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Middle East The EU must stand up to US and Israeli belligerence

The US may be isolated over the status of Jerusalem, but until other countries engage in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign Israel will continue to trample Palestinians under foot with impunity

FEW people will have been surprised by Monday’s announcement by the Israeli military that its investigation into the shooting dead of Palestinian paraplegic Ibrahim Abu Thraya had cleared Israeli troops of any wrongdoing.

The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) inquiry team found “no moral or professional failures” in the killing of the 29-year-old former fisherman who was carrying a Palestinian flag during last week’s protests in Gaza against US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his plan to relocate the US embassy there.

United Nations Human Rights Agency spokesman Rupert Colville commented on Abu Thraya’s death: “Given his severe disability, which must have been clearly visible to those who shot him, his killing is incomprehensible and it is a truly shocking and wanton act.”

Abu Thraya had lost both legs and an eye in a 2008 air strike during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead — not to be confused with Operation Pillar of Defence in 2012 or Operation Protective Edge in 2014 — when the IDF launched one of its periodic punitive military onslaughts on the tiny Palestinian territory.

While he lost the ability to walk, over 1,400 Palestinians, including 926 civilians, lost their lives during that months-long trial by bombing.

The inquiry characterised the December 8 protest as “extremely violent,” although it seems to have consisted of the usual combination of burning tyres and boys throwing stones.

Abu Thraya was pictured being helped out of his wheelchair to climb a pylon — no mean feat for a man with no legs —  to attach his flag before a single shot to the head killed him, yet the IDF insists that it did not shoot him.

Despite the investigation verdict, the IDF suggested that it would examine any fresh evidence, including his head wound, prompting his mother’s angry rejection.

Itedal Abu Thraya insisted that her son had posed no threat to Israeli troops, explaining: “He was only holding a flag, not an explosive belt or a bomb. I do not trust them or their investigations.”

United Nations Human Rights Agency spokesman Rupert Colville commented: “Given his severe disability, which must have been clearly visible to those who shot him, his killing is incomprehensible and it is a truly shocking and wanton act.”

Yet how much global shock has, in reality, been generated by this “wanton act” committed by what Israel and its supporters still refer to as the “the most moral army in the world?”

The world’s dominant media outlets see nothing to report in the regular racist outbursts by ministers in the Knesset against representatives of Israel’s 20 per cent Palestinian minority.

Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently branded members of the Joint List “war criminals,” telling the Arab MKs they were sitting in the Knesset “by mistake” and would soon “go back to Gaza, with Hamas, or Ramallah.” 

The Moldova-born minister, who advocates redrawing Israel’s borders to exclude some Arab major population towns, declared on Twitter: “Without loyalty, there can be no citizenship!”

Lieberman urged Israelis to boycott the Arab area of Wadi Ara, south of Haifa, after local residents clashed with police following Trump’s provocative statement.

“Those who demonstrate in the state of Israel with the flags of Hezbollah, Hamas and the PLO are not part of the state of Israel. They act to harm us and destroy us from the inside,” he said. 

“Thus, I call on all Israel’s citizens to institute an economic boycott of Wadi Ara — don’t shop, don’t eat in restaurants and don’t accept services from them.”

Lieberman was once regarded as a fringe element in Israeli politics, but his elevation to defence secretary indicates the compatibility of his views and those of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu was delighted with Trump’s Jerusalem announcement and even more so over the US veto on Egypt’s security council resolution that expressed “deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem” without mentioning either the US or President Trump.

The Israeli prime minister had claimed in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s declaration that European states would fall in line, but he was swiftly disabused of this fantasy.

Headlines about the Czech Republic following in Washington’s wake were revealed as wishful thinking, with Prague stipulating west Jerusalem and clarifying that any resiting of its embassy would take place only after discussions with “key allies” — presumably other EU countries.

Israel’s diplomats went into overdrive, arguing in foreign media that Trump was merely recognising reality and that every country had the right to decide the whereabouts of its own capital city.

However, they were confronted with the reality that Trump and Netanyahu had overplayed their hand in assuming that US acceptance of Israel’s illegal annexation of occupied east Jerusalem invalidates international law and existing UN security council resolutions on Jerusalem dating back to 1967.

The Egyptian resolution was backed by 14 out of 15 UN security council members, including Washington’s closest allies, leaving the beleaguered US to play its veto card.

US ambassador Nikki Haley called the resolution “an insult” that would not be forgotten. 

“The United States will not be told by any country where we can put our embassy,” she said, adding a new variant to the legend about all the soldiers being out of step except our Johnny.

Haley claimed that, rather than the US being embarrassed by being so out of touch with the international community, “it should be an embarrassment to the remainder of the security council.”

Netanyahu’s paean of praise to Haley and Trump was so over the top as to confirm how isolated Israel and its key sponsor were.

“Thank you, Ambassador Haley. On Hanukkah, you spoke like a Maccabi. You lit a candle of truth. You dispel the darkness. One defeated the many. Truth defeated lies. Thank you, President Trump,” he tweeted.

Even Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has previously carried out US-Israeli instructions to the letter, was moved to attack the US veto, saying it was “unacceptable and threatens the stability of the international community because it disrespects it.”

Abbas added that the US had forfeited its status as facilitator of the peace process.

He said that he would refuse to meet Trump’s vice-president Mike Pence and called for a day of anger in the West Bank to coincide with his visit, which was then postponed until February — supposedly so Pence could take part in US Congress votes on tax cuts for the rich and big business.

In any case, Abbas left Palestine to visit Saudi Arabia and France to seek backing from them as well as a higher global profile in the new situation.

Palestinians will now seek a similar resolution in the UN general assembly, which cannot be vetoed but is not binding.

European Union foreign policy head Federica Mogherini has yet to say what role the EU expects to play in the wake of the vetoed UN security council resolution.

She told a joint Brussels press conference with Netanyahu on December 11 that there was “full EU unity” behind the principle of Jerusalem serving as a capital city for both Israel and Palestine.

“The EU and member states will continue to respect the international consensus on Jerusalem until the final status of the holy city is resolved, through direct negotiations between the parties.”

Mogherini gave no indication, however, as to how Brussels sees direct negotiations between the parties taking place or how Israel’s continued creation of facts on the ground in the form of new and expanded illegal Jewish settlements on the West Bank should be tackled.

As long as the EU rejects the need for peaceful but effective economic pressure on Israel by backing the boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) campaign, Tel Aviv’s relentless colonisation of Arab land occupied in 1967 will continue unabated, with countless more Abu Thrayas as a consequence.

John Haylett is the Morning Star’s political editor. He writes a regular column every other Thursday.

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