Archive for March, 2016

Mar 23 2016

Is the Arab world losing its diversity?

Published by under Arab Issues,Articles

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By Daoud Kuttab

The airlifting of a dozen-and-a-half Yemeni Jews to Israel last Monday received wide coverage. The action to evacuate 19 Yemenis to Israel is said to have included four stops and was done in cooperation with the US State Department.

What happens to these Yemeni Jews, as well as what happened to the earlier Yemenis who came to Israel, is not the focus of this article, although one can talk a lot on that issue.

The real concern is the effect the departure of these few remaining Yemeni Jews does to pluralism and diversity that has for so long been a hallmark of Arabs.

The golden years of Arabs in Andalusia were successful precisely because of the plurality, of the tolerance for people of different faiths.

People leaving during times of war and economic difficulty is not new. It is possible that people with connections to more stable and prosperous countries tend to benefit from these connections to get the needed permission to emigrate. Continue Reading »

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Mar 22 2016

Gaza’s Christians prepare to celebrate Easter in Jerusalem

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Karam Qubrosi can’t believe that Israel is allowing so many Gazans to travel on the occasion of Easter. “This is a dream come true, especially for many of us in the age group of 18-35,” he told Al-Monitor.

Speaking to Al-Monitor after reaching the West Bank town of Beit Sahour, Qubrosi, 28, said that the last time Israel gave travel permits for men under the age of 35 to travel out of Gaza was at Easter 2008. “That was the last time I was able to travel to Jerusalem for Easter,” he said. Qubrosi explained the process of getting permits: “Every church in Gaza gives names of its parish members who want to travel to the Palestinian department of civil affairs in Gaza, which then sends the requests to the Israelis for permission. ”

Qubrosi, who plans to settle in the West Bank, said that Israel has been giving permits to various Gazan groups, including businessmen and Muslim worshippers, in recent months. Two hundred Gazans over the age of 60 were permitted to travel to Jerusalem on Feb. 26 for Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque. Permission for similar-sized groups have come every Friday. Some individual travel requests for humanitarian reasons are being granted, but not for groups. Continue Reading »

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Mar 21 2016

Palestinian farmers caught in political tug of war

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Hundreds of Palestinian dairy and meat farmers find themselves caught in a political struggle between Israel and the Palestinian authorities.

 The problem of Palestinian farmers began on March 10 when Israeli troops barred trucks belonging to the five leading Palestinian dairy and meat companies from entering into Jerusalem. Trucks from Hamoda dairy company were coming from Hebron, and the order was applied to four other companies.

Kamel Mujahed, head of the Palestinian Milk Council, which represents dairy farmers, told Al-Monitor that Palestinian farmers are the first to suffer from this Israeli decision. “Fifty percent of our sales are to consumers in Jerusalem, and by barring our dairy trucks, our farmers are stuck with a very perishable products.”

It is unclear what triggered the unilateral Israeli decision that was implemented without an official announcement or justification. But Jamal Dajani, director of strategic communications at the Palestinian prime minister’s office, told Al-Monitor he believes politics are behind the Israeli decision. “It seems that this act is done in retaliation on the voluntary public Palestinian ban of illegal settlement products and an attempt to further exercise sovereignty over East Jerusalem.” Continue Reading »

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Mar 17 2016

Palestinian families need closure

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By Daoud Kuttab

One of the nastiest acts that has emerged since the beginning of the current wave of Palestinian resistance to Israel is the cruel punishment of withholding bodies of dead Palestinians.

Israel is holding the corpses of some 13 Palestinians, some summarily killed by Israeli soldiers, for as long as five months.

Taher Abu Ghazaleh was killed on October 8, 2015. Also held are the bodies of Hassan Manasreh, 15, Alaa Abu Jamal, 32, Bahal Allian 22, Motaz Oweisat, 16, Mohammad Abed Nimr, 37, Omar Iskafi, 21, Abdel Mohsin Hasoneh, 21, Mohammad Abu Khalaf, 20, Fadwa Abu Ter, 51, Foad Abu Rajab, 21, Mohammad Jamal Kaloti, 21, and Abdallah Abu Kharoub, 19.

The dead all come from Jerusalem, old city, and neighbourhoods and suburbs.

Israel’s justification for this vile act is that it wants to prevent Palestinians from celebrating their martyrs whom Israel considers terrorists.

Israel seems to believe that giving these dead people a popular funeral will somehow encourage others to try and stab Israelis so that they can also be hailed as heroes. In addition to the fact that this act is immoral and is considered collective punishment by humanitarian law, the very premise of the Israeli thinking is completely flawed. Continue Reading »

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Mar 16 2016

Literary world celebrates Palestinian poet’s 75th birthday

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish was born on March 13, 1941, in the Galilee village of al-Birweh. Darwish’s birthplace has now been replaced by Jewish settlements. Moshav Ahihud and Kibbutz Yasur now sit where the Palestinian village once stood in northern Israel, east of the port city of Acre. Today, 75 years after his birth, Darwish is being recognized as an Arab international literary icon.

 Palestinian literary critic Faisal Darraj manages the Mahmoud Darwish Foundation’s Mahmoud Darwish Award for Creativity. Darraj told Al-Monitor that in honor of Darwish, annual prizes of $25,000 are awarded to Palestinian, Arab and international literary artists.

“He was a symbol of the Palestinian struggle and reflected Arab culture. His works and his values encompassed not only his love and defense of Palestine, but also his Arab and universal outlook,” Darraj said.

Darwish embodied the Palestinian revolution like no other poet and was closely associated with the Palestine Liberation Organization and its leader Yasser Arafat. His 1982 poem “Why did you leave the horse alone?” reflected the Palestinian bitterness at Arab abandonment after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. He was elected to the PLO’s Executive Committee in 1987, but resigned in 1993 after the signing of the Oslo Accord. Continue Reading »

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Mar 13 2016

Are Israel’s Arabs losing hope for peace?

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

A substantial survey carried out in Israel, East Jerusalem and among Jewish settlers in the West Bank has shown that Arabs — Muslim, Christian and Druze — are much more religious than Israeli Jews.

 Two-thirds of Israeli Arabs surveyed by the Pew Research Center said religion is very important in their lives, compared with just 30% of Jews. Israeli Muslims (68%), Christians (57%) and Druze (49%) all are more likely than Jews to say religion is very important to them, the survey concluded.

The survey further noted that Muslims in Israel are the most religiously observant of the four major religious groups. “A majority (61%) of Muslims say they pray daily, compared with 34% of Christians, 26% of Druze and 21% of Jews. And while 25% of Druze, 27% of Jews and 38% of Christians say they attend religious services at least weekly, roughly half of Israeli Muslims (49%) report that they go to a mosque on at least a weekly basis.”

Pew found that only 15% of adult Muslims in Israel do not fast during Ramadan.

However, Alan Cooperman, director of Religion Research at Pew, told Al-Monitor that overall Arabs in Israel are less religious than in nearby Arab countries. He said, “While 59% of Lebanese Muslims are religious, the share of Muslims in Jordan is 85%, and the same in the Palestinian territories — while 82% of Iraqis say they are religious.” Continue Reading »

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Mar 13 2016

Is free speech a crime in Palestine?

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

Attempts by the Palestinian Authority to arrest Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) member Najat Abu Bakr for statements she made alleging corruption by a government minister have ignited a discussion about defamation being a crime and calls for its decriminalization.

 Majed Arruri, a media rights expert from Ramallah, told Al-Monitor, “Defamation in both its written [libel] or spoken forms [slander] is a tangible issue that doesn’t require [criminal] investigation and, therefore, there is no need to hold someone in jail awaiting the results of an investigation.” He believes Palestinian legislation needs to be enacted to eliminate imprisonment in cases involving defamation.

Arruri said that by criminalizing defamation, instead of classifying it as a civil matter, the Palestinian government is not using pretrial detention for the purpose of investigating unknown components of a case, but is instead using it as punishment. “Imprisoning journalists or others for what they have said becomes a restriction on their freedom of expression, therefore resulting in self-censorship,” he noted. Continue Reading »

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Mar 10 2016

Losing post-Arab Spring accomplishments?

Published by under Articles,Jordan

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By Daoud Kuttab

The Independent Federation of Unions in Jordan wanted to hold an event to celebrate International Women’s Day. A hotel hall was booked and invitations were sent out. A few hours before the event organisers were told by the hotel management that they could not hold the event.

It seems that a security official had called the hotel management and ordered them not to allow the event to take place unless the organisers get permission.

When pressed, the hotel director said that the call came from the intelligence department and he gave the organisers the nom de guerre of the officer.

This was not a fluke, one-off interference in activities of civil society.

In the last month alone, tens of non-governmental organisations were surprised by the return to heavy-handed intelligence services interference in public activities, training workshops, conferences and other public events that have been held without intervention for years.

An event by Himam, a local NGO committee coordinating government officials with international donors, was ordered cancelled, only to be allowed after high-level intervention. Continue Reading »

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Mar 10 2016

Defamation and Development in the Arab World

Published by under Arab Issues,Articles

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By Daoud Kuttab

AMMAN – With the violent radicalism and civil wars of the Middle East and North Africa capturing the world’s attention, the region’s grossly distorted legal systems are being given short shrift. Yet problematic laws, like those criminalizing defamation, \ facilitate political and economic repression, undermine development, and destroy lives.

Egypt’s government is perhaps the biggest abuser of defamation and blasphemy laws to suppress differing views. In particular, the Egyptian authorities brazenly use Article 98(f) of the Egyptian Penal Code – which prohibits citizens from defaming a “heavenly religion,” inciting sectarian strife, or insulting Islam – to detain, prosecute, and imprison members of non-majority religious groups, especially Christians. All that is needed is a vague claim that their activities are jeopardizing “communal harmony.”

Moreover, the writer Ahmed Naji was recently handed a two-year prison sentence for violating “public modesty,” by publishing a sexually explicit excerpt from his novel. This came just a month after the author Fatma Naoot appealed the three-year sentence she received when a Facebook post criticizing the slaughter of animals for a Muslim feast led to a guilty verdict for “contempt for Islam.” The list goes on.

Moreover, the writer Ahmed Naji was recently handed a two-year prison sentence for violating “public modesty,” by publishing a sexually explicit excerpt from his novel. This came just a month after the author Fatma Naoot appealed the three-year sentence she received when a Facebook post criticizing the slaughter of animals for a Muslim feast led to a guilty verdict for “contempt for Islam.” The list goes on.

Ominously, according to a 2015 report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, blasphemy cases have been on the rise since 2011. In January 2015, President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi issued a decree that permits the government to ban any foreign publications it deems offensive to religion, thereby expanding the government’s already significant censorship powers and increasing pressure on journalists further. Continue Reading »

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Mar 06 2016

How serious is the French proposal on Middle East peace?

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

The ambitious French idea first suggested by Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius at the end of January of holding an international conference to kick-start the two-state solution process in Paris in July is alive and kicking. A senior Western diplomat in Jerusalem told Al-Monitor that the initiative to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks has been adopted by the new French Foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault.

 The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that efforts in Paris, Tel Aviv and Ramallah as well as in other Arab capitals are in high gear to make the conference successful. Ayrault, who was chosen by President Francois Hollande on Feb. 11 toreplace Fabius, moved quickly to assure all parties involved of the seriousness of the French effort.

The three-step approach — which France proposed at the end of January 2016 and includes consultations with Palestinians and Israelis, a spring preparatory meeting of the international working groups and a July conference in Paris — is definitely on track, the diplomat said.

Four days after his appointment on Feb. 15, the French ambassador to Israel, Patrick Maisonnave, met with Israeli Foreign Ministry Political Director Alon Ushpiz, visited the Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem and officially presented the plan. In a statement following the meeting, Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said, “Israel supports direct negotiations with the Palestinians but opposes any attempt to predetermine the outcome of negotiations.” Continue Reading »

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