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.
Certainly Khaled Mashaal would not have been the most militant or anti-Israel of candidates for the leadership of Hamas, but this is precisely the problem for the Netanyahu government. Mashaal is a pragmatist who enjoys broad international support. He could make it more difficult for Israel to continue to block the path to a ‘two-state solution’. Moreover, he is well placed to build a unity government with his Palestinian rivals in Fatah.
His choice of Qatar as a base for operations is curious! Qatar has emerged as the avenue through which troops and guns are being channeled into Syria to aid the rebellion! Mashaal’s support for the Syrian rebels is well known, but such support compromises his relationship with regional super-power Iran, and one might have expected him to be a little more covert in his loyalties.
Hamas re-elects Khaled Mashaal
Qatar-based Palestinian leader wins four-year term capping a year of internal elections spread over several countries
The Islamic militant group Hamas on Monday re-elected longtime leader Khaled Mashaal, according to officials, choosing a relative pragmatist who has sparred with movement hardliners in the past over his attempt to reconcile with western-backed Palestinian rivals.
The secretive group did not issue an announcement, but Mashaal’s re-election was confirmed by two Hamas officials. The vote late on Monday capped a year of internal elections spread over several countries and shrouded in mystery.
Qatar-based Mashaal, 56, has led Hamas since 1996 and now has another four-year term. He ran unopposed and won the support of a majority in Hamas’s shura council, which has about 60 members, said the two Hamas officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to discuss the secret election with reporters.
Mashaal enjoys the backing of Turkey, Egypt and Qatar, countries where Hamas’s parent movement, the region-wide Muslim Brotherhood, is influential.
It is not clear if his re-election will give him enough clout to pursue reconciliation or if hardliners, particularly those based in the Gaza Strip, will be able to veto a deal.
Hamas wrested Gaza from Mahmoud Abbas, the internationally backed Palestinian president, in 2007, leaving him with only parts of the West Bank. The rivals have established separate governments that have become increasingly entrenched in their respective territories.
Last year, Mashaal and Abbas, who have cordial relations, reached a deal whereby Abbas would head an interim government of technocrats in the West Bank and Gaza. This would have paved the way for general elections.
However, the deal never got off the ground because of opposition from Hamas leaders in Gaza and senior figures in Abbas’s Fatah movement. Hamas leaders in Gaza were particularly vehement in their objections, apparently fearing a deal would give Abbas a foothold in Gaza and weaken Hamas’s grip on the territory.
Last week, the emir of Qatar proposed holding a reconciliation conference in Egypt in coming weeks to set up a timetable for forming the interim government and holding elections.
Mashaal’s re-election could further distance Hamas from long-time patron Iran, which has supplied cash and weapons to the Hamas government in Gaza. Hamas broke with another long-time ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, more than a year ago, over Assad’s brutal crackdown on a popular revolt that turned into an armed insurgency.
Mashaal’s relations with Iran cooled after he refused to back Assad, an Iranian ally, and Mashaal last visited Tehran in November 2011.
Other senior Hamas figures continue to visit Tehran and ties have not broken off, but Mashaal has found a new home in Qatar, one of Iran’s regional rivals.
Hamas was founded in Gaza in 1987, as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. It has four components: activists in Gaza, in the West Bank, in exile and those imprisoned by Israel. In the internal elections, each of the four groups chose local leaders as well as delegates to the shura council.
This council selects a decision-making political bureau and the head of that body – the stage that was wrapped up in Cairo on Monday. Details about the composition of the political bureau were not available Monday.
Mashaal is seen as a member of the more pragmatic wing of Hamas, in connection with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He and others in Hamas insist the movement will not recognize Israel and renounce violence – Western conditions for dealing with Hamas.
Mashaal has suggested he could accept a Palestinian state alongside Israel, though he has not said if such a state would end the conflict, or be an interim step to an Islamic state in all of historic Palestine, including what is now Israel.
Mashaal has also come out in support of so-called popular resistance against Israeli occupation, a term Palestinians use for marches and stone-throwing protests. In previous rounds of conflict, Hamas gunmen and suicide bombers have killed hundreds of Israelis in attacks.
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.
It seems like the ultimate irony – a city that is known for food shortages producing it’s own cookbook – but here it is: “The Gaza Kitchen”! Moreover, as the title makes clear, the book does not try to hide its origins or shroud the fact that Gaza is a place we associate more with malnutrition than with culinary delight! Instead it blends recipe and narrative – tantalizing our taste buds while confronting us with the realities of the Israeli Occupation!
In truth, the combination of food and activism is an ancient one. There is a saying in Arabic that translates roughly “how can you be my enemy when we have broken bread together”. If it were possible to introduce more Israelis to the Gaza kitchen, it might do a great deal for the cause of reconciliation and peace!
Get a Taste Of Palestine in The Gaza Kitchen
Battered by Israel, ignored by Egypt and packed nearly as densely as Manhattan or Hong Kong, the Gaza Strip is among the most fragile flash-points in all of the Middle East. But this tiny sliver of land wedged between the stark Sinai Peninsula and the azure Mediterranean continues to prove that culture and tradition can exist even in the most challenging conditions. Case in point: The Gaza Kitchen, a new cookbook and that chronicles the role of cuisine in Gaza as tools for both sustenance and resistance.
Written by authors Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt—and partially funded by crowd-sourcing website Kickstarter—The Gaza Kitchen pairs photo-rich regional recipes with detailed accounts of Israel’s decades-long occupation and subsequent blockade. Filled with chef profiles and economic analysis, the book’s reportage is at once transportive and grim. But the recipes—pickled fruits, spice-laden salads, earthy vegetable stews, syrupy sweet desserts—are unquestionably mouthwatering despite their austerity.
With its focus on home-style cooking, rather than the region’s well-known street-food like hummus or falafel, The Gaza Kitchen humanizes a land and people often reduced to wartime cliche. “Gaza may be impoverished and under attack, but that doesn’t mean people have stopped giving importance to cooking and cuisine,” says El-Haddad, an author and activist who was born in Kuwait, raised between the Persian Gulf and Gaza and now lives in Maryland. “As Gazans struggle to transform rations and food aid into family meals, the dishes are testimony to the tenacity of a people still clinging to what’s good in life.”
read the rest of this review here