How the life and death of Walid Daqqah in an Israeli jail encapsulates Palestinian Prisoners’ Day

Special How the life and death of Walid Daqqah in an Israeli jail encapsulates Palestinian Prisoners’ Day
Walid Daqqa. (Social Media)
Short Url
Updated 17 April 2024
Follow

How the life and death of Walid Daqqah in an Israeli jail encapsulates Palestinian Prisoners’ Day

How the life and death of Walid Daqqah in an Israeli jail encapsulates Palestinian Prisoners’ Day
  • Palestinian detainees and prisoners have been subjected to gruesome levels of inhumane treatment, says Amnesty
  • Daqqah is the 251st Palestinian to have died in Israeli custody since 1967 — and the 14th since the Gaza war began

LONDON: When he was arrested by Israeli forces on March 25, 1986, Walid Daqqah was just 24 years old. When he died of cancer on April 7 this year, aged 62 and still a prisoner, he had spent all of the intervening 38 years in Israeli custody.

In the process Daqqah earned the dubious distinction of becoming Israel’s longest-serving Palestinian prisoner and was one of only a handful of inmates who had been in prison since before the Oslo Accords in the 1990s.

On Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, the story of Daqqah’s life and death has profound significance for every Palestinian jailed by Israel — and especially for the record number thrown behind bars since Oct. 7.

According to the Palestinian Commission of Detainee Affairs, Daqqah is the 251st Palestinian to have died in Israeli custody since 1967 and the 14th since the Hamas attack on Israel last year.

Daqqah was sentenced to life in prison in March 1987, following the abduction and killing of an Israeli soldier by a unit of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 1984.




A freed prisoner waves from a bus during a welcome ceremony following the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails in exchange for Israeli hostages held in Gaza by Hamas last year. (AFP)

He was not found guilty of killing the soldier but of commanding the unit, a charge he consistently denied. Furthermore, Amnesty International said “his conviction was based on British emergency regulations dating back to 1945, which require a much lower standard of proof for conviction than Israeli criminal law.”

What happened next, said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty’s senior director for research, advocacy, policy and campaigns, was “a cruel reminder of Israel’s disregard of Palestinians’ right to life.”

Daqqah’s original 37-year sentence had been due to expire in March 2023, but in 2018 was extended by two years after he was implicated in a scheme to smuggle mobile phones to prisoners desperate to contact their families.

He was, in effect, sentenced to die in prison.

In 2022 Daqqah had been diagnosed with terminal bone marrow cancer, but his appeal for parole on humanitarian grounds was rejected, even after he had served his original sentence.

“It is heart-wrenching that Walid Daqqah has died in Israeli custody despite the many calls for his urgent release on humanitarian grounds,” Guevara-Rosas said.




Ahmed Manasra was accused of taking part in the stabbing of two Israelis in 2015. (AFP)

“For Daqqah and his family, the last six months in particular were an endless nightmare, during which he was subjected to torture or other ill-treatment, including beatings and humiliation by the Israeli Prison Service, according to his lawyer.

“He was not permitted a phone call with his wife since Oct. 7. His final appeal for parole on humanitarian grounds was rejected by the Israeli Supreme Court, effectively sentencing him to die behind bars.”

Even when Daqqah was on his deathbed, “Israeli authorities continued to display chilling levels of cruelty … not only denying him adequate medical treatment and suitable food, but also preventing him from saying a final goodbye to his wife Sanaa Salameh and their 4-year-old daughter Milad,” Guevara-Rosas said.

Milad was the couple’s small miracle. When they were denied the privilege of conjugal rights, their child was conceived after a unique prison “breakout” — her father’s sperm was smuggled out of prison.

He was, however, only allowed to see his daughter once in person, in October 2022, and even then only after “a daunting legal battle.”

Worse, his wife, Sanaa Salameh, “who tirelessly campaigned for his release, could not embrace her dying husband one last time before he passed,” Guevara-Rosas said.

In death, Daqqah will live on in the collective memory of his people as one of the million or more Arab citizens imprisoned by Israel since 1948 and whose incarceration has been commemorated every year since 1974 on April 17 as Palestinian Prisoners’ Day.




the Ofer military prison located between Ramallah and Baytunia in the occupied West Bank. (AFP)

This year, there are more Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons than ever before.

According to figures released by the Israel Prison Service, as of this month, Israel is holding 9,312 “security inmates” in jails under its jurisdiction, including Ofer Prison in the West Bank.

That figure does not include the thousands of Palestinians detained by the Israeli military in the Gaza Strip, who are believed to be held incommunicado in military camps, including the Sde Teiman base in the desert.

On April 4 a group of nongovernmental organizations including the Committee Against Torture wrote to Israel’s Military Advocate General demanding the immediate closure of the facility. They cited the testimonies of innocent Palestinians who had been released from the camp who painted “a horrifying picture of inhumane prison conditions, humiliation and torture.”

The detainees, they said, “are held in a kind of cage, crowded, sitting on their knees in a painful position for many hours every day. They are handcuffed at all hours of the day and blindfolded. This is how they eat, relieve themselves and receive medical care.”

Even without this unknown number of detainees, the 9,312 prisoners acknowledged by the IPS is a record, beating even the previous highest number, established during the Gaza War of 2008-09.

Of these, just 2,071 have been tried and sentenced. A further 3,661 are what are euphemistically termed “administrative detainees” who have not been charged, tried or found guilty of any offense.

According to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, administrative detention is when “a person is held without trial, without having committed an offense, on the grounds that he or she plans to break the law in the future.”

The tactic is disturbingly reminiscent of the 2002 science fiction film “Minority Report,” in which police arrest people for crimes that psychic “precogs” predict they might commit.




Israeli soldiers arrest Palestinian youth during an incursion in the West bank town of Nablus in 2007. (AFP)

Amnesty said it was a particularly invidious legal device under which military authorities “may place individuals in administrative detention for up to six months at a time, if the commander has ‘reasonable grounds to believe that reasons of regional security or public security require that a certain person be held in detention.’”

The order may be extended for an additional six-month period “from time to time” and there is no time limit to administrative detention.

“The person is detained without legal proceedings, by order of the regional military commander, based on classified evidence that is not revealed to them.

“This leaves the detainees helpless — facing unknown allegations with no way to disprove them, not knowing when they will be released and without being charged, tried or convicted.”

A smaller but significant number of residents from the Gaza Strip — 849 — are being held under Israel’s controversial Incarceration of Unlawful Combatants Law, which was introduced in 2002 and also allows arbitrary detention without trial.

Amnesty said the official figure was doubtless wide of the mark.

“We know there are thousands of Palestinians from Gaza held arbitrarily under said unlawful law for weeks and months on end,” a spokesperson told Arab News.

For many, incarceration is just the beginning of the nightmare.

“Palestinian detainees and prisoners have been subjected to gruesome levels of inhumane treatment that reached unprecedented levels of cruelty as part of the Israeli authorities’ retaliation campaign against Palestinians following Oct. 7,” Waed Abbas, a research and campaigns officer at Amnesty’s regional office in Ramallah and Jerusalem, told Arab News.

Drawing on the testimonies of Palestinians who have been released from prison and detention, and evidence gleaned through rarely allowed visits by lawyers, Amnesty said “a chilling image of a terrifying reality” was emerging.

“They’ve been tortured, starved, denied adequate medical care, cut off from the outside world, including from their families, put in solitary confinement, humiliated and degraded,” Abbas said.

The use of torture, she said, “has witnessed a spine-chilling spike and at least 40 Palestinian prisoners and detainees have died in Israeli custody over the past six months, either in military detention centers or in prisons run by the Israel Prison Service.”

And this is only the number of deaths officially acknowledged by the Israeli authorities. “The actual death toll may yet be higher,” Abbas said.




Wissam Tamimi, 17, reunited with his mother Hunaida and his younger brother and sister. (CNN videograb)

In many cases, the imprisonment of individuals has continued even after their death. “Families have been denied the right to mourn them with peace and dignity as Israel continues to withhold their bodies.”

Noa Sattath, executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said the deteriorating conditions facing Palestinians in Israeli prisons was of “grave concern.”

Recent policy changes instigated by the IPS following an order by Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s right-wing minister of national security, “have resulted in the arbitrary denial of basic rights, including access to medical care and legal counsel,” he told Arab News.

ACRI had petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court, protesting against “the policy of starving security prisoners, highlighting testimonies of extreme hunger and poor food quality among detainees,” and also called for the immediate resumption of Red Cross visits to Palestinian detainees.

“Even, and perhaps especially, amid conflicts and hostage situations, upholding detainees’ rights remains imperative for ensuring justice and dignity for all,” Sattah said.

For Miriam Azem, international advocacy and communications associate at Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the extent to which the wider world is turning a blind eye to Israel’s abuse of human rights and legal norms is shocking.

“To be frank, this has gone under the radar, in terms of both the mainstream global media and most of the Western world, including the UN,” she said.

In a bid to put the issue on the global agenda, on Feb. 19, four NGOs, including Adalah and Physicians for Human Rights Israel, submitted a joint plea for action to Dr Alice Edwards, the UN special rapporteur on torture, drawing her attention to the “marked and severe escalation in the abuse of Palestinian detainees and prisoners incarcerated in Israeli prisons and detention facilities” since Oct. 7.

Among other things, the signatories urged Edwards to “call on Israel to immediately halt the systematic abuse, torture and ill-treatment inflicted upon Palestinian prisoners and detainees,” to ensure that “all persons deprived of liberty are afforded all legal safeguards from the very outset” and guarantee adequate medical care generally and “specifically for victims of abuse, torture and ill-treatment.”

As part of the appeal the NGOs documented 19 “very concrete” cases backed by “substantive evidence and testimonies of torture and ill treatment.”

The dossier makes for disturbing reading.

“Prisoner A,” released from Gilboa Prison, and other inmates “were subjected to beatings in their cells (and) were forced to curse themselves and to crawl while carrying an Israeli flag on their back and were threatened with beatings if they failed to do so.”




A Palestinian prisoner hugs his mother after being released from an Israeli jail in exchange for Israeli hostages released by Hamas from the Gaza Strip last year. (AFP)

Throughout Detainee E’s detention in the Russian Compound Detention Center in Jerusalem between Oct. 29 and Nov. 12, 2023, “he was beaten on four occasions by wardens, including kicking, punching and the use of batons.”

In a hearing at Judea Military Court on Nov. 13, “female detainee A’s attorney reported that A had sustained repeated abuse; among other incidents, wardens had beaten A in her cell, without cameras, while she was naked.”

Two days later, at a hearing at Haifa District Court, it was reported that another female detainee from Hasharon Prison “had been threatened with rape and bodily assault.”

Several of the highlighted cases documented in distressing detail incidents of sexual abuse and daily violence suffered by male prisoners in Ketziot Prison.

Azem said that given the difficulties of collecting evidence, the 19 submitted cases were merely a representative sample of a far larger problem.

“One of the themes we have highlighted in the document is that prisoners face extreme threats of reprisals for speaking out.”

On March 8, the UN rapporteur said she was investigating the allegations of torture and mistreatment of Palestinian detainees in Israel and was in talks to visit the country.

In a statement to Reuters, the UN human rights office said it had received “numerous reports of mass detention, ill-treatment and enforced disappearance of Palestinians in northern Gaza by the Israeli military and has recorded the arrests of thousands in the West Bank.”

Responding to the allegations in a statement to AFP, a spokesperson for the Israel Prison Service said: “All prisoners are detained according to the law.”

It said the service was “not aware of the claims” against it, but stressed that any complaints filed by detainees “will be fully examined and addressed by official authorities.”

In many ways the life and death of Walid Daqqah symbolizes the wider suffering of the tens of thousands of men, women and children who have followed him into Israeli custody over the almost four decades since he was first incarcerated.

How he lived his limited life behind bars, however, lives on as an example of how hope can survive in even the most seemingly hopeless of circumstances.




Israeli border policemen detain a Palestinian stone-throwing youth during clashes on October 5, 2009 in the east Jerusalem Shuafat refugee camp. (AFP)

In an obituary published on April 8, the day after his death, Amnesty said that while behind bars Daqqah “wrote extensively about the Palestinian experience in Israeli prisons.”

“He acted as a mentor and educator for generations of young Palestinian prisoners, including children,” it said.

“His writings, which included letters, essays, a celebrated play and a novel for young adults, were an act of resistance against the dehumanization of Palestinian prisoners.”

A line he once wrote shines as a beacon of hope for the tens of thousands of Palestinians who since 1986 have followed him into captivity: “Love is my modest and only victory against my jailer.”

The children in Israel’s prisons
Ongoing hostage-for-prisoners exchange opens the world’s eyes to arrests, interrogations, and even abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities

Enter


keywords

 


Israeli forces raze parts of Gaza’s Jabalia, hit Rafah with airstrikes

Israeli forces raze parts of Gaza’s Jabalia, hit Rafah with airstrikes
Updated 6 min 48 sec ago
Follow

Israeli forces raze parts of Gaza’s Jabalia, hit Rafah with airstrikes

Israeli forces raze parts of Gaza’s Jabalia, hit Rafah with airstrikes
  • In Jabalia, a sprawling refugee camp built for displaced civilians 75 years ago, Israeli army used bulldozers to clear shops and property near local market, residents said
  • Israel said it has returned to the camp, where it had claimed to have dismantled Hamas months ago, to prevent the militant group that controls Gaza from regrouping

GAZA STRIP: Israeli forces thrust deeper into Jabalia in northern Gaza on Tuesday, striking a hospital and destroying residential areas with tank and air bombardments, residents said, while Israeli airstrikes killed at least five people in Rafah in the south.
Simultaneous Israeli assaults on the northern and southern edges of the Gaza Strip this month have caused a new exodus of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing their homes, and sharply restricted the flow of aid, raising the risk of famine.
In Jabalia, a sprawling refugee camp built for displaced civilians 75 years ago, the Israeli army used bulldozers to clear shops and property near the local market, residents said, in a military operation that began almost two weeks ago.
Israel said it has returned to the camp, where it had claimed to have dismantled Hamas months ago, to prevent the militant group that controls Gaza from regrouping.
In a roundup of its activity over the past day, the Israeli military said it had dismantled “about 70 terror targets” throughout the Gaza Strip, including military compounds, weapon storage sites, missile launchers and observation posts.
Palestinian medics said Israeli missiles struck the emergency department of Jabalia’s Kamal Adwan Hospital, prompting panicked staff to rush patients on hospital beds and stretchers to the rubble-strewn street outside.
“The first missile when it hit, it hit the entrance of the emergency department. We tried to enter, and then a second missile hit, and the third hit the building nearby,” said Hussam Abu Safia, the head of hospital.
“We cannot go back inside to them ... The emergency department provides a service for children, the elderly and people inside the departments of the hospital.”
Residents and medics said Israeli tanks were besieging another Jabalia hospital, Al-Awda Hospital, for the third day. In Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said northern Gaza’s sick and wounded were running out of options.
“These are the only two functional hospitals remaining in northern Gaza,” Tedros said. “Ensuring their ability to deliver health services is imperative.”
More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war in Gaza, which is now in its eighth month, according to the Gaza health ministry. At least 10,000 others are missing and believed to be trapped under destroyed buildings, it says.
Israel is seeking to eradicate Hamas after militants from the group stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 and taking more than 250 hostages, by Israeli tallies.
The war has devastated the overcrowded coastal enclave, destroying houses, schools and hospitals and creating a dire humanitarian crisis.
Aid from a US-built pier resumed moving into warehouses in Gaza on Tuesday using alternative routes, the Pentagon said. The distribution was halted for three days after crowds of needy residents intercepted trucks.

AIRSTRIKES
In the south, airstrikes killed three children in a house in Khan Younis and at least five people including three children in a home in Rafah, health officials said.
East of Khan Younis, residents said they were fleeing Khuzaa town after Israeli troops began an incursion on the eastern edge of the territory, bulldozing across the border fence.
“Bombing everywhere, people are leaving in panic. It was a surprising incursion,” one resident from Khuzaa told Reuters by phone as he and his family were leaving.
Israel is pushing on with its operations in Rafah on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, where more than half of the territory’s 2.3 million population had sought refuge after being displaced from areas further north.
UNRWA, the main United Nations agency in Gaza, estimated as of Monday that more 800,000 had fled since Israel began targeting the city in early May, despite international pleas for restraint over concern about civilian casualties.
On Tuesday, the agency said food distributions had been suspended in Rafah due to lack of supplies and insecurity.
Israel has pledged to continue with the Rafah assault to root out what it says are four remaining battalions of Hamas fighters holed up there. Tanks made incursions into the eastern Rafah suburbs of Jeneina, Al-Salam, and Brazil, according to residents.
The Israeli military said over the past day it had “identified a terrorist shooting mortar shells at IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) troops,” though no injuries were reported. It said it had taken out the enemy with an airstrike and had located rockets and additional military equipment in the area.


Is Israel’s Netanyahu pursuing perpetual war in Gaza to save his political skin?

Is Israel’s Netanyahu pursuing perpetual war in Gaza to save his political skin?
Updated 7 sec ago
Follow

Is Israel’s Netanyahu pursuing perpetual war in Gaza to save his political skin?

Is Israel’s Netanyahu pursuing perpetual war in Gaza to save his political skin?
  • Critics in the war cabinet have accused the PM of lacking a ‘day after’ strategy for Gaza
  • Fragmentation within government and among the population raise specter of mass protests

LONDON: Last Wednesday evening, five Israeli soldiers were killed and seven others wounded in a “friendly fire” incident in northern Gaza.

The five paratroopers, aged between 20 and 22 and reported by The Times of Israel to have been part of an ultra-Orthodox company of paratroopers, died when an Israeli tank mistakenly fired on their position during confused fighting in Jabaliya.

They are not the first Israeli soldiers to have died at the hands of their comrades. According to the IDF, of the 279 personnel killed so far in Gaza since the start of ground operations on Oct. 27, 49 have died in similar incidents or accidents.

But after seven months of war, with Israeli troops fighting and dying over territory that had, ostensibly, already been cleared by the IDF earlier in the war, the stark futility of these latest deaths has struck a bitter chord in Israel.

A member of Israel’s security forces aims his rifle during an Israeli raid at the Nur Shams camp for Palestinian refugees near the occupied West Bank city of Tulkarm, on January 4, 2024. (AFP)

As Benjamin Netanyahu continues to evade making a deal with Hamas to bring home the remaining hostages — an ongoing national trauma emphasized by the recovery on Friday from Gaza of the remains of three of the victims of the Oct. 7 massacre at the Nova music festival — many fear the Israeli prime minister is pursuing a strategy of perpetual war solely in a bid to save his own political skin.

It has been no secret that over recent months Israel’s military has been pushing Netanyahu to develop a “day after” strategy. Last Wednesday, just hours before the deaths in Jabaliya, Israel’s defense minister broke rank to publicly criticize his prime minister.

In an extraordinary video address, Yoav Gallant, a former general, revealed that since October he had been consistently pressing Netanyahu in cabinet meetings to work toward a political solution in Gaza.

The end of the military campaign, he said, “must come together with political action. The ‘day after Hamas’ will only be achieved with Palestinian entities taking control of Gaza, accompanied by international actors, establishing a governing alternative to Hamas’ rule.

“Unfortunately,” he added, “this issue was not raised for debate. And worse, no alternative was brought up in its place.”

A protester speaks on a megaphone while holding up a sign depicting Israeli politicians during an anti-government demonstration in Tel Aviv on February 3, 2024. (AFP)

Gallant then embarked on an unprecedented public attack on Netanyahu that at times veered close to open revolt. “Indecision is, in essence, a decision,” he said.

“This leads to a dangerous course, which promotes the idea of Israeli military and civilian governance in Gaza. This is a negative and dangerous option for the State of Israel — strategically, militarily, and from a security standpoint.”

In short, he said: “I will not agree to the establishment of Israeli military rule in Gaza.”

Then he issued a direct challenge.

“I call on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make a decision and declare that Israel will not establish civilian control over the Gaza Strip, that Israel will not establish military governance in the Gaza Strip, and that a governing alternative to Hamas in the Gaza Strip will be raised immediately.”

Netanyahu did not immediately respond to the attack in public. But right-wing national security minister Itamar Ben Givr — part of the shaky coalition government Netanyahu must hold together to cling on to power, and who has called repeatedly for the expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza and its resettlement by Jews — demanded Gallant be sacked.

Israel’s defense minister said that since October he had been consistently pressing Netanyahu in cabinet meetings to work toward a political solution in Gaza. (AFP)

Then, on Saturday, Benny Gantz, the other member of Netanyahu’s three-person war cabinet and his main political rival, announced that he would withdraw his centrist National Unity party from Israel’s emergency coalition on June 8 unless the prime minister agreed to a six-point “day after” plan for Gaza.

Gantz’s plan includes securing the return of hostages, ending Hamas’ rule, demilitarizing Gaza and establishing an international administration with “American, European, Arab and Palestinian elements” to manage its civilian affairs.

“Personal and political considerations have begun to penetrate the Holy of Holies of Israel’s national security,” Gantz said.

“A small minority has seized the bridge of the Israeli ship and is piloting it toward the rocky shoal,” and steps have to be taken urgently to avoid a “long and harsh existential war.”

Gantz also called on Israel to “advance normalization with Saudi Arabia as part of a comprehensive process to create an alliance with the free world and the West against Iran and its allies.”

Benny Gantz’s 6-point Gaza blueprint

  • Bring the hostages home.
  • Topple Hamas rule, demilitarize the Gaza Strip and gain Israeli security control.
  • Alongside that Israeli security control, “create an international civilian governance mechanism for Gaza, including American, European, Arab and Palestinian elements — which will also serve as a basis for a future alternative that is not Hamas and is not (Palestinian Authority President) Abbas.
  • Return residents of the north (evacuated due to Hezbollah attacks) to their homes by Sept. 1, and rehabilitate the western Negev (adjacent to Gaza, targeted by Hamas on Oct. 7).
  • Advance normalization with Saudi Arabia as part of a comprehensive process to create an alliance with the free world and the West against Iran and its allies.
  • Adopt a framework for (military/national) service under which all Israelis will serve the state and contribute to the national effort. Gantz, a former general, wants an end to exemption from military service for ultra-Orthodox Israelis.

Israel’s leadership is now so fragmented, and its population increasingly divided over Gaza and the wider issue of a Palestinian future, that there is even speculation that Netanyahu might be facing the unprecedented possibility of a military coup.

“As the war seems to have less of a point and less success, everything seems to be coming apart,” Shaiel Ben-Ephraim, analyst and host of the podcasts “Israel Explained” and “History of the Land of Israel,” told Arab News.

“Something has to give. The military is talking about a coup. I don’t think it is going to happen, but on Telegram and WhatsApp, military people who could do something are saying: ‘Someone should remove Netanyahu, someone should do something about Ben-Givr.’

“That’s very alarming. We’ve been hearing that from regular people on the left and the center for a long time. But now, even people in the Shabak (Israel’s internal security agency) are discussing the idea.”

An Israeli protester wearing a hat with a slogan against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on during an anti-government demonstration in Tel Aviv on April 27, 2024. (AFP)

Netanyahu, said Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli attorney specializing in Israeli-Palestinian relations and founder of NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem, “is leading us toward a never-ending insurgency.

“The entire military establishment opposes it,” Seidemann told Arab News. “The credible people in the government who are not racist and fanatics oppose it. But he’s adamant, and there are three reasons why.

“First, habitually Netanyahu is incapable of making a decision. He always procrastinates.

“Secondly, he doesn’t believe that peace exists. For him, life is eternal conflict, never decided, and the only goal is to be a bit stronger, a bit more sophisticated than your enemy and to contain them. But you’re not going to solve anything that way.”

But compounding these “predispositions” in the current situation in Gaza, he said, was Netanyahu’s overwhelming self-interest.

“An end of the war, a ceasefire, is the end of Netanyahu’s career and possibly jail for him, full stop,” he said. “That is why he has turned the hostages and their families into enemies of the state.”

There had, he said, been “an organized, sophisticated smear campaign against these people. It’s just remarkable. Why? Because you cannot prioritize returning the hostages and continue to fight in Gaza. It’s one or the other.

“Netanyahu knows that if the hostages are released, the price for that will be a ceasefire, and the ceasefire will be the end of him. So he is doing everything in his power to perpetuate this war. This is the way most people in Israel are talking today. His considerations are all personal.”

Soldiers killed in northern Gaza on May 15, 2024. Top row, left to right: Sgt. Ilan Cohen, Sgt. Daniel Chemu, Staff Sgt. Betzalel David Shashuah; bottom row, left to right: Staff Sgt. Gilad Arye Boim, Cpt. Roy Beit Yaakov. (Israel Defense Forces)

For Seth Frantzman, an adjunct fellow with the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies and senior Middle East correspondent and analyst at The Jerusalem Post, the lack of apparent direction over Gaza is rooted as much in systemic issues as in Netanyahu’s personality.

“I don’t think that they have invested the resources for long-term planning in terms of the strategy of what comes afterwards,” Frantzman told Arab News.

“That doesn’t mean that there aren’t voices that haven’t been calling for that — the Defense Ministry has been pushing for a day-after plan for many months.

“But Israel has spent 15 years or more ‘managing’ the conflict in Gaza with Hamas. Hamas became the devil that everyone is familiar with and therefore the idea of picking up some alternative kind of structure is a bit complicated — even though it’s obvious, after Oct. 7, that the murderous genocidal nature of Hamas means you just can’t live next to a group like that or continue to appease it.”

But Netanyahu’s “decisive indecision” is proving to be a gift for Hamas, Ben-Ephraim said.

“I think that at first Hamas was unpleasantly surprised by how Israel banded together and struck back so strongly, and the amount of support it got from the US.

“But because the Israeli strategy since has been so horrifically bad, they’re now very pleasantly surprised and indeed stunned to see Israel destroy its international standing, and its internal cohesion and solidarity, to no end besides Netanyahu’s surviving.”

Protesters lift national flags and portraits of Israelis held hostage by Hamas in Gaza since October 7, during a rally demanding their release outside Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu’s private residence on January 27, 2024. (AFP)

Even before his boss Gallant spoke out, Herzi Halevi, the IDF chief of staff, was reported to have taken Netanyahu to task over his failure to develop a long-term strategy.

On May 12, Hebrew-language television station Channel 13 reported what it said was a verbatim account of a heated meeting between Halevi and the prime minister.

“We are now operating once again in Jabaliya,” Halevi, a paratrooper and former head of Israeli military intelligence, reportedly said.

“As long as there’s no diplomatic process to develop a governing body in the Strip that isn’t Hamas, we’ll have to launch campaigns again and again in other places to dismantle Hamas’ infrastructure.” 

It would, he added, “be a Sisyphean task” — a reference to the ancient Greek myth about a king condemned by the gods to spend eternity repeatedly pushing a boulder up a hill, only for it to roll back down again every time.

A whiff of unprecedented dissent, if not outright revolt, is in the air.

“I don’t think you’re going to be seeing large-scale conscientious objection,” Seidemann said. “That’s not how it works here. But what you will see are tens of thousands of army reservists going home and leading the protests.”

Israeli police disperse a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in Jerusalem, on May 20, 2024. (AFP)

Such protests have brought about political change in the past in Israel, most notably the toppling of Prime Minister Golda Meir in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in the run-up to which she had repeatedly rebuffed peace overtures from Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.

“There are hundreds of thousands of people in the streets already,” Seidemann said. “And there have been two kinds of protests — for the release of the hostages and for elections for a new government.

“Initially the hostage families distanced themselves as a group. They wanted to appear to be apolitical. But that’s over. They’ve joined forces. There will be an event of some kind at some time over the next month or two, which will bring out millions of Israelis.”

It would, he believes, be impossible for Israel to reoccupy and resettle Gaza, as right-wingers in Netanyahu’s cabinet have demanded.

Quite apart from the uproar such a move would provoke among Israel’s staunchest allies in the West, Gaza “is going to be a lunar landscape,” he said. “Just to maintain some semblance of normality, Israel would have to harness so much of its resources, energies, money, just to be on this fool’s errand of running Gaza.”

Smoke plumes from an explosion billow in the Gaza Strip, as seen from Israel’s southern border with the Palestinian territory, on May 21, 2024. (AFP)

In the meantime, millions are being traumatized, not only in Gaza, where the death and suffering are on such a shocking scale, but also — and crucially for Netanyahu’s future prospects — in Israel.

“The day after, both societies are going to be totally traumatized,” Seidemann said.

“A friend of mine sees the police records, and in Tel Aviv the police are receiving dozens of reports weekly of people who think they can hear digging under their apartment buildings.

“That’s the level of trauma that you’re dealing with and there’s a growing sense that this can’t go on.”

Whatever the eventual solution, and however the war in Gaza is finally brought to an end, one thing is certain, he believes.

“Nothing is possible with Netanyahu at the helm. The only thing that can be done until he’s gone is damage control.”

 


Officials discuss plans for 54th session of the Council of Arab Information Ministers

Officials discuss plans for 54th session of the Council of Arab Information Ministers
Updated 21 May 2024
Follow

Officials discuss plans for 54th session of the Council of Arab Information Ministers

Officials discuss plans for 54th session of the Council of Arab Information Ministers
  • Arab League’s assistant secretary-general and Bahrain’s minister of information review agenda for the 3-day ministerial meeting, which begins on Monday
  • A key item is the implementation of an Arab Media Strategy to Combat Terrorism

CAIRO: The Arab League’s assistant secretary-general and head of its media and communication sector, Ambassador Ahmed Rashid Khattabi, and Bahrain’s minister of information, Ramzan Al-Nuaimi, discussed the agenda and arrangements for the 54th session of the Council of Arab Information Ministers, which will take place on May 27 to 29.
Their meeting followed the Arab Summit in Manama last week, which issued resolutions relating to various strategic, political and developmental issues affecting the Arab region. It also explored ways to enhance mechanisms for Arab cooperation, including media support for the Palestinian cause in light of the latest developments and the repercussions of Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip.
Khattabi and Al-Nuaimi reviewed the draft agenda for the upcoming ministerial meeting, which was approved by the Executive Office of the Council of Arab Information Ministers during its meeting on Dec. 24 in Libya.
It includes several items related to proposed projects for the development and enrichment of a comprehensive and diverse Arab media system. A key item is the implementation of an Arab Media Strategy to Combat Terrorism, which was approved during the Arab Summit.
Other significant topics include a media map for achieving sustainable development by 2030; environmental media; educational media; ways to enhance the status of women in the media; and the development of capacity through the use of artificial intelligence technology.
The agenda also includes a proposal by the General Secretariat for the development of a charter detailing the responsibilities of the media in coverage of elections. It includes issues such as the role of the media in electoral campaigns; respect for the rules of pluralism, transparency and neutrality; and the prevention of discrimination based on gender, race or language.
During their meeting next week, the information ministers will also discuss organizational matters, and the winners of the eighth Arab Media Excellence Awards will be announced on the sidelines of the event. More than 100 entries were submitted and the winners chosen by a special committee of judges from member states, chaired by Kuwait, the sponsor of the awards.


At least 85 dead from fighting in Sudan’s El-Fasher: charity

At least 85 dead from fighting in Sudan’s El-Fasher: charity
Updated 21 May 2024
Follow

At least 85 dead from fighting in Sudan’s El-Fasher: charity

At least 85 dead from fighting in Sudan’s El-Fasher: charity
  • On Monday alone, nine of 60 casualties received at Southern Hospital — El-Fasher’s only remaining medical facility — had died of their wounds
  • El-Fasher is the only state capital in the vast western region of Darfur not under RSF control

PORT SUDAN: At least 85 people have died in a single hospital in the Darfur city of El-Fasher since fighting reignited between Sudan’s warring parties on May 10, medical charity Doctors Without Borders said Tuesday.
On Monday alone, nine of 60 casualties received at Southern Hospital — El-Fasher’s only remaining medical facility — had died of their wounds, said Claire Nicolet, head of the charity’s Sudan emergency program.
In the period since the fighting erupted in the North Darfur state capital, the hospital had received “707 casualties” and “85 have passed away,” she added.
For over a year, fighting has raged between the regular military, under army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, led by his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
El-Fasher is the only state capital in the vast western region of Darfur not under RSF control and is a key humanitarian hub for a region on the brink of famine.
This month, it has been the site of fierce battles, despite repeated pleas including from the United Nations for fighters to spare the city.
Eyewitnesses have reported repeated artillery shelling and gunfire from both sides, as well as air strikes from the army.
Trapped in their homes by the fighting, many residents are unable to brave the violence on the streets to get wounded loved ones to the hospital.
Doctors Without Borders said casualties who reach Southern Hospital are met by “only one surgeon, putting the facility “under intense pressure.”
Across the country, the war has shuttered over 70 percent of medical facilities and stretched the remaining ones impossibly thin.
“We have only around 10 days of supplies left” for Southern Hospital, Nicolet said, urging the warring parties to provide “safe access” to enable them to replenish stocks.
Since the war began, tens of thousands of people have been killed, including up to 15,000 in a single West Darfur town, according to UN experts.
Nearly nine million people have been forced from their homes. By the end of April, North Darfur alone hosted more than half a million people newly displaced in the last year, according to the latest figures from the UN.


Houthis claim 5th US drone shoot-down since November

Houthis claim 5th US drone shoot-down since November
Updated 21 May 2024
Follow

Houthis claim 5th US drone shoot-down since November

Houthis claim 5th US drone shoot-down since November
  • The Houthi military launched “a locally made surface-to-air missile” at the US MQ-9 Reaper drone
  • The Houthi claim on Tuesday was the second in less than a week concerning an MQ-9 Reaper shoot-down, and the fifth since November

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Houthis claimed on Tuesday to have shot down another US drone over the central province of Al-Bayda, marking the fifth such claim by the militia since the start of their Red Sea campaign in November.
Spokesman Yahya Sarea said in a televised broadcast that the Houthi military launched “a locally made surface-to-air missile” at the US MQ-9 Reaper drone, which crashed in Al-Bayda province.
Sarea did not disclose when the shoot-down took place, but said the military action came in support of the Palestinian people and as retribution for US and UK bombings of Houthi-controlled parts of Yemen.
“The Yemeni Armed Forces continue to enhance their defensive capacities in order to face the American-British aggression against our nation and carry out military operations in triumph for the oppressed Palestinian people,” Sarea said.
The Houthi claim on Tuesday was the second in less than a week concerning an MQ-9 Reaper shoot-down, and the fifth since November.
On Friday, the militia said its forces shot down a US drone over the central province of Marib while conducting “hostile operations,” soon after locals reported hearing a loud blast and finding wreckage of a drone resembling an MQ-9 Reaper.
The Houthis had previously claimed to have shot down the same drone model on April 26 and Feb. 19 this year, as well as on Nov. 8 last year, over Saada, Hodeidah and the Red Sea, respectively.
Since November, the Houthis have attacked ships in international waters around Yemen, mainly the Red Sea, using drones, ballistic missiles and drone boats.
The militia claims its campaign is solely targeting Israel-linked ships in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.
The US has responded to the Houthi attacks by identifying the militia as a terrorist organization, organizing a coalition of marine task forces and carrying out strikes on Houthi sites in Yemen.
In an attempt to revive peace talks stalled by the Houthi Red Sea campaign, the US State Department said on Monday that Yemen envoy Tim Lenderking will return to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman.
He will meet officials in those countries to discuss the Houthi Red Sea campaign and its implications on Yemen’s peace process.
“The Houthis’ continued attacks threaten progress toward achieving a durable resolution to the conflict in Yemen and obstruct the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Yemenis and people in need across the region,” the US State Department said.