argued that Palestinian workers in settlements receive higher wages than in the Palestinian labor market, it is worth noting that they are paid, on average, less than half the Israeli minimum wage. For example, in Beqa’ot, an Israeli colony in the Jordan Valley, Palestinians are paid 35% of the legal minimum wage. Note that the packing houses of Mehadrin, the largest Israeli exporter of fruits and vegetables to the EU, are located in this settlement.

In short, it is effectively Israel’s settler-colonial enterprise that hurts Palestinians, much more than the EU labeling of settlements products. What Palestinians need is not more jobs in settlements or more dependency on the Israeli economy. Rather, what Palestinians need is the dismantling of Israeli settlements, an end to the occupation, and the full realization of their rights under international law. Only then can they truly strengthen the productive base of the Palestinian economy, generate employment opportunities, ensure self-reliance and self-sufficiency, and stop being dependent on foreign aid.

Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions 

Denmark’s largest pension fund blacklists firm over links to Israeli occupation, Middle East Monitor – 14 December 

PFA Pension announced the exclusion on its website, stating that “PFA does not wish to contribute to any illegal activities in relation to the occupation of the West Bank.”

According to the statement, “HeidelbergCement is involved in the extraction of natural resources in a way that is incompatible with PFA’s policy for responsible investments.” HeidelbergCement operates a quarry in the West Bank through its Israeli subsidiary.

The company’s entry on the exclusion list, which features more than 30 companies including Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit Systems, reads: “Violation of basic human rights, which conflicts with UN Global Compact principles 1 and 2.”

PFA Pension has also announced that it is awaiting answers from another company, Cement Roadstone Holding (CRH), in relation to its ties to Israel’s occupation, before a decision can be made about whether or not to blacklist.

European tourists staying away from Israel in droves, by Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada – 17 December

But a deeper look at the official statistics reveals that Israel is actually experiencing a dramatic and sustained decline in tourism from European countries, its most important markets, that cannot be attributed just to recent events.

In the 11 months from January to November 2013, 2.1 million European tourists visited Israel – accounting for about three quarters of all foreign visitors.

During the same period in 2014 – which included the attack on Gaza – 1.9 million Europeans came, or 9 percent fewer.

Yet far from recovering this year, the number of European visitors to Israel in the first 11 months of 2015 has dropped by another 8 percent.

In this period, visits from Italy have plummeted by almost 50 percent since 2013, including a 26 percent decline since 2014.

Compared with 2013, there have been declines of 32 percent from Finland, 21 percent from Norway, 14 percent from the Netherlands, 25 percent from Poland and 23 percent from both Germany and Austria.

France, Israel’s biggest European tourism market, has held more steady. About 277,000 French visitors showed up from January to November 2015, four percent fewer than in the same period in 2013.

Tourism from the UK, the second largest European market, is still down 10 percent from 2013, but rebounded 10 percent from last year.

Visits to Israel in the first 11 months of the year from the former Soviet Union, the bulk of them from Russia, are down by almost a quarter compared with 2013 and 17 percent compared with last year – a drop Ynet attributes to “the difficult economic situation” in those countries.

There were 16 percent fewer tourists from Australia and New Zealand in the same period compared with 2013.

The news from North America is slightly better for Israel. Visits from the US have actually grown by 3 percent since 2013, although 5 percent fewer Canadians have headed for Israel.

Campaign for Palestinian children

Online campaign to release Palestinian children from Israeli jails, Middle East Monitor – 21 December 

An international online campaign to release Palestinian minors from Israeli jails is expected to start today, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club announced.

More than 1,500 Palestinian children have been arrested throughout the occupied Palestinian territories since the start of the Jerusalem Intifada, 430 are still being detained.

Spokesman for the Palestinian Prisoners Club Abdullah Zghari said the campaign aims to “send a message to the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging him to secure the release of Palestinian minors and ease their suffering inside Israeli prisons.”

Oz: Israel’s prison for Palestinian children, by Ylenia Gostoli, al Jazeera International – 28 October

Zamzam S and his brother, Khalil, said they were arrested last week while playing football in the street (Photo Credit: Ylenia Gostoli/Al Jazeera)
Zamzam S and his brother, Khalil, said they were arrested last week while playing football in the street (Photo Credit: Ylenia Gostoli/Al Jazeera)

Since the beginning of October, hundreds of young men from Jerusalem have spent the night in Oz – not the magical fairy-tale land, but a police station in Jabal al-Mukaber.

Like the rest of occupied East Jerusalem, the neighbourhood is mired in neglect and has become a scene of regular clashes between Palestinian youth and Israeli security forces. Those who come to Oz arrive in military vehicles, handcuffed and blindfolded.

According to prisoner support group Addameer, at least 876 Palestinians, including 133 children, have been arrested since October 1 across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Israel. According to figures collected by the Wadi Hilweh Information Center in Silwan, at least 60 children were arrested in Jerusalem during the first two weeks of unrest.

Zamzam S, an 11-year-old from the neighbourhood of al-Thori, says he was arrested along with his brother, Khalil, and two of his friends last week while they were playing football in the street; they were all subsequently taken to Oz.

Israeli human rights groups are targeted as foreign-backed traitorous organization

Persecuting Human Rights Groups Won’t Hide Israel’s Injustices, Ha’aretz – 17 December 

Breaking the Silence, an organization that collects testimonies from Israel Defense Forces soldiers about their activity in the territories, and whose members served and continue to serve in the army, is gradually being defined as an accomplice to terror. The B’Tselem organization, which documents attacks on Palestinians by Israelis and violations of the government against the occupied population, is being regarded as traitorous. Human rights NGOs, both Israeli and Arab, are perceived by the public as being superfluous at best, but even more commonly as trying to undermine the State of Israel’s existence.

The criticism of these groups being heard from senior Israeli leaders, like Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who called Breaking the Silence “malicious,” the decision by Education Minister Naftali Bennett to ban the group’s activities in schools, and the unceasing efforts of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked to pass laws that will restrict the activity of human rights groups, resemble a purge campaign. This campaign is accompanied by mudslinging, fueled by the social networks, and has recently taken on camp followers like Likud MK Yoav Kish, with his bill that treats NGOs which receive funding from a foreign political entity as “moles” for the country that supports them; and the extreme right-wing Im Tirtzu organization, which has disseminated a video that is a model of incitement.

The height of this purge campaign is the thuggish assault on President Reuven Rivlin, who until recently was considered “too unimportant to assassinate,” as per settler leader Daniella Weiss, but has since become a figure who supposedly threatens the state’s security and its good name. All this was because he appeared at the HaaretzQ conference on Sunday in New York, where a representative of Breaking the Silence was present. If Rivlin is fair game, how much more so are the members of those organizations that are the last bastion in the defense of the country’s moral values?

The IDF loves jelly donuts

Jewish Voice for Peace publicized the following video on their Facebook page contrasting the IDF’s public relations video to humanize Israeli soldiers by showing how easy and fun it is to make jelly donuts with a video of Palestinian children delivering bread to Jerusalem via a hole in Israel’s separation barrier.

 

Likud humor or: When ethnic cleansing is hilarious 

Likud partisans (Zionist right-wing) are praising the “humor” of an Israeli troll who goes by the name of Dafni Gafni. When Palestine Square heard that Gafni was mocking critics of Israel via her Facebook page, we expected to at least be amused. Instead we found “humor” of the incredibly crass and vulgar type, lacking any self-awareness, and ultimately making a mockery of Dafni rather than her targeted opponents. What is remarkable is that she’s being marketed by individuals keen to promote a pro-Israel image. One such celebrated “joke” is Dafni’s invitation to BDS-supporter Roger Waters to perform in an ethnically cleansed Palestinian village. This makes for great fodder for Dafni’s supporters, but drawing attention to crimes and joking about them would hardly persuade fence-sitters that you have justice on your side. If this is the wit of their detractors, BDS’ proponents have an easier job than they might have previously assumed. Below, Dafni’s collection of high-brow humor via her Facebook page:

(Photo Credit: Dafni Gafni Facebook page)
(Photo Credit: Dafni Gafni Facebook page)
(Photo Credit: Dafni Gafni Facebook page)
(Photo Credit: Dafni Gafni Facebook page)
(Photo Credit: Dafni Gafni Facebook page)
(Photo Credit: Dafni Gafni Facebook page)
(Photo Credit: Dafni Gafni Facebook page)
(Photo Credit: Dafni Gafni Facebook page)

Best of the Year

As we conclude our last Media Roundup of the year, and wish you a happy holidays, we leave you with these two photographs chosen by the Wall Street Journal as part of their Year in Photos:

A Palestinian boy cloaked a hoodie climbs a big stone wall in Gaza City. The wall was painted by local artists in an attempt to bring more vibrant colors to the city. (Photo Credit: MOHAMMED ABED/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES)
A Palestinian boy cloaked a hoodie climbs a big stone wall in Gaza City. The wall was painted by local artists in an attempt to bring more vibrant colors to the city. (Photo Credit: MOHAMMED ABED/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES)
A Palestinian boy held a red card in front of an Israeli soldier during a demonstration against the Israeli Football Federation, in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. (Photo Credit: SHADI HATEM/APA IMAGES/ZUMA)
A Palestinian boy held a red card in front of an Israeli soldier during a demonstration against the Israeli Football Federation, in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. (Photo Credit: SHADI HATEM/APA IMAGES/ZUMA)

Media Roundup is a regular feature of Palestine Square.