Friday, August 5, 2011

"I send a message to the world that we Palestinians have the will to live in peace, we look for a beautiful life . . ."

In a 2005 interview with WAFA, Al-Houby once reflected about her passion for climbing, “When I climb, I send a message to the world that we Palestinians have the will to live in peace, we look for a beautiful life . . ." Mountain Climber Suzanne al-Houby

Forty-three year old mother of two Suzanne Al-Houby scaled Mount Everest in May, one of a small group of 100 women to achieve this distinction and the first Palestinian and Arab woman to perform this feat....READ MORE

Hussein Ibish: Arabs Must Engage with the U.S. Political System

Arabs Must Engage with the U.S. Political System
Thu, 04 August 2011
Hussein Ibish

The United States has just entered its extended presidential and congressional election season with the Republican battle over their party's nomination well underway and President Barack Obama having formally launched his reelection campaign. This regular feature of the American political system has important implications for US foreign policy and vital lessons for the Arab world.

As always, the election context has a direct influence on both the conduct of, and the debate over, US foreign policy. For example, while the Obama administration clearly regards progress on peace between Israel and Palestinians as essential and not optional for US interests, no major peace initiative can be expected during the campaign season. These built-in restrictions are an integral part of the cautious American approach to pushing Obama's outline of renewed talks based on the 1967 borders with mutually agreed-upon land swaps and a focus on borders and security first. They also help explain why so little progress has been made in translating them into clearly defined negotiating terms of reference rather than generalized principles.

The election season has also helped produce a hardening of attitudes in Congress towards the Palestinians, with administration officials having to defend continued aid to the Palestinian Authority against vehement criticism. And it prompted grandstanding by Republican lawmakers who threatened to defund the mission in Libya. It is unthinkable that Republicans would have threatened to defund a military effort by a Republican president, and they would have questioned the patriotism of anyone who tried to do so.

Electioneering unquestionably distorts foreign policy, as it brings politics into conflict with policy, which is always a problem, even more than usual. But it helps clarify the mechanics through which US foreign policy is determined and the US national interest is defined.

Many Arabs, and even Arab-Americans, tend to think of US policies as predetermined or subject to the machinations of small and shadowy groups of powerful players. To the contrary, as election seasons demonstrate most dramatically, the levers through which Americans define their interests and develop a policy consensus are, in fact, largely open, transparent and played out in public.

The two main sources of leverage in American politics, including on foreign policy, are votes and money. These, more than any other factors, determine exactly who gets elected, and on what platforms.

Media coverage, publicity and policy advocacy, especially when connected to broad national or influential elite sentiments, are also an important factor.

These levers are available to all Americans, and there are no laws or mechanisms restricting who can apply them if they have the means and the will. History demonstrates that a sustained application of such resources eventually has a powerful impact on shaping how the country defines its national interests and what its policies will be.

Arabs and Arab-Americans seem remarkably resistant to either understanding how the system works or, at least, deciding to participate in it enthusiastically. We have generally opted out of the process altogether, leaving an open playing field for others on many of our most cherished issues.

Arab-Americans have failed to create strong, effective national institutions. Every single national Arab or Muslim American organization is smaller or in some way less effective than it was on September 10, 2011, which is a shocking indictment of the lack of interest of the community in defending itself or promoting its concerns. I'm not aware of a single registered lobbyist working for an Arab-American organization with Congress on Capitol Hill. The consequences of such woeful inaction are evident across the board.

While direct political participation is reserved for American citizens only, Arab societies and governments have also demonstrated a bewildering disinclination to understand the importance of encouraging and supporting the development of Arab-American organizations. What Arab societies need in the United States are not clients but friends; allies, not employees. There has to be room for significant disagreement as well as agreement. But influential Arabs have shown a consistent preference for working with non-Arab-American organizations and companies that do not understand or really care about broader Arabconcerns, and wasted huge amounts of money on this dead end.

Both the Arabs and the Arab-Americans have the means, talent and resources to have a significant impact on the American policy conversation through the established political system, which is open to them in different capacities as citizens or noncitizens. The negative consequences of their persistent non-engagement or wrongheaded engagement is always evident, but becomes even more clear as elections approach.

If we want Americans to sympathize with our positions, for example by adopting a more evenhanded policy towards Palestine, we must give them a reason to do so. Serious, sustained and meaningful engagement with the American political system, and creating and supporting relevant institutions, is the only way to accomplish this. Not doing so guarantees continued failure.

*Hussein Ibish is a senior research fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine and blogs at

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

West Bank home demolitions up 'alarmingly': UN

Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank rose "alarmingly" in the first half of 2011, in some cases threatening entire communities, a United Nations agency said on Tuesday.

The UN Relief and Works Agency, which looks after Palestinian refugees, said 356 structures had been demolished in the first six months of this year, compared with 431 for the whole of 2010.

And the agency said 700 people had been displaced by the demolitions in the first six months of 2011, compared with 594 in the whole of 2010.

"Demolitions by the Israeli authorities in the West Bank have escalated alarmingly," said UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness.

"Most demolitions have targeted already vulnerable Bedouin and herding communities," he said. "In many cases, demolition orders have been issued to virtually the whole community, leaving these communities facing a real danger of complete destruction."

The demolitions are taking place in Area C, the 60 percent of the West Bank that is designated as under full Israeli control, in which Israel has designated just one percent of land for Palestinian development, UNRWA said.

"This mean that it is virtually impossible for a Palestinian to obtain a permit for construction, while Israeli settlements receive preferential treatment in the allocation of water and land, and approval of development plans," Gunness said.

Israel says its demolitions of homes are based only on whether the structures in question have the appropriate permits.

But the agency said the demolitions seemed to be concentrated in areas "targeted for settlement expansion."

"Most disturbing of all is the clear link we now see between settlement expansion and demolitions and the forced displacements that result," Gunness told AFP.

UNRWA called on the Israeli government to immediately halt demolitions of Palestinian homes "until Palestinians have access to a fair and non-discriminatory zoning and planning regime."

Monday, August 1, 2011

Ziad J. Asali: A U.N. vote will be risky for Palestinians
A U.N. vote will be risky for Palestinians
August 01, 2011 01:28 AM
By Ziad J. Asali
The Daily Star

A potentially dangerous confrontation looms in September over the question of Palestinian statehood, one that threatens significant negative consequences for all parties. It is in the interests of all constructive actors to find a compromise that avoids such a confrontation.

Palestinians are impelled by frustration and despair about the impasse in the peace process – a frustration shared by many Israelis, Americans and others. It is, however, Palestinians who live under occupation, which gives them a justified sense that the status quo is intolerable. The diplomatic impasse has created a demand for any mechanism for progress; hence the appeal of approaching the United Nations with a request for membership.

But as Palestinians started pursuing this policy, several crucial facts should be considered: First, the United States has indicated unequivocally that it would veto in the Security Council a Palestinian application for U.N. membership, making such membership impossible at this time. Moreover, the U.S. Congress has sent a message that U.N. action on Palestinian statehood would result in a cutoff of U.S. aid, and Washington is the single biggest donor to the Palestinian Authority...READ MORE

This Week in Palestine: Building a Legacy of Art in Palestine

Painting by Sophie Halabi.

Painting by Assad Azzi.

Painting by Tayseer Barakat.

Painting by Sliman Mansour.

Painting by Sophie Halabi.

Building a Legacy of Art in Palestine
If you’re an art enthusiast, you probably already know about Mazen Qupty. Together with his wife Yvette, he has spent the last 25 years amassing the world’s most definitive collection of Palestinian artwork, and has been its most visible exponent at home and abroad.

Today his Jerusalem home is a shrine to the talents of past and present, a walk-in montage of vibrant colours. The walls are lined with elegantly framed paintings, and no surface is untouched by tasteful adornment. Qupty, a successful lawyer by trade, has now acquired around 220 pieces charting two centuries of evolution.

The Quptys took their first steps down this path in 1985, the year of their marriage. Yvette, born into a family of artists and goldsmiths, had studied art for a year before her teacher poured cold water on the hope of becoming a professional, telling her, “If you are not successful, you will not eat.”

Yet their partnership rekindled a passion, and together they made their first investment in a piece by Taysir Barakat, a painter from Jabalia Camp. It took them two years to raise the $700 price and thereafter they were insatiable. “We were crazy at that time,” says Mazen. “Every time we heard of an exhibition with Palestinian art we would go there. Paris, Stockholm, anywhere.”

The Quptys are patriots as much as art-lovers. Mazen describes his motivation to show the world “the beautiful face of Palestine” and in doing so reverse the damaging stereotypes of militancy. He takes pleasure in the surprise he often encounters when showing his collection to Palestinians and internationals alike, many of them unaware that Palestine had produced such treasures.

Their collection also serves as unique documentation of Palestine’s social history. It is possible to see the evolution from biblical icons, through an expressionist period, to the still lifes of Sophie Halaby and the surreal delights of Suleiman Mansour. Such a journey highlights the richness and depth of Palestinian cultural life long before this land was ever “disputed.” Mazen has made a crusade of bringing this to popular attention. At the time of writing, several pieces from the collection are on loan at two exhibitions. He and his wife are so committed to the creation of a comprehensive museum of Palestinian art that they are willing to sacrifice their entire collection to an embryonic project led by Al-Hoash Gallery in Jerusalem. “We can provide work from over 60 artists, which would be a good start,” says Mazen.

The couple agree that they will miss their paintings, but Mazen feels it is a duty to make them available to the public. “When they were painted, the artists intended them to be displayed.” He is confident that the museum will come together and succeed, but not without “time, money, and more crazy people like me!”

His vision of the future is not limited to the museum. As chairman of Palestine’s International Art Academy from 2004-2009 he implemented new wide-ranging courses for students that are beginning to bear fruit. In June, the academy produced its first six graduates, a proud moment for all concerned.

Mazen is fascinated by the emerging concepts of modern art. “If you go back 20 years, there was no art but painting. Since then a new generation have grown up in the West and in Israel. Now we are seeing more experimentation, more video art and installations.”

While he is supportive of new art forms, he wants young people to take the time to master the techniques. “My advice is always to persist with education,” he says. “Some geniuses don’t need it - Khaled Hourani and Mohamad Fadel never went to art school. But most people have to study, read, practise, and go to exhibitions. I want artists to express themselves, but they must have enough skill and know the form.”

For Mazen, art has always given him balance and respite from the pressures of a career in law. For him the collection is not a luxury, more a guarantor of quality of life. Sitting in his lounge surrounded by the masterpieces, with the lilting accompaniment of classical music from another room, it is easy to accept his perspective that an “artistic environment makes us more sensitive, more human, more ready to accept others.” He is proud to recall that when his youngest child first left the house ten days after birth, it was for the purpose of visiting a gallery, a passion now shared by his whole family.

The process of collection has its own fascination. The Quptys have become renowned for their passion and regularly field calls from dealers, friends, and people with chance discoveries. Mazen was able to acquire an original by nineteenth-century legend Nicola Saig, after an out-of-the blue call from Jifna Village, and a pawnshop owner from Jerusalem was able to supply him with a stunning collection of works from the late Sophie Halaby for the knock-down fee of $5,000. “She had no family (to take them),” says Mazen. “They would have been lost.”

I ask if he is frustrated by the lack of government interest in preserving Palestinian heritage. Surely it is too much responsibility for a busy lawyer? “I accept that culture is a low priority here,” he says. “But in most Western countries (art) is driven by private funding. This way there is less censorship, less involvement from politicians.”

He is confident that other Palestinian collectors are taking responsibility and following his lead. “The art economy is growing here. I know friends who have 30 to 40 pieces and more who are getting involved. In 40 years I want us to be where Britain was 50 years ago.”

Still, the journey of the Picasso masterpiece recently arrived at the International Art Academy is a reminder of the maintenance required to preserve artworks. Experts were brought in to create the ideal humidity levels and millions were spent transporting it. Mazen acknowledges that private collectors cannot call on such resources but feels that with a little ingenuity artworks can be kept in pristine condition. With a carefully created environment and skilled restoration he has been able to keep even his old and delicate treasures intact.

At a time when artworks are becoming increasingly commodified, so that a single Jackson Pollock can sell for $140 million, with a market that has become dominated by businessmen and investors with little appreciation of masterpieces beyond their re-sell value, it is refreshing to hear that the Quptys have no idea of the financial worth of their collection.

“To me they are priceless,” Mazen says, gazing at a piece by Assad Azzi. In it stands a horseman in the desert, a lonely icon in a backdrop of mystic unpredictability.

One can see why he finds such resonance in the character, isolated in a mission of epic scale without a clear route or any prospect of a conclusion. Yet for Mazen that journey is its own reward, and the onerous responsibility of emancipating Palestinian art is to be warmly embraced.

He has achieved notable successes already but these have whetted his appetite. Establishing the national museum would be the greatest triumph yet, providing a legacy of inspiration for the next generation of students and artists. And when the doors open, and all of the Qupty collection is hanging on a public wall, Mazen and Yvette will simply start another one.

The Silent Steel Resistance of Nabi Samuel By Joharah Baker for MIFTAH

Date posted: August 01, 2011
By Joharah Baker for MIFTAH
The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy
Maqam Al Nabi Samwail (The Tomb of the Prophet Samuel) used to be one of our favorite hiking destinations when we were children. From our nearby village of Bir Nabala, the hike up the mountain to the site of the tomb of the prophet was the perfect pastime for a bunch of children who enjoyed the outdoors. At the time, we children were oblivious to the fate of the 250 or so inhabitants of the village of Nabi Samuel, only concerned with ensuring that the fried chicken and potato salad we lugged up the mountain would reach the top intact.

The trip up to Nabi Samuel this time around was a totally different experience. What used to be an open road through Bir Nabala and Al Jib on our way to the small village/pilgrimage destination is now cut off by an all-too recognizable Israeli checkpoint. The ubiquitous iron turnstiles (of what the locals like to call the “chicken defeatherer”) stand ominously alongside the closed off road and the bullet proof booth where Israeli soldiers wait to see proof of “coordination” that would allow our bus to pass through. Only those with their names at the barrier through prior coordination with the Israeli army are allowed entry to the other side of the checkpoint, the only “safe” way to reach Nabi Samuel. After another check of our ID cards, some back and forth in Hebrew and a dismissive wave of the hand, the soldiers lift the bar for our bus to cross.

What met us was more like the famous scene in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when Lucy steps out of the closet into Narnia, a world completely disconnected from reality. What had been poorly paved and unlined roads marked by sheep droppings and Arab-style houses on either side now opened up into a foreign looking landscape, nothing even close to the natural environment of Palestine. Neatly marked roads, stoplights and carefully designed red-roofed houses met our eyes as we passed into what looked like a suburb of Tel Aviv. Israeli flags waved from rooftops, road signs pointed to destinations such as Giv’on Hadasha and Har Adar and nothing remotely Palestinian save for the age-old olive trees in the distance could be seen.

That is, until the road curved and a drab-looking sign reading “Nabi Samuel” took us up a winding road into a scene that abruptly flipped back into “Palestinian.” The village that met us, across from the actual tomb and adjoining mosque (and synagogue to boot) is the epitome of impoverishment. Nothing is allowed here – not one stone can be added to the houses, not one tree can be planted, not one school can be built. The small village is in Area C and the land around the tomb and its surrounding land have all been confiscated and reclassified as a “national park”. Israel has closed off the village to the outside world and has made life well, impossible.

The village is seated high on a mountaintop, with a breathtaking view of Jerusalem to the south and Palestinian villages and agricultural land to the west. The cool breeze and picturesque view is not, however indicative of the state of its inhabitants. “We cannot beat them,” says Hajja Shukriya, the 85-year old village matriarch. “Only God can.” Nevertheless, the headstrong Hajja says they will never uproot her. “The only way I will leave this place is if God takes me,” she says.

“This place” has no medical clinic let alone a hospital. The school is a one-room box shaped edifice that hosts seven students from grades one to four. Neither the Palestinian Authority nor the villagers are allowed to expand it, not even by one room. Most of the villagers’ children trek their way down the hill to nearby villages such as Beit Iksa while others go by bus to schools in Al Jib or Bir Nabala. This means they must adhere to the only bus system allowed by the Israeli army – one bus leaves the village at 7:30 a.m. and takes the kids back at 2:00 p.m. The only other time the bus passes to and from the village is at 4:00 p.m. There is no other public transportation allowed.

That is assuming the kids finish school at all. Many village women say their sons drop out of school to look for work in Jerusalem, which can be seen from the hilltop. But the geographic nearness is deceiving in terms of its accessibility to the Palestinians. The highway just below Nabi Samuel is Israeli-only and security cameras are in constant vigilance of “trespassers.” If young men from the village try to cross the highway to make it into west Jerusalem, they are often caught, beaten or arrested.

The houses, rundown and in desperate need of maintenance are not even the villagers’ original abodes. Those are now in ruins, demolished in 1971 by Israeli authorities and fenced off as archeological sites. The original village was built in close proximity to the mosque/tomb, the houses nestled snuggly against one other. “This was because in the old days, people were afraid of thieves, so they built their houses next to each other for protection,” says one resident. The current houses belong to others from the village who moved out before 1967 and who offered them as homes to those who remained.

But even the current inhabitants are finding it difficult to stay. With no space to expand or develop, their daughters are marrying more and more outside of Nabi Samuel and newlywed men are renting homes in nearby areas. But the people of Nabi Samuel will not give up without a fight. Those who have found a way to remain on their land will remain until death, they say.

Hajja Shukriyeh, shrunken and wrinkled, is as tough as nails. She relays a story about when an Israeli soldier mocked her. “He was laughing,” she said, “saying I only had a few years left before I die, then the army would be free of me.” In defiant resistance, Hajja Shukriyeh waved her finger in the young soldiers’ face. “Even after I die, there will be a thousand Shukriyehs to take my place.”

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

Dear Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre Foundation

Dear Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre Foundation,

Years ago when I first encountered it your beautiful web site was a treasure trove of inspiring and interesting images, but today most of the links to see the art do not work.

Is there any way you could fix this computer glitch so that more people might be able to get a glimpse of Palestinian heritage, culture and experience.

My friend Sherri Muzher has been creating a fascinating online book "Palestinian Surprises" to help generate more positive images and information about Palestinians, in part to help counter many negative stereotypes. She has written a short essay on your centre and hopefully people curious about Palestine might find it a gateway to a better understanding of Palestinian dignity and decency- and art.

Thank you so much for your time and trouble.

Anne Selden Annab
American homemaker & poet