Russian force training to counter militants from Syria: Chechen leader

 

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov smiles during a government organised event marking Chechen language day in central Grozny April 25, 2013. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov smiles during a government organised event marking Chechen language day in central Grozny April 25, 2013.

(Reuters) – A unit of the Russian security forces is training to counter Islamist militants amid fears fighters in Syria will return to join insurgents in the North Caucasus, Chechnya’s Kremlin-backed leader said.

The Kremlin fears Russian-born militants will return from Syriato join those who want to carve out an Islamic state in Chechnya and other mostly Muslim provinces in the mountains on Russia’s southern fringe.

Officials have said 400 Russians are fighting with al Qaeda affiliated groups in Syria. Experts estimate the numbers are much higher. Some Chechens, veterans of two post-Soviet wars against Russian rule, have emerged as Syrian rebel leaders.

“These bandits post videos daily claiming that after Syria they will migrate to the North Caucasus and engage in terrorist and subversive activities,” Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov said in a statement posted on the regional government’s website late on Wednesday.

“We cannot sit quietly listening to these threats and wait for this plague to move towardRussia … so the police and the republic’s leadership are taking preventative measures.”

A spokesman for Kadyrov refused to provide details on the steps being taken by law enforcement agencies.

More than a decade after Moscow defeated a separatist revolt in Chechnya, it is fighting an insurgency that has shifted from a nationalist cause to an Islamist one and spread to other Caucasus mountain provinces.

Rebels now launch near-daily attacks in Ingushetia, Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria, often engaging in firefights with security officers.

On Thursday, Russia said it had killed five suspected militants in Dagestan. The men had fired shots at police officers patrolling Sadovoye village near Khasavyurt, a city 90 km (55 miles) northwest of the regional capital Makhachkala, a law-enforcement source who did not want to be identified said.

SOCHI OLYMPICS

Russia is cracking down hard on the insurgents ahead of its hosting of the 2014 WinterOlympics in February in Sochi, at the western edge of the Caucasus range.

Islamist Chechen rebel Doku Umarov, who leads militants seeking a Caucasus Emirate in Russia, urged his fighters in July to use “maximum force” to sabotage the Olympics.

A suicide bombing in October that killed seven people in Volgograd, a city north of Sochi, raised fears of further attacks. Twin suicide bombings in the Moscow subway in 2010 killed 40 and a bombing at a Moscow airport in 2011 killed 37.

President Vladimir Putin, who has staked his reputation on the Games’ success, has said militants returning from Syria pose “a very real” threat and signed an anti-terrorism law this month to jail for up to six years any who come home.

Russia has been President Bashar al-Assad’s strongest diplomatic backer during the conflict in Syria and has frequently said Islamist militants are gaining increasing might among rebels fighting the government.

The new law makes relatives of militants financially liable for damage caused by attacks, a measure aimed at deterring militants by putting pressure on their families.

“The terrorists in Syria must know what awaits them in Russia if they show up here,” Kadyrov said.

Authorities in Chechnya have banned funeral ceremonies for anyone killed in Syria, and officially backed Muslim clerics cast the conflict as an internal political struggle, not a religious fight.

Kadyrov said last month he had fired a senior immigration official in Chechnya because his daughter had joined Syrian rebels. The defection from the wealthy and well-connected family highlights the attraction for Sunni Muslim youths in the North Caucasus of joining the Syrian conflict.

Kadyrov, an ethnic Chechen who once fought with separatists but later switched sides and pledged loyalty to the Kremlin, has imposed an uneasy peace in the region, using tough methods.

Human rights groups accuse security services in Chechnya of carrying out kidnappings, torture and extrajudicial killings to quash insurgents and silence Kadyrov’s critics. Kadyrov denies the accusations of abuse.

(Source / 05.12.2013)

CAIR: U.S. Muslim Group Calls Nelson Mandela’s Death a Loss for All Humanity

(WASHINGTON, D.C., 12/5/13) – The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today said that the death of Nelson Mandela is a loss for all humanity and that the South African leader will remain an example to those fighting for human rights.

In a statement reacting to news of Mandela’s death, CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awadsaid:

“Throughout his life, Nelson Mandela served as an example of strength in adversity to all those fighting for freedom and justice. His legacy of uncompromising perseverance in the face of bigotry and injustice will live on for generations to come.

“He was a unique historic figure. From his jail cell, he demonstrated vision and courage, and taught the world the true meaning of steadfastness. Outside his cell, he demonstrated statesmanship, reconciliation and pragmatism. 

“As the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: ‘For every day on which the sun rises, there is a (reward) for the one who establishes justice among people.'”

CAIR cited the famous Mandela quote: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

(Source: CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper / Newsletter / 05.12.2013)

Mandela’s Memo to Thomas Friedman About Israel & Palestine

By Nelson Mandela, in Jefferson Corner – America’s Speaker’s Corner, 28 March 2001

“If you want peace and democracy, I will support you. If you want formal Apartheid, we will not support you. If you want to support racial discrimination and ethnic cleansing, we will oppose you.”

Dear Thomas,

I know that you and I long for peace in the Middle East, but before you continue to talk about necessary conditions from an Israeli perspective, you need to know what’s on my mind. Where to begin? How about 1964.Let me quote my own words during my trial. They are true today as they were then: “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Today the world, black and white, recognize that Apartheid has no future. In South Africa it has been ended by our own decisive mass action in order to build peace and security. That mass campaign of defiance and other actions could only culminate in the establishment of Democracy.

Perhaps it is strange for you to observe the situation in Palestine or more specifically, the structure of political and cultural relationships between Palestinians and Israelis, as an Apartheid system. This is because you incorrectly think that the problem of Palestine began in 1967. This was demonstrated in your recent column “Bush’s First Memo” in the New York Times on March 27, 2001.

You seem to be surprised to hear that there are still problems of 1948 to be solved, the most important component of which is the right to return of Palestinian refugees. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not just an issue of military occupation and Israel is not a country that was established “normally” and happened to occupy another country in 1967. Palestinians are not struggling for a “state” but for freedom, liberation and equality, just like we were struggling for freedom in South Africa.

In the last few years, and especially during the reign of the Labour Party, Israel showed that it was not even willing to return what it occupied in 1967; that Settlements remain, Jerusalem would be under exclusive Israeli sovereignty, and Palestinians would not have an independent state, but would be under Israeli economic domination with Israeli control of borders, land, air, water and sea.

Israel was not thinking of a “state” but of “separation”. The value of separation is measured in terms of the ability of Israel to keep the Jewish state Jewish, and not to have a Palestinian minority that could have the opportunity to become a majority at some time in the future. If this takes place, it would force Israel to either become a secular democratic or bi-national state, or to turn into a state of Apartheid not only de facto, but also de jure.

Thomas, if you follow the polls in Israel for the last 30 or 40 years, you clearly find a vulgar racism that includes a third of the population who openly declare themselves to be racist. This racism is of the nature of “I hate Arabs” and “I wish Arabs would be dead”.

If you also follow the judicial system in Israel you will see there is discrimination against Palestinians, and if you further consider the 1967 Occupied Territories you will find there are already two judicial systems in operation that represent two different approaches to human life: one for Palestinian life and the other for Jewish life. Additionally there are two different approaches to property and to land. Palestinian property is not recognized as private property because it can be confiscated.

As to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, there is an additional factor. The so-called “Palestinian autonomous areas” are Bantustans. These are restricted entities within the power structure of the Israeli Apartheid system.

The Palestinian state cannot be the by-product of the Jewish state, just in order to keep the Jewish purity of Israel. Israel’s racial discrimination is daily life of most Palestinians. Since Israel is a Jewish state, Israeli Jews are able to accrue special rights which non-Jews cannot do. Palestinian Arabs have no place in a “Jewish” state.

Apartheid is a crime against humanity. Israel has deprived millions of Palestinians of their liberty and property. It has perpetuated a system of gross racial discrimination and inequality. It has systematically incarcerated and tortured thousands of Palestinians, contrary to the rules of international law. It has, in particular, waged a war against a civilian population, in particular children.

The responses made by South Africa to human rights abuses emanating from the removal policies and Apartheid policies respectively, shed light on what Israeli society must necessarily go through before one can speak of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East and an end to its Apartheid policies.

Thomas, I’m not abandoning Mideast diplomacy. But I’m not going to indulge you the way your supporters do. If you want peace and democracy, I will support you. If you want formal Apartheid, we will not support you. If you want to support racial discrimination and ethnic cleansing, we will oppose you.

When you figure out what you’re about, give me a call.

(Source / 05.12.2013)

Giant mural tells Palestine’s 3,500-year-old history

The giant mural is being painted on the wall of Nablus Stadium in the West Bank. The 1,000-square-meter mural “Huna Canaan,” is an illustration of more than 3,500 years of Palestinian history

The mural ends with a painting in which Israel’s notorious  separation barrier is destroyed as a young Palestinian man passes through it while waving a 
Palestinian flag. AA Photo

The mural ends with a painting in which Israel’s notorious separation barrier is destroyed as a young Palestinian man passes through it while waving a Palestinian flag. AA Photo

As many as 25 Palestinian artists are working on what could be the crowning artistic achievement of their lives – and the Arab world’s largest-ever mural. But for the artists working on the unfinished project, the 1,000-square-meter mural, dubbed “Huna Canaan” (“Here is Canaan”), isn’t just a painting. Rather, it’s an illustration of more than 3,500 years of Palestinian history.

“We’re artists coming from all over Palestine with a message of ‘freedom’ that we would like to deliver to the entire world,” the group’s coordinator Areeg Thawabi told the Anadolu Agency. The giant mural is being painted on the wall of the Nablus Stadium in the West Bank. Thawabi said the group had to use one wall of the Nablus Stadium due to the lack of a larger canvas. “But if we find a larger space, we’ll surely paint on it,” she said. The mural begins with a scene of a Canaanite woman working the land.

“Canaan” is the oldest name associated with the land of Palestine. Other scenes portray the “Nakba” (the dispossession of the Palestinians and concurrent establishment of Israel), the Intifada and the occupation of the holy city of al-Quds (Jerusalem), along with a painting dedicated to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Ending of the mural and paintings 

The mural ends with a painting in which Israel’s notorious separation barrier is destroyed as a young Palestinian man passes through it while waving a Palestinian flag, a reference to the end of the Israeli occupation and the establishment of an independent Palestine. “It is being painted on the wall of the Nablus Stadium to portray the most important stages of Palestine’s ancient and modern history,” Majdi Mushin, a spokesman for the artists, told the Agency. When finished, the mural – at 130 meters long and seven meters high – will be the fourth largest mural in the world and the largest in the Arab region.

Currently, the largest mural in the Arab world is Iraq’s 700-square-meter Babylon Mural. Salma Musleh, a 27-year-old painter originally from al-Quds, joins artists and people of other professions who have been working on the mega-painting for more than two months. She said they had been working on the painting eight hours a day in order to finish it as quickly as possible. The project coordinator Wael Dwiekat said the cost of the massive mural was expected to exceed 250,000 Israeli shekels (approximately $70,000). “My colleagues and I have been working hard on this project, which we consider a national duty,” he told the Agency.

However, a recent funding shortfall has forced the group to suspend work for two weeks. “We have paid out of our pockets in order to finish the piece,” Dwiekat said. “Government entities failed to adequately support us,” he said.

The artists, who call themselves the “Athens group” after the world-famous School of Athens fresco by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael, hope to paint similar images all over the land of Palestine and aspire to represent Palestine at international art events. She added, the group would never consider painting on Israel’s separation wall, because “it represents the ugliest form of occupation in history.”

(Source / 05.12.2013)

Ashrawi: Israel will stand trial before international courts very soon

 

Hanan Ashrawi‘The US, which claims the illegality of the settlements, has to move beyond its words and stop giving Israel more time to destroy the chances of peace while escaping punishment by taking initiatives to cover its violations, and instead must force Israel to abide by international law and stop these unilateral activities, the day that will witness Israel going on trial before the International Criminal Court is coming very soon’

A member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Dr Hanan Ashrawi, has warned that since Israel is sending a clear message to the US and the rest of the world that settlements are its response to the peace efforts, the US and the international community have to seriously confront this message, both politically and legally, before it is too late.Ashrawi was commenting on the decision of Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, who ratified the construction of 3,000 new housing units in the heart of the West Bank and outside the “major settlement” blocs. The new construction will include: 984 housing units in the settlement of Givat Ze’ev, 386 units in the settlement of Beit Eil, 550 units in the settlement of Talmon, 277 units in the settlement of Eli Zahav, 290 units in the settlement of Kedumim, 130 units in the settlement of Assael, 60 units in the settlement of Alon Shvut, and 74 units in the settlement of Etz Efraim, according to data gathered by Israeli movement Peace Now.

Ashrawi confirmed that Israel is intensifying its settlement campaign to serve dual purposes that aim at stealing Palestinian land on the one hand, and deliberately pushing the Palestinian leadership to withdraw from the negotiations on the other, thus holding the Palestinian side fully responsible for the failure of the negotiation process, which is facing a serious dilemma as a result of this settlement escalation that replaces the two-state solution with the “Greater Israel” project.

She added, “the US, which claims the illegality of the settlements, has to move beyond its words and stop giving Israel more time to destroy the chances of peace while escaping punishment by taking initiatives to cover its violations, and instead must force Israel to abide by international law and stop these unilateral activities,” explaining that “the day that will witness Israel going on trial before the International Criminal Court is coming very soon.”

(Source / 05.12.2013)

Syrian opposition – new poison gas attack

A Syrian couple mourning in front of bodies wrapped in shrouds ahead of funerals following a toxic gas attack by unconfirmed forces in eastern Ghouta. (Shaam NN, AFP)

A Syrian couple mourning in front of bodies wrapped in shrouds ahead of funerals following a toxic gas attack by unconfirmed forces in eastern Ghouta.

Amman – Opposition activists again accused President Bashar al-Assad’s forces of using poison gas in Syria’s civil war on Thursday, and said victims had been discovered with swollen limbs and foaming at the mouth.

The activists told Reuters two shells loaded with gas hit a rebel-held area in the town of Nabak, 68km northeast of Damascus, on a major highway in the Qalamoun region. They reported seven casualties.

Separately, the Syrian Revolution Coordinators Union also accused Assad’s forces of using poison gas.

“We have documented nine casualties from poison gas used by the regime in neighbourhoods of Nabak,” it said on its Facebook page.

A nerve gas attack killed hundreds of people in rebel-held neighbourhoods on the edge of Damascus on 21 August. Each side blamed the other.

Assad subsequently agreed to give up his chemical weapons arsenal under a deal struck between Moscow and Washington that averted a US attack on Damascus, and international inspectors have begun work on dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons facilities.

Opposition groups have accused Assad’s forces of using chemical weapons several times before and since the 21 August incident.

Reuters cannot verify reports in Syria due to reporting restrictions. It was not clear what kind of gas, if any, might have been used in Nabak and there was no immediate comment from Syrian authorities.

“Seven men are reported ill so far. They have swollen limbs and foam coming out of their mouths,” said an activist calling himself Amer al-Qalamouni.

“No doctors have got to them yet because Nabak is under ferocious bombardment and there are very few medical staff left.”

Amir Kazk, another activist in Nabak, said the two shells were part of a heavy barrage that hit the Tariq al-Mashfa district near the centre of the town. The source of the fire, he added, appeared to be an army barracks on a hill in the nearby Deir Attiya area.

Video footage posted on YouTube by activists showed a man who said he had seen white smoke from the shelling, inhaled it and then passed out. Reuters cannot confirm its authenticity.

Syrian forces have used a range of weapons in the civil war, including cluster bombs, incendiary bombs and improvised explosives. Rebels have also made their own weaponry.

(Source / 05.12.2013)

South Africa’s Nelson Mandela dies,

 

Breaking news

South Africa’s first black president and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela has died, South Africa’s president says.

Mr Mandela, 95, led South Africa’s transition from white-minority rule in the 1990s, after 27 years in prison.

He had been receiving intense home-based medical care for a lung infection after three months in hospital.

In a statement on South African national TV, Mr Zuma said Mr Mandela had “departed” and was at peace.


Nelson Mandela

1918 Born in the Eastern Cape

1943 Joined African National Congress

1956 Charged with high treason, but charges dropped after a four-year trial

1962 Arrested, convicted of incitement and leaving country without a passport, sentenced to five years in prison

1964 Charged with sabotage, sentenced to life

1990 Freed from prison

1993 Wins Nobel Peace Prize

1994 Elected first black president

1999 Steps down as leader

2001 Diagnosed with prostate cancer

2004 Retires from public life

2005 Announces his son has died of an HIV/Aids-related illness

“Our nation has lost its greatest son,” Mr Zuma said.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate was one of the world’s most revered statesmen after preaching reconciliation despite being imprisoned for 27 years.

He had rarely been seen in public since officially retiring in 2004.

“What made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human. We saw in him what we seek in ourselves,” Mr Zuma said.

“Fellow South Africans, Nelson Mandela brought us together and it is together that we will bid him farewell.”

Earlier, the BBC’s Mike Wooldridge, outside Mr Mandela’s home in the Johannesburg suburb of Houghton, said there appeared to have been an unusually large family gathering.

Among those attending was family elder Bantu Holomisa,

A number of government vehicles were there during the evening as well, our correspondent says.

Since he was released from hospital, the South African presidency repeatedly described Mr Mandela’s condition as critical but stable.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and was elected South Africa’s first black president in 1994. He stepped down after five years in office.

(Source / 05.12.2013)

Army Kidnaps Several Palestinian In Jenin

Soldiers Invade Various Towns In Jenin

[Thursday, December 5, 2013] Dozens of Israeli soldiers have invaded various areas in the northern West Bank district of Jenin, kidnapped several Palestinians, and installed roadblocks in different part of the district.

File - Image www.alwatanvoice.com

Local sources have reported that the soldiers kidnapped Hussein Fathy Mer’ey, 21, and Mahmoud Hakam Awad, 19, after breaking into their homes in the eastern neighborhood of the city.

Soldiers also invaded Qabatia town, south of Jenin, and kidnapped several Palestinians, one of them has been identified as Mahmoud Sharif Saba’na. Several military units were pushed into the area after a speeding Israeli military jeep flipped over; the army reported no injuries among the soldiers.

Media sources in Jenin said that the soldiers also invaded the towns of Methaloon, Sanour, Msalya, and Az-Zababda, installing roadblocks and searching several cars.

The army further invaded Aneen village, west of Jenin, fired several flares, gas bombs and concussion grenades; no injuries or arrests were reported.

Eyewitnesses stated that the soldiers installed a roadblock at the Arraba Junction, southwest of Jenin city, invaded Marka village and the Sahel area, linking it with nearby Qabatia town.

Earlier on Thursday, soldiers invaded various towns in the West Bank District of Bethlehem, searched homes and kidnapped eight Palestinians.

(Source / 05.12.2013)

Gaza court issues death sentence to suspected collaborator

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — A military court in the Gaza Strip on Thursday sentenced a man to death by hanging.

The Hamas-run court found the man – identified only as A.K. – guilty of collaborating with Israeli authorities, without providing further details.

On June 22, the Gaza government hanged two men accused of collaborating with Israel. Under Palestinian law, collaboration with Israel, murder, and drug trafficking are all punishable by death.

However all execution orders must be approved by the president before they can be carried out. Hamas no longer recognizes the legitimacy of incumbent Mahmoud Abbas, whose four-year term ended in 2009.

Hamas has executed 17 people since taking over Gaza in 2007, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

(Source / 05.12.2013)

“A new Palestinian consciousness”: history of the diaspora in Latin America

Palestine refugees marked 65 years of expulsion and exile this year.

This week on The Electronic Intifada podcast:

The Electronic Intifada podcast is available on iTunes! Click here to view the podcast archive, or subscribe via the iTunes interface (search for The Electronic Intifada).

Listen to the entire Electronic Intifada podcast:

 

Dr. Cecilia Baeza on Palestinians in Latin America


Thank you to the Jerusalem Fund/Palestine Center and the Institute for Palestine Studies for this audio.

Dr. Cecilia Baeza: Let’s start with the end of the 19th century until 1948. This period is crucial, because it constitutes a key testimony of the modes of identification of the inhabitants of Palestine before 1948. How did they self-define these immigrants from Palestine? If we cannot interview the oldest immigrants who arrived at the end of the 19th century, we still have several evidences of their self-identification.

Some notes on the immigration registers, the names of the associations and the ethnic press which began to develop in the decade of the 1910s. Until 1920, immigrants from Palestine used to mention alternatively four focuses of identity: their hometown, in this case, Beit Lahem [Bethlehem], Beit Jala and Beit Sahour; Syria, in the sense of Bilad al-Sham [Greater Syria]; their religion, here mainly Orthodox Christianity and the consciousness of coming from the Holy Land; and finally their Arab-ness. References to Palestine were rare, but they did exist. By contrast, the identification with the Ottoman empire was almost non-existent.

This started to change from the ’20s. In 1920, the Club Deportivo Palestino, a professional football club, was founded in Santiago de Chile. The name of the club, Palestino, and the colors of the football jersey — those of the Palestinian flag — were clearly a nationalist reference.

This new identification gained momentum from 1924. Between 1924 and 1939, dozens of organizations with direct and unique references to Palestine were founded all across Latin America. How to explain the emergence of this new Palestinian consciousness?

The establishment of the British mandate over Palestine terribly complicated the life of immigrants, and these new difficulties certainly made them more aware of the political precariousness of the homeland. The main obstacle faced by the immigrants was the issue of return: temporary or definitive. Indeed, until the ’30s, immigrants used to move back and forth between the host countries and Palestine. Immigrants came back, lived a few years in Palestine, and left again their homeland to Latin America.

This pattern was quite common. During the Ottoman era, immigrants who kept the Ottoman nationality could legally return to Palestine. However, and this is a paradox, the issuing of Palestinian nationality by British authorities in 1925 changed the situation. Immigrants had to ask for a visa, in case they had acquired the nationality of the host country, or as Palestinian-born, ask for the Palestinian nationality itself. Therein lies the crux of the problem: the condition for obtaining the Palestinian nationality as defined by the Treaty of Lausanne, was extremely hard to meet for the immigrants. The application of the Treaty created hardships for thousands of Palestine natives who were residents abroad.

Let’s take the case of Issa Nasser, for example. Born in Bethlehem, he emigrated in 1913 as a merchant to Chile with an Ottoman passport which expired in the Treaty of Lausanne. As he did not have the Palestinian nationality, he needed an emergency certificate issued by the British consulate in Valparaiso, to be able to travel to Palestine. The temporary document clearly specified that it did not guarantee that the holder would be authorized to land or remain in Palestine.

But going to Palestine was not the only problem. In some cases, such as Chile and Mexico, the inability to provide a valid nationality prevented from renewing a resident’s permit. Or worse, the access to naturalization. This situation led thousands of immigrants to become stateless. In some countries, like in El Salvador, the absence of nationality prohibited the exercise of trade, jeopardizing the main source of income for Palestinian immigrants.

Facing these difficulties, immigrants decided to organize themselves to make themselves heard. Dozens of complaints were made by immigrants from the British consulates of Latin America, and remain deposited in the archives of the League of Nations.

Immigrants argue that they still had land in Palestine, and despite the fact that they were currently involved in trade activities in their host countries, they still planned to return home in the near future. In Palestine, immigrants received the support of young nationalists, including Aysel Bandaq from Bethlehem, who launched in 1927 the Committee for the Defense of Immigrants’ Rights to Palestinian Citizenship.

The committee collected the grievances of immigrants, and presented them to the British high commissioner for Palestine. The British authority lightly relaxed the condition for obtaining the nationality but it did not make a big difference.

Following the outbreak of the great Arab Revolt, Aysel Bandaq renewed the petition in 1936 to the Peel Commission without any significant result. As a consequence, only a very limited number of immigrants were able to get Palestinian nationality.

In 1946, it was documented that only 465 persons of those who were born in Palestine and were residing abroad could acquire Palestinian nationality. It did not mean that it was impossible for immigrants to come back, but it certainly dissuaded more than one.

The temporary situation of statelessness of some immigrants made Mutaz Qafisheh, professor of international law at Hebron University, speak about the first generation of Palestinian refugees. I understand the interest of such a provocative stance that allowed pointing out a situation that was completely neglected, but I’m not sure that it can really be used because as we have seen, the logics of immigration cannot be reduced to the result of an expulsion.

This Palestinian nationality eventually disappeared with the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. But for immigrants, it was clearly the first political experience of their Palestinian-ness, independently from the fact that they succeeded to have it or not, the struggle for nationality was itself meaningful. In fact, the decade of the ’30s witnessed the development of a very dynamic, nationalist, ethnic press in Latin America.

The best examples are al-Islah, the Reform, in Chile, published from 1930-1942 and also distributed in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, and Rumbos, published in Honduras from 1939.

The press diffused political information from Palestine. And this clearly had an impact: for example, in 1939, Palestinians in Chile and Honduras collected funds for the families of martyrs of the great Arab Revolt. The result of all of this is that at the end of the ’30s, we had a population who increasingly claimed its belonging to the Palestinian nation, while they were more than ever intending to settle in their host countries.

A clear sign of this paradox is the fact that a good part of this nationalist ethnic press was written in Spanish, as [was] Rumbos. The second generation born in Palestine was already losing its capacity in its ability to read and write in Arabic. The cultural distance with the homeland was widening, and in Latin America the immigrants were about to seize new economic opportunities.

The last significant political battle of this period was the mobilization against the partition of Palestine, voted in the General Assembly of the UN in 1947. The mobilization against this resolution in Latin America was, in reality, a last-minute campaign launched by Akram Zuaiter who came from Palestine to convince Latin American leaders not to vote for the partition. And in fact it had some results. Thanks to the strong mobilization of Palestinian communities, Chile and Honduras decided, at the very last moment, to abstain [during the vote on] the UN resolution. But this was in vain, since as we know the resolution was adopted.

And the following decades were marked by deep cultural assimilation. In 1970, exogamous marriages — that is marriages between Arabs and non-Arabs — had become the norm. According to a recent investigation, today in Chile, only around 30 percent of [persons of] Palestinian descent have both parents of Palestinian origin.

The new generations whose fathers were immigrants became Chileans, Hondurans, Peruvians — in a nutshell, Latin Americans of Palestinian descent. [There are] not even Palestinian Chileans, like one can be Arab-American — hyphenated identities don’t exist in Latin America. In multiracial and multi-ethnic Latin American societies, national identification comes first. However, it does not mean that identification with Palestine was lost.

Palestinian identity survived through networks of friends, families and business partners; through social clubs like the Club Palestino in Santiago … And also through cultural practices like food. In fact it may be less powerful than language or religion, but that produced, embodied and affected feelings of connection with Palestine. Every Latin American of Palestinian descent will always start speaking about their Palestinian identities with [memories] of lunches at their grandparents’ place, eating maqloobeh [a traditional Palestinian dish], stuffed marrows and eggplants.

These elements of cultural identity were not necessarily visible in the public space, but they were very present in the private sphere.

During the ’50s and ’60s, the political dimension of Palestinian identity became clearly less relevant. But this changed again from the second half of the ’70s and even more during the ’80s. Unlike in other regions, it was not directly the Six-Day War of 1967 that really made the difference, but the recognition of the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] in 1974 by the United Nations as the sole, legitimate representation of the Palestinian people.

Why? Because it allowed the PLO to open Palestine informational offices all across the continent, and to develop a network of representatives. The re-politicization of the diaspora was part of their mission. However, working or not with the PLO created tensions among the community. The tensions were such that some individuals even denounced their fellows from the Palestinian club to the Chilean political police, for example.

Jael Al Arja, a member of the PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] who regularly came to Latin America since the beginning of the 1970s, was killed in 1976 during the Operation Entebbe against the hijacking of an Air France flight by PFLP members. You can imagine how terrified the Palestinian in Chile were who had known him.

The PLO was seen as subversive. Aware of this obstacle, not only in Chile but in other Latin American countries, the PLO decided to send Father Ibrahim Ayyad, a Catholic priest born in Beit Sahour and close to Yasser Arafat, to change the PLO’s image among the predominantly Christian diaspora.

The turning point was 1982 and the massacre of the Palestinian refugees of the camps of Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon. The killing of women, children and the elderly provoked an emotion that went beyond political divisions. In Chile, it fostered the first demonstration of unity among Palestinians.

In 1984, the Palestinian Club of Chile and the Federation of Brazilian Palestinian Organizations called for the first congress of Palestinian entities from Latin America and the Caribbean. The congress took place in Sao Paolo, and resulted in the creation of the COPLAC, the Latin American confederation of Palestinian institutions. Eleven representatives from Latin America were designated to be members of the Palestinian National Congress of the PLO.

This new institutionalized connection with the PLO proved a big momentum, especially among the youth. Tens of groups of dabke [traditional Palestinian dance] were formed in Brazil, in Chile and in other Latin American countries. Many belonged to Sana’oud, a Palestinian transnational cultural movement created by the PLO for young people of Palestinian descent to reconnect with Palestinian culture.

In Chile, university students went even beyond, and founded the local branch of the General Union of Palestinian Students. Chile currently is the country where a core group of individuals of Palestinian origin is the best organized to defend the Palestinian cause.

We are actually witnessing a process of professionalization of the pro-Palestinian movement since the beginning of the 2000s. Palestinian Chilean politicians can be found now across the full political spectrum, from the right to the Communist party, but they cooperate when it comes to Palestine. A Palestinian Chilean inter-parliamentary group was constituted, and is today the most numerous amongst the bi-national groups in the Chilean congress.

In 2001, wealthy Chilean Palestinian businessmen created the Palestinian Bethlehem 2000 Foundation, a charity organization for Palestinian children that also does political lobbying and cultural work for the community. The foundation publishes a monthly magazine called Al Damir, which aims to [report on] success stories of Palestinian Chileans as well as briefing about the activities of the community and of the humanitarian situation in Palestine.

There is also a Palestinian Chilean news agency, as well as two other websites that provide daily updates and op-eds regarding the situation in Palestine. These are the main sources of information for Palestinian Chileans as well as others who are interested in the situation in the Middle East.

For concluding, again, political divisions and debates still exist within this diaspora organization. But it doesn’t hamper their work and their impact. There is clearly today a growing interest among the youth about their Palestinian origin. The Internet, social networks and also the possibility to travel to Palestine have facilitated this reconnection. Even very few still have close relatives there.

The biggest problem today is probably the difficulties in entering Palestine, as Israeli authorities tend to discriminate against visitors according to their ancestry. Over the last five years, four young Chilean women were deported from Tel Aviv or the Allenby Bridge because of their Palestinian surname.

End transcript.

“Communions and Conversions”: Memoir by Nour Joudah

From Joudah’s blog: isdoud.wordpress.com

Bismilah.

When I was nine, I took my first communion. By accident. Sort of. We skipped breakfast to make it to church on time for Christmas Mass. His mom told me if I just closed my hand in a fist as our pew walked up to the altar, the priest wouldn’t give me a cracker. I was hungry though and grateful for the two-second snack before me. And so I opened my hand, held out my open palm, lifted it to my mouth, and bit into the body of Christ.

Looking back, perhaps I should have been in the blood line. The Eastern Orthodox don’t mess with that grape juice nonsense like the Baptists. Only the good stuff, especially on Christmas. But I digress. Probably to blasphemy.

My first communion story was … well, entertaining for most of my classmates in college. It was the Bible belt and even the atheists quoted scripture. So the occasional line of “I accidentally took communion once …” from the Muslim at the party was always a crowd-pleaser.

At my second communion, I didn’t go to the altar. I was fifteen, at a funeral, and this priest was not messing around. He told us not to come up if we weren’t Catholic. No crackers that day. But I was fifteen, so the Catholics in the pew got clever with that blood of Christ in the back pantry afterwards. So the rest of us wouldn’t feel left out of course. Sharing the love of the Lord is important. It seemed like an appropriate thing to drown our grief in.

My communions were anecdotes and funny stories for an agnostic/unknown like myself. An interesting pageantry. Symbolism steeped in man-made tradition. The highest form of embodied dogma. And then, there was my third communion. No churches, no trinity, no bread and wine.

My third communion was in a living room full of Muslims. Refugees. Palestinians. Believers in the homeland. Closed eyes, savoring every morsel of the zaatar on their tongue, with a prayer for God to take them home whispered under their breath.

Jihad, my friend’s younger brother, played altar boy, carefully scooped it out of the bag, piling it neatly on a small plate, walking ever so carefully as not to spill a single sesame seed.

With two pinched fingers, family members lifted the crushed thyme and spices and laid them on their tongues, inhaled so deeply I thought their lungs would burst from their chests. An uncle visiting broke the silence. “Get the olive oil! … You brought olive oil, right?”

“Of course. Olives, too.” I replied.

The grandfather patted my knee.

“The scent of home is enough, ya binti. Katter khairik.”

Communion resumed, now with olives and oil.

Plates were wiped clean with bread and the small fingers of children, convinced Palestine itself would jump off the plate if they dipped with enough force.

The grandfather passed on the second round. I half-jokingly/half-very-seriously asked, “Seedi, do you want me to hide your presents before half of Shatila shows up?”

“I ate from Palestine’s earth until I was 20. These are the generations that have never tasted her, known her scent, had her fill their stomachs and put them to sleep. Let them eat until they are full,” he replied.

I smiled and was quickly pounced on by a young Spiderman that stole me away periodically throughout the evening.

A little while later, I felt a tug at my shoulder.

“Yes, Seedi?”

“Can you put some of the oil in a small bottle so they don’t cook with it or serve it with anything?” he asked.

“Of course. Changed your mind? You want to save it?” I asked.

“Not all, just enough. I want the scent of home every night until I die. I want to smell Majdal Kroom in Shatila.”

I poured him some olive oil into a small bottle and tucked it near his makeshift bed in the living room.

I realized in the gift-giving, I hadn’t taken my own communion. Before I returned to the living room, I dipped my pinched fingers into the bag of zaatar, and said my prayer under my breath.

I took my third communion in private, standing over a sink, trying not to spill a crumb.

A communion of faith.

I breathed in the scent of the quickly emptying bottle of oil.

A conversion to exile.

End transcript.

ei_podcast_12-4-13.mp3

(Source / 05.12.2013)