Saturday, March 6, 2010

My letter to the Washington Post RE "Militants VS Moderates" Shifting allegiances in Middle East mean opportunities for President Obama

RE: "Militants VS Moderates" Shifting allegiances in Middle East mean opportunities for President Obama

Dear Editor,

Our own main allegiance should be to the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the core truth that "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."

The current Israel/Palestine mess right now is a one state "solution" with sovereign Jews-preferred Israel easily able to oppress and persecute the native non-Jewish population. I think Obama should move forward firmly reaffirming the importance of a fair and just negotiated peace, a comprehensive peace and a fully secular peace for Israel and Palestine- a side by side, non-violent two state solution firmly respecting all the aspects of The Arab Peace Initiative... Crucial points being that:

1. Israel end its occupation;

2. Recognize the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and

3. Respect, protect and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194 from 1948 plus many subsequent UN resolutions reaffirming this universal basic human right.

Meanwhile Palestine should be finding ways to welcome home all the many Palestinian refugees who do not want to be Israeli.

America can do its part too by offering sanctuary to Palestinian refugees who want to begin new lives far away from the scene of so much heartbreak and tragedy.

Anne Selden Annab

Growing Gardens for Palestine

MARCH FORTH! Celebrating Women's History Month by celebrating some GREAT Palestinian-American Artists, Writers & Poets

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.

4. Assures the rejection of all forms of Palestinian patriation which conflict with the special circumstances of the Arab host countries.

5. Calls upon the government of Israel and all Israelis to accept this initiative in order to safeguard the prospects for peace and stop the further shedding of blood, enabling the Arab countries and Israel to live in peace and good neighbourliness and provide future generations with security, stability and prosperity.

6. Invites the international community and all countries and organisations to support this initiative.

7. Requests the chairman of the summit to form a special committee composed of some of its concerned member states and the secretary general of the League of Arab States to pursue the necessary contacts to gain support for this initiative at all levels, particularly from the United Nations, the Security Council, the United States of America, the Russian Federation, the Muslim states and the European Union.

My letter to the NYTimes RE Does the Mideast Need a Therapist? (letters) concerning Talking-Cure Diplomacy by Carlo Strenger

RE: Does the Mideast Need a Therapist? (letters) concerning Talking-Cure Diplomacy by Carlo Strenger

Dear Editor,

Interesting that none of your letter writers (Does the Mideast Need a Therapist? ) noticed a glaring flaw in Dr. Strenger's theory. Yes collective trauma is very much a factor in the Israel/Palestine conflict... but Dr. Strenger is seriously deluded himself if he thinks that a two state solution depends on forcing the Palestinians refugees to forfeit their inalienable legal and natural right of return to original homes and lands.

UN Resolution 181 called for the partition of Palestine in 1947. UN Resolution 194 clearly affirming the Palestinian refugees right to return followed in 1948 when the two state solution approach was already very much in place- and so did the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ... "Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,"

Talking-cures designed to misrepresent the facts will only make matters worse.

Anne Selden Annab

Palestinians & The Arab League Give Proximity Talks Between Palestinians and Israelis a Four-month Window of Opportunity

Date posted: March 06, 2010

On March 3, the Arab League announced it would approve the resumption of indirect talks between Palestinians and Israelis within a four-month window of opportunity. President Mahmoud Abbas, who has so far resisted international and Israeli pressures on him to restart negotiations with Israel, has said he would adhere to any Arab League decision. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Arab foreign ministers would meet in July if the negotiations fail so as to weigh the options, adding that they would either head to the UN Security Council or to the International Court of Justice.

President Abbas, who is to meet with US envoy George Mitchell today, March 6, told the League, "I am with you on any decision you take; if you say that we should not go to indirect negotiations with Israel, I will not go." However, the leadership is most likely to move towards proximity talks with the Americans as mediators, much to the chagrin of many other Palestinian factions, including Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and the PFLP who all believe the move is wrong given the current behavior of the Israeli government.

Two days after the Arab League announcement, the United States said it had promised the PA that if the talks should fail, the US would not shy away from pointing fingers and taking action. Apparently, the promise came as a response to Palestinian inquiries to the US about the re-launching of talks with Israel.

"We expect both parties to act seriously and in good faith," the US document read. "If one side, in our judgment, is not living up to our expectations, we will make our concerns clear and we will act accordingly to overcome that obstacle." The US document also reiterated that, "Our core concern remains a viable, independent and sovereign Palestinian State with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967". Vice President Joe Biden is also planning to arrive in the region on March 7 for talks with the parties.

If behaviors on the ground are any indication as to how these talks will proceed, they don't have much of a future. Clashes between Palestinian Muslim worshippers and Israeli police and army broke out on March 5 at the Aqsa Mosque Compound in which dozens of Palestinians were injured along with 15 policemen. According to media reports and eyewitnesses, Palestinian youths threw stones at Israeli police, who responded with tear gas, rubber-coated bullets and stun grenades. Worshippers were trapped inside the compound for hours while Israeli police surrounded the area and barred anyone from entering or exiting. This is the second time this week that Israeli forces raid Islam's third holiest site in Jerusalem. On February 28, 20 Palestinians were injured when Israeli police broke into the compound and clashed with Palestinians. The confrontation was neutralized after Jordanian officials intervened. "This is Israel's answer to the Arab League's offer to renew peace negotiations," said Erekat. "We see this aggression against our people and our holy sites as Israel's response."

Erekat was also referring to the recent Israeli government decision to include the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron and Bilal Bin Rabah's Mosque in Bethlehem as Israeli heritage sites. Since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision last week, Palestinians in Hebron have clashed with Israeli soldiers there. In addition, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad conducted Friday prayers at the Ibrahimi mosque in solidarity. On March 5, Israeli soldiers fired tear gas at worshippers as they left the mosque, causing injury to dozens including chief Islamic Justice Tayseer Al Tamimi. Hundreds of Palestinians flocked to the mosque on Friday in protest of the holy site being listed as an Israeli heritage site. Clashes erupted between the two sides leaving dozens injured.

Furthermore, Israel does not seem to be reneging on the one sticking point that has kept Palestinians from resuming negotiations with them, which is settlement construction. Despite a so-called moratorium on settlement construction, which is ostensibly to last 10 months, Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak ratified on March 4, the construction of 112 housing units in the Beit Elite settlement in northern Hebron.

Furthermore, on March 2, according to Mohammed Nazzal, the PA official in charge of the separation wall and settlement affairs, Israel is planning to build 30,000 housing units in the Atarot industrial zone north of Jerusalem after clearing the land.

On March 4, Israeli authorities also handed demolition orders to eight families in Beit Arrush, southeast of Hebron. According to residents of the town, the orders were given under the premise of lack of permission to build in Area C, the West Bank areas which fall under Israeli control. According to a December report from the UN agency OCHA, Israel’s planning regime makes Palestinian construction effectively prohibited in about 70% of all of Area C, or about 44% of the total West Bank.

On March 2, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he had asked Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to postpone plans to establish the archeological park on the grounds of Al Bustan neighborhood in Silwan until he could "negotiate with residents." The controversial plan involves the demolition of almost 100 Palestinian homes to make way for the "King's Garden" which Israel claims existed in this spot 3,000 years ago.

In Gaza, 20-year old Ashraf Ghiben was killed on March 1 by heavy artillery fire from the Israeli army. The young man, who was claimed by the Islamic Jihad, is from Beit Lahiya.

Finally, while Israel claims to want to return to negotiations and reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians, it continues to badmouth even the most pragmatic and moderate of Palestinian leaders. On February 28, Israeli media reports said assessments within the Israeli defense establishment have concluded that senior PA officials, including Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are "encouraging Palestinians to partake in anti-Israel demonstrations" on Fridays. “Fayyad is actively encouraging Palestinians to use popular resistance against Israel,” one Israeli official said.

The "assessment" comes after Fayyad's participation in the non-violent demonstrations in Bilin and Nilin to protest the separation wall there and his presence in Hebron in support of the Ibrahimi Mosque.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Testimony of Dr. Ziad J. Asali - U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

United Nations: Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares

President, American Task Force on Palestine
U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Chairman John Kerry (D-MA)
March 4, 2010

Mr. Chairman,

I wish to thank you and the Committee's esteemed members for the privilege of testifying before you. The bipartisan leadership of this Committee has for many years been a bulwark for all those seeking peace and compromise in the Middle East.

The situation facing Israel, the Palestinians and all other interested parties, especially the United States, is difficult but also presents important new opportunities for moving forward.

I am confident that negotiations will resume soon, with the appropriate measures in place to maximize the possibility of success and minimize the consequences of stalemate. Yesterday’s Arab League decision will facilitate Special Envoy George Mitchell’s efforts to bring the parties together in the near future. Proximity talks and regional cooperation will all be helpful in resuming negotiations.

It is also extremely important that the parties employ more constructive, positive messaging aimed at each other and their own constituencies, and avoid incitement and provocative, belligerent or counterproductive rhetoric. Words matter. It is unacceptable for officials and political figures on either side to pander and try to score cheap debating and political points at the expense of jeopardizing the serious effort to resume the negotiations and to end the conflict. There should be political consequences, short of censorship, for individuals and organizations on both sides that engage in provocative and belligerent rhetoric. We strongly encourage the United States government to pay more attention to this serious problem, and to become more engaged in public diplomacy on Middle East peace.

In addition to the vital diplomatic track, the Palestinian Authority has initiated the most important innovation in many years with regard to Middle East peace: the program of the 13th Palestinian Government issued last August by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his Cabinet, under the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas. The plan is for Palestinians to build the institutional, infrastructural, economic and administrative framework of their state in spite of the occupation with the intention of ending the occupation. All parties, including Israel, say it is their intention to realize the two-state solution. By adopting this program, Palestinians are taking up the responsibilities of self-government as they continue to insist on the right of self-determination.

The document, entitled Palestinian National Authority: Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State, affirms that, "The establishment of an independent, sovereign, and viable Palestinian state is fundamental for peace, security and stability in our region," and pledges that, "Palestine will be a peace-loving state that rejects violence, commits to co-existence with its neighbors, and builds bridges of cooperation with the international community. It will be a symbol of peace, tolerance and prosperity in this troubled area of the world."

Prime Minister Fayyad explained this policy at the annual Herzliya security conference in Israel a few weeks ago. His extemporaneous remarks reflected his determination and the logic of these policies, and the Israeli political and security leadership in attendance applauded. He addressed the charge that this program is inadmissible because it is unilateral by pointing out that only Palestinians can build their own state and develop their society. This has to be a Palestinian program. It has to be conceived by the Palestinians and coordinated by a Palestinian central nervous system in order to channel global donor assistance in a purposeful and meaningful way that has political and economic coherence and impact. The Prime Minister cited numerous examples of what this means in practice, including more than 1,000 community development projects that have already been completed, the implementation of a transparent and accountable public finance system, the creation of the nucleus of a Palestinian central bank and the performance of the new Palestinian security services.

It must be clearly stated that the actual establishment of a state can only be the consequence of a negotiated agreement based on the 1967 borders. The Israeli national security establishment that understands that a peace agreement with the Palestinians is a strategic imperative should recognize this program as a serious pathway to that end. As Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak noted here in Washington just last week, "A successful peace process – especially with the Palestinians – is not just in the interest of Israel. It is a compelling imperative for the state of Israel. And that’s why I say it’s the uppermost responsibility of any Israeli government. Not as a favor to the Palestinians, but out of our own interests – out of strength and without compromising our security." Therefore Israel too has a vital interest in the success of the Palestinian state and institution building project. And there should be no doubt about the consequences of thwarting it. That would play into the hands of extremists throughout the region and beyond, and promote and accelerate the process of radicalization. Indeed, it would have a powerful negative impact on the strategic balance in the region.

The state and institution building program is not a substitute for diplomacy, it compliments and supports it. The PA innovation is to add a bottom-up approach to the top-down diplomatic track, adding substance, credibility and political momentum based on concrete, palpable achievements that are especially important when diplomacy seems to be moving too slowly. What is needed is convergence between the bottom-up and top-down approaches. Strategically significant, positive, changes on the ground and diplomatic progress should be mutually reinforcing.

However, the Palestinians will not be able to fully realize this ambitious and potentially transformative program on their own. It will require a sustained global effort to provide the PA with the financial and technical support and the sustained political engagement that will be required for it to succeed. The Obama administration, the Middle East Quartet, Arab governments and the Israeli government all have a stake in the creation of a Palestinian state. Now is the time for them to act.

In January 2010 the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Planning and Administrative Development issued a new budget document, Palestine: Moving Forward, Priority Interventions for 2010, which spells out priorities for the Palestinian government in the coming year, and includes cost estimates and funding status. The document lists the following priorities:

  • Finalize the building of central and local government institutions that are essential to the establishment of a modern and sovereign State of Palestine on the June 1967 borders.
  • Upgrade public service delivery to all citizens throughout the Palestinian territory occupied in June 1967.
  • Launch major projects to build strategically significant infrastructure throughout the Palestinian territory occupied in June 1967.
  • Improve and promote the image of Palestine internationally and the role which the State of Palestine will play in bringing stability and prosperity to the region.
Building on the August 2009 Cabinet document, this detailed financial agenda is a clear guide to what the Palestinian government seeks to accomplish in 2010 and how this can be supported financially, technically and politically by all those seeking to promote peace based on the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The program is ambitious, but those who closely follow events on the ground in the occupied West Bank will know that projects are already under way and things are beginning to happen in both the public and private sectors. Public/private partnerships are also being developed with international support. The US Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the nonprofit Middle East Investment Initiative, together with US, international and Palestinian partners, have established a loan guarantee program that is helping to generate $228 million in lending to small and medium sized Palestinian businesses; are launching a half-billion dollar lending facility that will provide Palestinians living in the West Bank with access to affordable mortgages for home ownership; and are creating a risk insurance product to protect Palestinian businesses against losses resulting from trade disruption and political violence. The Palestine Investment Fund concentrates on placing new strategic investments in Palestine, including companies such as PALTEL, PADICO, Palestine Electricity Company, the Palestine Commercial Services Company, the Arab Palestinian Investment Company, and Salam International Investment Limited. Its current major projects include the $200 million Ersal Land Development Project to develop a new commercial center in the heart of the Ramallah-Al-Biereh Metropolitan Area, the PIF Housing Program which aims at developing 30 thousand housing units in all of Palestine during the next 10 years beginning with the Al-Reehan neighborhood of northern Ramallah, and the Wataniya Palestine Mobile Telecommunications Company. The first planned Palestinian city in the West Bank, Rawabi, is underway. The Palestinian Investment Promotion Agency will be hosting the 2nd Palestine Investment Conference on June 2-3, 2010 in Bethlehem, entitled Investing in Palestinian Small and Medium Businesses: Empowerment of SMEs.

However, in spite of these important public and private initiatives and partnerships, the PA budget document contains too many line items that are either unfunded or have funding pending.

Conditions in the occupied West Bank remain difficult, with restrictions imposed by Israel's occupation that limit the ability of Palestinians to have a normal life and that complicate state and institution building and economic development. The problem of access is improved but not yet resolved. Travel restrictions include onerous required permits and military closures. Checkpoints, though significantly reduced, continue to add to unpredictability and delay in travel. Israeli-only highways which Palestinians are not allowed to approach are a further restriction. In a recent and welcome decision in December 2009, Israel's High Court ruled that Palestinians should no longer be prevented from access to Israeli Highway 443 that runs through the occupied West Bank. Finally, Israel's West Bank separation barrier cuts many Palestinians off from each other and, in some cases, their relatives and even their own privately-owned land.

The occupation involves significant disparities in resources and social services provided to settlers and Palestinian residents. Settlers are Israeli citizens living under Israeli civil law, with all the rights and protections accruing from that status. Palestinians in the occupied territories are not citizens of any state, and are dealt with by Israeli authorities through civil administration regulations that are separate from Israeli civil law. Such disparities are too numerous to list in this written testimony. But these fundamental realities define the hardships of daily life under the occupation and demonstrate the moral and political necessity of Palestinian statehood.

Despite these harsh realities, conditions have been improving in the areas under PA control. At the heart of the state-building enterprise are the new Palestinian security forces. Their restoration of law and order and coordination with Israeli authorities, along with Israel's removal of several checkpoints, has led to an economic upturn in the West Bank. This model demonstrates what Palestinians can accomplish, and how Israeli concerns can be overcome, given appropriate levels of coordination, international aid, technical support and sustained political engagement, and this process can be repeated in sector after sector. It is vital that Palestinian security forces are allowed access and mobility. Israeli incursions undermine the legitimacy and effectiveness of these forces as state builders.

The most recent State Department Country Report on Terrorism noted that, "In the West Bank, PA security forces (PASF) followed up on efforts to establish law and order and fight terrorist cells with security deployments to Jenin, Bethlehem, and Hebron. All observers, including Israeli security officials, credited PASF with significant security improvements across the West Bank." Dov Weissglas, a former senior advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, noted that the new Palestinian security forces "are efficient, disciplined and determined, they have good working relations and coordination with their Israeli counterparts and their performance is immeasurably better than it was in the past."

But significant challenges remain, and a number of actions in the occupied territories are complicating both the situation on the ground and the prospects for renewed, successful negotiations. Belligerent conduct by extremist settlers, confrontations in occupied East Jerusalem, and travel and visa restrictions, along with sporadic violence by both individual and organized Palestinian extremists, undermine the viability and credibility of negotiators and negotiations.

  • New claims on holy sites in the occupied West Bank: Last week tensions were raised by Israel's decision to add holy sites in the occupied West Bank to its national heritage registry. On February 21, 2010 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Rachel's Tomb/Bilal ibn Rabah Mosque in Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs/Al-Haram Al-Ibrahimi in Hebron would be included in an Israeli-government $107 million "national heritage" restoration program. Both sites are considered holy by both Jews and Muslims. The UN and several European countries expressed serious concerns about the move, and State Department official Mark Toner called it "provocative Anger about the announcement, combined with the commemoration of the 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinian worshipers at a mosque by the Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein, led to significant clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops in Hebron and other West Bank cities over several days last week.
  • Continued settlement activity: Settlement activity is continuing, especially in and around occupied East Jerusalem, in spite of the partial moratorium, both by the Israeli government's own admission and according to numerous credible reports from NGOs, journalists and others. The Israeli government itself has identified 28 settlements that are continuing construction in defiance of the partial moratorium, and the Israeli NGO Peace Now has said the actual number is 33. This does not include areas specifically excluded from the partial moratorium, including Jerusalem in which hundreds of new settlement housing units are planned. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said the recent approval of 600 new settler housing units in the Pisgat Ze'ev neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem is "counter-productive and undermines trust between the parties." A February 2010 report by Chatham House warns that, "The settler-driven entrenchment of the Israeli government in East Jerusalem is reaching the point at which a peaceful division of the city between Israel and a future Palestinian state may no longer be possible." A March 2010 study by the Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem found that “during the years 2006 & 2009, Israel escalated its settlements construction activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, particularly in and around East Jerusalem, in an attempt to change realities on the ground.” On January 7, 2010 Defense Minister Barak issued additional construction exemptions easing restrictions even in areas where the moratorium does apply. Moreover, data compiled by Brigadier General (res.) Baruch Spiegel on behalf of the Israeli Ministry of Defense reportedly demonstrates that about 75 percent of all Israeli settlement construction has been carried out either without the appropriate permits or in violation of permits that were issued by the government. This suggests that historically and typically, settlement activity has proceeded outside of the control of formal Israeli government regulations. The database also reportedly confirms that at least 30% of Israeli settlements are built on privately owned Palestinian land. None of the data cited above includes so-called "illegal outposts," which further complicate the problem, many of which are not being dismantled by the Israeli authorities. According to a report in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz just two days ago, "Under the cover of the partial and temporary freeze, the outposts are putting down deeper roots." In another troubling move, in December 2009 the Israeli Government added many settlements throughout the occupied territories to the list of "national priority areas," providing Israelis with special benefits and incentives to stay in or move to these settlements.
  • Excavations near holy sites: Archaeological excavations conducted by the Israeli government in the occupied territories, especially in the so-called "Holy Basin" -- the area of and surrounding the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem -- are another significant source of anxiety and tension. Excavations beneath the Mugrabi Gate, underneath the "Isaac's Tent" structure which is adjacent to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, and underneath Palestinian homes in the Silwan neighborhood have all proven highly controversial.
  • Evictions of Jerusalemite Palestinian families: The most noteworthy recent case reflects ongoing disputes in the Sheikh Jarrah area of occupied East Jerusalem. On August 2, 2009 two Palestinian families (al-Hanoun and al-Ghawi), consisting of 53 persons, were evicted from two homes in Sheikh Jarrah, a move that was officially protested by the United States government. Jewish settlers immediately seized control of and moved into the residences. The Palestinian families have been keeping a Friday vigil outside the homes ever since. Israeli authorities in Jerusalem have repeatedly announced plans for additional settlement housing units in the area. Tensions in the area are running high, as indicated by a violent confrontation on February 24, 2010 between Palestinian residents and ultra-Orthodox Jews which left a Palestinian woman and child hospitalized. In this context, we acknowledge Prime Minister Netanyahu's intervention to defuse a crisis over building plans in Silwan.

The situation in Gaza is dire. Israel’s blockade has produced a humanitarian tragedy without weakening the political grip of Hamas. In January 2010 the World Health Organization said Gaza was facing an "on?going deterioration in the social, economic and environmental determinants of health," and outlined a generalized health-care crisis involving all levels of care, the increasing unsuitability of the drinking water supply, and the serious impact of lack of building materials on public health and the health care system. The findings, which incorporate the work of 80 NGOs, concluded that, "the economy of Gaza is in virtual collapse with rising unemployment and poverty which will have long term adverse effects on the physical and mental health of the population. The environment is also in decline including water quality, sewage and waste disposal and other environmental hazards." The WHO also pointed out that, "Rising unemployment (41.5 percent of Gaza’s workforce in the first quarter of 2009) and poverty (in May 2008, 70 percent of the families were living on an income of less than one dollar a day per person) is likely to have long term adverse effects on the physical and mental health of the population."

A March 2009 report by the EU listed the following priorities for reconstruction in Gaza:

  1. Short term:
    • Rubble removal is a priority as reconstruction cannot start if the rubble is not cleared. This operation should take place together with the clearance of UXOs, for the sake of safety.
    • Private sector as it is the key to economic recovery and job creation;
    • Agriculture to reduce the risk of food insecurity;
    • Water, wastewater, and solid waste as there are a number of critical health related issues and a looming environmental crisis.
    • Housing is one the basic needs of the population, although Arab States have shown interest in financing this sector entirely.
  2. Medium term:
    • Public buildings, particularly schools, health care facilities, and buildings providing social services.
  3. For the longer term, infrastructure rehabilitation will be essential for economic development:
    • Energy, as there is no economic recovery without access to energy, for both the population and the private sector;
    • Roads, to increase access to social services and improve movement of persons and goods.

A February 2010 letter to President Barack Obama signed by the Foundation for Middle East Peace, Americans for Peace Now, the Arab-American Institute, J Street, Churches for Middle East Peace, B’Tselem and Rabbis for Human Rights – North America points out that:

  • 850 trucks daily with food, goods and fuel entered from Israel, pre-closure; 128 today.
  • The closure and the war have virtually halted manufacturing and most agricultural exports. Before 2007, 70 trucks a day carried Gazan exports for Israel, the West Bank and foreign markets valued at $330 million, or 10.8% of Gaza’s GDP.
  • 11% of Gazan children are malnourished, to the point of stunting, due to poverty and inadequate food imports. Infant mortality is no longer declining.
  • 281 of 641 schools were damaged and 18 destroyed in the war because of the closure. Few have been rebuilt, and thousands of students lack books or supplies. There are daily eight hour power shortages.
  • The war and Israel’s refusal to allow imports of cement and material to rebuild 20,000 destroyed or damaged homes have left many more thousands of Gazans in tents, temporary structures, or with other families.
  • Many war-damaged or deteriorating water and sewage facilities are health and environmental hazards, for lack of rebuilding supplies and equipment.
  • The war damaged 15 of 27 hospitals and 43 of 110 clinics. Imports of medicine and equipment are delayed. Doctors cannot leave for training, and patients face long delays to visit Israeli hospitals. 28 have reportedly died while waiting.
  • Movement of people in and out of Gaza, including students, aid and medical workers, journalists, and family members, is severely limited.

The main issue holding back an effort to engage in the necessary reconstruction has been the legitimate concern that measures benefiting the long-suffering people of Gaza will advantage the de facto Hamas rulers. However, we believe that as long as Gaza is cut off from the outside world, Hamas will use smuggling to increase the people’s dependence on it. Gaza's isolation has allowed Hamas to increasingly move from an authoritarian regime to a totalitarian theocracy that harasses international NGOs – the very organizations best placed to lead a reconstruction effort – and that systematically takes over civil society organizations. Over the past year or so, Hamas has been increasingly imposing ultraconservative social restrictions in Gaza, particularly impacting the rights of women. Campaigns to enforce the Muslim headscarf and other forms of "modest dress," prevent women from riding on the back of motorcycles, ban "improper" literature and similar measures suggest a creeping fundamentalism of Hamas rule in a Gaza Strip cut off from the outside world. Even more alarmingly, under these circumstances Hamas itself is being increasingly challenged by even more radical armed groups of Muslim extremists, including a violent clash at a mosque in August 2009 between Hamas fighters and Al Qaeda-like fanatics which left 24 Palestinians dead and 130 injured. The bottom line is, the people suffer while Hamas and other extremists benefit politically from this unconscionable blockade. We strongly recommend that reconstruction commence as soon as possible, and it is vitally important that the legal and orderly operation of the crossings is resumed.

I'd like to emphasize the plight of Gaza students, and the counterproductive and frankly mystifying pattern of denying them the ability to travel to study abroad. To illustrate the extent of this problem, in September 2009 the Palestinian Interior Ministry said that of 1,983 students who were accepted by universities abroad and applied for the necessary permits, only 1,145 were cleared to travel through the Rafah crossing. According to Israeli press reports, "Since June 2008, Gaza students are required to be accompanied by an official diplomatic delegate from the county they are bound to. The complexities of coordinating such efforts, as well as the fact that the Rafah crossing is mostly closed, have resulted in only 12% of students having been able to cross through it." I have been personally involved in efforts to encourage the US consulate in Jerusalem to escort Gaza students as required for their visa interviews, and I can attest to this complexity. Some students had to wait for over a year, sometimes meaning their scholarship opportunity had expired. I'd like to thank the Consulate and the State Department for their efforts to deal with this difficult complication and their efforts to encourage Israel to drop its onerous requirement. However, a systematic solution clearly needs to be found. It is imperative that this unacceptable practice ends.

There is also the deeply troubling case of Berlanty Azzam, a 21-year-old student at Bethlehem University who was arrested and removed to Gaza by the Israeli military in October 2009. Azzam was completing her last semester of a Bachelor's Degree program in Business Administration, with a minor in Translation, and was two months away from graduation. She was blindfolded and handcuffed during her expulsion from the West Bank. The US Consulate in Jerusalem said it was "very concerned" by this troubling incident. Azzam, a practicing Christian, said she made the decision to study in the West Bank because she was concerned about possible discrimination in Hamas-controlled Gaza. In December 2009 the Israeli High Court ruled that she would not be allowed to return to the West Bank. On February 4, 2010 she participated in a panel discussion on "The Right of Palestinians to Study and Travel" at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, but had to do so via telephone as Israeli authorities refused to allow her to leave Gaza for the event. We should all carefully consider what the likely consequences will be of policies that in effect deny Gaza students the chance at a decent education.

I would like to conclude by commending Congress for the substantial aid and support it provided to the Palestinians last year. This positive trend needs to be expanded and developed by offering the necessary financial, technical and political support for the PA to successfully pursue the state and institution building program. This is not simply a development project but a serious political program that advances a key American national interest. Therefore this program should be funded and supported by Congress as well as the executive branch. The United States government as a whole and with its full weight should lead and encourage others to shoulder their own responsibilities by embracing, funding and supporting the program as well. We look forward to Special Envoy Mitchell enlisting necessary partners to achieve coordinated political, economic and security progress.

Convergence between the top-down diplomatic track and the bottom-up state and institution building program constitutes the best prospect for realizing a two-state agreement. A conflict-ending agreement negotiated on the basis of the 1967 borders is vital to Israeli and Palestinian interests, but, more importantly, it is in our own national interest.

The United States is the indispensible partner that can bring all parties to negotiations and to an agreement. This role can neither be relinquished nor outsourced.

I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.

Back to Press Release


Peace & Palestine: ATFP founder Ziad Asali will testify at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on MIDDLE EAST PEACE March 4, 2010

Made in Palestine...the book

Palestine Online Store

an art exhibit by Station Museum

From the Introduction to the book:
This beautiful book depicts the eclectic, profound works of numerous Palestinian artists; where art, life, and politics are inextricably connected and vividly conveyed.

The book captures the voices and expressions of Palestinian artists into one elegantly compiled document of Palestinian art.

Relevant Links
Made in Palestine exhibition at Station Museum
Mother Jones article on Made in Palestine
Electronic Intifada article on Made in Palestine

Palestine Online Store

Palestine Online Store is honored to be the exclusive online source for acquiring authorized Ismail Shammout and Tamam Al-Akhal prints. The late Ismail Shammout needs no introduction (see tribute about him), and his wife Tamam is also a brilliant and renowned artist. The prints are acquired from Tamam, after she gets them printed under careful supervision in Germany and frames them herself.

Shammout and Al-Akhal's art tells the story of the Palestinian people and is a timeless piece of Palestine for your home.

The listed prints are what we currently have in stock. Special orders can be accepted, but could take as long as 6 months to fulfill and could cost around 50% more.

Red Poppies of Palestine
Arist's statement: Beautiful poppy flowers dominate the Palestinian landscape in the spring. Their vivid color inspires us and gives us hope. The Israeli occupiers systematically destroy our land and our trees in an attempt to uproot our hopes and squelch our dreams. Nevertheless, spring will come, and the poppies will bloom again, and so too will our dreams. Tamam Al-Akhal

My letter to the International Herald Tribune RE From Ireland to Israel by Zion Evrony

RE: From Ireland to Israel by Zion Evrony

Dear Editor,

Yes peace will take compromise, but Evrony frames it all wrong when he says, "In the Middle East, Israelis would have to give up the dream of a “Greater Israel.” Palestinians would have to give up the dream of “return” for the refugees, accepting their accommodation in a future Palestinian state." Evrony is way off base.

Real compromise, and the foundation of a just and lasting peace is both Israel and Palestinians respecting the reality of two sovereign, separate, side by side states, with both states fully respecting international laws and basic human rights- including but not limited to the Palestinians refugees inalienable right to return to original homes and lands.

Refugees should not be discriminated against because of their supposed race or religion.

UN Resolution 194 from 1948 "Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible"

Not all Palestinian refugees will want to return to live in Israel as Israeli citizens.... but they do need to be free to go visit in peace for peace. Negotiations are necessary in order to make the process go as smoothly as possible- not to make legal and moral obligations disappear. The process of honoring and implementing UN Resolution 194 from 1948 needs to begin as soon as possible.

Anne Selden Annab
Growing Gardens for Palestine

Thursday, March 4, 2010

March 4th 2010 ATFP President Dr. Ziad J. Asali Emphasizes Convergence Between Diplomacy and State-Building at Senate Hearing

"Words matter. It is unacceptable for officials and political figures on either side to pander and try to score cheap debating and political points at the expense of jeopardizing the serious effort to resume the negotiations and to end the conflict." Dr. Ziad J. Asali

Press Release
Contact Information: Hussein Ibish
March 4, 2010 - 12:00am

Washington, DC, March 4 – Convergence between diplomatic negotiations and the institution-building efforts being undertaken by the Palestinian Authority “will result in a mutually reinforcing dynamic towards peace”, Dr. Ziad J. Asali, President of the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) told a Senate Hearing today.

Dr. Asali spoke at a March 4 Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing entitled “Middle East Peace: Ground Truths, Challenges Ahead” along with fellow panelists the Hon. Daniel Kurtzer, Dr. Robert Malley, and Mr. David Makovsky. Committee Chair Senator John Kerry (D-MA) presided over the hearing.

Dr. Asali emphasized the need to resume negotiations expeditiously, noting the robust efforts of Special Envoy George Mitchell in this regard, and the necessity to work with the Palestinian Authority to build the institutional and economic foundations of a future Palestinian state. He noted that “The Palestinians are taking up the responsibilities of self-government as they continue to insist on the right of self-determination”, and pointed to improved conditions in areas under PA control “despite the harsh realities of daily life under the occupation”. He stressed, however, that “institution building is not a substitute for diplomacy” and that a “Palestinian state can only be esablished through a negotiated agreement”. He called on Congress to support these efforts.

He placed special emphasis on the need to address the humanitarian and reconstruction needs of the Gaza Strip, noting that “Israel’s blockade has produced a humanitarian tragedy without weakening Hamas control”. He strongly recommended that “reconstruction commence soon and the legal and orderly operation of the crossings be resumed.” He drew specific attention to the “mystifying and counterproductive pattern of Israel’s preventing Gaza students from traveling to study abroad.”

Chairman Kerry noted that “a two-state solution remains the only workable solution, and the only just solution” and that “nothing would undermine extremists and rejectionists than real progress towards peace.” This sentiment was also reflected in the opening remarks of Sen. Richard Lugar, who expressed his support for the “Administration’s efforts toward this end.”

After the testimony, Dr. Asali said “The bi-partisan leadership of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, working closely with the Administration, sets an example for how Middle East peace can be advanced. Ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through the establishment of a Palestinian state living side by side with the state of Israel in peace and security is a US national security goal that requires the concerted efforts of the Administration and Congress and deserves the support of all Americans.”

The full text of Dr. Asali’s oral testimony is online at:

The full text of ATFP’s written testimony is online at:

The Palestinian State and Institution Building Program
Documents detailing the state and institution building program of the 13th Palestinian Government, including the overall plan and priority interventions for 2010.


Rachel Corrie was a 23-year-old American peace activist from Olympia, Washington, who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer on 16 March 2003, while undertaking nonviolent direct action to protect the home of a Palestinian family from demolition.


MARCH 10-24, 2010


As many of you know, a civil lawsuit in the case of our daughter Rachel Corrie is scheduled for trial in the Haifa District Court beginning March 10, 2010. A human rights observer and activist, Rachel, 23, tried nonviolently to offer protection for a Palestinian family whose home was threatened with demolition by the Israeli military. On March 16, 2003, she was crushed to death by an Israel Defense Force (IDF) Caterpillar D9R bulldozer in Rafah, Gaza.

The lawsuit is one piece of our family’s seven-year effort to pursue justice for our daughter and sister. We hope this trial will illustrate the need for accountability for thousands of lives lost, or indelibly injured, by occupation—in a besieged and beleaguered Gaza and throughout Palestine/Israel ; bring attention to the assault on nonviolent human rights activists (Palestinian, Israeli, and international); and underscore the fact that so many Palestinian families, harmed as deeply as ours, cannot access Israeli courts.

In order to deliver these interconnected messages as effectively as possible, we are asking for large-scale participation in the trial itself as well as in the events surrounding it. We hope you will join us for all or some of the events listed below and help us to put the call out to others.

9:00-16:00—Trial Begins in the Haifa District Court (12 Palyam St. Haifa)
A strong presence of human rights observers, legal observers, and others on the first day of the trial will send the message that this case is being closely monitored and that truth, accountability and justice matter to us all. Other trial dates are: March 14, 15, 17, 21, 22 and 24. Supportive presence at all court sessions is both welcome and needed!

13:00-15:00—Film Screening at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque (2 Shprinzak St. Tel Aviv)
Screening of the documentary film RACHEL followed by a Q&A with filmmaker Simone Bitton and the Corrie family. RACHEL is a cinematic inquiry into Rachel’s killing. It raises many of
the questions that should be asked and addressed during the trial.

20:00-22:00—Memorial; Location TBA

March 16th marks the seven-year anniversary of Rachel’s killing. We hope to mark this day as a “Day of Conscience” with a large gathering that calls for truth, accountability and justice, in Rachel’s case and beyond.

There will also be events in Gaza (at the Rachel Corrie Children and Youth Cultural Center in Rafah), possibly in the West Bank (TBA), and around the world.

If you are not with us in Palestine/Israel, please think about how you and your group/community can be visible/audible on March 16.

We expect this to be a challenging time, but we know the friendship we have felt from so many of you over the years will help us navigate the weeks ahead. Though the course and outcome of the trial are unknown, we welcome the opportunity to raise and highlight many of the critical issues to which Rachel's case is linked.

Thank you for your continuing support.
In solidarity and with much appreciation,

I should at least mention that I am also discovering a degree of strength and of basic ability for humans to remain human in the direst of circumstances – which I also haven’t seen before. I think the word is dignity. I wish you could meet these people. Maybe, hopefully, someday you will. – Rachel Corrie, in an email to her mother, February 28 2003

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Celebrating Women's History Month by celebrating some GREAT Palestinian-American Artists, Writers & Poets


I am celebrating Women's History Month by celebrating some GREAT Palestinian-American Artists, Writers & Poets.... Artists using their talents- and their beauty inside and out- to empower Palestine and America and the Arts... and civilization itself.

--->Celebrating Women's History Month by celebrating the GREAT Palestinian-American POET Ibtisam Barakat

--->Celebrating Women's History Month by celebrating the GREAT Palestinian-American POET Naomi Shihab Nye

--->Celebrating Women's History Month by celebrating Palestinian-American ARTIST Samia Halaby

--->Celebrating Women's History Month by celebrating the GREAT Palestinian-American POET Nathalie Handal

--->Celebrating Women's History Month by celebrating te GREAT Palestinian-American writer Susan Abulhawa

--->Celebrating Women's History Month by celebrating the GREAT Palestinian-American ARTIST Emily Jacir

--->Celebrating Women's History Month by celebrating the GREAT Palestinian-American filmmaker Annemarie Jacir

--->Celebrating Women's History Month by celebrating the GREAT Palestinian-American stand-up comedian Maysoon Zayid

--->Celebrating Women's History Month by celebrating the GREAT part-Palestinian-ALL-American NOVELIST Randa Jarrar

--->Celebrating Women's History Month by celebrating a GREAT Palestinian-American POET: Suheir Hammad


March is Women’s History Month

The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in paying tribute to the generations of women whose commitment to nature and the planet have proved invaluable to society.

About Women’s History Month

Before the 1970’s, the topic of women’s history was largely missing from general public consciousness. To address this situation, the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women initiated a “Women’s History Week” celebration in 1978 and chose the week of March 8 to coincide with International Women’s Day.

The celebration was met with positive response, and schools began to host their own Women’s History Week programs. The next year, leaders from the California group shared their project at a Women’s History Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. Other participants not only became determined to begin their own local Women’s History Week projects but also agreed to support an effort to have Congress declare a national Women’s History Week.

In 1981, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) cosponsored the first Joint Congressional Resolution proclaiming a “Women’s History Week.”

In 1987, the National Women’s History Project petitioned Congress to expand the celebration to the entire month of March. Since then, the National Women’s History Month Resolution has been approved every year with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.

Information from the National Women’s History Project

About This Year's Theme

Writing Women Back into History

The overarching theme is “Writing Women Back into History.” In celebration of their 30th anniversary, the National Women’s History Project will be highlighting themes and honorees from previous years

Celebrating Women's History Month by celebrating the GREAT Palestinian-American POET Ibtisam Barakat


Ibtisam Barakat ابتسام بركات Let's -- In an acting improv meeting, we played the game Let's! Someone says "tigers" and we all say Let's! We all become tigers. We acted monkeys, flowers, other things. I said let's be Palestinians! Everyone said Let's and started to write on their hands or on the air. I realized I am the Palestinian they know! A wri...ter. So whatever I do is Palestinian. I almost cried with responsibility. -- Ibtisam Barakat 2010.

author of
Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat (Hardcover - Feb. 20, 2007)
Buy new: $16.00 $10.88

Palestinian American Ibtisam Barakat: Writer, poet and educator

Ibtisam Barakat: Writer, poet and educator

To interview Ibtisam Barakat contact the IMEU at 714-368-0300 or

Palestinian-American author Ibtisam Barakat
Palestinian-American author Ibtisam Barakat
Born in Beit Hanina, near Jerusalem, Ibtisam Barakat's life was turned upside down at age three, when Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem following the 1967 war. "I will never know what my life would have been like without having grown up under Israeli occupation," says writer, poet and educator Barakat. "This influenced me in every way. And it made me sensitive to all the issues of injustice that exist in the world."

Growing up with war and occupation is the focus of Barakat's memoir, Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood, released in 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. In 2007, Booklist named it one of the top ten biographies for youth and it was listed as an American Library Association Notable, and in 2008 it won the International Reading Association's Best Non-Fiction Book Award for Children and Young Adults. "At least 200,000 Palestinians fled their homes in the Six Day War," she says. "My family and I were among them. So I wanted to write this story for the children of that night, including the young girl I was, and for children everywhere, especially those denied a childhood."

After earning her bachelor's degree from Birzeit University in the West Bank, Barakat moved to New York in 1986, where she interned with The Nation. Later, she earned Masters in Journalism and Human Development and Family Studies, both from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Beginning at a young age, Barakat has used writing for communicating, as well as for self-understanding. "My writing is a clear and spacious window," she says. "I know whether it's morning, or it's night, whether it's a rainy day or a summer day, and whether it's a season of freedom outside and inside or a season of fear, all through what I see reflected in my writing."

Barakat taught language ethics at Stephens College in 2002, and her work has been published by Simon and Schuster, Pocket Books, Random House, Scholastic, Weekly Reader Corporation, and elsewhere. She is the founder of the Write Your Life seminars, "where people take the time to explore their life stories, and to turn various elements into literature and art -- poems, letters, essays, paintings, songs, plays, short stories, or humor pieces.

"I find it especially important to encourage people from under-privileged groups to find their voices and speak up," Barakat explains. "Given the harsh climate of humanity at this time, it is the responsibility and privilege of all of us to contribute our stories toward the composition of a book of life and history that represents all."

Celebrating Women's History Month by celebrating the GREAT Palestinian-American POET Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye was born on March 12, 1952, in St. Louis, Missouri, to a Palestinian father and an American mother. During her high school years, she lived in Ramallah in Jordan, the Old City in Jerusalem, and San Antonio, Texas, where she later received her B.A. in English and world religions from Trinity University.

Nye is the author of numerous books of poems, including You and Yours (BOA Editions, 2005), which received the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award, as well as 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East (2002), a collection of new and selected poems about the Middle East, Fuel (1998), Red Suitcase (1994), and Hugging the Jukebox (1982).

Nye gives voice to her experience as an Arab-American through poems about heritage and peace that overflow with a humanitarian spirit. About her work, the poet William Stafford has said, "her poems combine transcendent liveliness and sparkle along with warmth and human insight. She is a champion of the literature of encouragement and heart. Reading her work enhances life."

Nye has received awards from the Texas Institute of Letters, the Carity Randall Prize, the International Poetry Forum, as well as four Pushcart Prizes. She has been a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Wittner Bynner Fellow. In 1988 she received The Academy of American Poets' Lavan Award, selected by W. S. Merwin.

Her poems and short stories have appeared in various journals and reviews throughout North America, Europe, and the Middle and Far East. She has traveled to the Middle East and Asia for the United States Information Agency three times, promoting international goodwill through the arts.

She currently lives in San Antonio, Texas. She was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2010.

Poems by
Naomi Shihab Nye

Making a Fist
Negotiations with a Volcano
San Antonio
The Man Whose Voice Has Been Taken From His Throat
The Words Under the Words
Two Countries

The Small Vases from Hebron

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Tip their mouths open to the sky.
Turquoise, amber,
the deep green with fluted handle,
pitcher the size of two thumbs,
tiny lip and graceful waist.

Here we place the smallest flower
which could have lived invisibly
in loose soil beside the road,
sprig of succulent rosemary,
bowing mint.

They grow deeper in the center of the table.

Here we entrust the small life,
thread, fragment, breath.
And it bends. It waits all day.
As the bread cools and the children
open their gray copybooks
to shape the letter that looks like
a chimney rising out of a house.

And what do the headlines say?

Nothing of the smaller petal
perfectly arranged inside the larger petal
or the way tinted glass filters light.
Men and boys, praying when they died,
fall out of their skins.
The whole alphabet of living,
heads and tails of words,
sentences, the way they said,
“Ya’Allah!” when astonished,
or “ya’ani” for “I mean”—
a crushed glass under the feet
still shines.
But the child of Hebron sleeps
with the thud of her brothers falling

Naomi Shihab Nye, “The Small Vases from Hebron” from Fuel. Copyright © 1998 by Naomi Shihab Nye