Protest commemorating one year anniversary of the killing of Mohammad Abu Khdeir met with military violence
Ramallah – On July 2, 2015, in honor of the first anniversary of the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, Palestinian activists with international supporters blocked a settlers-only road leading to the illegal Adam settlement. Demonstrators cited this road as the road that the murderers took in their search for a Palestinian victim. Journalists, Palestinian and international activists, suffered from pepper spray burns and several were hospitalized.
“This is the first in a week of demonstrations for Muhammad Abu Khdeir. One of the murderers, Yosef Haim Ben-David, is from the Adam settlement. This is why the demonstration was held at this settlers-only entrance,” said Abdullah Abu Rahmah, the coordinator of Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements in Bil’in.
Demonstrators blocked the road to settler traffic in both directions until the Israeli Army and Border Police dispersed the non-violent demonstrators and journalists by pepper-spraying indiscriminately. Three Palestinian activists, four journalists, and two International ISM volunteers were pepper sprayed in the eyes and mouth by a masked Army officer. An ISM co-founder as well as journalists from Roya TV Channel, Reuters, and Palestine TV were severely pepper sprayed in the eyes requiring hospitalization.
The soldiers threw sound percussion grenades at demonstrators and chased people. In addition to the pepper spray, they shoved journalists and Palestinian activists to the ground.
After the soldiers and border police chased the demonstrators off the road and down a hill, they continued to throw percussion grenades even as the demonstrators stood at a distance waiting to find fellow demonstrators.
We can see just how seriously the Israeli government takes nationalist crimes from the following case.
On July 26, 2010, a large group of Israeli marauders, whom eyewitnesses said came from the direction of the settlements of Yitzhar and Bracha, allegedly made their way to land belonging to the nearby Palestinian village of Burin. According to witnesses, the marauders burned hundreds of olive trees, some of them more than a century old. Furthermore, they attacked the villagers with stones and in a few cases with clubs, and stoned the houses of the village.
On that same day, some of the victims lodged a complaint with the Israeli police.
In August 2011, i.e. more than a year after the incident, the police informed Yesh Din that the case was turned to the attention of a prosecutor – that is the last we heard of the story for two years. In August 2013, the Shomron Prosecution Unit bothered to update us saying that they had closed the case back in December 2012. Three months later, we received the investigation material of a three-year-old incident, and tried to see whether there is any point in appealing the decision to close the case.
To the utter surprise of our attorneys, who were under the impression that the police closed the case for lack of evidence, the case files contained quite a bit of evidence. At the same time and place of the incident, three Border Policemen detained two Israeli civilians – A. and M. – after police officers testified that they saw them throwing stones at Palestinians.
The testimony of a cop, as well as the detention of suspects at the scene, is generally enough cause for prosecutorial action, particularly since the government takes nationalist crime seriously, as it keeps claiming. Therefore, we appealed the decision to close the case in December 2013, demanding of A. and M. be prosecuted on suspicion of throwing stones and assaulting an officer; we also demanded that the investigation into the question of who attacked one of our clients with an iron rod and set his olive grove on fire continue.
That’s when events took a surrealistic turn. In response to our appeal, the prosecution claimed that they are well aware that there is enough evidence to indict A. and M., but said it would not do so – since it sees no reason to interfere with the decision of the Police Prosecution Unit, which closed the case for lack of public interest.
According to the prosecution, since both sides engaged in stone throwing, and since there is no precise information about how the incident began, and since there was no equivalent interrogation of Palestinian suspects, there is simply no public interest in putting the Israeli marauders on trial.
To quote our sarcastic reply, sent in April by Attorney Noa Amrami:
“To sum, two Israeli civilians woke up one morning, arrived at the village of Burin and the homes and land of our clients, threw stones at them and beat them. Is there any doubt here as to who is the attacker and who the defender? With all due respect, we are not dealing with a kids’ squabble at school here, but with a criminal, methodical action of terrorizing the villagers of Burin, who suffer from the violence of the Israeli civilians residing in the region.”
What the government prefers to call nationalist crimes — and we call ideological crimes — has become a national scourge. As we emphasize here repeatedly, this is not an incident of random violence, but rather violence with a clear political goal: dispossessing Palestinians of their land so it may be transferred to Israeli civilians. The police’ failure at resolving these crimes is systematic and well documented: out of 1,045 investigation cases reviewed by Yesh Din in 2005-2014, only 7.4 percent turned into indictments. 85.2 percent of the cases were closed due to the police’s investigative failure, usually because the police failed in finding suspects or gathering enough evidence to try them.
The village of Burin is a stark example of criminal actions carried out by Israeli civilians: in the years 2005-2013 Yesh Din documented 103 incidents of criminal activity, mostly violent, by Israeli civilians against Palestinians from the village. Yesh Din documented a series of violent actions – both by Israeli forces and Israeli civilians – toward the villagers. If we were to take the official rhetoric about the need to fight ideological crime seriously, we would expect any incident in Burin would be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law.
Yet in practice, even when the police detain suspects and the prosecution has enough evidence to indict them, the case is somehow closed. This time the excuse was “lack of public interest.” Bear this in mind during the next press conference when solemn promises that the police will do its best will be made.
We have asked that the appeal be reconsidered. We’ll keep you posted.
Chemical waste produced by the laboratories of Ariel University, in the illegal West Bank settlement of the same name, threatens Palestinian agricultural land in Salfit, locals reported.
According to the locals, Ariel University pours its chemical waste into the settlement’s sewer network which runs into the agricultural lands owned by Palestinians in Selfit thus polluting the groundwater, soil and air.
Environmental researcher Khalid Al-Maaly said Ariel University does not take the environment in the surrounding areas into account when pouring hazardous materials into the land turning it into a dumping ground because the waste flows without treatment.
According to Al-Maaly, nearly 20,000 students are enrolled at the university.
He called on the environmental institutions to visit Salfit and witness the suffering caused by the university’s sewage.
Al-Maaly stressed that the presence of Ariel University on Selfit’s land is contrary to international law which considers this area occupied and therefore state institutions cannot be built on it.
Last month, Israeli authorities expanded the university’s campus by constructing new laboratories and student dorms over lands confiscated from Palestinians in Selfit.
Prior to the 18th century – that is prior to the Enlightenment – if you had asked a literate Westerner when he or she thought the most ideal of human societies did or would exist, most of them would have located that society in the past. The religious majority might have placed it in the biblical age of Solomon or the early Christian communities of the 1st century after Christ. Both would have been considered divinely inspired times. Now, come forward a hundred years, say to the beginning of the 19th century, and ask the same question. You would notice that the answer was beginning to change. Having passed through the Enlightenment and with the Industrial Revolution in process, the concept of continual progress had been invented, and with it some (but by no means all) people started to place that hypothetically ideal society in the future. For the futurists the question of divine guidance no longer mattered.
Today, many folks worldwide believe in progress and assume that tomorrow not only will be different from today, but will in some scientific-technological way be better. The question here is not whether they are correct, but why there isn’t a unanimous consensus in favor of progress – for clearly there is not.
The truth is that there are millions of people, Muslims, Jews and Christians and others who not only still idealize a religiously imagined past, but want, in one way or another, to import that past into the present – and not only their present but everyone else’s as well. Whatever one might think of the teachings of the Bible and Quran, this is a highly problematic desire. In fact, it is downright dangerous. The following examples will prove this point.
The Muslim Version
The Guardian newspaper recently carried a shocking article entitled “Isis Slave Markets Sell Girls .…” As the story goes, ISIS, or the self-proclaimed “Islamic State,” has set up slave markets where young girls are sold. Most of the girls seem to be war booty acquired during raids on areas populated by minorities, such as the Yazidis, who are not considered Muslim.
According to the Zainab Bangura, the UN envoy investigating the issue of sexual violence stemming from the wars in Syria and Iraq, the abduction of young girls is a ploy to attract male recruits. “The foreign fighters are the backbone of the fighting,” Bangura says, and “this is how they attract young men: we have women waiting for you, virgins you can marry.”
The UN envoy then adds that ISIS seems determined “to build a society that reflects the 13th century.” Actually, she is off by some 500 years. The time frame ISIS leadership is aiming for is the 7th century CE. That was the time of the first Islamic community, and from the ISIS point of view it was a divinely appointed one. Therefore its cultural and social practices, allegedly sanctioned by the Quran, are as legitimate today as they were in the time of the Rightly Guided Caliphs. So, first and foremost, the slave trade is sanctioned as a revival of a divine past. If it lures new male recruits, that is no doubt seen as a bonus.
From the point of view of modern secularized society, this is pretty crazy stuff. However, it is not unique to ISIS.
The Jewish Version
There is a sect of religious Jews who are equally determined to import into the present an aspect of an ancient, supposedly divine, past. Their aim is to resurrect Solomon’s temple, an artifact of the 6th century BCE. Rebuilding the original temple (which would them be called the “third temple” because the first two were destroyed by the Babylonians and Romans, respectively) would, according to the advocacy organization the Temple Institute, “usher in a new era of universal harmony and peace.”
Given that this divine import would have to be built on the site now occupied by the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest place in the Islamic world, it is hard to see how peace can be the outcome. Nonetheless, according to its advocates, the Jews “have a biblical obligation to rebuild it. And, it would seem, some 43 percent of religious Israelis agree with this assertion. That means in the eyes of these particular people, the recreation of Solomon’s temple is as divinely legitimate as the slave markets run by ISIS. The major difference between the Temple Institute and ISIS is that, as of yet, the institute does not have the power to move from theory to practice.
The Christian Version
It is bad enough to reestablish slavery in the name of religion, as some fanatical Muslims have done. It is not much better to advocate rebuilding Solomon’s Temple on stolen land in the name of religion, as some fanatical Jews now want to do. Yet it is quite another thing to conspire to bring about global war in the name of religion. This seems to be the special providence of fanatical Christians.
According to TV investigative journalist Bill Moyers, Christian fundamentalist organizations with millions of members financially support Israel in order to encourage expansionism, ethnic cleansing, and preemptive war against Iran, and ultimately to trigger a third world war. What is the point of this allegedly divinely inspired mayhem? According to such Christian fundamentalist sages as John C. Hagee, all of this is necessary to pave the way for the Second Coming of Christ. Hagee knows this is so because he read it in the apocalytic writings of the New Testament.
And just who might have sympathy with such dangerous efforts to transform the present on the basis of dubious past prophecy? How about Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Tony Blair, along with growing numbers of voters and legislators both in the U.S. and the UK?
How is it possible, in our scientific age, that millions, including powerful political leaders, hold to such dangerous beliefs? Obviously the Enlightenment and its humanistic teachings did not work for everyone, and even the Industrial Revolution, in its capitalist manifestation, has proved persistently unsettling. That is, unsettling to community based on age-old – and allegedly divine – principles. After all, seemingly divine teachings were the basis for Western societies, as well as those in the Middle East, for over a thousand years. Counting from the Enlightenment, competing modernity has only been around for three hundred or so years.
In other words, our material world might be thoroughly grounded in applied electrical engineering and computer science, but for a surprising number of us, the emotional world seems to still be grounded in the imagined words of God. No wonder religion in all its various forms makes periodic comebacks. As part of this phenomenon, some of us select a part of the “divine past” as our ideal time. Some of us even convince ourselves that the world would be so much better if we could reconstruct the present along the lines of that imagined past.
Of course, most of those who think this way never get enough power and influence to actually move from theory to practice. Occasionally, however, someone, or some group, does. In the case of the Islamic world, the leaders of ISIS seem to have achieved this status, and so what do we get? Slave markets. In Israel the Knesset is full of folks who yearn for the some variation on biblical Israel, so what do we get? Well, if not yet the rebuilding of Solomon’s Temple, we get all that illegal expansion into “Judea and Samaria.” And, in the case of the Christians like George W. Bush and Tony Blair, both of whom seem to have used their worldly power to kill and maim millions in the name of prophecy, we get one war after another.
This suggests that the socio-religious outlook of Solomon, Mohammed, and Jesus Christ are simply not translatable into the modern world. Oh sure we have the Ten Commandments and all that. However, adherence to these rules should no longer be enforced as the word of God. In the West at least, they are, in a selective, updated fashion, part of the promulgated laws of multi-cultural communities – no more and no less – and it is best to keep it that way.
So let’s show some appreciation of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. When they separated reli.gion and government, they had a strong and accurate sense of history. It was a good move, even if not a divinely inspired one. It was also the implementation of a fine Enlightenment principle – a good match for modern society.
When a 22-year-old man died under an Israeli army jeep recently, The New York Times virtually ignored the incident. Now come reports of another death in the West Bank, and the newspaper has given notice with an article appearing both online and in print.
The difference is all in the ethnicity: The first man was Palestinian and his attackers were Israeli soldiers. The second was Israeli and died at the hands of a Palestinian gunman.
When Abdallah Ghuneimat died on Sunday, eyewitnesses reported that he had been shot and then deliberately run down by soldiers in a jeep; the army, however, claimed the vehicle had fallen on him by accident. The Times made fleeting mention of the incident in a wire service story that appeared only online. (See TimesWarp 6-17-15.)
The newspaper has continued to turn its back on the story even as new eyewitnesses have come forth to say that Ghuneimat “was left bleeding under the jeep for hours while Israeli soldiers were jubilantly cheering.” Witnesses also said that troops fired tear gas, stun grenades and live ammunition to prevent villagers from approaching the victim.
Now, with the death of an Israeli four days later, we find a different approach from the Times. Editors were not content with a wire service report in this case; they assigned a reporter to cover the incident and published a story replete with quotes from Israeli president Reuven Rivlin, education minister Naftali Bennett and a United Nations coordinator.
The Israeli victim, Danny Gonen, 25, had come to the West Bank with a friend to visit a spring near the illegal Israeli settlement of Dolev, according to the account. As they were leaving the area, a man flagged down the car and asked if there was water in the spring. He then pulled out a gun and shot both men. The friend was slightly wounded, but Gonen was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
The author of the Times story, Diaa Hadid, writes in the second paragraph that the timing of shooting was a “grim reminder of the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teenagers” last year, “which unleashed tensions that culminated in a seven-week war between Israel and Hamas.”
Missing from her article is the context of Israeli attacks on Palestinians, including the deaths of two Palestinian men so far in June. According to United Nations data, Israeli forces injure an average of 39 Palestinians each week, and they have killed 13 so far this year. These numbers do not include injuries inflicted by settlers.
The same UN report notes that Palestinians have injured an average of two Israeli civilians each week. Two, including Gonen, have died this year.
In spite of these facts, Hadid has chosen to emphasize Palestinian violence and ignore Israeli attacks, which have injured and killed at a significantly higher rate.
Her story also glosses over another unsavory fact of life in the West Bank by noting that the territory “is dotted with springs” used by Israelis and Palestinians, but some have been made off limits to Palestinians. In her brief treatment of the issue, she fails to describe the full injustice here.
Settler takeovers of springs on private Palestinian land have become so flagrant that the United Nations issued a report specifically addressing the problem. The report states that settlers use threats, intimidation and barriers to prevent villagers from accessing their traditional water sources, at great cost to farmers and herders. The Israeli government acquiesces in these crimes and sometimes actively supports them, the UN says, often allowing the settlers to turn the springs into revenue generating tourist attractions.
But readers learn none of this—neither the casualty rates nor the extent of water theft in Palestinian territory. Although this tragic incident provided an opportunity to inform the public of facts on the ground in the West Bank, the Times has little interest in reporting these details. It glosses over Palestinian deaths, dwells on Israeli casualties and turns its back on the brutality of the Israeli occupation.
Qaryut, Occupied Palestine – In the early hours on Tuesday 16th of June Israeli occupation forces raided several Palestinian homes in the village of Qaryut, near Nablus. The soldiers invaded the homes in search of the Palestinian activist Bashar al-Sadiq Yusuf Moammar (Bashar Qaryouti).
The incident is possibly sparked by the fact that villagers of Qaryout have recently taken up weekly demonstrations, arranged by the PSCC, which Bashar Qaryouti is part of. These are demonstrations against the illegal Israeli settlements that surround the city and continue to annex Palestinian land.
Soldiers invaded at least five different houses in order to find Bashar, and trashed the family homes in the process. Abdullah Qaryouti, whose family fell victim to one of these raids, explained how this included the soldiers locking up the family in one room whilst ransacking the rest of their house using K9’s.
According to Abdullah Qaryouti this is common behaviour for the occupation forces, who invade and ruin Palestinian homes on a regular basis.
The local activists presume the most recent house raids to be part of the ongoing efforts of Israeli forces to intimidate and threaten any resident that participates in non-violent resistance.
Credit to PSCC for the photos, they do not belong to ISM.
QALQILIYA – Five Palestinians were injured, two critically, when Israelis forces opened live fire on the Kafr Qaddum weekly march Friday.
A coordinator for the village’s popular resistance committee, Murad Shtewi, said that Muhammad Majid, 20, had been shot in the stomach and chest with live rounds and is in critical condition.
Ibrahim Mousa, 35, is also in critical condition after he was shot in the abdomen while in his house.
Shtewi also said that Muhammad Nidal, 20, and Mouiz Khader had been shot in the leg, and Ayman Farouq, 38, in the hand.
Dozens others suffered from excessive tear gas inhalation.
Israeli forces had closed down the village’s entrance since the early morning after they declared it a closed military zone. As a result, those injured had to be evacuated from the village in private cars using dirt roads.
An Israeli army spokeswoman contacted by Ma’an said she would look into it.
Israeli forces routinely suppress weekly marches by violent means.
In Kafr Qaddum, they also regularly declare the village a closed military zone in order to prevent the weekly march from taking place.
The march is carried out to protest the Israeli separation wall and Israeli settlement activity, both illegal under international law.
The internationally recognized Palestinian territories of which the West Bank and East Jerusalem form a part have been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967.
Construction of the new planned townships that will house Palestinians displaced by Israel’s E1 plan is already well underway although the demolition of the current villages has not yet been implemented. The E1 plan will displace thousands of Palestinian Bedouin from the Jerusalem periphery area.
Within this colonial project – that has received significant criticism from across the ‘international community’ – the story of the village of Abu Nowwar is in many ways seen as a test case.
The residents of Abu Nowwar are themselves already refugees, as are the majority of all Bedouin in the West Bank, having been originally displaced in the early 1950’s from their ancestral lands in the Naqab. The more than 100 family homes in the village are all slated for demolition.
In early May, residents were told by the Israeli authorities that they must sign documents by May 31st stating that they agreed to being transferred to one of the planned new townships – a site known as al-Jabal – alongside a large Jerusalem Municipality landfill site. The community was told that anybody who refused to sign would have their houses immediately demolished. Yet the community resisted.
For now a legal challenge in the Israeli Supreme Court has delayed the promised demolitions, but time is short. Many people believe that the case of Abu Nowwar, if won by the State in the Supreme Court, will set a legal precedent that will allow E1 to be quickly implemented. None of the planned demolitions of entire communities in this latest phase of E1 have yet been implemented but this legal precedent, if granted, could set a swift and dangerous ball rolling.
Despite the widespread criticism that the E1 project has received internationally, no action has yet been taken to prevent this major advance within Israel’s settler-colonial project. E1 will link Ma’ale Adumim and other Israeli West Bank settlements in a contiguous ring to and around Jerusalem.
‘Forcible transfer’, which is an inherent aspect of the E1 plan, is a breach of the Geneva Conventions, and is recognised by both the Nuremberg Charter and the International Criminal Court as a ‘war crime’.
Image by MEMO Photographer Rich Wiles.
Data provided by the Israeli military and the UN has revealed that since martial law was imposed on the occupied West Bank in 1967, around 95,000 Palestinian children have been arrested by Israel, an average of more than 5 children per day. Almost 60,000 are believed to have been subjected to some form of physical abuse whilst in detention.
The details were revealed this week in a report submitted by rights group Military Court Watch (MCW) to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Over 300 pages of evidence relating to the treatment of Palestinian children held in Israeli military detention were included in the report.
MCW pointed out that the evidence included details of 200 minors detained by the Israeli military in the West Bank between January 2013 and May 2015. The submission confirmed an earlier finding by UNICEF that “the ill-treatment of children, who come in contact with the military detention system, appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised.”
According to the rights group, this finding is based on recent evidence that shows that intimidation, threats, verbal abuse, physical violence and the denial of basic legal rights are still commonplace within the system. “Based on the evidence, the submission also drew a link between this industrial scale abuse and the maintenance of Israeli settlements in the West Bank,” added MCW. “It concluded that in order to enable 370,000 Israeli settlers to live in the West Bank in violation of international law without serious interference, the military is required to adopt a strategy of mass intimidation and collective punishment.”
Does everyone get his or her day in court? Not if they are Palestinian.
Every year Yesh Din publishes data about police investigative failures regarding offenses carried out by Israelis towards Palestinians in the West Bank. They are usually quite similar: the police fail to investigate approximately 85 percent of complaints of Palestinians who report being harmed by Israelis. The rate becomes much higher when it comes to the destruction of Palestinian trees by Israeli civilians: then the police failure rate grows to 97.4 percent.
The average Israeli may not be surprised that the police failure rates are so high, but he or she still has some expectations of the courts. After all, we are told time and again that Israel is governed by the rule of law.
Okay, says the average citizen to himself, yes, we seem to have a problem when it comes to investigations, and naturally if the investigation is a mess we are not likely to get to court. But once we step into the halls of justice, everything should be fine.
Our latest data sheet, which was released in tandem with an exhaustive report on the failure of law enforcement in the West Bank, examines for the first time what happens to the cases we follow once they leave the limbo of the prosecution and make it to court. The situation, to put it mildly, is not “okay.”
To begin with, the chance that a complaint by a Palestinian victim will bloom into a an indictment against an Israeli felon stands at a mere 7.4 percent. This means that the chances an Israeli felon will appear in court for a crime he is suspected of committing is about 1:14. Most often, cases are closed due to police investigative failures; in a majority of the cases, the specific reason is the inability of the police to find a suspect – what is known as the the unknown perpetrator clause.
The fact that a case makes it to court does not, of course, mean it will end in a conviction. The defendants have the right to representation and have access to attorneys — as a human rights organization we entirely support this. The problem lies elsewhere.
In 10.5 percent of the cases, the defendants are convicted of all charges; in 22.8 percent of the cases, only some of the defendants are convicted, or they are convicted of some of the charges – sometimes reduced charges as part of a plea bargain. The rate of acquittals is high relative to other cases in Israeli courts (8.8 percent). But what is truly high is the rate of “non-conviction” (24.6 percent) and the rate of indictment withdrawal (22.8 percent).
What is a non-conviction? It is a relatively rare practice, in which the court believes there is reason to avoid tarring him/her with a criminal conviction for one reason or another — despite the fact that the felon has been found guilt of the charges. This almost never happens in the Israeli courts: the percentage of defendants in the magistrates courts found guilty without conviction is 5.3 percent; in district courts the number stands at only 1.2% percent. This is true unless the victim is a Palestinian; then the rare of non-conviction jumps to 24.6 percent. That’s four times that of magistrates courts, and almost 20 times that of the district courts. What a coincidence.
In many of the cases in which indictments against Israelis charged with harming Palestinians were withdrawn, the reason was, once again, investigative failure. The prosecution re-examined the evidence, apparently after the response of the defendants’ attorneys, and reached the conclusion that it did not have enough evidence for a conviction. And that, we note, is a perfectly legitimate decision.
But in many of the indictment withdrawal cases, one of the reasons given was that the defendants did not even bother to show up for the hearings. In most of the cases the government took the required steps – a fine, issuing warrants for arrest and subpoenas – but the indictments were frozen until the defendant was found. In one of the cases, the prolonged freezing caused the police prosecution to say that the evidence has been degraded, to the point of cancelling the indictment.
At the end of the day, the chance that a Palestinian who lodged a complaint about being harmed by an Israeli civilian will see a conviction is only 1.9 percent. Again, most of the blame for this lies with the police – but the courts have their share, as seen by the unusual rate of non-conviction.
Rule of law? Rule of the violent.
JERUSALEM – French telecoms giant Orange said Thursday it wanted to withdraw its brand from Israel just hours after its chief executive came under fire from Israeli officials for giving in to a pro-Palestinian campaign.
Orange, which is partly controlled by the French government, insisted its decision to end its brand-licensing agreement with Partner, Israel’s second largest mobile operator, was not politically motivated.
But Israel lashed out at the decision, which appeared to be related to Partner’s operations in the occupied West Bank.
Citing its own “brand development strategy”, Orange said it did not wish to maintain a brand presence in countries “in which is it not an operator”, while distancing itself from the politics.
“In this context, and while strictly adhering to existing agreements, the Group ultimately wishes to end this brand licence agreement,” it said.
“The Orange Group… does not engage in any kind of political debate under any circumstance,” it said.
The storm erupted on Wednesday when Orange chief executive Stephane Richard told reporters in Cairo that the company was planning to withdraw from Israel.
His remarks touched a raw nerve in Israel which is growing increasingly concerned about global boycott efforts and the impact on its image abroad.
It drew a furious response from Israeli officials as well as from Partner, which is not a subsidiary but operates under the Orange brand name.
“The black side of Orange” said the top-selling Yediot Aharonot, while Israel HaYom, a staunch backer of rightwing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ran a headline reading: “Orange is no longer a partner.”
Deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely wrote to the Orange boss urging him “to clarify the matter” and warning him not to become party to “the industry of lies which unfairly targets Israel”.
And Isaac Benbenisti, who becomes chairman of Partner on July 1, said he was “very, very angry”, accusing Richard of caving in to “very significant pressure” from pro-Palestinian activists and joining a global campaign to isolate Israel.
End of the affair
Richard’s remarks dominated the headlines in all of Israel’s main media outlets on Thursday where he was immediately cast as a supporter of the boycott movement.
Although the Orange boss did not directly refer to the question of settlements, his remarks in Cairo came after the publication on May 6 of a report accusing the telecoms giant of indirectly supporting settlement activity through its relationship with Partner.
Compiled by five mainly French NGOs and two trade unions, the report accuses Partner of building on confiscated Palestinian land, and urges Orange to cut business ties and publicly declare its desire to avoid contributing to the economic viability of the settlements.
The international community regards all Israeli construction on Palestinian land seized during the 1967 Six-Day War as illegal.
Challenged in Cairo, Richard said: “Our intention is to withdraw from Israel. It will take time” but “for sure we will do it”.
“I am ready to do this tomorrow morning … but without exposing Orange to huge risks.”
Orange says it holds no shares or voting rights in Partner Communications, nor does it have any influence over the firm’s strategy, and that it does not have any other business activity in Israel.
Orange and Partner are linked by a licensing agreement which allows the Israeli firm to use its brand and logo in exchange for a fee. The contract was signed in 1998, two years before the telecoms giant was acquired by France Telecom.
The contract, initially open-ended, was recently amended by Orange and now expires in 2025.
Orange is present in 20 countries and the brand licensing agreement with Partner is the only one with a firm that is not a subsidiary.
Victory for BDS movement
The crisis comes after days of introspection in Israel over its place in the world, with the government railing against what it has denounced as a campaign of delegitimization.
Israel has been struggling to tackle a growing Palestinian-led boycott campaign which has had a number of high-profile successes.
Known as the BDS movement — boycott, divestment and sanctions — it aims to exert political and economic pressure over Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in a bid to repeat the success of the campaign which ended apartheid in South Africa.
This week, Britain’s National Union of Students voted to affiliate itself with the BDS movement, in a move which drew a sharp rebuke from Netanyahu.
Last week, Israel narrowly avoided expulsion from FIFA after the Palestinians withdrew a resolution calling on it to ban its Israeli counterpart over restrictions on Palestinian footballers and the presence of five teams inside Jewish settlements.
The boycott movement was even debated in parliament on Wednesday.
“It’s not politically correct to be anti-Semitic today but it’s super ‘in’ to be anti-Israel,” Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked told MPs.
Ma’an staff contributed to this report.