Archive for October, 2014

Oct 30 2014

The Leaderless Political Orphans of Jerusalem Revolt


Following appeared in the Jordan Times newspaper

For years, governing powers in the Middle East have worked hard at decimating the leadership structure of any opposing group. Experts credit the success of various revolts and protests during the past three years to a leaderless revolution that governments were unable to predict or to stop.

In a strange way, this is what is happening in Jerusalem today.

The city’s 300,000 Palestinian Arabs are political orphans and totally leaderless. Israel physically separated the Palestinians of East Jerusalem from their natural connections to their brothers and sisters in outlaying areas, in Ramallah and Bethlehem and throughout the West Bank and Gaza.

Political leaderships have been regularly annihilated and any connection to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah has been outlawed. This is often seen by the ridiculous Israeli decisions to ban a children’s puppet festival or the launch of a film on the problems of drug use in the Old City simply because it received funding from or through the Palestinian government in Ramallah.

The Palestinians of Jerusalem are totally stateless. Unlike the rest of Palestinians in the occupied territories, they are prevented from holding a Palestinian passport. Most carry a Jordanian passport without having Jordanian citizenship.

Some have opted to apply for Israeli citizenship, an option available to them after Israel’s unilateral annexation of the city in 1967, but even this option is not automatic. Continue Reading »

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Oct 28 2014

Al-Aqsa’s women resist


By Daoud Kuttab

While daily protests in East Jerusalem were triggered by the brutal July 2 burning alive of a Palestinian teenager from Shuafat, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the emotional trigger for Palestinians has and continues to be the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Daily attempts byradical Israeli Jews to enter the Muslim holy place and lay Jewish claims to it continue to produce raw anger and rage.

In their efforts to quell Palestinian protests while adhering to the demands of extremists to further encroach on the mosque site, Israeli soldiers and intelligence officers have run into an unshakable and growing source of resistance.

They are mostly older women, mothers with grown children and many grandmothers who have taken it upon themselves to protect the mosque compound from Jewish worshipers simply with their physical presence. The women, commonly referred to as murabitat (roughly translated, steadfast) basically hold group classes in the mosque courtyards and keep an eye on Jewish extremists attempting to pray. The status quo allows Jews to enter the courtyards on the same basis as foreign tourists. This means they are allowed to visit during non-Muslim prayer hours as long as they are modestly dressed. Attempts by Jewish fundamentalists to pray in the mosque compound are not allowed.

The women have organized themselves in three levels of classes: Literacy class for those needing to learn, read and write, general high-school level classes and university level advanced courses. They also learn Islamic tajweed, the musical chanting of Quranic verses. They set up plastic chairs and tables near the Mograbi gate, which has been a target of UNESCO oversight missions. It is the only gate to the mosque area that is controlled solely by Israeli police. All other gates have a joint guard of armed Israeli police with unarmed Islamic waqf guards, who are on the payroll of the Jordanian Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs. Continue Reading »

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Oct 26 2014

Palestinians mourn celebrated businessman, philanthropist


By Daoud kuttab

It would be difficult to find a student at Birzeit University who does not know the name Said Khoury. Since 2009, a 3,611-square-meter (38,868-square-foot) building bearing his name has stood tall on the hills of the new university campus. It houses the Center for Development Studies, the Ibrahim Abu Lughod Institute for International Studies and the Institute of Community and Public Health.

In a similar vein, it would be almost impossible for a student at al-Quds University not to know the name of this Palestinian businessman and philanthropic role model. The Said Khoury Information Technology Center of Excellence, in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Dis, has been a successful incubator and hub of teaching for Palestinian students since 2002.

Said Tawfiq Khoury died Oct. 16 in his adopted city of Athens at the age of 91. He was known throughout Palestine for his love and support of his homeland and his faith in the Palestinian struggle for freedom, independence and the right of return. Imad abu Kishek, president of al-Quds University, told Al-Monitor, “[Khoury] loved Jerusalem and its university and never turned down a request we asked of him.”

Khoury’s importance to the nation and the region was made clear by the unannounced appearance of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah at his funeral in Beirut’s Orthodox Church of Saint Nicolas. Also in attendance were Lebanese Prime Minister Tamam Salam and former Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. Continue Reading »

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Oct 23 2014

Restrictions on Movement of Palestinians Still Major Source of Frustration


By Daoud Kuttab

“My homeland is not a suitcase and I am not a traveller,” wrote Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.

But for many Palestinians living in the besieged homeland, the right to movement guaranteed in the University Declaration of Human Rights (Article 13) is just ink on paper.

I met last week in Beirut a Palestinian woman from Gaza who had spent four days trapped in a Cairo airport basement along with tens of others awaiting a visa.

Her ordeal began when she tried to exit Gaza. Hamas, which controls the border crossing with Egypt, assigns a person a particular day (usually a couple of weeks after applying) to travel.

Since one does not know exactly when that day is, it is often hard to calibrate one’s life.

Meral (not her real name) was invited to a media conference in Beirut whose sponsors had applied for a visa for her, which had not come on the day she was told she could travel.

Having traveled many times before and usually allowed into Egypt, she decided to take the risk for, if she did not use her allotted day, she would have missed the conference.

The Egyptian authorities, according to her, made travel much more difficult since Fatah and Hamas created the unity government.

Women, for example, used to be allowed into Egypt freely; this time, Meral was not allowed.

The fact that she is married to a Turkish journalist made the Egyptians even more determined not to let her go, simply because Cairo and Ankara are not seeing eye to eye politically these days. Continue Reading »

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Oct 21 2014

Travel challenges for Gazans fuel frustration


By Daoud Kuttab

Meral, a pseudonym, 28, from the Gaza Strip, has traveled the world and returned to her hometown in Gaza. But her account of the trip she took last week and related to Al-Monitor was so traumatic that it might be the last one she attempts to take out of Gaza.

A freelance journalist who works with leading global media outlets, Meral was invited to a media conference in the Lebanese capital, Beirut. The trip out of Gaza was tricky, she said. One needs to organize a trip out of the Gaza Strip weeks in advance. Normally, the Rafah border crossing — still controlled by Hamas — has two days reserved for students and two days for those wishing to perform hajj or umrah in Saudi Arabia. Business and leisure trips simply do not have their own day at the border, so these trips require careful planning ahead of time.

Meral knew that she needed a visa to enter Lebanon, but when she was notified that she could leave on Oct. 1, she decided to leave then in the hope that the visa to Lebanon, applied for long ago, would arrive within the days she would be waiting in Cairo. Had she turned down the Gazan government’s offer to leave on Oct. 1, it would have been uncertain when she would have been able to leave next. This could have taken weeks, and she would have certainly missed attending the conference on journalism and social media sponsored by Canal France International (CFI) and the Samir Kassir Foundation. Continue Reading »

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Oct 19 2014

Abbas’ fortunes turn around after Gaza war


By Daoud Kuttab

For a moment at the end of the summer, it appeared that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was defeated. The Gaza war, which he was unable to do much about, badly hurt his reputation. The transcripts of the three-way meeting with the emir of Qatar and Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Meshaal had made him look bitter and his UN speech sounded like a last hurrah. Public opinion polls suggested for the first time that he would lose an election with a Hamas leader and his public standing had dipped to its lowest point. His own government seemed unclear on how to approach the Gaza reconstruction efforts.

Then, early in October, all seemed to go his way.

Sweden recognized Palestine, which was followed by an overwhelming 274-12 vote in the British House of Commons in favor of recognition. The Gaza reconstruction funding drive yielded more pledges ($5.4 billion) than requested ($4 billion), and his unity government held a full Cabinet meeting in Gaza with security guards brought in from Ramallah. All of a sudden, Abbas’ standing had greatly improved. A new poll showed that his approval rating more than doubled. In the poll, Gazan support for Abbas was much higher than for Hamas. He now is reportedly planning to visit the besieged Gaza Strip. Hamas and Meshaal have lost a lot of public support and are facing many other problems just to stay afloat.

What happened in this short period? Continue Reading »

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Oct 16 2014

Good news for Palestine


Following appeared in the Jordan Times newspaper

By Daoud Kuttab

After the collapse of the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, in April, the July war on Gaza, the August drowning of hundreds trying to emigrate to Europe and the September war of words between their two major factions, Palestinians welcomed this week a series of unexpectedly good news.

This began with the announcement by the newly elected Swedish prime minister that his Social Democratic coalition with the Greens Party will recognise the state of Palestine.

That was followed by a donor conference in Cairo for the reconstruction of Gaza, where Palestinian expectations were exceeded by the pledging of $5.4 billion to that aim.

The Palestinian unity government headed by Rami Hamdallah met in Gaza for the first time and President Mahmoud Abbas is now due to visit Gaza.

London was the source of yet more good news. The British House of Commons held a public debate on the need to recognise Palestine as a state; a huge majority (274 for, 12 against) of British MPs voted for Palestine.

At home, a public opinion poll showed strong support for the Palestinian unity government.

Abbas’ favourability numbers doubled, with Gazans showing much more support for the Palestinian leader than for Hamas.

Even the Israelis are showing some flexibility regarding Gaza, allowing, for the first time, Palestinians from Gaza to visit Jerusalem for Eid Al Adha and permitting in the first shipment of building material.

Some in Israel are admitting that the seven-year-old blockade on the Gaza Strip proved ineffective. Continue Reading »

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Oct 14 2014

British vote brings Palestinians one step closer to statehood


By Daoud Kuttab

After debate ended Oct. 13 in Westminster and the votes were cast, 274 British members of Parliament (MPs), representing major parties as well as diverse communities, passed a motion calling on their government to recognize the state of Palestine.

“The vote is symbolic, but the discussion is essential,” Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Kingdom, had told Al-Monitor on Oct. 12, the day before the motion by the Labor Party backbencher Grahame Morris was slated for a debate and vote. “It is not a binding vote, but it will send a strong message to the British government and to the world.”

Hassassian, speaking by phone from his London home, had said he was sure that most members of the Labor Party would vote for the motion, because their leader, Ed Miliband, “had on three recent occasions spoken in favor of recognizing Palestine.” Labor’s official position was posted by shadow Foreign Secretary Alexander Douglas on the party’s website.

Palestinians were also encouraged by a column in the British press by Vincent Fean, a former UK consul general who served in Jerusalem between 2010 and 2014, and by a statement issued by Catholic and Anglican churches in support of a vote for Palestine. As many as 350 Israelis, including former ministers, generals and members of the Knesset, publicly called for UK recognition of Palestine. Scottish External Affairs Minister Humza Yousaf also announced support for the vote. Continue Reading »

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Oct 13 2014

Palestinian Christian village cancels Oktoberfest


By Daoud Kuttab

Sometimes the product becomes better known than the town or country of origin. This happened to the Palestinian Christian village of Taybeh, whose brew was described by Time Magazine as “the beer that made Taybeh famous.” The name of the beer and the town, which means “good” in Arabic, was given to this Palestinian village by the 12th century Muslim leader Salah ad-Din al-Ayyoubi. The folk tale states that Salah ad-Din found the local Christians hospitable and generous and called them “taybeen,” the plural of what the town ultimately became known as.

The brewery that made the village famous was set up by David Khoury, who, following the Oslo Accord, decided to make the move from running a liquor store in the United States to actually brewing beer in his hometown in Palestine. The brewery grew to make the village famous, and an annual cultural event — a Palestinian version of the German Oktoberfest — began in 2005 to bring local and international talent to the Palestinian village.

The tradition, however, will not be upheld this year on what was expected to be the festival’s tenth anniversary. The writing was on the wall a year ago, when Khoury decided not to run for mayor. A press release by the festival organizers at the time said that the newly formed Taybeh municipality “does not have the same vision as David Khoury, former mayor of Taybeh, who for eight years placed the tiny village on the international map.”

Instead of holding Oktoberfest in Taybeh, the organizers announced in a September 2013 press release that the festival would be moved from the village to the Ramallah Mövenpick Hotel. Expressing sadness over the decision, the press release continued, “The liberal, modern and democratic activities that we supported in Taybeh for the last eight years have no local partners.” Continue Reading »

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Oct 13 2014

Swedish decision to recognize Palestine no surprise


By Daoud Kuttab

For Swedes and Palestinians who have followed Swedish foreign policy toward Palestine, the announcement in Stockholm of the government’s intention to recognize the State of Palestine came as no surprise.

In his inaugural speech Oct. 3, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven explained his administration’s decision, stating, “The conflict between Israel and Palestine can only be resolved through a two-state solution, negotiated in accordance with the principles of international law. It must guarantee the legitimate demands of both the Palestinians and the Israelis for national self-determination and security. A two-state solution requires mutual recognition and a will to coexist peacefully. Therefore, Sweden will recognize the State of Palestine.”

Swedish diplomatic sources contacted by Al-Monitor said that the decision has been a long time in the making, but had gained momentum in the past few years. The Swedish Social Democratic Party (SAP), which won general elections held in September, had publicly stated in its 37th Congress platform in 2013 that it would recognize Palestine if it took power, a Swedish diplomat said. The SAP and Fatah have strong ties and are both part of the Socialist International. In October 2013, the SAP’s Stockholm branch signed a twinning agreement with Fatah’s Jerusalem branch.

The angry response by the United States and Israel to the Swedish announcement did little to change Swedes’ minds. Foreign Minister Margot Wallström’s statement that “it’s not the United States that decides our politics” is a far cry from the positions of the previous pro-US Swedish government. Continue Reading »

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