Saturday, October 3, 2009


The time is now. The Arab American Institute is standing up for peace. Americans are joining together to stand up for peace. Will you join us?

Add your support to the letter signed by the leaders of over 30 Arab and Jewish American organizations as well as religious leaders around the country and let the Administration know of your commitment to Middle East peace.

"We come from varied ethnic backgrounds and religious faiths that are diverse. We are Democrats and Republicans. We are veterans of war and of the struggle for peace. Together, we are all Americans.

We find common cause in supporting strong U.S. leadership to achieve a negotiated, sustainable resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict - a fundamental American interest that crosses racial, ethnic and religious lines."

These are the opening lines of the Letter in Support of a Comprehensive Middle East Peace: An American National Interest Imperative that was submitted to President Obama on September 22, 2009.

Please add your support.

Read the entire letter here and sign on

A Conversation With Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan

Friday, October 2, 2009

UNRWA at 60

UNRWA at 60

By Rami G. Khouri

Activities at the UN headquarters in New York City Thursday, commemorating the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), coincided with the latest political developments revolving around the meeting last Tuesday of US President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas.

Political leaders on all fronts have wildly failed the Palestinian and Israeli peoples’ right to live in secure, stable societies, while the thousands of UNRWA employees have consistently made sure that millions of politically abandoned and physically vulnerable refugees receive the basic services and common decencies that are the birthright of every human being.

The work that UNRWA has done to deliver education, healthcare, social services and basic protection for many of the 4.6 million refugees registered with it represents the United Nations at its best - helping people at the material level, while drawing attention to the need to ensure their political, national and human rights, even in conditions of vicious warfare.

Some of the refugees live in appalling conditions, especially in Lebanon and Gaza, where unemployment and school dropout rates are often very high. Yet the continued mandate of UNRWA and its adaptation to changing circumstances sends the message that the world sees the refugees as people who have basic rights that are not mere slogans, but realities that must be exercised.

UNRWA was established in 1949 shortly after the nations of the world issued the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which saw individuals as unique in every way except for their identical right to leave behind the jungle and to live in conditions governed by access to equal rights guaranteed by the rule of law.

UNRWA is also important to recognise today as a living symbol of the desire and ability of ordinary Palestinians to create a society of integrity, decency and opportunity when they are given a chance to do so.

Because UNRWA is staffed mainly by Palestinians, it is something of a microcosm of how a Palestinian society would evolve if it were not subjected to the attacks and pressures of others. Several million Palestinians have passed through hundreds of UNRWA schools in the last 60 years, and many of them have gone on to contribute to the development of the modern Arab world as employees or entrepreneurs in their home communities or further afield.

The Palestine issue has probably been the single most radicalising and destabilising force in the modern Arab world - but UNRWA has been the most powerful force for moderation and sensibility among Palestinians who might otherwise have become disruptive and violent if they had been denied the basic services and dignity that UNRWA represents. Thousands of young Palestinians have indeed turned to violence, fighting other Palestinians and Arabs, Israelis or even attacking foreign targets in some cases of particularly absurd terror. Yet if UNRWA did not exist or provide the level and quality of services that keep young men and women healthy and in school or work, the discarded and dispirited Palestinians who would have turned to violence would probably have numbered in the hundreds of thousands, if not even a few million.

Perhaps the most important new role that UNRWA has played in recent years has been its increasing determination - represented by its senior officials - to speak out forcefully when the refugees were in the most dire circumstances and in the greatest need of assistance and protection - such as during the recent Israeli attack on Gaza.

UNRWA has expanded its role from a provider of basic services to a voice of conscience that reminds the world of two related points: that Palestinian refugees are often helpless and vulnerable and thus must be afforded the most fundamental level of protection that is commensurate with their status as human beings, and that the international community has a moral and legal obligation to provide that protection while simultaneously seeking the political resolution needed to end the status of refugee and the exile of the Palestinians.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Koning AbuZayd put it eloquently in her comment last Thursday: “The protracted exile of Palestine refugees and the dire conditions they endure, particularly in the occupied Palestinian territory, cannot be reconciled with state obligations under the United Nations Charter…. UNRWA stands ready to play its constructive and enabling role to ensure that the Palestine refugee voice is heard and that their interests and choices are reflected in any future agreement.”

Paying attention to the refugees’ voice, interests and choices, as AbuZayd states, is the essence of what we should grasp as we mark this anniversary. Sixty years is a long time for refugees to suffer their miserable conditions, but this period has also shown, through UNRWA’s work, what can be done when men and women of decency put their mind to it, and when states take seriously their obligation to protect the vulnerable among us.

2 October 2009

Yale Bulletin: Jordan’s Queen Rania Urges U.S. Support of Palestinian Cause

FOUND IN: Yale Bulletin

Jordan’s Queen Rania Urges U.S. Support of Palestinian Cause

President Richard C. Levin and Queen Rania discussed the ways in which Americans and Arabs can diminish the mistrust they have felt for each other since 9/11.

New Haven, Conn. — In Jordan, where nearly a third of the population is composed of Palestinian refugees, the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank is "a hurt we feel each day," Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah told a packed audience at Yale on Sept. 22.

The plight of the Palestinians, and the role the United States can play in helping bring peace to the Middle East, were the focus of the Jordanian queen's address in Sprague Memorial Hall, which was followed by a discussion with President Richard C. Levin.

Queen Rania said that as a Jordanian, she feels she must "speak for those voices that Americans rarely hear, to describe the sense of ‘identity theft' that Palestinians have endured for over 60 years."

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza, she told her audience, Palestinians must carry IDs that limit their movement and their potential. Their IDs are "a constant reminder that in others' eyes, they are less valuable, less important, simply less," Queen Rania said in her address.

In contrast, she noted, the IDs that Yale students carry actually give them access - to the dining halls and libraries, to their education and their diplomas.

According to the United Nations, almost 40% of the West Bank "is now covered by settlement-related Israeli infrastructure — barriers, buffer zones, military bases, barbed wire and barricades," Queen Rania told her audience. Likewise, she noted, 400 kilometers of walls are going up.

"Parents can't go to work," she added. "Students can't get to class. Sick people can't get to hospitals. All traffic is stopped, from people on foot to cars and trucks to ambulances. The wait can be hours, often only to find that passage is refused; relatives detained on their way to a family wedding; schoolchildren searched, their notes ripped from the schoolbooks; grandparents forced to stand for hours holding packages and heavy bags."

In addition to losing their freedom of movement, Palestinians feel humiliated and degraded when asked by armed Israeli soldiers for their ID, which is akin to being told, "Show me proof that you exist," Queen Rania said.

Almost 70% of Gaza's population is composed of refugees living in squalid conditions, according to the Jordanian queen. "Homes lie in rubble," she explained. "Hospitals lack power. Sewage pipes threaten to burst. The economy has totally, utterly collapsed. Unemployment is ap­proaching 50%."

One Gaza resident, she revealed, compared his homeland to "a jail where no prisoner knows the length of his sentence."

The Palestinians' sense of hopelessness and degradation is "compounded by the sense that no one cares, that the outside world is oblivious" to their hardships, Queen Rania contended. She said because of the large population of Palestinian refugees in her country, Jordanians do not have "the luxury of shifting our focus away."

She cited a U.S. poll conducted earlier this year that showed that with the exception of terrorism, Americans cited no foreign policy issue among their priorities for the Obama administration.

"Yet, in many ways, [the Middle East] conflict is at the core of U.S.-Arab relations - or, at least, at the core of Arab public opinion of America," Queen Rania told her audience.

By contrast, when asked in a recent poll about their top priorities, 99% of Arabs said the conflict was among their top five, she stated.

While Arabs were encouraged by President Obama's outreach and speech in Cairo, his pledge to work toward Middle East peace and the appointment of George Mitchell as a special envoy in the region, they are "impatient," Queen Rania commented. She noted that other long-term conflicts - including apartheid in South Africa, a divided Germany, the Cold War and violence in Northern Ireland - once considered "intractable, even insoluble" have since found some level of resolution, whereas the situation in Palestine has only deteriorated. Innocent Palestinian children, she added, are the greatest victims of the conflict.

The "worst threat" to stability in the Middle East, Queen Rania stressed, "is the cynicism so many people feel, the sense that ­Middle East peace is hopeless." That hope­lessness, results in "writing off people's lives."

"But let me be clear: It isn't just the lives of Palestinians at stake. Israelis too need a future of peace and security," she continued.

One sign of hope, according to the Jordanian queen, is the fact that 64% of Palestinians and 40% of Israelis support a plan proposed by 22 members of the Arab League to give full recognition to Israel in exchange for that country's withdrawal from the territories it overtook in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

She emphasized that all sides in the conflict, including the Arab world, are responsible for bringing peace to the region.

"We decry the actions of Israeli extremists, but must work harder to rein in our own," she said. "We look to the West to do more in support of Palestinian needs, but must do our part - and must press the Palestinians toward unity among themselves."

She urged the United States to play a leadership role by offering a "sustained commitment" to and "creative engagement" in the peace process.

Yet, the attainment of peace in the Middle East requires more than political leadership and will, said the queen.

"[I]t is not just the walls on the land that must go," she said. "We must take down the walls in our hearts. There has been so much pain, so much loss, so much fear, so much hatred and mistrust. True peace depends on reconnecting the bonds of our common humanity."

Active in numerous global concerns, Queen Rania has been particularly engaged in improving the lives of families and children, empowering women and promoting education in Jordan. Her Yale visit coincides with the campus exhibit and U.S. premiere of "Breaking the Veils: Women Artists from the Islamic World," which Queen Rania inaugurated in 2002 with the goal of breaking down stereotypes about Muslim women.

Following her address, Levin asked the Jordanian queen some questions and also read questions posed by audience members. He noted the strides that the University has made to enhance opportunities for students to study the Middle East, among them a new major in Modern Middle East Studies. However, he lamented the fact that there has been a drop in the number of Arab students at Yale since 9/11 (to a current level of 7% of the student population). Levin asked Queen Rania how the University could encourage more students from the region to study at Yale.

She acknowledged that the terrorist attacks resulted in "pervasive" mistrust and stereotyping among Americans and Arabs alike. The United States, she said, can help to quell the fears of young Arab students by holding fast to the core American values of open-mindedness, innovation and philanthropy, and by ensuring Arab students that they will be "treated fairly" in the United States.

"So often, we dread what we do not know," Queen Rania said in her address. "We live in fear of the things we cannot see. But we'll never move forward by closing ourselves off. The only way to grow is to reach out."

The full text of Queen Rania's address at Yale can be found at

— By Susan Gonzalez

PRESS CONTACT: Office of Public Affairs 203-432-1345

Yale University Office of Public Affairs

Monday, September 28, 2009

"Palestinians could have fared better in their seven-decade-long struggle for independence had they gone Gandhi’s way." Walid M. Sadi

Gandhi way

By Walid M. Sadi

I had the occasion,during Ramadan, to watch again the epic film on Mahatma Gandhi, the pre-eminent political and spiritual leader of India, and tried to draw some conclusions from his struggle for the independence of his country for possible application to the Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence.

Gandhi’s guiding principles in his multifaceted campaign to win independence for his nation were based on civil disobedience and “ahimsa”, meaning total nonviolent struggles. His overall campaign for the liberation and independence of his country involved struggle against poverty, tyranny, women’s enslavement. Above all, Gandhi preached religious and ethnic amity to the multireligious and multiethnic people of India.

His country won independence in 1947, but its leader was assassinated in 1948 by a Hindu extremist who believed Gandhi was making too many concessions to the Muslim Indians.

It is still arguable whether India could have attained the same political independence by other means than those advocated by the father of the Indian nation.

Many Indian leaders at the time were pushing Gandhi to abandon his peaceful, nonviolent ways in favour of a violent style founded on armed uprising. Yet Gandhi stuck to his principles and refused violence as a way of liberating his people from the British rule, convinced that nonviolence would achieve faster and better results by eroding and weakening the resistance of the colonial power.

Gandhi thought that an Indian “intifada” would give the British additional ammunition to defeat his people’s efforts to gain freedom and delay the attainment of independence.

Gandhi’s concern about resorting to violence came from his deep-rooted conviction that terrorism would bring forth the wrong kind of leadership for his country, which may end up replacing foreign colonialism with domestic tyranny.

The Palestinians, on the other hand, as indeed most other peoples who waged wars toattain freedom and independence, never seriously contemplated Gandhi’s proven method of achieving independence,and opted instead to armed uprisings that failed to deliver much until now.

The big question now is whether the Palestinians could have fared better in their seven-decade-long struggle for independence had they gone Gandhi’s way. My opinion is that they would have lost less and gained more had their leaderships tried Gandhi’s principle. His style could have served the Palestinian interests much better than the ways that have been pursuing so far.

The proof of this proposition is the undisputed fact that the successive Palestinian leaderships failed miserably in their efforts to deliver their people from enslavement and occupation by violent resistance.

27 September 2009