The noise never stops: life in Palestine during the Israeli occupation – a conversation with Rana Shubair

The noise never stops: life in Palestine during the Israeli occupation – a conversation with Rana Shubair

The noise never stops. The sky is filled with the buzzing of drones, echoing on and on, and with the sound of buildings collapsing as they are bombed. It’s not ...

Tearing down the walls that colonise Palestine, a thousand bricks at a time

Tearing down the walls that colonise Palestine, a thousand bricks at a time

Palestinians are showing enormous bravery during this moment of horror. The walls of intimidation and despair that Israel has erected in the minds of Palestinians to prevent resistance are being ...

What can we do as Palestine burns?

It is May 2021. Once again, Palestine is burning. Again, the US- and EU-funded Israeli military machine is in full throttle and again, the US – now led by Joe Biden – persistently blocks a UN Security Council Resolution, even to call for a cessation of violence. I am again writing, the latest of dozens of articles, feeling hopeless as people are killed and most of the world remains silent. I ask myself, again … what can I do?

Picasso’s painting of Guernica 1(937) with Palestine colours

In the weeks leading up to the violence that is now shaking Palestine, there has been “fear and fury” in Jerusalem. The pro-settler group Nahalat Shimon has been using lawfare to try and evict Palestinians from their homes in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah (at the time of writing, the case was on appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court). And the violence has spread across the country. Jewish-Israeli mobs have roamed the streets of the “multicultural” towns of Acre, Haifa and Lod, searching for those who are Palestinian – or who look “Arab” – dragging them from their cars and homes, and in one case beating an Arab man on live television. A smaller, but totally unacceptable number of Jewish civilians have also been killed in the mob violence.

Other mobs of Jewish-Israelis roamed through streets, chanting “death to Arabs” and smashing up storefront windows of Palestinian-owned shops in scenes that the organisation Jewish Voices for Peace described as reminiscent of the Nazi-led Kristallnacht.

Also in May, a massive crowd of Jewish-Israelis celebrated in the square outside the Western Wall, celebrating Jerusalem Day, gazing above the square as Palestinians fled a violent police raid of the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, one of the holiest places in Islam, during Eid-al-Fitr.

Netanyahu has firmly declared that he would “bring back sovereignty to Israel’s cities with an iron fist, if necessary”. The latest round of violence is no doubt a welcome distraction for the Israeli strongman who has been on trial in Israel for corruption and continually unable to form a government, leading to the country’s fourth election in two years.

And as if that were not horrifying enough, Gaza, too, is in flames – again. The territory is already struggling with a humanitarian crisis in the midst of a 15-year-long Israel siege of the territory. Enraged by the violence in Jerusalem at one of Islam’s holiest places, Hamas militants began launching mostly homemade rockets into sparsely populated Israeli towns. While the majority of the bombs were destroyed by sophisticated missile defence systems provided by the US government, some have managed to make it through. As of 13 May this year, a total of seven people – six Israelis and an Indian national – had reportedly been killed, including an Israeli child. There have been reports of Israelis fleeing with their terrified children to bomb shelters and safe rooms.

The Israeli military – the most technologically advanced on Earth – responded with its usual, brutally terrifying force, which Netanyahu vowed to continue. Once again, Israel’s massively well-armed military has targeted densely-populated civilian areas. By 13 May, the numbers of dead Palestinians was reported to be 113, the large majority of whom were civilians. According to the United Nations relief agency OCHA, these numbers include 14 Palestinian children.

So how did this all start?

To understand how this latest bout of violence started, one needs to face what facilitates these kinds of eruptions of violence, time and again. There are four points we need to understand, two of which squarely point to Israel, and two that point to the rest of the world.

First, Israel is a settler-colonial regime and the majority of Palestinians living in Gaza are refugees and their descendants. Some regard this regime as having started in 1967 when Israel occupied the territories of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem; others see this as having begun in 1948 when Israel unilaterally declared its independence after ethnically cleansing the territory of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and refusing them to return to their homes and livelihoods. One could go back even further than that, and certainly to the end of the first World War, when Ottoman Rule ended and Britain was designated to administer Palestine and prepare the territory for independence. This never happened. Regardless of when one considers this regime to have started, the main point is that it continues and expands until this day.

Second, Israel is an apartheid regime, both in the Palestinian territories that it continues to belligerently occupy and administer in a grossly unequal way that Al Haq, B’tselem, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations in a difficult-to-find report all describe as a situation of apartheid. Apartheid also exists in Israel itself, as affirmed in 2018 with a racist Nation-State Law that affirmed Israel as a homeland for Jews and Hebrew as the only official language (Arabic used to be included); it is described as a system of exclusionary constitutionalism.

Third, Israel is persistently supported, particularly by the European Union and the United States. Despite an International Criminal Court investigation of reported war crimes and crimes against humanity now taking place, US and EU support remains unwavering, including USD 3.8 billion of military aid that the US provides every year, which is more than its entire combined aid budget for every other country in the world.

Finally, there is widespread ignorance, with citizens and politicians confused by media reporting that – in its well-intended, but misguided efforts at “balance” – ends up favouring an Israeli perspective.

So, what can we do?

Hopelessness tends to lead to inaction. It is the human condition to turn a blind eye when the situation is just too awful, confusing, or far away. However, as Angela Davis powerfully reminded us in a statement posted on 17 May, people in the United States did not remain silent when George Floyd was killed from a police officer putting his knee in Floyd’s neck. And people should not remain silent now as Palestinians – and Israelis – have their lives cut short by yet another wave of violence. Davis condemned not only the violence in Israel and Palestine, but condemned the Biden-Harris administration for their complicity in it.

Clearly, the violence should stop immediately, and there should be justice, but what can those of us in The Hague, New York, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires, Karachi or Kuala Lumpur do?

First of all, recognise that this is not an even-sided conflict. It is massively asymmetrical.  Unlike Israelis, Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have no bomb shelters or sophisticated missile defence systems. They have no drones or fighter aircraft. In Gaza especially, which has been described as an open-air prison, people not only have nowhere to go; they rarely even have electricity, potable water or food nowadays due to the Israeli siege of Gaza that has been going on, and deepening, since 2016.

Second:  voice your anger and concern to family, friends, neighbours, and elected representatives. Let Palestinians tell their own story. Share the music of Shai Zaqtan of Nai Barghouti and others. Post your outrage on social media and make it visible in street protests. As the corona lockdown eases in many parts of the world, speak to others, including at community centres and in places of worship.

Finally, do what you can in your individual and professional capacity to support the Palestinian call for #BDS = Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions.

Update: Since the article was initially drafted, the United Nations and Save the Children reported that “58 children[i] in Gaza and two children in southern Israel have been killed in the last week. More than a thousand people in Gaza, including 366 children, have also been injured.” Source, OCHA. At the time of the “ceasefire” on 20 May 2021, this figure was revised to “at least 232 Palestinians, including 65 children, who have been killed in the Israeli bombardment. On the Israeli side, 12 people, including two children have been killed.”

Opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the ISS or members of the Bliss team.

About the author:

Jeff Handmaker

Jeff Handmaker is a senior researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) and focuses on legal mobilisation.

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Power to the People? The Right to Information Law in Morocco

Morocco’s recently enacted Right to Information Law is a potentially powerful tool in the hands of its citizens, but their ability to use it is still largely dependent on the government’s commitment to transparency and political will to enforce it.

With the ratification of the Right to Information Law (31.13) in February 2018, Morocco has officially joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP).1 This is a major step for the monarchy as it vows to commit to the four key principles of the OGP: public access to information, asset declarations by public officials, fiscal transparency, and citizen participation. On March 12, 2020, Law 31.13 came into force two years after its promulgation. According to the new law—and pursuant to Article 27 of the 2011 constitution—citizens have the right to request information held by the public administration, elected institutions, and public service provision organizations. Whereas the Right to Information Law promises to promote transparency and responsiveness as well as to restore public trust in state institutions, it is still unclear as to how it will benefit disadvantaged groups in marginalized regions and improve local governance. Law 31.13 has the potential to improve the quality of public services and empower citizens, but there are also major obstacles and gaps that require immediate attention—including the lack of political commitment to transparency, the prevailing institutional culture of retaining information, and, most importantly, the increasing closure of the civic space and crackdown on opposing voices.

Discussions on a Right to Information Law were initiated as early as 2007, following Morocco’s ratification of the UN Convention against Corruption (Resolution 58/4). However, it was not until the Arab uprisings and the February 20th movement when government officials and civil society actors embarked on an initiative to promote accountable, responsive, and inclusive governance.2 As a result, Article 27 was drafted and included in the 2011 amended constitution, and, therefore, access to information became a fundamental right to all citizens and legal residents of Morocco. A specialized commission composed of members of ministerial departments, government agencies, private sector companies, and civil society organizations was later established to work out the details of the law. Law 31.13 was the product of these collective efforts. It was ratified in February 2018 after years of debate and legislative battles. The law was originally scheduled to come into effect a year after its publication in the official gazette in March 2019. However, Law 31.13 was only officially enacted in March 2020, following a one-year delay due to logistical hiccups and implementation-related issues.

In a nutshell, Law 31.13 grants citizens the right to access information retained by government entities. Individuals can submit a free application to the relevant institution and request information on items such as laws, data, and reports. However, there are exceptions that apply to the type of information requested, such as those relating to homeland security and citizens’ private data. The law, under Article 29, also outlines penalties for citizens’ misuse of the requested information. Government agencies must respond to requests within twenty working days of their receipt. In some urgent cases (e.g. protection of lives or public safety), information must be provided within three days. Information officers’ failure to respond to requests is penalized under Article 19 of the law.3 Consequently, the implementation of law 31.13 relies on two main pillars: the appointment of well-trained civil servants who can adequately respond to public requests for information, as well as the proactive and timely publication of data that is accessible to the public.

Law 31.13 has the potential to be an effective tool for empowering citizens, especially those in marginalized regions, such as those in the rural margins of the monarchy. Most of these regions have witnessed intense popular unrest over the past few years, as citizens demand improved availability of basic services, such as healthcare, electricity and clean drinking water. The recent regionalization reforms introduced in Morocco’s 2011 constitution4 and the ensuing Organic Laws5 provided a significant boost toward strengthening the role of local governance and citizen participation in the decisionmaking process. However, the realization of these goals was unlikely without citizen access to relevant information. The municipal councils are now obliged to comply with Law 31.13, which will enable citizens to scrutinize their local representatives and hold them accountable. Karim El Hajjaji, co-founder of Tafra Association6, says “So far, it is extremely difficult to know what the communes [municipalities] are doing with the public resources they have in hand. Law 31.13 makes it mandatory to publish not only their budgets, but their public procurement calls and processes, spending programs, and all information related to local governance.”7

Thus far, the diminished availability of financial resources and qualified human capital are often cited as the biggest obstacles toward the successful implementation of the law. But in practice, altering societal and institutional culture is the real challenge. The law requires the Moroccan territorial collectivities (regions and municipalities) to nominate new information officers tasked with responding to citizens’ requests. These territorial collectivities are generally showing willingness to engage and are sending their newly nominated information officers to trainings. However, Ahmed Jazouli, a Moroccan policy expert involved in the training programs of civil service agents, maintains, “The main obstacle is the culture of retaining information by civil servants. They should be trained on releasing information and on the proactive publication of data. It is essential to focus on changing the dominant culture among public servants.”8

Apart from changing bureaucratic culture, it is key to foster a political culture of transparency, which is currently lacking. Most public institutions still hold back information that may show evidence of mismanagement or misuse of public resources to avoid legal scrutiny. According to the new law, it is mandatory for municipalities to make their financial data and development plans available online, yet few municipal budgets are currently accessible online. For instance, the city council of Casablanca has made significant efforts to promote dematerialized services and to keep its website updated. This example stands in contrast to other major well-endowed cities such as Rabat, which currently lacks a website. According to Karim El Hajjaji, “It is definitely not a matter of financial resources, but rather of political will.”9

Far-reaching campaigns are also crucial for raising public awareness of the law and its impact on their everyday lives. The law offers an opportunity, but it is up to citizens to exercise their rights to ensure equitable service delivery policies. Civil society organizations have a strong role to play in this regard. For example, Transparency Maroc, together with several national and international partners, organized a group of civil society organizations to lobby for a transparent and participatory budget. Similarly, referring to the Right to Information Law, Transparency Maroc is demanding more consistent information about the special COVID-19 fund, which was set up by the Moroccan government in March 2020 to compensate those who lost income due to the lockdowns.10 Indeed, the government’s management of this fund—which supports over five million households—has received widespread criticism from activists and NGOs. Oxfam Maroc, for example, is advocating for the fund to come under parliamentary oversight and be subject to checks by the Court of Audit. Others, including Tafra, called on the government to disclose the data used to develop the scenarios for the evolution of the pandemic in Morocco. However, the Haut Commissariat au Plan refused to do so, citing personal data protection constraints. This means that researchers and experts–such as those at Tafra–are not able to quality check the scenarios put forth by the government and thus cannot be part of the decisionmaking process in terms of lockdown policy and how the special fund is spent.

Finally, the potential of the Right to Information Law cannot be assessed without taking into account the closing civic space, including the restriction of media freedom in Morocco. More recently, the government used the COVID-19 crisis to pass a new emergency law, No. 2.220.292, declaring a health emergency and setting penalties of a up to three-month prison sentence and a fine of up to 1,300 Dirham (around 134 USD), for anyone breaching “orders and decisions taken by public authorities” or for anyone “obstructing” through “writings, publications or photos” of those decisions. Apart from prosecuting more than 90,000 people for breaking the law and other crimes, authorities have used it to prosecute several human rights activists and citizen journalists, accusing them of “incitement to violate the authorities’ decisions during the health emergency,” when in fact they criticized the “cronyism” and unequal distribution of aid by local authorities during the COVID-19 crisis.

The continued crackdown on journalists and opposing voices stands in stark contrast to the government’s recent efforts aimed at increasing citizens’ trust in the government and responding to calls for transparency. Such trust is arguably a pre-condition for citizens to invoke the law and make use of its provisions. In the meantime, disenchanted citizens would rather mobilize collectively and in the streets of major cities, as in May 2020, when protestors gathered to contest their exclusion from the COVID-19 fund. In short, while the Right to Information Law is a potentially powerful tool in the hands of citizens and civil society organizations, its application and enforcement largely relies on the government’s political will and commitment to genuine reforms.

This research is part of a larger project on the dynamics of decentralization in the MENA region. The project is generously funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

This blog article was first published here by the Sada Journal.

About the authors:

Marwa ShalabyMarwa Shalaby is an assistant professor in the departments of Gender and Women’s Studies and Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her work focuses primarily on the intersection of the politics of authoritarianism, and women in politics. Follow her on Twitter @MarwaShalaby12.

Sylvia BerghSylvia Bergh is an associate professor in development management and governance at the International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Hague, and a senior researcher at the Centre of Expertise on Global Governance at The Hague University of Applied Sciences. Her current research focuses on social accountability initiatives in the Middle East and North Africa region.

1 Seventy-eight countries and a growing number of local governments—representing more than two billion people—along with thousands of civil society organizations are members of the Open Government Partnership.

2 A recent report by the OECD points out that most MENA countries lacked access to information laws prior to the Arab uprisings. In the few MENA cases that promulgated such laws before the uprisings, many provisions penalized the sharing and communication of information without prior authorization by the relevant authorities.

3 The law states that officials who fail to provide citizens/legal residents with requested information will be subject to disciplinary actions, however, the specifics of such penalties remain unclear.

4 According to Article 1 of the 2011 amended constitution, “the territorial organization of Morocco is decentralized, and based on an advanced degree of regionalization.”

5 OL #113.14 outlines the authorities and responsibilities of the different local governance units (i.e., regions/provinces/municipalities) and it puts in place participatory mechanisms for citizens (Article 119).

6 Tafra Association is a research center in Rabat whose mission is to improve the understanding of Moroccan institutions to participate in the consolidation of the rule of law in Morocco.

7 Interview conducted by the author (Marwa Shalaby) in Rabat, February 2020 and follow-up email in June, 2020.

8 Interview conducted by the author (Marwa Shalaby) in Rabat, February 2020 and follow-up email in June, 2020.

9 Interview conducted by the author (Marwa Shalaby) in Rabat, February 2020 and follow-up email in June, 2020.

10 Getting access to this fund is even more important given the fact that 46 percent of the active population has no health insurance and 4.3 million households are employed in the informal sector without social security benefits.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.