Is peace possible?

  • The New America’s Middle East Task Force and the Arab American Institute invite you to the launch of a critical public opinion survey on what Palestinians and Israelis want in a peace deal and their thoughts about the prospects for achieving it.

    During the month of September, 2012, Zogby Research Services conducted a comprehensive, unprecedented survey of Israeli Jews and Arabs; Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem; Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan; and the American Jewish comm

    unity. The poll was conducted for the Sir Bani Yas Forum in the UAE. Join us for the survey’s public release and a discussion of what Palestinians and Israelis really think about peace.

    Peter Beinart
    Senior Fellow, New American Foundation
    Author, The Crisis of Zionism

    Featured Speaker
    James Zogby
    President, Arab American Institute and Zogby Research Services

    Lara Friedman
    Director of Policy and Government Relations, Americans for Peace Now

    Yousef Munayyer
    Executive Director, The Palestine Center

    To RSVP for the event, call 646-963-2160 or visit the event page

Egypt’s Top Prosecutor Submits Resignation

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s prosecutor general has submitted his resignation, less than a month after he was swiftly sworn in by the president.

If his resignation is accepted, it will be a blow to Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who has been engaged in a power struggle with the judiciary since late last month.

It’s part of the political turmoil that has been sweeping Egypt.

Egypt’s official MENA news agency carried excerpts of the resignation letter submitted by Talaat Abdullah on Monday.

Hundreds of public prosecutors staged a sit-in outside Abdullah’s office in Cairo Monday, demanding he resign. They said that the president’s appointment of Abdullah was improper. They said the Supreme Judicial Council should have been the one to nominate him, in order to ensure a separation of powers.

( / 17.12.2012)

Rohingya Muslims: murdered, starved, silenced

Dear friends,

Thousands of Rohingya Muslims face death and starvation in Burma — stranded powerless and in extreme need for aid and protection in refugee camps. President Thein Sein pledged to consider more rights for the persecuted minority, but after weeks of inaction we need to urge him to stay true to his word: 

Sign the petition

Days ago, 7 year-old Fatimah died of dehydration, cast out and neglected by her home country of Burma. And she’s not alone — thousands of Rohingya Muslims are starving to death or even murdered because of their religion and ethnicity. But we can force Burma’s President to save the Rohingya.

The situation is turning more desperate every day — recent violence killed scores and over 100,000 Rohingya have been forced into cramped refugee camps with little food, dirty water and no sanitation. Burmese leader Thein Sein is wavering on his promises to tackle the crisis, but a major investment summit is coming up, and the last thing he wants is to be shamed by his scandalous inaction — if we all join in, we can get him to bring justice to the Rohingya Muslims.

We don’t have much time left — sign the petition calling on President Thein Sein to give the Rohingya citizenship and equal rights, and guarantee that aid reaches those in need. When we gather 50,000 signatures, Avaaz will deliver our message to leading regional and international media outlets and Burma’s key government partners attending the summit. Click below to join and then share this widely:

Millions of Rohingya Muslims have been stripped of citizenship and human rights for generations. Up to 800,000 denied passports, access to health-care, education and work now fight for their lives.

The latest wave of sectarian violence sparked months ago: whole villages were torched, and hundreds of thousands displaced. After 4 months of investigations, Al Jazeera reported evidence of at least 2 mass graves, systematic rape also murder of minors, allegedly with the support and participation of the military and police forces and local government officials.

In a recent resolution, the UN expressed concerns about the situation of the Rohingya, and urged the Burmese government to improve their situation and protect all their rights, including the right to a nationality. In response, Thein Sein pledged to consider more rights but he hasn’t done it and now, as bitter winter approaches, we have to hold him accountable. Sign and share with everyone:

Avaaz members around the world have stood with the Rohingya before — urging the OIC to pressure Bangladesh to supply urgent refugee relief. Now let’s take our message directly to the president.

With hope and determination,

Dalia, Mais, Luis, Rewan, Pascal, Mouhamad, Jooyea, and the entire Avaaz team

Mohamed Bouazizi


Mohamed Bouazizi
محمد البوعزيزي
Born Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi[1]
29 March 1984
Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia
Died 4 January 2011 (aged 26)
Ben Arous, Tunisia
Resting place Garaat Bennour cemetery
Nationality Tunisian
Other names Basboosa
Occupation Street vendor
Known for Self-immolation

Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi (29 March 1984 – 4 January 2011; Arabic: محمد البوعزيزي‎) was a Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire on 17 December 2010, in protest of the confiscation of his wares and the harassment and humiliation that he reported was inflicted on him by a municipal official and her aides. His act became a catalyst for the Tunisian Revolution[2] and the wider Arab Spring, inciting demonstrations and riots throughout Tunisia in protest of social and political issues in the country. The public’s anger and violence intensified following Bouazizi’s death, leading then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to step down on 14 January 2011, after 23 years in power.

The success of the Tunisian protests inspired protests in several other Arab countries, plus several non-Arab countries. The protests included several men who emulated Bouazizi’s act of self-immolation, in an attempt to bring an end to their own autocraticgovernments. Those men and Bouazizi were hailed by some Arab commentators as “heroic martyrs of a new Middle Eastern revolution.”[3]

In 2011, Bouazizi was posthumously awarded the Sakharov Prize jointly along with four others for his and their contributions to “historic changes in the Arab world“.[4] The Tunisian government honored him with a postage stamp.[5] The Times of the United Kingdom named Bouazizi as person of the year 2011.[6][7]Early life and employment struggles

Mohamed Bouazizi, who was known locally as “Basboosa”,[8] was born in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, on 29 March 1984.[9] His father, a construction worker in Libya, died of a heart attack when Bouazizi was three, and his mother married Bouazizi’s uncle some time later.[2] Along with his six siblings,[10] Bouazizi was educated in a one-room country school in Sidi Salah, a small village 12 miles (19 km) from Sidi Bouzid.[11] Although several media outlets reported that Bouazizi had a university degree,[10][12][13] his sister, Samia Bouazizi, stated that he had never graduated from high school,[14] but that it was something he had wanted for both himself and his sisters.[11] With his uncle in poor health and unable to work regularly,[15] Bouazizi had worked various jobs since he was ten,[2] and in his late teens he quit school in order to work full-time.[15]

Bouazizi lived in a modest stucco home, a 20-minute walk from the center of Sidi Bouzid,[16][17] a rural town in Tunisia burdened by corruption[18] and suffering an unemployment rate estimated at 30%.[2] According to his mother, he applied to join the army, but was refused, and several subsequent job applications also resulted in rejection.[15] He supported his mother, uncle, and younger siblings, including paying for one of his sisters to attend university, by earning approximately US$140 per month selling produce on the street in Sidi Bouzid.[11][15] He was also working toward the goal of buying or renting a pickup truck for his work.[19] A close friend of Bouazizi said he “was a very well-known and popular man [who] would give free fruit and vegetables to very poor families.”[15]

Confiscation of wares and self-immolation

According to friends and family, local police officers had allegedly targeted and mistreated Bouazizi for years, including during his childhood, regularly confiscating his small wheelbarrow of produce;[15] but Bouazizi had no other way to make a living, so he continued to work as a street vendor. Around 10 p.m. on 16 December 2010, he had contracted approximately US$200 in debt to buy the produce he was to sell the following day. On the morning of 17 December, he started his workday at 8 a.m.[11] Just after 10:30 a.m., the police began harassing him again, ostensibly because he did not have a vendor’s permit.[19] However, while some sources state that street vending is illegal in Tunisia,[20] and others that Bouazizi lacked a required permit to sell his wares,[11][19] according to the head of Sidi Bouzid’s state office for employment and independent work, no permit is needed to sell from a cart.[18]

In any case Bouazizi did not have the funds to bribe police officials to allow his street vending to continue.[11][21] Similarly, two of Bouazizi’s siblings accused authorities of attempting to extort money from their brother,[18] and during an interview with Reuters, one of his sisters stated, “What kind of repression do you imagine it takes for a young man to do this? A man who has to feed his family by buying goods on credit when they fine him…and take his goods. In Sidi Bouzid, those with no connections and no money for bribes are humiliated and insulted and not allowed to live.”[17]

Bouazizi’s family claims he was publicly humiliated, that a 45-year-old female municipal official, Faida Hamdi,[2][10][15] slapped him in the face, spat at him, confiscated his electronic weighing scales, and tossed aside his produce cart.[19] It was also stated that she made a slur against his deceased father.[17][19] Bouazizi’s family says her gender made his humiliation worse.[10][22]

Countering these claims, Faida Hamdi[2][10][15] and her brother in interviews claimed that she did not slap Bouazizi or otherwise mistreat him. This was also supported by an eyewitness who told Asharq Al-Awsat that he did not see Hamdi slap Bouazizi.[23][24]

Both Bouazizi’s mother and the eyewitness who told Asharq Al-Awsat stated that her aides had kicked and beaten him after confiscating his fruit-cart,[23] Faida Hamdi states it might have happened[24] and Asharq Al-Awsat denies it happened.

Bouazizi, angered by the confrontation,[25] ran to the governor’s office to complain[19] and to ask for his scales back.[26] The governor refused to see or listen to him, even after Bouazizi was quoted as saying “If you don’t see me, I’ll burn myself.”[19] Bouazizi acquired a can of gasoline from a nearby gas station and returned to the governor’s office. While standing in the middle of traffic, he shouted, “How do you expect me to make a living?”[26] He then doused and set himself alight with a match at 11:30 a.m. local time, less than an hour after the altercation.[19]

Death and funeral

Ben Arous Burn and Trauma Centre where Bouazizi died

According to Bouazizi’s sister, whose information was based on details relayed from her uncle who was present at the scene, people immediately panicked when he caught fire, and one of them tried to douse the flames with water, which only worsened his condition.[27]Bouazizi barely survived, and had suffered severe burns on over 90% of his body before locals managed to douse the flames. He was taken by ambulance to a medical facility in Sidi Bouzid. When they were unable to treat Bouazizi’s severe burns, he was taken to a larger hospital in Sfax, more than 70 miles (110 km) away.[11] Later, as the government’s interest in his case grew, he was transferred to a Burn and Trauma Centre in Ben Arous, where he was placed in an intensive care unit.[28] On 31 December 2010, doctors at the Ben Arous Burn and Trauma Centre reported that Bouazizi was in stable condition, and that he was showing positive prognostic factors.[27]However, he remained in a coma throughout the remainder of his life.[29]

Bouazizi was visited in hospital by then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.[30] According to Bouazizi’s mother, Ben Ali promised to send him to France for medical treatment,[15] but no such transfer was ever arranged. Bouazizi died at the Ben Arous Burn and Trauma Centre 18 days after the immolation, on 4 January 2011, at 5:30 p.m. local time.[31][32]

It is estimated that more than 5,000 people participated in the funeral procession that began in Sidi Bouzid and continued through to Bouazizi’s native village, though police did not allow the procession to pass near the spot at which Bouazizi had burned himself.[33] From the crowd, many were heard chanting “Farewell, Mohammed, we will avenge you. We weep for you today. We will make those who caused your death weep.”[34] He was buried at Garaat Bennour cemetery, 10 miles (16 km) from Sidi Bouzid.[35] His grave was described by Al-Jazeera as “simple” and surrounded by cactuses, olive and almond trees.[15] In addition, a Tunisian flag flies next to it.[36]


An investigation was launched following Bouazizi’s self-immolation to determine the details leading up to his actions. On 20 December 2010, it was reported that Faida Hamdi, the female officer who allegedly accosted Bouazizi the day of his immolation, was suspended along with the secretary-general (governor) of Sidi Bouzid,[37] but this was subsequently denied by the latter.[38] Some time later, Hamdi was arrested on orders from President Ben Ali and held in an unspecified town.[2][23] A brother of Hamdi later stated that she had been arrested and detained on two separate occasions, the first time following Ben Ali’s visit to Bouazizi in the hospital and subsequent meeting with his mother and sister at hispresidential palace. He says his sister and her aides were released following a short detention and the closing of the investigation which “confirmed her innocence.”[23] He said her second arrest was “in response to the demands of the Tunisian protesters,” and that the Tunisian security authorities informed him that she was being held only for her own protection and would be released once the protesting ended.[23]

According to Bouazizi’s mother, Bouazizi undertook his action because he had been humiliated, not because of the family’s poverty.[19] “It got to him deep inside, it hurt his pride,” she said, referring to the police harassment.[15] One of Bouazizi’s sisters stated during an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat that their family intends to take legal action against all involved, “whether this is the municipal officers that slapped and insulted him, or the mayor [who] refused to meet him.”[23]

On 19 April, the case against Hamdi was dropped after Bouazizi’s mother withdrew the family’s complaint against her. She stated “It was a difficult but well-thought out decision to avoid hatred and… [to] help reconcile the residents of Sidi Bouzid.” Hamdi had maintained her innocence, telling the court she did not slap Bouazizi, while her lawyer said the matter was “purely a political affair.” Bouazizi’s brother Salem supported the decision, saying “All the money in the world can’t replace the loss of Mohamed who sacrificed himself for freedom and for dignity.” Large crowds of people outside the courtroom also appeared to have been satisfied by the Bouazizi family’s decision with some claiming Hamdi was being used as a scapegoat.[39][40]


Tunisian street protests

Outraged by the events that led to Bouazizi’s self-immolation, protests began in Sidi Bouzid within hours,[18] building for more than two weeks, with attempts by police to quiet the unrest serving only to fuel what was quickly becoming a violent and deadly movement.[41]After Bouazizi’s death, the protests became widespread, moving into the more affluent areas and eventually into the capital. The anger and violence became so intense that President Ben Ali fled Tunisia with his family on 14 January 2011,[19] trying first to go to Paris, but was refused refuge by the French government. They were eventually welcomed into Saudi Arabia under “a long list of conditions” (such as being barred from participation in the media and politics), ending his 23-year rule and sparking “angry condemnation” among Saudis.[41] In Tunisia, unrest persisted as a new regime took over, leaving many citizens of Tunisia feeling as though their needs were still being ignored.[42]

Aftermath and legacy

A French protest in support of “the Hero of Tunisia”, on 15 January 2011

Many Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa regard Bouazizi as a hero and inspiration.[43][44] He is credited with galvanising the frustrations of the region’s youth against their governments into the mass demonstrations, revolts, and revolutions that have become known as the Arab Spring.[45] One year on, Tunisian writer and academic Larbi Sadiki asserted that Bouazizi’s self-immolation “changed the course of Arab political history,” achieving the “breakthrough in the fight against autocracy.” However, he also wrote it would take years before the act and the subsequent chain of events that followed were “profoundly grasped by historians and social scientists.”[46]

Bouazizi is considered a martyr by the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) of Tunisia.[15] Tunisian film director, Mohamed Zran, plans on making a feature film about Bouazizi, describing him as “a symbol for eternity.”[45] Tarak Ben Ammar, also a Tunisian film director, intends to make a film on Bouazizi as well, stating he is “a hero for us as Tunisians and the Arab world as a whole.”[43]

Since suicide is forbidden in Islam, Bouazizi’s self-immolation created controversy among scholarly Muslim circles. While al-Azhar, the most prestigious religious institution in the Sunni Muslim world, issued a fatwa (“directive”) stating “suicide violates Islam even when it is carried out as a social or political protest,” influential Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi spoke sympathetically of Bouazizi.[3]

On 4 February 2011, Bertrand Delanoë, the mayor of Paris, announced that, as a tribute to honour Bouazizi, a square in Paris will be named after him;[47] the Place Mohamed Bouazizi was unveiled four days later. On 17 February, the main square in Tunis that was previously called “November 7”, after the date of Ben Ali’s take-over in 1987, was renamed “January 14,” though some had suggested it should honor Bouazizi (though a major roadway leading to the city’s airport was renamed for him).[48] Bouazizi was posthumously awarded the 2011 Sakharov Prize as one of “five representatives of the Arab people, in recognition and support of their drive for freedom and human rights”.[49] On 17 December, a cart statue was unveiled in Sidi Bouzid in honor of Bouazizi. Tunisia’s first elected presidentMoncef Marzouki attended the ceremony, stating “Thank you to this land, which has been marginalised for centuries, for bringing dignity to the entire Tunisian people.”[50] The United Kingdom‘s The Times newspaper named Bouazizi person of the year for 2011.[51]

Copycat incidents

Bouazizi’s actions triggered the Werther effect, causing a number of self-immolations in protests emulating Bouazizi’s in several other countries in the Greater Middle East and Europe. In Algeria in particular, protests against rising food prices and spreading unemployment[52] have resulted in many self-immolations. The first reported case following Bouazizi’s death was that of Mohsen Bouterfif, a 37-year-old father of two, who set himself on fire when the mayor of Boukhadra in Algeria refused to meet with him and others regarding employment and housing requests on 13 January 2011. According to a report in El-Watan, the mayor challenged him, saying if he had courage he would immolate himself by fire as Bouazizi had done.[53] He died on 24 January. Maamir Lotfi, a 36-year-old unemployed father of six, also denied a meeting with the governor, burned himself in front of theEl Oued town hall on 17 January, dying on 12 February.[54] Abdelhafid Boudechicha, a 29-year-old day laborer who lived with his parents and five siblings, burned himself in Medjanaon 28 January over employment and housing issues. He died the following day.[55]

In the six months immediately after Mohamed Bouazizi’s death on 4 January 2011, at least 107 Tunisians tried to kill themselves by setting themselves on fire.[56] The men whoself-immolated are mostly young men from poor, rural areas, unmarried and have only basic education.[56] Amenallah Messaadi, who has collated the figures and is head of the Burns Centre, said that people shouldn’t glorify the act of self-immolation and “should stop adding fuel to the fire”.[56]

In Egypt, Abdou Abdel-Moneim Jaafar, a 49-year-old restaurant owner, set himself alight in front of the Egyptian Parliament.[57] His act of protest helped instigate weeks of protest and, later, the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on 11 February 2011. In Saudi Arabia, an unidentified 65-year-old man died on 21 January 2011, after setting himself on fire in the town of SamtahJizan. This was apparently the kingdom’s first known case of self-immolation.[58][59]

Although these cases, with the exception of Egypt, did not provoke the same kind of popular reaction that Bouazizi’s case did in Tunisia, the Algerian, Yemeni, and Jordaniangovernments have experienced significant protests and made major concessions in response to them.[19] As such, these men and Bouazizi are being hailed by some as “heroic martyrs of a new Middle Eastern revolution.”[3]

The wave of copycat incidents reached Europe on 11 February 2011, in a case very similar to Bouazizi’s. Noureddine Adnane, a 27-year-old Moroccan street vendor, set himself on fire in Palermo, Sicily, in protest of the confiscation of his wares and the harassment that was allegedly inflicted on him by municipal officials.[60] He died five days later.[61] InAmsterdam, Kambiz Roustay, a 36-year-old asylum seeker from Iran, set himself on fire on Dam Square in protest of being rejected asylum. Roustay had fled the country for publishing works undermining the regime, and feared being tortured by the Iranian regime upon his return.[62]

( / 17.12.2012)

Abbas orders UN envoy to complain to Security Council over settlements

President Mahmoud Abbas arrives to a meeting with members of the media in Ramallah on Dec. 5.

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — President Mahmoud Abbas has instructed UN envoy Riyad Mansour to contact representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to stop Israeli settlement plans in East Jerusalem.

Israel on Monday approved plans to build 1,500 more Jewish settler homes in East Jerusalem on Monday, an official said, days after provoking international protests against a project for another 3,000 such homes on land in the city.

An aide to Abbas said the president was furious at the announcement and instructed Mansour to immediately contact the UN envoys of the US, UK, Russia, China and France.

Abbas’ spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh said Israel’s latest expansion plans were a challenge to the international community and showed total disregard for the sentiments of the Arab world.

Abu Rudaineh told Ma’an such actions would isolate Israel internationally.

Washington had condemned the latest plans, for ultra-Orthodox neighborhood Ramat Shlomo, when they were published during a 2010 visit by US Vice President Joe Biden.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged last week to build at least 3,000 more settler homes on West Bank land as an expression of Israel’s objections to a United Nations vote last month recognizing Palestinian statehood.

Those plans led to a string of Israeli diplomats summoned for reprimands internationally.

Israeli Interior Ministry spokeswoman, Efrat Orbach, said on Monday a district planning commission “gave preliminary approval for” the Ramat Shlomo project which must pass a series of bureaucratic decisions before construction may actually begin.

Israeli and Palestinian peace talks have been frozen since late 2010, largely due to a dispute over the settlements, which the International Court of Justice in The Hague has ruled as illegal.

( / 17.12.2012)
For decades, world leaders let Israel get away with murder. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) said enough is enough. It wants Israeli officials held accountable.
It launched a “Palestine to the ICC” campaign. It wants relevant stakeholders involved. They include Palestine, ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, and enough world leaders who matter.

It wants them to “fulfill their responsibilities” to ensure long delayed justice and redress for decades of horrendous Israeli crimes against Palestinians.

The ICC is a permanent tribunal. It was established to prosecute individuals for crimes of war, against humanity and genocide. In 2017, it’s jurisdiction extends to criminal aggression.

On July 1, 2002, it was established by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. It’s history isn’t encouraging. It serves wealth and power. It’s an imperial tool.

It targets victims, not perpetrators. It prosecutes individuals Western powers designate.

Jose Luis Moreno-Ocampo was Bensouda’s predecessor. He followed American orders and obeyed.

He ignored horrendous US crimes of war and against humanity in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere. He did nothing about similar Israeli crimes.

He rejected Palestine’s bid to investigate Israel’s Cast Lead criminality. PA officials sought court action under the Rome Statute’s Article 12(3).

Ocampo’s reasoning was spurious. He claimed “only internationally recognized states can join the court.” His official statement said:

“(T)he current status granted to Palestine by the United Nations General Assembly is that of ‘observer,’ not as a ‘Non-member State,’ (and only) relevant bodies at the United Nations” or group of states that make up the court may decide if Palestinians can become part of the Rome Statute.

“(T)he Office has assessed that it is for the relevant bodies at the United Nations or the Assembly of States Parties to make the legal determination whether Palestine qualifies as a State for the purpose of acceding to the Rome Statute and thereby enabling the exercise of jurisdiction by the Court.”

“The Rome Statute provides no authority for the Office of the Prosecutor to adopt a method to define the term ‘State.’ ”

Palestine has been a state for over 24 years. Most nations recognize it. On November 29, UN Member States overwhelmingly upgraded its status.

Ocampo obeyed orders from Washington and Tel Aviv. He disregarded Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It states:

“(N)o distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.”

Ocampo charged Gaddafi and others Washington wanted prosecuted. He shamed the office he held.

Will things change now?

On June 15, 2012, Fatou Bensouda replaced him. She’s a Gambian lawyer and former state criminal law prosecutor. She also served as International Bank for Commerce (Gambia) general manager.

From 2001 – 2004, she was International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda legal advisor. Before becoming chief ICC prosecutor, she was Ocampo’s deputy from September 2004 – June 2012.

On June 14, 2012, the London Guardian called her “the woman who could redeem the international criminal court.” Don’t bet on it.

It’s entire history is appalling. It contravened its mandate to end impunity for “unimaginable atrocities that deeply shock the conscience of humanity.”

Its caseload is exclusively African. It chooses soft, Western designated targets. It’s hard imagining Bensouda changing longstanding policy.

She has a lot of proving to do. She was Yahya Jammeh’s criminal prosecutor.

He seized power in a July 1994 military coup. He staged three fake elections to solidify control. He’s ruled tiny Gambia ruthlessly for 18 years. He’s a brutal despot.

His decrees denied all human rights. Opponents are ruthlessly targeted. Free expression is suppressed. Torture is commonplace. Forced disappearances, extrajudicial assassinations, kangaroo court trials, and other abusive practices define his governance.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Gambia is “one of the most repressive countries for journalists in Africa.”

Bensouda has much to answer for. Why was she Jammeh’s state prosecutor? Why did she serve under Ocampo? What evidence suggests she’ll make a difference now? Nothing in her professional background suggests it.

PCHR hopes for the best. It “demand(s) accountability for the countless Palestinian victims who have been denied access to justice for so long.”

The Rome Statute recognizes that “all people are united by common bonds, their cultures pieced together in a shared heritage.”

Universally recognized human rights are systematically spurned. Palestinians have been denied theirs for over 64 years. Occupation harshness is brutal. Besieged Gazans suffer most of all.

Conditions each year worsen. Collective punishment is official Israeli policy. It’s enforced ruthlessly. Civilians are prime targets. Children and infants aren’t spared.

World leaders able to act, don’t. Proper investigations aren’t conducted. Ocampo spurned Palestinian rights. He stuck his thumb in the eye of justice. His entire tenure reflected disdain for what’s right.

PCHR wants the ICC to uphold its mandate. It’s the principle independent body able to investigate crimes of war, against humanity, and genocide thoroughly.

PCHR’s “Palestine to the ICC” wants relevant stakeholders to ensure Palestinian rights are addressed.

Palestine must first sign and ratify the Rome Statute. It must “lodge a declaration with the Court’s Registrar under Article 11(2) and 12(3) of the Statute, accepting the exercise of jurisdiction by the Court from the date of entry into force of the Statute, 1 July 2002.”

Bensouda must then do her job. She must initiate an investigation proprio motu (on her own accord). It must examine Israeli crimes or war, against humanity and genocide.

She must request Pre-Trial Chamber authorization to investigate, pursuant to the Statute’s Article 15.

She must “reopen the preliminary examination, and take into account the proper elements in order to finally open an investigation into the situation in Palestine.”

She must then bring the issue before the Pre-trial Chamber for judicial determination.

Enough world leaders must support Palestinian efforts for justice. Their only recourse so far has been to petition Israel’s Military Advocate General (for criminal violations) and the compensation officer of Israel’s Ministry of Defense (for civil matters).

Previous efforts through Israeli courts proved futile. They systematically spurn Palestinian rights.

PCHR said it worked many years within Israel’s judicial system. The experience “unequivocally prove(d) that (it’s) incapable of ensuring an effective remedy for Palestinian victims.”

“This conclusion was confirmed by” the UN Cast Lead Committee of Experts. It said “the official inquiry must be conducted by a truly independent body, given the obvious conflict inherent in the military’s examining its own role in designing and executing ‘Operation Cast Lead.’ ”

Israel operated unaccountably for decades. Pillar of Cloud followed Cast Lead. What’s next? How much more indiscriminate slaughter and mass destruction is tolerable.

How many more years of Palestinian suffering will world leaders permit? How much longer can the ICC spurn its mandate? It’s time for all relevant stakeholders to step up to the plate and act responsibly.

( / 17.12.2012)

Israeli embassy in Ireland’s latest Facebook post: If Jesus were alive, he’d be lynched by Palestinians

Israel’s embassy in Dublin posts image of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, saying that as Jews without security in Bethlehem they would be attacked by Palestinians. The image has since been taken down, and the embassy published an apology.

The post on the Israeli embassy in Ireland's Facebook page.

The post on the Israeli embassy in Ireland’s Facebook page.
The apology on the Facebook page of Israel's Ireland embassy.

The apology on the Facebook page of Israel’s Ireland embassy.

Israel’s embassy in Dublin has been in the headlines many times over the last few years, not only because of the tense relations between Jerusalem and Dublin, but also because of embarrassing provocations by Israel’s envoys at the mission,  who try to think creatively when it comes to public relations (hasbara).

On Monday, ahead of the Christmas holidays, the embassy posted an image of the Virgin Mary to its Facebook page, accompanied by the following caption:

“A thought for Christmas… If Jesus and mother Mary were alive today, they would, as Jews without security, probably end up being lynched in Bethlehem by hostile Palestinians. Just a thought…….”

The image was taken down within a few hours of being posted, following responses the embassy received, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. “Removing the post is of course the right thing to do, and as far as we are concerned that is the end of the story,” he said.

“We will of course carry out an internal investigation to find out how such a post was published, but his is an internal matter, in order to make sure this won’t happen again. Facebook is a very informal channel, which is essentially not diplomatic, and as such it is customary to post informal statements. Clearly, however, when anyone feels hurt it is important to apologize and remove the problematic post, and the embassy was right when it did this.”

The embassy’s apology, published on Facebook, read: “To whom it may concern: An image of Jesus and Mary with a derogatory comment about Palestinians was posted without the consent of the administrator of the Facebook page. We have removed the post in question immediately. Apologies to anyone who may have been offended. Merry Christmas!”

Aside from the simplistic and base claim accompanying the image, the use of an image of what is holy to Christians for political ends is damaging. If an image of something holy to Jews  was used by a foreign embassy for similar ends, it would certainly cause anger – not only among Israelis but among Jews around the whole world, who would claim that it was anti-Semitic.

The person who leads this provocative line in the embassy in Dublin is not only Ambassador Boaz Modai, but also his wife, Nurit Tinari Modai, who serves as deputy head of mission.

Tinari Modai made it into the headlines when she carried out a provocation during a Holocaust Rememberance Day ceremony in Dublin last year.

A few months ago, Israel’s Channel 10 published an email that Tinari Modai sent to senior Foreign Ministry officials in which she claimed that Israelis living in Ireland who criticize Israeli policy in the West Bank do it partly because of their sexual orientation.

Tinari Modai even suggested that the embassy should act against Israelis in Ireland who criticize Israel, targeting them personally by making sensitive information about them public.

( / 17.12.2012)

A ‘truly’ Jewish democracy: On the ideology of Likud’s Moshe Feiglin

Moshe Feiglin is one of the Likud party’s most extreme members, and one of its most clear and systematic ideologues. He is the head of the party’s ‘Jewish Leadership’ group, and the 23rd name on the Likud-Beitenu list for the next Knesset elections. The following is an attempt by religion researcher Tomer Persico to assess Feiglin’s views on popular sovereignty and democracy. 

Moshe Feiglin, head of “Jewish Leadership” group in the Likud

The coming elections in Israel will introduce many new faces to the Knesset. Unless something very surprising happens, among those will be Moshe Feiglin, who heads a group called Jewish Leadership and has for the past dozen years attempted, unsuccessfully to date, to be elected in the Likud Party’s primary elections in a high enough spot in order to become an MK (*Jewish Leadership, however, was able to assist the candidacies of some of the Likud’s most hawkish members of Knesset, among them Yariv Levin, Danny Danon and Tzipi Hotovely).

Feiglin is by any judgment one of the most methodical and principled thinkers in Israel’s right wing camp, and an effort to comprehend his thought is in order. Below I will attempt an examination of Moshe Feiglin’s concept of the democratic regime. I stress this is an attempt, as Feiglin did not write about it at length, and on the other hand  there are writings of Feiglin’s I haven’t read yet. What makes it easier for me to position Feiglin’s political-civic stance is the fact that he has referred to the issue specifically.

For instance, in the chapter (containing several articles) titled “The Jewish State – Democracy and regime” in his 2005 book, “The War of Dreams” (Milkhemet Ha’Khalomot) Feiglin writes about democracy that:

As I see it, democracy is but a method for changing government without violence. Several other values are attached: The freedom of expression, for instance, the equality before the law, and the separation of powers. But all is fluid, all is flexible, all is under whim of those who shape the term “democracy” to fill their needs. (“Democracy or Greater Israel,” 26.1.1998, p.464)

Feiglin is of course correct about the flexibility of the term “democracy.” Different states have used it in very different ways, and I hope it’s needless to point out that the Poplar Democracy of [North] Korea bears little resemblance to the liberal-constitutional democracy of the U.S. On the other hand, obviously, a democracy based on basic rights of its citizens, such as the freedom of expression and the separation of powers, is not truly subject to the whims of its rulers. That, after all, alongside other principled differences between versions of democracy which I’ll point out, is the crux of the issue.

Feiglin continues to explain his position:

If the land of Israel was truly a supreme national value for you, you’d understand that democracy has to fit the country, not the country democracy […] The State of Israel was created for the Jewish people, and its democracy is supposed to serve the Jewish people. If this state acts against the interests of the Jewish people, there is no longer any point in its existence, be it democratic or not. […] They [the Arabs] will never, never be fully equal citizens, in the national sense of the word. (Ibid., p. 465)

The picture becomes clearer: according to Feiglin, democracy has to fit the country, or rather the people living in it. When it comes to the State of Israel, this is the Jewish people, and hence democracy has to serve “the interests of the Jewish people.” That is why, for instance, the Arabs residing in the country have no chance at equal status, since they are not a part of the people that the democracy is supposed to serve.

No possibility of choice

What sort of a democracy serves a specific people, not universal principles? Of course, this is a popular democracy, known in its more mild versions ascommunal democracy. This version of democracy is principally different from liberal democracy. Feiglin, who is certainly well-read and learned, knows this well, and expressly differentiates between liberal democracy and communal democracy, only the latter of which he supports:

There are several views on democracy, out of which I’ll examine two: one liberal and the other communal. The liberal tradition supports a position based on one measure. It considers it to be a universal position, which is not biased towards other cultures, other values, other traditions. It believes in the values of equality and freedom of the individual, while the state is intended to serve the individual alone. The state in itself has no purpose, and it does not exemplify the values of its society.

The other view is communal. According to it, the person requires social-consciousness in order to reach self-knowledge, and only through this process does he come to know his views on morals and values. The community, therefore, is of the highest importance, and through it the person identifies with his country. The community and the state have an important role in the development of the values and the identities of the citizens. By this view, democracy is a form of government which allows the basic values of society to be expressed. Every society whose core values are freedom values can and should be democratic, but it must “fit the lid to the pot”– fit its democracy to its unique character and values.

A communal democracy sees the individual as an organic part of the community, to the point that, on its own, she or he cannot fully express themselves, regarding both their full potential and their freedom. Only by recognizing the reciprocal ties between themselves and the society around them, and – of no lesser importance – by becoming a living part of the surrounding society with its unique values and cultural characteristics, can the individual reach self-knowledge and thereby live a life worth living. Contrary to the liberal basic assumption, which discerns a tension between the demands of the community and individual rights, this concept sees in accepting communal values the only way to realize true individual autonomy.

The goal of communal democracy is the betterment of man. This is a goal liberal democracy doesn’t dare to actively promote, as it is obviously an act toward a specific ethical direction, and as such one in the course of which it will have to determine decree between conflicting values (such as freedom and equality) and cancel others (such as the freedom of religion). Communal democracy directs the individual towards a certain direction, reached allegedly through the common values of the community or even the whole nation; thereby it perfectly expresses the “will of the people.” According to this concept, every political system which will express the will of a community or a people is, by definition, democratic towards that community or people, no matter how totalitarian, illiberal or draconian its laws may be.

“The rule of the people” reaches its summit here, not because the regime allows each individual to make its own choices, but because the regime expresses the essential will of the people, with no possibility of choice. To a large degree, this democracy lacks representation, because the rulers do not represent the will of the people, but express it, or even become it and actualize it (in the same way the Fuhrer was the will of the German people, and each of his actions was the action of the Aryan nation). We are not dealing with the total sum of the wishes of the individuals of a nation, but with the essential will of the people as an organic entity, with the inner and deep expression of the people as a personality. On the other hand, liberal democracy is a representative democracy, which does not try to pave a certain ethical road, but only to maintain basic moral principles. Liberal democracy tries to create the conditions in which the citizens would be free to try and better themselves, to the best of their own knowledge, every little community in its own way.

A ‘truly’ Jewish identity

According to its principles, a communal democracy has no place for different communities in the same state, since the state is wholly formed according to the values of one community. For this reason, “the Arabs” have no voting rights in Feiglin’s Jewish state (“Israeli citizenship to Jews only […] the immediate expulsion of any person of another people who claims any sort of sovereignty in the Land of Israel” – Ibid., p. 436).  This state acts on the collective values of Judaism which I imagine Feliglin derives from his own interpretation of Judaism. These values express in the most perfect way the will of the nation, and of course direct each of its sons and daughters towards their own fulfillment. It is possible Feiglin thinks only such a realization will promise true freedom to the individual, and hence to the community as well. As the title of the article quotes above notes, the Israeli democracy can be democratic only because it is Jewish.

Which is why the Jewish democracy may not retreat from the occupied territories:

The debate over the Land of Israel is not a territorial or a security one. The question of national identity is expressed today through the Land of Israel. Those who wish to get rid of territories are actually asking to disengage from Jewish identity. ‘The Jews have defeated the Israelis’, said Shimon Peres to Haaretz in an interview after losing [the 1996 elections] to Netanyahu. The debate between those who hold and those who wish to let go is the debate between those who hold to their Jewish identity and those who wish to disengage from it and replace it with a new Israeli identity. The process of the Disengagement [from the Gaza Strip – T.P.] is a process of forcing the new identity on the majority of the people. Hence, essentially, it must lead to a dictatorial reality, as indeed happens. Only an Israeli state living in harmony with its Jewish identity, a state intended to serve this identity instead of fighting it, only such an Israel can also be trulydemocratic. (Ibid., emphasis in the original).

According Feiglin’s model, maintaining hold of territories is not a question of security but a question of identity. A truly Jewish identity can be realized only through the holding of any occupied territories in the Land of Israel. Those, on the other hand, who wish to return such territories are trying to sabotage Jewish identity and replace it with “a new Israeli identity.” These are people like Shimon Peres and apparently also Arik Sharon, who carried out the “disengagement” from Gaza. We are speaking, of course, of leftists. That explains why in Feiglin’s view “the deep aspect of [the] Oslo [process] is a trend of assimilation, of ‘becoming integrated in the [middle east] region’” (Ibid., p. 454). And, indeed, according to Feiglin, the strategic goal of the left is to obfuscate and make us forget our Jewish identity (Ibid., p. 504).” Oh, well, perhaps this is related to the fact Feiglin thinks the left is not a movement of life and emancipation. It is an ideology based on the aspiration of death” (Ibid., p. 29).

Note the principled basis behind those harsh statements: A communal democracy represents the essential will of the people. Hence, any person objecting to the actions of the state is ipso facto not truly of the people. Actually, it is almost impossible to criticize government in a communal democracy, because such criticism automatically excludes the critic from the community of citizens the government represents, and therefore also from the community of citizens entitled to its protection and to civil rights. For, how can a loyal citizen criticize the actions of a government representing his will? If his will is different from that of the government, he is certainly not a loyal citizen.

Such disloyal citizens are either foreigners, i.e. not members of the people; or they are members of the people, but ones needing re-education. One may recall the fate of such citizens from “popular” regimes in the past. In the Israeli case, even today left-winged people are sometimes reffered to as Erev Rav or Amalek, derogatory religious terms signifying traitors within or simply entities who are pure evil. This kind of people undermine the expression of the will of the people, the same will which can be assumed is known to Feiglin.  This is why, in Feligin’s “One Hundred Days Plan” (Hebrew) the Ministry of External and Internal Security will “be in charge of all the issues of security, acting against the enemies of Israel, foreign and domestic. An enemy of Israel is one who wishes to destroy it, either physically or essentially, as a Jewish State.” Anyone who supports a return of the occupied territories endeavors, as we’ve seen, to essentially destroy the Jewish State, first and foremost “essentially”. In Moshe Feiglin’s regime such dissidents will be dealt with by the Ministry of External and Internal Security.

Roots of the  popular democracy

It is not my intention to defame the communitarian idea; I am, in many ways, a communitarian myself, and as such I am a student of such great scholars as Charles Taylor, Michael Walzer, Alasdair MacIntyre and others. It is clear, however, that these thinkers do not dream of erecting a regime remotely similar to what Feiglin plans. There are several forms of communal democracies, some more totalitarian, some less. I don’t know where precisely Feiglin stands on this scale, even though the quotes above cloak his vision of a communal democracy with a very distinct odor. As previously mentioned, on the extreme scale of the communal democracy we speak of the same model under which all those “popular democracies” of the former Communist Bloc acted.

As is well known, the origins of the concept that the regime acts under the “will of the people” derives from Rousseau, and from him it reached the Jacobins during the French Revolution and many of dictatorships of the 20th century. The idea is that the regime, though tyrannical, is not immoral, since it is perfectly expresses the will of the people. We can see this clearly from the decisions of the National Assembly under the revolutionary regime in France. Article Six of the constitutionwritten by the Assembly in 1791 says that “the law is an expression of the common will,” and Article Five says that the natural rights of man by be abrogated by law. To wit, if the common will of the people is to limit the rights of the individual, there’s no principle problem here.

When the Assembly wrote the constitution, its members were thinking of the American Declaration of Independence, which stated that the rights of people are “unalienable” (which today means “inalienable.”). The United States created, by a long and painful process, a liberal democracy, where human rights cannot be ignored even if the majority desperately wants to, and even if someone thinks this is the “common will” of the people. France saw the creation of a Jacobin democracy, under which the rights of the individual can be cast aside in the name of the popular will, and its murderousness is notorious to this day. As soon as the popular will can abolish human rights, we have nothing more than a tyranny of the majority, or, in most cases, the tyranny of an individual who claims to understand the will of the majority.

As noted, that same idea served as inspiration to the “popular democracies” of the former Communist Bloc. In a famous speech in 1949, Mao Zedong contrasted “bourgeois democracy,” Western democracy, with China’s popular democracy (which he calls The People’s democratic dictatorship, since he recognizes the tyranny of the people towards the reactionary elements standing in its way). Mao thanks Marx and Lenin for formulating the theory which allowed China to move from a bourgeois democracy to a popular democracy, which brought “socialism and communism” and “a world of Great Harmony.” According to Mao, the true will of the masses is equal to the will of the proletariat, and it expresses the perfect society. He states that:

All the experience the Chinese people have accumulated through several decades teaches us to enforce the people’s democratic dictatorship, that is, to deprive the reactionaries of the right to speak and let the people alone have that right. […] The right to vote belongs only to the people, not to the reactionaries. […]The foreign reactionaries who accuse us of practicing “dictatorship” or “totalitarianism” are the very persons who practice it. They practice the dictatorship or totalitarianism of one class, the bourgeoisie, over the proletariat and the rest of the people. […]The people’s democratic dictatorship needs the leadership of the working class. For it is only the working class that is most farsighted, most selfless and most thoroughly revolutionary.

Replace “reactionaries” by Arabs or Leftists, replace “the working class” by Jews, and suddenly, there isn’t much of a difference between the leftist Marxist-Leninist tyranny and the right-wing nationalistic-Judaistic tyranny. It’s clear, anyway, that a popular democracy is not a traditional Jewish idea, but rather a modern Western one.

When safeguards become obstacles 

As Feiglin himself noted, the failure of liberal democracy comes from insisting on the protection of principles it considers universal – precisely those human and civil rights, those difference freedoms and equality before the law. In a liberal democracy they must be guarded above all. In a popular democracy they are considered to be foreign principles of Western bourgeoisie, “Christian morality” or liberal soft-heartedness, and ignoring them is not only possible, but is necessary. This point cannot be overstated: In every democratic regime, there will be a conflict between the will of the majority and the rights of the individual or minority. In such cases, popular democracy will always prefer the will of the majority, and a liberal one – the rights of the individual.

For instance, if we think the right of a person over his body is absolute, then even if the majority decrees otherwise, he may not be raped. If we think a person’s right over her property is total, even if the majority says it should be taken from her, there is no permission to do so. These are the human rights embedded by the UN in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, following the lessons learned from the horrors of fascism. These are the same rights invoked by the opponents of the Gaza Disengagement, when they argued even a government decision cannot, in a democratic country, evict people from their homes.

Lord Acton, the same one who taught to us that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” wrote that in a popular democracy:

The true democratic principle, that none shall have power over the people, is taken to mean that none shall be able to restrain or to elude its power. The true democratic principle, that the people shall not be made to do what it does not like, is taken to mean that it shall never be required to tolerate what it does not like. The true democratic principle, that every man’s free will shall be as unfettered as possible, is taken to mean that the free will of the collective people shall be fettered in nothing. Religious toleration, judicial independence, dread of centralisation, jealousy of State interference, become obstacles to freedom instead of safeguards, when the centralised force of the State is wielded by the hands of the people.

A final word. I have no doubt that Feiglin is sure that the communal-to-popular democracy he wishes to found not only will not be tyrannical, but would create a model society. I believe he is certain the Jewish people will express its will in a much more decent and better way than the failed experiments of the French or Chinese people; that he believes with all his heart that, unlike these (and other) disastrous experiments, a perfect and wondrous popular democracy is possible in Israel, since while the others had only a half-baked revolutionary thrust or a Marxist ideology woefully bereft of inspiration, the Israeli nation has the Book of Books to guide it and the Hand of God to support it.

And who knows, maybe this time the Lord will redeem us from our troubles, and make our path right where others have stumbled so terribly. As someone who would probably be taken care of by the Ministry of External and Internal Security in the early days of the new regime, I am not likely to live to see this miracle.


Moshe Feiglin’s response:

As a rule, I stand by what I write and say. Of course every period has its own special emphasis. Words written while facing a demolished house and burned bus are not as words written on mundane days. The sentence you chose to quote [about the left’s ideology being based on the aspiration of death – T.P.] is an excellent example of the fine distinction between serious research and demagoguery. This is a sentence I fully support, but quoting it requires long explanations, otherwise it sounds as nothing more than a swearword. In order to seriously complete the mission you undertook, you should organize a proper meeting, in the view of your readers, which I’ll be happy to attend and answer all questions.

( / 17.12.2012)

Turkish reports: Five Turkish citizens helped Israel in Marmara raid

(JTA) — Five Turkish citizens helped Israel during the 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara ship that attempted to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.

Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization in a filing to the Istanbul court prosecuting Israeli military leaders in absentia said the Turkish citizens were either among the troops that raided the ship or interrogated activists following the May 2010 raid in which nine Turkish citizens were killed, The Turkish Daily Zaman reported.

The Turkish citizens allegedly are part of the Shayetet 13, the elite Israeli naval commando force that raided the Mavi Marmara. They reportedly have been identified and their names sent to the Turkish prosecutors’ office.

The investigation looked at all Turkish citizens who traveled between Israel and Turkey in the month surrounding the Mavi Marmara incident, according to Zaman. The investigation centered on Istanbul and Izmir, which have larger Jewish populations.

Turkey’s Jewish community could suffer a backlash as a result of the investigation.

The criminal court case against former Chief of Staff Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and other Israeli military leaders opened last month in Istanbul. The charges reportedly include manslaughter and attempted manslaughter, causing bodily harm, deprivation of freedom, plundering, damage to property and illegal confiscation of property.

Nine Turkish citizens died when Israeli Navy commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, on May 31, 2010 after warning the ship not to sail into waters near the Gaza Strip in circumvention of Israel’s naval blockade of the coastal strip.

( / 17.12.2012)

Plastic to petrol scheme unveiled at Ramallah science show

Afnan Hamad (far right) and her colleagues demonstrate their invention to convert plastic waste into fuel.

RAMALLAH  – Afnan Hamad stood proudly in front of a booth at the Ramallah Cultural Palace exhibition hall, three plastic bottles filled with discolored liquid on the table in front of her.

“We designed a device to convert plastic waste into gasoline, kerosene and diesel fuel,” said the 23-year-old chemical engineering graduate from An-Najah University in Nablus, pointing to one of the bottles. “We hope to see a real factory built, and be the first supplier of alternative fuel in Palestine.”

Hamad and her colleagues — Marah Jamous, Mohammad Manasrah and Rahal Rasheed — displayed their machine to convert waste into reusable fuel as part of the “Made in Palestine 2012” fair, an annual event that aims to promote skills and innovations that often get buried beneath the hardships of daily life in Palestine.

While it started off as a miniature experiment, Hamad’s machine can now hold ten kilograms of plastic waste and produce nine liters of fuel, she explained, adding that the invention was designed to address economic and environmental problems prevalent in the area.

“Using our device, we can get rid of a huge amount of waste, which is difficult to do in Palestine,” she said. “Also since we don’t have petrol here, we can produce fuel at a lower cost. One liter of fuel will cost five shekels [$1.30].”

Now in its seventh year, the “Made in Palestine” event was co-sponsored by the local Palestinian organization Al Nayzak and the Swedish aid group Diakonia. Two exhibitions were held, one in Ramallah and one in the Gaza Strip, showcasing more than 20 innovations in the fields of engineering, information technology, biology and other sciences.

“It doesn’t only tackle science, innovation and technology; [the event] also addresses the idea of business entrepreneurship. We aim to create scientific entrepreneurs who are able to make and found businesses on those innovations that they’ve thought about and put into action,” said Maha Thaher, international relations officer at Al Nayzak.

With offices in Gaza, Jerusalem and Ramallah, Al Nayzak aims to build a more vibrant scientific culture in Palestine, and encourage critical thinking and science education among Palestinian youth.

“We don’t want students to just avoid these subjects [until] they disappear from our community,” Thaher said, adding that Palestinian students are endowed with a range of talents, which deserve to be nurtured, rather than ignored, by the education system.

“This is the one thing that occupation fails to seize and severely damage: we can count on our minds, our intellect and our people,” she added.

Multi-tasking robot

Other innovations on display in Ramallah included a multi-tasking robot equipped with special wheels that allow it to move from left to right without turning, a cell phone application that helps users reserve library books in advance, and an onion planting machine.

Planting onion bulbs can be a tricky exercise, but this machine “plants the bulbs in exactly the right way,” explained inventor and local farmer Ibrahim Daabes, who owns 100 dunams(nine square kilometers) of farmland in the Jordan Valley area of the West Bank and believes his machine will cut farming costs in half.

“The cost is much lower than employing workers to do it by hand. Bigger farmers would need this machine,” he said.

At another booth, 20-year-old computer engineering student Rasha Saffarini, and her colleagues Isra’a al-Qatow and Abdullah al-Qatow, showcased their cell phone application that helps people reach a healthy weight.

Called “Healthy Gate,” the application asks users for various details — including current and ideal weight, age and food preferences — and sets alarms to alert them when, and what, they should eat throughout the day.

“Because of the difficulty of going to the gym, we make it easy for people to be their ideal weight,” said Saffarini, who is in her last year at the Palestine Technical University in Tulkarem.

More female scientists

Many of the participants of the “Made in Palestine” fair were women. This, according to Thaher, highlights a growing acceptance within the Palestinian community of science education as a legitimate pursuit.

Families have generally been skeptical of the idea of their daughters pursuing dreams of making an important scientific invention or discovery, since this strays so far from the traditional path women are expected to walk.

“At times we had to go door-to-door and talk to parents about how they should let their daughters be involved in such programs and build on their ideas,” Thaher said.

“But once the parents see their children so involved in this system that cares for their scientific approaches, they start to think differently themselves.”

According to Hamad, “Our families are very proud and so are we. We invented something new for Palestine.”

( / 17.12.2012)