Remembering the Arafat-Rabin handshake

By Hanaa Hasan

Twenty-five years after the Oslo Peace Accords, which brought an end to the Intifada of Rocks in Palestine, the Palestinians had a very big zero of their rights.

On this day in 1993, Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, shook hands after signing the Oslo peace accords, in what would become an iconic moment in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet 25 years later, the promise of peace remains unfulfilled and the struggle for a Palestinian homeland continues, with the failure of Oslo increasingly acknowledged.

What: Handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin

When: 13 September 1993

Where: White House lawn, Washington DC

What happened?

The famous handshake marked the final stage of months of secret peace talks conducted in Oslo, Norway between the Israeli government and leading Palestinian faction Fatah. Under the terms of the deal, Israel agreed to withdraw its troops from Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank by April 1994. Elections were to be held in the territories to allow the Palestinians some form of autonomy and self-governance. In return, Chairman Arafat signed two letters renouncing violence and officially recognising 78 per cent of historical Palestine as Israel; Tel Aviv, in turn, withdrew their recognition of the PLO as a terrorist organisation, instead affirming them as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

The issue of Jerusalem, settlements, Palestinian refugees, and the question of borders were among the responsibilities that would remain with Israel. The accords were also to preserve Israel’s exclusive control of the borders, the airspace and of Gaza’s waters.

The peace deal was due to be signed in Washington under the ushers of the administration of the US President Bill Clinton.

On 13 September 1993, Clinton introduced the two leaders, alongside other state officials and former US presidents Jimmy Carter and George Bush, to the crowd of invited guests in front of the White House. The two national heads did not sign the declaration themselves. Instead, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas did the signing to rapturous applause.

The two statesmen then turned to face one another, with President Clinton’s arms outstretched between them, before Arafat extended his hand first towards Rabin. The handshake prompted a standing ovation and cheers from the audience. Arafat then proceeded to shake hands with Peres and the other Israeli officials on stage, a move not reciprocated by Rabin.

In speeches delivered after the signing, Prime Minister Rabin then addressed the crowd of reporters and officials: “We who have fought against you the Palestinians, we say to you today in a loud and clear voice, enough of blood and tears, enough,” he proclaimed.

“The difficult decision we reached together was one that required great courage,” said Arafat in his subsequent speech.  “Our two peoples are awaiting today this historic hope, and they want to give peace a real chance.”

What happened next?

The handshake made front page headlines across the world, hailed as a historic triumph of peace over conflict by media outlets and politicians. The signing of the Oslo Accords brought an end to the First Intifada, which had seen hundreds of Palestinians killed and thousands injured after Israel responded violently to the popular uprisings across the occupied territories.

In 1994 Arafat and Rabin received a Nobel Peace Prize for their participation in the accords. Arafat was also elected president of the newly established Palestinian Authority (PA) the same year, which paved the way for the signing of Oslo II in 1995, which affirmed the establishment of a Palestinian interim self-government. Neither accord promised future Palestinian statehood.

Twenty-five years on from the signing of the Oslo Accords, Israeli military withdrawal from the West Bank has never taken place. Israel has planted hundreds of military checkpoints, expanded illegal settlements that have seized large swathes of Palestinian farms and residential areas, built an illegal separation wall and evicted Palestinians from their homes and handed them to Israeli settlers.

The Israeli siege on Gaza, now in its 11th year, has made the Strip “unliveable” three years ahead of the UN’s dark prediction. Gaza was subjected to four major Israeli offensives between 2006 and 2014 that claimed the lives of thousands of Palestinian civilians, wounded tens of thousands others, devastated infrastructure, paralysed hospitals, destroyed schools and universities

The parties and sponsors of Oslo agreed to implement interim self-governance arrangements and a framework to facilitate the negotiations for the final status issues by the end of 1999. However, two and a half decades later, no progress has been made.

In 2015, Mahmoud Abbas told the UN General Assembly in New York that Palestine is still under occupation and that consequently the PA is no longer bound by the Oslo Accords signed with Israel.

Since the election of US President Donald Trump, negotiations for the “deal of the century” have been underway, with the administration finalising a plan that will allegedly end the conflict. Preliminary reports indicate that the peace deal will not call for a two-state solution and will not urge a “fair and just solution” to the issue of Palestinian refugees looking to return, as previous proposals have done.

(Source / 15.09.2018)

The debate on UNRWA takes focus away from the realities of refugees

Ramona Wadi

By Ramona Wadi

In the aftermath of the US decision to end its funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the EU has pledged to continue its financial support. In terms of the agency being able to continue providing services to Palestinian refugees, the news is undoubtedly welcome. However, the EU is still failing Palestinian refugees in terms of why it has decided to continue funding UNRWA.

According to a statement partially published by Wafa news agency, “The EU is committed to securing the continuation and sustainability of the agency’s work which is vital for stability and security in the region”. For all diplomatic intents and purposes, Palestinian refugees are merely an appendage to be used and exploited politically. Building upon the absence of historic Palestine and speaking only about a hypothetical Palestinian state, the international community, including the EU, gave Israel a green light to claim, albeit while exonerating its colonial presence from accountability, that there is a perpetuation of maintaining the status quo for Palestinian refugees.

The EU has no vision for Palestinian refugees and does not care whether they will return to their homeland or not. While it will continue to support UNRWA, it must be said that the dynamics are those of institutions supporting other institutions. A viable way to do so without raising the ire of the victims is by emphasising the humanitarian intent. Depoliticising humanitarian aid, however, has opened avenues for political entities to coerce victims into remaining victims.

By promoting the provision, or withdrawal of, financial support for humanitarian aid depending upon the actors involved, Palestinian refugees are deprived from a collaborative political commitment to change the passiveness enshrined within UN Resolution 194.

Trump’s decision adds to the consequences of the earlier colonial ethnic cleansing and displacement, while the EU’s reiteration that it will continue funding UNRWA ensures that its provision of basic services for Palestinian refugees can proceed. Yet, common to both US and EU actions, is the underlying motive to ensnare refugees in perpetual dependency. The most convenient way to achieve that is to balance contrasting actions in a way that promotes and maintains refugee dependency upon international humanitarian aid. With that balance, obligations are forced upon Palestinian refugees to accept whatever the international community deems as suitable parameters. A Palestinian right of return that departs from the Palestinian narratives was never on the agenda for the complicit international community.

Currently, the only discourse that defines the existence of Palestinian refugees is eclipsed by UNRWA and the funding saga. The international community has willingly participated in the snare created by Israel and the US – that of amalgamating Palestinian refugee identity to the agency providing basic needs, instead of speaking about Palestinians in direct relation to historic Palestine. Israel’s plan, carried out by the US, seeks to disrupt UNRWA and, as a result, refute recognition of the Palestinian refugee condition and their right of return. A strong rebuttal from the international community is non-existent; the reason being that Palestinian refugees and their right of return are externally defined by a flawed, non-binding resolution endorsing Israel’s colonisation first and foremost.

(Source / 09.09.2018)

The countdown begins for the death of UNRWA

Motasem Dalloul1

By Motasem Dalloul

After months of speculation about the contradictory remarks delivered by American officials and spokespersons about the White House’s intention to end the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA)’s mandate, America has announced that it is withholding all future payments to the organisation.

“The administration has carefully reviewed the issue and determined that the United States will not make additional contributions to UNRWA,” the US State Department announced.

Justifying its decision, the US said UNRWA is plagued with corruption and its fiscal policies are “irredeemably flawed”. Spokeswoman of the US State Department Heather Nauert added that the Trump administration had “carefully reviewed the issue and determined that the United States will not make additional contributions to UNRWA.”

Anyone with any knowledge of the current US administration would recognise that this is not the real reason that pushed the American administration to make this disastrous decision.

America has for decades been doing its best to protect and appease Israel at the expense of Palestinian human rights and international law, however, the current administration has gone a step further. Under Trump the US is carrying out Israel’s policies on behalf of Tel Aviv, starting with recognising Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.

The US has also imposed sanctions on Iran at the behest of Israel, a policy which it is to tighten in the coming months, and now it has ended its annual payments to Palestinian refugees.

“The US did something very important by stopping the funding for the refugee perpetuation agency known as UNRWA,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “It is finally starting to solve the problem… This is a very welcome and important change and we support it,” he added.

It is evident that America’s decision is a big step towards eradicating the Palestinian issue, and changing the facts on the ground in future negotiations regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict; in particular the Palestinian right of return.

Spokesman of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Emmanuel Nahshon, stressed this when he said: “UNRWA perpetuates the myth of the eternal ‘refugee’ status of the Palestinians… UNRWA is part of the problem, not of the solution.”

The steps taken by Israel on the ground and the US in diplomatic circles are attempts to break the Palestinian will, increase divisions and force submission. They echo Netanyahu’s tweet: “In the Middle East, and in many parts of the world, there is a simple truth: There is no place for the weak. The weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history while the strong, for good or for ill, survive. The strong are respected, and alliances are made with the strong, and in the end, peace is made with the strong.”

As UNRWA’s funding crisis becomes more intense, the services it offers to Palestinians will be curtailed, children, expectant mothers and a future generation of Palestinian refugees will pay the price. Education may be halted as limited funds may be insufficient to run schools in the occupied territories and refugee camps in surrounding countries. The Palestinian economy and future state will be weak as a result.

In a leaked email Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner encouraged Israel to review agreements regarding UN operations so Arab states cannot step in to fill the financial void left by the US. Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat has already answered the calls and said: “I intend to expel it [UNRWA] from Jerusalem”.

With that, we see the beginning of the end of UNRWA.

(Source / 08.09.2018)

Why is Israel still part of the UN?

Israel has earned all the qualification to be named as a rogue nation more than any other what US President Donald Trump would describe as “shithole countries.”  Rogue nation is a term that describes a state that does not respect other states in its international actions.

On January 2015, Chris Wallace of Fox News admitted on air that “the Israeli leaders talked about wiping Iran off the face of the earth.”

Recently, speaking at Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened Iran of nuclear annihilation. By far, this makes it the most direct and explicit threat of nuclear annihilation ever mounted by an Israeli leader against Iran or any other enemy state.

Let’s also not forget that Lieberman, the Israeli war minister, has advocated dropping WMDs on Gaza and he threatened Palestinian citizens of Israel who do not swear allegiance to Israel that they should have their heads “chopped off by an axe.” When Lieberman served as Transportation Minister in 2003, he suggested drowning any released Palestinian prisoners by Israel in the Dead Sea and he promised to provide buses for transportation. Why does ISIS comes to mind?

In an April 2012 interview with Al Jazeera, Israel’s Deputy PM Dan Meridor admitted Iran DIDN’T threaten to wipe Israel out. He confessed that the then Iranian President Ahmadinejad was misquoted in 2005 and that he never said Israel must be wiped off the map. Nevertheless, Israel was able to dwell on it for seven years but never issued an apology for deliberately lying about it.

Threatening to attack Gaza or Iran is illegal and attacking either one with nuclear weapons would be a war crime. Where are the western leaders and media outrage that we saw after the Israeli faked and fabricated Iran’s threat to wipe out Israel?

Let’s examine the current major Israeli violations against its Arab neighbours: 1) The daily psychological impact on Iranians and Palestinians of being threatened to be bombed by Israeli jets to smithereens is tremendous, 2) the frequent Israeli air space violation over Lebanon which violates the UNSC Resolution 1701 that ended Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006, 3) the routine Israeli bombing of targets inside Syria for no reason and the 12 years of illegal and strangling Israeli siege imposed on 2 million Palestinians in Gaza.

All of the aforementioned violations and war crimes by Israel far exceed the alleged Nazi treatment of Jews during WWII. Above all, Israel has violated 40 UN Security Council and over 100 General Assembly Resolutions; could someone please tell me, why is Israel still part of the UN?

(Source / 05.09.2018)

When Illness Is a ‘Death Sentence’: The Victimization of Gaza Women

Gaza women

Ramzy Baroud: ‘Palestinian women are hardly bystanders in the collective victimization’

By Ramzy Baroud

Hanan al-Khoudari resorted to Facebook in a cry for help when Israeli authorities rejected her request to accompany her three-year-old son, Louay, to his chemotherapy treatment in East Jerusalem.

The boy is suffering from an ‘aggressive soft tissue sarcoma’. Israeli authorities then justified their decision based on a vague claim that one of Hannan’s relatives is a ‘Hamas operative.”

The rights group, Gisha reported that the state remains unwilling to define precisely what it means to be a ‘Hamas operative.’ Even if an explanation is offered, denying gravely ill Palestinians from receiving life-saving treatment remains an immoral and illegal act.

“The state is sentencing the petitioners to death or a lifetime of suffering,” said Muna Haddad, an advocate with Gisha. By ‘petitioners’, she was referring to seven Gaza women who were denied access to urgent medical treatment by Israel, which required them to leave the besieged Gaza Strip.

The suffering of Gaza women rarely makes headlines. When Palestinian women are not invisible in Western media coverage, they are seen as hapless victims of circumstances beyond their control.

The fact that a woman from Gaza is ‘sentenced to death’ simply because a male relative is shunned by Israel is quite typical behavior from a country that oddly presents itself internationally as an oasis for equality and women rights.

It feeds into the false notion that Palestinian women are trapped in a “conflict” in which they play no part. Such misrepresentations undermine the political and humanitarian urgency of the plight of Palestinian women and the Palestinian people, as a whole.

In truth, Palestinian women are hardly bystanders in the collective victimization. They deserve to be made visible and understood within the larger context of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The seven women who petitioned the Israeli court, and the story of Hanan al-Khoudari, are but a small representation of thousands of women who are suffering in Gaza without legal advocates or media coverage.

I spoke to several of these women – whose suffering is only matched by their incredible resilience – who deserve more than mere recognition, but an urgent remedy as well.

Shaima Tayseer Ibrahim, 19, from the town of Rafah in southern Gaza, can hardly speak. Her brain tumor has affected her mobility and her ability to express herself. Yet, she is determined to pursue her degree in Basic Education at Al-Quds Open University in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.

The pain that this 19-year-old is enduring is extraordinary even by the standards of poor, isolated Gaza. She is the oldest of five children in a family that fell into poverty following the Israeli siege. Her father is retired and the family has been struggling but, nevertheless, Shaima has been determined to get an education.

She was engaged to be married after her graduation from university. Hope still has a way of making it into the hearts of the Palestinians of Gaza and Shaima was hoping for a brighter future for herself and her family.

But March 12 changed all of that.

On that day, Shaima was diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer. Just before her first surgery at Al-Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem on April 4, her fiancé broke off the engagement.

The surgery left Shaima with partial paralysis. She speaks and moves with great difficulty. But there was more bad news; further tests in a Gaza hospital showed that the tumor was not fully removed and it must be quickly extracted before it spreads any further.

To make matters worse, on August 12, the Ministry of Health in Gaza announced that it would no longer be able to treat cancer patients in the Israel-besieged enclave.

Shaima is now fighting for her life as she awaits Israeli permission to cross the Beit Hanoun checkpoint (called the Erez Crossing by Israel) to the West Bank, through Israel, for an urgent surgery.

Many Gazans have perished that way, waiting for pieces of paper, a permission, that never materialized. Shaima, however, remains hopeful, while her whole family constantly prays that their eldest daughter prevails in her fight against cancer and resumes her pursuit of a university degree.

On the other side of Gaza, Dwlat Fawzi Younis, 33 from Beit Hanoun is living a similar experience. Dwlat, however also looks after a family of 11, including her nephews and her gravely ill father.

She had to become the main breadwinner of her family when her father, 55, suffered kidney failure and was unable to work.

She would look after the entire family with the money she earned as a hairdresser. Her brothers and sisters are all unemployed. She used to help them, too, whenever she could.

Dwlat is a strong person; she has always been that way. Perhaps it was her experience on November 3, 2006, that strengthened her resolve. An Israeli soldier shot her while she was protesting with a group of women against the Israeli attack and destruction of the historic Umm Al-Nasr mosque in Beit Hanoun. Two women were killed that day. Dwlat was hit by a bullet in her pelvis, but she survived.

After months of treatment, she recovered and resumed her daily struggle. She also never missed a chance to raise her voice in solidarity with her people at protests.

On May 14, 2018, when the United States officially transferred its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, 60 Palestinian protesters were killed and nearly 3,000 were wounded at the Gaza-Israel fence. Dwlat was shot in her right thigh, the bullet penetrating the bone and cutting through the artery.

Her health has deteriorated quickly since then, and she is now unable to work. But Israel still has not approved her application to be transferred to Al-Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem to receive treatment.

Yet, Dwlat insists she will continue to be an active and empowered member of the Gaza community, even if it means joining the protests along the Gaza fence on crutches.

In truth, these women embody the remarkable spirit and courage of every Palestinian woman living under Israeli Occupation and siege in the West Bank and Gaza.

They endure and persist, despite the massive price they pay and continue the struggle of generations of courageous Palestinian women who came before them.

(Source / 30.08.2018)

In Israel, prison number (25) 121.207, that is me

The Norwegian activist and athlete was on Al-Awda humanitarian boat when Israeli soldiers brutally commandeered it and arrested everyone on board

Gerd von der Lippe, the only Norwegian delegate on Al-Awda, Freedom Flotilla

By Gerd von der Lippe

Prison number (25) 121.207, that is me, Gerd von der Lippe, the only Norwegian delegate on Al-Awda (The Return). In total there were 22 people on the boat, of which 13 were selected by the Freedom Flotilla Coalition (FFC). In addition, there were two journalists and seven crew, including four Norwegians. Why did we sail to Gaza knowing that we most probably would be thrown into an Israeli jail? I have been to Gaza before and I know that people there see themselves as everyday people and how happy they are when we try to visit them to challenge the illegal Israeli blockade with our FFC boats. Our decision this time to bring medical supplies also demonstrated to our friends in Gaza that we are identifying ourselves with the civilians, especially the sick and wounded.

We were attacked by Israeli Navy pirates in international waters, about 42 nautical miles from the port of Gaza as well as Egypt. After the soldiers boarded our boat, they brutally took controland sailed us to the biggest port in Israel, Ashdod.

One of the many offensive things I witnessed was how the “soldiers” treated the Norwegian flag under which we were sailing. One male “soldier” pulled it down and there were two others around him, as he stamped on it and then left it on the floor. It was terrible to look at. I felt so angry – how disrespectful! It really hurt me.

At the time this was happening I was a leader of a group of four vulnerable people, who had agreed to remain seated throughout the military attack on our boat. I was aware of my particular responsibilities and drew upon the two days of non-violence training that we participated in Palermo before we set off on this final leg to stop me from running towards these “soldiers” and challenging them about their gross disrespect.

OPINION: Mission accomplished – Why solidarity boats to Gaza succeed despite failing to break the siege

Sometime later, one of my fellow participants Mikkel jumped up and picked up the Norwegian flag and folded it up neatly and placed it near us. I was a scout leader when I was young and have a great respect towards flags of every nation including my own. Between 1960 and 1970, I was a member of the Norwegian national athletics team and during that time we also learned to honour flags. Many of my friends and I proudly celebrate our national day, 17 May, when I put up several flags in our garden. This conduct of the Israeli “soldiers” was indicative of their lack of discipline and disrespect, something that Palestinian people contend with every day.

When we eventually reached the port of Ashdod, we were forced into a closed military area and subjected to repeated searches. Every time they searched us as so-called “terrorists”, I was in real trouble, because of my two artificial hips. Their technical devices created terrible noises over my new hips, and they pretended to not understand why. So, I became angry and this created a lot of adrenalin in my body, with the consequence that my blood pressure rose to a dangerous level. As a result, they wanted to take me to a hospital, but I resisted crying out that my blood pressure would be normal if they let me leave this terrible country.

In total, we were searched six times, each time by different people in various ways.

When two female soldiers searched my clothes, the same thing happened again. I cried out in order not to be afraid – this time so powerfully, that one of the soldiers got scared for a short moment. Her revenge was to go over my clothes several times, stripping me again, throwing all my gear on the floor. My lipstick, underwear, jumpers, credit card and hat with the logo “Ship To Gaza” were all scattered on the floor.

When this process eventually came to an end, three of us women were forced into a prison car like sheep and taken to Givòn prison. There we were subjected to a further search of our body and clothes, and everything except a T-shirt, reading glasses and a pair of pants, were taken from me, including hair grips, toothpicks and dental floss which were supposedly dangerous.

They then placed all of the six women who had been on Al-Awda in one cell. Supposedly men and women are treated equally in Israeli prisons, but this is not correct. We were treated worse than our male comrades. For example, the men had a fan in their cell which prevented their cell turning in to a sauna and they were also allowed outside twice a day, as opposed to the women who were only allowed out for one short period each day.

The Israeli guards prevented us from being with the men and they seemed to enjoy coming into our cell during the day and at night and making lots of noise. The food was terrible, but not worse than expected. My 75-year-old sporting body was sweating like hell in the sauna during the nights and I needed clean water, something that we were only able to get during our short daily exercise outsider.

One day I was so tired after having slept for only two hours for two nights, that I did not have any energy to go outside – I nearly fainted. I did not drink the dirty water in the cell and my body dried up. The food we were given was from dirty dishes which we washed with soap and dirty cold water. Some of us washed the floor to avoid the small insects in our cell.

One morning, one of the guards shouted at me and then hit me hard on my left ankle to get us up out of our beds, injuring one of my hips. My non-violent resistance was to shout in a powerful way. “I am a professor and I know my rights! … I need a doctor!” They promised to get me access to a doctor, but I would have to wait. Several hours later, though, I was on my way to a doctor with the help of Divina [Levrini, a Swedish activist who was also on board Al-Awda].

To exaggerate my pain, although it was not necessary, I limped and she supported me. We helped each other. The day before I had smuggled out her cigarette lighter, and now she really helped me. We were, however not on our way to a doctor, but to a new hot cell. In order for me not to faint in our new sauna, I asked Divina to sing with me. We did that so loudly together and so well, I think, that all guards passing heard it and several of them looked towards our new cell. Songs like “Yesterday”, “We are many” (a Scandinavian women’s song), “Who can sail without wind”, “The International” and an old Norwegian folk song that the guards really hated. This song helped me sing out in powerfully. To hear my own voice empowered me and helped me hold on to my identity, because the aim of the guards was to break us and dehumanise us.

All of us, including the men, supported each other the whole time.

Some of the guards told me that they wanted to kill us, but we knew that they would not dare, because that would have created a media storm like when they killed ten activists on the Mavi Marmara in 2010.

OPINION: Freedom Flotilla activist – Israel soldiers beat us, stripped us, then robbed us

Jan Petter and I were in jail five nights, more than all the others. We had expected some help from the Norwegian Foreign Department, especially as our Norwegian boat has been attacked in international waters. What did the Norwegian conservative government do? They asked the Israeli Foreign Department why they stopped us and how. As prisoners and ex-prisoners we have heard nothing directly from our Foreign Department, only via media that the blockade of Gaza is legal. This is wrong.

The UN has stated that the Israeli blockade is a “violation of international law”. Now we have started working on a strategy to mobilise members of parliament and others to counter the Norwegian Government. The most important work for the FFC is to end the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza. Two million Palestinian people there are living in hell in the largest detention centre in the world. The Israelis are conducting a mass psychological experiment and this is a global crime, which the FFC continues to fight against in a non-violent way.

#Israel arrested more than 600 Palestinians in May


MEMO #Infographic by The White Canvas

(Source / 28.08.2018)

‘This is occupation, not conflict: it’s black and white.’

Acclaimed Palestinian cartoonist Mohammad Sabaaneh [Rebecca Stead/Middle East Monitor]

By Rebecca Stead

Mohammad Sabaaneh was released from an Israeli prison four years ago. He had been incarcerated for five months, spending almost two weeks in solitary confinement. Israeli forces held Mohammad in administrative detention, meaning they needed no charge and did not send him to trial. During one of his interrogation sessions, he managed to steal some paper and a pencil to begin sketching his ideas for images documenting his time in prison, smuggling them out with every prisoner who was released. When Mohammad himself was eventually released, he collected his sketches and completed the cartoons that make up his new book “Palestine in Black and White”.

The first image he completed was of Gaza. Drawn in 2014, when Gaza was suffering under Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” that led to the death of 2,251 Palestinians, including 547 children, it shows dozens of grotesque characters pointing rifles, tanks and missiles at a small child sitting atop a tiny piece of land, meant to represent the civilian population of Gaza targeted by Israeli bombardment. The USA looks on from a distance, his stars-and-stripes hat easily distinguishable from the soldiers’ helmets. On the right, Gulf leaders and the world look the other way, ignoring the plight of Gaza’s almost two million besieged inhabitants.

This brutal and explicit style is replicated throughout “Palestine in Black and White”, but Mohammad treats each of his images with the care and attention to detail of a fine artist. He explains that while first exploring the idea for a book: “I noticed that most cartoonists in the Arab world care more about the content of the cartoon than the artwork.” Mohammad believes this is because most are influenced by Naji Al-Ali – the famous Palestinian cartoonist and creator of Handala who was assassinated in London in 1987 – who “cared mostly about the political position and what’s going on around him.” Mohammad argues however that “if you just want to care about content you can write about the topic, but if you are a cartoonist you have to care about art.”

“That’s why I started to improve my style and to try find something new, to start improving my characters, scenes and tools,” he adds.

READ: British film, theatre figures slam Israel’s bombing of Gaza cultural centre

Mohammad went back to basics, shunning the iPad and computer-drawn cartoons preferred by so many of his peers and opting instead for water colours, ink and pencil. The influence of fine art is clear to see in many of Mohammad’s pieces, with elements of surrealism clearly visible to even the untrained eye: Dali-esque clocks hang over checkpoint barriers meant to depict the daily reality of West Bank Palestinians, people’s suffering is crammed into the frame in a way that evokes Picasso’s Guernica. Mohammad acknowledges these artistic influences, saying that “in 2014 I spent three days in Spain looking for the Guernica. I just needed to see it. Friends and colleagues who saw my work always told me ‘it looks like Guernica’ – while initially this was an accident, after my trip I decided to consciously invoke this style in some of my pieces.”

There is no doubt that Mohammad’s images are dense. Readers of the book will find themselves drawn time and again to each of its pages, noticing new details and hidden symbolism upon each viewing. Mohammad has stayed true to many of those symbols familiar to Palestinian art history, for example the cactus as a symbol of sumud or steadfastness, the key as a symbol of the “right of return” or the tree as a symbol of rootedness in the land. Yet Mohammad has put his own twist on even these long-entrenched codes. He explains “when we talk about the olive tree this isn’t just an economic issue but a cultural one. Israel takes Palestinians’ trees and replants on their settlements [in the occupied West Bank], so when you talk about olive trees it is something related to our history.”

Mohammad has taken the image of the tree one step further, utilising not just the olive tree synonymous with the West Bank and Jerusalem but also the orange tree. He says:

I was speaking with a friend and he told me that when we as artists use the olive tree as a Palestinian symbol, we drop our right to coastal cities like Haifa and Jaffa. There we have always grown orange trees, and so these are featured in my work as well.

It's not yours to claim [Mohammad Sabaaneh]

Asked why he decided to publish his series of cartoons in black and white, Mohammad explains that “I love black and white! I didn’t necessarily choose black and white when I started, as I don’t always draw only in monochrome, but when I was thinking about a title for the book it made sense to me.” He continues: “When I started a Master’s programme at university as a ‘conflict resolution’ student, what shocked me was that everyone around the world called the situation in Israel-Palestine ‘conflict’.”

What’s happening here isn’t conflict – for conflict you could find compromise between the two sides – what is happening here is occupation, it’s black and white. It’s also settler colonisation, and that’s more difficult to understand because occupation is temporary, but they [the Israelis] want to stay here and expel the indigenous people and steal your identity, your tree.

Mohammad’s political stance can be seen running throughout his work, from the way many of his characters are drawn without mouths to represent the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strikeor without eyes to represent the influence of the occupation on Palestinians. He explains “eyes are the key to understanding any human being – we can understand whether someone is kind, happy, sad, all of these things. But under the occupation humans have become very ugly, and the oppressor influences the oppressed.”

He adds: “when I left prison and looked in the mirror I could hardly recognise myself – I looked tired, scared and ugly after spending so long in solitary confinement. It’s very hard to spend so much time inside a prison, and I don’t try to portray that in a heroic way.”

READ: Khater sees her detention extended for 7th time

One such image that demonstrates Mohammad’s influences is the piece entitled “How will history judge the torment of Palestine”. A full page spread, the image shows famous historical characters like Edward Said, Malcolm X, Karl Marx, Mandela and Che Guevara looking on at the carnage of Israel-Palestine below. Israeli bulldozers are stopped in their tracks by a resolute Benazir Bhutto, as Fidel Castro tries to crush the vehicle from above. Martin Luther King stretches over Israel’s Separation Wall to tell a frightened Palestinian child “you have a dream”. While Ghandi stands proudly flying the Palestinian flag.

In evoking characters from the 1960s and 1970s – the heyday of Palestinian resistance under the PLO – Mohammad believes “you can capture the interest of all the people around the world and explain that what is happening in Palestine is a revolutionary thing, like what the likes of Malcolm X and Che Guevara did.” Mohammed says that “that’s what we should be doing – putting Palestine in these international contexts whether it’s Black Lives Matter in the United States or the history of the Native Americans – because it makes it easier for people around the world to understand what is happening in Palestine.”

It is images like these that attest to the underlying aim of Mohammad’s work – to spread awareness of the plight facing Palestinians. Mohammad explains that “our mission should be to focus on spreading awareness among international audiences, rather than in the Arab world. The people of the Arab world know what’s going on in Palestine, so there’s nothing more to be done there.” Yet he stresses that in the international arena “our mission now is to raise awareness, not just in the UK or USA but in China, Australia – wherever I can reach people I will try to do it.”

To this end, Mohammad is already thinking about his next project. During our interview he showed me some of his latest images, including a table-length drawing of the history of women’s issues, from the moment Eve took the fateful apple from the biblical tree to the modern-day challenges facing women in a social media age. He explains, “in the past I didn’t do enough about women’s issues, so I’m redressing this now,” demonstrating a refreshingly self-aware approach to his evolving role as an artist.

Mohammad also showed me another image dubbed “Humans in black and white”, which explores some of the biggest challenges of our age including climate change and divisions between the world’s people. He believes that “while these works are very different from my book, it’s very important for me as a Palestinian cartoonist not just to talk about Palestine. Every issue leads into the other as part of a universal ideology.”

READ: PLO’s Ashrawi: Taking Jerusalem off the table takes peace off the table

(Source / 25.08.2018)

Palestinian popular resistance must be free of PA impositions

Israeli forces fire at Palestinian protesters during the Great March of Return in Gaza on 9 August 2018 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

By Ramona Wadi

With the Bedouin village of Khan Al-Ahmar still targeted by Israel for demolition, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has availed himself of the opportunity to call for mobilisation in the form of popular resistance. This, he maintains, is “the only means of struggle towards independence and statehood”, to the exclusion of all other forms of anti-colonial struggle. Khan al-Ahmar’s context, however, was necessary for Abbas to make his argument.

In other remarks during the 29thmeeting of the Palestinian Central Council, he reiterated his authoritarian plans for Gaza and for reconciliation to happen on terms that have been imposed by the international community upon the Palestinians. If popular resistance is implemented according to Abbas’s directives, it will undoubtedly be a limited endeavour, fraught with restrictions and transformed into another tool for the PA to allow Israel to complete its colonisation of the whole of Palestine.

Just as Abbas wishes to eliminate all other possibilities of Palestinian leadership, “popular resistance” in PA rhetoric means abandoning all other legitimate forms of resistance for one that is easier to control in terms of conforming to the authority’s demands. Furthermore, endorsement of popular resistance by the PA is being used to project purported differences between Gaza and the occupied West Bank, despite the fact that Palestinians in Gaza are the embodiment of popular resistance as part of the collective struggle for freedom from Israel’s occupation.

READ: Claims of torture in PA prisons resurface as prisoner dies in custody 

The PA has often called for popular resistance, only to distance itself from the outcome on many occasions while letting Palestinians become fodder for Israeli jails. It is clear, therefore, that the Ramallah authority utilises popular resistance to embellish its rhetoric. When Palestinians in the occupied West Bank protest against Abbas’s punitive measures imposed on the people in Gaza, for example, the PA’s security services never hesitate to target peaceful demonstrators with excessive violence. A recent protest at the PLO Headquarters in Ramallah saw PA security officers tearing down the placards of activists asking Abbas to lift his sanctions on Gaza.

The PA is trying hard to monopolise Palestinian popular resistance through differentiation. If popular resistance is restricted to occasional demonstrations against Israeli violations, or if it is necessary to promote any PA diplomatic stunts abroad, Abbas and his aides do not hesitate to endorse it. If, however, Palestinians utilise popular resistance to protest against PA violations, there are no qualms about using violence to disperse protestors. Hence, it is clear that in the PA’s vision of popular resistance, it is the same individuals who determine what popular protest is and how it should be utilised. The result is that such protest becomes yet another form of PA control over Palestinian resilience and resistance to Israel’s military occupation.

Popular resistance requires no endorsements or exhortations from Abbas. The Palestinian concept of liberation is not derived from PA “sacred security cooperation” with Israel and the international community. If the PA thinks it can manipulate the concept of popular resistance to be attributed to their leaders, their political delusion is even greater than it seems. This is especially so given that there is no denying that the Palestinians have decided to implement popular resistance as part of the struggle against all forms of oppression, including the PA’s own collaboration with Israel.

Fatah: We will reject any truce in Gaza agreed without us 

(Source / 22.08.2018)

The language of Palestinian freedom

Graffiti Bethlehem

Graffiti on the Separation Barrier near Bethlehem, West Bank

Ash Sarkar, of “I’m literally a communist” fame, recently set Palestine Twitter ablaze with an unusual pronouncement:

Ash Sarkar@AyoCaesar

Dr Kristin Ross suggested that words like “defend” and “protect” are better for mobilising political solidarity than “fight” or “resist”.

For this reason, I’m making a decision to try and speak of Palestinians’ right to protection and self-defence rather than resistance.

Reaction against this message was swift, but Sarkar, who in a single tweet appointed herself guardian of Palestine’s anti-colonial struggle, has yet to engage her Palestinian critics, many of whom patiently explained the importance of terms like “resistance.”  The lack of engagement isn’t surprising; any half-sentient pundit quickly learns that it’s okay to upset Palestinians if their antagonists are happy.

Some observers absolve Sarkar based on a recent piece for the Independent (London) in which she apparently makes a strong defense of Palestinians.  A close reading of that article, however, shows it to be subtly deferential to liberal orthodoxy.  The article uses crafty diction to elide Israeli colonization and instead conceptualize the state’s brutalization of civilians as an unfortunate example of disparate military power (an argument that tacitly normalizes Zionism).

Sarkar proclaims:  “the erasure of Palestinian voices in narrating their own history is itself in concurrence with the Israeli state’s strategy to delegitimize Palestinian struggle for self-determination in all its forms.”  This point might be more compelling had Sarkar not taken to Twitter the next day to dispose of words any cogent Palestinian would use if given the opportunity.

The decision to sanitize resistance into pleasant soundbites had clearly been made by the time she wrote the article.  Sarkar refers to Palestine-Israel as a “conflict” eight times (including the headline) and seems fond of “asymmetry,” which brings to mind a Foreign Policy shindig in a hotel ballroom with maroon carpet and plastic chandeliers; words like “colonization,” “ethnic cleansing,” “genocide,” “ethnocracy,” “imperialism,” “settler,” “apartheid,” and “Zionism” are absent.  I’d normally chalk up the lexical dullness to the editing practices of corporate media, but Sarkar’s tweet suggests that Independent editors probably had an easy time making the language conform to house style.

“The fundamental issue,” Sarkar proclaims in closing, “is about our right to stand in solidarity with oppressed peoples in highly asymmetric conflicts.”  Note that Palestinians are absent from this appeal. The fundamental issue isn’t the right of oppressed peoples to fight, resist, or do much of anything else; it is about the Westerner’s right to solidarity, an insidious logic given the article’s pretense of centering Palestinians.

And what’s this about “highly asymmetric conflicts”?  Which others does she have in mind? Police officers versus Black children?  The National Guard versus water protectors? Slaughterhouses versus herd animals?  Monsanto versus organic crops?

Sarkar’s lack of self-awareness is alarming, as when she argues, “[I]t would be fair to say that the military asymmetry of the Israel-Palestine conflict is matched in the media.  Language itself is a battlefield.” Word choice is important to public discourse says the person who just referred to settler colonization as “military asymmetry” in a major newspaper.

Sarkar’s unfortunate tweet gives us an opportunity to examine the uses of language in political and activist formations.  The vocabulary of Palestinian nationalism exists in Arabic and has been subject to debate for over a century. Much of that vocabulary isn’t easily translated, so by having the conversation in English we’re already displacing Palestine onto foreign terrain.

Nevertheless, it’s viable to maintain the spirit of the homeland and to support those seeking its renewal.  Leaving aside the dubious act of forfeiting language important to the very people under discussion, we have to examine who benefits from the forfeiture.  “Resistance” doesn’t simply denote obstinacy; it connotes political and economic self-realization. “Fighting” isn’t an irrational desire to inflict harm; it is a necessary survival mechanism.  The colony cannot maintain its endurance without antagonism. These points are elementary to decolonial theory; it is baffling that a self-proclaimed communist would so breezily dismiss them.

Sarkar and her mentor Dr. Kristin Ross—who came out of nowhere—want to explore what is permissible and persuasive to Western audiences, a useful concern.  But the Western audiences they invoke as universal are in fact media bosses, sitting politicians, think tank wonks, and other such functionaries. We cannot make decolonization palatable to the liberal wing of the ruling class—and even if doing so were possible, it would be undesirable.  The purpose of decolonization is to upend inhuman norms, including those of speech and elocution. Limiting our imagination to rhetorical customs in the metropole commits us to invisibility.

Communicating to people in the West is important—even better if they decide to listen.  I don’t want my argument to be read as a disavowal of conversation in either friendly or hostile environs.  I submit instead that it’s not the responsibility of dispossessed people to assure their oppressors’ comfort.  In the end, if arbiters of respectable opinion won’t accept Palestine’s national liberation movement as it actually exists, then it’s not because of language, but a fundamental difference of politics.  No amount of dissimulation will alter this reality.

Finally, relinquishing the venerable language of Palestinian struggle is a conciliation to Zionist discipline.  The colonized have only a few sources of power: native knowledge, cultural memory, filial bonds, historical legitimacy.  Perhaps their greatest power is a refusal to absolve the colonizer’s perpetual violence. Zionists are desperate for affirmation; the sharp tones of our dialect foreclose that possibility.

Saying “fuck Israel” may not be prudent and yet we should have learned by now that kowtowing to Zionist angst isn’t a prelude to approval, but a voluntary disappearance.

(Source / 21.08.2018)

Gaza without cancer medicine as Haley blames Arabs for Washington’s sins

Three-year-old Luay from Gaza has been transferred to the occupied West Bank for cancer treatment

Three-year-old Luay from Gaza has been transferred to the occupied West Bank for cancer treatment

By Ramzy Baroud

On Sunday, August 12, news from Gaza was distressing: The Ministry of Health announced that it would no longer be able to treat cancer patients in the Israel-besieged Strip.

“Colon and lung cancer, as well as lymphoma patients, cannot be provided with the necessary therapy now,” said Dr Mohammed Abu Silmiya, director of Abdulaziz Al-Rantisi Hospital for Children.

Israel is ultimately responsible for the Gaza siege which has extended for more than 11 years. With direct US backing, Israel has launched three major wars on Gaza in the name of fighting terrorism, destroying much of the tiny region’s infrastructure. A hermetic siege has punished ordinary Gazans, who are now lacking everything, including the most basic needs of clean water and electricity.

Now, even chemotherapy is no longer available.

But the war on the Palestinians has been a joint venture right from the start. The US has stood by Israel for many years and, as of late, orchestrated the demise of Gaza.

Washington has done everything in its power to isolate the impoverished Strip: It warned Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Party against reconciliation with its Hamas rivals. It fueled and sustained the Israeli war and siege on Gaza. It backed Israelpolitically on every available platform to shield Tel Aviv from its war crimes in the Strip and throughout Occupied Palestinian Territories.

For many years, the US acted as if a peace broker. Although the American act failed to impress Palestinians, it perpetuated the illusion in the minds of US allies that US administrations are forces for good, standing at an equal distance between two parties in an even-handed ‘conflict’.

The arrival of Donald Trump’s to the White House has ended the charade.

Read: Israel approves new settlement units near Bethlehem

While the new administration brazenly defied international law by moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it also took a series of measures to financially punish international bodies that extended recognition, political support or any sort of aid to Palestinians. In the course of a few months, the US took on the United Nations culture agency, UNESCO, pulled out of the UN Human Rights Council and has cut aid to the Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA.

The attack on UN organizations was led by the US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, who has played a central role in the new, anti-Palestinian discourse.

But she is not alone. In an article for CNN, Haley, along with US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, Jared Kushner, senior adviser to the President and Jason Greenblatt,  US representative for international negotiations, articulated an American point of view that read like textbook Israeli Zionist narrative.

They placed all the blame on Palestinians and spared Israel from any wrong-doing.

“Unfortunately,” they wrote, “Hamas’ malign activity is pushing Israel to engage in increasingly significant acts of self-defence. As in the case of past conflicts, Hamas starts a clash, loses the battle and its people suffer. That is the reality that needs to change.”

That was on July 23. A day later, Haley, using twisted language, chastised Arabs for failing Palestine and the Palestinians. In an 8-minute address to the UN, Haley spoke as if a pro-Palestinian activist, agonizing over the losses and suffering of the Palestinian people.

“Country after country claims solidarity with the Palestinian people … Talk is cheap. No group of countries is more generous with their words than the Palestinians’ Arab neighbours,” she said.

She lamented: “But all of the words spoken here in New York do not feed, clothe or educate a single Palestinian child. All they do is get the international community riled up.”

Welcome to ‘post-truth’ America.

Read: Trump: Israel PM ‘will soon be called Mohammed’

While the Arabs are expected – in fact, required – to stand in solidarity with their Palestinian brethren, the primary reason for the subjugation of the Palestinian people is the continued US support for Israel.

Since 1999, the US has supported Israel through 10-year long Memorandums of Understanding. According to these arrangements, support for Israel does not require Senate approval and, despite the massive aid, it still does not include missile defence funding.

The last US president to sign a decade-long commitment of funding to Israel, which is set to last between 2019-2028, was President Barack Obama, who provided Israel with more money than any other president in US history.

According to US Congressional Research Service, as of April 2018, “Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II.” This means that, to date, “the United States has provided Israel $134.7 billion in bilateral assistance and missile defence funding.”

Most of that military assistance has been used to fight Palestinians and Arab neighbours, to support the Israeli military Occupation of Palestine and to reinforce the Israeli blockade of Gaza. For Haley to rebuke Arabs for not doing enough to help Palestinians is simply disingenuous.

As harmful as US military support for Israel and the manipulation of the comparatively limited aid to Palestinians as it has been, US interference in Palestinian political affairs has been equally destructive.

The blatant American interference in Palestinian politics is juxtaposed with complete insubordination to the Israeli government, regardless of the fact that Tel Aviv has moved sharply to the right, and is increasingly shedding any claims to true democracy.

Considering that the US anti-Palestinian and pro-Israel stances have accentuated in recent months, one is hardly moved by Haley’s false sympathy with Gaza and the Palestinians.

Only weeks before she criticized the lack of Arab support, she lectured the international community on Israel’s benevolent approach to what she saw as Palestinian violence.

“No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has,” she said on May 15, shortly after many UN ambassadors stood up for a minute’s silence to mourn 60 Palestinians who were killed while peacefully protesting the siege at the fence separating Gaza from Israel.

Haley’s peculiar attacks on unsupportive Arab governments is designed to distract from the US’ own role that has emboldened Israel and held Palestinians prisoners to military Occupation and an inhumane siege for far too long.

(Source / 21.08.2018)