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Annexation angst in the Middle East

International | The Israeli plan could spark further division with Palestinians in the West Bank
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 7/03/20, 01:45 pm

The Rev. Mitri Raheb has experienced firsthand the growing divide between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Since 2019, a 26-foot-high, 3-mile-long wall along the major highway connecting the West Bank to Jerusalem has divided the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the territory. Israel welcomed the highway as an effort to ease congestion, but Palestinians saw it as a sign of oppression because they needed a permit to travel to the other side of the wall. A Palestinian Christian, Raheb expects Israel’s new plan to claim control over portions of the West Bank will only deepen the divisions in the region.

“If the annexation is done, we would have more roads not accessible to us,” he told me. “These are features of an apartheid system.”

Christians on both sides of the border between Israel and the disputed West Bank territory have expressed concerns about Israel’s annexation plan, a part of the roadmap to Middle East peace that the Trump administration unveiled in January. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially planned to begin the process as early as Wednesday by introducing the plan to parliament. But Defense Minister Benny Gantz, whose Blue and White party shares governing authority with Netanyahu, said annexation “will wait” while officials focus on the coronavirus pandemic. Netanyahu likely will move forward with the proposal before the U.S. election in November to take advantage of the support offered by President Donald Trump.

Under the plan, Israel would assume permanent control of up to 30 percent of the West Bank, including more than 120 Israeli settlements and the strategic Jordan Valley region. A Palestinian state would govern the remaining West Bank territory and the Gaza Strip along the border with Egypt, along with additional territory that would double the area under Palestinian control. Netanyahu’s administration has described the West Bank, which stretches between East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley, as an inseparable part of Israel’s Biblical homeland and essential to the nation’s security. The Palestinians want the entire region as the capital of a future state and consider annexation a hindrance to independence.

Raheb, president of the Dar al-Kalima University College of Arts and Culture in Bethlehem, said the plan would leave Palestinians “resourceless” and shrink their living space. The Jordan Valley is a valuable agricultural area with important water supplies, he said. He expects the restrictions and limited resources to intensify crime and social unrest.

Last week, the Hamas Islamist group that rules Gaza warned it would escalate its attacks in response to Netanyahu’s proposal. The next day, it fired two rockets into southern Israel. Nickolay Mladenov, the UN special coordinator for the region, warned the economic and security fallout from Israel’s unilateral annexation could trigger “counter moves by the Palestinian Authority.”

On May 7, leaders of churches in the Holy Land released a statement saying annexation would “bring about the loss of any remaining hope for the success of the peace process.” The European Union and several key Arab nations said the plan would violate international law and dash hopes for a two-state solution.

Joel Rosenberg, an Israeli-American and co-founder of the Alliance for the Peace of Jerusalem, told Israel’s i24 News he agreed with the long-term strategic goals. But he took issue with the timing, citing the uncertainty over Trump’s second term. The move also could hinder ongoing peace progress with some Gulf nations, he said.

“[Palestinian leaders] rejected every peace offer for 75 years,” Rosenberg tweeted later. “Israel shouldn’t move unilaterally this summer—but Israel’s government is going to define its own borders before long.”

Associated Press/Photo by Andy Wong (file) Associated Press/Photo by Andy Wong (file) A Uighur woman with children the Unity New Village in Xinjiang, China

“Creeping genocide”

Abdushukur Umar, a father of seven, was one of the first Uighur parents to land in a Chinese reeducation camp for having too many children. Umar’s detainment in 2017 started a systematic campaign to suppress Muslim ethnic minority population growth in its northwestern Xinjiang region, according to The Jamestown Foundation.

Researchers from the foundation released a report in June showing the Chinese government subjected hundreds of thousands of Uighur and Kazakh women to mandatory pregnancy checks and forced contraception, sterilization, or abortion. Officials threatened women with imprisonment if they refused. Some counties jailed parents with three or more children for the “illegal” births. The Chinese government denied the allegations.

“They want to destroy us as a people,” said Gulnar Omirzakh, a mother who faced fines and internment threats for legally having three children.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. lawmakers condemned Chinese authorities. Dr. Adrian Zenz, who authored the report, agreed with other experts that the targeted anti-birth policies fell under the United Nations definition of genocide.

“It’s not immediate, shocking, mass-killing-on-the-spot-type genocide, but it’s slow, painful, creeping genocide,” said Joanne Smith Finley of Newcastle University. —Julia A. Seymour

Associated Press/Photo by Ariel Schalit (file) Associated Press/Photo by Ariel Schalit (file) A Christian pilgrim in Jerusalem

Evangelism off-air

Israel revoked an international evangelical TV channel’s license, saying it failed to disclose its missionary agenda.

God TV’s original application said the cable channel Shelanu would target Christians, but it “appeals to Jews with Christian content,” said Asher Biton, chairman of the Israeli Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council.

God TV started in the United Kingdom and now runs its international license office out of Florida. Shelanu debuted on Israeli cable television at the end of April.

Israel welcomes political and financial support from evangelical Christians but considers evangelism efforts offensive. Shelanu’s Israeli spokesman Ron Cantor called the decision unprofessional. He said he hoped the council would approve the organization’s new application to avoid “a severe diplomatic incident with hundreds of millions of pro-Israel evangelical Christians worldwide.” —O.O.

Abductions in Nigeria

Four kidnapped aid workers and one private security guard pleaded for their rescue in a video Reuters gained access to on Monday. They called their captors soldiers of the “khalifa,” an Arabic word for “ruler,” but did not otherwise identify them. The hostages said they work with the Action Against Hunger, the International Rescue Committee, and REACH. Action Against Hunger confirmed its employee, Ishaiku Yakubu, and the other aid workers were abducted from northeastern Nigeria in June.

Boko Haram and Islamic State have carried out attacks and abductions across the region recently despite the Nigerian military’s claims of victory over the insurgent groups. —O.O.

Taiwan assuages travel-hungry locals

Some 60 people arrived at Songshan Airport in downtown Taipei on Thursday to travel nowhere. They received fake itineraries that allowed them to check in, pass through security, and board an Airbus A330. But the plane never left the airport.

About 7,000 would-be travelers applied to take part in the experience. Taiwan curbed its coronavirus outbreak early and has recorded only 447 cases and about seven deaths since the pandemic began. But officials have for the most part kept the country’s borders closed since mid-March. In addition to giving bored people something to do, the event allowed the airport to showcase its renovations and virus-prevention measures. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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