Archive for June, 2014

Jun 27 2014

Kidnapping prompts Palestinian prisoners to end hunger strike

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Sixty-three days after they declared an open-ended hunger strike, some 75 Palestinian administrative detainees announced on June 25 that they have suspended their hunger strike. Few details have emerged, but the Palestinian prisoners succeeded in exposing the injustice of administrative detention without putting a stop to this undemocratic practice.

No written agreement has been signed, a point Israel insisted on. But Al-Monitor sources among ex-prisoners point to some small signs of success despite the general observation that the prisoners failed in their stated goal of ending the Israeli practice of detaining Palestinians without charge or trial.

Political events, especially the disappearance of the three Israeli settlers and the large arrest campaign, have caused a major change in tactics for the hunger-striking prisoners. The over 100 detainees who were held without trial or charge when the April 24 hunger strike began, found their numbers nearly doubling in the past weeks as Israel detained hundreds of Palestinians without any charge or evidence against them. The campaign to find the three Israeli settlers who disappeared June 12 has also made the Israelis so sour and angry that the Palestinian prisoners realized this was not the best time to press them on what they consider a deterrent weapon — administrative detention.

Prisoner leaders as well as their counterparts outside had concluded a week ago, according to a former Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) prisoner in Bethlehem, that a face-saving formula must be found to end the hunger strike. The first problem was that the Israeli prison authorities had separated the prison leaders into different prisons and later, when their physical condition worsened, in separate hospitals. Therefore, the priority was to find a way to regroup the leadership committee that was made up of eight prisoners. The committee was comprised of two representatives each from Fatah, Hamas, the PFLP and Islamic Jihad. Continue Reading »

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Jun 25 2014

The kidnapping of three Israelis has brought attention back to Palestinian conflict

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By Daoud Kuttab

The kidnapping of three Israeli religious settlers in an area under the total administrative and security control of the Israeli army has partially brought back attention to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but for the wrong reasons.

While it is natural that the phone calls by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu focused on ways to help find the missing settlers, both Israeli and US officials must understand the context of the case and their own responsibilities for the way things ended up.

It is a basic strategic recipe. If you take away hope for a political solution, you have to expect a spike in violence. Add to this formula a hunger strike by over 100 Palestinians imprisoned without charge or trial, that has lasted almost two months without a single attempt to negotiate or hear the prisoners’ demands and you have trouble.

If the above is not enough consider downtown Hebron, Palestine’s second most populated city, where settlers run amok and a major commercial street (Shuhada) is blocked since 1994 (after 29 worshiping Palestinians were gunned down) for no reason.

Furthermore, there is documented daily harassment of Palestinians by settlers, which goes without punishment by the ruling Israeli power.

The absurdity of the situation allowed to fester in Hebron has led a major pacifist Christian organisation (Christian peace makers team) to send volunteers to help Palestinian children cross the street to go to school.

Continue Reading »

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Jun 25 2014

Israeli raids in West Bank fanning flames of hate

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

The Israeli reaction to the disappearance, and most probable kidnapping, of three Israeli settlers reveals once again a worn-out, failed deterrence policy that inflicts great pain and suffering by Israel on its supposed long-term neighbors.

Article 33 of the Geneva Convention (IV) specifically bans “collective punishment” by an occupying power to the people under its occupation, precisely because such punishment is aimed at “intimidating and terrorizing” innocent persons. The same article also considers revenge and pillage crimes of war.

Israel’s arrest dragnet has turned into a wide-ranging campaign that Israeli officials now admit are not connected directly to the search of the kidnappers. While prefacing his statements with words about finding the missing Israelis, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon made it very clear that the aim of the detention campaign was to weaken the Islamic Hamas movement. Speaking to reporters, Ya’alon said that the heads of Hamas “are feeling the hits.”

Palestinians in as far away as Nablus and Jenin have been targeted. Three Palestinians have been killed since the announcement on June 12 that three settlers were allegedly kidnapped. A complete travel ban was slapped on Hebron, the West Bank’s largest populated district, and hundreds have been arrested, homes pillaged, travel even between Hebron and Ramallah barred for Hebron residents. The home of the family of a Palestinian leader living abroad was demolished without cause, proof or direct responsibility. The Arab American University in Jenin and Bir Zeit University near Ramallah were raided by Israeli troops. The centers of most major Palestinian cities were raided by the army, despite the Oslo Accord that considers these areas under total Palestinian security and administrative control. Continue Reading »

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Jun 21 2014

Palestinians displeased by Abbas stance on kidnapping

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

As the kidnapping disappearance of three young Israeli settlers enters its first week without any trace of them, politics, repercussions and reactions have begun to take center stage. How will it affect the nearly dead peace process? How will it affect the internal debate in Israel? How will it influence Palestinian politics and scheduled elections?

The big mystery that stands to sway a number of answers to these questions is the identity of the kidnappers. There are at least two theories. The more likely scenario is that the operation was carried out by a small, well-organized and tight-knit group not directly connected to any of the well-known Palestinian factions. The prospect that renegade or unorganized groups might become more effective has been a worry for Israel, which has succeeded in subduing the major Palestinian factions, but is well-aware of the high level of discontent among Palestinians. To put this issue in perspective, it helps to know that the operation that ended in the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was not carried out exclusively by Hamas, although it later was able to lay claim to and benefit from it.

From a political perspective, it is difficult to imagine in the post-Palestinian reconciliation period that Hamas’ political bureau would approve such an operation, knowing that it would bring pain to the movement and its leadership. If Hamas had any desire to be involved in such a high-profile act, it is unlikely it would have accepted a reconciliation deal largely on the terms of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas has publicly denied responsibility for the kidnapping, despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unproven accusation that it is behind it.

On the other hand, it is possible that a renegade element within Hamas or its military wing, which is unhappy with the reconciliation effort, could have carried out such a daring operation to shuffle the cards and engage the movement.

Regardless of who is behind the kidnapping, the reality on the ground is that Israel is carrying out a full-court press, especially in the Hebron area. Soldiers are going house-to-house, and some residents are reporting abuse at the hands of the invading soldiers. Continue Reading »

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Jun 18 2014

Israel collectively punishes Palestinians for kidnapping

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Seif Abu Arqoub, 5, was born in Amman while his parents were students at the University of Jordan. Upon completion of their degrees, the Arqoub family returned to Nablus, the hometown of Abla, Seif’s mother. Abla teaches at Al-Najah University in Nablus and Mohammed, Seif’s father, is a lecturer at Birzeit University. Except for short visits to his grandparents’ home in the Hebron district town of Dura, the young Abu Arqoub only knows Amman and Nablus.

But this week, the Abu Arqoub family has been collectively punished. A planned summer vacation before the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan was abruptly canceled. Mohammed wrote on his Facebook page that because of his birth in the Hebron district, the family will not be allowed to leave via the Allenby Bridge to Jordan, the only border crossing that Palestinians in the West Bank are allowed to use. The collective punishment on all Hebronites comes as Israel takes revenge on the Palestinian population following the kidnapping of three Israeli settlers on June 12.

The travel ban on Hebronites is only one of many acts of collective punishment. Workers from Hebron with valid permits to work in Israel were banned entry into Israel and a huge dragnet took place throughout the occupied territories, arresting mostly known Hamas figures. Israel killed a 19-year-old Palestinian at the Jalazone refugee camp outside Ramallah during the arrest sweep. Abdel Aziz Dweik, speaker of the suspended Palestinian Legislative Council, is among those detained by Israel. Also among those arrested are former ministers, parliamentarians and former prisoners pardoned as part of a prisoner swap that included the exchange of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Article 33 of the Geneva Conventions prohibits occupying powers carrying out such acts of punishment. The 1949 convention states: “No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited. Pillage is prohibited. Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.”

The focus on Hamas appears to be the result of an Israeli belief that such a well-planned kidnapping could not have been carried out by an amateur group. A previously unknown group, Ahrar al-Khalil (Free of Hebron) issued a communiqué taking responsibility for the kidnapping and vowing to use it to secure the release Palestinian prisoners. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly put the blame on Hamas and US Secretary of State John Kerry seemed to agree with this conclusion, saying, “Indications point to Hamas’ involvement.”

Israel’s extensive arrest campaign has three purposes. One is to help lessen public anger. For instance, a Facebook page in Hebrew calling for the execution of a “Palestinian terrorist every hour the teens are held” received over 15,000 likes within hours of its creation. Continue Reading »

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Jun 18 2014

Palestinian journalists face restrictions on free speech

Published by under Articles

AlMonitor By Daoud Kuttab

In less than a week, journalists have faced various levels of restrictions on carrying out their professional duties in Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and Ramallah in three different incidents. The violators included Israelis, Palestinian unionists and Palestinian police.

In East Jerusalem, a TV interview on “Good Morning Jerusalem” — which has been airing every Friday for years — was being taped at the privately owned Pal Media studios on the Mount of Olives on June 6 when Israeli soldiers raided the studio, arrested studio director Ibrahim Qleibo, show host Mona Abu Assab and guest Ala’a Haddad, a member of the Prisoners’ Council in Jerusalem. They were released a few hours later, which added to the accusation by Palestinians that the aim of the Israelis was simply to stop the airing of the interview. A report on WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency, quoted Assab as saying the Palestinian Broadcasting Corp. (PBC) network was forced to end her live show at gunpoint. Israeli spokeswoman Lubra Samri said the raid on PBC was part of “an investigation into the content of its programs.”

This particular program was discussing various efforts inside and outside Palestine to show solidarity with Jerusalem and its people. No calls for violence were uttered on the program, and Israel has not made any specific allegations about who made any inciting statements if any, and what they said.

The second incident was not as violent. The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate in the Gaza Strip decided to question one of its own members for a report he produced for an Arab media outlet. The journalist, Mohammed Othman, who also writes for Al-Monitor, had written an article 10 weeks ago about incest and other bizarre sexual acts in the Gaza Strip. The report included the story of a bride running away and sleeping in a cemetery because her husband wanted to share her with his father. The journalist did not identify the individuals and spoke with psychologists to explain the phenomena. Othman told Al-Monitor that the syndicate complained to him that stories like that gave the Gaza Strip a negative image, and that patriotic journalists should not air Gaza’s dirty laundry. Continue Reading »

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Jun 18 2014

Politicians, media mostly ignore Palestinian hunger strike

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

A courageous Palestinian hunger strike is nearing its 50th day, yet it has barely made a dent on the local, regional or international scene. Palestinian administrative detainees — those being held without charge or trial — are with their stomachs fighting an unjust practice carried out by a country that claims to be a democracy, but no one is paying attention. Israel currently holds 189 Palestinians under administrative detention, and 100 to 125 of them have been on a hunger strike since April 24.

 On June 6, more than 40 days after the beginning of the strike and after 70 prisoners were transferred to hospitals, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon publicly spoke out against the detentions, urging Israeli authorities to release the prisoners or charge them. The secretary-general’s statement came a day after the UN Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories urged Israel to heed the demands of Palestinian prisoners concerning what it called “arbitrary” detentions. “It is a desperate plea by these detainees to be afforded a very basic standard of due process: to know what they are accused of and to be able to defend themselves,” said the committee after a fact-finding mission that also included visits to Amman and Cairo. The committee stated that the massive hunger strike is in response to a lack of due process, as the administrative detainees are subject to unlimited renewals of their detention period, again without formal charges against them.

To bring attention to the plight of these prisoners, Palestinians in the West Bank held a partial general strike on June 8. In Gaza, hundreds of citizens held a candlelight vigil. Demonstrations in solidarity with the prisoners have also taken place in a number of countries, but they have attracted little notice. Social media efforts to bring attention to the hunger strike chose the hashtag #Water_and_Salt in Arabic, with the hope that it would generate international support, like the 2012 strike led by Adnan Khader, which succeeded in pressuring the Israelis into forgoing renewal of his administrative detention order.

Various other efforts have been made to humanize the hunger strike — including publishing profiles of the doctors, parliamentarians, teenagers and school teachers taking part — but, again, with little success. The strike has been eclipsed by major news from the region, including the visit of Pope Francis to the Holy Land, the Egyptian elections and inauguration of a new president and the ongoing violence in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Meanwhile, Ukraine captured most of the international headlines. Continue Reading »

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Jun 18 2014

Netanyahu fails to derail Palestinian unity government

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

In the end, it was quite easy. The new Palestinian unity government won international recognition and validation despite Israel’s attempts to put a spoke in the wheel. Its failure to derail the unity government exposed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who suddenly has had his bluff called off. Even the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobby issued a weak statement calling on Congress simply to “ensure that US law is followed.”

The Israeli leader, who lived in the United States for some time and regularly boasts to friends that he knows the country as well as any Israeli, appears to have overreached. Instead of isolating the new Palestinian government headed by Rami Hamdallah, he has himself been isolated.

To justify the demand that the world community not recognize the newly established Palestinian government, Netanyahu had to jump a few political hoops. Unable to attack the cabinet for its membership, Netanyahu launched a direct attack against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for creating a cabinet that is backed by Hamas. This was followed by a barrage of information about how bad Hamas is, and that it is declared a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe.

Netanyahu’s claim was either based on wrong information, or simply yet another case of overreach and hope that loud words in Israel will find traction in Washington. Continue Reading »

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Jun 18 2014

Egypt-Palestine ties set to improve after unity government

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

During the short election campaign for president of Egypt, candidate Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was asked about his vision for future relations between Egypt and Palestine. Sisi was very clear in his support for Palestinian rights, and he expressed the anger of the Egyptian people with the Islamic movement Hamas. Sisi, who has met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas both as defense minister and as presidential candidate, is known to be cold toward the Palestinian president.

In all his meetings, the Egyptian strongman has called on his Palestinian counterpart to speed up the reconciliation process. While such a call is understood to mean the PLO-Hamas reconciliation, it is possible that Sisi is referring to reconciliation within Fatah and especially between former Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan and Abbas. Sisi’s overwhelming victory in last week’s presidential elections has once again raised the question of what the relationship would be like between the Egyptian and Palestinian presidents.

Abbas, who has in the past months escalated the verbal war against Dahlan, accusing him of assassinating Palestinians and embezzlement, has also cut off some of Dahlan’s supporters. In a move that is being called “illegal” according to Fatah bylaws, Abbas fired five of Dahlan’s most senior supporters within Fatah on May 31. The move is seen as an attempt to clear the space of any of Dahlan’s supporters before the seventh Fatah congress due to take place in Ramallah on Aug. 4.

However, some pundits are arguing that it might also have been taken in the short period between Sisi’s electoral victory and his swearing in as president due to take place on June 7. On the other hand, a Dahlan aid, Samir Mashrawi published on his personal Facebook page pictures he says were taken with Sisi on May 21, a week before the field marshal’s election victory. Except for a local Gaza website, Mashrawi’s visit did not make much media traction, but it did show the depth of the relationship between Dahlan and Sisi. Continue Reading »

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Jun 18 2014

Is kidnapping a game changer?

Published by under Articles

Following appeared in the Jordan Times Newspaper

The kidnapping of three Israeli religious settlers in an area under the total administrative and security control of the Israeli army has partially brought back attention to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but for the wrong reasons.

While it is natural that the phone calls by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu focused on ways to help find the missing settlers, both Israeli and US officials must understand the context of the case and their own responsibilities for the way things ended up.

It is a basic strategic recipe. If you take away hope for a political solution, you have to expect a spike in violence. Add to this formula a hunger strike by over 100 Palestinians imprisoned without charge or trial, that has lasted almost two months without a single attempt to negotiate or hear the prisoners’ demands and you have trouble.

If the above is not enough consider downtown Hebron, Palestine’s second most populated city, where settlers run amok and a major commercial street (Shuhada) is blocked since 1994 (after 29 worshiping Palestinians were gunned down) for no reason.

Furthermore, there is documented daily harassment of Palestinians by settlers, which goes without punishment by the ruling Israeli power.  Continue Reading »

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