Palestinian MKs say new law passed by the Knesset aims to annex West Bank

knesset-isr

Israel’s parliament, the Knesset

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, passed a controversial bill on Tuesdaythat would allow verdicts from military court proceedings in the occupied West Bank to be submitted as evidence in Israeli civilian courts, a move which critics claim is another step aiming to illegally annex the West Bank by applying Israeli domestic laws in the territory.

During a debate over the bill — proposed by MK Anat Berko from the ruling Likud party — opposition MKs argued that the bill constitutes an extension of the Israeli occupation and the government’s control over the West Bank, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.
MK Zouheir Bahloul from the left-wing Zionist party was quoted by Haaretz as saying the bill would be a “de-facto annexation of military court verdicts to civilian courts,” adding that the Israeli government would essentially be “applying Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank, which is occupied territory.”
Previously, Israeli military rule, which Palestinians in the West Bank are subjected to, was separate from any civil legal proceedings inside Israel.
The new bill would act to synchronize these formerly distinct systems and allow Israeli civilians to use verdicts made in the military courts for civilian cases against Palestinians.
Berko reportedly argued in the Knesset debate that the law would “make it easier for victims of terror to demand compensation from convicted terrorists in civilian courts since they will not have to begin the legal process from zero, rather can base on evidence already produced in military courts.”
However, since the Palestinian territory is under a military occupation, Israeli authorities are mandated by international law to follow the local legal systems already extant in the occupied territory, which in the case of Palestine falls within three legal systems: Ottoman, British, and Jordanian law.
Any application of Israeli domestic legislation or courts would be in violation of international law.
The decision is an unprecedented move by Israeli authorities and follows a right-wing upsurge in the Knesset with ultra-right ministers routinely pushing for the annexation of the West Bank.
Berko dismissed claims of annexation, claiming that “on the contrary, the law aims to fix discrimination [in the courts] in favor of the Palestinians, because while Palestinians can sue Israelis for civilian compensation based on a criminal conviction, Israelis cannot do the same to Palestinians,” adding that the bill would “balance” the legal situation.
However, Israeli criminal convictions are part of the country’s domestic law, which governs Israeli citizens, while Palestinians are under the Israeli military’s jurisdiction, which is separate from any civilian legal proceedings in Israel.
MK Osama Saadi from the Joint List, representing parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel, was quoted in Haaretz as saying that “this law is a continuation of a series of laws that we will witness in the near future.”
“Call the child by its real name and don’t stand for a laundry of words – we’re talking about a creeping annexation,” he added.
At the end of last year, Israeli ministers advanced the “Legalization bill,” also known as the “regulation” or “formalization” bill, which would see thousands of dunams of privately-owned Palestinian land seized and dozens of illegal Israeli outposts in the occupied West Bank retroactively legalized.
Opponents of the bill also claimed the legislation was another strategy to annex the West Bank.
The legislation passed its first reading in the Knesset, but still needs to pass its second and third readings to become law. However, it is believed that the controversial bill has been strategically stalled until President-elect Donald Trump is official sworn in as president of the United States, as he has come out as a vocal supporter of Israel’s illegal settlement policy.
(Source / 17.01.2017)

Chile: Palestinians gather to forge unified diaspora

Developing international leaders is going to help us to achieve things, but it won’t happen overnight.’

Chile is home to the largest – and one of the oldest – Palestinian diaspora communities outside of the Arab world

Santiago, Chile  In Santiago’s Patronato neighbourhood, the green, red, white and black of the Palestinian flag can be found on almost every corner. The words “Free Palestine” are etched on restaurants selling falafel and shawarma. The heady aroma of cardamom coffee drifts from corner bakeries serving baklava and the best pitta and rugag bread in town.

Chile is home to the largest – and one of the oldest – Palestinian immigrant communities outside of the Arab world. An estimated 350,000 immigrants and their descendants live here.

This Palestinian community is not the only one in Latin America. Last weekend, 14 diaspora delegations from around the region met in Chile’s capital Santiago in an attempt to strengthen relations, set up networks and work together to push for peace in Palestine, establishing a lobby group of influential community leaders charged with getting Palestine “back on the map”.

Five generations

Maurice Khamis, president of the Chilean-Palestinian community, told Al Jazeera that Palestinians have lived in Chile for some five generations, arriving in the late 19th century in search of better economic opportunities when the territories in the Middle East were still under Ottoman rule.

Nearly a century and a half has passed since. “Obviously we have a problem, we are stateless, we don’t have a country, it is currently occupied by Israel, our territory is occupied, dominated and oppressed,” he says.

Khamis is convinced that the Palestinian-Latin American diaspora has a role to play in the future of a Palestinian state and government.

“We want to create an international independent diaspora with a stake in the future of Palestine. As Palestinian descendants, we can play a big role in putting Palestine back on the map and making it a sovereign state,” Khamis says.

“The only thing Israel does is to effectively make Palestine invisible by taking us off the map; even Google removed us from the map. Our main goal is to put Palestine back on the map in a year of special significance for us,” he says, pointing out that 2017 marks 100 years since the Balfour declaration, 70 years since the Partition Plan for Palestine, 50 years of Israeli occupation and 10 years of the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

All of this comes shortly after the United Nations urged Israel to end settlements on occupied Palestinian territory, in a resolution the United States did not veto, for the first time in history.

The Chilean Palestinian community is not only large in size. It represents an educated, wealthy elite, with influence in much of Chilean society including politics, law, education, business and sport. It even has its own football team, Club Deportivo Palestino, which recently visited Palestine and was declared a “second national team” by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

INTERACTIVE FEATURE: A record year of home demolitions in occupied East Jerusalem

Immigrants, not refugees

“The Palestinian community in Chile has a very long history, and the local community in Santiago is especially well established, so these elements alone mean that Palestinian Chileans stand out, not only in Chile, but also internationally,” explains Siri Schwabe, an anthropologist from Stockholm University studying the Palestinian diaspora in Santiago.

“For example, having a football team called “Palestino” that pledges to represent Palestine is quite special,” says Schwabe, who recently completed a doctoral thesis entitled: “Promised Lands: Memory, Politics and Palestinianness in Santiago de Chile”.

Chilean Sportive Club Palestino and Palestinian Club Ahli Al-Khalil during a friendly football match called ‘Game for the brotherhood’ in Santiago de Chile

Schwabe also highlights the fact that the community is largely descended from people who were, unlike those who left in 1947, economic migrants rather than refugees.

“That provides a different kind of involvement in the Palestinian cause. The fact that the Palestinian community includes people in certain positions of power in Chilean society means there is a different kind of potential in their engagement with the Palestinian struggle,” she said.

In late November, a lawsuit was filed in Santiago against three Israeli Supreme Court justices for authorising the construction of the separation wall in the West Bank. The lawsuit was rejected but is being appealed.

“The Palestinian cause is still the most important rallying point for Palestinians and their descendants in Santiago,” Schwabe says.

Khamis told Al Jazeera that the group is currently lobbying the Chilean government in advance of the Middle East Peace talks taking place in Paris later this month. They are pushing for Palestine to become a full member of the United Nations General Assembly(currently it only has observer status) in September.

OPINION: Palestine present more than ever in Latin American politics

Strong leadership

Khamis thinks this is a realistic goal. Together with Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador, Chile was among the first countries to recognise Palestine as an independent, free and sovereign state in 2011.

Maurice Khamis

The first step is to unify the Latin American diaspora, so the 14 delegations that met in Santiago, including Chile, Argentina, Peru, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil and Bolivia, are preparing for a convention scheduled to take place in Chile in November this year – the first of its kind.

“I think that what we still lack is defined leadership that brings together the community in every country,” says Omar Chehade, leader of the Palestinian Peruvian community and former vice-president of Peru, to Al Jazeera.

“We lack unification, and that is unfortunately what has brought forward the Jewish community all over the world in the last 50 years, their unified diaspora created something that was unthinkable, a fictitious state. Israel lobbied hard in a recently born post-second world war United Nations in 1947,” Chehade says.

“In my view, it is important to set up not only a unified diaspora, but also a diaspora of intellectuals, decision-making politicians, scientists, professionals and artists who will ensure that the avant-garde of their communities and populations globally push a way out for Palestine.”

The Diaspora Convention in November has ambitious goals, from setting up academic and cultural networks, to focusing on what unifies diaspora Palestinians in order to pave the way for a deeper political involvement.

This work will have even more significance looking at the challenges ahead.

“We have to work together more than ever before now that the US administration is going to change and harden on Palestine issues, as President-elect Donald Trump has anticipated,” remarks Chehade.

“The adversary is going to be harder and bigger, Trump has already said as much and this is not something we have to imagine, we have the experience of Republicans who are much harder for Palestinians than Democrats. Trump is going to fight not only with Palestinians but also with Latin Americans in the US and we have to redouble our efforts. We are going to have much more work with Trump,” Chehade says.

“Developing international leaders is going to help us to achieve things, but it won’t happen overnight.”

(Source / 17.01.2017)

Israeli forces murder father of 5 kids in West Bank

This is the second Palestinian Israeli occupation forces murdered in 24 hours

Israeli occupation forces murdered on Tuesday evening Palestinian father of five children near occupied West Bank city of Tulkarem.

Palestinian sources identified the man as Nidal Mahdawi, 44, who held an Israeli residency, married and a father of five children

Israeli occupation forces murdered on Tuesday evening Palestinian father of five children near occupied West Bank city of Tulkarem.

Eyewitnesses said that the Palestinian was walking to cross the Israeli checkpoint of Beit Lid, also known as Checkpoint 104, when the Israeli occupation forces opened fire at him.

“When I heard the gunshots,” Laila Wadi, an eyewitness said, “I saw the Palestinian man falling down on the ground.”

She added: “The Israeli occupation forces likely shot him with live bullets because he bled too much after he fell on the ground.”

The Israeli occupation forces, said the eyewitness, prevented people from approaching him and offering first aid.

Palestinian sources later on identified the man as Nidal Mahdawi, 44, who held an Israeli residency, married and a father of five children.

A spokesperson of the Israeli occupation army claimed Mahdawi “was armed with a knife and approached the Israeli forces at a crossing adjacent to Tulkarem.

Therefore, the spokesperson said, the Israeli forces “opened fire at the attacker and immediately killed him,” stressing that there were no casualties among the Israeli soldiers.

However, Israeli media at first claimed he was among several Palestinian protesters who threw stones at the Israeli occupation forces.

Mahdawi is the fifth Palestinian to have been confirmed killed by the Israeli occupation forces since the start of this month.

(Source / 17.01.2017)

Imprisoned Palestinian journalist Mohammed al-Qeeq on hunger strike demanding release

Palestinian journalist and former long-term hunger striker Mohammed al-Qeeq has declared an open hunger strike following his re-arrest by Israeli occupation forces on the evening of 15 January at Beit El checkpoint north of Ramallah. He began his strike immediately upon his arrest.

Fayha Shalash, al-Qeeq’s wife and a fellow journalist, emphasized that he began his open hunger strike from the moment of his arrest. Al-Qeeq, 35, earlier engaged in a 94-day hunger strike against his administrative detention, imprisonment without charge or trial with widespread Palestinian and international support, winning his release in May 2016. Since his release, al-Qeeq has been active in prisoner support efforts and was arrested returning from a demonstration in Bethlehem for the release of the bodies of Palestinians killed by Israeli occupation forces.

Shalash and al-Qeeq have two children, Islam and Lour. A rally took place on Monday, 16 January at Ramallah’s Manara Square demanding al-Qeeq’s immediate release; the journalist has reportedly been transferred to Ofer prison.

Al-Qeeq is among over 20 Palestinian journalists held in Israeli prison. Among these imprisoned journalists is Omar Nazzal, member of the General Secretariat of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, held without charge or trial under administrative detention. Nazzal was seized by Israeli occupation forces on 23 April 2016 as he attempted to cross the Karameh/Allenby crossing to Jordan to travel to Sarajevo for a conference of the European Feeration of Journalists. His administrative detention has been renewed three times.

Also held under administrative detention is Adib Al-Atrash, imprisoned since 20 June 2016. He was arrested by Israeli occupation forces only a few days after he returned from studying abroad at Eastern Mediterranean University in Cyprus, where he had just received his masters degree in media studies.  His administrative detention without charge or trial has been renewed twice.

Just yesterday, Palestinian writer Walid Hodali was seized by Israeli occupation forces amid a large number of arrests in the Ramallah area. He previously spent 15 years in Israeli prison and is currently the director of the Jerusalem Literary Office and a member of the Palestinian Writers Union.

Al-Qeeq is demanding his immediate release from re-arrest and is pledging to continue his hunger strike until he is freed.

(Source / 17.01.2017)

What will be the cost of Aleppo victory for Damascus?

A member of forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad attempts to erect the Syrian national flag inside the Umayyad Mosque during a media tour, Aleppo, Syria, Dec. 13, 2016

This is the third in a series of stories from Al-Monitor correspondent Fehim Tastekin, who has been traveling in Syria.

ALEPPO, Syria — As I was walking around the fortress of Aleppo last week, some officials were hoisting the Syrian flag. They insisted that I photograph it. One soldier saluted while others raised the flag. Next to a nearby staircase, a giant poster of President Bashar al-Assad was firmly planted. It was like a conquest celebration.

There are some people who compare the battle of Aleppo to that of Stalingrad, which helped change the course of World War II. Of course it is not on the same scale as Stalingrad, but in Syria, the retaking of Aleppo marked the turning point in the war, ending the bloody revolution backed by the Gulf-Western alliance. In a way, the high cost of Aleppo’s liberation brings to mind the costly victory of King Pyrrhus of Epirus over Macedonia and Rome.

The human and material costs of the Syrian war, which destroyed the historic parts of Aleppo and its eastern suburbs, are extremely high. Whether the battle will be recorded in history as a Pyrrhic victory will depend on whether the Damascus regime and people of Aleppo will be able to reconstruct their beloved city.

One factory owner said that if security is assured, he will have his plant running again in one month. Almost everyone Al-Monitor spoke to said, “Yes, we have been destroyed, but we will rise and rebuild.” Is that wishful thinking? Not really. Those familiar with Aleppo know its people as industrious, productive and determined. Aleppans have valued the historical artifacts around them as the basis of their wealth and prestige for centuries.

But to reconstruct some of those treasures will be very difficult if not impossible. Reconstruction of residential areas simultaneously with historic treasures requires a phenomenally comprehensive and expensive effort.

Syrian officials are preparing for reconstruction but haven’t yet shared their plans with the public. There will be separate plans for historical areas and residential districts. According to Mamun Abdulkerim, Syria’s director of antiquities and museums, officials are in touch with UNESCO and the Aga Khan Foundation for assistance. I was surprised to hear they have already started training programs in Beirut for those who will be working to restore historic monuments.

Abdulkerim was candid in estimating how much of the damaged antiquities they can restore: “I can’t offer a rosy assessment that all is well. No, it is a disaster. More than 1,500 historic structures were damaged.” He said 70% of the historic bazaar is damaged and 30-40% of it is beyond repair. Some can be repaired even if only a small part of them remains standing.

“Aleppo is on the World Heritage list. You cannot act arbitrarily or do what you want. We need billions of dollars for Aleppo because the damage is beyond your imagination,” he said.

There is talk of building a new city in East Aleppo for those who lost their dwellings. There are even rumors of China undertaking such a venture.

Asked who will be doing the lion’s share of the reconstruction, an official said, “Naturally, it will be done by our friends who did not abandon us during the war. I don’t think there will be a role for Turkey. People will mutiny against such a decision.”

Given the extensive and countrywide destruction, reconstruction will take considerable time. It is not known yet how much of the work Syria itself can pay for. But no doubt successful reconstruction will help preserve the country’s legacy.

There are a few advantages for Syria. Contrary to persistent popular analysis from abroad, the country is not divided. Despite sectarian campaigns and clashes by jihadists financed with money they received from the Gulf, Syrians did not split along sectarian lines. There was no sectarian divide between the Syrian army and the people, as some said. When you carefully observe the internal dynamics, you can see it was not a war between Alawis and Sunnis or Christians and Muslims.

Only in Homs, when the clashes began, did systematic attacks by Sunnis against Alawis, Shiites and Christians trigger a sectarian divide, but that was short-lived.

Aleppo is the best example that this was not a sectarian war. At least six Sunni religious notables were killed in Aleppo because they rejected an armed uprising. Sunni religious figures were constantly under threat for not joining the war. The most annoying question you can ask soldiers on the Aleppo front is whether they are Sunni or Alawi. Nothing angers Syrians as much as this question.

As far as I could see, Assad is more popular today than before. Of course, this popularity doesn’t cover his entire regime.

According to bureaucrats, politicians and citizens Al-Monitor spoke with in Aleppo and Damascus, the system is mired in bribery and corruption and cannot survive for long. People will want to see some of the ruling officials punished. The country has paid an extraordinary price for the war and will not tolerate those profiting from cronyism, nepotism, corruption and abuse.

An Aleppo University professor who requested anonymity spoke of the war’s influence on politics.

“I oppose the regime, but I have to admit Assad managed the crisis well. At the moment, we have no alternative to him. If there were an election today, he would get more than 70% of the vote. Of course, my criticism of the regime hasn’t changed. People put their criticisms on the back burner temporarily because they realized the country was about to disintegrate. It wasn’t the right time to settle scores with the regime. But when the war is finally finished, people will want drastic changes. The government is aware of this mood and is trying to change some things. Be assured, nothing will be the same as before,” he said.

An academic who joined our discussion said, “Many heads will roll. [There is] no other way.”

As the regime has been given some period of grace by its opponents, there is no serious debate on Assad’s presidency and his legitimacy. What we have is the foreign-supported opposition holding Assad responsible for the bloodshed, and then those identified as legitimate internal opposition seeing Assad as the guarantor of the country’s integrity.

Where do Iran and Hezbollah stand?

Syria will definitely insist that its allies in the war play major roles in its reconstruction. Nobody challenges the role Russia will play. But it is not the same for Iran, the other major ally. It’s not hard to detect resentment among the people and even government officials of Iran’s interventionist attitude. Many Syrians even prefer an alliance with Russia because they believe Moscow is not interfering in their domestic affairs. Moreover, Al-Monitor was told that Iranians’ overbearing, superior attitude especially annoys the Syrian army.

A veteran Syrian journalist told me Iran’s assistance won’t result in Iranian influence on Syrian politics. “You have to understand the political structure in Syria. Syria’s alliances don’t allow [for] influence on the country. Assad is balancing Iran with Russians and vice versa. If Iran presses too hard, he cites Russian reservations. If Russia presses too hard, Assad then refers to Iranian objections.”

Curiously, Syrians’ unease with Iranians doesn’t apply to Iran-supported, Lebanon-based Hezbollah, which hails from the same cultural basin as Syrians. Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is no less prestigious in Syria than Assad. In Damascus, Homs and elsewhere — even in Aleppo, with its prominent Sunni identity — you will see Nasrallah posters all over, and there is widespread affection for him among Christians.

In the government offices I visited, all I saw were joint photos of Nasrallah and Assad. Some shops even have Nasrallah’s portrait painted on the shutters. Street vendors sell lapel pins, cigarette lighters and wallets with photos of Assad and Nasrallah. I didn’t see a single photograph of Iranian leaders. You see Iranians on the front lines but not in city centers. In short, people distinguish between Hezbollah and Iran.

(Source / 17.01.2017)

How Palestinian left hopes to renew political system

Jamil Mezher, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s political bureau, is seen in a video still speaking during a rally in Gaza City, Gaza, Oct. 5, 2015

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Al-Monitor met with Jamil Mezher, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s political bureau, at his office in Gaza City. Among the several Palestinian issues he discussed in the interview were the decline of Arab and Palestinian leftism at the expense of the advancement of Islamist movements, the most efficient Palestinian tools to resist Israel, the obstruction of the Palestinian internal reconciliation and general elections since 2006 and the current situation, problems and stances of the PLO toward ongoing Arab armed conflicts.

“The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the largest Palestinian leftist party, supports the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital, while ensuring the Palestinian right of return to the land they escaped in 1948 under UN General Assembly Resolution 194 that was adopted as interim solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The PFLP, however, has not abandoned the strategic solution to this conflict, which is based on the principle of establishing a Palestinian state on all Palestinian territories occupied in 1948, for all its citizens, without distinction of any kind,” Mezher said.

The text of the interview follows:

Al-Monitor:  The PFLP was established in 1967 and is an old organization compared to Islamist movements such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Yet the political influence of Palestinian and Arab leftism has declined in the Arab world, while that of Islamist groups has increased. Why?

Mezher:  There are objective reasons behind the decline of international, Arab and Palestinian leftism, which led to the increased expansion of Islamist movements in the Arab region. Most importantly among these is the socialist system’s collapse, which started with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. This reflected negatively on the strength and presence of leftism in Palestine and the entire world.

Another reason is US support for moderate Muslim countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia in the face of radical Islam. This has also contributed to the predominance of Islamist movements over left-wing currents in the Arab countries. Nevertheless, I think that the PFLP still has a presence as a central power in Palestine, and is still committed to the Palestinian constants and rights. Its popularity and influence surpass all Palestinian leftist forces.

Al-Monitor:  There are two groups of Palestinian factions struggling to run the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is Fatah, which believes that negotiations and diplomacy are the best option to end it, and there is Hamas and the Islamist factions, which perceive that armed resistance is the best option to end it. Where are you between these two, and which option is the most appropriate at the current stage?

Mezher:  The peaceful negotiations achieved nothing over the past 23 years, in light of the US bias toward Israeli policies. Also, the armed resistance alone has not succeeded in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Thus, we are calling for the formation of a unified resistance front that would develop a unified national strategy with all forms of resistance, including the diplomatic, legal, political, armed and popular resistance. This would be through a political confrontation with Israel in international institutions and a legal confrontation in international courts, as well as intensified efforts to boycott Israel at the political, economic and academic levels. This is added to countering the Israeli confiscation of Palestinian land through popular resistance and defying the Israeli military attacks on our people through armed resistance. This is all important in the struggle, and we support all forms of struggle. But how to determine the tool of confrontation with Israel? This should take place through the unified resistance front that we are calling for, and which would be tasked with the management of the resistance and struggle tools and tactics, in a way that would serve the Palestinian people. For this reason, we call for determining the resistance tools with a national unified decision, not a decision by a particular party.

Al-Monitor:  What about the failed Palestinian reconciliation dialogue between Fatah and Hamas? Do you think that reconciliation cannot be achieved through bilateral talks? In case reconciliation is not achieved, what are the alternatives?

Mezher:  The Fatah-Hamas bilateral talks are based on quotas and sharing of power and interests and will not lead to a serious and radical solution. These talks gave each party the right to object to whatever does not serve its interests and desires. Thus, they consist of unfruitful meetings. We call for a comprehensive national dialogue that includes all Palestinian factions, and not bilateral meetings. This would be a real guarantee to reach a serious agreement ending the split and restoring unity to serve the Palestinian people’s interests, not those of a particular side.

In this context, we recently received — along with the rest of the Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Fatah — a Russian invitation for a reconciliation meeting in Moscow between all factions. The meeting is scheduled to be held Jan. 15-17, but we are not optimistic that it will lead to concrete results, and we believe that it will not be much different from the previous reconciliation meetings, because there is still a lack of genuine will by Hamas and Fatah to end the division.

Despite all that, we assert that there is no alternative for the Palestinian reconciliation and for the agreement on a common national vision and denominators to restore national unity. The failure to reach reconciliation means more slips, more divisions and fragmentation and further deterioration of the internal political and economic situation. This will also mean more daily life crises, such as the worsening electricity crisis, which we believe is a political issue.

Al-Monitor:  Since 2006, the Palestinian people have not voted in any unified democratic elections and the attempt to hold local council elections on Oct. 8, 2016, in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank failed. What is the importance of holding legislative, local council and presidential elections in the Palestinian territories? Why have elections not been held since that time? How does the ongoing election freeze affect the Palestinian people?

Mezher:  Elections are important and necessary for the renewal of the Palestinian political system and to pump new blood into the Palestinian leadership. Elections are also part of the understandings of the 2011 Cairo Agreement and would end the current division by allowing the people to choose their representatives, presidents and leaders. This, however, has not been applied or implemented due to disagreements by both parties to the internal conflict.

We expected the local council elections to pave the way for other elections, but unfortunately they were disrupted by internal disputes. The problem is that any party to the division can easily thwart and disrupt any national and democratic elections and prevent the Palestinians from exercising their democratic rights. The dispute between the two parties is depriving the Palestinians of their chance to renew their political system.

The continued election freeze is a manifestation of the bitter division at all levels. It also entrenches the dominance and monopoly of each party over the geographical section it controls, [leaving] Hamas as the de facto government in Gaza and Fatah ruling single-handedly in the West Bank.

Al-Monitor:  What is your position on the PLO, which Hamas calls for reforming? What do you think are the measures and procedures necessary to reform the PLO?

Mezher:  The PLO is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. It is the Palestinian people’s struggle tool. But we have some reservations about this organization, mainly the fact that it is plagued with corruption and monopolized by the Fatah movement, unilaterally controlling the Palestinian national decision. We call for reforming the PLO by holding elections for its national council, central council and executive committee in order to develop the organization to represent the Palestinian people’s political powers at home and abroad. This should all be done on a national partnership basis.

Al-Monitor:  Fatah’s seventh general conference, which was held from Nov. 29 to Dec. 4, stressed the need for holding a new session for the PLO’s national council within the next three months. What is your take on this and what is your position vis-a-vis the national council meeting?

Mezher:  The meeting of the PLO’s national council does not only concern Fatah but is rather a Palestinian national issue. Therefore, we call for convening this council to elect a new council and discuss the PLO’s political program. This is a matter of paramount importance that should not be delayed. Should this step go forward, it would be a significant stride on the path of reforming the PLO.

The national council is required to agree on a new political program for the PLO and to abolish the current one, which is based on giving priority to negotiations with Israel. This program has not led to any positive outcomes, as we mentioned earlier. The new political program ought to serve as a unified national strategy, aiming to isolate the State of Israel internationally and to call for convening an international conference vested with full competencies to implement the international resolutions in favor of the Palestinians that have been issued over years of conflict. Such resolutions include the condemnation of settlements, most recently UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlements, calling upon Israel to stop them immediately in the occupied Palestinian territories of 1967. These should be the pillars of the new political program of the PLO to make a breakthrough in the Palestinian situation.

(Source / 17.01.2017)

‘They have destroyed me:’ Mother grieves as slain Palestinian teen laid to rest

qusay

Fatima al-Umour, the mother of slain 17-year old Qusay, rests her head on a family member’s shoulder moments after saying her final goodbyes to her son

By: Yumna Patel

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — The early morning traffic began to ease as the funeral procession departed from Bethlehem’s city limits, and cars sped up on their way to the nearby village of Tuqu, in the southern occupied West Bank.

“Look, look,” said one of the drivers in the funeral procession, pointing upwards to a group of Israeli soldiers stationed on the hill just above the shared Palestinian-Israeli settler road. “They’re trying to provoke us.”
As traffic slowed for a moment, young men — residents of Tuqu where 17-year-old Qusay al-Umourwas shot dead less than 24 hours earlier — hopped out of their vehicles to grab stones from the side of the road and hurl them as far as they could at the soldiers, not knowing if one of them had shot the four fatal bullets that killed their friend.
Women and children gathered on rooftops, passersby honked their horns, and young men hung out of the windows of speeding cars waving Palestinian and Fatah flags, with pictures of al-Umour, the latest “martyr,” taped to the backs of their cars.
qusay1
Crowds gather on the rooftops of homes in Tuqu overlooking the cemetery during the funeral of 17-year-old Qusay al-Umour
Within moments of arriving to the teenager’s hometown, thousands of Tuqu residents flooded the main street — men and teenage boys crowding around the ambulance holding al-Umour’s body, women and children peering from windows and rooftops wiping away tears.
The sea of people joined al-Umour’s family and school friends to chant slogans of redemption as they marched through the town holding the body of their slain son and friend draped in a Palestinian flag, with a traditional Palestinian kuffiyeh scarf wrapped around his head.
As the procession stopped in front of the teenager’s house, where women from the al-Umour family waited to say goodbye to Qusay, the chants of the men in the street quickly faded amid the piercing shrills and screams of the women inside.
“They [Israelis] are terrorists. They are tyrants. They didn’t allow me to see him. They didn’t help him,” Fatima al-Umour, Qusay’s mother, said in a faint cry, barely able to speak as dozens of mourning women crowded around her.
“I kept asking them [the soldiers] to give him first aid without taking me with them, but they didn’t. They dragged him to a remote area and we didn’t know where he was. They took him behind the jeep, tore his clothes, then they threw him away and left him alone [to die],” she said as she struggled to sit up straight, resting her head on a family member next to her.
“Lift your head up, you are the mother of a martyr,” some women shouted in an attempt to comfort Fatima, “your son is a hero!”
The attempts at consolation were drowned out by Fatima’s cries.
“Oh my beloved son! They tortured you and dragged you. They have destroyed me. May God bring them to justice,” she continued to wail, fixing the kuffiyeh around her head as television crews, family members, and mourners attempted to push their way in front of her.
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Family members and PA security forces carry the body of 17-year-old Qusay al-Umour out of the morgue at Beit Jala’s Hussein hospital
“They [Israeli soldiers] dragged him in a brutal way to the military vehicle. Nobody in the world would do that,” a male family member sitting next to Fatima said, echoing the frustration of the circumstances under which the teenager was killed.
The residents of Tuqu — those who were present at the clashes where al-Umour was shot, and those who saw the video documenting the events immediately following his death — seemed to be sure of two things: the high school student was wrongfully killed by Israeli forces, and they do not know, and will likely never know, if Qusay was already dead when soldiers got a hold of his motionless body, or if he died in their custody.
The footage taken by Palestinian journalist Hisham Abu Sharqah immediately after al-Umour was shot went viral on social media, as it seemingly contradicted Israeli army allegations that al-Umour had been the “main instigator” of the clashes that day.
The video shows Israeli forces running towards the teenager’s motionless body, lying in a field of olive trees at least 100 meters away from the road where the clashes were taking place.
As the Israeli soldiers reach a motionless al-Umour lying face down in the ground, one soldier can be seen stumbling on al-Umour’s legs, while another one gets on top of him, forcefully turning him onto his back before more soldiers arrive. The video then shows four soldiers, each carrying one of al-Umour’s arms or legs, dragging the motionless teen to the road in an area surrounded by soldiers and armored jeeps.
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Mourners hold onto the arms of Qusay al-Umour’s father, center, as he overlooks his son’s grave
Though initial reports claimed that al-Umour was shot six times, a medical source from the Hussein hospital in Beit Jala, where the body was examined, told Ma’an that the teenager was shot four times — twice in the chest, once in each hip.
“One of the bullets perforated his heart. Medically, this is a fatal bullet,” the source said
Despite medical opinions surrounding the case, which have yet to be formalized, Ahmad al-Umour, a cousin of the slain teenager, told Ma’an that he — like Fatima, his family, and the rest of the village — did not know what to believe.
When asked to recall details of the incident, specifically regarding the allegation that al-Umour was the “main instigator” despite being shot from a distance of at least 100 meters, Ahmad, distracted and overwhelmed, could fixate only on the fact that al-Umour was dragged by his limbs and left to bleed, with villagers unable to reach him.
“They fired four rounds at his chest, and he fell immediately. They left him bleeding without offering any first aid. After we tried to rush to help him, the soldiers took him to a military base at the entrance of the town,” Ahmad said. “Then they notified the Palestinian liaison office of his martyrdom, and the Palestinian Red Crescent went to receive the martyr’s body.”
Ahmad managed to say a few words about his cousin just as al-Umour’s body was being carried into the mosque, the last stop in the procession before he would be laid to rest.
“Qusay was beloved among the village’s youth. He always helped everyone, he helped his classmates with their lessons. He was sociable,” Ahmad said, adding that al-Umour was also “active in the resistance” against the Israeli soldiers who regularly raid the village.
But when questioned about Qusay or about Monday’s events, Ahmad, Fatima, and every relative and villager Ma’an spoke with became fixated on the hour or so when the teenager was in Israeli custody before his body was returned. Not on the fact that he was shot in the chest, but that the Israeli army had his body, and for that reason, they could never be sure exactly what happened to him.
Every banner hanging in the village’s streets and poster taped to the backs of cars featured an enlarged screencap of the image of four Israeli soldiers dragging al-Umour’s limp body by his legs and arms, overlaid with a smiling picture of the slain teen on the right, and late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat on the left.
Though official medical reports might solve the mystery surrounding whether al-Umour was killed instantly or whether he died after being dragged by Israeli forces and held in Israeli custody, the overwhelming sentiment of denial and doubt surrounding the events of the teenager’s death will likely never be put to rest.
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The funeral procession for Qusay al-Umour in Tuqu on Jan. 17, 2017
According to Ma’an documentation al-Umour was the 251st Palestinian to be killed by Israelis since a wave of unrest broke out across the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Israel in October 2015. Though the majority of the Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces after attempting or allegedly attempting to carry out attacks against Israelis, at least 65 Palestinians, like al-Umour, were shot dead during clashes with Israeli forces during that time period.
Al-Umour was the fourth Palestinian to be killed by Israeli forces in January 2017. Yet on Tuesday, another Palestinian was killed by Israeli forces in the northern occupied West Bank, after allegedly attempting to stab Israeli soldiers.
In tens of cases, Israel’s version of events has been disputed by witnesses, activists, and rights groups who have denounced what they have termed as a “shoot-to-kill” policy against Palestinians who did not constitute a threat at the time of their death, or who could have been subdued in a non-lethal manner — amid a backdrop of impunity for Israeli forces who have committed the killings.
When asked if Israeli authorities would be opening an investigation into al-Umour’s death, as they have done in a handful of cases, an Israeli police spokesperson told Ma’an that he “was not aware” of any investigation.
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Crowds gather in the village of Tuqu for the funeral procession of 17-year-old Qusay al-Umour
Were an investigation to be opened, the precedent set by cases such as that of 15-year-old Khalid Bahr, who was shot dead by Israeli forces in October for allegedly throwing rocks at soldiers during a raid in a Hebron-area village, casts doubts on the likelihood of real accountability.
While witnesses claimed that Bahr was just walking home from school and not participating in the rock throwing, and an internal Israeli army investigation later revealed that the lives of Israeli soldiers were not at risk when Khalid was killed, no serious repercussions have befallen on those who killed the teenager.

According to rights group Yesh Din, of 186 criminal investigations into suspected offenses against Palestinians opened by the Israeli army in 2015, just four resulted in indictments.

Whether al-Umour’s death will have broader repercussions on the accountability of Israeli forces, it will likely not change much for al-Umour’s family, friends, and his fellow villagers.
“They took him about a kilometer away without giving him any medical help or first aid until he bled to death,” a relative of al-Umour told Ma’an during the funeral. “What would you tell the world about killing a child this way? This is criminal and terrorist behavior.”
(Source / 17.01.2017)

Israeli forces kill Palestinian near Tulkarem after alleged stabbing attempt

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BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Israeli forces killed a Palestinian near the northern occupied West Bank city of Tulkarem early on Tuesday evening after he allegedly attempted to carry out a stabbing attack.An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an that “an assailant armed with a knife approached Israeli forces at a crossing adjacent to Tulkarem,” adding that Israeli forces “fired at the attacker, resulting in his death.”

The spokesperson added that no Israelis were injured in the incident.
Locals later identified the slain Palestinian as Nidal Daoud Mahdawi, 44, who was a holder of Israeli residency, married, and a father of five.
Witnesses told Ma’an that Mahdawi approached the checkpoint when gunshots were heard and Mahdawi was seen falling to the ground after being injured by several bullets fired by the Israeli soldiers. Israeli forces then closed the checkpoint and prevented anyone from entering Tulkarem.According to Hebrew media, Israeli authorities said that the Palestinian youth was throwing rocks at the Beit Lid checkpoint, also known as Checkpoint 104, adding that “at some point he pulled out a knife and attempted to stab a soldier,” and was subsequently shot dead by Israeli forces.
(Source / 17.01.2017)

Erekat: Agreement to Form Joint Committees to Discuss Political, Security Topics

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Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat gestures during an interview in the West Bank city of Ramallah

Ramallah – Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said that the Palestinian delegation has completed discussions in Washington with the U.S. administration – these discussions included bilateral topics as well as security and political ones.

“An agreement has been reached to form bilateral committees and continue consultations between the two parties in the future,” said Erekat.

It hasn’t been announced whether the Palestinian delegation will meet the team of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump or not.

Palestinian sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Palestinian delegation arrived to Washington upon the invitation of the U.S. Department of State in order to carry out bilateral meetings – the delegation will try to meet with Trump team.

Sources added that “all topics that concern Palestinians were tackled such as future relations, settlement, threats to move U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and even the region’s topics.”

A joint statement on the U.S.-Palestinian political dialogue revealed that the dialogue “granted both parties the opportunity to discuss topics of high importance including regional ones…The PLO and the U.S. renews their commitment to the two-state solution that is the sole way to reach peace.”

“Both delegations denounced terrorism and its supporters in the region and the world. They admitted the threat paused by ISIS and expressed concern that this organization shook stability in the region, especially in Syria and Iraq,” the statement added.

Both parties highlighted the important role of civil society and the need to create political and economic opportunities for the future generations in Palestine, according to the statement, which also highlighted that “both delegations stressed the solidity of U.S.-Palestinian relations and expressed willingness to resume political dialogue in 2017.”

(Source / 17.01.2017)

Genocide In Yemen: Media Complicit In US-Saudi War Crimes

Writer and political analyst Catherine Shakdam shines a light on the routinely under-reported crisis in Yemen, telling Mnar Muhawesh on ‘Behind the Headline’ what’s really motivating the Saudi-led, US-backed war on the most impoverished country on the Arabian Peninsula.

MINNEAPOLIS — Yemen has been devastated by asymmetrical aerial bombardment by a Saudi-led coalition, and the war on Yemen, along with a Saudi-imposed blockade, is having disastrous impacts on food and water security.

The United Nations reported in October that more than half of Yemen’s 28 million people are short of food. At least 1.5 million children are going hungry in the poorest country on the Arabian Peninsula, including 370,000 who are suffering from malnutrition so severe that it’s weakening their immune systems.

And the Saudi-led attacks continue, striking Yemen’s hospitals, which are running out of medicine. All the while, these attacks have continued to receive backing from the United States and the United Kingdom since they began on March 26, 2015.

Even The New York Times admits that the deadly Saudi project in Yemen couldn’t go on without U.S. support.

But the Obama administration has said that while they may start halting some arms sales to Saudi Arabia, they’ll push ahead with training the Gulf kingdom’s air force to improve targeting.

The people of Yemen are without food, water, medicine, and fuel. The death toll in Yemen is so high that the Red Cross has started donating morgues to hospitals. And if that weren’t enough, the military campaign has not only empowered al-Qaida to step into a vulnerable situation, it’s actually made the group richer, according to Reuters.

Still, the Saudi government continues to block any kind of diplomatic resolution in Yemen. Riyadh even threatened to cut funding to the U.N. over its inclusion on a list of children’s rights offenders, effectively weaponizing humanitarian aid.

Yet the crisis unfolding in Yemen goes routinely under-reported in mainstream media. Hard-hitting coverage is kept to a minimum by those controlling the narrative — namely, outlets loyal to the U.S. and its allies which are enabling these atrocities.

Here to discuss the crisis in Yemen and what this war is really about is Catherine Shakdam, a political analyst, author, and director of programs with the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies. She is also an expert on Yemen. “A Tale Of Grand Resistance: Yemen, The Wahhabi And The House Of Saud,” is her latest book, and in it she explores that real story of resistance against Saudi Arabia’s influence on the impoverished state.

Learn more about fake news and about the forgotten genocide in Yemen on the full episode of the Behind the Headline:

(Source / 17.01.2017)