Thursday, May 5, 2011

"... And I am still here, a small and persistent reminder of everything he tried to defeat but could not. I am one of many." Justine van Engen

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

bring peace to all religions


" "What I'd like to do someday..." is work to bring peace to all religions, so no one will fight. No one deserves to die because of their beliefs. If everyone got along, more problems could be solved." Morgan Forrest

Vote now on the 40 Regional Finalists!

Doodle 4 Google

Here is a display of our top 40 Regional Finalists. Public online voting on these 40 Regional Finalists is now open through May 13, 2011 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time (PT). This public vote will help determine the four national finalists, one per grade group (K-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12). You may only vote once in each of the four grade groups. On May 19, 2011 we will announce the national winner at an awards ceremony in New York. The national winner's doodle will appear on on May 20, 2011. For a list of the State Finalists that are not a part of this online voting round, please click here.

The Elders welcome Palestinian reconciliation | The Elders

The Elders welcome Palestinian reconciliation | The Elders
A Palestinian man carries a child on his shoulders as Palestinian celebrate the planned signing of a reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas, in Gaza City, Wednesday, May 4, 2011. International mediators should drop their demand that the Gaza Strip's Hamas rulers recognize Israel, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday, just hours before his Western-backed government was to sign a reconciliation deal with Hamas. The accord, to be inked in Cairo, would end a four-year rift between the bitter rivals and pave the way for a joint caretaker government ahead of national elections next year. Arabic on headband reads 'Enough'/(AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

A Palestinian is reflected in a motorcycle wing mirror as he celebrates the reconciliation agreement between the rival Palestinian factions during a rally in Gaza City May 4, 2011. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads Fatah, and Islamist group Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal were in Cairo on Wednesday to endorse a deal to end a four-year rift but a last minute hitch cast doubt on the durability of the accord. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS TRANSPORT)

Palestinians stand under a flag as they celebrate the reconciliation agreement between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas during a rally in Gaza City May 4, 2011. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads Fatah, and Islamist group Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal were in Cairo on Wednesday to endorse a deal to end a four-year rift but a last minute hitch cast doubt on the durability of the accord. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS)

Palestinians celebrate the reconciliation agreement between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas during a rally in Gaza City May 4, 2011. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads Fatah, and Islamist group Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal were in Cairo on Wednesday to endorse a deal to end a four-year rift but a last minute hitch cast doubt on the durability of the accord. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS)

Classical musician Daniel Barenboim conducts with musicians from some of Europe's top orchestras during a concert at al-Madha centre, north of Gaza City May 3, 2011. Barenboim, a supporter of Palestinian rights, broke new ground on Tuesday when he travelled to the Gaza Strip to conduct the concert. REUTERS/Mohammed Abed/Pool (GAZA - Tags: SOCIETY ENTERTAINMENT POLITICS)

Israeli Maestro Daniel Barenboim, right, UN Messenger of Peace, applauds during a concert of the Orchestra for Gaza, a mixed orchestra of European musicians, at the Al Mathaf Cultural House in Gaza City, Tuesday, May, 3, 2011. Barenboim and his orchestra have performed in Gaza in solidarity with its Palestinian residents. Barenboim briefly entered Gaza on Tuesday and conducted two pieces by Mozart before a small audience. (AP Photo/Adel Hana/Pool)

With their Islamic style dresses, Iranian Jewish school girls, react to the camera with joy, as a graffiti depicting Moses with 'The Ten Commandments' is seen on the wall, at the Fakhr-e-Danesh school of Iranian Jewish community, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, May 3, 2011. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Wearing their Islamic style uniforms, Iranian Jewish school girls, react with joy, at the Fakhr-e-Danesh school of Iranian Jewish community, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, May 3, 2011. About 20,000 Jews live in Iran which has the biggest Jewish community in the middle east outside Israel, and they have one Jewish representative in the parliament under the constitution. Under the country's strict Islamic regulations, women should cover themselves head to toe, although they are allowed to show their faces, and religious minorities must follow Islamic dress codes such as head scarves for women. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

A view of the US Supreme Court from Capitol Hill in 2010. The US Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear an appeal over whether an American born in Jerusalem can list Israel as his place of birth in his passport. (AFP/Getty Images/File/Brendan Smialowski)

Palestinians take part in a rally marking International Workers' Day, or Labour Day, in the West Bank city of Ramallah May 1, 2011. REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini (WEST BANK - Tags: POLITICS EMPLOYMENT BUSINESS CIVIL UNREST)

Palestinian Catholic worshipers march past a banner with a portrait of of late Pope John Paul II, during a ceremony to celebrate his Beatification, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Sunday, May 1, 2011. Pope Benedict XVI beatified Pope John Paul II before more than a million faithful in St. Peter's Square and surrounding streets at the Vatican Sunday, moving the beloved former pontiff one step closer to possible sainthood.(AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad speaks in front of a statue of Pope John Paul II, unveiled during a ceremony in the West Bank town of Bethlehem May 1, 2011, celebrating the beatification of the late pope. The late Pope John Paul moved a major step closer to sainthood on Sunday at a ceremony that drew about a million and half people, the largest crowd in Rome since his funeral six years ago REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman (WEST BANK - Tags: RELIGION)

A battered teddy bear belonging to Ina Rennert, a 75-year-old Holocaust survivor, is displayed with a picture of her as a child at the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem April 17, 2011. Rennert had handed over to Yad Vashem for safekeeping the toy she says she once clung to as a little girl while hiding from the Nazis in Poland during World War Two. Thousands of aging Israeli survivors have answered a call by Yad Vashem to hand in Holocaust-era keepsakes to preserve their memory for future generations. Israel on Monday marks an annual day of remembrance for Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide. Picture taken April 17, 2011. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun (JERUSALEM - Tags: CONFLICT ANNIVERSARY)

A Palestinian man kicks a teargas canister fired by Israeli troops, not seen, during clashes between Palestinians and Israeli settlers near the Jewish settlement of Bracha and the nearby West Bank village of Burin, near Nablus, Saturday April 30, 2011 . (AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

VOA Arts & Culture: Palestinian-American Poet Bridges Two Cultures

Arts & Culture

Palestinian-American Poet Bridges Two Cultures

Naomi Shihab Nye's poems are often devoted to social justice

Adam Phillips | New York City May 02, 2011

Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye is an award-winning Palestinian-American poet who has written or edited nearly 30 books and published five collections of poems for both adults and young people.

For Nye, poetry is at once deeply spiritual and fully of this world. Today she wears a handmade bracelet sent by an admirer. It's inscribed with a question from one of her poems: "What songs travel toward us, from far away, to deepen our days?" She describes how poetry is like a bracelet.

"I think poetry wants to wrap around us, and I think it does if we allow it to. There is a sense of being held by a poem when you read a poem you love. It’s not as if you are just appreciating it intellectually. It is as if it has wrapped itself around your spirit or your heart or your memory and it belongs to you in a much more intimate way."

Nye was born in 1952 in Saint Louis, Missouri, after her father’s Palestinian family lost its home as a result of the1948 war which led to the creation of Israel. She says a sense of exile and longing cast a shadow over her girlhood and accounts for her lifelong devotion to social justice.

She credits her father and her American mother with teaching her about poetry’s power to comfort and awaken. She recalls a poem by Rachel Field called "Some People," which had a profound impact upon her as a child.

Isn’t it strange some people make
You feel so tired inside,
Your thoughts begin to shrivel up
Like leaves all brown and dried!
But when you’re with some other ones,
It’s stranger still to find
Your thoughts as thick as fireflies
All shiny in your mind!

"For a seven year-old, that made sense already because I knew here were dull people and there were glittering voices and people you wanted to be around because of the way they spoke and what they talked about," she says. "And I remember thinking ‘I may need that poem in the future. I better memorize it.'"

Nye began writing her own poetry at the age of six. She says a turning point came when, at age 14, she first met her grandmother, a wise and feisty Palestinian matriarch who lived to be 106. Nye reads a verse from "The Words Under the Words" from "19 Varieties of Gazelle," her collection of poems about the Middle East.

My grandmother’s hands recognize grapes
the damp shine of a goat’s new skin.
When I was sick they followed me
I woke from the long fever to find them
covering my head like cool prayers...

Readers of Nye’s work have noted a similarity between prayer and poetry. "There is a sense that by putting words together something might be listening, some larger spirit, force or essence. The silence might be listening and it's always been enough to know that silence is on the other side of all this chatter."

Nye’s persona contains apparent contradictions. For example, she is gregarious and curious about others, but also introspective and craves the solace of solitude. She offers advice to those of like mind in her poem "The Art of Disappearing."

If they say We should get together say why?
It's not that you don't love them anymore.
You're trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight. Tell them
you have a new project.
It will never be finished.
When someone
recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.

Nye says she would never want to be rude.

"And by the way, that poem has made some people mad. However, it has also made some young readers like of the middle school age really talk to me about time. ‘Well how do you see time at your age?’ ‘What do you mean at the end of that poem ‘know you could tumble at any second?’ And I think ever since I was a very little child, I realized that our lives, no matter how long we live, would be very brief in the full scheme of time."

Nye always finds time to speak out publicly against oppression and violence, whether it’s the war in Iraq, the plight of the dispossessed, the Palestinian exile, or the terrorist bombings of September 11, 2001. In this verse from her poem "Blood," she writes about her reaction to that day.

I call my father, we talk around the news.
It is too much for him,
neither of his two languages can reach it.
I drive into the country to find sheep, cows,
to plead with the air.
Who calls anyone civilized?
Where can the crying heart graze?
What does a true Arab do now?

In Nye’s view, peace within and peace in the world form a continuum, and feelings that at first appear unrelated are connected. We hear this in an excerpt from her famous poem, "Kindness."

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as
the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Sunday, May 1, 2011



IBISHBLOG: Overcoming political obstacles in implementing the Palestinian state-building program

Hussein Ibish, Senior Research Fellow, American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP)


Since the theme of this UN seminar is “mobilizing international efforts in support of the Palestinian Government’s state-building program" I will not take any time to recapitulate what that program entails, except to note that it was a conscious decision in August 2009 by the Palestinian Authority government headed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and under the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas, to build the economic, institutional and infrastructural framework of a future Palestinian state in spite of the occupation and in order to end the occupation. As such, it represents a remarkable paradigm shift in the Palestinian approach towards seeking freedom and independence. In considering obstacles to this program, we must begin by noting that, since negotiations with Israel are stalled with few immediate prospects for resumption in the near term, state-building is now the main practicable vehicle for momentum towards a two-state solution. Therefore its strategic and political importance to the entire international community -- which is committed to the two-state outcome -- cannot be overestimated. As well as laying the practical foundations on the ground for Palestinian independence, the state-building program is also capable of filling a vacuum when negotiations are either stalled or proceeding too slowly, as they have been for many months now. Therefore, now is the time to take advantage of it so that it can fulfill this element of its purpose. Simply put, there is no other ongoing and systematic program for advancing the realization of a viable, practicable two-state solution and therefore it must be supported in the most vigorous and robust manner possible by all parties. I've been asked to address the topic of “overcoming political obstacles in implementing the state-building program,” and I will to review those obstacles coming from Israel, within Palestinian society, in the United States and in the rest of the international community, in that order.

1) Political obstacles from Israel

The most significant practical and political obstacles to the implementation of this project come from the government of Israel and other elements of Israeli society, because Israel is the occupying power in the territory in which Palestinian state institutions are being built. Since its inauguration, literally dozens of reports from multilateral institutions and NGOs have favorably assessed progress of state-building in the West Bank, but every one of them has recognized that the occupation poses a long-term threat to the viability and success of the project. In early April of this year, for example, the World Bank issued a report strongly praising state-building progress, repeating its 2010 assessment that Palestinians are now "well-positioned for the establishment of a state at any point in the near future.” However, it noted that “sustainable economic growth" would be difficult to maintain "while Israeli restrictions on access to natural resources and markets remain in place.”

The Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has welcomed and supported some aspects of the project, but often under the unhelpful and illusory rubric of"economic peace.” Since this conflict is not an economic but a political one, it can only be resolved in terms of a political rather than economic solution and there is no conceivable scenario of “economic peace.” All segments of Palestinian society, including the leaders of the state-building program, strongly reject this formula and would abandon the project if it became strictly a matter of economic development rather than a political project aimed at independence and statehood.

Security is the sine qua non of governance, and the new Palestinian security services have been the key predicate for most of what state-building has accomplished since 2009. Law and order has been restored to formerly lawless or chaotic cities such as Jenin and Nablus, which has encouraged investment. Israel was initially skeptical about the new security forces but military and national security officials in Israel are now almost unanimous in praising their performance, and particularly their security cooperation with Israel's own forces. This cooperation has facilitated the lifting of some significant checkpoints and roadblocks, thereby easing restrictions on access and mobility and further contributing to economic growth. However, ongoing Israeli incursions into areas supposedly under Palestinian security control pose a serious threat to the credibility of the new security forces and open the entire PA government to spurious charges of “collaboration.” Evidence suggests that many of these incursions are conducted for political rather than genuine security reasons, and the rate at which they continue to occur poses a significant immediate-term obstacle to the state-building project and to its political credibility and viability. It is therefore vital that they are kept to a minimum if they must occur at all, are only conducted for the most serious security reasons, and insofar as possible are coordinated with Palestinian authorities. In the long run, of course, they need to end entirely.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and many other Israeli leaders have welcomed economic development and the establishment of law and order in “Area A” as defined by the Oslo Agreements -- which covers approximately 17 percent of the territory of the West Bank but includes about 55 percent of its Palestinian population -- they have strongly resisted state building efforts outside this zone, particularly in “Area C,” which is approximately 55% of the West Bank and includes almost all Israeli settlements. We should note that these designations were agreed to last for a five-year transition period and yet continue, more than a decade later, to define the political status of different parts of the occupied Palestinian territories. These restrictions, that amount to serious and, in the long run possibly even fatal, obstacles to the state-building program must be overcome, and Israel must understand the need to move past this anachronistic framework that is rooted in the politics and policies of a different era.

Charges that state-building is a form of “collaboration” are strongly refuted by consistent efforts by the PA government to expand the reach of the project beyond “Area A,” efforts that have been rejected, blocked and undone by Israel. Perhaps the most interesting example is the struggle over the road to the village of Qarawat Bani Hassan. Israel would not grant its residents a permit to build a paved road, so quietly the PA paid for the small road to be created last year. Israeli forces destroyed the road last fall. It was then rebuilt, again with PA funding, and in March was again destroyed by occupation troops. Ultimately the state-building project, if it is to be meaningful, cannot be restricted to Area A, or even B, but must operate also in Area C, since the overwhelming majority of that territory will be an essential part of the state of Palestine. Through such efforts, along with school projects in occupied East Jerusalem and other measures, the state-building project poses a simple question to Israel: is this territory going to be part of our state, or part of yours? If it's not going to be part of our state, then what kind of "Palestinian state" are we talking about and what future are we really envisioning? State-building calls everyone's bluff: it asks the Israelis if they are serious about Palestinian independence and will really allow it to be built; it asks the Palestinians whether or not they want to devote most of their energies to building their own society; and it asks the international community how serious it is about the two-state solution. The question of Area C, in this regard, is a crucial test for all three.

Two additional obstacles to Palestinian state-building from the Israeli side need mentioning. There is an atmosphere that suggests increased Israeli skepticism about the state-building project and some of its key leaders, and an apparent reduction in cooperation from the Israeli side in recent months. There many factors that may have contributed to this unhelpful shift in attitudes, including stalled diplomacy and the kind of challenges to the status quo cited above. But there is also significant Israelidomestic opposition to the concept of Palestinian statehood, including within the current coalition cabinet. These significant Israeli political forces are deeply threatened by the project and have worked, and will continue to work, to undermine or block it at every stage. They may well have taken advantage of the difficulties that have emerged in the negotiations to unfairly cast doubt on the intentions behind, and the possible impact of, the Palestinian state-building program.

2) Political obstacles within Palestinian society

Generally speaking the state-building program has been supported by the Palestinian public, and it has grown in stature and credibility due to its significant record of achievement in a short period of time and under very difficult circumstances. Apathy, defeatism and skepticism among the general public are being overcome by tangible, palpable results on the ground. However, there are three key sources of political opposition to state-building within Palestinian society. Hamas totally rejects the project and spares no opportunity to condemn it and its leaders in the harshest terms. There has also been a dismaying tendency on the part of some figures on the Palestinian secular left to dismiss the project as window dressing for the status quo, or even “collaboration.” Sometimes this criticism is presented as skepticism about the practicability and viability of the project, but sometimes intense and deeply unfair personal attacks, particularly against Fayyad, have been part of these critiques. There are Palestinian political actors and factions on both the secular left and the religious right that are in opposition to the very aim of the two-state solution, and aspire instead to more ambitious, and impracticable, agendas. They therefore tend to view state-building as deeply threatening since they recognize that it promises to succeed in laying the groundwork for statehood. Finally, there are some entrenched political interests in the West Bank that feel threatened by aspects of the state-building project, particularly when it comes to well-established networks of patronage, as well as traditionalists who simply feel uncomfortable with a new and radically different approach to seeking independence. It is essential, however, that the success of the project demonstrates its indispensability for the secular-national Palestinian cause and the future of all moderates in the Palestinian political landscape.

3) Political obstacles in the United States

For those of us working in the United States in support of state-building, as well as Palestinian human and national rights generally, there is a constant battle to ensure that the project is not viewed essentially as a development program and a matter of humanitarian foreign assistance. From the outset in the summer of 2009, the American Task Force on Palestine played a leading role in insisting that state-building is not, and cannot be, merely a development program but is political and strategic par excellence. There is a culture in some elements of the "development community" in the United States that rejects and resists political implications for what are seen as development projects. It was therefore vital that Palestinian state-building not be framed as a development project but as a strategic and political intervention of the utmost importance. This view has been penetrating American thinking at the highest levels, as reflected in comments by US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that have increasingly accorded the project its due importance.

A further problem with viewing state-building as simply a development project is that support for it is then framed essentially as a “gift” to the Palestinians, which can be taken away in the event of diplomatic disputes or political disagreements. Yet since its success is vital for the realization of a two-state solution, its fortunes are intimately tied to the most fundamental American national interests. Obama, Clinton and many other officials have stated very clearly that Israeli-Palestinian peace is essential and not optional for the United States, with the Secretary of State recently calling Palestinian statehood “inevitable.” Obviously, it is in the interests of all parties that an inevitable state be successful, and this is the purpose of the state-building enterprise. It therefore is an imperative for the United States and the international community to support the program and not a "gift" to the Palestinians or an expression of altruism, but a vital matter of policy and national interest.

Finally, there remains some political opposition from those in the United States who are not yet fully reconciled to Palestinian statehood, including elements of the extreme American-Jewish right, some evangelical Christians who adhere to a dispensationalist theology, and others who continue to oppose, or at least not fully support, ending the occupation that began in 1967. Like some of their Israeli counterparts, these American voices are at best tolerant of economic development in Area A, but profoundly opposed to the broader political aims of the state-building project and either openly attack or subtly undermine it and seek ways of limiting or ending US government support for the program.

4) Political obstacles in the rest of the international community

The rest of the international community also has a vital role to play in supporting the state-building project financially, technically and politically. Many multilateral institutions have been of great assistance to the program and given serious, credible and almost entirely positive reviews of its progress. Governments around the world have provided generous support, although some important pledges remain unfulfilled. Particularly in the context of the global economic recession, donor fatigue is a significant concern. Palestinian state-building is not at the point where it can do without major foreign aid, even though Fayyad and his government have been successful in significantly reducing both the amount and percentage of foreign aid in the PA budget steadily over the past three years. Yet the recent World Bank report I cited above noted the importance of donor aid to the economic development that has been achieved in the West Bank over the past two years.

The error of perceiving the project as essentially a development program is not restricted to the United States and needs to be combated globally so that all parties understand its profound political and strategic implications and how much is at stake in its success or failure. Some elements of the international community have not yet understood that even though diplomacy will ultimately determine a successful outcome, and an end to the conflict and the occupation, state-building is essential for improving the prospects for renewed negotiations and their eventual success. It is also crucial in ensuring that the future Palestinian state is robust rather than brittle. More can and should be done not only in terms of financial support for the project but also greater technical assistance, partnering and twinning between Western and other international institutions and Palestinian ones, and in providing diplomatic and political support to the project and its aims over the long run.


The most significant political obstacles to implementing the state-building program are born of four main factors. The first is donor fatigue or lack of resources, which by definition fails to understand the stakes at hand because any failure to create a two-state solution, which presently depends on successful state-building more than any other factor, will be far more costly. The second is a persistent misrecognition of the state-building program as essentially a social and economic development agenda missing its fundamentally strategic and political nature. The third, and perhaps most significant, obstacle is opposition in some quarters to a two-state solution in practice. This opposition expresses itself in two separate phenomena occurring in many societies: those who are opposed to a two-state solution in theory, and those who are for it in theory but against the actual compromises that would be required to produce it as a reality. Neither of these perspectives promote support for state-building. In addition it should be recognized that there are domestic Palestinian political forces that are in favor of a two-state solution but for narrow reasons not supportive of the state-building program, and that this is a serious political obstacle on the ground. The best way to overcome domestic Palestinian obstacles, and almost all political opposition, is through the success of the program itself. Again I stress, the answer to almost all of the political obstacles to the implementation of the state-building program is the success of the program itself. In its success lies its credibility, effectuality, and domestic and international base of support.

Therefore, the role of the international community should be to focus as much as possible on supporting state-building in anticipation of the resumption of a robust diplomatic process some time in the future. Renewed negotiations do not appear to be imminent given the domestic political circumstances within Israel, the United States and among the Palestinians. The international community is therefore faced with a conundrum, for which the Palestinians have a solution. The world cannot walk away from this conflict because of its unique political and symbolic resonance and its strategic importance. As ordinary citizens around the Arab world are rising to assert their rights and demand transparency, accountability and good governance, it is remarkable that perhaps the most ambitious Arab political reform project is being conducted by a people living under occupation and without citizenship of any kind. Freedom and democracy cannot come to the Middle East without resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and ending the occupation that began in 1967 by creating a viable, sovereign and independent Palestinian state to live alongside Israel in peace and security. It is exceptionally important that it is the Palestinians themselves who are leading the way in laying the groundwork for this solution by building the framework of their state in spite of the occupation, but they require significant international support in order to succeed. The political obstacles to implementing the state-building project I have outlined here need to be clearly recognized and systematically overcome in order to defend the real, practical viability of the realization of a two-state solution in the foreseeable future. The answer to this is precisely the success of the state-building program in practice, which requires international assistance. What is at stake in supporting the state-building program may well be nothing less than the fate of the two-state solution, which is the only plausible means of ending the conflict and achieving peace.

Morning Has Broken - Cat Stevens