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Saturday, December 17, 2011

When I Return: What will you do when you return to a liberated Palestine?


Reem, Egypt, Nablus

When Palestine is liberated I will go straight to the old city of Nablus with my mum and sister, as we haven’t been able to do for years now, and we will buy sweets and fruit and of course tanajir and she will show us around without the fear she once felt. But then we will go on a trip to see all of Palestine, which I have never been able to do. I will get to know every town and village, every cafe and bookshop and market and every neighbourhood’s customs and reputation and resistance. Also my cousins and I will drive along the coast and I will stick my head out of the car window, just like I do in Cairo after I’ve just landed, and breathe in free air with loud music and Palestinian jokes in the background. And after the fun, I will help with something, I can’t say what yet, but maybe teach a course, establish a cinema or help found a museum. Maybe I’ll even work for the Free State..! And I will invite my family and friends from other Arab countries to Palestine to see the liberation and celebrate it, because they will have played a part in realising it for sure.

When I Return
When I Return is a participatory campaign that features simple notes by Palestinians, Arabs and allies describing what they hope to do when Palestine is free and/or they return to Palestine. When I Return evidences the daily resonance of the Nakba, as not only a vanishing memory to be commemorated, but as a persistent moment binding us to our past, our present and to each other.

When I Return What will you do when you return to a liberated Palestine?

Right of Return - Doc Jazz



LYRICS
Copyright © Doc Jazz 2011

You are like the olive tree
Just like you were meant to be
Though your roots dig deep into the land
They were uprooted by a savage hand

But the ties were forged through centuries
A bond so strong and fixed in history
You are the land and the land is you
 A solid unity they never can undo

Cherish your leaves, let your branches bear your fruits
All you need to do is protect and feed your roots

The old will die, but the young will learn
The road is long and it will twist and turn
But when you know your destiny
You know where you need to be
And we always will believe
It's our Right to Return

Black on white they wrote that vow
But to act on it was not allowed
Empty words like a carrot on a stick
Ink is fading as the clock goes on to tick

Dispossession and racial oppression
Every psycho form of Zionist aggression
Was condoned by that very same force
Though they say our rights are still endorsed

We don't need your words, they're just empty talk
Why don't you just keep on talking while we walk the walk

The old have died, but the young are strong
We know who we are and where we belong
With the key in our hand
We'll come home to our land
We know we will always stand
for our Right of Return

My letter to the Washington Post RE What ‘pro-Israel’ should mean

RE: What ‘pro-Israel’ should mean By Jeremy Ben-Ami president of J Street, a Washington-based nonprofit that advocates a diplomatic resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the author of “A New Voice for Israel.”
http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/what-pro-israel-should-mean/2011/12/15/gIQAlbaCzO_story.html

Dear Editor,

Food for thought from the late great Christopher Hitchens : "I'm one of those people of Jewish descent who believes that Zionism would be a mistake even if there were no Palestinians."

But there are Palestinians and just this past week "Israeli authorities made the wife of the Palestinian ambassador in London interrupt a course of chemotherapy in order to return to Jerusalem or risk losing her residency rights, a trip that hastened her death from cancer" London ambassador says Israeli refusal to renew wife's residency papers led to trip that hastened her death

Israel's obsession with being "Jewish" helped create and exasperate the largest, longest running refugee crisis in the world today- and countless native non-Jewish Palestinian men women and children continue to be displaced and impoverished today by Jewish soldiers and settlers and bureaucrats who want the land but not the people of that land: A two state solution to once and for all end the Israel/Palestine conflict must be based on full respect for basic human rights and the rule of fair and just laws, not demographic dictates and demented fantasies fueled by bigoted ideologues (Zionists as well as Islamists) and their dupes deploying math rather than compassion.

How would you feel if you were evicted from your home and prevented from visiting your mother or getting a job because officialdom deemed you to be a demographic threat because you were born the 'wrong' religion. J-Street is a wonderful idea as is the need for a
diplomatic resolution, but J-Street is wrong to advocate the argument that Israel needs to be officially Jewish. Pro-Israel should not be yet another way to coerce tax payers here or there into funding Jewish religious 'scholars' and segregated buses. Pro-Israel should be about modern law and enlightenment and real freedom.... real justice, real peace, real rapprochement, and real progress for all the people regardless of supposed race or religion.

Sincerely,
Anne Selden Annab

NOTES
"Feminists who once thought Israel's battle for gender equality had been mostly won are warning of a new assault from Israel's fast-growing ultra-Orthodox community, which is seeking to expand religious-based segregation into the public realm." As ultra-Orthodox flex muscle, Israel feminists see a backsliding

"What we have here is creeping insanity, which is reflected in various types of violence. The expression “price tag” does not mean an eye for an eye, but seven eyes and fists for an eye. These violent people are reminiscent of the bad guys in Westerns, who gallop into a remote town and fire in all directions. In everyday language that’s called hooliganism. " Israel's far right-wing is real threat to Mideast peace

"
As part of the weekly nonviolent protests against the occupation, settlements, the Wall, and the illegal Israeli attempts to annex lands that belong to the Cremisan Christian Monastery In Beit Jala, Palestinian Christians held prayers on lands that belong to residents of the town, located near the West Bank city of Bethlehem." Latin Church In Beit Jala Holds Prayers On Lands Threatened By Wall, Settlements

"The birth of Jesus Christ has played an essential role in forming our humanity, refining our history and tolerating the injustice and persecution in our daily lives amidst an absence of peace.

One day soon, we hope this occupation and blockade will fade from memory as Palestinians are granted their national and legitimate rights, and peace.

Let us hope 2012 is a year of prosperity, tranquility and peace -- for the holy land and the entire world." Victor Batarseh, mayor of Bethlehem. Why we're celebrating hope this Christmas

"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

Mayor of Bethlehem: Why we're celebrating hope this Christmas

"Let us hope 2012 is a year of prosperity, tranquility and peace -- for the holy land and the entire world."
A Palestinian girl lights a candle in the Church of the Nativity, the site
revered as the birthplace of Jesus, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem
on Dec. 15, 2011, ahead of Christmas. (Reuters/Mohamad Torokman)

Why we're celebrating hope this Christmas
http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=445340
[AS ALWAYS PLEASE GO TO THE LINK TO READ GOOD ARTICLES IN FULL: HELP SHAPE ALGORITHMS (and conversations) THAT EMPOWER PALESTINE AND PEACE]


It all started in Bethlehem. From here, the Christmas message was revealed to mankind; a message of joy, love and peace.

And here we are today, after more than 2,000 years, reviving this eternal remembrance in faith and love, happily cheering and singing songs of joy and triumph.

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." This verse spreads joy in our hearts and proves for us that nothing is impossible for God, not even realizing peace.

Palestinians have always suffered from occupation and oppression, and still undergo violations of their rights. We live in a city surrounded by a wall that cruelly and severely obscures it, prohibiting its people from moving freely on their lands.

Around 70,000 acres of Bethlehem's arable land behind the wall have been seized this year by the Israeli occupation authorities, who decided the landowners were "absent" and referred their land to Israel's "absentee property custodian."

Our hearts grieve for what our city has become, and it pains us to imagine what the birth of our lord Jesus Christ would look like today.

Joseph and Mary would be stopped and searched entering Bethlehem or departing on their flight to Egypt. The Magi would run into a huge concrete wall. The shepherds would not be able to graze their sheep; their land would have been confiscated.

Despite everything, the hearts of the residents of Bethlehem are once again filling with hope as Christmas approaches, a hope which comes from the savior's birth at the heart of the city. It brings to its people a message of love, peace and hope.

During this season, hope shines in our hearts; it springs out from our faith in the power of the child lying in the manger to realize justice in this holy land.

It is from this we derive our theme for Christmas 2011: Palestine Celebrating Hope. This year we are approaching the birth of our independent Palestinian state with bold steps forward.

Nowhere is this progress clearer than in Palestine's successful application to become a permanent member of UNESCO -- clear evidence for our people's culture and our country's civilization and history.

The birth of Jesus Christ has played an essential role in forming our humanity, refining our history and tolerating the injustice and persecution in our daily lives amidst an absence of peace.

One day soon, we hope this occupation and blockade will fade from memory as Palestinians are granted their national and legitimate rights, and peace.

Let us hope 2012 is a year of prosperity, tranquility and peace -- for the holy land and the entire world.

Victor Batarseh is mayor of Bethlehem. Adapted from remarks delivered Dec. 15, 2011.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Palestine Melts Iceland | The Weekly Standard

"Althingi reaffirms that the PLO, the Palestine Liberation Organization, is the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and also recalls the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their former homes in accordance with resolutions reaffirmed by the United Nations.

Althingi demands that the conflicting parties in the Arab-Israeli Conflict cease warfare and acts of violence forthwith and respect human rights and humanitarian law."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Freda Hughes' art, created in 2008: Remember Palestine this Christmas

Hundreds of Palestinians have gathered in Bethlehem to light a Christmas tree ahead of the holiday festivities in the town where Jesus was born.

A woman photographs a man holding children in front of a decorated Christmas tree during the annual lighting ceremony of the tree at Manger Square in the West Bank town of Bethlehem December 15, 2011. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

[AS ALWAYS PLEASE GO TO THE LINK TO READ GOOD ARTICLES IN FULL: HELP SHAPE ALGORITHMS (and conversations) THAT EMPOWER PALESTINE AND PEACE]
http://news.yahoo.com/palestinians-light-christmas-tree-bethlehem-193607226.html

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — Hundreds of Palestinians have gathered in Bethlehem to light a Christmas tree ahead of the holiday festivities in the town where Jesus was born.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad pressed a button lighting up the decorations on the 50-foot (15-meter) tree Thursday, along with the lights illuminating the rest of the square outside the Church of the Nativity.

Christmas brings the world's attention every year briefly to this West Bank town south of Jerusalem.

Fayyad said Christmas was an opportunity to "celebrate the Palestinian identity of Jesus Christ."

http://news.yahoo.com/photos/palestinians-light-bethlehem-christmas-tree-1323979274-slideshow/#crsl=%252Fphotos%252Fpalestinians-light-bethlehem-christmas-tree-1323979274-slideshow%252Fpalestinian-man-works-bethlehems-christmas-tree-manger-square-photo-141059142.html

Palestinians light Bethlehem Christmas tree

A Palestinian man works on Bethlehem's Christmas tree in Manger Square, outside the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

A general view of Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, is seen during the annual lighting ceremony of a Christmas tree in the West Bank town of Bethlehem December 15, 2011. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

Ibtisam Barakat's Pencil Tip

Hussein Ibish: How national identities are really formed

"There's nothing transhistorical or metaphysical about Palestinian nationalism, any more than there is about Zionism, or any other nationalism. This is so blindingly obvious even small children should have no difficulty grasping that whatever aspects of history, traditions, myths or legends a contemporary political movement wishes to privilege, foreground, highlight or deploy in order to legitimate it's agenda, what it is responding to is not anything ancient, transhistorical, metaphysical or inevitable, but rather the contemporary, immediate needs of constituencies that are themselves modern, and indeed "imagined," and the products of recent developments, not ancient history." IBISHBLOG 2011

My letter to the New York Times RE We are Palestinians by Daoud Kuttab


RE We are Palestinians by Daoud Kuttab
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/15/opinion/we-are-palestinians.html?_r=1&ref=global

Dear Editor,

The Palestinian flag was hoisted at UNESCO this week and in the New York Times in that beautifully illustrated, fascinating and revealing op-ed by Daoud Kuttab "We are Palestinians"... I very much hope that state building efforts continue on this positive track and that the people of Palestine, and the people of Israel, are able to veer away from militancy and religious extremism in order to create a fair and just and fully secular human rights based two state solution to once and for all end the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Sincerely,
Anne Selden Annab


NOTES
“The Palestinian people, as all peoples, must be able to preserve their culture and heritage. They must benefit from quality education, education for peace. A strong educational system teaches respect for human rights. A vibrant culture respects the culture of others. In this connected world, healthy societies flourish through ties with others. UNESCO stands for all of this.” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova Welcoming Palestine to the agency UN NEWS CENTRE

Executive director of Oxfam International Jeremy Hobbs: "The increasing rate of settlement expansion and house demolitions is pushing Palestinians to the brink, destroying their livelihoods and prospects for a just and durable peace," Record number of Palestinians displaced in 2011


"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

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

New York Times: We Are Palestinians by Daoud Kuttab

JERUSALEM — When they were young, one of my children’s favorite games was reciting the family lineage. In our culture a person’s full name is a combination of his paternal parentage. My son, born in Jerusalem in 1988, would say his name is Bishara Daoud George Musa Qustandi Musa Kuttab.

Our family name came from the profession two brothers had a long time ago. The first Kuttabs were scribes who sat outside the court and wrote up petitions for people who had a claim with the authorities. Kuttab is Arabic for writers or scribes.

Upon graduating from North Park University in Chicago and returning to Palestine, Bishara visited the St. James Orthodox Church in the Old City of Jerusalem. He met with the head of the local Palestinian Christian parish. Using extensive baptismal records, they were able to patch together the history of Kuttabs in Jerusalem for hundreds of years. This turned into a family tree that has been circulated on Facebook to all Kuttabs...READ MORE

The Palestinian Authority is struggling to raise funds for a planned renovation to Bethlehem's iconic Church of the Nativity

Palestinians plan to coordinate with churches, UNESCO, everybody with an international criteria: "The renovation itself will have to comply with international standards for cultural heritage protection..."
http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=444727
Greek Orthodox clergymen clean the floor of the Nativity Church, believed
by many to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, ahead of Orthodox and Armenian
Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem (MaanImages/Luay Sababa, File)


BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The Palestinian Authority is struggling to raise funds for a planned renovation to Bethlehem's iconic Church of the Nativity, a Palestinian official said Monday.

Ziad Bandak, presidential adviser for Christian affairs and head of the Nativity Church restoration committee, says the PA has raised about $1.6 million of the nearly $15 million needed for a major roof renovation.

"The major issue is the issue of funding," Bandak told reporters in Bethlehem. He says the government and local businesses have offered the bulk of the money secured so far, along with a $100,000 grant from Hungary in response to an international appeal for assistance.

"The first who paid $1 million was the Palestinians, from the Palestinian treasury," after President Mahmoud Abbas established a committee in 2009 to carry out work on the church's leaky roof, he says.

The problem with the roof has been exacerbated for centuries, as one authority after another ignored it. Under Ottoman, British, Jordanian and Israeli rule, only cosmetic improvements were made. Now that Palestinians have nominal control of Bethlehem, the PA wants to prove it is up to the challenge.

"The Church of the Nativity is part of our history," Bandak says.

"At the end of it we are going to have the Palestinian Authority's renovation ... which reflects the respect of the Palestinian people for their history."

Asked if he was disappointed with the response so far, Bandak said, "I am maybe a little disappointed, but not pessimistic. I'm sure the majority of the countries want to know the official numbers and figures."

He said support would come through once the committee was able to present a comprehensive plan, in early 2012. "We asked for more study on certain issues" related to the renovation, he said. "We didn't want to ask for money from other countries (in case) there was a miscalculation."

Also, the PA wants "to coordinate this issue with churches, UNESCO, everybody with an international criteria. The renovation itself will have to comply with international standards for cultural heritage protection.

'A very sensitive line'

"The Church of the Nativity is one of the most magnificent and holiest places in the world for the Christians, and also for the Palestinians and Arab countries in general."

There is some precedent for taking it slow. The Nativity Church was built in 330 AD and since that time, there have not been any comprehensive renovations, Palestinian officials say.

"I'm talking about 1,700 years," Bandak points out.

"Earthquakes, wars, changing authorities. So, this is the first time in the history of the church, which is the cradle of Christianity, that a comprehensive renovation is taking place."

The main obstacle to the undertaking is apparent to visitors. Built over the historic birthplace of Christ, the building is strictly divided between the Greek, Latin and Armenian churches.

Finally in 2009, Bandak managed to secure approval from all three groups.

"We have to be very careful not to harm the status quo (agreements)," he says. "We have to coordinate any step with them because they are, at the end of the day, the owners.

"We don't want to harm this understanding, so we have to walk on a very sensitive line and respect their rights and reach the renovation at the end of the day."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority tourism minister celebrated...

"In remarks welcoming Palestine to the agency, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova noted that membership “goes beyond raising the flag” and includes critical rights and responsibilities, as well as the sharing of universal values such as tolerance and respect for others.

“Membership allows a country to bring to the world that which it cherishes most – the wealth of its culture, the resonance of its dreams for mutual understanding,” she said.

“The Palestinian people, as all peoples, must be able to preserve their culture and heritage. They must benefit from quality education, education for peace. A strong educational system teaches respect for human rights. A vibrant culture respects the culture of others. In this connected world, healthy societies flourish through ties with others. UNESCO stands for all of this.”
UN NEWS CENTRE
UN NEWS Palestinian flag raised at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France


The Palestinian flag flies next to the UNESCO flag, moment after it was raised for the first time at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)

Abbas raises Palestinian flag at UNESCO
President Mahmoud Abbas (C), UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova and
officials attend the flag-raising ceremony for the Palestinian flag at the UNESCO
Headquarters in Paris December 13, 2011. (Reuters/Benoit Tessier)

Some 50 diplomatic guests watched as Abbas lifted the flag to the Palestinian national anthem and said he hoped UNESCO's move was the beginning of international recognition for Palestine. The Palestinian national anthem played as a morning of biting wind and rain gave way to a burst of sunshine.

"It is moving to see our flag raised and for it to be flying in this beautiful city of Paris among all the other states. This bodes well for Palestine becoming a member of other international institutions," Abbas said.

"We hope we will have one independent state in the future that will live side by side with Israel," he said.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority tourism minister celebrated.

"We are very thankful and consider it a Christmas gift under our tree to be included in UNESCO. And as of today our flag is also flying at UNESCO headquarters," Kholoud Daibes told reporters in Bethlehem.

"This is a reason for us not to give up, and we are very optimistic that the international community is becoming more sensitive and very supportive to the issue of ending occupation," she said Monday....READ MORE


Abbas to UNESCO: It’s an Emotional, Historical Moment
PARIS, December 13, 2011 (WAFA) – President Mahmoud Abbas Tuesday described the raising of the Palestinian flag at UNESCO headquarters in Paris as a historical and emotional moment.

Shortly after raising the flag making Palestine officially UNESCO member number 195, Abbas told the General Conference that “it is a historical and an emotional moment for me and my people to raise the Palestinian flag at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.”

UNESCO voted on October 31 to admit Palestine as full member, the first for a UN agency.

Abbas received a warm welcome and a standing ovation when he entered the hall and after he took to the podium of the General Conference to address UNESCO plenum.

It is a cause for pride that UNESCO, with its noble and humanitarian charter, programs and objectives, was the first international organization to admit Palestine a full member, said Abbas....READ MORE

Record number of Palestinians displaced in 2011

Israel demolishing a Palestinian home near Jerusalem (MaanImages/file)
http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=444655&mid=55163

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli authorities have displaced a record number of Palestinian families in the West Bank including East Jerusalem this year, a coalition of rights groups said Tuesday.

Some 20 leading aid agencies and human rights groups released a joint statement condemning the violations as the Mideast Quartet prepares to meet in Jerusalem.

"The increasing rate of settlement expansion and house demolitions is pushing Palestinians to the brink, destroying their livelihoods and prospects for a just and durable peace," executive director of Oxfam International Jeremy Hobbs said.

"There is a growing disconnect between the Quartet talks and the situation on the ground. The Quartet needs to radically revise its approach and show that it can make a real difference to the lives of Palestinians and Israelis," he added.

The increase in house demolitions in 2011 has been accompanied by the expansion of illegal settlements and a sharp increase in settler violence.

Since the beginning of 2011, more than 500 homes, wells and other structures have been destroyed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, displacing over 1,000 Palestinians, UN figures show.

This is twice as many people over the same time period last year and the highest figure since 2005. Half of those displaced are children.

Around 4,000 housing units have been approved in East Jerusalem over the past year, the highest number since 2006, the Israeli organization Peace Now said.

Settler attacks against Palestinians have increased by over 50 percent in 2011 compared to 2010, and by 160 percent since 2009, UN reports show.

Meanwhile, over 10,000 olive and other trees have been destroyed this year.

"The Quartet should call ongoing settlement expansion and house demolitions what they are: violations of international humanitarian law that Israel should stop," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Phillip Luther, regional director for Amnesty International, said the figures show the Quartet's approach has failed.

"Israel’s escalating violations show the fundamental failure of the Quartet’s approach. It’s time for the Quartet to understand that they cannot contribute to achieving a just and durable solution to the conflict without first ensuring respect for international law."

[AS ALWAYS PLEASE GO TO THE LINK TO READ GOOD ARTICLES IN FULL: HELP SHAPE ALGORITHMS (and conversations) THAT EMPOWER PALESTINE AND PEACE]


Forget-Me-Nots ... a poem by Anne Selden Annab

Forget-Me-Nots

When possible-
I no longer buy
six pointed stars
and snowflakes

preferring Palestine

Perhaps one day
six pointed stars
and snow flakes
will once again
simply be what they are

And certain flags
will not represent
rampant bigotry and injustice:

Quietly- calmly, the quest
for peace starts here
with a five pointed star
and a poet
simply being
remembering
honoring
Palestine

and all it might be



poem copyright ©2011 Anne Selden Annab

Monday, December 12, 2011

Palestinian flag to fly at UNESCO headquarters

The Palestinian flag will be hoisted Tuesday at UNESCO headquarters, over a month after its admission to the UN cultural agency sparked anger and reprisals from the United States and Israel.

President Mahmud Abbas will travel to Paris to attend the event, which led Washington to pull funding to the UN organisation, and which is seen by many as a step on the Palestinians' road to eventual UN membership.

"President Abbas wants to show the importance he attaches to UNESCO," said a Palestinian diplomat. "And this is the first time that the flag will be flown at the headquarters of a UN institution."

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation says the flag-hoisting is a symbolic ceremony "to mark Palestine's admission to the organisation" that takes place each time a new member joins.

The Palestinians were admitted to the body in late October, when the UNESCO general assembly voted 107-14 to make Palestine its 195th member....READ MORE

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Gingrich stands by 'invented' Palestinians jab

"...And American Task Force on Palestine spokesman Hussein Ibish was quick to point out that "there was no Israel and no such thing as an 'Israeli people' before 1948," when the country was established."
MAP of PALESTINE circa 1856


WASHINGTON (AFP) -- Leading Republican White House contender Newt Gingrich has stood by remarks that Palestinians are an "invented" people, which have sparked outrage as he seemed to call into question long-held US policy on statehood.

"Is what I said factually correct? Yes. Is it historically true? Yes," Gingrich said during a thorny moment in the latest debate among the Republicans vying to challenge President Barack Obama in the November 2012 election.

Gingrich's comments were the most hawkish to date from any Republican vying to take on President Barack Obama in November 2012's national election, and came as his rivals upped the bidding to gain key support from Jewish voters.

In a sign he could abandon the US position on a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians, Gingrich said the Jewish people had the right to a state, but did not confirm if Palestinians should have the same privilege.

"Remember there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire," Gingrich told The Jewish Channel in an interview released on Friday.

"We've had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community," he said.

"They had a chance to go many places. And for a variety of political reasons, we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s, and I think it's tragic," the candidate said.

Republicans aiming for the presidency have declared an unshakable commitment to Israel, while criticizing Obama's policy toward Israel.

But Gingrich's campaign was later forced to backtrack and a statement was issued that said the candidate did in fact favor the same two-state solution espoused by Obama and previous US presidents.

"Gingrich supports a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians," spokesman R.C. Hammond said, "which will necessarily include agreement between Israel and the Palestinians over the borders of a Palestinian state."

Outraged Palestinian officials called for the former US House speaker to apologize for his "vulgar, hurtful and ridiculous remarks."

His characterization of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "constituted a totally unacceptable distortion of historical truth," Ramallah prime minister Salam Fayyad said Saturday, stressing that in Israel "even the most extremist settlers don't dare to speak in such a ridiculous manner."

And American Task Force on Palestine spokesman Hussein Ibish was quick to point out that "there was no Israel and no such thing as an 'Israeli people' before 1948," when the country was established.

But late Saturday in the latest Republican presidential debate, Gingrich kicked the hornet's nest again, saying: "These people are terrorists."

"They teach terrorism in their schools. They have textbooks that say if there are 13 Jews and nine Jews are killed, how many Jews are left?" he said.

"We pay for those textbooks through our aid money. It's time for somebody to say 'enough lying about the Middle East.'"

Gingrich's latest remarks, including saying that "the Palestinian claim to a right of return is based on a historically false story," put his rivals -- and Americans in general -- on notice that he has no intention of shying away from controversy as he seeks his party's nomination.

While Jewish voters account for a very small portion of the electorate, they play an important role in pivotal states such as Florida and delegate-rich Pennsylvania that are key to the presidential nominating process.

Earlier in the week, Gingrich told a Republican Jewish forum that if he won the nomination he would ask John Bolton, former president George W. Bush's UN envoy, to be his secretary of state. Bolton is known for his virulent defense of Israel.

At that same forum, Gingrich's main rival for the nomination, Mitt Romney, said he would visit Washington's close ally on his first trip as president, and claimed that Obama had "chastened" Israel.

Republican White House hopeful Michele Bachmann meanwhile joined Gingrich in saying she would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, to which both Israel and Palestinians lay claim.

In the interview with Jewish TV, Gingrich also charged that the Palestinian Authority shares the militant Islamist Hamas movement's "enormous desire to destroy Israel."

The Palestinian Authority formally recognizes Israel's right to exist.