Israel’s military occupation received a symbolic seal of approval from the United States after Mike Pompeo toured an archaeological dig led by a group of far-right settlers and visited a settlement that grows grapes on land Palestinians say was stolen from them.
The trips on Wednesday and Thursday marked the first time a US secretary of state had officially visited settlements, a deeply provocative move that previous US administrations did their best to avoid.
Pompeo, who has been tipped to seek a presidential candidacy in four years and whose base includes fervently pro-Israel evangelical Christians, flew by helicopter to the Psagot winery, which produces, among many wines, a mixed red named in his honor.
The vineyard operates in two settlements, Psagot, and its new location, Sha’ar Binyamin, both on land the Palestinians say was taken from them.
Tamam Quran, a 25-year-old Palestinian high school teacher who has US citizenship and claims partial ownership of the land, said her grandmother used to pick grapes from the vines in Psagot, which Palestinians call Jabal al-Taweel.
“Growing up a five-minute walk from where we are here now, I woke up every morning in the settlement,” he said, speaking Wednesday at a protest against travel. Pompeo’s visit, he added, sent a message that if you have enough power, “nothing is going to happen, there are no consequences for your actions.”
Speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem on Thursday with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, Pompeo said the State Department had historically taken “the wrong view of settlements,” which he claimed “can be done in a way that [is] lawful, appropriate and adequate ”.
Settlements are considered illegal by most world powers under international law.
Pompeo later issued a statement saying that the products from the settlements could be labeled “Made in Israel”.
The night before, he had taken a trip to the City of David, a huge tourist attraction next to the Old City in East Jerusalem, which is run by Elad, an organization of Israeli settlers that seeks to strengthen the Jewish presence in the Silwan neighborhood. at the expense of its Arab residents.
“It is wonderful to see the work that is being done to preserve the ancient City of David and the new discoveries of the archaeologists working in the area,” Pompeo, who is on a three-day tour of the region, tweeted Thursday morning.
EU diplomats have criticized the excavation for attempting to ignore the ancient city’s diverse history in favor of “a uniquely Jewish narrative, while separating the site from its Palestinian surroundings.”
Elad has expanded by buying Palestinian houses and using Israeli laws that allow the state to seize Palestinian property. Approximately 450 settlers now live alongside nearly 10,000 Palestinians in Silwan.
To delight his Israeli government hosts, Pompeo also broke new ground by taking a helicopter to the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 war and now claims as its own.
The top US diplomat had announced on Thursday that Washington would regard a Palestinian-led boycott movement as “anti-Semitic” and cut government support for any organization participating in it.
“We will consider the global BDS campaign against Israel to be anti-Semitic,” Pompeo said, referring to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which he called “a cancer.”
Other countries, like germany, have also condemned BDS as anti-Semitic.
However, the US move could deny funding to Palestinian and international rights groups Israel has associated with BDS, and Pompeo said it would identify organizations involved in “politically motivated actions aimed at criminalizing or limiting trade relations with Israel.”
In 2019, Gilad Erdan, then Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, threatened to ban Amnesty International about a report that asked websites like Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor to boycott listings on Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The same year, Israel deported the local director of Human Rights Watch for his alleged personal support for a boycott campaign, a charge he denied.
“[The] The Trump administration is undermining the common fight against the scourge of anti-Semitism equating it with the peaceful defense of boycotts, ”Eric Goldstein, Human Rights Watch acting director for the Middle East and North Africa said Thursday.
“Americans have a long history of supporting peaceful boycotts to promote social justice and human rights, such as the civil rights boycotts in Mississippi or those against apartheid in South Africa.”
BDS, which describes itself as a non-violent lobbying movement, has rejected all claims of anti-Semitism.
“The fanatic Trump-Netanyahu alliance is intentionally combining opposition to Israel’s occupation, colonization and apartheid regime against the Palestinians and calls for non-violent pressure to end this regime, on the one hand, with anti-Jewish racism, on the other, with in order to suppress the defense of Palestinian Rights, ”he said in a statement.
Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and support for Israeli territorial claims has emboldened the country’s government and the powerful settler movement.
Palestinians fear that Israel’s hardline government and its supporters in the Trump administration will rush to impose a new status quo before the US president leaves office.
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