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The events that shook Palestinian territories in 2018 | News





Over the past year, Palestinians have experienced no respite from the Israeli occupation, let alone a breakthrough of ending it. Although no full-scale war broke out in 2018, as some had expected, it did bring a grim year of deadly violence, illegal settlement expansion and home demolitions.

At least 289 Palestinians – men, women and children – were killed throughout 2018, while thousands of others were wounded, including many who were maimed for life by Israeli gunfire. According to the Defense for Children organisation, the death toll includes 56 Palestinian children – an average of more than one child every week.

At least 538 housing units and facilities were demolished in the occupied West Bank, resulting in 1,300 Palestinians losing their homes, a report by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s Centre for Studies and Documentation said.

Meanwhile, the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza is still ongoing, which the United Nations has repeatedly warned is having a devastating effect on the strip’s two million population.

On an internal level, the national reconciliation talks between rival governments of Hamas and Fatah, who control the Gaza Strip and pockets of the West Bank respectively, have made precious little progress. The division in Palestinian politics continued for the 11th year running, as the main deadlock remains centred on allowing the Palestinian Authority full control over security forces in the Gaza Strip, including the military wing of Hamas.

A number of jarring decisions made by the United States, such as moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, finally convinced the Palestinian leadership of the US’ bias in the conflict. President Donald Trump has also declared an end to the funding of the main UN refugee agency for Palestinians, putting five million refugees in the occupied territories and neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, at risk of not receiving food aid, education, vocational training, jobs and much more.

Here is a recap of the main events that shook the Palestinian territories in 2018:

The violence in 2018 began with a Palestinian shooting dead a Jewish settler on January 9 near the occupied West Bank city of Nablus. The shooter fled the scene, which prompted Israeli forces to go on a manhunt that lasted almost one month.

On February 6, Israeli soldiers assassinated Ahmad Jarrar. The 22-year-old was killed in a shoot-out from his hiding place in the village of Yamoun, some nine kilometres from his hometown of Jenin. His body was taken by Israel forces, who have a policy of seizing bodies – a practice condemned by international law.

The pursuit of Jarrar resulted in almost daily raids of various towns and villages in the West Bank. Three homes belonging to the Jarrar family were demolished, and two Palestinians, including Jarrar’s cousin Ahmad Ismail Jarrar, were killed in separate raids.

Residents reported that the Israeli forces used loudspeakers to call out, “Ahmad Jarrar, turn yourself in or we will demolish the village house by house.”

On March 30, Palestinians from all backgrounds staged the first weekly Friday protest near the Israeli fence, east of the Gaza Strip. Demonstrators have been calling for the right of return for Palestinian refugees to their lands (under UN Resolution 194) and are demanding an end to the 12-year Israeli blockade.

Asad Abu Sharekh, spokesperson for the campaign, told Al Jazeera that the march is meant to send a message to the international community to actively support the right of Palestinians to return to their lands.

According to health officials in Gaza, to date, Israeli forces have killed at least 220 Palestinians in the besieged coastal enclave and wounded more than 18,000 people.

“Great March of Return” demonstrations have continued in Gaza every Friday since March 30 

About 80 percent of the Gaza population is dependent on humanitarian assistance, while the strip experiences regular power outages and high unemployment. It has been dubbed as the world’s largest open-air prison, with Palestinians needing Israeli army permits to enter and exit the enclave.

The Trump administration delivered on its promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, ignoring worldwide condemnation and protests from outraged Palestinians.

The ceremony was attended by Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, who also serves as a senior adviser to Trump.

Senior White House Adviser Ivanka Trump and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin opened the new US embassy during the dedication ceremony in Jerusalem on May 14 [Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]

Many of Jerusalem’s Palestinian areas were shut down on the day, with an increased presence of Israeli police on the streets. The closures spread to occupied East Jerusalem, where access to the Old City was curtailed in areas leading to it such as al-Tur, Mount of Olives, Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan.

Yet, Israel’s bloody response took place in the Gaza Strip during Palestinian protests near the fence, where 61 protesters were shot dead.

More than 2,400 others were also wounded as the Israeli army fired live ammunition, tear gas and firebombs at protesters assembled along several points near the fence with Israel.

Palestinians commemorated 70 years since the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, which is defined as the removal of 750,000 of the population from historical Palestine in 1948. Paramilitary Zionist groups seized or destroyed some 500 Palestinian villages and towns in the process, and have barred the resultant refugees from returning ever since.

Protests took place in smaller Palestinian towns and villages, while the cities such as Ramallah and Bethlehem went on strike for the day, protesting against the killing of Palestinians in Gaza the day before.

The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, adopted the controversial legislation that defined Israel as “the historical homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it”.

The bill makes Hebrew the country’s national language and defines the establishment of Jewish communities as being in the national interest. It further marginalises the 1.8 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, who now have more than 65 Israeli laws that discriminate against them.

It also states that an undivided Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and strips Arabic of its designation as an official language, downgrading it to a “special status”.

Ahed Tamimi made international headlines when she was arrested in a pre-dawn raid on her home by Israeli forces in her village of Nabi Saleh, known for its weekly popular protests against the Israeli occupation.

The then 16-year-old was arrested by Israeli forces in December 2017 after a video went viral showing the teenager slapping two armed Israeli soldiers outside her home.

Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi gave a speech at the annual festival of Greek Communist Youth in Athens, Greece, on September 22 [Costas Baltas/Reuters]

At the time, the teen was reacting to news that her 15-year-old cousin Mohammed had been shot in the face by Israeli forces with a rubber-coated steel bullet earlier in the day, leaving him in critical condition.

Tamimi was sentenced to eight months in prison. Her arrest drew international condemnation and again put the spotlight on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, especially Palestinian youth.

The US government, a major ally of Israel, announced it was stopping its funding to the UN Relief Works and Agency (UNRWA) after determining the organisation to be an “irredeemably flawed operation”.

UNRWA was established in 1949 after 700,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes by Zionist paramilitaries in the run-up to the establishment of the state of Israel.

Palestinian children protested against the UNWRA decision to dismiss personnel in Gaza City on September 25 [Reuters]

It currently provides services to five million Palestinian refugees in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Khan al-Ahmar, located northeast of occupied East Jerusalem, has been under threat of demolition for several years.

But in September, the Israeli high court ruled that the Bedouin village, home to 180 people, will be demolished on October 1 under the pretext that it had been built without a permit.

However, three weeks later, the Israeli government announced it was putting the demolition on hold for a “short, fixed period of time”.

People staged demonstrations in support of the Al-Khan Al-Ahmar Bedouin hamlet, which is at the risk of demolition by Israeli authorities [AP]

The village’s location between two major Israeli settlements, Maale Adumim and Kfar Adumim, has been a thorn in the side of the Israeli government, which wants to expand the two in order to build a ring of settlements around East Jerusalem.

Khan al-Ahmar is in Area C of the occupied West Bank, which is under full Israeli control. In order to build anything, Palestinians living in the area need a permit that is rarely issued by Israeli authorities.

Marking what was the first visit by an Israeli leader to the sultanate in over two decades, Netanyahu‘s office said the visit came at the invitation of Sultan Qaboos and followed “lengthy contacts between the two countries”.

His office added that it formed part of a policy of “deepening relations with the states of the region”.

Oman and Israel do not have diplomatic relations. The visit was expected to increase pressure on Palestine to participate in US-led peace negotiations.

Netanyahu visited Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Oman [Israel GPO/Handout via Reuters]

The last Israeli prime minister to visit Oman was Shimon Peres in 1996.

On October 29, Israeli Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev’s official visit to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi was seen by Palestinians as further proof that Arab countries were being swayed by Israel’s bid for normalisation.

A day before, Regev was present when the Israeli anthem was played for the first time in the UAE after an Israeli athlete won the gold medal in the Judo Grand Competition in Abu Dhabi.

An Israeli covert operations unit infiltrated the Gaza Strip and had their cover blown, resulting in the killing of seven Palestinians and one Israeli soldier.

Nour Baraka, a senior commander of the Qassam Brigades, was among those killed, as Israeli forces pounded the Khan Younis area with air raids to give the unit cover to escape back into Israel using a civilian car.

Hamas published photos of what it says are members of an Israeli covert operations unit that infiltrated the Gaza Strip on November 11

By November 13, seven more Palestinians were killed by Israeli air raids, which had targeted a number of residential and government-owned buildings such as the offices of the al-Aqsa television channel.

The latest round of fighting, which had raised fears of a fourth Israeli offensive on the strip since 2008, ended on the same day after Egypt brokered a ceasefire, leading Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s defence minister, to resign in protest.

Following a night where Israel killed three Palestinians in separate raids in the occupied West Bank, an unknown Palestinian shooter killed two Israeli soldiers near the illegal settlement of Ofra before fleeing the scene.

This prompted the Israeli army to declare Ramallah a closed military zone, and carry out searches near areas of roads entering and exiting the city.

Israeli security forces and emergency personnel at the scene of a shooting attack near the Israeli settlement of Ofra in the occupied West Bank [Ammar Awad/Reuters]

A fourth Palestinian was also killed after what Israeli forces said was a car-ramming attempt. Palestinian witnesses, however, said Ardah lost control of his vehicle.

According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, 69 Palestinians were injured in protests against the Israeli army raids into Ramallah and various other towns and villages in the West Bank.

Looking ahead

There is little reason for optimism about the prospects for 2019. The new year looks to offer more in terms of stagnation in the Middle East peace process, as well as the national reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

With the Trump administration firmly backing Israel on the international stage, and tacitly approving illegal settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, Palestinians will continue to regard the US as an impossible broker of peace talks.

Furthermore, the so-called “deal of the century”, reportedly pushed for by Trump’s son-in-law Kushner, in all its ambiguity and what has been leaked to the media, has failed to win the approval of the Palestinian leadership.

On April 9, Israel will hold snap elections, for which Netanyahu called on Israeli voters to give the government a clear mandate to continue governing on its current path. However, the prime minister will first have to fend off prosecutors who are after him and his wife in a criminal case relating to receiving funds from wealthy benefactors.

On a domestic level, the unity talks between Fatah and Hamas are unlikely to witness a breakthrough.

On December 22, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared his intention to dissolve the largely defunct Palestinian parliament, the Palestinian Legislative Council, where Hamas holds a majority. Abbas, citing a Constitutional Court order, also announced that general elections would be held within six months of the PLC being dissolved.

The PLC has not held an official session since 2007, when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip. The movement rejected Abbas’ decision as an “invalid political decision”.

There also seems little intent to lift the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza, and the Israeli military presence shows no sign of abating in the West Bank. On a political level, optimism remains as elusive as ever.


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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic





TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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Canada: Significant Changes To Canada’s Federal Environmental Protection Regime Proposed





On April 13, 2021, the government of Canada proposed significant changes to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (“CEPA”)1 through the introduction of Bill C-28, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act (the “Amendments“).2

With these Amendments, the government hopes to modernize Canada’s environmental regime which has not undergone significant change in over 20 years. CEPA is the primary statute through which the federal government regulates and protects the environment. CEPA and its accompanying regulations regulate among other things the treatment and disposal of chemicals and hazardous waste, vehicle and engine emissions, equipment and other sources of pollution, and the prevention and impact of environmental emergencies such as oil and chemical spills.

This bulletin provides an overview of the major changes to CEPA that have been proposed.

The Right to a Healthy Environment and Certain Soft Rights

Significantly, the Preamble under the Amendments will officially recognize Canadians’ right to a healthy environment. Section 2 of CEPA will require the government to protect that right when making decisions relating to the environment.3

The Amendments set out specific obligations the government must undertake to safeguard this right, including developing an implementation framework to set out how this right will be considered in the administration of CEPA as well as conducting research, studies and monitoring activities to support this goal.

In addition, the Preamble will recognize some additional considerations, including confirming the government’s commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as well as recognizing the importance of considering vulnerable persons, reducing or replacing the use of animal testing, and the right of Canadians to have access to information on product labels.

Project Impact Assessment

With respect to risk assessments under CEPA, under the new provisions the federal government must consider impacts on vulnerable populations and possible cumulative effects of the proposed conduct. Vulnerable populations will include groups of people with elevated biological susceptibility, such as children, and groups with elevated exposure risks, such an indigenous communities. Consideration of cumulative effects of proposed conduct takes a holistic approach to substance management by considering the compounding risks of exposure to various chemicals during daily life rather than looking at substances on their own.

Chemicals Management

The federal government has identified the management of chemicals as a key target area under the new CEPA.

The Amendments thus propose to overhaul this regime in order to better protect Canadians from the evolving risks of harmful chemicals and pollution. To accomplish this, the government has proposed wide ranging changes relating to risk assessment, public accountability, management of toxic substances and new substances, which are discussed in turn below.

Risk Assessment

The government must consult, develop and publish a Plan of Chemicals Management Priorities which will set out an integrated plan for the risk assessment of various chemical substances currently being used in Canada. The Plan will establish priorities for the management of substances, taking into account a number of factors including among others the views of stakeholders and partners, public comments, the effects on vulnerable populations, the toxicity of the substance, the ability to disrupt biological reproduction or endocrine systems, and whether there are safer and more sustainable alternatives.4 The government will also be empowered to make geographically targeted regulations to address pollution “hot spots”.

Additionally, the Amendments will establish a mechanism through which any person can submit a request to the Minister to assess a substance to determine its toxicity and risk to the environment. The Minister must provide a response within 90 days, indicating whether they intend to assess the substances and their reasons for their decision.

Public Accountability Framework

The Amendments intend to increase transparency and public participation in risk assessments by the government for the categorization and management of potentially toxic chemicals. Currently, CEPA contains a public accountability framework under section 77 and provides time limits for the government to assess substances under sections 91 and 92. However, these provisions only apply to certain risk assessments being conducted by the government such as substances placed on the Domestic Substances List that in the opinion of the Minister present the greatest potential for exposure to Canadians or are persistent or bio-accumulative. The proposed Amendments plan to amend section 77 to expand these transparency and accountability measures to all substance risk assessments for toxic or capable of being toxic substances, with the exception of assessments for new substances.5

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Scientists, Homalco First Nation team up to probe massive B.C. landslide — and its impact on salmon





When the side of a B.C. mountain gave way on Nov. 28, 2020, crashing into a glacier fed lake and creating a 100-metre high tsunami, no one was around to see the destruction or hear the sound of rocks and trees tearing through the valley below. 

But scientists say the force, which was picked up by seismographs across North America, was the equivalent of a 4.9-magnitude earthquake. 

Fortunately, no one was in the slide’s path, but experts believe that a melting glacier likely contributed by making the slope less stable — and climate change means it is a growing risk. 

As more of Canada’s glaciers recede, scientists say there is great interest in finding out what exactly triggered this slide, and how the rocks and sediment have impacted the salmon population of nearby Elliot Creek and Southgate River. 

The mountain, which is located about 220 km north west of Vancouver, is on the traditional territory of the Homalco First Nation. 

It’s an area of remote wilderness, only accessible by air or by boating 80 km up Bute Inlet.

When the slide hit last year, more than 18 million cubic meters of rock barrelled down the slope hitting the lake within 30 seconds. 

“That is the equivalent of all of the cars in Canada coming down the hill at once,” said Marten Geertsema, a geomorphologist who works with the B.C. government studying landslides. 

He is one of several scientists, along with members from the Homalco First Nation, who have been studying the landslide and its cascading environmental impact on the watershed and salmon habitat. 

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