Saturday, November 28, 2009

This week in Palestine

Message from the Editor

I cannot believe that it is that time of the year again! Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that I was writing about the arrival of spring and then the onslaught of the summer heat? And yet, here we are in December and the approaching holiday season that in this part of the world lasts well into January, what with all the different religious denominations that follow their own calendars. Oh well, this extends the festive atmosphere over one month rather than the more common one week elsewhere.

Regrettably, on the political front, we have very little to celebrate. Our people remain divided, with the schism between both factions getting wider by the day. It now seems that we are in need of a miracle to bring about the longed-for - and long-awaited - reconciliation. It also appears that elections will not be taking place next January, as was initially announced. This will complicate matters more and will create a political vacuum that no one will benefit from.

Corporate social responsibility, the focus of this month’s issue of This Week in Palestine, is a relatively new concept in Palestine. It is really commendable that corporations and firms, public and private institutions, can dedicate the time and the necessary resources to shoulder social responsibilities while operating in dire economic conditions and under great impediments such as restricted mobility, checkpoints, closures, etc. More and more firms are paying greater attention to the needs of their employees, empowering them with knowledge, training, etc., that benefit the employee while benefiting the firm as well. Outside the sphere of the firm, Palestinian companies are increasingly the funders and supporters of other institutions, mainly NGOs, be they cultural, educational, or social. The Bank of Palestine is one such institution that invests a lot in its social responsibility for the benefit of all Palestinians. Our thanks go to the Bank of Palestine for sponsoring this issue of This Week in Palestine as we celebrate our eleventh year this December. We also thank all our contributors, writers, staff, and readers.

We wish everyone happy holidays and a better and brighter new year.

Tony A. Khoury

The Tradition of Palestinian Cuisine By Dr. Ali Qleibo

Mansaf served peasant-style on the floor.

Palestinian spices
The taboon is the traditional peasant oven whose main fuel is sun-baked camel and sheep dung which imparts a special flavour to baked foods and permeates our mountains with its sweet aroma.
Jameed is composed of sun-dried semolina, spice and yoghurt. It serves as the base for all yoghurt sauces, especially mansaf.
Mansaf, served on a large, flat, round, zinc-plated copper tray, is presented in a splendid manner. A layer of shredded whole wheat bread, marinated in meat stock, is covered with a layer of rice on t
Ma’lubeh, literally translated as “upside-down,” is the perfect example of the triumph of form through the masterful control of the moisture degree of rice. In the hands of a masterful cook the
The taboon is the traditional peasant oven whose main fuel is sun-baked camel and sheep dung which imparts a special flavour to baked foods and permeates our mountains with its sweet aroma.

The Tradition of Palestinian Cuisine
By Dr. Ali Qleibo
The sweet aroma of garlic fried in samneh baladiyeh (clarified spiced butter) with freshly ground coriander (taqliyeh) always softens the hard, impenetrable stones and enlivens the empty cobbled back alleys of Jerusalem. The aroma conjures up memories of mother’s food. A walk in the Old City at lunchtime invariably evokes the feeling of contentment and comfort. The mysterious sense of joy unleashed by the various scents emanating from the kitchens of the Old City is inexhaustible. The delicate garlic/coriander aroma that would be the last touch to the yakhneh (stew) of either mallow (mulukhia) or okra (bamiah) always transforms Jerusalem into one big family kitchen.

A general survey of the repertoire of cooked food in the traditional urban, peasant, and nomadic cuisine reveals great diversity. Detailed analysis, however, reveals a constitutive structure which generates the grammar, syntax, and vocabulary in the discourse of Palestinian cuisine. The permutations produced within the confines of the structure impart to Palestinian cuisine its unique flavour. Once “cooked,” the “raw” nutrient elements discursively assume their value, their individual “taste.” The taste, tang, zest, savour, aroma, degree of moisture and dryness, consistency of sauce, the chopping, shaping of vegetables and of meats in preparation for cooking, the arrangement of stuffed vegetables inside the cooking pot and the final presentation at the table; in short, the aesthetics that separate the edible from the inedible, the delicious from the offensive, the appetizing from the bland underlies the structural classification, ordering, and composition of the food elements in southern and northern Palestine.

The most common daily Palestinian food, khubiz, zeit u za’tar (bread, olive oil-and-thyme mix) encapsulates the constitutive elements of Palestinian culinary aesthetics and delineates both the form and content of our cuisine. The oil and the tart-and-spicy za’tar mix impart to Palestinian food its unique taste. The qualitative binary category of dasameh (oil, butter, or animal fat) in conjunction with humudah, the tart taste, on the one hand, camouflage the natural aroma of animal meat, be it mutton, beef, poultry, or fish, and on the other hand, moisten, soften and enhance the taste of the plain carbohydrate staple, be it bread, rice, or roasted wheat (freekeh) in an almost algebraic formula. The combination of moist, spicy, rich, tart elements of the dasameh/humudah in the sauce or stew or dip blended masterfully by the dexterous cook stands in juxtaposition to the moist, plain bread or freekeh or rice. This aesthetic combination - with the predilection for the hot and spicy in the South (Gaza) and the tart and zesty in the North (Galilee) - makes up the basic structures that generate the rules and grammar of the seasonal Palestinian food which flourishes in the savoury diversity of Jerusalem cuisine and which has, in modernity, been adopted by Palestinians in the desert and countryside.

The study of the repertoire of Jerusalem’s cuisine yields two major categories of cooked food, namely stews and stuffed vegetables. Yakhaneh refers to a generic variety of meat stews with vegetables, on the one hand, and mahasheh, stuffed vegetables with meat and rice, on the other. In the mahasheh, vegetables such as zucchini, gourds, cucumbers, carrots, or eggplants are cored out and stuffed with rice and meat. In the yakhaneh, chunks of mutton are cooked with seasonal vegetables. Both mahasheh and yakhaneh are cooked in conjunction with a variety of sauces using tamarind, yoghurt, tomatoes, sour pomegranates, and unripened sour grapes as a base. The grammar and rules that specify the use of the various ingredients, their form, the possible combinations, the stages of preparation, and the trimming and timing in the cooking order of meat, vegetable, and sauce are inflexible.

Stuffed carrots and cucumbers can be cooked in tamarind sauce. Eggplant can only be cooked in tomato sauce. Stuffed zucchini and cucumbers can be cooked in conjunction with yoghurt sauce too. Tampering with categories, sauces, and format is aesthetically fatal. The result is considered disgusting and inedible. The highly elusive aesthetic - namely value - judgement, delicious, savoury, appetising, tasty depends on the ability of the cook to subtly manipulate the various elements so as not to shock the taste with over-spiced, sour, greasy savour but rather a well-balanced blend in a sauce that is neither too thick nor too thin.

Form, colour, and method of presentation are of utmost importance. Za’tar is served in a small bowl and must remain totally dry. The olive oil, into which the morsel of bread is to be dipped, must remain clean, without sediments of za’tar grains or floating bread crumbs. First the bread is dipped into the oil and then into the za’tar. Otherwise it is disgusting. On one’s right side, one keeps a loaf of bread which is shredded into morsels as one eats. Nobody else touches that piece of bread.

Spices, biharat, in Palestinian cuisine, are used sparingly. Depending on the individual family taste, the basic spice (bihar) is made up of a mix composed of varying ratios of cardamom, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, clove, fenugreek, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, and pepper. The spice shops cater to the individual taste by varying the mix accordingly. In the mahasheh, the spice is mixed with the rinsed rice, meat fillings, and sirej (sesame oil). In the yakhaneh the spice is added as soon as the meat is browned with the chopped onions and just before the water for the stew is added. A spoonful of samneh in a frying pan with coriander and crushed garlic provides the final garnishing and imbues the simplest okra mutton stew with its alluring aroma and flavour.

Dasameh in the Palestinian kitchen ranges from the use of virgin olive oil, sirej, tahineh, samneh baladiyeh (clarified spiced butter), and the natural fat of the mutton, liyyeh.
Samneh baladiyeh assumes a prominent place in the Palestinian pantry; without it our food loses its substantiality and unique flavour. Families buy goat butter, which is available exclusively in spring. It is cooked to be preserved for daily use throughout the year. The taqliyeh, for the final aroma and zest of the yakhaneh, the rice, and the slivered almonds and pine nuts achieve their taste within the meal by being fried in samneh.

Olive oil is indispensable as a salad dressing, but its distinctive taste gives musakhan its exquisite taste. Musakhan is a festive peasant dish celebrating the humudah/dasameh. In this scrumptious dish, chicken is baked in a special oven, the taboon, whose main fuel is sun-baked camel and sheep dung which imparts a special flavour to baked foods and permeates our mountains with its sweet aroma. The chicken is served on a circular loaf of whole wheat bread smothered with cooked onions saturated with olive oil and seasoned with the tart summaq spice.

In Jerusalem, sesame oil (sirej) is used exclusively in frying in lieu of corn oil. A tablespoonful mixed with the minced meat, rice, and spices enhances the taste of the mahasheh, adding the indispensable extra taste of dasameh. From sesame seed, tahineh is also extracted. This creamy off-white sauce, added to balls of minced meat in the last stage of baking lahmeh bi sinniyeh, imparts a hearty velvety taste. Yet the tahineh must be tempered by lemon juice or vinegar.

Tahineh is indispensable for hummus. This chickpea dip is tasteless on its own. It is the savvy blending in of the tahineh, the right amount of lemon juice, and a pinch of cumin that makes it delicious. The dip is garnished with olive oil, a few chopped sprigs of parsley, and a dash of red cayenne pepper for colour. The bread, in bite-size morsels, is dipped into the chickpea puree. When mixed with eggplant, tahineh gives the thick consistency to mutabbal, the delicious eggplant dip. The texture of both hummus and mutabbal is of paramount importance; the mixed ground paste must be neither viscous, thick, and heavy nor soggy and mushy, but squidgy with a moist, thick texture to be eaten as a dip with bread that is neither soft nor spongy, neither dry nor crumbly.

Texture and consistency vary from platter to platter and signal in feel, form, and colour the savoury taste of food. Every home has its own secret combination and every restaurant imparts a specific taste to these delectable dips. The amount of tahineh to lemon and chickpeas or eggplant is what sets Palestinian hummus or mutabbal apart from the Syrian, Lebanese, or Egyptian culinary equivalents.

The elements of humudah and dasameh reach a perfect balance according to the Palestinian palate in mansaf. The ceremonial meal consists of stewed mutton spiced with cardamom. The mutton is served on top of a bed of plain white rice in conjunction with a thick sauce of mutton stock and a concentration of dried spiced goats’ yoghurt (jameed) served in separate individual bowls.

Mansaf, served on a large, flat, round, zinc-plated copper tray, is presented in a splendid manner. A layer of shredded whole wheat bread, marinated in meat stock, is covered with a layer of rice on top of which comes the meat decorated with slivered almonds and pine nuts.

Form and methods of presentation of different foods determines the specific spicing and ingredients of each dish. The proverb, “The eye eats before the mouth,” underplays the fact that the form defines the taste. In practice each plate has its own specific way of presentation. How the food looks is part and parcel of the rules of Palestinian cooking. Mansaf is spiced mainly with cardamom; biharat would sully the yellowish cream colour of the off-white yoghurt sauce. The rice must be white and only salt is added. Only ma’lubeh rice would have biharat spice mix to balance the colour of the brownish fried eggplants, cooked meat, tomato wedges, et cetera… Pots and pans should not appear on the table. Special serving plates for stews, stuffed vegetables, and rice are used in accordance with each type. Form is most evident in the preparation and the serving of stuffed grape leaves (waraq dawaleh) and ma’lubeh.

Ma’lubeh, literally translated as “upside-down,” is the perfect example of the triumph of form through the masterful control of the moisture degree of rice. An extremely delicious casserole of mutton, eggplants, and spiced rice, ma’lubeh has come to be synonymous with Palestinian family life. Atypically, ma’lubeh is neither cooked nor served with any sauce. The vegetables and lamb, which are fried and cooked in various separate stages, are later composed into a rice casserole. Once cooked there is the traditional twenty minutes of waiting to allow the casserole to take shape. Children are asked to hit the sides and bottom of the turned-upside-down pot with a wooden kitchen spoon. In the hands of a masterful cook the casserole should form a perfect mould when the pot is removed. This depends on whether there is the proper degree of moisture and fat, resulting in a consistency which would allow the rice, meat, and vegetables to hold together.

Palestinian aesthetics dictate the interrelationship of form to savour. Ma’lubeh must be served as a firm mould. Each grain of rice is separate from the other; the rice must be moist but not sticky or gluey. Ma’lubeh is served on a big serving plate, usually a round tray, and is decorated with almonds and slivered pine nuts in clarified butter, samneh baladiyeh. The same applies to mansaf. The meat must be piled on top of the neatly laid out rice, which is relatively drier than that of ma’lubeh. The jameed sauce is served in individual side bowls. In the countryside, though everyone eats from one common serving plate, each person stays within a certain personal “boundary” on the platter. The hand movements are nimble and swift. No one may reach over to the other side or move his/her hand in all directions. This would be bad form. Each sips jameed sauce or adds it in moderation lest it become soupy on top of the rice in his/her space on the collective serving plate.

Similarly waraq dawaleh (stuffed grape leaves) are not simply grape leaves, rice and meat stuffing with the dasameh/humudah moist/dry binary relations. Rather the method of presentation brings out the taste. Each grape leaf is delicately wrapped around a mouthful portion of rice-and-meat stuffing; the individually wrapped grape leaf must be small in size and dainty in appearance. The taste is savoured in relation to the shape. It is unimaginable - in fact, horrifying - to see layers of grape leaves lying horizontally, like a mille-feuille, with the rice stuffing in between. In fact, stuffed grape leaves must form a firm mould once the cooking pot is turned upside down onto the serving tray.

Moist but not soggy, firm but not dry is the masterful way of blending the stuffed grape leaves (neatly laid out in the cooking pot) with wedges of tomatoes, sour grapes, and pieces of fatty mutton distributed in between. Traditionally Arabic food, like Indian and Persian, is eaten either with a spoon or with the deft use of three fingers of the right hand, or dipped with bread. Knives do not appear at the table but remain in the kitchen. My nineteenth-century family heirloom of silver cutlery consists of spoons and forks but no knives. In the rural ceremonial mansaf and musakhan, where the meat chunks must be sizable (to show generosity), the host would personally shred the meat into morsels that he piles on the guest’s side of the common eating plate.

Each vegetable and meat recipe has its own specific form and shape which is defined by rules of chopping meat or vegetables into the visually aesthetic but simultaneously edible size. The aesthetic rules encompass the degree of ripeness, the time the sauce is added, the type of spice, and the final garnishing. If these rules are ignored it would be at the expense of colour, texture, shape, consistency, and aroma with which edible food is associated. In such a case it merits dismissal using the most dreaded adjective in the Arab kitchen; laghawees (inedible disgusting food), similar to the use of the word “gibberish” in the English language in reference to a meaningless string of English vocabulary.

Food as expression of the sacred purity of the family finds its ultimate expression in karshat, stuffed tripe. Sirej, sesame oil, and mutton fat combine to produce the most cherished Palestinian plate. No mother or wife likes the work that is involved in the cleansing of the smelly raw karshat; for it requires almost two days of cleaning, cutting, sewing, stuffing, and many hours of cooking. The tripe is scrupulously scrubbed until totally blanched and odourless. Next it has to be cut into small pieces. Later each piece has to be sewn into a small pouch which is individually stuffed with rice, minced meat, and chick peas with strong cumin spicing.

Cooked in its own stock on top of lamb knuckles, karshat is an extremely greasy dasameh meal. For some families, the humudah (to balance off the dasameh) may be introduced by adding yoghurt sauce in the last stage. At home, on the other hand, the yoghurt is served cold and its taste enhanced with a few cloves of chopped garlic crushed into a finely granulated pulp with salt.

Cooked once or twice a year, karshat is highly ceremonious. Once mother, my grandmother, or my sister decides to cook karshat, an azeemeh, a family lunch, is organised to celebrate this special feast. This applies also to seasonal vegetables when they first appear in the market. No grandmother would prepare the special seasonal Battireh eggplant, Khalili yaqteen, or various legumes without inviting the three-generation family and close friends. These family reunions are marked with the idiomatic greeting, Kul sanneh wi intu salmeen, which translates to, “May we see you every year in good health.” Outsiders, on the other hand, are not invited to karshat. Stuffed tripe is a strictly closed family affair. On the other hand, nobody would concede to eat karshat except those cooked by their own mother or a close family member. Karshat are very intimate seasonal festive meals and illustrate the fastidiousness of the Palestinians in relation to what and with whom they eat. They trust only the “ritual cleanliness” of their mother’s, sister’s, or wife’s kitchens. Even though yakhaneh and mahasheh may rarely be eaten at friends’ homes, karshat are almost taboo. Guest food must be of visibly distinct cuts of mutton or an entire chicken, the accompanying sauce (jameed) by necessity must be served on the side, the rice or bread for mushakan is minimally touched. By extension, the most “convenient,” i.e., the “cleanest” food to eat in restaurants is the bleak and shish kebab because it is plain meat barbecued on charcoals and not considered cooked food. Hence the ubiquity of kebab in all restaurants!

The kitchen is the soul of the Palestinian home. Palestinians eat the same food, and each Palestinian’s mother’s food is the best - at least until one has a wife. Then, of course, the wife’s food becomes the best. The Palestinian sense of identity, of belonging, of home, of warmth, security, and joy is inextricably bound up with food. Despite the apparent similarity of the basic recipes, variations are inevitable. Each family has its own nafas, literally “breath,” but with the referential value that encompasses individual flair expressed in the special aroma, flavour, and taste of the cooked food. This individual aroma is distinctly sensed immediately upon entry into each home. Recipes passed by word of mouth and by example are handed down from mothers to daughters. A new daughter-in-law becomes an apprentice and soon the keeper of her new family’s culinary repertoire to which she adds her own personal touch.

Palestinian food is ritual. Eating at home is a silent homage to the unwavering loyalty, total devotion, and unconditional love of the husband to his wife, of the children to the mother.

Dr. Ali Qleibo is an anthropologist, author, and artist. A specialist in the social history of Jerusalem and Palestinian peasant culture, he is the author of Before the Mountains Disappear, Jerusalem in the Heart, and the recently published Surviving the Wall, an ethnographic chronicle of contemporary Palestinians and their roots in ancient Semitic civilizations. His filmic documentary about French cultural identity, Le Regard de L’Autre was shown at the Jerusalem International Film Festival. Dr. Qleibo lectures at Al-Quds University. He can be reached at

Rights restrictions hamstring refugees' 'right of return' By Dalila Mahdawi

Rights restrictions hamstring refugees' 'right of return'
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Friday, November 27, 2009

BEIRUT: Efforts to secure the “right to return” for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are being hampered by their restricted access to human rights, a top UN official said Wednesday. Fateh Azzam, Middle East regional representative of the UN Office of the Higher Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Beirut and a registered Palestinian refugee, said the struggle of daily life for many refugees weakened their ability to present a strong and united front at the negotiation table with Israel.

“An empowered refugee community can be stronger advocates for right to return, than one that is more worried about daily concerns or survival,” Azzam said.

His comments were made at a talk organized by the American University of Beirut’s Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (IFI), which is developing a program regarding the UN in the Arab region, IFI Associate Director Dr. Karim Makdissi said.

There are over 422,000 Palestinian refugees registered in Lebanon, living mostly in overcrowded and squalid refugee camps. There are also an unknown number of non-registered Palestinians who fall outside of the scope of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), and as a result are even more vulnerable to chronic poverty.

An additional 40,000 Palestinians reside in 42 so-called “gatherings,” or ghettoized neighborhoods consisting of 25 or more Palestinian houses.

Unlike their compatriots in Jordan or Syria, Palestinians in Lebanon do not have any legal status and have almost no access to medical, education or social services outside UNWRA’s provision.
The refugee population is subject to severe restrictions of movement, forbidden from owning or repairing property and are barred from all but the most menial professions.

“The situation in Lebanon [for Palestinians] is much more difficult [than elsewhere in the region] … they probably have the hardest time enjoying their dignity” and human rights, Azzam said.
Azzam gave support to an argument put forward by the well-known refugee-law scholar James Hathaway, who has argued that the longer a refugee has to stay in a host country, the more rights they should accrue.

Still, despite spending more than 60 years of limbo in Lebanon, “it’s not often that you hear [people] in high political office talking about rights for Palestinians,” the OHCHR official said.
But with Lebanon party to more than seven major international conventions, Beirut “has obligations not just to its citizens but to all those under its jurisdiction,” he added.

Lebanon, however, is not a party to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which details the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of the countries that host refugees.

Azzam noted the financial, logistical and infrastructural difficulties faced by asylum-granting countries, saying the international community had a duty to assist in the protection of refugees.
The talk came two weeks after IFI invited Karen AbuZayd, outgoing Commissioner UNRWA for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, to speak about Palestinian refugees in the Middle East and the pressing need for greater rights for the refugee population in Lebanon.

Refugees in Lebanon to receive PA passports
Report: Refugees in Lebanon to receive PA passports
Published today (updated) 28/11/2009 20:51

Palestinian refugees in Beirut [MaanImages]

Bethlehem - Ma’an/Agencies - Palestinian refugees in Lebanon may be issued passports from the Palestinian Authority, the Beirut-based Elaph reported.

Lebanese officials expect President Mahmoud Abbas to visit the country in the coming days where he will address the issue with top-level officials. The campaign to find a solution for the 250,000-350,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is part of the program of the recently formed Lebanese government.

Palestinians in Lebanon face incredible difficulties, confined for the most part to refugee camps from which they must pass checkpoints to exit. Unlike Palestinian refugees living in Syria, Jordan and Egypt, those who fled to camps in Lebanon were never granted resident or citizenship papers. The only papers refugees in Lebanon have are from the UN Relief and Works Agency, which has provided services for Palestinian refugees around the Middle East for 60 years.

The move was seen as an additional step in the planned declaration of a Palestinian state in 2011 according to the Program of the Thirteenth Government (August 2009). Although the document officially defers decision-making on the issue of refugees to the authority of the PLO Department of Refugees Affairs, it commits to realizing their “fundamental rights, foremost of which is to live on their homeland.”

While a passport would not give refugees the right of residence in the West Bank - Palestinians need a residency permit okayed by Israel in order to reside in the West Bank, Jerusalem or Gaza - it would make international travel somewhat easier for the refugees who lack travel documents.


According to the report, many Palestinian refugees may refuse to accept a passport issued by the PA.

Since the PA is committed to a two-state solution and coexistence with Israel, refugees with homes in areas taken over by the state of Israel in 1948 see the move as renouncing their right of return to those homes, the report said.

The Elaph report also cited concerns over the naturalization of Palestinians in Lebanon, which could undermine the power of the already fragile government.

Christians in the country, the report added, are urging the passport plan to move forward out of concern that the majority Muslim population of Palestinians in Lebanon - if granted Lebanese papers under a final status agreement - would upset the religious balance.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

UNWRA Refugee Stories: "We were like birds in the cage" Al-Tanf Graduation Ceremony

Refugee Stories

"We were like birds in the cage"
Al-Tanf Graduation Ceremony

November 2009

"You cannot imagine how important this trip is for us," exclaims Intisar Yusef Mahmoud, a Palestine refugee from Iraq, as she and fifty other women made their first trip outside of the camp in over 18 months. Life is tough in al-Tanf, an isolated and desolate refugee camp located 250km east of Damascus, along the Syrian-Iraqi border.

Intisar and other women from al-Tanf travelled to UNRWA Women's Centre in Yarmouk and Tartous in late October to celebrate their graduation from courses in hairdressing and beautification. The trip was organised by UNRWA's relief and social services programme to honour the women and their accomplishments.

Nearly 90 women living in al-Tanf camp enrolled in vocational training courses offered by UNRWA, and those who successfully completed the six-month course were awarded a certificate at the graduation ceremony held at the Yarmouk Women’s Centre.

The living conditions in the camp are seriously below standard, as most refugees live in tents between the highway and a six-metre-high wall. UNRWA organises social activities in the camps in an effort to better the inhabitants’ lives.

One of the teachers, Manal Khalife, proudly boasted about the accomplishments of her students and the subsequent opportunities that have enabled her students to put their skills into action. "We recently did the hair and make-up for a bride whose wedding was held in al-Tanf. The wedding crowd had to drive around the camp by ambulance, since there were no cars available. You see we can still manage to celebrate and make the most of our circumstances, despite our lack of resources!" Manal laughs.

The training activities have provided the women with an outlet to express themselves and free their minds from their harsh surroundings in which they are forced to live. Social worker Ishtar al-Dali has been running projects in al-Tanf for the past year in order to help alleviate the stress of everyday life.

Daily activities organised for women and young girls include an embroidery course, a Qur’an study course, as well as a discussion session. "Girls can write their questions on little slips of paper and then drop them in the box. We then try to answer their questions and solve their problems individually or as a whole in a group," explains Ishtar al-Dali.

The recent training programme has given the women a renewed sense of optimism. "My students were very motivated and excited about the training. The course gave them hope and made them believe in themselves," Manal Khalife says.

"Before UNRWA activities were implemented, our only options were to watch television and to pass our time at home," says Intisar. The hairdressing course provided her relief from the doldrums of everyday life, and her participation in the graduation ceremony allowed her to leave the al-Tanf camp for the first time in over 18 months. Still, she continues to worry about her children’s chances for a better life in the future. "I'm waiting to hear whether my family can be resettled in a third country; we are awaiting answer from Finland. I hope for a better future for my children. They do not have a chance to further their educational studies if we stay in the camp."

Text and photos by Karoliina Romanoff

ATFP Reiterates the Centrality of Jerusalem to Negotiations ...& Transcript of briefing by special envoy George Mitchell

Press Release
Contact Information: Hussein Ibish
November 25, 2009 - 12:00am

East Jerusalem SettlementsNov. 25, Washington, DC – The American Task Force on Palestine today reiterated its long-standing support for the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian permanent status negotiations on the basis outlined by President Barack Obama in his speech before the UN General Assembly addressing, “the permanent-status issues: security for Israelis and Palestinians; borders, refugees and Jerusalem.”

ATFP noted that the announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today of a 10-month moratorium on settlement activity that does not include occupied East Jerusalem and some projects already underway, falls short of Israel’s obligations under the Roadmap, and is regarded as insufficient by all other parties, including the United States. However, ATFP believes that the United States government should build on this announcement to push for negotiations that address all the core issues, including Jerusalem.

The Task Force emphasized that today’s announcement by Israel again demonstrates that Jerusalem must be a core issue in any permanent status talks. ATFP supports the position outlined by White House spokesman Robert Gibbs that, "Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally preempt, or appear to preempt, negotiations" in Jerusalem.

ATFP also welcomed statements by Special Envoy George Mitchell that reiterated the US government position that Israeli continued settlement activity is illegitimate. The Task Force urges the United States to continue to work towards its stated objective of securing an end-of-conflict agreement.


Transcript of briefing by special envoy George Mitchell


Office of the Spokesman

For Immediate Release November 25, 2009


On-The-Record Briefing

Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell

November 25, 2009

Washington, D.C.

MR. WOOD: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the briefing. As promised, Senator Mitchell is here, and he is going to give you an update on the recent announcement by the Israeli Government with regard to settlements. So without further ado, Senator Mitchell.

MR. MITCHELL: Great. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Prime Minister Netanyahu has just announced his government’s moratorium on new settlement buildings. I think it’s important to look at this issue in a broader context, particularly how it affects the situation on the ground and how it can contribute to a constructive negotiating process that will ultimately lead to an end to the conflict and to a two-state solution.

It falls short of a full settlement freeze, but it is more than any Israeli Government has done before, and can help move toward agreement between the parties. As President Obama has said many times, we believe that a two-state solution to the conflict is the best way to realize the shared goal of Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security. It is also in the national security interest of the United States. It is urgently needed.

The President knows that achieving this goal will be difficult, but he also has said that he will not waiver in his persistent pursuit of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. For that reason, he has dedicated himself and his Administration to the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and to the creation of an atmosphere that maximizes the prospects for success.

To be clear, the steps we have suggested to all parties – Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arab States – to improve the atmosphere for negotiations are not ends in themselves, and they certainly are not preconditions to negotiations. But they can make a valuable contribution toward achieving our goal of successful negotiations that result in a two-state solution. That’s why we’ve urged the Palestinians to expand and improve their security efforts and to take strong and meaningful action on incitement. It’s why we’ve urged the Arab states to take steps toward normalization of relations with Israel, and it’s why we’ve urged Israel to stop settlement activity...READ MORE

It is horrifying that Israel is willing to reward radical Hamas but not freeze settlements in the occupied territories.

Aspects of a conflict: the prisoner exchange

By Daoud Kuttab

If there were a case that could illustrate the disagreement between Israel and the Palestinians, the Shalit prisoner exchange deal could be the one.

Various aspects of any such exchange, and the way different issues are being spun politically, are illustrative.

Legally, Israel refuses to recognise the over 10,000 prisoners it is holding as being prisoners of war. Nor does it accept that these prisoners deserve the title of “protected individuals”, to which the Geneva Convention applies. The convention regulates how an occupying power is supposed to deal with civilians under its occupation. Israel does not accept that it is an occupying power.
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"It is horrifying that Israel is willing to reward radical Hamas but not freeze settlements in the occupied territories." New York Times Blog Room for Debate: An Absurd Situation by Daoud Kuttab, Palestinian journalist and a former Ferris professor of journalism at Princeton University.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Light Rail to Nowhere By Britain Eakin for Miftah

Date posted: November 25, 2009
By Britain Eakin for Miftah

Living in Ramallah is like living in a bubble in many ways. The Israeli occupation is not always overtly visible here, but comes clearly into focus once you begin to travel away from the city. I recently made the journey from Ramallah to Jerusalem, which I tend to avoid due of the hassle of crossing Qalandiya checkpoint - I often get stuck at Qalandiya for at least an hour when trying to get to Jerusalem. But once through the checkpoint, I am always glad I made the journey, if not only to expose myself to the reality of life for Palestinians in east Jerusalem, but also to burst the bubble of living in Ramallah.

On the way to Jerusalem from Qalandiya, one can witness many ugly aspects of the occupation. On this trip I took particular interest in the unsightly mess of the slow construction of the Jerusalem Light Rail project, which has disrupted life for many and left an ugly scar on the city’s surface. However, more troubling than the physical scars the rail project has left on the cityscape are the intentions behind the rail’s construction. Israel claims that the rail project was intended to reduce traffic congestion, clean up pollution, and replace Turkish-era infrastructure, but says it would also serve as a model for light rail projects in other Israeli cities, such as Tel-Aviv.

Palestinians, on the other hand, see it as a way for Israel to further entrench its control over east Jerusalem. The rail system would enable Israel to easily connect many of the illegal settlements in east Jerusalem to Central and West Jerusalem, thereby reinforcing these facts on the ground, despite the fact that their existence creates one of the greatest obstacles to the establishment of east Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state.

Additionally, east Jerusalem is internationally recognized as occupied territory; its political status has yet to be determined. On this basis many experts in international law assert that any actions taken to alter the status of the city and which deny Palestinians the protections afforded them by international law have no validity. The laying of the rail tracks takes Israel one giant step closer to permanent annexation of east Jerusalem.

In fact, the Jerusalem Light Rail project should be seen as part of a larger Israeli strategy for east Jerusalem, and within the context of the creation of a “Greater Jerusalem.” The vision of a Greater Jerusalem is one that expands over and controls the central portion of the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and covers a 100-square mile area reaching deep into the West Bank.

This strategy aims to alter the demographics in Israel’s favor and to annex as much Palestinian land as possible. Thus the Light Rail project works in conjunction with Israeli policies of house demolitions, evictions, and the expansion of Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem and surrounding areas, all of which serve the Israeli objective of creating a “Greater Jerusalem.”

The policies that serve to meet this aim play themselves out in a harsh manner. Israel has made construction permits nearly impossible for Palestinians in east Jerusalem to obtain, using the pretext that structures built without such permits are “illegal” as a weak legal justification for house demolitions. A demolition involves the physical destruction of a family’s home with explosives or by bulldozer, often with little warning and with no compensation. To add insult to injury, families whose homes are demolished are often fined by the Jerusalem municipality if they themselves do not clear out the rubble of the remains.

Evictions occur when Israeli settlers commandeer Palestinian homes with the help of hired guards, Israeli police or soldiers, forcing them and their belongings out of the house and onto the streets. Those who forcibly take over Palestinian homes generally insist that they have ownership over the property through court orders. I witnessed this phenomenon in the summer of 2008, when I visited the al Kurd family home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem; half of their home was taken over by Jewish settlers, sanctioned by the Israeli Supreme Court who upheld the settlers claim to the property and granted them the keys to the home, despite the fact that the al-Kurd family had lived there since 1956. They were evicted last November.

In addition to house demolitions and evictions, Israel has been hard at work developing settlements in east Jerusalem such as Ne‘eV Ya‘akov, Pisgat Ze‘ev, and the French Hill settlement, all of which are intended to be connected to Central and Western Jerusalem by the Jerusalem Light Rail. Furthermore, the rail line will only serve one Palestinian neighbourhood, despite the fact that the rail line will be crossing through occupied Palestinian territory, drawing into question who the rail service is intended to benefit.

The answer seems clear – the rail service is intended to serve primarily Jewish Israelis and Israeli settlers, and will exclude many Palestinians from its service, highlighting Israel’s true intentions for the eastern portion of the city. In fact, just yesterday a headline on Haaretz declared that in an effort to re-start stalled peace talks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will tout a 10-month settlement freeze to “save” east Jerusalem. The freeze unsurprisingly will not include construction in east Jerusalem.

In recent months the Jerusalem Light Rail project has encountered strong resistance and many delays, including immense pressure from the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement which is pressuring the projects two main investors, Veolia and Alstom to pull out of the project on the basis that their involvement violates international law. This pressure has cost Veolia a purported $7 billion in contracts, and the company is apparently trying to sell its shares to Israeli bus operator Dan.

Despite this, Alstom has recently stated they have no intention of pulling out of the project and construction will move forward as planned. So as construction of the light rail carries on, so do house demolitions, evictions and settlement growth, all of which leave the status of east Jerusalem as the future Palestinian capital uncertain.

Britain Eakin is a Writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Palestinian children take part in an event organised by UNICEF to mark the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in the West Bank city of Ramallah November 21, 2009. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman (WEST BANK ANNIVERSARY SOCIETY)

Welcome Israelis into Palestine

Welcome Israelis into Palestine

Colin Nevin thinks it is unfair that some Arabs live legally in Israel as citizens, but Israelis who have colonised the West Bank are deemed to be "illegal" (letter, 17 November). He is also concerned that the Palestinian state, if formed, may not admit Jews.

I agree completely. The Israeli colonists in the West Bank should be offered Palestinian citizenship. They will provide a useful leavening to Palestinian society, enriching and broadening its culture and stimulating its economy and politics, as the Israeli Arabs do in Israel. They will, of course, be subject to Palestinian laws, planning regulations, taxes, and (possibly) conscription; but that should pose no problem, if their desire to live in their adopted country is genuine. Or they can return to Israel.

Robert Sather

Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire

Palestinian nun takes step toward sainthood

A Palestinian Christian child is seen playing near a portrait of Maria Alfonsina Danil Ghattas, during a beatification mass of Ghattas at the Church of the Annunciation in the northern Israeli town of Nazareth, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2009. Ghattas was the co-founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary in Jerusalem and lived from 1843-1927.(AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill)

Palestinian nun takes step toward sainthood

NAZARETH, Israel — A Palestinian nun who co-founded a charity dedicated to educating Arab girls on Sunday took an important step toward sainthood.

Thousands of worshippers gathered in the biblical town of Nazareth to attend the beatification of the late Sister Maria Alfonsina Danil Ghattas.

Ghattas helped found the Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary of Jerusalem in the 1880s. The order, highly regarded in Palestinian communities, continues to run schools for Palestinian girls in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Ghattas died in Jerusalem in 1927 at the age of 83.

During Sunday's ceremony, the church unveiled a portrait of Ghattas.

Pope Benedict XVI approved the beatification in July — the final step before sainthood.

On Sunday. the pope praised Ghattas for her work helping girls overcome illiteracy... READ MORE

From Growing Gardens for Palestine: We need a Golden Rule Peace for Israel and Palestine

Growing Gardens for Palestine

We need a Golden Rule Peace for Israel and Palestine

Garden of Gethsemane "Following the Last Supper, Jesus withdrew to the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples to pray. It was here that he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot with a kiss. The garden itself is approximately 2000 years old, filled with olive trees and is the largest site that has been identified as Gethsemane." BBC News Religon & Ethics In pictures Jerusalem

On Jerusalem

Worldfocus interview with Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force for Palestine, a non-profit dedicated to a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Originally from Beirut, Ibish is the former Washington D.C. correspondent for Lebanon’s Daily Star and current author of IbishBlog.

Hussein Ibish: "The cultural, religious and political importance of the holy places means that Jerusalem is central to both populations. Both sides are becoming increasingly influenced by right-wing religious rhetoric. The conflict is transforming from an ethnic struggle over land and power in a small area — into a religious struggle between bearded fanatics on both sides about the will of God and holy places.

The Old City of Jerusalem requires a creative solution and the unique formula like the Vatican City. It can’t be the exclusive preserve of any of the religious or ethnic groups. A unique formula has to be found. But it’s not beyond the wit of man to come up with a solution for this, because the national interests of all parties require it."

We do indeed need creative solutions- and kind solutions ASAP to help stop conflict and the destruction of Palestine.

The Israeli occupation was oppressive and ruthless. But we struggled to survive, to assert our presence, to preserve our traditions, and sustain our dreams. Life went on. Happy and sad occasions continued to be observed and celebrated in traditional Palestinian custom. And children multiplied …

"In Gaza, the blockade remains firmly in place, with all its adverse consequences for humanitarian access, for normal life and for the recovery and reconstruction effort. As always in these situations, civilians with no affiliation to armed groups or political parties, bear the brunt. The number of ‘abject poor’ among refugees has tripled in the last year to 300,000. Stunted growth among children, a consequence of chronic malnutrition, is making an appearance. The psychological damage to both adults and children is immeasurable, and it is apparent that the indiscriminate effects of the blockade serve only to swell the ranks of militants and the radicalized.

Conditions in the West Bank are similarly dire. The web of physical obstacles - some 592 currently - restricts Palestinian social interaction and denies access to economic opportunities and to resources such as land and water. Settlement construction and settler violence, land confiscation, house demolitions and evictions (including in East Jerusalem) and other violations of human rights are rife.

The situation in the occupied Palestinian territory constrain UNRWA’s protection, humanitarian and human development activities and make our operations more expensive at a time when our resources are severely limited." UNWRA's Commissioner-General

This dire situation is bound to go from bad to worse.

There is however hope that a just and lasting peace can be built by all the many people who understand the crucial importance of ending the Israel/Palestine conflict.

The Arab Peace Initiative clearly outlines what needs to be done:

Emanating from the conviction of the Arab countries that a military solution to the conflict will not achieve peace or provide security for the parties, the council:

1. Requests Israel to reconsider its policies and declare that a just peace is its strategic option as well.

2. Further calls upon Israel to affirm:

I- Full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the June 4, 1967 lines as well as the remaining occupied Lebanese territories in the south of Lebanon.

II- Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194.

III- The acceptance of the establishment of a sovereign independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since June 4, 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

3. Consequently, the Arab countries affirm the following:

I- Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide security for all the states of the region.

II- Establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace.

Is Palestine Worth Fighting For

As in the inner jihad-
the struggle to see
and think clearly
to speak honestly

To know horror- and betrayal
but to speak of hope

To shape revenge
into living well
being kind
to all you encounter

To find borders
for words and ideas
so that our quest for decency
dignity, and peace
might be known
as Palestine

Palestinian children release balloons during an event organized by the UNICEF to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009. Twenty years after the U.N. adopted a treaty guaranteeing children's rights, fewer youngsters are dying and more are going to school, but an estimated 1 billion children still lack services essential to their survival and development, UNICEF said Thursday. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

In trying to help Palestine I think the Golden Rule and compassion for all involved is crucial... as is full respect for basic human rights including but not limited to the Palestinian refugees inalienable, legal, moral and natural right to return to original homes and lands.

Not all Palestinian refugees will want to be Israeli, and the Palestinian refugees really should not be pawns for political or religious war. These are people, human beings- men, women and children who need freedom & justice- and that includes the freedom to leave to find greener pastures... and good jobs.

When return becomes a reality many, perhaps even most, will want citizenship in a place called Palestine, with the freedom to go visit family and friends where ever they might be.

Some Palestinians will want to relocate far away from the scene of so much misery and suffering. I very much hope that America welcomes in as many Palestinian refugees as possible.

"The Golden Rule requires that we use empathy -- moral imagination -- to put ourselves in others' shoes. We should act toward them as we would want them to act toward us. We should refuse, under any circumstance, to carry out actions which would cause them harm." The Charter for Compassion

Here in America, with our Constitution and Bill of Rights ensuring that we really do become a more real democracy, it is VERY easy to be convinced that a feel good one state "solution" to the Israel/Palestine conflict will stop the conflict.

REALITY CHECK: Wishful thinking will not create peace, nor will wishful thinking free Palestine.

We need to be noticing that if a viable and sovereign two-state reality is not reached that is the end of a place called Palestine.

A secular two state solution is the only solution for every one's sake, and negotiations on how best to respect and implement all the many international laws and resolutions already in place need all our support....

Calm and compassionate voices need our support.
Moderates need our support. The idea of fair and just laws needs our support- civilization itself needs all our best efforts to help free Palestine from the many hate mongers, extremists, radicals, cynics and idiots who thrive on the continuation of the Israel/Palestine conflict.

What is Palestine now ?

Wood to wood
old meets new
grains and stains
becoming symbols

to me- and to me alone

What is Palestine now ?

Is it this delicate souvenir
like a feathered pen in my hand
this gift from the heart
with a compelling heritage...

Is it the gentle thought
the pleasant memory
the home cooked meal
loyalty and love- and logic - human dignity
with we the people working together
shaping hope for better days

Or is it the guns and the hate-
the cold cruelty and divisiveness
the rudeness and cynicism- the bigotry
& extremism
the angry posters... the burning flags.

Who will rule the symbols
defining the borders
of meaning

and the point of purpose

Who will find inspiration in our words- and efforts
... who will come to care about Palestine

photo & poem copyright 2009 © Anne Selden Annab

In growing gardens for Palestine rather than rage for Israel, I think Palestine needs all our best efforts and creativity to help empower positive efforts and discussions that reach into the mainstream in order to convince everyone worldwide that Palestine really is in the best interest of all.

Letter I recently sent to President Obama

We need a Golden Rule Peace for Israel and Palestine
SUBJECT: Please do not give up on Palestine

Dear President Obama,

Please do not give up on Palestine.

These are indeed very troubling times, very discouraging and difficult... but please help keep hope alive that a just and lasting peace is more than possible- it is an absolute necessity for every one's sake.

"Extremists on both sides feeding each other’s appetite for destruction. That’s the menacing miscalculation from which my region is reeling: the belief that violence is the answer. The only answer is non-violence. That’s the seismic shift we need. Because the major threat to our world is neither nuclear weapons nor environmental disaster; it’s a population without hope. We have one on our doorstep. " Tactical Blinders

In seeing a new "Charter for Compassion" arise today- and in exploring "The American Task Force for Palestine" and all the ATFP's hard work to convince America to understand and care about Palestine, I believe that w
e need a Golden Rule Peace for Israel and Palestine, a Golden Rule Peace firmly grounded in full respect for international law and basic human rights- and in veering away from violence a golden rule guide to calming down the conversation rather than inflaming bigotry, extremism and despair.

The Arab Peace Initiative is reasonable and right: We do not have to demonize or destroy Israel in order to help free the besieged and displaced people of historic Palestine- but we do have to firmly and clearly demand that Israel fully respects and honors a two state solution, an end to its illegal occupation as well as an end to its public and private institutionalized bigotry towards the native-non-Jewish population of the the Holy Land: A Golden Rule Peace has to be on both sides of every and any border.... and in every home and neighborhood.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights wisely reminds us "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

Please do not give up on Palestine.

Anne Selden Annab