Israeli general turned lawmaker emerges as settler critic

Golan, a former deputy military chief, is now a legislator with the dovish Meretz party, where he has repeatedly spoken out against settler violence against Palestinians. (File/AFP)
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Updated 21 January 2022

Israeli general turned lawmaker emerges as settler critic

JERUSALEM: Retired general Yair Golan spent a significant part of his military career serving in the occupied West Bank, protecting Jewish settlements. Today, he is one of their most vocal critics.
Golan, a former deputy military chief, is now a legislator with the dovish Meretz party, where he has repeatedly spoken out against settler violence against Palestinians.
His comments, highlighted by his recent description of violent settlers as “subhuman,” have rattled Israel’s delicate governing coalition, and his opponents have labeled him a radical. He joins a cadre of former security personnel who, after not speaking up while in uniform and positions of influence, have in retirement sounded the alarm over Israel’s five-decade-long military rule of the Palestinians.
“You can’t have a free and democratic state so long as we are controlling people who don’t want to be controlled by us,” Golan told The Associated Press in an interview at his office in the Knesset this week. “What kind of democracy are we building here long term?”
Golan has emerged as a rare critical voice in a society where the occupation is largely an accepted fact and where settlers have successfully pushed their narrative through their proximity to the levers of power. Most members of Israel’s parliament belong to the pro-settlement right wing.
Golan, 59, had a long military career, being wounded in action in Lebanon and filling key positions as head of the country’s northern command and as commander of the West Bank, among others.
Along the way, he gained a reputation as a maverick for decisions that sometimes landed him in hot water. At one point, he reached an unauthorized deal to remove some settlers from the West Bank city of Hebron. He was reprimanded and a promotion was delayed after he permitted the use of Palestinian non-combatants as human shields during arrest raids, a tactic the country’s Supreme Court banned.
At the same time, he was credited with permitting thousands of Syrians wounded in their country’s civil war to enter Israel for medical treatment.
As the deputy military chief, he was passed over for the top job after comparing what he saw as fascistic trends in modern-day Israel to Nazi Germany. He believes the speech cost him the position.
A few years after retirement, he was elected to parliament and eventually joined Meretz, a party that supports Palestinian statehood and is part of the current coalition headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
Meretz has been one of the few parties to make ending Israel’s occupation a top priority. But since joining the coalition, which has agreed to focus on less divisive issues to maintain its stability, most of its members have appeared to tone down their criticism.
Golan has not. Earlier this month, he caused a firestorm when he lashed out against settlers who vandalized graves in the Palestinian West Bank village of Burqa.
“These are not people, these are subhumans,” Golan told the Knesset Channel. “They must not be given any backing.”
His remarks angered Bennett, a former settler leader, and sparked criticism from others within the coalition.
Golan acknowledged his choice of words was flawed but said he stands by the spirit of his remarks.
“Is the problem the expression that I used or is the problem those same people who go up to Burqa, smash graves, damage property and assault innocent Palestinians?” he said.
Such statements have turned him into a poster boy for what far-right nationalists describe as dangerous forces in the coalition challenging Israel’s role in the West Bank. The Palestinians seek the area, captured by Israel in 1967, as the heartland of a future state.
Some on Israel’s dovish left also have been hesitant to embrace Golan, who continues to defend the army’s actions in the West Bank.
Golan always saw his duty in the territory as primarily combatting Palestinian militants, and he continues to believe that most settlers are law-abiding citizens. The international community overwhelmingly considers all settlements illegal or illegitimate, and the Palestinians and many left-wing Israelis see the military as an enforcer of an unjust occupation.
Breaking the Silence, a whistleblower group for former Israeli soldiers who oppose policies in the West Bank, called for action, not just words, against settler violence.
“Yair Golan knows full well what settler violence looks like and what our violent control over the Palestinian people looks like. That’s why his criticism is valuable, but it’s not enough,” the group said in a statement.
Golan said he always saw Israeli control over Palestinian territories as temporary. He said separating from the Palestinians is the only way to keep Israel a democratic state with a Jewish majority.
In 2006, Golan commanded the violent evacuation of the Amona settlement in the West Bank, which was built on privately owned Palestinian land.
“I can’t come to terms with the idea that someone Jewish who holds Jewish values supports the theft of someone else’s lands,” he said.
In recent months, as violence between settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank has ticked up, videos have emerged of soldiers standing by as settlers rampage. Golan said he never would have allowed such a thing under his command.
“These people don’t accept the essence of Israel and abide by the law only when it’s convenient for them,” he said.
His comments about settlers aren’t the first to rankle the establishment. In a 2016 speech marking Israel’s Holocaust memorial day, Golan, then deputy military chief, said he was witnessing “nauseating processes” in Israeli society that reminded him of the fascism of Nazi-era Germany.
He said the remarks were sparked by the fatal shooting of a subdued Palestinian attacker by a soldier. The soldier was embraced by nationalist politicians, including then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Golan said the shooting was nothing short of an execution.
Next to his desk, Golan keeps a photo of Netanyahu arriving for his corruption trial at a Jerusalem courthouse, surrounded by his Likud Party supporters as he rants against police and prosecutors.
Golan said the image is a reminder of what he is fighting against — and for.
“I served the country in uniform for so many years, I really gave it my life,” Golan said. Pointing to the photo, he said: “I didn’t endanger my life countless times for these people.”


Palestinian Authority appeals to EU for resumption of financial support

Updated 16 May 2022

Palestinian Authority appeals to EU for resumption of financial support

  • Palestinian Authority appeals to EU for resumption of financial support
  • ‘We have called on the EU to provide its pledged aid without conditions,’ Palestinian PM says

RAMALLAH: The Palestinian Authority has reiterated its appeal to the EU to provide its pledged aid without conditions.

The authority is concerned about the continuing uncertainty over the EU’s annual financial support for its budget despite holding several meetings with senior EU officials in recent months.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyieh, who met EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell Fontelles in Brussels last week, urged the bloc to expedite the transfer of its financial support, which has been suspended for two years.

Shtayyieh pointed to a growing financial crisis caused by the drop in external support and the continuation of Israel’s deductions from the tax it collects on behalf of the PA.

“We have called on the European Union to provide its pledged aid without conditions. We hope to accomplish this very soon,” Shtayyieh said at the start of the Palestinian Authority’s weekly Cabinet session on Monday in Ramallah.

The EU postponed the transfer of $223 million in annual aid to the PA after EU members supported Hungary’s condition to change the curriculum in West Bank schools because it “contains incitement against Israel and anti-Semitic content.”

The EU contributed about $156 million annually to the PA budget of which $93 million went to pay the salaries of its civilian employees. Those workers have received between 70 and 80 percent of their salaries for five consecutive months.

The PA suffered a sharp decline in international aid to its budget from $1.3 billion in 2013 to $129 million in 2021.

Samir Hulileh, a Palestinian economist, told Arab News that the policy of European countries has recently been to provide direct support to the Palestinian private sector, marginalizing the PA.

“European countries continue to expand their support for the Palestinian private sector economy, but the official support provided to the Palestinian government is completely halted,” he said.

“This leads to the weak performance of the Palestinian Authority in its functional role and tasks — especially with the halt to US and Arab support for it.”

The value of the budget deficit had reached $1.3 billion, Hulileh said.

At the beginning of this month, the Palestinian Authority presented a broad reform program to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee to encourage donor countries — especially EU states — to resume their financial support for the PA, a Palestinian source told Arab News.

A senior European source told Arab News: “The EU continued to support UNRWA. What remains pending is the funding to the PA, which is still stuck in Brussels.”

Nevertheless, news reports said that the EU reduced its aid to the UNRWA by 40 percent for the 2022-24 period, from $135 million to $82 million.

The EU said that aid could return to normal levels by changing school curricula and removing what it termed incitement materials against Israel while it continues to delay the $156 million annual financial support to the PA.

The reduction in the EU budget comes amid intense pressure and incitement campaigns against UNRWA last year by Israeli institutions. That led the EU to condemn UNRWA’s use of educational materials, which it claimed incited hatred and violence against Israel and Jews in schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This was the first time the EU had condemned the UN relief agency for its curricula.

The EU demanded the UNRWA “immediately” remove the so-called inflammatory material, stating that its funding “should be conditioned” on the adaptation of educational materials to match the values of the UN that promote peace and tolerance.


First commercial flight in six years leaves Sanaa for Amman

Yemeni passengers leave the Queen Alia Airport following their arrival to the Jordanian capital Amman on May 16, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 17 May 2022

First commercial flight in six years leaves Sanaa for Amman

  • Yemenia flight takes off days after people with Houthi-issued passports are allowed to travel abroad
  • UN envoy calls for other elements of truce to be put into place, including ending seige of Taiz

AL-MUKALLA: The first commercial flight since 2016 took off from the Houthi-held Sanaa International Airport in Yemen on Monday morning, further cementing the UN-brokered truce between warring factions and rekindling hopes for a peace deal in the country.

The Yemenia flight, carrying 130 passengers, left the country’s largest airport bound for the Jordanian capital Amman just days after the internationally recognized government of Yemen allowed passengers with Houthi-issued passports to travel abroad.

BACKGROUND

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the resumption of flights and expressed his gratitude to UN envoy Hans Grundberg and countries in the region for helping to make it happen.

The flag carrier announced on Monday that a second scheduled flight from Sanaa to Amman would take off at 4pm on Wednesday.

The resumption of flights is part of the two-month truce agreed between the Yemeni government and the Houthis that came into effect on April 2.

The deal also includes allowing fuel ships to dock at Hodeidah seaport, ending hostilities across the country — mainly outside the central city of Marib — and the reopening of roads in Taiz and other areas.

Hans Grundberg, the UN’s special envoy to Yemen offered his congratulations at the resumption of air travel and thanked the Yemeni and Jordanian governments for facilitating the flight.

“I would like to congratulate all Yemenis on this important and long-awaited step,” he said.

“I hope this provides some relief to the Yemenis who need to seek medical treatment abroad, pursue education and business opportunities, or reunite with loved ones,” he added, while repeating his call for all remaining elements of the truce to be put into place, including opening roads in the besieged city of Taiz.

“Making progress toward opening roads in Taiz is key for the fulfillment of this promise,” Grundberg said. “I expect the parties to meet their obligations, including by urgently meeting to agree on opening roads on Taiz and other governorates in Yemen as per the terms of the truce agreement.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the resumption of flights and expressed his gratitude to Grundberg and countries in the region for helping to make it happen.

He also renewed US support for the truce and called for the Houthis to end their siege of Taiz.

“We urge all parties to adhere to the terms of the truce and make progress on other steps to bring relief to Yemenis – including urgently opening roads to Taiz, the third-largest city with hundreds of thousands of Yemenis in need of humanitarian assistance, and other contested areas, where Yemenis have suffered for far too long.”

Western diplomats and international aid workers in Yemen also expressed their support for the resumption of flights and called for a permanent cessation of fighting.

“This is indeed good news and an important step, demonstrating to Yemenis more concrete benefits from the truce. I support the work of @OSE_Yemen,” UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen David Gressly said on Twitter, referring to Grundberg’s office.

Erin Hutchinson, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s country director for Yemen, called Monday’s flight a “stepping stone” to achieving a permanent deal, adding that a full resumption of flights into and out of Sanaa would save thousands of lives and bolster the country’s economy.

“Yemenis will enjoy greater freedom of movement, and it will be quicker, easier and cheaper to bring goods and aid into the country,” she said.

Meanwhile, Yemenis urged the UN mediator to push for the quick implementation of the remaining components of the truce, including lifting the siege on Taiz and reopening roads.

“Before talking about any political dialogue, all civilian facilities, roads in provinces and Yemen’s border crossings with neighboring countries must be immediately opened to end the great suffering of the Yemenis,” Fatehi bin Lazerq, the editor of the news site Aden Al-Ghad, told Arab News.

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Iran bus drivers stage strike to protest low salaries

Updated 16 May 2022

Iran bus drivers stage strike to protest low salaries

  • The drivers and workers of the Tehran Bus Company decried the failure to implement a decision by the Supreme Labour Council to introduce a 10 percent salary increase
  • The strike comes days after Iranian media reported that a demonstrator had been killed in the southwestern Iranian city of Dezful during protests over rising food prices

TEHRAN: Dozens of bus drivers went on strike in the Iranian capital Monday to protest over their living conditions following demonstrations in other cities in past days, local media reported.
The drivers and workers of the Tehran Bus Company decried the failure to implement a decision by the Supreme Labour Council to introduce a 10 percent salary increase, reformist Shargh newspaper wrote on Twitter.
The strike comes days after Iranian media reported that a demonstrator had been killed in the southwestern Iranian city of Dezful during protests over rising food prices.
Demonstrators on Monday chanted slogans describing Tehran’s mayor as “incompetent” and calling on him to resign, as seen in a video of the protest tweeted by Shargh.
Tehran mayor Alireza Zakani attended a meeting with the striking workers and spoke with their representative, Mehr news agency reported.
The authorities announced last week a series of measures to tackle mounting economic challenges, such as changing a subsidy system and raising the prices of staple goods, including cooking oil and dairy products.
Hundreds took to the streets in a number of Iranian cities to protest the government’s decision, including in Tehran province, state news agency IRNA reported.
MP Ahmed Avai confirmed Saturday that one person had been killed during the demonstrations, according to the Iran Labour News Agency (ILNA).
IRNA had reported Friday that more than 20 people were arrested during the demonstrations in the cities of Dezful and Yasuj, but made no mention of any casualties.
Iran has been reeling under the effect of sanctions reimposed by the US in 2018 — exacerbated by rising prices worldwide since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
The Islamic republic has witnessed several waves of protests over living conditions in recent years, most notably in 2019 after a fuel price hike.
In recent months, teachers have held successive demonstrations demanding the speeding up of reforms that would see their salaries better reflect their experience and performance.


Victims of Israeli ‘Tinder Swindler’ to speak at Arab Women Forum in Dubai

Updated 16 May 2022

Victims of Israeli ‘Tinder Swindler’ to speak at Arab Women Forum in Dubai

  • Norwegian Cecilie Fjellhøy and Swedish Pernilla Sjöholm rose to fame after Netflix documentary
  • Leviev emotionally manipulated women into giving him millions of dollars to support his lavish lifestyle

LONDON: Two women who were defrauded by Simon Leviev — notoriously known as the Tinder Swindler — are to speak at the Arab Women Forum in Dubai next week.

Norwegian TV personality Cecilie Fjellhøy and Swedish business owner Pernilla Sjöholm rose to fame after the Netflix documentary “The Tinder Swindler” told the story of how they were swindled by the Israeli conman through the popular dating app Tinder.

Leviev emotionally manipulated Fjellhøy, Sjöholm and others into giving him millions of dollars to support his lavish lifestyle and, as he claimed, to escape his “enemies.” Reports show that Leviev conned his victims out of more than $10 million.

The Arab Women Forum – a thought leadership platform for women — is taking place in Dubai on May 17 and will form part of the annual “Top CEO” awards and conference event organized on May 17 and May 18 by the Dubai-based publisher and event management company, Special Edition.

Julien Hawari, CEO of Special Edition, told Arab News he was fascinated by the strength the women showed in fighting a man with a long scamming experience.

Arab News is cooperating with the annual women-focused forum as its exclusive media partner. The event is held at a time of significant social change in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Both countries have seen major reforms in recent years, including unprecedented freedoms granted to women in Saudi Arabia and the establishment of a gender balance council in the UAE.

The editorial cooperation includes moderating, participation, and special coverage of the event which also features leading international female executives and policymakers.


Iran says awaits US response to nuclear talks ‘solutions’

Updated 16 May 2022

Iran says awaits US response to nuclear talks ‘solutions’

  • Negotiations had stalled for about two months

TEHRAN: Iran said on Monday it awaited the US response to “solutions” discussed with the EU envoy for breaking a stalemate in talks aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal.
The European Union’s coordinator for nuclear talks with Iran, Enrique Mora, held two days of discussions with the Islamic republic’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri in Tehran last week, leading the EU to say talks had been unblocked.
The negotiations, aimed at bringing the US back into the deal and Iran to full compliance with it, had stalled for about two months.
“Serious and result-oriented negotiations with special initiatives from Iran were held,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters.
“If the US gives its response to some of the solutions that were proposed, we can be in the position that all sides return to Vienna,” where the talks are held, he added during his weekly press conference.
Iran has been engaged in direct negotiations with France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China to revive the deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The US has participated indirectly.
The 2015 agreement gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program to prevent Tehran from developing an atomic bomb — something it has always denied wanting to do.
But the US unilateral withdrawal from the accord in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump and the reimposition of biting economic sanctions prompted Iran to begin rolling back on its own commitments.
“If the US announces its political decision today, which we have not yet received, we can say that an important step has been taken in the progress of the negotiations,” Khatibzadeh noted.
Among the sticking points is Tehran’s demand to remove the Revolutionary Guards, the ideological arm of Iran’s military, from a US terrorism list.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell on Friday said Mora’s mission to Tehran went “better than expected” and the stalled negotiations “have been reopened.”
Washington, however, has adopted a less optimistic tone. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Friday that “at this point, a deal remains far from certain.”
He added: “It is up to Iran to decide whether it wants to conclude a deal quickly.”
Talks on reviving the agreement began in April last year.