President Biden’s Middle East trip that was claimed to be undertaken to bolster American interest in the region has instead angered activists around the world. Referring to himself as a “non-Jewish Zionist” to bolster his image and ongoing support while in Israel and at home along with his declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has done nothing to placate Palestinians. The faux pax of placing an Israeli flag on his limousine when headed on a visit to a hospital in East Jerusalem did nothing to endear him to residents in the Israeli-occupied territories. The flag was removed but not before it was photographed with images of it sent out across the globe.
Added to the mix also was his not meeting with the family of slain Al Jazeera American-Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh which did nothing to help convey his concerns for human rights. It was a moral failure not to do so and a political dilemma for the “non-Jewish Zionist” if he had. But the best was yet to come.
While the “non-Jewish Zionist” president was busy on his visit, the residents of Masafer Yatta area were still being subjected to forced removal from their ancestral lands. Lately, Washington has become awash in photographic portrait posters by #SaveMassaferYatta showing Palestinian residents of the area in the occupied West Bank who are now subject to forced expulsion from their homes in the aftermath of the decision against their petition to end the takeover of their land by the Israeli Supreme Court on May 4.
The powerful images taken by Jerusalem-based photographer Emily Glick of several residents have been appearing around town with each briefly telling the story of an individual and their life under occupation. Among them are Hamoud an 18-year-old shepherd who had his hand blown off when a Israeli grenade exploded after he fell down while herding his families flock in Al-Mirkez; 24-year-old Muslah a Sheppard from Megheir Al-Abeid who was attacked by settlers and then arrested while police let the settlers go free. Also included are eight-year-old Basmala, a schoolgirl from Tabban village where the entire elementary school is to be abolished, and finally 79-year-old Halimi Muhammed Yusuf Abu Aram, who lives in Jibna village in which Israel conducts military exercises.
The Masafer Yatta area comprises 7,000 acres and has 19 Palestinian villages and towns in the southern Hebron Hills of the Palestinian occupied West Bank that falls within “Area C” as defined under the Oslo Accords and as such is under direct Israeli civil and military control.
In 1981, Ariel Sharon offered the area to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for military use. In 1999, the military declared the village of Tuba an active military zone and forcibly removed its 700 residents after which they leveled the village. The residents at the time of their forced displacement petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court for the right of return to their land which the court allowed until a final decision was made. Since then, the residents of the entire area have lived in fear of a looming eviction from their homes.
The use of the Israeli Supreme Court to arbitrate such land-based disputes as seen in the highly contested Sheikh Jarrah area of East Jerusalem, when the court after decades of legal cases revoked any right to the land by longtime Palestinian residents in favor of claims made by Israeli settlers thus ending a dispute as to “rightful” ownership. It should be noted that the battle for Sheikh Jarrah is ongoing with forced evictions looming and Palestinian residents in constant fear of midnight raids by the military in removing them and occupying their former homes.
Following that usual playbook, it came as no surprise when the court decided on May 4 to reject the residents’ appeal against forced evictions thus ending the decades-long battle and allowing Israel to proceed. UN Human Rights experts condemned the decision calling for a cessation of forced evictions against Palestinians by making their demands known to both Israel and the international community.
The finality of the decision means in practical terms that over 1,200 residents of the Masafer Yatta area will be forced off their lands, their villages destroyed and the area dedicated exclusively as a military training and live firing zone. Today, the entire area is known as Firing Zone 918.
While ignoring the ongoing plight of Palestinians under occupation, Biden next hurried to Saudi Arabia where he was to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) in Riyadh. The news was abuzz with the factoid that it was the first direct flight taken by a president between Tel Aviv and Riyadh.
After a lackluster snub by MBS at the airport, the president was transported to the palace where he fist bumped MBS as the two met for the usual photo op. “Biden’s dilemma” during the visit was his concern for an increase in the oil supply along with lowering the inflated gas prices here at home. This conundrum of the need to increase oil exports versus that of addressing human rights in the Kingdom characterized their interaction.
MBS has been blamed by U.S. intelligence as having ordered the brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi something the Saudis have ignored and tried to debunk by crediting rogue elements acting on their own within the Kingdom. Although in a private conversation between the two later, Biden spoke to MBS concerning the murder and in his own words was quoted as saying that “I made my view crystal clear.”
As others have pointed out, the Saudis effectively received a “Presidential pardon” by the visit while Biden publicly “ate crow” meeting with the defacto head of the Kingdom but not following through with his labeling the Saudis as a Pariah state.
(This article has previously appeared in Nuzeink.)
Phil Pasquini is a freelance journalist and photographer. His reports and photographs appear in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Pakistan Link and Nuze.ink. He is the author of Domes, Arches and Minarets: A History of Islamic-Inspired Buildings in America.