Friday, July 2, 2010

Addressing the settlement question is key to Middle East peace


Addressing the settlement question is key to Middle East peace

By Nadia Hijab, co-director of Al-Shabaka - 07/02/10

This time the Israelis have given Barack Obama plenty of notice. They announced a master plan to expand Jewish settlements in occupied East Jerusalem a full week before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due to visit the president on July 6.

So Obama hasn’t been blindsided like Joe Biden, who was slapped in the face with a settlement expansion announcement on the day of his visit to Israel in March. But that’s unlikely to make the president any happier about the Israeli defiance of the settlement freeze, to say nothing of international law, and it portends yet another collision in what Israeli ambassador Michael Oren has been quoted as describing as a tectonic shift in American-Israeli relations.

The proposed Jerusalem master plan — objectors have 60 days to submit reservations — would henceforth apply the same zoning and construction procedures to both East and West Jerusalem in another attempt to cement the city’s forced unification. Most of the planned expansion will swallow up privately owned Arab property — but whether on private or public land, the entire Israeli settlement enterprise is as illegal in East Jerusalem as it is in the rest of the territories Israel occupied during the 1967 war.

The Israeli settlers clearly think they have the upper hand: Even if Obama wants to get tough with Israel, the November elections will give him pause. Democratic candidates need all the money and votes they can get and the alternative new American Jewish lobby, J Street, is not yet strong enough to counter the electoral clout of the long-established Israel lobby.

The settlers thus continue to thumb their nose at the international community and get away with it, as they have done for 43 years and counting. In fact, on the same day that the master plan was announced, Israel began new housing construction in the Shepherd Hotel complex in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. When those plans were announced a year ago Hillary Clinton demanded Israel cancel the building permits. Now that the fuss has died down, the building has started up.

Israel has made terrible changes to West and East Jerusalem in architectural and human terms, inexorably squeezing Palestinians — Muslim and Christian — out in favor of Israeli Jews. As the Jerusalem-based lawyer Daniel Seidemann noted in a recent article on’s The Middle East Channel, Israel has issued only 4,000 permits for private Palestinian construction in East Jerusalem although the population has quadrupled to 280,000 since 1967 (and would have been higher if not for Israeli measures). Palestinians are forced to choose between building “illegally” on their own land and risking home demolition or — as Israel would prefer — leaving altogether.

Withholding permits is just one way that Israelis “cleanse” Jerusalem of Palestinians. Others include forced evictions, cancellation of residence permits, the separation Wall, cutting off the rest of the West Bank from Jerusalem, and just plain harassment. In Sheikh Jarrah, for example, settlers mounted loudspeakers to blast music around the surrounding blocks.

The settlers can do a lot of damage between now and November. If the American administration is unable to rein its Israeli ally in before then, they might want to ask their European or other partners to do so. After all, Jerusalem is not recognized as Israel’s capital and embassies are based in Tel Aviv. The last two countries of a handful of countries to have embassies in Jerusalem — El Salvador and Costa Rica — moved them back to Tel Aviv in the wake of Israel’s war on Lebanon in 2006.

It is also time to forcefully remind Israel not only that everything it is doing in occupied East Jerusalem is illegal but also that its sovereignty does not extend over West Jerusalem either. The major powers — including the United States and the European Union — still consider Jerusalem a corpus separatum as provided by United Nations General Assembly resolution 181, which partitioned Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state. This status can only be changed by a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement. That’s partly why despite repeated attempts by Congress to get successive American administrations to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, they have not done so.

Certainly the Obama administration cannot afford to let Israel’s actions go unchallenged. Although settler attacks on Palestinian Jerusalemites are not well covered in the Western media, Arabs and Muslims see heartbreaking scenes on their television screens further inflaming sentiment in a region in which America is embroiled. Obama would do well to get America's allies to take action right now and then bring America's full weight to bear behind peace — and justice — after the November elections.

Meanwhile, the Israeli settler movement may find that its accelerated colonization of East Jerusalem to create facts on the ground may boomerang by refocusing attention on the status of the city as a whole, East and West.

Nadia Hijab is co-director of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network.

My letter to the New York Times RE Israelis, Palestinians and the Divide

RE: Israelis, Palestinians and the Divide

Dear Editor,

What a good batch of letters regarding Nicholas D. Kristof 's painfully informative op-ed “The Two Sides of a Barbed-Wire Fence”! I like how you started with the typical hard core Zionist propaganda, and then shifted through some other much more enlightened and compassionate responses- to end on that perfect letter highlighting a crucial point: "Unfortunately, many still refuse to see that Israel now behaves as a colonial power trampling on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which arose from the ashes of World War II."

In 1948 United Nations (page 4 on the PDF file ) Mediator Count Folke Bernadotte pointed out that "It would be an offence against the principles of justice if those innocent victims [Palestinian refugees] could not return to their homes while [Zionist] immigrants flowed into Palestine to take their place." This is still true today- and each and every Palestinian child knows this as an absolute fact.

The Palestinian refugee crisis is the largest, longest running refugee crisis in the world today: UN Resolution 194 regarding the very real need to respect the Palestinian refugees very real right to return to original homes and lands remains ignored by sovereign Israel, demonized by many myopic ideologues, and dismissed by misguided pundits who simply do not understand the vital importance of empowering fair and just laws and policies- and an end to institutionalized bigotry on all sides of every border and line on the map.

Anne Selden Annab

Please note from the start: "The United Nations had certainly not intended that the Jewish State should rid itself of its Arab citizens" 5 May 1949 Application of Israel for admission to membership in the United Nations

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."

Palestinians in Beirut Hope for More Rights

Palestinians in Beirut Hope for More Rights

A Palestinian man shouts slogans during a protest to demand civil rights for Palestinians refugees, in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, June 27, 2010.
Photo: AP

A Palestinian man shouts slogans during a protest to demand civil rights for Palestinians refugees, in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, June 27, 2010.

Related Articles

Lebanese politicians are considering easing restrictions on Palestinian refugees, after 62 years.

Like the tangled electricity wires at Bourj al Barajne camp outside Beirut, the situation of Palestinians in Lebanon is complicated.

Despite the fact that many have been living in Lebanon for generations, they are still refugees, and as such are forced to live in squalid camps, are denied access to the state's social security, health-care or education systems, and can only work in menial jobs. Many are growing frustrated with their conditions.

Abou el Walid is a community leader at the Bourj al Barajne. “We are suffering,” he said in his native Arabic. “We lived the hardship and we do not need anything but living in a decent way. We want to be proud; we need the right to work and the right to own property, and rights to live as a human being.”

According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, there are an estimated 400,000 Palestinian refugees living in 12 camps throughout Lebanon. They are descendants of families who fled the fighting in 1948 that eventually created the state of Israel.

Brahim Al Ashwah is a 47-year-old father of six who also lives in the camp. He says he wants to buy a house for his son so that he can get married, but does not have the money.

“You can barely find a job here,” he says. “No one will hire you because you are Palestinian. You cannot work in a company because you are Palestinian. No health insurance, no life at all. I have a boy in university. I pulled him out because even if he graduates, he cannot find a job.”

During the weekend, thousands of activists marched to the Lebanese capital to demand rights for Palestinians. Under the watchful eye of Lebanese security forces, they urged the country's politicians to approve a draft law that would give them employment and property ownership guarantees.

Although some Lebanese politicians are considering giving Palestinians more rights, opponents argue that could pave the way to their naturalization.

Since a vast majority of the refugees are Sunni Muslims, Christian leaders fear such a large influx of citizens could tilt the sectarian balance, as well as increase competition in the job market and strain Lebanon's economic resources.

Manal Kassab, who is half Lebanese, half Palestinian, was among them. She says Palestinians do not want citizenship, just dignity. "There is no need for the Palestinians to be naturalized and they do not want to be naturalized,” she said. “They wanted to be treated as a special category in Lebanon and to abide by all the international conventions; having the right to work, right to ownership, but the nationality is not a need."

That is because most Palestinians still hope they will return to their lives, families and properties in what is now modern-day Israel. In the mean time, activists have presented a draft law to members of Parliament outlining their requests. Requests they say would allow Palestinians access to a normal life.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Moment of Childhood and Happiness- UNRWA Gaza Summer Games 2010

A Moment of Childhood and Happiness - UNRWA Gaza Summer Games 2010
The children storm towards the swimming pool and the sea. There is great anticipation, huge expectations. Who will get to go in first? In the far corner, another group of children are half sitting on their chairs, half lying on the table. They are in deep concentration as they paint blue skies, flowers, animals and trees on a poster-sized piece of paper. Children's songs are heard from an open area under the canopy. Some girls are skipping rope nearby.

You are in Gaza - more specifically on the beach, in one of the camps set up by UNRWA for the 2010 Summer Games.

For four consecutive years, UNRWA has run the Summer Games to give the children in Gaza psychological relief and a sense of childhood and happiness. With broad encouragement and support from the community, the Games feature activities such as sports, arts and crafts, traditional dance, song and theatre.

Eight weeks of fun

This year, as was the case in 2009, some 250,000 children are expected to take part in eight weeks of fun offered in 144 locations across the Gaza Strip, including 38 purpose-built beach locations, orphanages and children's wards.

This year's Games opened through a moving torch festival held on 13 June. Some 50 children were involved in a relay over 17km from Deir al Balah to the UNRWA Field Office in Gaza City, where an UNRWA student lit the Summer Games flame. Pleased with both local and international support for the Games, John Ging, director of UNRWA operations in Gaza, reminded the audience of the responsibility we all have in helping to change the circumstances of Gaza's children to a more positive environment in tune with their wonderful spirit and potential.

Record breakers

A unique opportunity to prove that potential to the entire world will arise already in early July, when the children will be involved in a record-breaking attempt for the Guinness Book of World Records. Building on last year's success, Gaza's children will set out to smash their won record for kites flown simultaneously. Not nearly satisfied by a single-record breaking event, the children are posed to break the record for the number of basketballs bounced simultaneously later in the month, on 22 July.

With world records as the true highlights, the UNRWA Summer Games constitute the largest youth recreation initiative in the region, providing a rare chance for children in Gaza to explore artistic talent, develop new skills and take part in team-oriented activities. For children, traumatised by conflict and violence, this tranquil, yet creative space for respite, learning and companionship is critical in their development.

The Games therefore build on and complement the ongoing work by UNRWA to teach openness, respect and tolerance in its schools - all based on the universal values of human rights. What better than to learn these values on the Gaza beach?


On 28 June, a Summer Games recreation facility on the beach in Nuseirat was vandalised. UNRWA immediately rebuilt the camp and children were back having fun less than a day after the attack.

My letter to the Washington Post RE Tensions build in Palestinian neighborhood over plans to demolish 22 houses

RE: Tensions build in Palestinian neighborhood over plans to demolish 22 houses

Dear Editor,

Constantly usurping land, rights and life- home by home and family by family, Apartheid Israel has been intentionally impoverishing, displacing, and disenfranchising the native non-Jewish population of the region... generation after generation after generation. The trend is quite obvious. As is the fact that Israel's ongoing violations of international law creates an escalating catastrophe in the Middle East- with many negative ramifications worldwide, as people give up hope that there will ever be justice or peace.

Anne Selden Annab
Words to Honor

My letter to the NYTimes RE The Two Sides of a Barbed-Wire Fence by Nicholas Kristof

RE: The Two Sides of a Barbed-Wire Fence

Dear Editor,

Thank you for publishing Nicholas Kristof's glance at the very real plight of the Palestinians. I hope your newspaper seeks out and publishes many more honest explorations of the situation so that the American public and our elected leaders, our business leaders as well as our religious leaders can have more productive and relevant conversations regarding the best way to help end the Israel/Palestine conflict for everyone's sake.

Anne Selden Annab

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

West Bank poverty 'worse than Gaza'
West Bank poverty 'worse than Gaza'

Al Jazeera's Bernard Smith reports on how the poor pay a heavy price in the West Bank

Children living in the poorest parts of the West Bank face significantly worse conditions than their counterparts in Gaza, a study conducted by an international youth charity has found.

The report by Save the Children UK, due to be released on Wednesday, says that families forced from their homes in the West Bank are suffering the effects of grinding poverty, often lacking food, medicine and humanitarian assistance.

The European Commission funded study found that in "Area C"- the 60 per cent of the West Bank under direct Israeli control - the poorest sections of society are suffering disproportionately because basic infrastructure is not being repaired due to Israel's refusal to approve the work.

Homes, schools, drainage systems and roads are in urgent need of repair, but instead of work being allowed, families are being forced to live in tents and do not have access to clean water.

Restrictions on the use of land for agriculture have left thousands of Palestinian children without enough food and many are becoming ill as a result, the study found.

Crisis point

Conditions in Area C have reached "crisis point", the charity said, with 79 per cent of the communities surveyed lacking sufficient food - a greater proportion than in blockaded Gaza, where the figure is 61 per cent.

in depth

Israel expands settlements
Israelis protest freeze
Map of East Jerusalem housing plan
Comments: US-Israel relations
Jerusalem's religious heart
Strain on US-Israel ties
Q&A: Jewish settlements
Riz Khan:
Middle East peace process
Battle over settlements
Inside Story:
US and Israel poles apart
Israel: Rise of the right
Holy Land Grab

The lack of proper nutrition is having a major impact on the health of children growing up in the area, with 44 per cent of those surveyed for the study suffering from diarrhoea, the world's biggest killer of children under the age of five.

Many children living in such communities are showing signs of stunted growth, with the figure running at more than double Gaza's rate, and more than one in ten children surveyed for the study were found to be underweight.

The report says that for many Palestinians, international humanitarian assistance is far harder to access in the West Bank than in Gaza, with almost half the households surveyed in Area C reporting that they had no access to foreign aid assistance.

Save the Children warned that with the blockade of Gaza dominating headlines in recent months, the international community risked forgetting the fate of the poorest communities in the West Bank.

"The international community has rightly focused its attention on the suffering of families in Gaza but the plight of children in Area C must not be overlooked," Salam Kanaan, Save the Children's director in the occupied Palestinian Territories, said.

"Palestinians in the West Bank are widely thought to enjoy a higher standard of living but tragically many families, particularly in Bedouin and herder communities, actually suffer significantly higher levels of malnutrition and poverty."

The organisation called for Israel to immediately cease home demolitions and land confiscations in the West Bank and said the Palestinian authority should take "urgent action" to develop services and improve food security in Area C.

"Palestinian children cannot wait for the stalled peace talks between the Palestinian Authority, Israel, and the United States to find solutions to this crisis," Kanaan said.

Pockets of poverty

Cairo Arafat helped devise the Palestinian Authority's action plan for children before starting part-time work with Save the Children, and is now a spokesperson for Palestinian Authority. She told Al Jazeera the figures in the report did not reflect the conditions in the West Bank as a whole, but were still a major cause for concern.

"The overall conditions, if you look at health indicators and education indicators, are better than what is normal for the reigion," she said.

"The problem is we are beginning to see a regression."

The West Bank had "pockets of poverty," she said, that left around around 10 per cent of the 240,000 children in the territory at risk of ill-health.

"There are certain parts of the West Bank were the situation is much worse than in Gaza, with a lack of access to water and shelter," she said.

Arafat said that the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) was attempting to tackle the issue in the face of "excessive" obstruction from the Israeli authorities, particularly in areas near settlements and close to the separation barrier built by the Israeli military.

"The PNA is investing in a number of different programs in Area C and near where the wall is being built to improve the situation," she said.

"But there are certain areas where the Israelis won't allow infrastructure to be built."

Ending Poverty, Building a State The Role of Development in the Occupied Palestinian Territory By Jens Toyberg-Frandzen

Ending Poverty, Building a State The Role of Development in the Occupied Palestinian Territory
By Jens Toyberg-Frandzen
On a concrete-clad, half-built house, a satellite dish receives a signal and relays it to three transmitters. One, an eight-metre antennae, transmits the signal to the neighbouring houses while the two others transmit it up and down the valley to nearby villages.

This is how Mazani al Houbani and its neighbouring villages, north of Ramallah, receive access to the Internet. The service is a result of the entrepreneurship of Khamis al Qadi, who provides Internet access to around 60 homes and businesses from an old server in his sitting room and transmitters on his roof.

It is also a good example of how the United Nations Development Programme’s Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People aims to promote development among individuals and in society at large.

Khamis al Qadi, 34, left school at 16 and worked as a day labourer whenever there was work available until he began to suffer from a blood condition which made physical work difficult. In 2008, he applied for a grant from UNDP to help him start a grocery business in the basement of his house.

When the grocery was successful, he looked for new ways to increase his revenue and discovered that with an outlay of $2,000 he could provide Internet access to his remote community, which consists of several hilltop villages separated by deep, terraced valleys.

UNDP provided the initial support which allowed Khamis al Qadi to provide for his family and develop ambitions. He now has his own income and can make decisions and finance his future.

Khamis al Qadi is one of 10,398 individuals and families in Gaza and the West Bank who UNDP has helped emerge from a vicious cycle of poverty to a virtuous cycle of development as part of one programme funded by the Islamic Development Bank. The aim of our development work is to have a relatively short-term engagement which leads to long-term improvement for individuals, organisations, and institutions.

Since 1978, UNDP has engaged in hundreds of development initiatives in the occupied Palestinian territory. These efforts have made a mark on the Palestinian landscape and increased capabilities and opportunities.

The village of Allar near Tulkarem was not connected to a water network until last year. Without water, the economic development of the village was held back. Residents had to spend time harvesting water and a lot of money importing it in water tankers during the summer.

There was never enough water to carry out water-intensive work such as small-scale industry and some types of agriculture. UNDP, with funds from the Japanese government, built a network of pumps, pipes, and reservoirs to provide water for every household and business.

Water costs have fallen by two-thirds, water-borne infections have fallen dramatically, and residents have been able to start businesses such as poultry farms and masonry which were previously impossible. Since 1994, UNDP has worked extensively with the Palestinian Authority, supporting its efforts to push for an independent state. UNDP is currently planning and preparing for the construction of a new Ministry of Foreign Affairs and engaged in negotiations to build a legal and judicial complex in Ramallah. These buildings will provide attractive additions to the architecture of Ramallah and an exceptional environment for the professional management of international relations and justice.

But construction of government buildings is just one part of UNDP’s contribution to the overall governance of the Palestinian Authority. The legal complex is one part of a series of projects UNDP has undertaken and hopes to undertake to enhance access to justice in the Palestinian territory. The work includes building regional courthouses, automating legal record-keeping, improving the capacity of the Ministry of Justice and other legal bodies, and increasing legal services for all Palestinians.

The construction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is funded by China, is part of a portfolio of assistance to the Palestinian Authority which also involves strengthening the capacities of government institutions from the President’s Office to local authorities.

The Capacity Development Initiative is a five-year institutional development programme to strengthen the organisational structures and capacities of the Ministry of Planning, the Ministry of National Economy, the Ministry of Labour, the General Personnel Council, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Cabinet Secretariat, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Justice.

The goal of UNDP is to build the infrastructure and provide the services that must go with it to ensure that Palestinians receive the government services they deserve. The hope is that the knowledge and skills that are being taught in partnership with the Palestinian Authority and civil society will last as long as the bricks and mortar.

But development is vital at the community level as much as at the government level. The example of Khamis al Qadi demonstrates the potential of international development to provide a platform for innovation and self-reliance for individuals and communities.

Jens Toyberg-Frandzen is Special Representative of the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme in the occupied Palestinian territory.Mammoon al Qadi (the brother of Khamis) examines the Internet transmitter. Photo by Ahed Izhiman / UNDP.

UNRWA strongly condemns second attack on Summer Games locations

UNRWA strongly condemns second attack on Summer Games locations

28 June 2010

Burnt Summer Games installationAt 0230 on Monday 28 June 2010, a group of approximately 25 armed and masked men attacked and set fire to an UNRWA Summer Games recreation facility on the beach in Nuseirat, Gaza. The guards at the facility were physically assaulted and handcuffed but they were not injured. Fortunately no one else was hurt in the incident.

The attack is the second of its kind in a month, following on from an attack on Sunday 23 May 2010 when a group of approximately 30 armed and masked men attacked and set fire to an UNRWA Summer Games recreation facility then under construction on the beach in Gaza City.

UNRWA’s Director of Operations in Gaza, John Ging, condemning this second “cowardly and despicable act”, said that “the overwhelming success of UNRWA’s Summer Games has once again obviously frustrated those that are intolerant of children’s happiness.”

He went on to say that “this is another example of the growing levels of extremism in Gaza and further evidence, if that were needed, of the urgency to change the circumstances on the ground that are generating such extremism.”

Ging said that UNRWA’s response would be simple: “UNRWA will rebuild the camp immediately and will continue with its Summer Games programme which is so important for the physical and psychological wellbeing of Gaza’s children, so many of whom are stressed and traumatised by their circumstances and experiences.” Ging also complimented the emergency services who were quick to respond and ensured that the damage caused by the attack was minimised.

Children at summer gamesUNRWA's Summer Games, conducted for the fourth year with the full support and involvement of the community, is the largest recreation programme for Gaza’s children providing a diversified set of activities including sports, swimming, arts and crafts, theatre and drama. The Summer Games commenced on 12 June and will run through 5 August, providing 1,200 summer camps for over 250,000 refugee children across the Gaza Strip.

- Ends -

For more information please contact:

Sami Mshasha
UNRWA Arabic Spokesperson
Mobile: +972-(0)54-216-8295
Office: +972 (0)2-589-0724

Chris Gunness
UNRWA English Spokesperson
Mobile: +972-(0)54-240-2659

Israel's east Jerusalem demolitions a peace obstacle: EU

Israel's east Jerusalem demolitions a peace obstacle: EU

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The planned demolition of Palestinian houses in east Jerusalem, as part of an archaeological project, is "an obstacle to peace," EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said Wednesday.

Jewish "settlements and the demolition of homes are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible," Ashton warned in a statement.

The European Union's High Representative stressed that the EU has never recognised Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem.

"If there is to be genuine peace, a way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two states," Ashton added.

The Palestinians reluctantly agreed to launch the indirect talks in May after months of shuttle diplomacy by US envoy George Mitchell, but said they would not move to direct talks without a complete Israeli settlement freeze.

Ashton called on Israel "to refrain from measures which may undermine the ongoing (indirect) proximity talks," where mediators shuttle between the two parties.

"These talks enjoy our full support and the parties need to engage seriously in these negotiations," the EU foreign affairs chief underlined.

Israeli police clashed on Sunday with some 200 Palestinian protesters in an Arab neighbourhood of east Jerusalem that is the planned site of the controversial archaeological park.

The clashes occurred in Silwan, an Arab neighbourhood, which has been the focus of the plan by Jerusalem municipality to raze 22 Arab homes to make way for an archaeological park.

Silwan is part of the so-called Holy Basin, just outside the walls of Jerusalem's famed Old City, and is believed to be the site of ancient Jerusalem during the time of the biblical kings David and Solomon.

It is now a crowded Arab neighbourhood in a part of the city occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move not recognised internationally.

Israel considers the whole of Jerusalem as its "eternal and indivisible" capital while the Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their promised state.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Rival Hamas, UN summer camps compete over children

"While Hamas and the U.N. may use the opportunity to get their ideas across, the motive for many Gaza parents and youngsters in turning to the camps is the same as that of families around the world: The camps break up an otherwise tedious summer.

The problem is particularly acute in Gaza, which offers few diversions. Families tend to be large, many homes are crowded and kids are often sent into the streets by stressed parents. Frequent power cuts make idle days more miserable.

Mahmoud Migdad, a 15-year-old from the Shati refugee camp, says he often gets yelled at by neighbors for playing football in the streets and gets kicked out of the house by his older sisters when they want to clean. He says that's why he's not only joined a Hamas camp, but is also trying to sign up for the U.N. program."

Rival Hamas, UN summer camps compete over children
While the plight of Palestinians in Lebanon has similarities with that of migrants elsewhere, there are also unique political dimensions to the debate over Palestinian rights [EPA]

My letter to the Washington Post RE Flirting with zealotry in Malaysia By Jackson Diehl

RE: Flirting with zealotry in Malaysia By Jackson Diehl

Dear Editor,

In 1948 United Nations (page 4 on the PDF file ) Mediator Count Folke Bernadotte pointed out that "It would be an offence against the principles of justice if those innocent victims [Palestinian refugees] could not return to their homes while [Zionist] immigrants flowed into Palestine to take their place." This is still true today- and each and every Palestinian child knows this as an absolute fact.

It is not zealotry or extremism to be horrified by Israel's rampant institutionalized bigotry and flagrant violations of international law & the Palestinians' basic human rights (...inalienable legal, moral and natural rights- regardless of borders or lack thereof.)

It is not zealotry or extremism to be firm in objecting to the pervasive persecution, impoverishment, and displacement of the native non-Jewish population of historic Palestine.

It is not zealotry or extremism to "stridently" demand that Israel stop demolishing Palestinians homes and communities- and peace.

It is not zealotry or extremism to be sincerely concerned about the largest, longest running refugee crisis in the world today- nor is it zealotry or extremism to condemn any nation or group that systemically pushes vulnerable men, women and children in poverty and forced exile because of their family's religion or ethnic background.

America's foolish support of home wrecking Israel OBVIOUSLY empowers radicals, religious extremists and various hate mongers and petty tyrants worldwide- including but not limited to Israel's own generously subsidized Jewish "scholars" and settlers.

The global information age gives people world wide the power to see and explore what Israel really is and does. By foolishly sustaining a status quo of "pro-Israel" punditry in our mainstream newspapers' news and opinion sections, a diverse and growing crowd of people from all walks of life can not help but be pushed away from being pro-American period. I'd rather not help that happen.... what about you?

Anne Selden Annab

A protester carries a Palestinian flag in front of the United Nations headquarters in Beirut, Sunday. Several thousand Palestinians and Lebanese civil activists converged on central Beirut demanding more rights for Palestinians, many of whom live in squalid and over-crowded refugee camps in Lebanon. Khalil Hassan/Reuters

photos of the day

June 27, 2010

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Palestinian refugees seek basic rights in Lebanon

An estimated 400,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon

Palestinian refugees seek basic rights in Lebanon

BEIRUT — Thousands of Palestinian refugees gathered on Sunday outside UN headquarters in Beirut to demand basic civil rights in Lebanon, such as a choice of jobs and ownership of property.

The protest organised by Palestinian and Lebanese non-government organisations was initially due to be held outside the parliament building in downtown Beirut.

"The police outside parliament usually ban any protest there," said Maher Shehadeh, one of the Palestinian organisers. So the protesters gathered instead several hundred metres (yards) away outside the UN headquarters.

Maher said 6,000 people were taking parting in the peaceful protest.

The Palestinians travelled in buses from Lebanon's 12 refugee camps for the Beirut gathering organised by Palestinian and Lebanese non-governmental organisations.

"Working is a right," "We want to live in dignity," read placards carried by the protesters.

"I have the right to own property," said another, summing up the frustration of the tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees who live in dire conditions in Lebanon.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) lists almost 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, a country of four million inhabitants.

But Lebanese and Palestinian officials say the actual number may be as low as 250,000 as UNRWA does not strike off its list those who move to other countries.

The majority of UNRWA-registered refugees live in dire conditions in the camps across and are denied basic civil rights.

Under Lebanese law, Palestinian refugees can not own property or hold most white collar jobs (doctors, engineers, lawyers, architects) and are stuck in low-paid employment.

They are also denied social security and medical aid in state hospitals.

"There are 10 to 15 of us who live crammed in our room. Our children have no future and those who are sick end up dying at the doors of hospitals," said Mahmud Rashid, a farmer from Rashidiyeh camp in south Lebanon.

Oum Rabih Ghneim who accompanied her husband to the protest from northern Lebanon said their home in the Nahr al-Bared camp was destroyed during deadly fighting between Islamists and the Lebanese army in 2007.

"We are not even allowed to buy a one-room apartment," in the northern port city of Tripoli, she said.

Sunday's protest came days after heated debate in parliament among MPs who support granting broader rights to the refugees, including the right to obtain social security, and others, including Christians, who expressed reservations.

Many politicians fear the permanent resettlement of refugees in Lebanon arguing that it would tip the fragile demographic balance in the country, where 64 percent are Muslim and 35 percent Christian.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved