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Friday, December 31, 2010

Palestinian leader wants US backing in UN proposal

2010 file photo Israeli earth-moving equipment ... In this Sept. 27, 2010 file photo Israeli earth-moving equipment works in the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Netafim, near the West Bank village of Salfit. Top Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said Wednesday Dec. 29, 2010 that Palestinians will ask the U.N. Security Council in the coming days to condemn Israeli settlement construction. (AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh, Files)

Palestinian leader wants US backing in UN proposal

JERUSALEM – The Palestinian president said a new attempt by the Palestinians to get the United Nations to condemn Israeli settlements was specifically designed to win U.S. support.

As part of a new emphasis on winning international support for their cause, the Palestinians have drafted a proposal and are lobbying for a Security Council resolution that would declare West Bank settlements illegal and an "obstacle to peace."

The U.S. has said it doesn't support the move, but it remains unclear if it will veto the measure or abstain should the draft come to a vote. Israel says it is an attempt by the Palestinians to avoid negotiations.

Speaking on Thursday to Palestinian expatriates and Arab ambassadors in Brazilia, Brazil, President Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinian draft used language similar to that used by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has criticized settlements.

"We drafted it using the same words that Secretary Clinton is using and so we don't see why the U.S. would veto it," Abbas said.

Brazil, along with several other South American countries, recently recognized the yet-nonexistent state of Palestine.

With peace talks at an impasse, the Palestinians are increasingly trying to win international recognition of their state, which they hope will put bring more pressure to bear on Israel.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Threads of Identity: Preserving Palestinian Costume and Heritage


Book Trailer Threads of Identity: Preserving Palestinian Costume and Heritage
by Widad Kamel Kawar
This book is a record of the 50 years Widad Kawar spent researching, collecting and preserving part of the heritage of Palestine. This endeavor evolved into the Widad Kawar Collection, the largest to date of Palestinian, Jordanian and other Arab traditional dress and accessories, comprising more than 3000 items. In the following chapters she presents the story of how the collection evolved and she introduces the life stories of the women who produced the beautiful costumes it contains. For her, each item calls to mind an individual or a place: a wife, a mother, a daughter, a family, a house, a village, a town, a field, a market. Each item was worn on special occasions, happy and sad, that marked the owner’s life. Much of Widad’s knowledge stems from the personal narratives of these women whose embroidery and dress-making skills she so admires. With this book she pays homage to Palestinian women. To order your copy, visit www.RimalBooks.com

Credits: Music is by Rim Banna www.rimbanna.com , a wonderful Palestinian singer, lyricist and composer.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

American support for statehood is Palestine's trump card

Ibishblog
The weblog of Hussein Ibish
NOW Lebanon
http://www.nowlebanon.com/NewsArticleDetails.aspx?ID=226069

The diplomatic effort to secure bilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, especially in Latin America, or upgrades to the diplomatic status of Palestinian missions in the West is a net positive, as long as it does not undercut Palestinian relations with the United States.

Last week, Ecuador recognized Palestine in its 1967 borders, and Paraguay has said it will soon join what looks to become a virtually unanimous South American recognition of Palestine. Reports suggest that the United Kingdom is preparing to upgrade the mission of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the international representative of the Palestinian people, joining France, the United States, Portugal and Norway, which have all already done so.

The Latin American recognitions obviously embrace Palestine as, at least in theory, a fully-sovereign state with fully normalized diplomatic relations, and imply that it should be a member state of the United Nations. The Western upgrades to PLO missions have raised the status of Palestinian officials to ambassadorial or near-ambassadorial rank, thereby treating the representatives of Palestine as if they were officers of an established fully-sovereign state.

All of this seems to have taken Israel by surprise. If that’s the case, it only underscores the extent to which many Israelis are living in a state of denial about the viability of the occupation and the plausibility of preventing Palestinian statehood.

It is true enough that Israel has the military means to continue to deny Palestinians independence, and to colonize East Jerusalem and the West Bank, through force of arms. But what some Israelis appear to have failed to comprehend is the international stake in ending the occupation.

The world has not turned against Israel. There is still an overwhelming international consensus that it is a legitimate member state of the United Nations. Even in the Arab world the appetite for a long-term project aimed at the dissolution of the Israeli state has been relegated to the political fringes. While many Israelis mistakenly conflate outside reaction to the occupation with that toward their state, misrecognizing opposition to the occupation as “delegitimization” of Israel, the rest of the world sees the distinction more clearly than ever.

This point of view is most importantly being embraced in Washington, certainly by the administration of US President Barack Obama and also by many important members of Congress. There is a virtual consensus in the foreign policy establishment surrounding the government that resolving this conflict by ending the occupation is essential, not optional, for the United States. Many Israelis do not seem to have understood or truly processed the extent to which the United States now sees Palestinian statehood as essential to its own national interests and therefore “inevitable.”

Israeli Industry, Trade, and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer recently tried to warn his fellow Israelis that, “I wouldn’t be surprised if the US will also recognize a Palestinian state in the coming year, and then we will have to provide explanations as to how it happened.” This is probably an exaggeration as the United States will almost certainly continue to push for an agreement, but it recognizes the deep-seated American determination for the creation of Palestine.

But it is also essential that Palestinians realize this as well. Pursuing recognition in Latin America and mission upgrades in Europe is normal and positive diplomatic activity. Insofar as it causes Israel discomfort, that is largely beside the point. However, Palestinians need to be very careful to protect their relationship with the United States and the emerging American consensus in favor of ending the occupation and establishing a state of Palestine.

For a start, the United States has been the single biggest donor to the Palestinian Authority and increasingly used cash treasury-to-treasury transfers meaning that the authority has been able to use much of this aid at its own discretion. More importantly, Washington is the only country that under the current circumstances could conceivably broker an agreement with Israel whereby the Palestinian state is actually established. Palestinians will not be able to force their independence on Israel; they will have to somehow get the Israelis to agree to it. And for that, American support, cooperation and leadership is indispensable.

Thus far the Obama administration doesn’t seem to be particularly bothered by the Latin American recognitions, and earlier this year engaged in its own diplomatic upgrade of the Palestinian mission in Washington. But it did not like being put in the position of blocking PLO efforts to upgrade its status at United Nations agencies. Apparently the United States understands the need for Palestinians to pursue increased international recognition at the bilateral level, but isn’t ready to allow the issue to become multilateral, for fear that this might compromise, or supersede, the negotiations that Washington is overseeing.

The bottom line is that Palestinians need to be extremely careful here. Recognition from Paraguay and ambassadorial status in the UK is highly desirable, but the American consensus in favor of ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state is the only real, powerful and actionable political leverage the Palestinians have that can actually achieve the goal of independence.

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Advent Artwork
By Palestinian artist Zaki Baboun

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5)

Christmas in Bethlehem - then and now


Christmas in Bethlehem - then and now

By James J. Zogby
The Christmas story as it is told in the West, in scripture and tradition, contains timeless elements that have shaped our culture in significant ways. As we tell it, year in and year out, the story conveys to those who listen powerful themes evoking deep feelings.

It is, at its core, a tale of a helpless child, born as an outcast, whose role became transformative in human history. Unrecognised, at first, the importance of this birth was initially only understood by the lowly of the earth, “the shepherds of the field”. Later, “kings from the East” came to pay homage, bringing gifts. Their appearance raised the ire of the local rulers, forcing the baby’s parents to flee in order to save the life of their newborn child.

I want to take a moment to reflect on the elements and themes of this story, seeing contemporary realities through its prism.

Two thousand years ago, Palestine was subject to a harsh occupation, much as it is today. In some ways, though, the conditions back then allowed the residents of occupied Palestine greater mobility than the current inhabitants of that land.As we are told, Joseph had to take his expectant wife from Nazareth, where they were living, to Bethlehem in order to fulfil a requirement, imposed by the authorities, to register in their ancestral village as part of a nationwide census. Today, of course, all this would be impossible.

In the first place, no Palestinian originally from Bethlehem could move to Nazareth. The occupation and closure of the West Bank makes that sort of movement impossible. Furthermore, Israeli law now prohibits an Arab from Nazareth from marrying a Bethlehemite and bringing the spouse across the Green Line to reside in Israel. Additionally, while thousands of Palestinians in Bethlehem, both Muslim and Christian, can see Jerusalem from their homes, they cannot go to the Holy City to pray. Arab Christians from Jerusalem, likewise, cannot easily go to the Christmas services in Bethlehem to pray alongside their European and American co-religionists who dominate at the seasonal event.

Bethlehem of old was overcrowded and under siege. Today, as well, the city is being strangled, hemmed in by settlements that have confiscated the town’s ancestral lands to make way for a 30-foot-high barrier wall and massive Jewish-only housing cutting the Arab residents off from nearby Jerusalem.

The constriction of growth and the lack of economic opportunity have forced Bethlehemites to flee in search of jobs and freedom, with tens of thousands of them and their descendants now living in the US and the Americas. They can return to visit with difficulty, but are not permitted by the occupation authorities to take up permanent residency in the town of their origins.

While the kings of old, we are told, were able to travel from afar bearing gifts to honour the newborn child, one can only imagine the difficulties they would encounter today dealing with Israeli soldiers at the King Hussein bridge. Having endured their interrogations, myself, I can hear the kings answer hours of questions, such as: “Where are you from?”, “Who are your parents, grandparents?”, “Why are you here?”, “Who are you visiting?”, “What are these gifts for?”, and on and on. In the end, it is doubtful whether those hapless “kings from the East” would have gained entry.

That Joseph, Mary and Jesus were able to flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s vengeful wrath was possible back then. Today, that option is unlikely. The barrier/wall that encapsulates the West Bank and the closure of Gaza would make such a trip impossible.

Finally, as I reflect on the birth of Jesus, I cannot help but think of the nearly 400 babies who would be born on Christmas day to Palestinian parents in the West Bank and Gaza. I think as well of the number of those who will perish at birth because of inadequate medical services (some babies have been put at fatal risk at checkpoints, because Israeli soldiers would not permit their delivering mothers to pass). And I think of Mary, 2000 years ago, and am grateful that, despite all she endured, there were no checkpoints blocking her way to Bethlehem.

Our traditions tell us that Mary’s joy at the birth of her son was tempered by foresight. She knew her child would grow and endure great suffering. Likewise, the joy that Palestinian parents experience when greeting new life these days must, no doubt, be accompanied by concern. Not only must they question how they will provide for their new child, they must also face their fears of bringing up a son or daughter under occupation, with its dangers and hardships.

From the pressures and humiliations encountered daily by Palestinians in the West Bank to the grinding poverty and despair facing those trapped in Gaza, life under hostile foreign rule can drain joy out of even the most blessed events.

There is a traditional Christmas carol that asks the question “What child is this?”, the answer, of course, being “Jesus, the son of Mary”. But given the universal message conveyed by the Christmas story, we also understand that the child is for us, a reminder of our responsibility to care for the helpless and the unrecognised.

And so, when we think of the vulnerable children born today not only in Palestine but anywhere where life is at risk, we are not to ask “What child is this?”, because we know that they are ours - to acknowledge and protect, like the shepherds and kings, enabling all these children to grow and to help change our world.

28 December 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

62 Years On, Peace Is Not Impossible by Rami G. Khouri


62 Years On, Peace Is Not Impossible

NEW YORK -- Where are we, then, in the Arab-Israeli conflict, at the close of the 62nd year after the seminal act of the conflict in 1947-48? That was when Zionist Jews achieved statehood in their new state of Israel, and indigenous Palestinian Arabs found themselves refugees outside their land -- or second-class citizens living in security zones inside the new state that Jews had created for Jews. We are in a very bad situation with no easy solution, but only hard choices that must be made if generations to come will be spared more wasteful wars. The situation is very difficult, but not irresoluble, as was succinctly captured in recent weeks in statements by the Israeli foreign minister and the Palestinian chief negotiator.

The Palestinian, Saeb Erekat, in a commentary in the Guardian newspaper earlier this month, reminded us that the heart of the conflict for the Palestinians was their refugeehood and exile -- partly due to the usual chaos of war, mostly due to deliberate Zionist ethnic cleansing to clear the way for the Jewish state. Neither time nor facts on the ground would render the refugees’ rights moot, he said, emphasizing that “Palestinian displacement continues to this day through the revocation of residency cards, land confiscation, home demolitions and evictions. At the same time, Israel has barred Palestinians displaced between 1947 and 1949, and again in 1967, from returning to their homes or receiving restitution for their lost property.”

The Jewish-majority Zionist Israeli state would have been impossible without the mass expulsion of Palestinians, he explained, “given that Palestinians constituted a majority in every district of historic Palestine prior to 1948 and also owned over 90% of the land…This period of dispossession, known to Palestinians as al-Nakba or ‘the catastrophe’, is the seminal Palestinian experience and source of our collective identity.”

The Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, meanwhile, noted in his year-end remarks to Israeli diplomats that a peace agreement with the Palestinians was impossible to achieve in the current circumstances, and the best that could be hoped for were long-term interim agreements on security and economic matters -- an offer the Palestinians reject routinely. Israeli senior officials recently have also offered other ideas, notably the notion that Jews who left, fled or were driven out of Arab countries in and around 1948 had to be considered in any peace agreement -- meaning that approximately equal numbers of Jews and Arabs changed places in the region and therefore there is nothing to negotiate.

The Palestinians, Erekat suggests, need a combination of “return and restitution” as the remedy of choice that has a strong international precedent, such as in Bosnia. He adds that “Israel's recognition of Palestinian refugee rights and its agreement to provide reparation and meaningful refugee choice in the exercise of these rights will not change the reality in the Middle East overnight, nor will it lead to an existential crisis for Israel. What it will certainly do is mark the beginning of a new reality that will no longer be rooted in repression, denial of rights, and discrimination. In other words, it will lead to a lasting peace.”

The many attempts in the past 62 years have failed to achieve a comprehensive, lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians because they have consistently avoided coming to grips with the core issues that most matter to both people. The Palestinian chief negotiator is making an important statement when he says publicly that “reparation and meaningful refugee choice” in the exercise of the rights of “return and restitution,” provides an opening for serious and honest Israelis to explore a middle ground on which to reconcile the national rights and claims of both sides.

When I was discussing this with an American Jewish friend at Harvard University the other day, he used a phrase that struck me as capturing the essence of what Israelis and Zionists seek from any permanent peace agreement -- Palestinian and Arab “acceptance of the legitimacy of the idea of Israel as a safe haven for Jews.”

Yes, this is a hard conflict to resolve, but hard is not impossible. Israelis must come to grips with a “meaningful refugee choice on return and restitution” for Palestinian refugees everywhere, while Palestinians and Arabs must acknowledge that the state of Israel they say they are prepared to live with is a legitimate home and haven for Jews everywhere. The details and specifics of an agreement will be much easier to work out once these core principles are first acknowledged, and then formally accepted in a legally binding agreement. If anyone plans to start the New Year exploring for ways to advance the stalled Arab-Israeli peace process, this is probably as good a starting point as any.


Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon.

Copyright © 2010 Rami G. Khouri -- distributed by Agence Global

Monday, December 27, 2010

Charity... in Growing Gardens for Palestine

http://growinggardensforpalestine.blogspot.com/2010/12/charity.html
Monday, December 27, 2010

Charity

I like both traditional and odd Christmas decorations. I like both handmade and store bought ornaments. I like all the many different ways Christmas can be celebrated in our homes- in different ways by different families... Every year I sort through the ever changing hodgepodge of gifts and purchases that are my holiday decorations in order to recreate Christmas anew for my own nearest and dearest.

Charity begins at home they say- in thought, word and deed- and I think that is very true. Start with a smile and a kind word- and move forward from there.

In today's world many different organizations raise funds to help those in need. Bell ringers stand by doorways and hope that Christmas shoppers will be generous with their funds. Even fashionable clothing retailers do what they can to help raise funds for those in need. That is how I ended up with this adorable paper mache "Story Ornament" Elephant this Christmas.


I found him in an Anthropologie catalogue while looking for a fashionable sweater to buy for my daughter for Christmas. I get a HUGE kick out of this little trumpeting elephant covered in newsprint words. Seems a fitting symbol for the deluge of words brought on by the information age- AND I very much like idea of helping Haitian artisans rebuild their lives, their homes, and their country.

(That particular Story Ornament Elephant is already sold out on Anthrolpoligie website)

When in Jordan this past September, one of my husband's relatives (cousin Mohammed's mother- a delightful women I had never met before) gave me a beautiful cross from Bethlehem.

Symbols make our world more interesting and interconnected. Art history books can devote pages and pages to the meanings of a painting. Some symbols are obscure and harder to fathom, others (like the cross, or the star or the crescent moon) are quite well known.

The last cross I received as a heartfelt gift came from my grandmother who gave me a book mark that is made of three book length long strands of narrow white ribbon, each strand of ribbon with a small golden charm sown onto the end. A cross, an anchor and a heart: Faith, Hope and Charity.

Charity is love- and generosity.

Dove of Peace

A friend from many many years ago sent me a link last month to a charity in Jerusalem that I find intriguing and exciting.... Palestinian artisans are making Christmas symbols out of the lambs wool from Bethlehem sheep.

Thanks to the Internet I was able to order some to give as gifts (as well as some to keep for myself) and they arrived here just in time for Christmas...and my heavens are they popular ! Every one who sees them and touches them is utterly enchanted. The workmanship is suburb. Each item is charming- and so very symbolic.


Sunbula is a Jerusalem-based nonprofit Fair Trade organization that supports Palestinian craft producers -- women‘s groups, artisan cooperatives and disabled people‘s organizations. By promoting traditional handicrafts locally and internationally, they support economic self-help efforts of those living in difficult conditions in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian minority inside Israel.

Sunbula is Arabic for "spike of wheat," the flower that makes bread. As the name symbolizes, Sunbula helps people provide themselves with the gift of a more dignified life.

Each one of their product is made by hand with care, and in the spirit of preserving Palestinian craft traditions.

Go shop at their 2 fair trade shops in Jerusalem or visit their Online Craft Market for hundreds of beautifully crafted items Palestinian embroidery, olivewood carvings, home decors, jewelry, and more!

These felted wool ornaments feel good to touch- and they are so lightweight, and unbreakable. Although I suspect a naughty kitten might have fun pulling one to pieces... all the more reason so buy more than one just in case!
I like olive wood ornaments too, both for my own home and to give as gifts to friends and family.

Some holiday decorations are simple, others are much more complex, like this music box I got a few years ago- made in Palestine... turn the star and it plays the Christmas carol Silent Night.

In growing a garden for Palestine today, I have to keep hoping for peace, even though sometimes it seems that is getting harder and harder to do, with so many extremists, bigots and imbeciles (on both "sides") dominating the conversation at every turn. Thankfully there are many others- many better, brighter, more compassionate and realistic men, women and children who are hoping for peace too- a just and lasting peace for every one's sake.

There are good and decent people here, there and everywhere, hoping and quietly, gently doing what they can to help make Palestine a reality. A real country with real jobs for real people- not a rally cry but a sovereign nation state where Palestinians are fully free to rebuild their lives and homes... fully free to live in peace- and earn a good living. Fully free to simply be.

Today, here in America we can find and buy Palestinian crafts and souvenirs- but in time we might also be exploring sophisticated computer programs or security advice made in Palestine. There is no limit to what might be.... New inventions and new technology or new ideas that radically change our world and the way we do things can not be predicted. But we can help create an environment where more people are more able to make the most of their time and talents.

Lamb's wool angel floating on a puff of lamb's wool cloud

If you are an American citizen looking for ways to invest in a real Palestine be very very careful about what you invest in- and (who and) what you promote. Spend both your energy and your money wisely.

Times change- and life moves on. Sometimes it is in very unexpected ways. Sometimes the change is shocking- but sometimes it is barely noticeable.

And sometimes it is REALLY hard to find a family photo where everyone is actually looking towards the camera!


Christmas Eve dinner at my mother's house 2010

Every year we celebrate any holiday, no matter who we are or what we are celebrating, it is at least a little bit different than the last as our children grow up and we age... Some years the change is huge- loved ones die and we miss them horribly, wishing they were still with us.

Fact is money can not buy the best things in life.
For all the ornaments and decorations that I very much enjoy, my favorite Christmas ornaments are actually the birds in our garden.



A tree full of bluebirds

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Israel's illegal settlement activity is subsidised by American taxpayers through tax-exempt charities

"As it turned out, the [Human Rights Watch] report on Israel didn't get a lot of media coverage, probably because it only confirmed what most people know already. The US state department, for example, noted: "Many of the issues covered in the HRW report are also covered in great detail in the state department's annual Human Rights Report."

But one important point from HRW's report has been largely ignored. This concerns the way illegal settlement activity is subsidised by American taxpayers through tax-exempt charities. The report urges Congress to investigate and "ensure that tax-exempt status is not granted to organisations that facilitate human rights violations or violations of international humanitarian law"."

This week in the Middle East

Charities that fund the settlers; Egypt's vanishing migrants; Christmas extravagance in the Gulf, and an unhappy New Year by Brian Whitaker

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/23/african-migrants-held-hostage-egypt-traffickers

Friday, December 24, 2010

In Bethlehem tourism is reborn, but only for a few

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/in-bethlehem-tourism-is-reborn-but-only-for-a-few-2168437.htmlA live Nativity is presented in front of the Israeli separation barrier for Christmas festivities in Bethlehem

In Bethlehem tourism is reborn, but only for a few

By Catrina Stewart in Bethlehem
Friday, 24 December 2010

Artists have made a tidy sum depicting an imaginary scene where a pregnant Mary and Joseph are puzzled by Israel's separation wall blocking their entry into Bethlehem.

The tourism industry, devastated by the Second Intifada that erupted a decade ago and the erection of the wall around the town, is now experiencing something of a rebirth. Pilgrims, drawn to the traditional birthplace of Jesus, are flocking to the town in droves.

"You won't find a room in Bethlehem this Christmas," says Dr Samir Hazboun, director of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce. "It's now better than it was in 1999."

Bethlehem's recovery is nothing short of remarkable. Although the town lies just three miles from Jerusalem

, the journey is logistically complicated. The eight-metre-high wall, which Israel erected in 2003 citing its security needs, has severed the town both physically and psychologically from Jerusalem.

Tourists must navigate an Israeli checkpoint, often involving a wait of 90 minutes, to move between the two towns, and the wall reinforces the impression that Bethlehem, a scene of fierce fighting during the intifada, is still not entirely safe.

Tourism is at its highest level since the millennium celebrations in 2000, the start of the intifada and Bethlehem's decline. Visitor numbers are up 60 per cent from last year to 1.45 million, and 90,000 tourists are expected over Christmas alone.

Until recently, most people would make a fleeting day trip to Bethlehem, spending most of their cash in Israel...READ MORE

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Israeli demolitions traumatic for Palestinian children, says UN official

Israeli demolitions traumatic for Palestinian children, says UN official

A family standing in front of their demolished home in East Jerusalem

23 December 2010 – A senior United Nations official today condemned the demolition of two refugee homes in East Jerusalem, stressing in particular the trauma caused to Palestinian children forced to witness their homes being destroyed.

“These condemnable acts have a devastating impact,” Barbara Shenstone, the West Bank Field Director for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said in a news release.

“I call on the Israeli authorities to cease demolitions and evictions in occupied areas which are in contravention of Israel’s obligations under international law, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Israel is a party.”

The nine-member extended Subuh family, whose home in the Ras Al Amud district of East Jerusalem was destroyed on 21 December, has been living at the location of their demolished home in two tents.

The Jerusalem Municipality gave the family just one day to destroy their home and threatened to demolish the house in 24 hours unless they complied. The family destroyed the house themselves at a cost of 60,000 new Israeli shekels rather than pay the Municipality to do so, which costs twice as much.

Also under orders from the Jerusalem Municipality, the four-member al Shukiwi family destroyed their home in the Ath Thuri district of East Jerusalem on 19 December.

Ms. Shenstone noted that while children around the world are enjoying the holiday season in their homes, the children from these families have suffered the trauma and indignity of watching their homes being destroyed.

After witnessing the demolition of his home, one of the children, aged two, said “all I want to do is die.”

The UN says there has been an almost 45 per cent increase in demolitions in 2010, during which 396 Palestinian structures were demolished in East Jerusalem and other areas under full Israeli control in the West Bank, as compared to 275 in 2009. As a result, 561 people have been displaced, including 280 children, and the livelihoods of over 3,000 people have been affected.

UNRWA, which is assisting some 4.7 million Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, has provided emergency food assistance, cash and social worker support to the families uprooted by the recent demolitions.

Yesterday the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, Maxwell Gaylard, criticized Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes, which he said have a “severe social and economic impact” on the lives and welfare of Palestinians and increase their dependence on humanitarian assistance.

“The position of the United Nations remains that the Government of Israel must take immediate steps to cease demolitions and evictions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem,” he said in a statement that was issued as he visited the site of the house of the Subuh family that was demolished the previous day.

News Tracker: past stories on this issue

Gaza: UN official asks Israel to use restraint in responding to rocket attacks

My letters 12-23-2010 RE "Roadblocks to Mideast peace", "There are two sides to the refugee story" & "Hamas’s charmless PR offensive"

RE: Boston Globe Editorial: Hamas’s charmless PR offensive
http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/editorials/articles/2010/12/23/hamass_charmless_pr_offensive/

Dear Editor,

I am sincerely concerned about the very real plight of the Palestinians. I very much agree that "Hamas’s imposition of conservative Islamic stances on social issues, its repression of its political enemies" and "the extent to which it has hampered the chances of a peace deal with its militant anti-Israel rhetoric" are a huge problem but I do not think "reformation of the group’s hardest-line tendencies" will help Palestine or peace emerge.

In my opinion- for Palestine's sake Hamas should volunteer to step down, and all Islamists and militants and Zionists should individually work on reform in order to help usher in a fully secular two state solution to once and for all end the Israel/Palestine conflict.... for everyone's sake.

Sincerely,
Anne Selden Annab


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RE: Jewish refugees must not be neglected in peace talks, There are two sides to the refugee story, and the Israeli side is one of the best-kept secrets of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/22/peace-talks-jewish-refugees

Dear Sir,

Refugee return is a universal basic human right that needs to be FULLY respected. The Arab Initiative with its promise of peace opens the way for the natural return of what Danny Ayalon, Israel's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, says are "Jewish refugees subsequently expelled or forced out from Arab lands" when Israel was established in 1948.

For all of modern man made Israel's history Zionists have been quick to refer to Jewish immigration to Israel as "return". Obviously, with this recent official revelation about Jewish refugees Israeli leadership is now aware that Zionist immigration to Israel really is not and never was true "return". That is a progress for sure- but not if Israel's motivation for this revelation is about all continuing to ignore the Palestinian refugees inalienable, legal, moral and natural right to return to original homes and lands.

The Arab Peace Initiative

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.

Sincerely,
Anne Selden Annab


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RE: Roadblocks to Mideast peace By Aaron David Miller
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-miller-mideast-20101223,0,2508896.story
comment i left online

AnneSeldenAnnab at 03:51 AM December 23, 2010

Aaron David Miller is wrong to be so dismissive of the Palestinian refugees inalienable legal, moral and natural right to return to original homes and lands. I like the PLO Delegation's approach to this difficult and confusing situation as they make it quite clear that Palestinian refugees need options- and " What is important is that individual refugees decide for themselves which option they prefer – a decision must not be imposed upon them."

"Refugees and the Right of Return

Palestinian refugees must be given the option to exercise their right of return (as well as receive compensation for their losses arising from their dispossession and displacement) though refugees may prefer other options such as: (i) resettlement in third countries, (ii) resettlement in a newly independent Palestine (even though they originate from that part of Palestine which became Israel) or (iii) normalization of their legal status in the host country where they currently reside. What is important is that individual refugees decide for themselves which option they prefer – a decision must not be imposed upon them." http://www.plomission.us/index.php?page=core-issues-3


Core Issues


"Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world."Eleanor Roosevelt

Revealing hidden sites in Palestine

Draft on settlements ready for U.N.: Palestinians

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20101222/wl_nm/us_palestinians_israel_un

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters) – A Palestinian draft resolution condemning Israel's West Bank settlement activity is ready to be presented to the United Nations Security Council, a senior Palestinian official said on Wednesday.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator in peace talks with Israel, said he expected the resolution would be put to a Security Council vote in February, after the United States ends its presidency of the council.

"We are not condemning Israel. We are condemning settlement activities and we hope the resolution will pass," Erekat said....READ MORE

Palestinian diplomatic outreach must not harm relations with the United States

Ibishblog December 22, 2010 - 10:52am

Ben Cohen, Associate Director of Communications of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), has written a thoughtful, interesting and, I think, wrong commentary for the Huffington Post on the ongoing Palestinian campaign for international recognition in Latin America and Europe. For Cohen, there is an incompatible contrast between the achievement of what the United States has announced it now regards as the "inevitable" Palestinian state, and the international pursuit of the Palestinian cause. His argument has to be taken seriously because while there should not be any such contrast, if mishandled there could be a kind of tension between the two. But in the end, his conclusion that they are fundamentally incompatible is not, or at least should not be, correct.

Cohen is reflecting the annoyance of Israel and its supporters with what they perceive as a Palestinian end-run around negotiations with Israel by seeking recognition in Latin America and bilateral upgrades to missions in Europe. The Palestinian pursuit of upgraded bilateral relations with third parties does not contradict or bypass indispensable negotiations with Israel but certainly does not involve the Israelis directly. As much the stronger of the two parties in an extremely asymmetrical relationship involving occupation, dominance and subordination, the Israelis are used to being in the driver's seat at all times. In this case, they find themselves somewhat sidelined and unable to prevent Latin American and European states from acting in their own interests to promote the cause of ultimate Palestinian statehood and independence. The only state in which Israel has any confidence in the final analysis is the United States, because of the special relationship the Americans have with Israel and their rock-solid commitment to Israel's security. Again, this is understandable. But it's not understandable for the Israelis to expect Palestinians to rely exclusively on bilateral negotiations with Israel, brokered by the United States, as the sole and only element of their diplomacy.

Proto-Israeli diplomats in the period leading up to Israel's independence, after all, did a great deal of diplomatic outreach around the world to lay the groundwork for the recognition of their own state, led by officials of the "yishuv," the pre-state Jewish community in Palestine, such as Moshe Sharett and Golda Meir. To say that such efforts annoyed the Palestinians and other Arabs at the time would have been an understatement. It's important for the Israelis and their allies like Cohen to understand that Palestinians accept that there is no path to statehood other than a negotiated agreement with Israel brokered by the United States. This is clear and obvious, and the fact that Palestinians are pursuing multiple strategies to make that happen and augment rather than undermine that process doesn't contradict it. He should take very seriously the words of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who recently told Israel's Channel Two television, "What we're looking for ... is a state of Palestine, we're not looking for yet another declaration of statehood. We're not looking for a Mickey Mouse state, we are not looking for some form of self-rule, we are looking for a sovereign state of Palestine, where we Palestinians can live as free people."

Much of Cohen's argument is based on placing the full blame on the Palestinians for the parties not having yet reached an end of conflict agreement that creates a Palestinian state. But the truth is there is plenty of blame to go around, all parties have made mistakes and miscalculations and missed opportunities, and the fact remains that Israel is the occupying power and holds most of the cards. He blames Palestinians for the present impasse in negotiations, conveniently eliding Israel's refusal to accept an exceptionally generous offer from the United States for a mere 90 day extension of a temporary, partial settlement moratorium that would clearly have resulted in a new round of direct negotiations. I'm not trying to let Palestinians off the hook here, but to pretend that if Palestinians had simply cooperated in the past, they would already have had their state is to evade huge chunks of recent, and indeed more distant, history. Unlike Cohen, I'm not interested in playing the blame game.

Everyone who warns Palestinians against unilateral declarations of independence is telling them something they already know: this won't be effective and isn't the path to freedom. Cohen also complains about threats by individual Palestinian leaders to suspend security cooperation with Israel, which would obviously be a huge mistake and which won't happen, or to dissolve the PA, which is similarly not a serious option under present or foreseeable circumstances. But when Palestinians seek bilateral recognition or diplomatic upgrades from third parties, it's not surprising that, as he quotes a pro-Israel communications strategist as complaining, "It's hard to convince the outside world why what the PA is doing is wrong." Apart from the fact that it's the PLO, not the PA, which is engaging in this diplomacy, I think it's pretty obvious why its hard to convince anyone that the very concept of Palestinian diplomacy and building stronger relations with countries around the world is “wrong.” Israel engages in its own diplomacy, as do countries around the world. Palestine, the inevitable, indispensable state-in-the-making should do so as well. It's hard to convince people that there's anything wrong with that, because, in the abstract, there isn't any plausible reason why it should be. In fact, its normal.

There is an important caveat, however. Palestinian relations with the United States are, and must be, paramount. The United States is the irreplaceable broker to the indispensable negotiations that are the only practicable path to peace and independence. If the Israelis are annoyed with Palestinian diplomacy while they happily busy themselves with announcing new settlement activity on a weekly basis in violation of international law, the Roadmap and clearly stated American and international opposition, so be it. It's better if the parties don't annoy each other, but since Palestinian diplomacy, unlike settlement building, isn't by definition illegitimate, and in fact at a certain level is absolutely necessary, then a limited amount of such annoyance is perhaps unavoidable and undoubtedly tolerable.

American annoyance, the other hand, must be both avoidable and intolerable from a Palestinian point of view. In her speech at the Brookings Institution on December 10, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made crystal clear her opposition to what she described as unilateral moves at the UN by the Palestinians to upgrade their diplomatic status in such multilateral bodies at this time. From a Palestinian perspective, that should be an end to it. These moves were blocked by the United States, and further such efforts are clearly inadvisable given open American opposition. But so far the US administration has not expressed any clear disapproval of diplomatic efforts to upgrade bilateral relations with Europe and Latin America. If and when it does, the Palestinians are going to have to consider these objections very carefully and understand that the symbolic recognition of Palestine by Latin American leaders clearly isn't worth any degradation in the relationship with the United States.

Cohen says Palestinians should forget about the rest of the world and concentrate on "reaching agreement with the one state that can make Palestine a reality: Israel." That's basically sound, except it places all the onus on the Palestinians for such an agreement and none on the Israelis, which is an analysis and formula that simply cannot work. Israel too has difficult, and indeed painful, choices to make, and he doesn't acknowledge any of them. But in fact Palestinians need to concentrate also on maintaining and developing their relationship with the one state that can make such an agreement achievable: the United States. Reaching out to the rest of the world is reasonable and important, especially insofar as it helps to solidify the international understanding that Palestine is an inevitable reality and a future member state of the United Nations. But if it ever starts to come at the expense of goodwill in Washington, diminishing returns will assert themselves very quickly and the cost to the Palestinian cause and aspirations will be prohibitive. Cohen is wrong there is an inherent contradiction between Palestinian statehood and the Palestinian cause, since in fact they are one and the same. But both depend, more than anything else under both current and foreseeable conditions, on the best possible relations with the world's only superpower.

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U.N. condemns Gaza militants over rocket attacks

U.N. condemns Gaza militants over rocket attacks

By Douglas Hamilton Douglas Hamilton Wed Dec 22, 12:09 pm ET

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The United Nations on Wednesday sharply condemned a rise in cross-border attacks by Palestinian militants in Gaza, a day after a rocket exploded close to an Israeli kindergarten.

The U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, said rocket strikes from Gaza at Israel, which had escalated in recent days, were "in clear violation of international humanitarian law" and endangered civilians.

The criticism drew a strong response from Hamas, the militant Islamist group which controls the enclave under Israeli blockade, which said Serry's remarks reflected "double standards."

In two days this week at least 14 rockets and mortars were fired at southern Israeli territory.

Israel has launched air strikes in response, including one which killed five Palestinian militants at the weekend, the highest single toll since a three-week Israel offensive in Gaza two years ago in which 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died.

The U.N. envoy noted the Israeli air strikes, saying Israel had "a right to self-defense consistent with international humanitarian law." He urged maximum restraint and "every precaution to ensure Israeli forces do not endanger civilians in Gaza."

Israel says Hamas bears responsibility for the increase in missile strikes and has not done enough to stop smaller militant groups firing across the frontier.

Hamas says Israel is the principle aggressor. Hamas government spokesman Taher al-Nono said the United Nations should "correct the position expressed by Serry" who was justifying "the aggressive actions of the Israeli occupation."

"The United Nations is required to ... respect the rights of the Palestinian people as stated in international law and in the relevant United Nations resolutions, and not use a policy of double standards," he said.

RESTRAINT

Military analysts believe a second major Gaza offensive by Israel is not imminent, though it may be inevitable in the long run. They said Tuesday's rocket attack, which caused no injuries in the kindergarten, could have triggered a powerful Israeli response had children been hurt or killed.

Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, speaking on Israel Radio, said: "We have no interest in a development of hostilities. And if the other side will maintain total quiet there is no reason that such actions will develop."

Hamas, he said, "has not done enough" to stop rockets.

Serry said daily life for Gaza's 1.5 million Palestinians had improved following Israel's relaxation of restrictions on imports and work to expand trade potential at a logistics hub.

Calm was essential to the success of the measures, he said.

More than 200 rockets and mortars have been fired from Gaza into southern Israel this year. Only one attack was fatal, when a Thai farm laborer was killed by a mortar in March.

Israel's air strikes targeting armed militants and rocket squads inside Gaza are often lethal.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Peter Graff)