Aug 21 2016

Knesset plans lobby for return of Palestinians to their villages

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

The most unusual group of Knesset members met July 26 to support the rights of the residents of two Palestinian villages who have been denied to return to their villages for 68 years now. The group included members of the governing coalition Kulanu Party and the opposition Zionist Camp, as well as former Minister of Defense Moshe Arens.

Upon the invitation of Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties, Eli Alaluf from the governing coalition Kulanu Party and Ofer Shelah from the Yesh Atid opposition bloc, 30 Knesset members met to publicly declare their support for the rights of the villagers from Iqrit and Kufr Birim.

Six months after the creation of the State of Israel, the residents of the villages in the north of Israel and close to the Lebanese borders were asked on Nov. 4, 1948, by the Israeli army to vacate the villages for two weeks for military operational reasons. They have not been allowed to return since, even though they are Israeli citizens and have continued to live in nearby villages and towns while constantly demanding the right to return.

Appeals by the residents of those villages to the Israeli Supreme Court led in July 1951 to a ruling that Iqrit and Kufr Birim’s residents living in Israel must be allowed to return, but the ruling was ignored. Israeli soldiers forced several of the residents to watch as all of their homes were blown up with dynamite and other explosives on Christmas Day 1953. Continue Reading »

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Aug 18 2016

Arab Jerusalemites priced out of own neighborhoods

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

When Labib Odeh was looking for a house, he was unable to find anything he could afford in the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Odeh works as the director of the local branch of an international organization he preferred not to name in his interview with Al-Monitor. His salary should have been enough for him to make the needed down payment and monthly mortgages of a reasonable home for his family of six. He had been renting for some time and felt he had reached a stage in his life where he could afford to buy his family a home. But the only one he could afford was in the East Jerusalem settlement of Pisgat Zeev, not far from Beit Hanina, where he found a house for 1 million shekels ($264,000). In Palestinian neighborhoods, the same 120-square-meter (1,291-square-foot) house with a small yard would cost twice as much.

Khalil Toufakji, the director of the Maps and Survey Department at the Orient House in Jerusalem, explained to Al-Monitor that the housing crisis in East Jerusalem is a direct result of the Israeli government’s plans to restrict Palestinian growth. “A decision was taken under the administration [of Prime Minister Golda Meir] to make sure the Palestinian population does not to exceed 28% of both sectors of East and West Jerusalem,” Toufakji said.

According to a 2002 Haaretz article by Israeli journalist Jad’on Levi, the Gavni Committee set up by Meir in 1973 stressed the “importance of maintaining a proportional balance between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem.” According to the article, the Jewish population in 1973 was 73.5% compared to 26.5% Palestinian.

For the 43 years since, this ratio has become the goal of successive Israeli administrations, leaving Jerusalemites, whose natural growth exceeded this ratio, unable to find suitable housing. At present, 36% of the population of both parts of Jerusalem are Palestinian Arabs. Bimkom, an Israeli human rights organization specializing in planning policies, has reported that 20,000 homes in East Jerusalem have been built without permits because of the Israeli restrictions on Palestinian housing.

Toufakji, who works in the outskirts of East Jerusalem as his office in the city has now been closed for 15 years, explained how Israel has continuously tried to restrict Palestinian housing. “The Israelis have refused to produce a master plan for East Jerusalem and instead have turned many Palestinian areas green, meaning that it is forbidden to build in these areas. Meanwhile, [Israelis] continue to demolish houses built without a permit.”

Khalil Abu Arafeh, a local civil engineer with an office in East Jerusalem, echoed similar frustration. “This obsession about keeping the ratio of Palestinians to nearly a quarter means that the Israeli city officials are extremely reluctant to initiate any housing plans. The local community runs into major obstacles when trying to organize any independent housing project,” he told Al-Monitor.

Abu Arafeh added that while Israelis can easily create a local housing plan in large strips of land confiscated with a single order, individually owned Palestinian plots are scattered, while some of their properties are in the hands of the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property. A 1948 law allows the government to confiscate “absentee” properties and place them in the custody of a government agency.

As a result of all this “discriminatory policy based on a racist demographic notion,” Toufakji said, “one can see some strange comparisons.” Toufakji said that different plots of land are subjected to different regulations in terms of allowed “build-up percentage” — a technical term for the amount of construction allowed on a property that takes into account both land area and height of structures. “Look at the areas of Sheikh Jarrah and French Hill. While Palestinians are allowed a build-up percentage of 75% of the size of their personal lands, meters away, in French Hill, a largely Jewish post-1967 settlement, the allowed build-up percentage is 300%. In Ras al-Amound, the build-up percentage is a mere 50%, whereas in the nearby Jewish settlement of Maale Hazeitim, the percentage is 115%,” Toufakji noted.

Not only are the zoning and planning laws clearly created to restrict Palestinian housing efforts, the building permits are also very expensive. “A Palestinian wanting to build a home on his own land needs to spend $35,000 in fees just to obtain the building license,” Toufakji said. He noted that most Israeli homes are built by the government as part of large housing schemes in which the city municipality or the Housing Ministry takes care of all licensing fees.

These restrictive regulations and exorbitant fees have made the cost of a house like Odeh’s in the Palestinian neighborhood of Shuafat around $650,000, while in nearby Pisgat Zeev settlement, the same size home costs no more than $300,000, according to Toufakji.

In its May 2015 report, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) attempted to quantify the current housing crisis. “Since 1967, Israel has expropriated approximately 26,300 dunams [6,500 acres] in East Jerusalem for the purpose of building neighborhoods for the Jewish population and for government offices,” ACRI said in its detailed report on the crisis. B’Tselem has tracked 1,293 Palestinian homes demolished by Israel in the last 14 years.

Odeh, who was unable to find decent housing in the extremely restricted Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem, was forced to buy a home in Pisgat Zeev. But his stay in the settlement did not last long, as his family was unable to take the overwhelming discrimination they faced on a daily basis. Now, they’re looking to live anywhere but Pisgat Zeev.

As of 2015, Palestinians living in what they hope will be the future capital of their state passed the 300,000 mark in a city of 829,900, according to the 2015 ACRI report. This means that the current Palestinian percentage in the two sectors of Jerusalem has surpassed 36%. Israel’s opposition leader, Knesset member Isaac Herzog, argued during a March tour of Jerusalem that one day, Israelis will wake up and find that Jerusalem has an Arab mayor, as a consequence of the growing Palestinian population in Jerusalem.

It seems clear that Israel can no longer insist that Jerusalem is the united capital of Israel while denying the Arab residents of the city such basic rights as planning and constructing their own housing.

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Aug 18 2016

Need for a paradigm shift

Jordan times logo

By Daoud Kuttab

One of the reasons the Palestinian conflict continues without resolution is the fact that the people affected by the Israeli occupation have no democratic power to change their occupiers.

Palestinians can protests, use violence or resort to totally non-violent resistance, and yet nothing happens.

The reason is simple: nearly 4 million Palestinians under occupation cannot vote to change the Israeli government that controls the basic features of their lives.

This paradigm must change in one of two ways: either Palestinians can vote in the general Israeli elections or they are allowed independence and vote for their own sovereign government.

As Palestinian thinker and political strategists professor Sari Nusseibeh put it: “We need to either share the power or share the land.”

At present, Palestinians have neither access to power sharing, through elections, nor share the land by means of the two-state solution. Occupation is the worse option possible.

To put the issue in practical terms, one only needs to look at the travel restrictions, harassment, delays and frustrations every Palestinian is faced with when travelling within the West Bank, between the West Bank and Gaza (practically impossible today) or between the West Bank and Israel (1.8 million Palestinian citizens of Israel have friends and relatives in the West Bank). Continue Reading »

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Aug 14 2016

Hizb ut-Tahrir: Palestine is not our main cause

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Many of the ideological concepts and doctrines of Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation) and the Islamic State (IS) are similar. They both believe in the goal of establishing Islamic caliphate rule and in the strict interpretation of Islamic law. The two groups differ, however, in one major respect: Hizb ut-Tahrir stands categorically against the use of violence and military means to realize its ideals.

“We are against any use of material means to accomplish our goals,” Musab Abu Arqoub, a Palestinian Hizb ut-Tahrir leader, told Al-Monitor by phone from the town of Dura, in the Hebron district.

Abu Arqoub, a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s media office, said that the 63-year-old Islamist party, founded by Palestinian judge Taqudin al-Nabahani in 1953, does not consider the liberation of Palestine its central cause. “Our central, existential cause is the re-establishment of the caliphate, and after that we would work for the liberation of Palestine as well as ridding the Muslim world of the pro-Western regimes that are ruling them.”

With Hizb ut-Tahrir opposed to using violent means to accomplish its goals, the Israelis have over the years largely left the movement alone. The same is true of the Palestinian government, which allowed the group to organize rallies in major West Bank cities this year to commemorate the 93rd anniversary of the fall of the caliphate in Istanbul, in 1923. After the death of Prophet Muhammad, various men have been declared caliph, giving them near absolute power in overseeing the Islamic nation. With the demise of the Ottoman Empire following World War I, the era of successive caliphs came to a close. Continue Reading »

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Aug 10 2016

UN report: West Bank house demolitions up 25%

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

A recent report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the Occupied Palestinian Territories was jarring. In addition to the usual listing of casualties and injuries among Palestinians, it reported a huge spike this year in the demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures by Israel.

In the Aug. 4 report, OCHA cited 684 buildings as having been demolished so far this year in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, compared to 531 for all of 2015. This 25% increase in demolitions has largely affected East Jerusalem and locations designated as part of Area C under the Oslo Accords. Area C constitutes more than 60% of the West Bank and is under Israeli administrative and security control. To date this year, 574 Palestinian structures have been destroyed in Area C, compared to 453 in 2015. In East Jerusalem, the number of buildings destroyed up until Aug. 4 stands at 110, compared to 78 in 2015.

Palestinians and Israeli activists fear that Israel is focusing on Area C and East Jerusalem for political reasons. Salim Shawamreh, whose home in East Jerusalem’s Anata village was destroyed for the seventh time, was forced to temporarily move to Kufr Aqab. He hopes one day to return to his land and rebuild his house. Continue Reading »

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Aug 07 2016

Prices of illegal weapons in West Bank on the rise

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

A marked increase in the black market price of weapons in the occupied territories has produced a flurry of attention. Press reports have indicated for example that the coveted M16 gun that used to be sold for 40,000 shekels ($10,400) a year ago is currently sold for 65,000 shekels ($17,000). Pundits are not clear as to the reason for this spike and whether it is a result of the Israeli crackdown on smuggling on the Jordanian and Egyptian borders, or of the Palestinian security campaigns following fatal shootings in local feuds. A third argument suggests that maybe Palestinians are hording guns in fear of potential lawlessness and chaos in the Palestinian territories.

Two Palestinians were killed and 14 were injured on June 29 in a tribal dispute in the northern West Bank town of Yabad. In Nablus, violence using illegal guns led to five deaths on the same day. While use of illegal weapons has continued, no fatalities have occurred since.

According to Palestinian police spokesman Maj. Gen. Adnan al-Damiri, illegal weapons come from two sources: homemade guns and smuggled weapons. Damiri told Al-Monitor that the Palestinian security forces have been working hard to crack down on anyonepossessing unregistered guns. “We have launched wide and continuous efforts to close gun-making shops and to arrest anyone who carries a gun that is not properly registered and licensed,” he said. Continue Reading »

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Aug 07 2016

Diaspora Palestinians called to invest in homeland

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

As external donor support is being reduced and Israeli restrictions are increasing, Palestinians are turning to another source of support: Palestinians in the diaspora, especially those living in Latin America.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, diaspora Palestinians in non-Arab countries numbered 624,824 in 2010. By 2015, the numbers had increased to 700,000 in Latin America, leading Latin American researcher Cecilia Baeza told Ma’an News.

Chile and Honduras have 350,000 and 280,000 of Palestinian origin, respectively. There are so many Palestinians in Chile that Mario Nazal, the director of the Palestinian Foundation Bethlehem in Chile, often says that every village in Chile “is sure to have three things: a priest, a policeman and a Palestinian.”

In Palestine, especially in the town of Beit Jala, the relationship with Chile is very evident. You can find Chile Square and the School of Chile in Beit Jala, reflecting the generous support from successful Palestinians in Chile for their ancestral town. Continue Reading »

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Aug 04 2016

Accident exposes hate, intolerance

Published by under Articles,Jordan

Jordan times logo

By Daoud Kuttab

The incident was tragic by any standard, but the response appears even more tragic.

When Shadi Abu Jaber, a 17-year-old Jordanian, along with another passenger died in a car accident in Amman, social media users started talking about the young man whose life was cut short. 

Among other things, friends recalled various things about young Abu Jaber, including that his mother sang in a local church (his uncle is an evangelical pastor) and that he was a guitar player in a local band.

Words of condolences filled the Facebook page of a local TV station’s website that broke the story. People used the normal words in such occasions, such as “Allah yerhamo” (May God have mercy on him).

The outpouring of warm words and condolences apparently did not please some people who seem to have a problem with such normal human reaction.

How can people express such words of sympathy in the case of a young man who “played the guitar”? 

And anyway, said others, Muslims are not allowed to call for mercy on non-Muslims. Continue Reading »

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Aug 02 2016

Will upcoming Palestinian local elections pave way for general elections?

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

In October 2012, a previously unknown English professor was nominated by the Fatah movement for mayor of Bethlehem. Vera Baboun, a mother of five, beat a male opponent supported by the Islamic Hamas movement and has become a well-known icon in Bethlehem and the world. Since her election, Baboun has met Pope Francis, US President Barack Obama and other world leaders, and has attended the annual Christmas Eve mass (held three times on Dec. 24) every year since.

The decision of Fatah to nominate a respected woman rather than the usual party activists was taken as a result of the 2006 parliamentary defeat and the desire to win. But the Fatah movement is more divided now than ever and Palestinian satisfaction with President Mahmoud Abbas is at a low 34%, according to a June 7 poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research.

Nearly 2 million Palestinians are eligible to vote in 141 municipalities (local councils) and 275 village councils in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the spokesman for the Central Elections Commission told Al-Monitor by email.

The Palestinian Basic Law calls for municipal elections once every four years, but since the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993, only two municipal elections have taken place. Gaza and the West Bank held unified municipal elections in 2004, and that was the last time the Gaza Strip has held municipal elections because of the split between Gaza and the West Bank. In 2012, municipal elections took place in the West Bank only. Continue Reading »

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Aug 02 2016

Palestinian municipal polls will create movement

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

The stagnant Palestinian political waters will soon experience some movement. The French efforts to hold an international conference will kick into high gear this fall, starting with the UN General Assembly.

On the ground in Palestine, the October 8 local polls are expected to see nearly 2 million Palestinians participate in the election of the members of some 416 municipal and local village councils.

What is new this time around is that the Islamist Hamas movement has agreed to participate and its security forces in control of the besieged strip will allow Gazans to participate in the elections.

The last time the people of Gaza participated in any form of elections was in 2006 when the pro-Hamas change and reform list swept the majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council, a result that led to the appointment of Ismail Haniyeh as prime minister. 

In 2012, Hamas refused to allow Gazans to participate in local elections, leaving the poll to be taken only in the West Bank. Continue Reading »

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