By Daoud Kuttab
For the first 27 days of the 2015-16 school year in Israel, some 33,000 Palestinian students stayed at home during a strike demanding equality with Jewish schools, the first such action of its kind. On Sept. 27, the country’s 47 private Christian schools — on strike since Sept. 1, the first day of the school year — announced their unanimous support for an agreement reached by a six-person committee representing the Christian schools and the Israeli Ministry of Education. The strike had focused primarily on the state subsidies provided to schools to allow them to lower the tuition paid by students’ families.
Botrus Mansour, general director of the Nazareth Baptist School and one of the six negotiators, told Al-Monitor that September had been a difficult month, filled with pressure from the Israeli government as well as the parents of students. Everyone involved in the episode, however, is content with the results, according to Mansour.
“Our efforts began a year ago, and for six months, between March and August, the Israeli officials didn’t talk to us. Our unity and perseverance paid off. This was a huge success,” said Mansour. Christian schools — suffering from a decline in the government subsidy while having to adhere to a cap on tuition fees — had been attempting in vain to reach agreements with the Israeli Ministry of Education so they could remain open without running into financial difficulties.
The Catholic and Protestant schools that went on strike have existed for decades, long before the establishment of the State of Israel. The heart of their mission has been to educate and transmit knowledge. Palestinian students in these Christian-run schools were exposed to a huge civics lesson in the weeks they waited and watched as the adults struggled to convince the government that the right of equality should be universal, irrespective of religion or national background. Continue Reading »
By Daoud Kuttab
The Palestinian envoy to the UN, Riyad Mansour, welcomed what he described as “efforts to create an effective multilateral approach” to resolving the Palestinian conflict. Speaking by phone to Al-Monitor, Mansour said that France is working hard to create an effective mechanism similar to that which succeeded in reaching the Iran nuclear deal.
“The thinking is to find a way to expand the scope and the working style of the Quartet, as well as to add some countries to it that can make a valued contribution to its efforts,” said Mansour.
Mansour admitted that world leaders are totally preoccupied with the war on the Islamic State (IS), but he signaled that this effort would be a waste if it didn’t include an attempt to solve the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Mansour related Palestine’s intervention Sept. 29 in a US-initiated meeting on countering violent extremism on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. “We made it clear that no effort to end extremism will work without dealing with the Palestine issue because the Israeli violations and occupation are poisoning the atmosphere.”
The head of the Palestinian mission at the UN also expressed support for the worldwide boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) efforts against Israel. “We consider the BDS to be a positive movement; we feel that the time has matured for an effective, worldwide campaign against Israel, and we will be using the UN forum at the right moment to give this effort an international impetus.”
Al-Monitor spoke with Mansour a day prior to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ address before the UN General Assembly on Sept. 30. In this speech, Abbas signaled that he plans to walk away from the 20-year-old Oslo Accord. “So long as Israel refuses to commit to the agreements signed with us, cease settlement construction and release prisoners, Israel has left us no choice but to insist that we will not remain the only ones committed to these agreements,” he said to world leaders from the UN podium. Continue Reading »
By Daoud Kuttab
As the international community struggles with the Syrian refugee crisis, many are looking at Jordan’s courageous position in absorbing as many as a million and a half Syrians as guests of the Kingdom.
While this hospitality has been duly recognized and rewarded, the longevity of the Syrian conflict is forcing all players to rethink the policy towards the Syrian refugees. What was thought to be a short term crisis which would end with the happy return back to Syria is turning to be a long term conflict that requires more than immediate housing, food and medical aid.
Alexandra Francis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has produced an important study on the issue and has suggested a number of takeaways that Jordan would do well by adhering to. She recommends integration of development and humanitarian aid, maintain protection space for refugees, formalize access to livelihoods and empower local governance actions as they integrate capacity building programs that help deliver services to the Jordanian population as well as to Syrian refugees.
The challenges facing Jordan are made even more acute as the slow but steady political reform process has resulted in a relatively progressive election law that has been welcomed by Jordanian democrats and civil society.
Jordan is not a signatory to the 1951Refugee Treaty and therefore doesn’t have the obligations of turning the temporary guests into asylum seekers. But Jordan is a signatory to the convention against torture which forbids the Kingdom from sending individuals to a country that might torture them.
Court records connected to a recent access to information case raised by Radio al Balad have shown that the issue of refugees is one of the state secrets designated by the Ministry of Interior and thus it is impossible to know exactly how many Syrians are in Jordan and how many have been sent back in contravention of the Torture Convention and in violation of the agreement Jordan has signed with the UN agency responsible for refugees UNHCR. Continue Reading »
By Daoud Kuttab
The recent violence that erupted at Al-Aqsa Mosque came as no surprise. On Sept. 9, Israel banned two groups of Palestinian Muslims who call themselves the masculine and feminine variants of “Mourabitoun” as illegal organizations. The problem is that in Islamic terminology, every Muslim in Jerusalem who attends prayers at Islam’s third-holiest mosque is a “mourabit,” a term that refers to people holding the fort.
Israel’s security apparatus followed the announcement, made three days before the Jewish New Year, with the renewal of its dilution policy. This policy was explained in detail in a June 30 report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) titled “The status of the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy esplanade.” Dilution aims to keep the Palestinian worshippers to a bare minimum whenever Jewish visitors are planning on setting foot in the mosque area. During morning hours until 11 a.m., when non-Muslim visitors are allowed, Palestinian Muslim women are not allowed entry into the entire mosque area, while men are allowed to enter only between 10 and 11 a.m. The entire mosque area is gated and controlled by Israeli police along with token unarmed guards employed by the Jordanian Ministry of Endowments. Continue Reading »
His Majesty King Abdullah was correct in calling what was happening in Jerusalem this week a provocation. After all, the Israelis had made clear promises to His Majesty to ensure the continuation of the status quo at Al Aqsa Mosque, which led to the return of Jordan’s ambassador to Tel Aviv.
Two of the understandings reached in this regard were clearly violated during the Jewish new year, which led to the escalation of the violence by the Palestinians.
The Israelis had promised to keep the groups of Jews “visiting” the mosque area to a small number, of around five. Jordanian-paid waqf officials tolerated a small increase of up to 15 members of a group, but not more. This week, the groups that were protected by the Israeli security reached 30 at a time.
More important was the makeup of the visiting groups. As it allows tourists to visit the mosque, Palestinians and Jordanians have no problem with Jews visiting the mosque as “tourists”. However, when the visiting group includes right-wing members of Knesset or Cabinet ministers, the visit takes a political/religious meaning.
Individuals like Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Uri Ariel are no curious tourists. They are religious/political ideologues on a mission to prove that the location being visited is not a Muslim religious shrine but that it has “Jewish” ownership. Continue Reading »
By Daoud Kuttab
A scoreless soccer game can hardly be considered a victory, but for the Palestinian national team, tying the powerful team from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Palestinian soil was a double victory. Even the leading newspaper in the UAE, The National, described the match as such. On Sept. 8, the Abu Dhabi daily called the results of the historic game, held on the outskirts of occupied Jerusalem, a win for the Palestinian team. It is rare to be able to use the word “historic” to describe a soccer match, but the FIFA World Cup and Asian Cup qualifying match between Palestine and the UAE was truly momentous by local standards.
Ensuring the visit to Palestine was not easy. Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Football Association, had been exerting great effort to have official home games played in Palestine. After confronting difficulties with Israeli officials during the FIFA congress held in Zurich on May 29, he was assured that games would not be blocked. FIFA guaranteed Rajoub that the Israelis would not put restrictions on visiting teams or on the movements of Palestinian team members, in particular players from Gaza. Continue Reading »