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‘Everyone scared’: How Palestinians are preparing for annexation | Palestine News

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With just days to go until Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is allowed, per the coalition government agreement, to pursue the annexation of illegally occupied West Bank territory, debate swirls around what – if any – land will be formally annexed in the coming weeks and months. 

Various annexation scenarios are being discussed, from the 30 percent of the West Bank envisaged in the Donald Trump administration’s plan – including the Jordan Valley region – through to a smaller amount of territory concentrated around major settlements.

Israeli political discussions are accompanied by parallel, intensive international diplomacy, as the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah seeks to rally opposition to such a move among the likes of the European Union member states and Arab governments.

But while annexation is debated and dissected in the Knesset, European capitals and newspaper op-ed pages, little attention is being paid to the Palestinian communities and activists on the ground who will be most directly affected.

For Rashid Khoudary, an activist in Jordan Valley Solidarity, Israel’s moves towards formal annexation are the logical conclusion of an intensification of policies of Jewish settlement expansion and debilitating construction restrictions for Palestinians. 

“About three years ago we started to see more Israeli attacks on our communities”, Khoudary told Al Jazeera, citing demolitions and tighter restrictions on access to farmland – “different kinds of strategies to displace us”. There was also increased settler activity in outposts, he added, “taking over more land”.

“It was obvious to us that the Israeli government wants to kick the Palestinians out from the Jordan Valley so as to annex the land,” Khoudary continued. “The main fight is about who can control this land, who can have this land. It is very clear – and we understand it.”

The Jordan Valley constitutes almost 30 percent of the West Bank, and is home to some 65,000 Palestinians. There are also 11,000 Jewish settlers, with Israel preventing Palestinians from entering or using 85 percent of the entire region, according to Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem.

Data revealed in the Haaretz newspaper earlier this year showed more than 90 percent of evacuation orders issued by Israeli occupation authorities were given to Palestinians – with Israel evacuating people from “more land in the Jordan Valley than any other region”.

The serious threats posed by annexation to Palestinian residents of the Jordan Valley, as well as the region’s significance for the viability of an independent Palestinian state, have turned the area into a focus for Palestinian efforts to protest against pending Israeli moves.

On Monday, thousands of Palestinians gathered in Jericho, in the south of the Jordan Valley, to protest the planned annexation, in an action called for and backed by Fatah, that was attended by a number of international diplomats.

While the Jordan Valley region has understandably been under the spotlight, other areas of the occupied West Bank are also vulnerable to annexation, particularly those with a significant and active settler presence.

“We’re discussing this issue a lot,” south Hebron Hills-based activist Sami Hureini told Al Jazeera. “We’ve been meeting with the popular committees and talking about coming plans – including being part of actions in the Jordan Valley too.” 

Hureini comes from At-Tuwani village, an area which, thanks to its designation as Area C under the Oslo Accords, means Palestinians are systematically denied building permits by Israeli occupation authorities.

Official figures show over the period 2016-2018, Israel approved just 21 of 1,485 Palestinian applications for construction permits, with the area in which Palestinians can build “legally” making up only 0.5 percent of Area C.

By contrast, the area of plans for Israeli settlements is about 26 percent. Thus, with most settlements located in Area C, it is a prime candidate for annexation. 

“Everyone is scared about annexation, no one wants to live under the occupation’s law,” Hureini said. “Today it’s the Jordan Valley, tomorrow it’s the south Hebron Hills. Everyone is thinking about it and people are ready to resist.”




UN, Arab League call on Israel to drop annexation plans

‘An international struggle’ 

What exactly to expect regarding resistance on the ground, however, is a complex question, according to Mahmoud Soliman Zwahre, an activist within the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee and a resident of Al-Ma’sara near Bethlehem.

“This is a bit different to previous struggles,” he told Al Jazeera, “because unlike the protests against the [Separation] Wall, for example, annexation is not targeting a specific village, and the change on the ground is also an ‘invisible’ one, for now.

“Palestinians in these areas know exactly what is happening on the ground, and their very existence in these communities is a form of resistance,” Soliman continued. “Out of this everyday resistance of rebuilding a house, or a tent, will emerge a collective action in these communities.”

Soliman said Israel’s pursuit of annexation, with all the practical policies this will ultimately entail on the ground concerning access restrictions and displacement, “will lead to an emergence of community leaders”, particularly in – but not restricted to – Area C.

“I think there will be a bottom-up approach to decide about Palestinians’ future,” Soliman added, “and this will transform the struggle, and the face of the struggle, from self-determination to an anti-apartheid revolution.” 

As activists across the West Bank work on mobilising Palestinians and passing on hard-earned lessons from previous battles, it is also clear from organisers their efforts on the ground have an international audience – and concrete steps from governments are seen as essential given the power asymmetry faced by Palestinians. 

While busy organising protests in the Jordan Valley, Rashid knows such actions are not enough in and of themselves. 

“We, as Palestinian civilians, this is not our struggle alone, this is an international struggle,” he declared, “and the international community has to protect international law, and protect us, as a people living under occupation. The international community has to stop this annexation.”

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‘Chilling’ crackdown on dissent in Vietnam ahead of key congress | Vietnam News

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As Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party gears up for its most important meeting in years, its leadership has presided over an intensified crackdown on dissent, according to rights groups, activists and data collated by Reuters news agency.

A record number of political prisoners, longer jail terms, and increased harassment of activists in recent years have contributed to the crackdown ahead of this week’s Communist Party congress, a gathering to determine national leadership and policy that takes place once every five years.

The crackdown has left some international human rights groups and legislators questioning whether Vietnam has breached the spirit of trade agreements with Western countries – accords that have helped propel the country to a position of economic strength in Southeast Asia.

“I have been summoned by the police several times since December 9, 2020,” said Nguyen Quang A, a veteran activist in Hanoi, declining to detail the circumstances saying he was subject to an ongoing investigation. He told Reuters Vietnam’s security ministry had in recent weeks rounded up other government critics without saying why, citing his contacts with activists.

“They [the police] summon them and find reasons to convict them under those very fuzzy articles of criminal law. It completely violates the law but they use it very regularly,” said Quang A. “I’ve told them they can’t shut me up.”

Vietnam’s foreign ministry, which handles inquiries from foreign media, did not respond to Reuters’s request for comment on activist detentions.

‘Anti-state’

Despite reforms and increasing openness to social change, the Communist Party of Vietnam, led by 76-year-old Nguyen Phu Trong, tolerates little criticism and controls domestic media tightly.

Vietnam drew international condemnation this month when it sentenced three freelance journalists known for criticism of the government to between 11 and 15 years in prison, finding them guilty of spreading anti-state propaganda.

Journalists Pham Chi Dung, right, Le Huu Minh Tuan, centre, and Nguyen Tuong Thuy, left, stand between police during their trial at a court in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam January 5, 2021 [VNA/Handout via Reuters]

The country’s constitution says it protects “freedom of opinion and speech, freedom of the press, access to information, to assemble, form associations and hold demonstrations”.

In reality, public criticism of the party is not tolerated, and groups which promote democratisation are targeted by the authorities in a battle playing out online on platforms like Facebook, Vietnam’s premier platform for both e-commerce and dissent.

A Reuters tally based on state media reports found 280 people were arrested for “anti-state” activities over the five years since the last party congress: 260 were convicted, many being sentenced to more than 10 years in jail. In the five years leading up to the 2016 congress, there were 68 arrests and 58 convictions.

‘Force 47’

Last year, Amnesty International said it had recorded the most “prisoners of conscience” in Vietnam since it began publishing figures in 1996 – 170, close to double the 97 recorded in 2018. Of the 170, some 70 were arrested for online activism, Amnesty said.

In late 2017, Vietnam unveiled a 10,000-strong military cyber-unit, Force 47, to counter what it said were “wrong” views on the internet. According to rights groups, the unit also recruits volunteers online to target dissidents and activists.

Reuters reviewed dozens of posts across multiple Facebook groups and pages from December and January that claimed links with Force 47. Many attacked prominent activists, including Quang A, accused by one group of creating anti-state propaganda.

A woman wearing a traditional conical hat walks past a poster for the upcoming 13th national congress of Vietnam Communist Party on a street in Hanoi, Vietnam, January 18, 2021 [Kham/Reuters]

Some group moderators were dressed in military uniform in their profile photos while others ran pages for official local branches of Communist Party organisations.

Last November, Vietnam threatened to shut Facebook down if it did not toughen rules on local political content on the platform.

Facebook’s local servers were taken offline by the government earlier last year until it agreed to significantly increase policing of “anti-state” posts by local users, a request with which Facebook previously said it complied.

A Facebook spokesman said the company faced “additional pressure” from Vietnam to restrict content last year.

‘Driver’s seat’

For some, the crackdown has a connection with fluctuations in global trade ties with Vietnam.

“During the [former US President Barack] Obama administration, pressure on rights connected with TPP [trade] negotiations helped the cause of human rights activists and political dissidents,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“The early visit of Prime Minister [Nguyen Xuan] Phuc in 2017 to the Trump White House saw human rights completely dropped from the agenda,” he said.

Robertson said trade tensions with China have also left Vietnam “in the driver’s seat” as US and European Union companies look for alternative supply chains, helping the Vietnamese economy thrive.

“The EU had an important opportunity to make real changes through the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement,” said Robertson, referring to a pact that has been a boon for Vietnam. Instead, he said, the EU “fell short, settling for vague promises … instead of substantive changes”.

EU officials did not immediately respond to Reuters’s request for comment.

After the jailing of the three journalists earlier this month, the United Nations human rights office said: “Coming just weeks ahead [of the party congress], the convictions and long sentences are not only a blatant suppression of independent journalism but also a clear attempt to create a chilling effect among those willing to criticise the government.”

The United States described the sentences as the “latest in a troubling and accelerating trend of arrests and convictions of Vietnamese citizens exercising rights enshrined in Vietnam’s constitution”.



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