Saturday, January 1, 2011

WEST BANK: Palestine National Orchestra has its debut

" “We musicians truly believe that a state is not only about buildings and roads, but most importantly it is about its people, their values, their arts and their cumulative cultural identity,” Khoury said.

Some of the Palestinian musicians came from Arab countries, where they grew up as refugees after their families fled when Israel was established in 1948. For some it was their first time in their ancestral homeland, a dream they did not think will happen in their lifetime.

The national orchestra made that dream come true for them...."

WEST BANK: Palestine National Orchestra has its debut

Friday, December 31, 2010

Palestinian leader wants US backing in UN proposal

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

Palestinian leader wants US backing in UN proposal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Threads of Identity: Preserving Palestinian Costume and Heritage

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

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

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

American support for statehood is Palestine's trump card

The weblog of Hussein Ibish
NOW Lebanon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Advent Artwork
By Palestinian artist Zaki Baboun

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

Christmas in Bethlehem - then and now

Christmas in Bethlehem - then and now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

28 December 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

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

62 Years On, Peace Is Not Impossible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 27, 2010

Charity... in Growing Gardens for Palestine
Monday, December 27, 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charity is love- and generosity.

Dove of Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Eve dinner at my mother's house 2010

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

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

A tree full of bluebirds