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  • Posts Tagged ‘Palestine’

    The parameters of peace

    Here are excerpts of my latest piece in the Hill’s pundits blog, which asked me to respond to the question:
    Can the Obama administration forge a peace agreement, and what steps should it be taking in Mideast policy?

    I’ll be honest. From my vantage point here in Gaza, where I’ve been for the past two months, it’s really, really difficult to approach this question seriously. Besieged and prevented from developing or prospering, with no exports and few people being allowed out and minimal raw materials being allowed in, Palestinians here are wondering what exactly we are negotiating over and who exactly Mahmoud Abbas is representing. (As one astute observer on Twitter noted, “himself, of course, who else”.) A peace agreement with no broad representation, head by a president with no legal authority or credibility, generally speaking, is not a good way to kick things off.

    This is leaving aside the question of what exactly these direct talks will be about.

    Palestinians have tired of piecemeal agreement with empty promises, a showcase of handshakes and ceremonies. They have become desensitized to the word “negotiations” — offended, even, by the mere notion of negotiations and their implications in their current context. For them, negotiations have meant nothing but concessions, emboldening Israeli security, and further strangulation.

    Take the last much-publicized “back on track” attempt: Annapolis. Then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly went so far as to promise not to build new settlements or expropriate land! Well, by that measure (which, needless to say, didn’t pan out according to promise), we’ve gone backwards, granting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu his wish of “talks without preconditions” (we’ve gone backwards in any case, but you get my drift). . .

    Even if there was a commitment to freeze settlements, there will inevitably be a way around it. More Palestinian land will be expropriated and current settlements expanded to account for their “natural growth”, until they resemble towns, not colonies, and have them legitimized by a U.S. administration looking for some way to save face. And then there will be promises to raze outposts.

    Oslo has been around for 17 years now. Almost two decades. It’s really mind-boggling when I say it out loud like that. Simply because if you take a good, hard look at the reality on the ground for Palestinians and what has happened in those 17 years, you would be hard-pressed to believe that any new negotiations will bear any fruit without a fundamental shift in the underlying process.

    During that period, Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise doubled while Palestinian poverty and unemployment rates reached historic heights, due in no small part to Israel’s closure regime and policy of de-development. More than 300,000 illegal Jewish settlers now live on 42 percent of the West Bank land where the Palestinians want to establish their future country, according to a July report by the Israeli human rights group BTselem. Meanwhile, the prospect of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state has been rendered next to impossible, leading many Palestinians to consider new options.

    There is increasingly talk amongst Palestinians now of a desire for a strategic shift of their own vis-a-vis their political aspirations: from a two-state solution toward a call for one democratic country, with equal rights for all. This is the only sustainable, viable, and just option for both peoples.

    Gaza has been cast aside for the moment, but in thought and in words. Yet if any new negotiations stand any chance of succeeding, they must include Gaza — and its government — in the debate. Never mind talk of dedication to Israel’s destruction. The charter of Netanyahu’s Likud Party flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian state. Yet miraculously, America not only negotiates with Israel but allows Israel to push it around, by many an Israeli prime minister’s own admission…

    As one prominent Palestinian-American tweeter put it Thursday night, “Now that Israel got its wish of talks ‘without preconditions’ I expect [Hamas leader] Khaled Meshal will soon get his invitation to Washington.”

    If the Obama administration is indeed serious about peace, the parameters are clear, and have been for decades. The Israeli government must explicitly endorse a viable, contiguous, sovereign Palestinian state, something they have not yet done. Israel must suffer consequences for non-compliance.


    I am Palestine

    Last Sunday, we attended an evening commemorating Palestinian Land Day. I went someone hesitantly since the event was co-sponsored by the PLO mission in Washington. But Yassine convinced it was worth the trip since we were really going to see Ahmed Tibi-the keynote speaker; and a fantastic Dabke troupe; and a oud player.

    The evening started out with the usual declarations and rhetoric by the PLO Mission. Sensing the crowd’s impatience, the Palestinian ambassador pleaded that as Palestinians we should not import our differences from back home. As though a perfectly timed punchline, a picture of Mahmoud Abbas who looked like he was gagging appeared on the screen behind him.

    One of the Mission staff then introduced Tibi as a “proponent of Palestinian rights in the Israeli Knesset” as though it were some secondary issue he is passionate about. The introduction sounded aloof, like an outsider who was introducing Tibi to a foreign crowd, not a Palestinian (the crowd was overwhelmingly Arabic speaking Palestinians, and the speech itself was in Arabic).

    Tibi then took the stage: “I just want to say something here. I was introduced as a mere ‘proponent’ of Palestinian rights. I don’t think you understand, so let me explain. I am not simply a proponent. I dont’ defend or talk about Palestinian rights because I feel like it. I AM Palestinian rights; I EMBODY Palestine. I AM the Palestinian struggle. So please do not insult me.”


    Tibi went on to talk about what he called the “Triangle” of the Palestinian struggle: The Palestinians inside the Armistice line (OPT/WB, Gaza and East Jerusalem), the Palestinians on the outside in the diaspora and refugee camps; and the 1948 Palestinians.

    In fact, the entire evening the Mission engaged in a pathetic to promote the Fayyad government, to demonstrate how they are making the occupied, divided, strangulated territories bloom with their new economic and institution building initiatives in the West Bank. I nearly gagged when they talked about how impressive the economic growth he has led has been.

    Curiously, Gaza was not mentioned once the entire evening. But then, this is the point. To isolate Gaza; to disappear it from the discourse, subtract it form the equation, out of sight and mind. It was a depressing little facade, where, as in reality, the sideshow attempts to distract from the rottenness lurking beneath and the bitterness simmering just below that. The squashing of any and all dissent and use of torture by CIA-trained Abbas forces in the name of keeping “order” (a friend of mine here in Maryland shares with me daily stories of the torture her brother is enduring at the hands of such forces, who are attempting to “convince” him which way to vote in July’s municipal elections and discourage opposition rallies). Really, a small-scale do-over of Oslo.

    For more on the perils of the so-called Netanyahu-Fayyad Initiative (“West Bank first” and “Economic Peace”) see this excellent article by Ziyaad Lunat on EI.

    “Economic peace,” coupled with the “West Bank First” policy of economic development serves too as warning to Palestinians. They either conform to a political program approved by Israel and Western donors or risk sharing the dire fate of Gaza, under a crippling siege since June 2007.

    Each ribbon cutting ceremony Fayyad attends reinforces the normalcy discourse propagated by the PA and Fatah-affiliated media that contrast it to the destruction and despair of Israeli-blockaded, Hamas-controlled Gaza.

    A year on, the cost of the Netanyahu-Fayyad plan is becoming clear. Low-income Palestinian families and small business are being encouraged to borrow to fuel a high-risk economy. Israel has proven time again that it won’t hesitate to strike a blow against Palestinian infrastructure should they dissent from the current consensus in its favor.

    The economic peace model comes with a dose of cultural imperialism. Palestinians do not have basic freedoms but they are being told that they can enjoy the mundane and superfluous in cinemas and shopping centers.


    NPR, Settlements, and Objective American Journalism

    OK I need to get this off my chest. So I’m listening to NPR the other day on my way back from Yousuf’s school (note to self: don’t listen to NPR’s coverage of the Middle East, even when there is nothing else on).

    They had a piece on on the “settlement row” in Occupied East Jerusalem, as though this were suddenly some new issue that is threatening to “derail efforts to get back on track” (what track? and where is it headed? the train analogies never cease).

    Their reporter in Jerusalem, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, then proceeds to take us with her on a journey to the settlement colony in question, and describes it as a “tranquil” place on a lovely hilltop, the settlers as simply facing a “housing crunch”. She then goes on to speak to a calm, American-accented settler who says he is oblivious to all that’s going on around him, that it really doesn’t matter, they just want to be able to accommodate the increasing numbers of Orthodox Jews in their “neighborhood”. By contrast, she says, in the West Bank there is “violence” again as “angry” protesters take to the streets hurling stones. We aren’t told why. We don’t get a chance to hear from any of them. The next day, the NPR anchor sums up the developments in one sentence: “more violence in the Middle East”.

    I was seething listening to this piece, more than usual, and immediately Joe Sacco’s words about “objectivity as practiced in American journalism” being unhelpful, non-educational, unfair came to mind. If I was an “average Joe” (what happened to him?) my take-away from this piece would be: Those angry violent Palestinians, always up in arms about something. So violent. Those poor calm settlers who just want to live in peace and expand out of their cramped quarters.

    I would not learn that in fact the settlements are illegal by international law and they they will create an uninterrupted stretch of Jewish-only housing and amenities between the eastern sector of the city and two West Bank settlement blocs.

    I would be given no context as to why the settlements are strategically located on hilltops nor of the assaulted lives of occupied Palestinians ghettoized around them.

    That the Palestinians in East Jerusalem have extreme difficulty obtaining building permits from Israeli authorities; that after a few years of being away from the city-for studying for example abroad, their residency permits are yanked and they are no longer considered city residents; have no rights to live there.

    That up to 25% of housing units in Israeli settlements are actually empty.

    That the unlawful appropriation of Palestinian land for Israeli settlements and “bypass” roads connecting the settlements, and of crucial resources such as water, has had a devastating impact on the local Palestinian population.

    That the settlements are funded by the Israeli government, and by American taxpayers; that colonists who choose to live there are given housing subsidies.

    But what does it matter to NPR? After all, we got a supposedly “objective” report, and that’s the important thing. Hmm.


    The radical babes of Gaza

    I want another baby. I really do. Yassine-not so much.

    But he may not have to worry-at least not if Martin Kramer has his way. The current fellow at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs has suggested I -and other Palestinian women from Gaza- should deliberately be stopped from having babies because chances are, they will be grow up to be radicals.

    According to the Electronic Intifada, who first broke the story last week, Kramer offered this fasinating piece of solicited advice in the annual Herzliyah Conference in Israel earlier this month in which he called on “the West” to take measures to limit the births of Muslim Palestinians of Gaza and consider them a form of terrorism, or, as Kramer puts it, “extreme demographic armament”. He also praised the unconscionable Israeli siege for getting the ball rolling already and reducing the numbers of Palestinian babies there (see: infanticide; Gaza Diet). If your skin didn’t curl watching the audience clap at the end of that video, well, save your soul somehow.

    Family Planning, the Martin Kramer way

    Kramer’s argument: Gaza is a cauldron of crazy; there is already an excess of aimless young Muslim men loitering around and many most all of them will be extremists! Solution: they shouldn’t be born to start with. Like I said: brilliant!

    How does he suggest they implement this ground-breaking plan? Stop providing “pro-natal subsidies” that encourage these births. Pro-natal subsidies, you might ask? Is that like pre-natal vitamins? Close, but spinal bifida or not, a baby is still a baby. Kramer is referring to food and humanitarian assistance for “Palestinians with refugee status”, who make up 70% of the Gaza Strip ( and of whom, I might add, 40% are already malnourished, and 80% rely on food hand-outs for survival).

    Yes, you read that correctly. “In other words”, says MJ Rosenberg, Kramer seems to be saying “starve the Palestinians so they don’t have babies and…starving the babies so they don’t grow up.”

    Lest an outraged public be all up in arms about…plagiarism, Kramer himself notes the idea is “not at all original”. Got THAT right…let’s see, where HAVE we heard this kind of chilling drivel before? Hmmm. Oh wait- the Nazis beat you to it! Except back then they called it Eugenics. Juan Cole contends it is a recycled form of Malthusianism.

    Nice company you keep, Kramer. Way to hog the limelight.

    One would think such unapologetic racism need not even warrant discussion. Ever the flag bearer of academic iniquity freedoms, Harvard disagrees.

    This, despite the fact that Kramer’s ideas appears to meet the international legal definition of a call for genocide according to the Geneva Convention (which includes measures “intended to prevent births within” a specific “national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”).

    Electronic Intifada founder Ali Abunimah spread the word about it, trying to force Harvard to take a stand, but instead they rushed to his defense.

    I wonder how long Mr. Kramer’s views would be tolerated if — all other things being equal — he were an Arab scholar who had called for Jews to be placed in a giant, sealed enclosure which virtually no one is allowed to leave and enter, and deprived of food and schooling for their children in order to reduce their birthrate?” Abunimah asked.

    The ghastliness of it all was best summed up by an exchange between the mock Dan Halutz and Doron Almog to the real Martin Kramer on Twitter:

    danhalutz RT @doronalmog: @DanHalutz Remember that time u, me, & @Martin_Kramer debated @Harvard over drinks on how to get rid of those superfluous Gazans? Good times

    danhalutz @DoronAlmog Of course! @Martin_Kramer was all about the “pro-natal subsidies” and you just wanted to bulldoze those Gazans. Me, I like F16s

    danhalutz @Martin_Kramer Dear Sir: I admire your brilliant ideas but fear ending pronatal subsidies will not eliminate superfluous Arabs fast enough.

    danhalutz @Martin_Kramer: I say replace ‘pronatal’ subsidies with ‘pro-morbid’ ones: cluster bombs, white phosphorus, napalm. Let’s co-author a paper!


    Gaza, my city

    The other day, Yousuf came home from kindergarten with a small project. He was given a paper to fill out to help him learn his address. It listed several categories: Street, City, State, Zipcode and so on. He yanked it out of his backpack to show me enthusiastically. He had it filled out to the best of his ability (the teacher provided the correct address for them to copy). I tried to make out his elementary phonics-based handwriting and be encouraging all the while. I noticed though under “city” he had written something that did not exactly read like Columbia.

    “Gosa?” I asked.
    “It says Gaza” he said matter-of-factly.
    “Oh-I see. But that’s not your physical address, you live in Columbia, Maryland” I instructed him.
    “Mama, you don’t get it, that IS my address, its my my hometown, even if I live here, that is my real address!” he insisted.
    “But its not even in the United States” I replied.
    “So what. Its my city!” he answered.

    Ok, obviously this was a losing battle. Forget about explaining geography and the limits of physical boundaries to a 5 year old. What does it matter in his mind anyway? His “city” is Gaza; he is IN Gaza, even though he is physically present in the United States.

    That’s Yousuf for you. Even though he only spent a short part of his young life there (his first 2-3 years) Gaza has taken a big part of his heart and he never forgets it. I think in some way, that is how we all feel. No matter how far away we are, no matter how young or old, no matter where we are born and where we end up living, Gaza is in our hearts and is always our city. It casts a spell on you.