Israel and Palestine
This is a tragic situation, and we can appreciate the frustration all round. The people of Gaza are frustrated because they are desperately poor. The managers of the UN relief work are frustrated because they fear for the safety of their staff when the frustration of their clients boils over into violence. The authorities in Gaza are frustrated because they know their people badly need the assistance that the UN relief agency gives them.
Evidently what is required here for everybody concerned is a concrete political solution. Even so, this doesn’t make the short-term welfare needs any less serious.
Palestinian Tensions Simmer Ahead of Kerry Visit
GAZA — Islamist group Hamas on Friday urged a United Nations agency to resume its operations in the Gaza Strip, accusing the world body of over-reacting by shutting down after its headquarters was stormed by demonstrators.
The main U.N. humanitarian agency for Palestinians closed all its offices in Gaza on Thursday after protesters stormed its headquarters to demand it reverse a decision to cut an annual $40 handout to the poorest Gazans.
The dispute comes against a broader backdrop of growing Palestinian unrest in both Gaza and the occupied West Bank, with no end in sight to the decades-old Middle East conflict.
- April 6: Istanbul, Turkey for talks with senior officials
- April 7-9: Jerusalem and Ramallah for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders
- April 10-11: London for the G8 Foreign Ministers Meeting
- April 12: Seoul, South Korea
- April 13: Beijing, China
- April 14: Tokyo, Japan
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is due to return to Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy on Sunday, with meetings scheduled in both Ramallah and Jerusalem from April 7-9, just two weeks after President Barack Obama’s first visit to the region.
Like Obama before him, Kerry is not expected to bring any new initiative to revive peace talks, which broke down in 2010.
The past week saw violent clashes between youths and Israeli security forces in the West Bank, which raised fears that a new uprising, or Intifada, might be brewing. There were reports of sporadic confrontations on Friday, but not on the same scale as earlier in the week.
In another sign of the tensions, rockets were fired out of Gaza for three days running this week, while Israeli warplanes carried out their first strike on the territory since November.
The storming of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) compound in Gaza on Thursday was part of a dispute that has been brewing for weeks and was not tied to diplomatic events, but it laid bare the frustration brewing amongst Palestinians.
UNRWA provides assistance in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank to Palestinian refugees and their descendants — now put at some five million spread across myriad camps.
The agency has said it will not resume work in Gaza, including food distribution to 800,000 Palestinians — nearly half the enclave’s population — unless it receives assurances from Hamas over the safety of its staff.
“People are demonstrating because they’re frustrated and the situation in Gaza just seems to be getting worse,” said Robert Turner, the director of UNRWA operations in Gaza.
“We respect everyone’s right to peaceful protest, but what happened yesterday was unacceptable,” he told Reuters, saying initial reports suggested up to 200 demonstrators, some carrying iron rods, had forced their way into the UNRWA compound.
Hamas called the closure of UNRWA offices “unjustified.”
“When UNRWA’s administration called Palestinian security they arrived, restored calm and ended the state of chaos,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. “Therefore, we urge UNRWA to rethink its decision.”
Turner said UNRWA faced a $68 million shortfall in 2013 and took the decision to cut the $40 annual handout to 106,000 Gaza refugees to save some $5.5 million. To soften the blow, the agency was offering job schemes to help the poorest families.
News that food centers had been shut down shocked Gaza.
“If UNRWA closes down the food distribution centers, it would lead to a disaster,” said Fathi Al-Seidi, 30, who lives in a refugee camp. He added that locals were dependent on the UNRWA aid and cash from Western-backed authorities in the West Bank.
“Without this, life will be equal to zero,” he said.
U.N. officials said UNRWA appeared to be bearing the brunt of disillusionment in Gaza that followed a short-lived spurt of optimism last November when a ceasefire deal between Hamas and Israel raised hopes of an easing of restrictions on the enclave.
Israel, supported by Egypt, imposes a partial trade blockade on Gaza, saying it is needed to prevent arms reaching Hamas, which does not recognize Israel and has not renounced violence.
Since the November truce, which ended eight days of fighting, the restrictions have barely changed while Egypt has launched a crackdown on illegal smuggling tunnels into Gaza.
Underscoring Hamas’s difficulties, the group’s leader Khaled Meshaal said on Thursday it faced a “financial problem,” suggesting Arab allies were not providing sufficient aid.
More wisdom from brother Uri, but it gives us little ground for hope.
April 6, 2013
In Their Shoes
OBAMA IN ISRAEL: Every word right. Every gesture genuine. Every detail in its place. Perfect.
Obama in Palestine: Every word wrong. Every gesture inappropriate. Every single detail misplaced. Perfect.
IT STARTED from the first moment. The President of the United States came to Ramallah. He visited the Mukata’a, the “compound” which serves as the office of the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.
One cannot enter the Mukata’a without noticing the grave of Yasser Arafat, just a few paces from the entrance.
It is quite impossible to ignore this landmark while passing it. However, Obama succeeded in doing just that.
It was like spitting in the face of the entire Palestinian people. Imagine a foreign dignitary coming to France and not laying a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Or coming to Israel and not visiting Yad Vashem. It is more than insulting. It is stupid.
Yasser Arafat is for the Palestinians what Gorge Washington is for Americans, Mahatma Gandhi for Indians, David Ben-Gurion for Israelis. The Father of the Nation. Even his domestic opponents on the left and on the right revere his memory. He is the supreme symbol of the modern Palestinian national movement. His picture hangs in every Palestinian office and school.
So why not honor him? Why not lay a wreath on his grave, as foreign leaders have done before?
Because Arafat has been demonized and vilified in Israel like no other human being since Hitler. And still is.
Obama was simply afraid of the Israeli reaction. After his huge success in Israel, he feared that such a gesture would undo the effect of his address to the Israeli people.
THIS CONSIDERATION guided Obama throughout his short visit to the West Bank. His feet were in Palestine, his head was in Israel.
He walked in Palestine. He talked to Palestine. But his thoughts were about the Israelis.
Even when he said good things, his tone was wrong. He just could not hit the right note. Somehow he missed the cue.
Why? Because of a complete lack of empathy.
Empathy is something hard to define. I am spoiled in this respect, because I had the good fortune to live for many years near a person who had it in abundance. Rachel, my wife, hit the right tone with everyone, high or low, local or foreign, the old and the very young.
Obama did so in Israel. It was really amazing. He must have studied us thoroughly. He knew our strengths and our weaknesses, our paranoias and our idiosyncrasies, our historical memories and dreams about the future.
And no wonder. He is surrounded by Zionist Jews. They are his closest advisors, his friends and his experts on the Middle East. Even from mere contact with them, he obviously absorbed much of our sensitivities.
As far as I know, there is not a single Arab, not to mention Palestinian, in the White House and its surroundings.
I assume that he does receive occasional briefings about Arab affairs from the State Department. But such dry memoranda are not the stuff empathy is made of. The more so as clever diplomats must have learned by now not to write anything that may offend Israelis.
So how could the poor man have possibly picked up empathy towards the Palestinians?
THE CONFLICT between Israel and Palestine has very solid factual causes. But it has also been rightly described as a “clash between traumas”: the Holocaust trauma of the Jews and the Naqba trauma of the Palestinians (without suggesting equivalence between the two calamities.)
Many years ago in New York I met a very good friend of mine. He was an Arab citizen of Israel, a young poet who had left Israel and joined the PLO. He invited me to meet some Palestinians at his home in a suburb of New York. His family name, by the way, was the same as Obama’s middle name.
When I entered the apartment, it was crammed full with Palestinians – Palestinians of all stripes, from Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, the refugee camps and the Diaspora. We had a very emotional debate, full of heated arguments and counter-arguments. When we left I asked Rachel what, to her mind, was the most outstanding common sentiment of all these people. “The sense of injustice!” she replied without hesitation.
That was exactly what I felt. “If Israel could just apologize for what we have done to the Palestinian people, a huge obstacle would have been removed from the road to peace,” I answered her.
It would have been a good beginning for Obama in Ramallah if he had addressed this point. It was not the Palestinians who killed six million Jews. It was the European countries and – yes – the USA which callously closed their doors to the Jews, who were desperately trying to escape the lot awaiting them. And it was the Muslim world which welcomed hundreds of thousands of Jews fleeing from Catholic Spain and the inquisition some 500 years ago.
OUR CONFLICT is tragic, more than most. One of its tragedies is that neither side can be entirely blamed. There is not one narrative, but two. Each side is convinced of the absolute justice of its cause. Each side nurses its overwhelming sense of victimhood. Though there can be no symmetry between settlers and natives, occupier and occupied, in this respect they are the same.
The trouble with Obama is that he has completely, entirely, totally embraced one narrative, while being almost completely oblivious to the other. Every word he uttered in Israel gave testimony to his deeply-rooted Zionist convictions. Not just the words he said, but the tone, the body language, all bore the marks of honesty. Evidently, he had internalized the Zionist version of every single detail of the conflict.
Nothing like this was in evidence in Ramallah. Some dry formulas, yes. Some honest efforts to break the ice, indeed. But nothing that touched the hearts of the Palestinians.
He told his Israeli audience to “put yourselves in the shoes of the Palestinians”. But did he do so himself? Can he imagine what it means to wait every night for the brutal banging on the door? To be woken by the noise of bulldozers approaching, wondering whether they are coming to destroy your home? To see a settlement growing on your land and waiting for the settlers to come and carry out a pogrom in your village? Being unable to move on your roads? To see your father humiliated at the road blocks? To throw stones at armed soldiers and brave tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets and sometimes live ammunition?
Can he even imagine having a brother, a cousin, a loved one in prison for many, many years because of his patriotic actions or beliefs, after facing the arbitrariness of a military “court”, or even without a “trial” at all?
This week, a prisoner called Maisara Abu-Hamdiyeh died in prison, and the West Bank exploded in rage. Israeli journalists ridiculed the protest, stating that the man died from a fatal disease, so Israel could not be blamed.
Did any of them imagine for a moment what it means for a human being to suffer from cancer, with the disease slowly spreading through his body, deprived of adequate treatment, cut off from family and friends, seeing death approaching? What if it had been their father?
THE OCCUPATION is not an abstract matter. It is a daily reality for two and a half million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – not to mention the restrictions on Gaza.
It does not concern only the individuals practically denied all human rights. It primarily concerns the Palestinians as a nation.
We Israelis, perhaps more than anyone else, should know that belonging to one’s nation, in one’s own state, under one’s own flag, is a basic right of every human being. In the present epoch, it is an essential element of human dignity. No people will settle for less.
The Israeli government insists that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as the “Nation-State of the Jewish People”. It adamantly refuses to recognize Palestine as the “Nation-State of the Palestinian People”. What is Obama’s position on that?
FOLLOWING THE visit, Secretary of State John Kerry is now working hard to “prepare the ground” for a “resumption” of the “peace talks” between Israel and the PLO. Many quotation marks for something so flimsy.
Diplomats can string together hollow phrases to conjure up the illusion of progress. That is one of their main talents. But after a historic conflict lasting some 130 years, no progress towards peace between the two peoples can be real, if there is no equal respect for their national history, rights, feelings and aspirations.
As long as the US leadership cannot bring itself to that point, the chance of its contributing to peace in this tormented country is close to nil.
read more from Uri Avnery on the Gush Shalom website
This is an extraordinary article from Nadezhda Kevorkova, and the first that I have read that champions Syria as upholder of Palestinian rights!
According to the Palestinians interviewed in Damascus, Assad is being punished for upholding the Palestinian right of return! This is hardly likely to be the full picture but if it does contain even a grain of truth it does raise the question as to why Khaled Mashaal is throwing his weight behind the Syrian rebels from his base in Qatar!
Something here doesn’t add up!
Syria is a battle for Palestine
One of the headquarters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command is located in a basement in central Damascus.
All secrecy measures are there: one cannot drive through the area; hidden guerillas everywhere, and several dozen CCTV cameras. This is the Palestinian group whose headquarters and weapons were seized in December last year by the Syrian militants in Yarmouk, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria near Damascus.
Several people are sitting in a small room. These are: member of the PFLP GC Political Bureau Anwar Raja, editor in chief of the Palestinian Forward magazine, Tahsin Al Hаlabi, and about five other companions who come and go while we speak.
Anwar Raja was born in Jaffa. He was ten when the Palestinians were thrown out of the Holy Land. He experienced all the tribulations of the Palestinian struggle firsthand. And Tahsin Al Hаlabi was only 10 months old when his family had to leave their home.
‘I was arrested and sentenced to 12 years in an Israeli prison for the right to see my home. During my time in Nablus prison I learned English, French, German, and Italian. And I speak Hebrew better than settlers in Israel’, he laughs.
‘In order to free him from captivity, we seized three Israeli soldiers’, recalls Anwar Raja.
The PFLP is the pioneer of all forms of the Palestinian struggle. The organization was founded in the 1960s, and it’s always relied for its support on refugee camps. They split with Yasser Arafat because they dismissed any negotiations, agreements or concessions with Israel. Starting from the 1960s, the PFPL managed to establish an expansive international front of struggle for Palestine, reaching out to groups like RAF and the Japanese Red Army. They were the ones who, long before HAMAS, would send out kamikazes on no-return missions. They invented what’s now widely known as suicide bombers. They were also the first ones to hijack Israeli passenger airplanes and Israeli servicemen to swap them for prisoners.
In Syria, most Palestinian training camps and bases belong to the Popular Front. They have always been the key arms suppliers to Palestine and Lebanon as they had networks and long-term experience of underground operations. They’re fundamentally against elections and party lists as they believe these are just irrelevant games while they remember that 7 million Palestinians remain refugees.
Until December 2012, the main PFPL GC headquarters was located in the Yarmouk camp, Damascus, and so was their main arms dump, which was seized by Syrian rebels. Yarmouk was the first Palestinian camp from which the Syrian militants threw out 150,000 Palestinian refugees.
The over 700,000 Palestinians living in Syria are the key target of political and military struggle. According to the PFPL, what’s happening today in Syria is meant to draw them into the conflict, to purge Syria of them, and to downplay the Palestinian issue.
‘Assad punished for refusing to turn away from Palestinians’
‘A very difficult time began for us. All these events will have major implications for Palestine’, says Anwar Raja.
He is really hopeful that Syria can withstand it, and that this is the only way for Palestinians to consolidate their positions. In his opinion, the conflict didn’t start two years ago. It had been predetermined by Syria’s fundamental position on the Palestinian issue. All countries of the region turned away from Palestinians and bargained with the US and Israel, whether explicitly or implicitly. Syria was the only one that didn’t give in, he believes.
‘By 2002 the Israeli flags were raised over all the Arabic capital cities except for Syria’, Anwar Raja comments.
‘The key demand of the Palestinians is the return of the Palestinian refugees. Israel will never agree to it as this would bring its end closer. In 2002, the so-called Arab Peace Initiative in Beirut declared the ‘land for peace’ principle. At that time, only Libya and Assad required introducing the return of the refugees clause’, reminds Anwar Raja.
He believes that following the invasion of Iraq, Qaddafi rejected any Palestinian support, but that wasn’t enough to save him. Bashar al-Assad didn’t turn away from the Palestinians, and that was the reason that the West directed the wave of militants against Syria and spread out the Islamic propaganda that Assad was the root of all their troubles.
‘And now Israel wants to abolish the Palestinian refugee term through the UN’, says the member of the PFLP Political Bureau.
‘Syria didn’t just allow us to stay here. All of our training camps were in Syria, including the Islamic Jihad. Even HAMAS was exercising here in our camps’, explains Anwar Raja. He reminds that at the PFLP reference, HAMAS was able to settle in Syria. ‘We told Hafez al-Assad that HAMAS were fighters, and he allowed them to come over’.
‘The West and the Arabs insist that the war broke out in Syria because the regime had failed to execute reforms. This is just absurd. Syria held the Palestinian issue on the table. Syria personifies the very idea of the refugees’ right to return. In any other country, the Palestinians are just forbidden to talk about politics’, he believes.
‘Palestinian camps in Syria were attacked. The attackers opened fire, provoked and abducted Palestinians. We told the armed opposition that we would not get involved in the armed struggle in Syria, as we were guests there. The Palestinians formed committees for the sake of the camps security. But George Sabra (the opposition leader) stated on TV that they considered Palestinian camps part of Syria. The militants broke into camps. Yarmouk was ransacked. We asked Khaled Mashaal and Mahmoud Abbas to talk to the opposition, but they never played the intermediary role,’ says Tahsin Al Hаlabi.
read the rest of this article here: rt.com…
This is a telling conference! The fact that such a conference was held in Gaza at all is a sign of the times! Certainly there is a major shift in power in the Middle East. Foreign super-powers are receding into the background and the Arabs and Persians are taking their future into their own hands.
The statement by Wadah Khanfar is particularly telling, I think: ”There are four nations in this region – the Arabs, Turks, Kurds and Iranians.” It will indeed be a major turning point if (often artificial) national loyalties are replaced by traditional ethnic/tribal ones. Certainly there is little place for Israel in such an equation!
As superpower influence fades, regional security depends on Palestine’s
Participants at a major conference in Gaza have concluded that as the influence of America, Russia and the EU diminishes, regional security is depending more and more on Palestine’s. The shift has come about, said the gathering of academics and researchers, following the democratic change in the Middle East.
Those taking part in the Palestinian National Security Conference included the former Director-General of the Al-Jazeera Media Network, Wadah Khanfar, and Dr Mohsen Saleh from Al-Zaytuna Research Institute in Beirut. The conference was sponsored by the Political and Management Academy in the Gaza Strip.
In his keynote speech, Mr Khanfar said that the influence of the US, EU and Russia on the Arabs and Muslims is fading. “They will not be out of the game, but they can no longer affect the choice of presidents in the region,” he insisted. “This means that a new future is emerging. What was once believed to be our unavoidable destiny has become something in the past.”
Describing the civil unrest in the wake of the Arabic revolutions and the bloodshed in Syria as the “natural birth pangs” of the revolutions which may last longer than expected, Khanfar said, “This period is critical, as the region can be an area for blood and tears or an area of light and freedom. The decision is in the hands of the revolutionary parties and politicians.”
On security issues, Khanfar suggested that there is nothing called Palestinian or Egyptian or any other “national” security, but there is something called regional security. According to the veteran journalist, “There are four nations in this region – the Arabs, Turks, Kurds and Iranians. All four have a common thread running throughout their history. As such, these nations have to work together to build regional security, and the work has to begin in Palestine, where the state of Israel was planted in our midst.”
He accused those who defame the Palestinians and their issue as being the enemies of the revolutions. “They want to distort the focus of their states at which point they will lose it altogether; they must accept that security in the region is centred on Palestine.
With regards to Palestinian reconciliation, Khanfar stressed the need for this to include all Palestinians, including those in the diaspora, to produce a comprehensive agreement.
The former political advisor of the Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi told the conference that there is no national security for Egypt without security for Palestine. Mohamed Saiful-Dawla expressed his respect for the Gaza Strip and described it as the “citadel” from where security for the whole region will spring. “This is the only citadel which refuses to accept the Israeli occupation and has achieved impressive victories,” he said.
No surprises here. Despite an easing of restrictions on imports into Gaza, the goods Israel permits to enter the world’s largest open-air prison are still well below what is required for the sustenance of a full human life.
Moreover, the virtual ban on exports means unemployment rates – hovering at around 30% – continue to be the worst in the world. Add to this the impact of Israel’s bombing of the civilian infrastructure and it comes as no surprise that poverty levels in Palestine are amongst the worst in the world.
Ramallah: Poverty levels in the Palestinian Territories, and mainly in the Gaza Strip, have reached unprecedented levels with 11,626 families among a million Gazans officially approved by the Ministry of Palestinian Social Affairs as being in need of financial assistance, said a senior official.
Speaking to Gulf News, Dr Thana’a Al Khozendar, the Director-General of the Combat Poverty Programme at the Ministry of Social Affairs, the latest Israeli offensive against Gaza created more poverty and increased the list of needy families applying to the ministry for financial assistance.
“The Israeli military operation in Gaza added poorer people to their already long lists. The Israeli offensive also created richer people on the other hand,” said Dr Al Khozendar. “The tunnel’s business increased the numbers of rich people in Gaza and expanded the gap between rich and poor in Gaza.”
Israel’s blockade on Gaza has led to the flourishing of trade through underground tunnels between the strip and Egypt.