Saturday, December 10, 2011

10 December is International Human Rights Day... Many Palestinians have no freedom of movement

9 December 2011

Ramadin al Janubi, West Bank

10 December is International Human Rights Day, the day the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. To mark the day, OHCHR (oPT) and UNRWA are putting the spotlight on human rights stories and rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory. In this series, we look at how the occupation and its associated regime affects the daily lives of ordinary Palestinians, raising questions about the protection of their human rights.

Abu Kassaab overlooking the nearby city of Qalqilia, on the opposite side of the West Bank Barrier

Kassaab Ash-Shu’ur, a resident of Ramadin al Janubi, picks up a child’s car seat stashed in his living room. “Even this must be taken out of the car and carried through the checkpoint, along with the baby,” he explains, describing the security checks he and his family must go through to reach their homes.

Kassaab, along with 300 residents of Ramadin al Janubi, and 100 more in the adjoining village of 'Arab Abu Farda, are not Israeli citizens, but live in the “seam zone”, on the Israeli side of the West Bank Barrier but inside the 1949 armistice line separating Israel from the West Bank.

No freedom of movement

Their ability to travel to their homes is restricted to the point of violating Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

The Jaljoulia checkpoint that they must cross to reach work, school, and shopping centres in nearby Qalqilia has been controlled by a private company called the Checkpoints Crossing Authority (CPA) since 2011. While Israeli cars pass in and out of the checkpoint freely, Ramadin Al Janubi and 'Arab Abu Farda residents are redirected to a separate screening station that contains x-ray machines, sniffing dogs, and a lab to test liquids - “even aluminum cans”, notes Kassaab. No such screening station existed before 2006 under IDF control.

The checkpoint alone, they say, takes one to three hours to cross, including body scans and full car inspection. In addition, there are severe restrictions on the amount and types of goods they can bring with them, and even the days they may bring groceries.

Limited rights

The construction of the separation Barrier, beginning in 2003, not only limited the community’s ability to travel, work, and reach school, but their human right to livelihood. Their herd of 1,500 sheep has now shrunk to 300 or 400 because of lack of access to grassland.

“The policy is to attempt to get us to leave,” Kassaab says. The community, originally from the Negev desert, became refugees in the West Bank in 1948. They settled in their current location in 1956, and purchased their land and began building homes in the 70s and 80s. Despite Israeli pressure to relocate them, “we refuse to become refugees a second time,” Kassaab maintains.

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More about UNRWA in the West Bank

Human Rights Day: UN calls for building on momentum of an ‘extraordinary year’

9 December 2011 – Building on the momentum for change triggered by the Arab Spring, top United Nations officials have urged everyone, everywhere to join in the Internet and social media campaign launched on the occasion of Human Rights Day to help more people know, demand and defend their rights.

“In 2011, the very idea of ‘power’ shifted,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a message to mark Human Rights Day, which is observed annually on 10 December.

We know there is still too much repression in our world, still too much impunity, still too many people for whom rights are not yet a reality.

“During the course of this extraordinary year, it was wielded not just by mighty institutions in marble buildings, but increasingly by ordinary men, women, and even children, courageously standing up to demand their rights,” she said.

“The message of this unexpected global awakening was carried in the first instance not by the satellites of major media conglomerates, or conferences, or other traditional means – although these all played a role – but by the dynamic and irrepressible surge of social media.”

This year’s Day is building on the pro-reform movements witnessed across North Africa and the Middle East, and social media’s vital contribution to them, to encourage more people to get involved in the global human rights movement.

The campaign by the UN human rights office (OHCHR) focuses on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and aims to help more people know, demand and defend human rights.

“Today, as in the past, editorial and financial factors – as well as access – determine whether or not protests, and repression of protests, are televised or reported in newspapers around the world,” noted Ms. Pillay. “But, wherever it happens, you can now guarantee it will be tweeted on Twitter, posted on Facebook, broadcast on YouTube, and uploaded onto the Internet…

“Instead we are seeing real lives in real struggle, broadcast in real time – and it is in many ways an exhilarating sight,” she added. “In sum, in 2011, human rights went viral.”

Today at UN Headquarters, Ms. Pillay hosted a global human rights dialogue at which she answered questions sent in via different social media platforms from all over the world.

It was one of several elements of the “Celebrate Human Rights” campaign, which also featured an online discussion on Facebook and Twitter that began a month ago called “30 Days and 30 Rights” that counted down to the Day with a daily posting about one article of the Declaration....READ MORE

Gingrich: Palestinians 'invented,' promises Netanyahu-style foreign policy

"Gingrich's comments will likely infuriate backers of Palestinian statehood on both sides of the debate, and drew immediate criticism from a fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, Hussein Ibish.

"For a man who likes to call himself a historian, Gingrich's grasp of these realities is astoundingly weak. To call the Palestinians 'an invented people' in an obvious effort to undermine their national identity is outrageous, especially since there was no such thing as an 'Israeli' before 1948," he said. "Arab and Jewish identities are very old, but Israeli and Palestinian nationalisms are both 20th-century phenomena, and arose at the same time in competition with each other. The idea that either is more 'invented' and hence less 'authentic' than the other is ignorant, ahistorical claptrap.""

Friday, December 9, 2011

Jordan, the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, warned Israel on Friday against closing a wooden access ramp to the sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque

The Mughrabi ramp leading from the plaza by the Western Wall to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the old city of Jerusalem. Jordan, the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, warned Israel against closing a wooden access ramp to the sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City. (AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)

Related Article: Jordan warns Israel over Al-Aqsa ramp closure

Jordan, the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, warned Israel on Friday against closing a wooden access ramp to the sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City.

"Jordan rejects any Israeli attempt to affect Jerusalem's holy sites, identity and heritage, including Al-Mughrabi Gate" that leads to the compound's Al-Buraq Wall, known to Jews as the Western Wall, Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said.

The kingdom, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, "is in daily contact with the Israeli side to make sure it does not change the status quo of the gate," Judeh told the government-owned Al-Rai Arabic daily.

Jerusalem's city council on Thursday ordered the closure of the access ramp, saying it poses both a fire hazard and is at risk of collapse.

But Muslim leaders fear work on it could have a destabilising effect, accusing Israel of failing to coordinate renovation plans with the Waqf, the Islamic organisation that has jurisdiction over Muslim parts of the site.

Jordan's powerful Islamists have condemned the city council's decision.

"Israel is disregarding all Arab and international warnings," said Hamzeh Mansur, head of the opposition Islamic Action Front party, accusing Israel of pursuing a "policy of Judaising the Holy Land."

Last month, Amman warned that any Israeli "threats and aggressions" against the holy site would lead to "endless" violence in the Middle East.

Human Rights Day 2011: Paying tribute to human rights defenders

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
- Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

9 December 2011

2011 has been an historic year for human rights. Tomorrow, people around the world will honour and congratulate those who have taken to the streets to demand their rights.

Each year on 10 December, Human Rights Day marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.

But to the Palestine refugee, 1948 brings back memories of dispossession, exile, and loss. It is the year they commemorate as the start of their nakba (catastrophe), when thousands fled their homes, thinking they would return when the fighting ceased.

Sixty-three years after the adoption of the Declaration, millions of Palestinians have yet to return to their homes, and many lack the basic human rights we take for granted. For Palestine refugees, almost every article of the Universal Declaration has been violated.

To mark Human Rights Day, we asked students in UNRWA schools: What do human rights mean to you?


In Jordan, UNRWA provides basic education from first to tenth grade for more than 122,000 students. The students below live in Amman New Camp, on the outskirts of Amman.

“To live in a place where nobody feels pity for me or underestimates me because I live in a camp.”
- Amira Ramzi, 16, whose family is originally from Gaza, is chair of the student parliament.

“Human rights for me mean that nobody from outside the camp attacks me or my school, which should be safe and protected”.
- Bilal Shafiq, 14, from a family originally from 'Innaba in al-Ramla.

“For me, it means that I have the right to return to Gaza.”
- Batoul Raed, 10

“My brother and I should be treated equally.”
- Aseel Fathi, 16, plans to become a gender equality activist in the future. Her family is originally from Al-Faluja, Gaza.

Gaza Strip

Years of conflict and closure have devastated the Gaza Strip, and pushed residents into unprecedented unemployment and poverty. Not surprisingly, for refugee children in Gaza, human rights represent security and freedom of movement.

"Human rights means to live in dignity and enjoy the right to freedom and education. As a Palestinian, I lack the right to live in security. My life is in danger from time to time because of the ongoing Israeli explosions in the Gaza Strip. I am then distracted during my studies, losing another right, the right to education.”
- Rawan El Edeiny, 11

"Our life is not pleasant because we do not enjoy our rights; I do not feel safety in my country because my life is at risk as a result of the Israeli siege, ongoing shelling, and constant fear of a new war."
- Hala Salah, 9

“To enjoy my right to play, have fun and to live in freedom and peace like other children in the world.”
- Elyia Hmaid, 8

“We notice the absence of the human rights between the children of Palestine and their mates around the world. They don’t face a siege, they have the right to play, to have fun, and live in dignity. But we, Palestinian children, are constantly threatened by a new war on the Gaza Strip. Thus, we lack the human right to live in peace and security."
- Ahmed Al Buhesi, 14


In Lebanon, Palestine refugees lack many basic rights and are excluded from state services, leaving them dependent on UNRWA for their most basic health, education and relief needs.

“That every individual enjoy his rights, and work to obtain these rights, because this is the way to a decent life. Foremost is the right to education, remoteness from violence, and tolerance. This month, we commemorated the International Day to Combat Violence against Women at my school. I am against such violence, even if it comes from those close to us.”
- Inas Mahmoud, 15, lives in Ein el Hillweh camp. Her family is originally from al-Sumayriyya in Acre and she dreams of becoming a successful businesswoman.

“I don’t feel secure, and I can’t enjoy a happy life because I don’t live in my country Palestine. Lebanon is not my country; I am a refugee here. I learned early on that I cannot consider everything I seek as my human right.”
- Ahmad, 13, Beddawi camp. His family is originally from Damun in Acre.

West Bank

Palestine refugees in West Bank camps live in extremely crowded conditions, and are unable to access many of their rights because of closures imposed by Israeli authorities.

“This day means a lot to me, the UN stresses on human rights, and the human being feels his values and dignity. I have access to education but I lack a healthy and safe environment where I can live with my family. I also lack the freedom of movement and to participate in building the state. I wish that my rights be bestowed upon me.”
- Fatima Abdel Kareem, 15

“This day is celebrated by the UN to emphasize human rights. I go to school and I have access to the health clinics, but I lack many other rights such as my right to protection, and to movement with no barrier or restrictions inside my own country.”
- Shuruq Mohammed, 15

Nativity Trail 2012 & more from the Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies... Educate yourself:

Siraj is a non-governmental non profit organization based in Beit Sahour, Palestine.

Siraj aims to create links between Palestinian people and people from around the globe through educational tourism, interfaith and ecumenical dialogue, culture and youth exchange programs.

Through its many local connections, Siraj works directly with communities and organizations in Bethlehem, the West Bank, Palestine and the Holy Land, and the entire Middle East...READ MORE

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Palestine rep finds closed doors

Palestine rep finds closed doors

By Kevin Bogardus - 12/06/11 05:15 AM ET

Doors sometimes close when the ambassador for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) comes calling on Capitol Hill.

Maen Rashid Areikat, the PLO’s lone representative to the United States, says he fights an uphill battle to keep foreign aid flowing from the U.S. That means going toe to toe with one of the most effective lobbying forces in the nation’s capital: a collection of Jewish-American advocacy groups, led by the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC.

In an interview with The Hill, Areikat said he can’t always get an audience with lawmakers to discuss Palestinian issues. Some congressional offices won’t even let him through the door.

“This is really unfortunate. … You have to talk to a party that is very, very crucial,” Areikat said. “The Israelis are talking to us. Why wouldn’t these members of Congress talk to us?”

Lawmakers who have refused to meet with the ambassador include Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), chairwoman of the House Appropriation State and Foreign Operations subcommittee, according to the PLO’s Washington office.

Ros-Lehtinen and Granger are the two most important House members for any foreign interest active in Washington, so their refusal to meet with Areikat is a significant obstacle....READ MORE

Eighteen Donors Pledge Contributions to United Nations Relief Agency for Palestine Refugees, with Agency Facing Severe, Chronic Financial Constraints

Ad Hoc Committee for Voluntary
Contributions to UNRWA
1st Meeting (PM)

With Palestinian refugees gaining none of the political and human rights advances seen elsewhere in the Middle East, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) facing severe financial constraints, 18donors pledged contributions to the Agency’s 2012 budgetthis afternoon, with several Governments expressing their intention to announce their pledges at a later date.

Donors announced their voluntary contributions today at the meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee, which was established by the General Assembly as the primary forum in which donors could announce financial support for the Agency. UNRWA assists almost 5 million Palestinian refugees across its five fields of operation in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

Opening the meeting, Csaba Körösi (Hungary), Vice-President of the Assembly, said that the lack of a political solution to the protracted conflict almost exactly 62 years after the establishment of UNRWA meant the Agency’s role was today “more vital than ever”.

“The winds of change have swept over the Arab region this year”, he said, and although schools and health centres remained open and operational and UNRWA staff continued to work on the ground, the situation in the region was “fragile and volatile” and posed a direct challenge to the Agency’s operations. It was important that the Agency’s crucial role was recognized, he said, as failure to meet its mandate could potentially cause “further dissatisfaction, anger and instability” in the region.

The Agency faced severe financial constraints, in part because of the financial environment facing the international community, he said. He noted the international community’s generosity under the circumstances and pointed out that the Agency had tried to limit spending and was reaching-out to non-traditional sources and expanding its donor base, including by entering into partnerships. He recalled the international community’s responsibility for the Palestinian refugees until a just solution was reached and urged Member States to consider increasing contributions, stressing the “tremendous importance” of the Agency’s work in providing services to the refugees. While reform efforts would continue, he said the Agency had improved its efficiency and effectiveness, and it made sure contributions were utilized in the best interests of the population it served.

The Deputy Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Margot Ellis, said 2011 had seen “momentous change” in the Middle East, with men and women standing up to call for greater human rights and freedoms, improved governance and better living conditions across the region. While changes continued in the region, “the situation on the ground for Palestinians and Palestine refugees remains the same”.

The need for UNRWA remained strong in the absence of a political solution, she said, adding that the refugees looked to the Agency for vital services, and the Agency looked to the General Assembly to provide the means to continue fulfilling its mandate. She said Israeli occupation negatively impacted Palestinians’ human rights and that, despite improved economic conditions, refugees remained vulnerable. Employment gains in the West Bank exclusively benefited non-refugees, while unemployment among refugees had increased. Home demolitions continued, with the West Bank Bedouin community seeing increased demolitions of houses, water wells, and other essential community assets. That had caused real fears that their indigenous way of life was at risk, which would, she said, “be a travesty of human rights”.

She welcomed measures by Israel to ease access of goods into Gaza, which had allowed reconstruction of schools and refugee homes damaged in 2008 and 2009. The Agency still faced delays, though, and the needs of refugees in Gaza were stark, she said. Approximately 7,000 students started school annually, abject poverty was rising, and youth unemployment reached 66 per cent, meaning refugees needed UNRWA “to retain hope and opportunities, and to regain their dignity”...READ MORE

Palestinians' statehood bid part of Christmas

FILE - In this Thursday, May 12, 2011 file photo, Palestinians hold a key symbolizing the right of return of refugees, and wave Palestinian flags, during a demonstration to mark the 63rd anniversary of "Nakba", Arabic for "Catastrophe", the term used to mark the events leading to Israel's founding in 1948, in Manger Square outside the Church of Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. At Christmas time, the world looks to Jesus' traditional birthplace of Bethlehem, and this year the Palestinians hope to divert some of that attention to their re-energized quest for recognition. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi, File)

Palestinians' statehood bid part of Christmas

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — At Christmas time the world looks to Jesus' traditional birthplace of Bethlehem, and this year the Palestinians hope to use some of that attention to boost their quest for independence.

They're trying to be subtle about it, with just a hint of politics in this year's Christmas slogan, "Palestine celebrating hope," a veiled reference to their bid this fall to win U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state.

Organizers say they didn't want to be overtly political for fear of putting off foreign pilgrims in search of a religious experience. Some 90,000 foreign visitors are expected to throng the Church of the Nativity and adjacent Manger Square in December, including 50,000 during Christmas week.

"We want to use this opportunity to convey a message to the world that we have hope of having our own independent state and we need the international support for that," said Palestinian Tourism Minister Khouloud Daibes. "Since Christmas is a religious occasion, we can't use direct political slogans."

Volunteers will distribute postcards with the Christmas motto in the courtyard of the Church of the Nativity, built over the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born. Visitors can then mail them at the Manger Square post office, using Palestinian stamps, another symbol of the state in the making.

Members of a tour group from Britain and Canada heading into the Nativity church Tuesday had mixed feelings. Some, like 37-year-old pilot Mario Savian from Ontario, said they didn't like injecting politics into Christmas.

But Catherine Meecham, 62, a retired health worker from Scotland, said there was a legitimate connection because Christmas is a time to pray for peace. "I want to see people in Palestine find a peaceful solution," she said....READ MORE

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

BRINGING OUT THE BEST OF PALESTINE: 12-2011 This Week in Palestine Artist of the Month... Marie Balian

She was riding a bicycle when she heard the sirens go off. Finding the nearest designated bunker, she dropped the bicycle and went inside. This was Lyon, France, and a young Marie Alexanian was wondering if she was going to be late for her class at the Beaux Arts (Academy of Art) where she had been studying for the past few months. “Damn those German bombers,” she told herself.

She won several prizes at the academy, but unfortunately, and at the despair of her teachers, could not continue because of financial considerations. She had to go to work at the local textile factory like her widowed mother, Manoushag, to make ends meet.

The Second World War ended and a young, handsome Setrag Balian was on his way to England, from Palestine, to study under the world famous potter and ceramist Bernard Leach. His father, Neshan Balian, who had co-established the Palestinian Pottery of Jerusalem, had told him to pass by Lyon to find relatives from their city of Kutahya, Turkey, which they had been forced to leave because of the 1915 Genocide. Setrag found his relatives and met Marie Balian.

My grandmother, Manoushag, swore on the Bible that more than 40 potential suitors, including doctors, lawyers, and wealthy businessmen, had asked for her daughter’s hand in marriage, but it was my father Setrag who stole her heart. After finishing his studies in England, Setrag and Marie got engaged in Lyon, and together they travelled back to Palestine and got married in Bethlehem.

Marie Balian was fascinated by what she saw at the Palestinian Pottery: colours, designs, flowers, and animals - all interacting together to produce beautiful ceramics that were admired by clients. The problem was that she was not allowed to go into the room where the girls were painting the pottery pieces. This was the agreement between the two partners of the Palestinian Pottery. One family (Balian) was responsible for the production of the pottery pieces (throwing on the wheel, glazes, firing, etc.), while the other was responsible for the designs. Unfortunately she was a Balian.

In 1964 the partnership dissolved, and Marie Balian started to explore the new artistic freedom and challenges that she found at the Palestinian Pottery. The gazelles lost their static look. Flowers danced, no longer bound by repetitive symmetry. The whole design repertoire of the pottery was transformed into bold curves and colours of originality. Gradually, Marie delved into the world of ceramic tile murals. Unique hand-painted murals from as small as 30 x 30 cm to as large as 3 x 3 metres. Tile murals full of bright colours, dancing palm trees, and magnificent peacocks.

With her unique artistic talent and Setrag Balian’s expertise on the throwing wheel, Marie transformed the Palestinian Pottery to a world-renowned ceramic art institution. Worldwide dignitaries and local prominent individuals made up the list of clients. The President’s Office in Ramallah, Dr. Nabil Shaath, Queen Dina of Jordan, the late Ted Kennedy, Nobel Prize winner of chemistry, Roger Kornberg, violinist Itzhak Perlman, and many others have all been exposed to her magnificent ceramics. Several books have been written about Marie and her unique ceramic style, especially her outstanding ceramic tile murals. Wide media coverage has also been given to her in such prominent publications as The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, and Aramco Monthly.

On one of his regular trips to the studio, the late Teddy Kollek - who used to bring over his VIP guests - came with Marc Chagall. Chagall with all his entourage went into the painting room and sat on my mother’s chair and started to paint a ceramic tile. As he hesitated at the choice of a colour from the palette, my mother said, “Maitre … Don’t you think brown would be a good choice?” After a few seconds of dead silence and the collective gasp of his entourage, Chagall replied, “Vous avez raison, Madame.” This was a moment of triumph and vindication for Marie, as was the exhibition of her works and that of the Palestinian Pottery at the world famous Smithsonian Museum (S. Dillon Ripley Center) in Washington, DC, in 1992. This was followed by several exhibitions of her spectacular tile murals at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, as well as the 2006 exhibition in Alicante, Spain, sponsored by Bancaja, one of the largest banks in Spain.

In 2004 the Jerusalem Municipality made known its request to create the Open Museum project of Jerusalem, in which seven major pieces of exterior art were chosen to be placed within walking distance of each other throughout Jerusalem. Marie Balian was chosen as an artist from East Jerusalem, and her breath-taking mural entitled Vision of Paradise, with its 1,000 ceramic tiles, decorates a wall on Koresh Street in West Jerusalem.

Although at 85 her health is not what it used to be, Marie still has the energy to come to the Palestinian Pottery once a week to chat with her art students. If you are lucky enough you might see her sketching a beautiful running gazelle or an elegant peacock.

The only reason for such a plan is to seize lands and hold them as a reserve for a future settlement, while suffocating the Palestinian neighborhoods
Report: Israel plans park to block Issawiya expansion
TEL AVIV, Israel (Ma'an) -- A left-wing member of Israel's Jerusalem city council says a plan for a new "national park" in the Mt Scopus area is a "ruse" to block development of two Palestinian neighborhoods.

Meir Margalit of the Meretz party told Israel's Haaretz daily that the park "is a farce. There's nothing there but rocks and thorns, certainly nothing to justify a national park."

He added: "The only reason for such a plan is to seize lands and hold them as a reserve for a future settlement, while suffocating the Palestinian neighborhoods."

Efrat Cohen, an architect and activist with the rights group Bimkom, said the park is intended to stop the group's plan to renovate areas in al-Tur and Issawiya, which are populated by Palestinians.

"These two neighborhoods are boxed-in from all sides, they have no other way for development".

The report said authorities had meanwhile stopped plans for settlement in the the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, construction that had sparked criticism from the US.

Israeli park plans 'halt' E. Jerusalem development

Israeli officials have halted the expansion of two crowded east Jerusalem neighbourhoods by planning a national park on the only land available for them to grow, Israeli NGO Bimkom said on Tuesday.

The group, also known as Planners for Planning Rights, accuses Israel's National Parks Authority and the Jerusalem municipality of using the park plan to block the expansion of the nearby Arab neighbourhoods of Issawiya and A-Tur.

Efrat Cohen-Bar, an architect with Bimkom, which helps vulnerable communities on issues of planning and building, said the group had been working with the local community to build new homes and schools in the valley that runs between the two neighbourhoods.

The plan gained initial approval from a local committee, but the group then learned that the National Parks Authority wanted to claim 550 dunams (136 acres) of that land for a new park....READ MORE

Israel demolishes 2 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem
A Palestinian woman shows the photographer a torn holy Koran, from the
rubble of her home, which was partially demolished by Jerusalem municipality
workers following an Israeli government order in the Palestinian East Jerusalem
neighborhood Silwan (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

Israel demolishes 2 homes in East Jerusalem

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces demolished two Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem on Monday, locals said.

In Beit Hanina, troops bulldozed the temporary residence of a man who took shelter there after he could not get a permit from the Israeli municipality to build his house, the official PA news agency Wafa reported.

In Silwan, Israeli forces tore down the house of Burhan Burqan, that was home to nine people.

"Israeli troops came at five in the morning to demolish the house and were done by 7 am. They also demolished our barn that had some poultry in it," Burqan said.

The two homes were "illegal, with court-issued demolition orders," an Israeli interior ministry spokeswoman told AFP.

Research by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees found that 990 people -- including 507 children -- have lost their homes in demolitions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem so far this year, more than double the number in 2010, spokesman Chris Gunness told Ma'an on Monday.

"The loss of a home in normal times is highly destabilizing, but in the context of occupation and annexation it often becomes lastingly traumatic, especially for children," Gunness said.

He added: "The United Nations calls on the Israeli authorities to abide by their obligations under international law, of which these displacements and demolitions are a clear violation."

Gunness said 515 Palestinian structures have been demolished in the West Bank this year, of which 22 were in East Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government last month announced tenders for the construction of 800 housing units in Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, which it occupied in the 1967 Six Day war and annexed shortly afterwards in a move never recognized internationally.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem to be its "eternal and indivisible" capital, while Palestinians insist the eastern sector must form the capital of their promised state.

AFP contributed to this report

Israeli settlers on Monday kidnapped a 60-year-old [Palestinian] shepherd after attacking him in Orif village south of Nablus
PA: Settlers kidnap shepherd near Nablus

Israeli settlers have kidnapped a 60-year-old shepherd near Nablus, lofficials
said. (MaanImages/Hatem Omar, File)

NABLUS (Ma'an) -- Israeli settlers on Monday kidnapped a 60-year-old shepherd after attacking him in Orif village south of Nablus, officials said.

Village council head Fawzi Shehadeh said six residents of Yitzhar settlement attacked Salim Jamil Shehadeh near the local high school and took him away in a car.

The settlers stole all 50 of his sheep, the councilor added.

Palestinian Authority settlement affairs official Ghassan Doughlas told Ma'an the government was conducting intensive negotiations with Israeli officials to secure the shepherd's release.

On Saturday, settlers from Itamar violently assaulted elderly shepherd Najih Abdul-Qadir as he worked on his land east of Nablus, Doughlas said.

Some 500,000 Israelis live in Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. There are about 2.5 million Palestinians in the same territory.

All settlements are considered illegal under international law.

My letter to the NYTimes RE "Come Home to Israel"

RE: Come Home to Israel

Dear Editor,

Cohen takes the right approach in realizing that American Jews really should be outraged by Israel's brutality and injustice vis-a-vis the Palestinians, but I think he is wrong to assume Israel will never lose U.S. support. Modern history clearly shows that modern nation states can and do shift from friend to enemy to friend. Personal and political and economic relationships are not locked in stone, they continuously change for better or worse.

Cohen is also wrong to still believe that Israel's "Jewish Democracy" is worth preserving: Jewish people are worth respecting & protecting (and so are Palestinian people), and Jewish identity is worth shaping (as is Palestinian identity- and Israeli identity), but coercing taxpayers into funding Israel's Jewishness (or Palestine's Islamification) is a bad idea that can not help but have increasingly detrimental ramifications.

A fully secular two state solution ASAP to once and for all end the cruel insanities, the violence, the bigotry and the religious extremism created by the Israel-Palestine conflict really is the best way forward.

Anne Selden Annab

"Palestinians, since the inception of the PLO in 1965, have espoused a secular philosophy for their liberation and have prided themselves on their respect for political plurality." Joharah Baker Hamas Should Watch its Step

"Hillary Clinton said over the weekend that requirements for women to ride in the back of some Jerusalem bus routes reminds her of segregated busing during the height of the civil rights era in the south. She also said that the country's growing religious right reminds her of Iran, according to press accounts of her closed-door remarks in Washington. " Hillary Clinton compares parts of Israel to Jim Crow south: Over the weekend, Hillary Clinton targeted rising religious extremism in Israel, something that could one day open a rift between the US and the Jewish state.

"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


Top 10 “Must See” Sites in Bethlehem

Palestine is awakening with new spirit and excitement and offers a unique travel experience that will leave you with memories that will last a lifetime. A visit to this region is safe, welcoming, and to put it best — simply remarkable. Palestine offers the ultimate pilgrimage, an archaeologist’s dream, a shopper’s paradise, and a culinary connoisseur’s delight where the Mediterranean diet is fresh, organic and wholesome. The Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities provides ample support and can supply complete information on destinations, civic and community foundations, and cultural and heritage events. Please visit for a wide selection of information and imagery

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Travel Essentials

Culture & Heritage

Welcome to Palestine, the cradle of civilization, where West meets East, North meets South, and where Judaism, Christianity, and Islam took form. We welcome you in Palestine and hope that you enjoy our cultural richness, deeply compelling history, and legendary hospitality. Over the centuries millions of people have come to visit this beautiful Holy Land and we are glad to welcome you among them. Ahlan Wa Sahlan
You’re coming to the Holy Land and perhaps you aren’t sure if you should visit Bethlehem. You’ve always wanted to go to Bethlehem and see the Church of Nativity but what else is there? Is it worth planning a a full day, or even two?

Yes. And to make it easy for you, Travelujah has created our own list of on and off the beaten path places you can visit during your next day or two day trip to Bethlehem. Below you’ll find our top “must see” sites in and around this ancient city, revered worldwide as the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

1. Church of the Nativity

The monastery, structured in the shape of a cross, which is one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world (constructed in 325 AD). It is a major Christian holy site, as it marks the traditional place of Christ’s birth. The building was founded by Queen Helen of the Byzantine Empire. Adjacent to the Church is the Catholic Church of St. Catherine.

2. Milk Grotto

The Milk Grotto is a place where the Holy Family took shelter during the Slaughter of the Innocents, hiding there for a short time from Herod’s soldiers. Mary nursed her child Jesus there before going to Egypt. It is said that a drop of the Virgin’s milk fell on the floor of the cave, turning the rock white and giving rise to the chalky white stone.

3. Bethlehem Old City

In the center of Bethlehem is situated its Old City. A stroll in the Old City can be an interesting activity: its narrow, climactic streets take you to a past like the 19th century! The old buildings, beautifully decorated with stone ornaments, are not just the architectural landmarks – they are houses for many Bethlehemites.

Follow the Star Street – the ancient way which followed Joseph and the vVrgin Mary to the Grotto of the Nativity. The street leads to King David Wells.

4. Shepherd Fields

Shepherd’s Fields are placed in Beit Sahour, small town east of Bethlehem. The Fields are identified since ancient times with the shepherds who saw the Star of Nativity and followed it to Bethlehem.

There are two places considered as Shepherd’s Fields. One is considered by Catholic Church – You can see there an ancient Byzantic stone mosaic! The second site belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church. There is a small Greek Orthodox Church. All its walls are covered by icons showing life of saints. The place is like a fairytale. While there do not miss the olive trees, many are over 2000 years old!

5. Herodium

Herodium is a volcano-like hill with a truncated cone located near the city of Bethlehem. Herod the Great built a fortress and palace on the top of Herodium, and may have been buried there. Herodium is 758 meters above the sea level. The view from its top is amazing! The fortress is more than 2000 years old.

6. Mar Saba Monastery

Mar Saba is a Greek Orthodox monastery in the middle of a desert, east of Bethlehem. Founded by Saint Sabas of Cappadocia in 439, today it houses around 20 monks. One of monastery’s traditions is the restriction on women entering the main compound. The only building that women can enter is the Women’s Tower, near the main entrance.

7. Bethlehem Museums

International Nativity Museum

International Nativity Museum of Bethlehem is one of the richest and valuable collections of cribs in the Holy Land. The Museum has a collection of over 200 Nativity representations of different styles and dimensions. It is located in the ground floor of the historical Salesian convent of Bethlehem. The variety of the cribs exposed, originating from all around the world, creates a rhapsody of customs, liturgy and rituality from all continents and ethnic groups.

Olive Oil Museum

Al Bad Museum for Olive Oil production is situated in the Old City of Bethlehem. The building which houses the museum dates back as far as the 19-19th century. The museum houses many ethnographic and archaeological artefacts featuring the entire process of oil production. Furthermore, the exhibit also shows the many uses for oil such as lamps, medicine, food, soap and even cosmetics.

Palestinian Heritage Center

The Palestinian Heritage Center aims to preserve and promote Palestinian Cultural Heritage, especially the art of embroidery. The PHC has a great collection of traditional Palestinian dresses and antique items of everyday use. It also participates in fair trade of hand-made embroidery, crafted by women from villages and refugee camps around the city of Bethlehem.

8. Al Khader Village

The Al Khader Village (the village of St. George) is located around 4 km south of Bethlehem. There you can see the ancient Solomon Pools – consisting of water cisterns made of stone, that have played a significant role in the area’s water supply for centuries. Near the pools you can see the al Burak castle, an Ottoman Turkish fortress dating back to the 17th century. In the center of the village there is beautiful Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, whose image connotes protection for Palestinian Christians.

9. Cremisan

Cremisan, a small vineyard of delicious grapes, located on the slopes of a hill, is situated in a beautiful region approximately five kilometers from Bethlehem. The vineyard is run by the order of the Salesians of Don Bosco. A bottle of Cremisan’s wine makes a nice souvenir from a visit in Bethlehem.

10. Banksy Art

Banksy is a pseudonymous for an Bristol, England-based graffiti artist, political activist, film director, and painter famous around the world who has self published several books. In August 2005, Banksy painted couple images on the Israeli West Bank barrier, including an image of a Christmas tree surrounded by a wall in Bethlehem and many more. Tourists from all over the world see his artwork while visiting Bethlehem.

Photo credit: Travelujah

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Beata Michaelska works at the Bethlehem Tourism Office and blogs regularly for Travelujah on interesting sites and experiences in and around Bethlehem. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem two years ago.

Travelujah is a Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. With thousands of pages of expert and user blogs, travel resources and other planning tools, people can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences.

This entry was posted in What to See and tagged by travelpalestine.

A man walks through the Church of Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Mohamad Torokman/Reuters CSM Photos of the Day December 2011