Saturday, October 9, 2010

Mira Awad: Israel's Palestinian singing star caught between worlds

A year after representing a united Israel at the Eurovision song contest with her Jewish partner, Palestinian singer and actress Mira Awad is still being asked to pick sidesMira Awad at her home in Tel Aviv. Photograph: GALI TIBBON

Mira Awad: Israel's Palestinian singing star caught between worlds

For a high-profile singer and actress with a three-album deal and a leading role in a forthcoming Israeli film, Mira Awad is unusually preoccupied with questions of identity.

Tonight she will receive a human rights award from the New Israel Fund at the Bloomsbury Ballroom in London, along with the Israeli-Jewish singing star, Noa. But not everybody will be celebrating back home.

As a Palestinian citizen of Israel, Awad is a member of a minority within the Jewish state that, while nominally equal, faces discrimination and challenges from both sides about loyalty and identity. The very reason for the award – her decision to represent Israel with Noa in the 2009 Eurovision Song contest – provoked a storm of controversy.

"Each side wants me to align myself with them," she says in her small Tel Aviv flat. "Israelis would like me to show alliance with the Israeli state, to prove my loyalty. On the other side, I have to prove my loyalty to the Palestinians who ask if I have forgotten my father was kicked out of his village in 1948.

"I'm tired of being cornered all the time, of having to explain myself. Most of the time I'm making both sides unhappy because I don't do what they want. But I don't live in a black-and-white world. This place is very complicated." ...READ MORE

Friday, October 8, 2010

Prayers for Peace

Prayers for Peace
Artist: Helen Zughaib

The Arab American National Museum celebrates Helen Thomas with a warm reception & a statue

Ibtisam Barakat ابتسام بركات From the Arab American National Muesum: on Flikr -- All the photos from the book awards ceremony and honoring Helen Thomas in Washington, DC on Monday, October 4, 2010.
AANM-288 by Arab American National Museum

The Arab American National Museum raised the $10,000 it was seeking to finance a statue of Helen Thomas to be placed in its Dearborn building across from City Hall. The sculpture is by former White House photographer and Virginia-based artist Susan Tinsley McElhinney

Sam Donaldson and Ralph Nader and the award winning Palestinian American poet Ibtisam Barakat, author of Tasting the Sky, were some of the notable people who attended the ceremony honoring Helen Thomas at the Arab American National Museum.

Helen Thomas, the recently retired “Dean of the White House Press Corps,” is a legendary journalist and Arab American. Thomas was born in Kentucky to Lebanese immigrant parents but raised primarily in Detroit, where she graduated from Wayne State University.

Thomas covered presidential administrations from Eisenhower through Obama, working more than five decades for United Press International (UPI) and later for Hearst Newspapers. She marked her 90th birthday in August.

Thomas is considered a pioneer for women in journalism. Unfortunately Thomas was forced to resign from Hearst Newspapers in June after telling a rabbi on camera that Israelis should "get the hell out of Palestine" and "go home" to "Poland, Germany and America, and everywhere else." Thomas later apologized for her comments (which had very much been taken out of context)

Helen Thomas has received numerous awards through out the years and more than 30 honorary degrees. In 1976, Thomas was named one of the World Almanac's 25 Most Influential Women in America. The White House Correspondent's Association honored her in 1998 by establishing the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2000, her alma mater, Wayne State University, established an award for journalists in her honor, the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity award. In 2007, Thomas received a Foremother Award from the National Research Center for Women & Families.Anyone can see this photo

My letter to The Independent RE " Israel may force citizens to vow loyalty to Jewish state"

RE: Israel may force citizens to vow loyalty to Jewish state

Dear Editor,

Israel is wrong to refer to their Jews-preferred policies and investments as the "Law of Return"... and the rest of the world should take care not to fall for Zionist word games and obfuscations that create injustice and apartheid in the Holy Land as indigenous Palestinians continue to be cruelly impoverished, oppressed and displaced by Zionist policies.

The vast majority of Palestinians have already been pushed into forced exile... and the catastrophe continues: Currently 85 per cent of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are in debt and high taxes imposed by Israel will be more effective than demolition of their homes in making them move. "Jewish colonists, however, living in colonies in the [illegally] Occupied West Bank, do not have to pay taxes for long periods of time, on the pretext that they’re living in areas which are still developing."
High property taxes could force Palestinians out of Occupied Jerusalem

Developing? Palestinians have lived in Palestine for thousands of years- they have built homes and planted orchards and gardens and created beautiful embroidered dresses with every town having its own unique designs.
Experts in the field trace the origins of Palestinian costumes to ancient times.

This week modern man made Israel's generously subsidized Jewish colonists harvested the olives of Palestinian trees and subsequently damaged several, and on Monday settlers set fire to a mosque in the Bethlehem-area village of Beit Fajjar. Settlers torch farmlands near Nablus

In 1948 the UN clearly referred to and affirmed the Palestinian refugees inalienable right to RETURN. Zionists need to find another more accurate and telling word to describe their Jews-preferred immigration practices
and institutionalized bigotry. Then perhaps a just and lasting peace might have a chance of becoming a reality for all the many innocent men women and children currently being seriously harmed by the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Anne Selden Annab


UN Resolution 194 from 1948 : 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

Kairos Document, a moment of truth The Kairos Document is a word to the world from Palestinian Christians on what is happening in Palestine and Israel. It was launched in Bethlehem in December 2009. The document calls on the international community to stand by the Palestinian people who have faced oppression, displacement, suffering and functional apartheid for more than six decades. It stands in the tradition of an earlier Kairos Document, launched by Christians in 1985, that addressed the political situation in South Africa during its apartheid era.

A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of the Palestinian suffering

Sliman Mansour: Perseverance and Hope

Columbia University opens Center for Palestine Studies- the first devoted to the study of Palestine and Palestinians at an academic institution in USA

Palestinian Nation-Building Reaches Halfway Point: Palestinains getting ready "for that rendezvous with freedom"

This Week in Palestine Book of the Month- Raising Dust: A Cultural History of Dance in Palestine

ATFP 2010 featuring Arab Artwork- promoting Palestine & Peace

Vatican synod mulls Middle East Christian exodus

Laws of the Street Reign in East Jerusalem Neighborhood By Michael Khaled for MIFTAH

Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer, a model of honorable journalism, granted a journalism award from Norway

The Boston Palestine Film Festival (BPFF ): "Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to do remarkable things."

Growing Gardens for Palestine

The Golden Rule... Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

Sliman Mansour: Perseverance and Hope

Sliman Mansour: Perseverance and Hope 1976

Sliman Mansour
(Arabic: سليمان منصور‎, born 1947), is a Palestinian painter, considered an important figure among contemporary Palestinian artists

Columbia University opens Center for Palestine Studies- the first devoted to the study of Palestine and Palestinians at an academic institution in USA

Columbia University opens Center for Palestine Studies

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Columbia University inaugurated the Center for Palestine Studies on Thursday, officially launching its first year of public programming with a screening of Palestinian director Michel Khleifi's Zindeeq, the university said.

Founded in January 2010, the center is the first devoted to the study of Palestine and Palestinians at an academic institution in the US. The university's website said the center's mission is to promote the academic study of Palestine "in all its forms and to offer a dedicated site for sustained interchanges among scholars and students."

The center will also promote scholarship and facilitate exchanges with scholars, students, and academic institutions in the West Bank and Gaza, and among refugees and others in the Palestinian diaspora and advance the production and circulation of knowledge of Palestinian history, culture, society, and politics in diverse scholarly fields, including history, literary studies, the social sciences, religion, philosophy, law, archaeology, the arts, and architecture.

Forming part of the university's Middle East Institute, the center will serve as an institutional home at Columbia for faculty, post-doctoral researchers, and students working on Palestine and Palestinian studies.

"The Center is actively developing contacts with scholars and other institutions for the purposes of academic cooperation. Through its diverse activities, the Center for Palestine Studies will have a national and global reach. Enhancements to the curriculum, library and faculty at Columbia will translate into new resources to advance the academic study of Palestine and Palestinians throughout the United States and the world," the website read.

The university said the center honored the scholarly legacy of Edward Said, who taught at Columbia for 40 yeas. "Edward Said's legacy continues to draw prominent scholars of Palestine to the university. Columbia annually hosts the prestigious Said Lectures, which bring distinguished international figures to the campus."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Palestinian Nation-Building Reaches Halfway Point: Palestinains getting ready "for that rendezvous with freedom"

Palestinian Nation-Building Reaches Halfway Point

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is midway through an ambitious two-year effort to build his government's institutions in order to build a viable Palestinian state if peace negotiations with Israel are successful. Analysts are mixed in their reviews about the results of this nation-building.

The outlines of a Palestinian state have begun to emerge in the West Bank. Palestinian security forces have become more dependable. A transparent and disciplined government is providing a growing number of essential services, and economic growth has been strong.

Preparing for statehood

This is all part of a plan by the Palestinian prime minister to prepare for the future. "Namely to get ready for statehood, to get ready for that key deliverable of the political process, for that state of Palestine we thought was not going to be founded against a backdrop of a vacuum, but on the strength of solid, well functioning, efficient institutions of government," said Fayyad.

The West Bank remains occupied by Israel with soldiers and Jewish settlements scattered throughout the territory. Many analysts remain skeptical that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will yield an agreement leading to Israel handing over control of much of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority.

But observers such as Howard Sumka, the former director of the USAID Mission to the West Bank and Gaza, say now is the time to build the foundations needed for Palestinian statehood. "They cannot start to learn their jobs or build their institutions the day after independence. They will need to be already proficient. In spite of the formidable obstacles, it is imperative that they stay on this track of state building," said Sumka.

Pragmatic approach

Challenging the Palestinian Authority is Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, which is home to 1.5 million Palestinians. Hamas opposes peace efforts and is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and other nations.

Critics of Prime Minister Fayyad's program argue he is operating in an authoritarian, rather than a democratic, context because of the division of Gaza and the West Bank.

Professor Nathan Brown teaches political science and international affairs at George Washington University. He said, "The political split between the West Bank and Gaza is so severe, that you cannot even have any kind of democratic procedures. When you move outside the realm of administration you find real serious political diseases. The political party system is basically disintegrated. It does not really exist in any healthy form anymore. Palestinian politics, if you compare it to the 1990's, is in a state of serious decay."

Brown argues that even if there is a peace agreement within the next year, the Palestinian political system is so broken there would be no way to ratify or implement it. "Why are we pretending that there is a viable diplomatic process? You have got no parliament, you have got a PLO that is dead, and you have got a president whose term is expired. He has no authority to negotiate this agreement and certainly to implement it, even if he had the authority to negotiate it. What you have got to do is fix the Palestinian political system first."

Safety net

During talks in 2000 at the U.S. presidential retreat Camp David, the Israelis and Palestinians failed to reach a comprehensive peace agreement. That failure is often cited as a reason for the breakout of the second intifada, the violent Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation.

Advocacy Director Ghaith Al-Omari of the American Task Force on Palestine was a Palestinian negotiator at Camp David in 2000. He supports Mr. Fayyad's state-building effort, even if the U.S.-led peace negotiations fall short of a comprehensive deal.

"It creates a safety net in case of a stalemate or collapse. There is a likelihood, there is a possibility that this peace process might collapse, come the spring, come next summer, we might realize it is not going to get us to a deal. Do we go back to a Camp David kind of scenario - negotiations fail, everything is over. Or do we start investing right now in a process that can help us sustain a degree of hope as we start to reassemble negotiations?" asked Al-Omari.

Mr. Fayyad thinks his state-building efforts will bolster the chances for a positive outcome in the peace process, despite decades of failure. "There is a whole lot to complain about in Palestine, believe me, and even to cry about, and I do a lot of both. But that is not enough as a matter of fact. Alongside all of that I think we all can agree that we Palestinians should try in the best possible way to do the best we can to get ready for that rendezvous with freedom."

Mr. Fayyad said Palestinians feel closer to the day they will have their own state, not because they underestimate the difficulties associated with the peace negotiations, but because there is a growing sense of self-empowerment as ordinary citizens in the West Bank can count on their government to provide the basic security and services a new nation will require.

This Week in Palestine Book of the Month- Raising Dust: A Cultural History of Dance in Palestine

Book of the Month
Raising Dust: A Cultural History of Dance in Palestine
By Nicholas Rowe
I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2010, 244 pages, $50.00
Raising Dust by Nicholas Rowe is the first book of its kind to focus solely on Palestinian dance, past and present. The book is divided into four parts that discuss dance history and practices in Palestine from biblical times through the second Intifada, though the main context is post-1948 Nakba and how dance emerged as an act of resistance to Zionist policies that aimed to erase Palestinians and their culture.

The book is remarkable and a pleasure to read. It is remarkable not because of the writing alone but because of the work that has been put into it - clearly not the sole result of research. The author, an Australian dancer and choreographer, has spent many years working with various dance groups in Palestine and has thus experienced the grim realities of Palestinian life. The book opens with the author describing his entry into “Palestinian territories” through Kalandia Checkpoint on a tear-gassy day, and closes years later, with the author and his dance students being arrested, beaten, and humiliated by Israeli soldiers near Hebron.

The author maintains that dance is a cultural performance by an indigenous people who fell victim to the violence of colonisation. Dance in this context becomes loaded with national significance, and the dancing body becomes organically connected to other dancing bodies, weaving together as they go a sense of cohesion and unity. Dance becomes resistance because it sustains a sense of collective identity, indigenous authenticity, and national pride, and materialises the imagined community, be it the lost ones of the past, or the wished-for ones of the present and the future. Yet dance is not a natural phenomenon but a discursive one that can be subject to socio-political powers and ideological conflicts. Through dance, for example, Palestinian communities ritualistically reinstated the social order, such as that between man and woman, individual and community, culture and politics. Through the course of its development, however, Palestinian dance came to question these very notions of social order and hierarchy. The author maintains a critical perspective that neither romanticises nor orientalises this cultural phenomenon. In fact, it is very refreshing to read such a book by a Westerner.

My only take against the book is its scope of research that is limited to the West Bank, specifically to Ramallah, the cultural capital of the newly founded Palestine. In addition, the book starts by discussing Palestinian dance in general but then gradually focuses on the two dance groups, El-Funoun el-Sha’biyah and Sarreyet Ramallah. There is no discussion of dance amongst exiled communities or amongst Palestinians who remained in historical Palestine and became Israeli citizens. Did dance disappear from their cultural life? What has become of dance there, as a social ritual? Did it have any significance in promoting and sustaining a sense of cultural or national identity? What about Palestinian refugee communities in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and other places in the world? Perhaps this is too much to ask for in one book. I hope that this work will encourage other scholars and researchers to take further this important work that fills a vacuum when it comes to research and writings on Palestinian performing arts.

Review by Sobhi al-Zobaidi.

ATFP 2010 featuring Arab Artwork- promoting Palestine & Peace

The American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) is a a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, DC. ATFP is dedicated to advocating that it is in the American national interest to promote an end to the conflict in the Middle East through a negotiated agreement that provides for two states - Israel and Palestine - living side by side in peace and security. The Task Force was established in 2003 to provide an independent voice for Palestinian-Americans and their supporters and to promote peace. AFTP’s Board of Directors is made up of a large group of noted Palestinian-Americans who agree with these principles.

Contemporary Jacket: The jacket is the work of the Qalandia Camp’s Women Handicraft Cooperative, a non-profit, non-governmental organization established in 1958 by 20 women from the Qalandia Refugee Camp, located in the outskirts of Jerusalem. The cooperative was the first women's society established and registered in a Palestinian refugee camp. Since its inception, the number of women members has increased to reach 185 in 2000. The jacket design is based on traditional Palestinian embroidery, but is infused with new life, thanks to the bright color combinations and integration of new modern unusual shapes alongside more traditional ones.

ATFP Silent Auction 2010

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives: 6 of 8 David Roberts Jerusalem set

Three Women at the Fountain Sultan Qaitbey by George Kosinksi

Beit/Home by Helen Zughaib

By the River by Adel Sansur

ATFP Hosts Gaza Business Delegation in Washington DC October 6, 2010 The group met with Asali and Ibish, discussed US foreign policy towards Gaza and the Palestinians generally, state and institution building in the West Bank, economic development and reconstruction in Gaza, and Palestinian national strategy.

ATFP’s Cultural Committee* is also pleased to introduce the Artists’ Corner at our Silent Auction, where we will be showcasing the work of three uniquely talented contemporary Arab artists: Ahmad Al Karkhi, Adel Sansur and Helen Zughaib. Be sure to visit our website to get a glimpse of their distinctive art pieces which will also be available to bid on or to buy on the night of the Gala (click here).

Vatican synod mulls Middle East Christian exodus

Vatican synod mulls Middle East Christian exodus

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor 50 mins ago

PARIS (Reuters) – With Christianity dwindling in its Middle Eastern birthplace, Pope Benedict has convened Catholic bishops from the region to debate how to save its minority communities and promote harmony with their Muslim neighbors.

For two weeks starting on Sunday, the bishops will discuss problems for the faithful ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and strife in Iraq to radical Islamism, economic crisis and the divisions among the region's many Christian churches.

They come from local churches affiliated with the Vatican, but the relentless exodus of all Christians -- Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants -- has prompted them to take a broad look at the challenges facing all followers of Jesus there.

While conditions for Christians vary from country to country, the overall picture is dramatic. Christians made up around 20 percent of the region's population a century ago, but now account for about five percent and falling.

"If this phenomenon continues, Christianity in the Middle East will disappear," said Rev. Samir Khalil Samir, a Beirut-based Egyptian Jesuit who helped draw up the working documents for the October 10-24 synod at the Vatican.

"This is not an unreal hypothesis -- Turkey went from 20 percent Christian in the early 20th century to 0.2 percent now," he told journalists in Paris. The Christian exodus since the U.S.-led 2003 invasion "could bleed the Church in Iraq dry."


Instead of simply appealing for more aid to Catholics in the region, the experts who prepared the synod call for sweeping social changes to bring forth democratic secular states, interfaith cooperation and a rollback of advancing Islamism.

"At issue is the renewal of Arab society," said Samir, who stressed most Christians and Muslims there are fellow Arabs.

Challenged by western-style modernity, many Middle Eastern societies have fused their Arab and Muslim identities, he said, narrowing religious freedom for non-Muslim minorities.

The working document stated: "Catholics, along with other Christian citizens and Muslim thinkers and reformers, ought to be able to support initiatives at examining thoroughly the concept of the 'positive laicity' of the state.

"This could help eliminate the theocratic character of government and allow for greater equality among citizens of different religions, thereby fostering the promotion of a sound democracy, positively secular in nature."

The document pins most of the blame for the Christian exodus on political tensions in the region: "Today, emigration is particularly prevalent because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the resulting instability throughout the region."...READ MORE

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Laws of the Street Reign in East Jerusalem Neighborhood By Michael Khaled for MIFTAH

MIFTAH VISION: An independent, democratic and sovereign Palestinian state, which grants Palestinians their basic rights, preserves their dignity, and enjoys international recognition and respect.

Date posted: October 06, 2010
By Michael Khaled for MIFTAH

Living in Jerusalem has been a rollercoaster. On one hand, its extraordinary history and status can make anyone’s time here surreal. On the other, since it’s the geographical and emotional center of the conflict, people have become hardened and suspicious.

Palestinian-Arab neighborhoods exhibit this perhaps the worst of all, since every aspect of the city’s supposedly legitimate system seems to be against the Palestinians living there creating a vacuum of authority. Some of the avenues of oppression include tenuous residency status, evictions, house demolitions, lack of basic services like trash collection or land registry, discriminatory zoning, police brutality, and settler harassment. With no avenue to voice their concerns to the ‘proper’ authorities, the only vehicle to establish order is an array of social customs and the influence of strong arms who enforce them.

The day before yesterday I became a victim of the Jerusalem mentality while visiting some friends in one of those neighborhoods: Al-Issawiya. Notorious for its closed society and frequent violence, I was told many times by residents that the people here don’t like outsiders.

My friends live in a two-bedroom apartment near the edge of the neighborhood, thinking that would be the safest place for three college girls to live. At first there wasn’t a problem, they only had to deal with a few catcalls. As they got more comfortable and started inviting people to visit, including some males, the catcalls turned to cursing and pranks. These young men knew that in conservative Palestinian society, women who hang out with men are often looked down upon and no one would stop them if they upped the ante from being an irritation to harassment.

Derogatory jokes turned to late night bangs on the door and vandalized cars and seemed to culminate one night when a rooftop prankster dumped a bucket of water on us outside their building.

Then two nights ago, I met them at their apartment and brought my briefcase with my laptop and cell phones in so I could get some work done before we went out. Around 9 o’clock we locked up to go and when we returned two hours later, the whole two-bedroom apartment was torn apart. Three computers, cell phones and all their gold jewelry was gone. On the table the burglars left a lock of brown hair, a message that this wasn’t a random incident.

We thought to call the Israeli police but the neighbors warned against it saying that even if the police did come (which was unlikely), the neighborhood would mobilize and protect their own from the authorities. What’s more, bringing the police may even put whoever called them in danger to set an example. They said the best thing was to leave it to the neighborhood leaders to find the culprit and reclaim the stolen items quietly. The thieves would likely get away with it but we may get our things back.

Once news of the burglary spread, the whole street began filling with the men of the neighborhood shouting and arguing. Some were sympathetic to the burglars saying the girls had no business being in the neighborhood, while others were incensed that anyone would violate the safety of their neighborhood regardless of who the target was.

They may not have known whether they could get away with it completely, but the burglars were certainly emboldened by the knowledge that even if the authorities came to investigate, no one in the neighborhood would cooperate. The only thing they had to fear was the court of the neighborhood’s opinion, and on that count, they already knew the girls' standing there would work against them. In the end, the judgment of the street seemed to have fallen with the thieves. Everyone claimed ignorance and our things are still missing.

The next day the girls began packing their things and left the neighborhood behind looking to find a place less than a kilometer away on the Hebrew University campus which butts right up to the edge of the neighborhood. In the mainly Jewish areas at the top of the hill (on land that was confiscated from Al-Issawiya immediately after the 1967 war), order is kept by the Israeli-run municipal authorities which is responsive to the Jewish residents there.

Just three kilometers northeast of Jerusalem’s center, the Issawiyeh neighborhood has been subject to years of abuse by the municipality. It is surrounded on all sides by the enveloping university campus and Hadassah Hospital to the west and south, Jewish settlements to the north the separation barrier to the east. It once took up more than 10,000 dunam (2,471 acres). Then when Israel annexed east Jerusalem it split 7,000 dunam (1,729 acres) away making it part of the occupied West Bank and leaving only 3,000 dunam (741 acres) within Jerusalem’s new boundaries.

During the 2008-2009 war on Gaza, Israel closed the most convenient entrance for residents on the way to or from central Jerusalem in an effort to keep the residents separated and invisible to the nearby Jewish Israeli population. Authorities tore up the road and blocked it with cement and dirt piled high so only foot traffic could pass through. The stated reason was to quell unrest from demonstrators in the neighborhood and enhance “security”, yet all it did was make the residents coming and going take a longer rout, giving them another reason to be agitated.

Perhaps the most unsettling, if not unexpected, tool Israel uses to keep the Palestinian residents of Al-Issawiya cowed is the overwhelming force used by riot police which I saw firsthand during the recent unrest that spread across the city after two Jerusalem Palestinians were killed by an Israeli security guard. More than a dozen police officers with full riot gear would descend on the main remaining entry to the neighborhood to square off with masked young men.

In the first days, the demonstrators began the clashes by closing the entrance with stones and setting trash on fire to block passage. But after a few days the demonstrators stopped showing up and so when the police arrived to quell a non-existent riot, they began throwing dozens of stun grenades to wake up the neighborhood and start the clashes.

Crowd control police were so liberal with their “non-lethal” weapons last week that they used so much tear gas within the dense neighborhood, a 14-month-old infant in his home actually suffocated from inhaling too much.

As the subjects of so much authoritarian abuse it makes me understand a little about why the people in the neighborhood dislike outsiders. The police have no presence inside the neighborhood other than quelling the discontented outbursts that come every now and then when residents feel they must do something to voice their anger at the system.

The authorities in charge in the neighborhood are the influential elders and tough guys who keep their own brand of order in place, and anyone who tries to bring anything new or alien is seen as a threat. If the people are left to find justice for themselves within this essentially lawless bubble, how can the community ever move beyond enforcing simple social taboos?

Michael Khaled is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). He can be contacted at

Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer, a model of honorable journalism, granted a journalism award from Norway grants award to Rafah journalist

Published Sunday 03/10/2010 (updated) 04/10/2010 22:37

RAFAH (Ma'an) -- A 25-year-old Palestinian journalist from the southern Gaza Strip has been granted a journalism award from Norway.

The award is funded by the Norwegian Union of Journalists, Norwegian weekly newspaper Morgenbladet, Norwegian People’s Aid and individuals.

In a statement, the Norwegian committee described recipient Mohammed Omer, from Rafah, as "a voice for the voiceless, for the population of Gaza that has too often been forgotten by the world community."

Omer runs the website Rafah Today, and has contributed to The Nation, New Statesman, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and Inter Press Service, among others.

Returning from an award ceremony in 2008, in which he collected the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, Omer was taken aside by Israeli security at the Allenby crossing from Jordan, brutally beaten and seriously bruised, with complicated rib fractures and neck injuries, the committee said.

The committee further noted that Omer continued to file reports about Gaza while receiving medical treatment in Dutch hospitals, and acknowledged his journalistic courage and integrity.

Prominent academic Noam Chomsky said he had been following Omer's work for several years, and was pleased to learn of his award, "an honor that he richly deserves."

"Under conditions of extreme adversity, he has reported with honesty and insight about the prolonged savage and criminal assault on Gaza. He has endured severe torture by Israeli authorities, from which he has yet to recover, but has continued his work with courage and integrity. It is no exaggeration to say that he can serve as a model of honorable journalism," the professor said.

Omer said he became a journalist at the age of 17 after witnessing Israeli forces demolishing homes in his neighborhood in Rafah, and Israeli tanks firing at local families. He decided to carry a camera and a pen instead of a gun, he explained.

Expressing his "infinite gratitude" to Norway, Omer said he hoped to continue to report the stories of the people of Gaza rather than statements from officials.

"My people have suffered with great courage and fortitude in a situation which few people around the world would be able to face," Omer said, adding that it was distressing that the international media had turned its back on the humanitarian crisis in the besieged Gaza Strip.

Concerning the obstacles facing journalists in Gaza, Omer said the frequent electricity outages made it difficult to meet deadlines. Further, he said he had noticed a growing reluctance among residents of Gaza to talk to the press. Omer suggested this was because residents of the coastal enclave had lost hope.

In the future, Omer said he hoped to pursue academic research on media discourse and objectivity in the Palestinian context.

The committee said the award aimed "to focus on the situation of the free press in support of independent journalism, in a region where the freedom of the press is endangered by censorship and self-censoring, and where international agreements intended to provide security and legal protection for journalists are not respected."

My letter to The Guardian RE "The Palestinian president is too weak and compromised to accept any final settlement with which Netanyahu can live"

RE: Netanyahu, Abbas and the legitimacy deficit, The Palestinian president is too weak and compromised to accept any final settlement with which Netanyahu can live

Dear Editor,

Many Jewish writers (left, right and center) obviously wish to convince the world that Abbas has no popular support, thus convincing people worldwide not to support a negotiated settlement to once and for all end the Israel/Palestine conflict with a two state solution.

Many foolish pundits (left, right and center across the board) ignoring the perils of religious tyranny also seem to want to help put Islamists into power. Few pundits and opinionators recognize that a free and fully secular Palestine living in peace alongside a fully secular Israel will be ruled by fair and just laws- and led by various elected leaders: Abbas will retire and be respected for daring to invest in non-violent resistance to Israeli violations of international law and the Palestinians' basic human rights.

The big picture is that Palestine is not owned by any one leader or pundit or religious fanatic. Palestine is a diverse mix of real people, gentle people, decent people, loving people, and many supporters. Furthermore the Palestinian refugees inalienable right to return to original homes and lands is a reasonable right, a basic human right that we all take for granted as we grow gardens and update our kitchens and come and go as we engage in the business of life. It does not matter why you are away from home- but it does matter that the political powers that be allow you to return and to reclaim your own property and your own inheritance.

Anne Selden Annab

Growing Gardens for Palestine

The Golden Rule... Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Boston Palestine Film Festival (BPFF ): "Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to do remarkable things."


1 Oct 2010 5:57 PM By Omar Baddar

The Boston Palestine Film Festival (BPFF) will kick off its 4th annual series this Friday, October 1st, with an opening reception and film at the Museum of Fine Arts. On the face of it, it may seem like just another cool series to attend this fall (and that much it certainly is), but the journey that led the Boston Palestine Film Festival to where it is today is one of the most inspiring testaments to the extraordinary power of only a few committed activists to bring people together every year.

In October 2007, a local restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts witnessed the jubilant closing reception of the first Boston Palestine Film Festival, propounding a moment of reflection on the incredible success of what had long been an ambitious vision brewing in the minds of a few activists. It was the emergence of Tawassul, an organization dedicated to promoting Palestinian arts and culture, coupled with the enthusiasm of a former film curator at the Museum of Fine Arts for the idea that finally brought the Boston Palestine Film Festival to fruition.

The Festival is remarkably popular in Boston, with thousands attending it each year. Salma Abu Ayyash, a lead organizer who has been with the project from the beginning, notes that attendance had grown by 17% in 2008, and by a stellar 42% in 2009. "The comments we get from people are very encouraging," said Ayyash. She added:

We spend roughly the whole year preparing for the festival with varying intensities depending on how close we are to the actual festival time. It's a labor of love and we are often burned out and frustrated. But during the festival, the way it's received and the comments we get from people-that's what keeps us going year after year.

Susan Barney, a local activist, had this to say about the Festival:

It really is, quite honestly, the highlight of the year in so many ways. It brings the community together in a very different way than all our other work; it really makes a difference to have the festival. It gives us something to look forward to and focus on, something that is uplifting and positive--even though the content of so many of the films reflects the painful and tragic reality for Palestinians.

The unmistakable streaks of the Boston Palestine Film Festival's logo become ubiquitous in the lead up to the Festival, appearing on wall advertisements in the T (the Boston subway system); on brochures, posters, and flyers; in local transit and school newspapers, and online. The Festival also gets reviewed in the city's leading paper, the Boston Globe.

Kate Rouhana, one of the Festival's organizers, said that it was a "critical objective of BPFF to empower and inspire Palestinians to tell their own stories through the medium of cinema." Citing the scarcity of markets as a major inhibiting factor that keeps aspiring Palestinian artists from gaining visibility and experience, Rouhana said:

In our own small local way, by providing one such forum and modeling for other Palestine Film Festivals to follow, we hope to nurture and inspire a new generation of artists who can bring Palestine and its people vividly alive in the consciousness of the world.

Over the past few years, BPFF has slowly grown beyond films to include a wide range of artistic performances. This year's festival includes the Boston debut of the stand up comedy show Arabs Gone Wild, a live musical performance by Le Trio Joubran, a panel discussion on the future of Palestinian cinema, and a wide range of films and documentaries, many including a Q&A session with their directors (click here for this year's full schedule).

Zooming out a little from Boston, this film festival has served as a catalyst for a broader momentum that is worth highlighting. Katherine Hanna, another organizer with the Boston Palestine Film Festival, notes that there were only two other Palestine film festivals, in Chicago and London, before Boston harnessed the energy to put its first festival together in 2007. Today, there are annual Palestine Film Festivals in Houston, Toronto, and Ann Arbor; and an aspiring Palestine Film Festival in Fayetteville, AR. The organizers also coordinate and share information with a Human Rights film festival with a Palestine focus in New Orleans, as well as the Arab film festivals in San Francisco and Sydney. Hanna has also been in touch with individuals in San Diego and Brussels, working on the prospects of starting Palestine Film Festivals in their cities in the near future. The energy is contagious and it is catching on in different parts of the world.

Salma Abu Ayyash is hopeful that the growing popularity of the Festival will raise awareness about the injustice under which Palestinians live today and play a constructive role in resolving their grievances:

The more people attend the festival the closer we are to achieving our goal of presenting the Palestinian narrative in a way that will hopefully shift people's notions towards a better understanding of the Palestinian struggle and bring us closer to bringing true peace to the region.

As the slogan goes, "vision is the ability to see what is possible before it becomes obvious." A few years ago, a handful of activists in Boston had a vision of what was possible. This weekend, their creativity, dedication, and hard work will once again be attested to by thousands of people will attend the Boston Palestine Film Festival. Their efforts should remind the politically active and artistically-oriented throughout the country of what Margaret Mead would certainly want to remind them of: to never underestimate the power of a few committed people to do remarkable things.

:: Friday Oct 8, 2010 ::

"... this year's must-see documentary ..."

The New York Times


co-presented with Amnesty International USA -Northeast Regional Office

:: Saturday Oct 9, 2010 ::

with Mahassen Nasser-Eldine

:: Saturday Oct 9, 2010 ::


with Mohammed Alatar

:: Saturday Oct 9, 2010 ::

Stand-Up Comedy Tour


with irreverent Palestinian and other Arab entertainers

:: Sunday Oct 10, 2010 ::

Closing Night Film


with director Kamal AlJafari

Monday, October 4, 2010

My letter to the Boston Globe RE The U.N. gives peace a chance by James Carroll

RE: The U.N. gives peace a chance by James Carroll

Dear Editor,

“We can read familiar lists of grievances. We can table the same resolutions. We can further empower the forces of rejectionism and hate. Or we can say that this time will be different.’’ (James Carroll quoting Barack Obama in "The U.N. gives peace a chance")

Yes indeed this time really will be different for this time all the world is now fully armed by the information age and the obvious ability to better identify and understand manipulative Zionist lies and propaganda- as well as an awareness of the perils of religious tyranny and extremism of any type. Advocating and supporting a FULLY secular two state solution based on FULLY respecting international law and basic human rights (including but not limited to full respect for the Palestinian refugees very real right to return to original homes and lands) is the only possible path towards a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

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

Anne Selden Annab

"In 1991, when the first Bush administration was coaxing Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table, 90,300 Israelis lived in settlements across the West Bank. Today there are 300,000 — and their population is growing by 5 percent a year, more than 2 1/2 times the growth rate inside Israel." Peace talks come and go, but a settlement grows

"Earlier this week the Secretary-General expressed disappointment that Israel had not moved to extend the moratorium on the building of Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory. Mr. Ban reiterated that settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law. He urged Israel to fulfil its obligation under the Roadmap obligation to freeze settlement activity." UN chief presses Middle East leaders to find a way forward

"WEST BANK, Occupied Palestinian Territory, 1 October 2010 – Ask principal Hanan Awwad what it is like to head the Khan al-Ahmar elementary school and she will reply that she feels “fear and exhaustion” – but also great pride. The Ms. Awwad is afraid that her five-room school building could be demolished at any moment. Khan al-Ahmar – an ecologically-friendly school constructed two years ago by the non-governmental Italian Cooperation – was built in an area of the Occupied Palestinian Territory where building permits are rarely granted to Palestinians. Now it has been ordered demolished unless international pressure and court appeals can prevent its destruction." Through conflict and poverty, students in the Occupied Palestinian Territory struggle to learn

"At the end of the day, this is what we know: Israel continues to occupy the Palestinians and their land, it continues to expand illegal settlements and it continues to maintain the self-granted prerogative to bomb, arrest, kill and harass Palestinians at will. In the meantime, the Palestinians continually find themselves on the defensive, having to counter this lopsided image of Israel as the victims (of Palestinians but also of history) at every turn." Israel Needs to Stop Playing the Victim By Joharah Baker for MIFTAH , The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy.

"Palestinian Ahmed Elaian, 86, shows the keys of his home in Israel, abandoned during the 1948 Mideast war, on the 57th anniversary of Al Naqba, or day of catastrophe in the Kalandia refugee camp near the West Bank town of Ramallah. An Israeli high school principal has been summoned for a hearing by the country's Education Ministry for using a textbook presenting the Palestinian narrative about events surrounding Israel's creation in 1948, officials said Friday, Oct. 1, 2010. Israeli Jews celebrate 1948 as the year of their independence, while Palestinians and Israel's Arab citizens mourn what they call 'al-naqba', the catastrophe, the year of their defeat and mass exodus" (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen, File)

Growing Gardens for Palestine

The Golden Rule... Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

Israel Needs to Stop Playing the Victim By Joharah Baker for MIFTAH

Date posted: October 04, 2010
By Joharah Baker for MIFTAH

The Palestinians are constantly being accused of "playing the victim," an unflattering role by any standards. Many Palestinians would agree that we do not want to be portrayed as the victim so as not to delegitimize our argument or weaken our point. Not that we don't have ample reason to call ourselves victims in the face of Israel's oppressive occupying machine. However, putting yourself in this category necessarily means you are accepting a much weaker starting point than your opponent, a position that begs sympathy rather than rational and valid support.

Ironically, Israelis, who themselves often accuse us of this tactic, are even more guilty of it. Actually, their perceived victimization is what they thrive on. What is so baffling is how the same unbecoming tactic works so well for them.

Take for example, the recent trial and conviction of two Israeli soldiers accused of using a nine-year old Palestinian boy as a human shield during the 2008-2009 Gaza war. The soldiers had apparently made the boy open bags they believed may contain explosives, something which the boy's family says has traumatized their son ever since.

Outside the courtroom, the soldiers' army buddies stood in staunch support of their comrades wearing T-shirts with these words embossed on them: "We are all Goldstone's victims," in reference to the famed Richard Goldstone Report on the Gaza war, which accused Israel of war crimes. Using civilians as human shields – especially children – is one of them. The fact that their army friends forced a young child with no choice but to obey in such a horrible situation was not an issue for them. What they were more concerned with was the perceived injustice they had been done by Goldstone in his report. Israel was, after all, defending itself when it went in and killed nearly 1,500 people in the course of three weeks. Making a small boy open a bag they (and he no doubt) believed was rigged with explosives was surely an act of defense against Hamas' rockets, right?

Unfortunately, this is hardly the only "victim" card Israel plays to the world. Everyone understands by now the ultimate victim role played by Israel: that of the Holocaust. It shuts people up, weighs heavily on the consciences of those who still feel pangs of guilt because of it and basically offers Israel a carte blanche for existing both as its own state and as an occupying power. Where else could the Jews have gone after their persecution in WWII? No matter that in granting the victimized Jews a homeland, the world was thus creating a new, fresher victimized nation that had absolutely nothing to do with the Jewish tragedy.

Little exploitations – or littler than what Norman Finkelstein calls the "Holocaust Industry" occur all the time. Israelis portray themselves as a democratic and peaceful nation in a sea of Arab hostility. Their security is so extensive because they are under constant threat of terrorist attacks, both inside the country (by the Palestinians) and outside its borders. Israel is victimized by its terrorist neighbors, the Palestinians, by the "looming" threat of Iran and by the threat of anti-Semitism worldwide. All in all, Israelis have covered just about every base possible, even turning the situation around whereby victimizer becomes the victim, much like in the case of the "Goldstone T-shirts."

Israel could very well be left to its own devices if it were not for the world – the United States in particular – falling prey to the propaganda time and again, thus casting the Palestinians in an unfavorable light. Israel has consistently insisted that its security comes first, trumping any peace deals or settlement with the Palestinians. This twisted logic has been forced down the world's throat for so long it is no longer even questioned. That has put the Palestinians at a constant disadvantage where they are forced to counter claims that they threaten Israel's "security" while watching how Israel creates oppressive facts on the ground in its name.

At the end of the day, this is what we know: Israel continues to occupy the Palestinians and their land, it continues to expand illegal settlements and it continues to maintain the self-granted prerogative to bomb, arrest, kill and harass Palestinians at will. In the meantime, the Palestinians continually find themselves on the defensive, having to counter this lopsided image of Israel as the victims (of Palestinians but also of history) at every turn. Palestinians certainly do not want to be seen only as the victims. At the same time, they also do not want to be forced to defend themselves against Israel's self portrayal as the true victim in this conflict.

It is time the smokescreen was lifted. No fair solution can ever be reached if the parties are not on fair ground. All that is required is for the "powers that be" to call a spade a spade. The Palestinians have their problems and they are responsible for fixing them. Israel, however, cannot be allowed to continue milking the whole victim role, especially when it plays the part of the victimizer. Once upon a time, Jews were victimized in the most horrible of ways. But that time has past and we Palestinians should not be made to take the blame.

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