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Sunday, December 30, 2012

My online comment RE AP photo essay: Ex-Soviet immigrants change Israel

In this Nov. 9, 2012 photo, gymnasts from Russian-speaking immigrant families warm up at a gymnastics competition organized for Israel's immigrant community, in the southern resort city of Eilat. Most of Israel's Olympic gymnasts are immigrants from the former Soviet Union. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
RE: AP photo essay: Ex-Soviet immigrants change Israel
http://news.yahoo.com/ap-photo-essay-ex-soviet-immigrants-change-israel-143918455.html#ugccmt-container

I think it is tragic and cruel that Israel happily welcomes outsiders (and generously subsidizes housing and perks and positive PR for Jewish people) but Israel refuses to respect the native non-Jewish Palestinian refugees' natural and legal right to return to original homes and lands.

Israel, aided by Islamists and extremists and naysayers and cynics on both sides, is also actively sabotaging negotiations for a fair and just two state solution to once and for all end the Israel-Palestine conflict with a two state solution.


Full respect for international law and basic human rights would go a long way towards preparing the people here and there for a just and lasting peace and a win-win-win situation for all our children.


Sincerely
Anne Selden Annab

Saturday, December 29, 2012

This Week in Palestine... INVESTMENT


Come the New Year, we start with “Investment,” a matter that requires sound, comprehensive research. For a place like Palestine, sort of country, sort of occupied, sort of independent, sort of heavily reliant, the topic can be tricky. Indeed, the situation in Palestine is complex. Nonetheless, we have taken a more traditional approach to investment and examined it from an economic and business point of view, while highlighting various social, cultural, and political dimensions.

Covering investment in Palestinian goods, Arda Mardirossian Shamshoum enlightens us with her article, “Taking the Liberty.” Tom Speechly, partner in The Abraaj Group, writes about, “Private Equity in Palestine.” An article from Elisabeth Koek, a legal researcher at Al-Haq, describes water conditions in Palestine and their effect on the Palestinian economy and agriculture. Hashim Shawa, our personality of the month, explores the “Start-up Generation,” while Laila Kaiksow discusses the importance of investing in public spaces for our children. 

Other articles include a contribution from Sabri Saidam about information technology, Ali Qleibo on “Investing in Palestinian Culture,” and Nora Lester Murad takes the theme from a community perspective. A special piece by Ayat Wael Kanaan titled, “Ultimate Endurance,” will surely touch your hearts, in addition to input from other writers who have enriched the issue. Finally, I would like to wish you all an enjoyable read and a prosperous 2013, as a result of wise investment choices!

In peace,
 Manar Harb
Content Editor



Doura Al Qare


 

Monday, December 24, 2012


Thousands enjoy merry Christmas in Bethlehem... and prayers for peace for both Israel and Palestine

Musicians perform on stage in Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, on Christmas eve in the West Bank town of Bethlehem December 24, 2012. REUTERS/Ammar Awad (WEST BANK - Tags: RELIGION)
Orthodox Christian priests (R) wait for the arrival of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal at the entrance of the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem December 24, 2012. REUTERS/Ammar Awad (WEST BANK - Tags: RELIGION)

People walk through the Church of Nativity, the site revered by Christians as Jesus' birthplace, ahead of Christmas in the West Bank town of Bethlehem December 23, 2012. REUTERS/Ammar Awad (WEST BANK - Tags: RELIGION)
A visitor lights a candle inside the Church of Nativity, the site revered by Christians as Jesus' birthplace, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem December 23, 2012. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside (WEST BANK - Tags: RELIGION)
A member of the clergy holds a cross as he waits for the arrival of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal outside the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem December 24, 2012. REUTERS/Ammar Awad (WEST BANK - Tags: RELIGION)
Christian boys from Nigeria walk outside the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Monday, Dec. 24, 2012. Thousands of Christian worshippers and tourists arrived in Bethlehem on Monday to mark Christmas at the site many believe Jesus Christ was born. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

"From this holy place, I invite politicians and men of good will to work with determination for peace and reconciliation that encompasses Palestine and Israel in the midst of all the suffering in the Middle East," said the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal in his annual address. "Please continue to fight for a just cause to achieve peace and security for the people of the Holy Land."

Thousands enjoy merry Christmas in Bethlehem

Merry Christmas in spite of it all By Joharah Baker for MIFTAH

[Please Note: From FY2008 to the present, annual U.S. bilateral assistance to the West Bank and Gaza Strip has averaged over $600 million, including annual averages of over $200 million in direct budgetary assistance and over $100 million in non-lethal security assistance for the PA in the West Bank. Additionally, the United States is the largest single-state donor to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)]

Everyone loves the Christmas season with its decorated trees, lights, family get-togethers and overall cheer. The Palestinians are no different, both Christians and Muslims alike. This year in Palestine, Christmas will be celebrated with a mixture of hope for the future and frustration over the present. Palestinian Christians who work for government institutions will unfortunately have to make do with half their salaries this month as the PA continues to try and hold its head above water. With the financial crisis eating away at the Palestinian economy and tens of thousands of pocketbooks, some Christians will have to cut down on the festivities this year for lack of funds.

This crisis is crushing from every aspect. While employees cannot be blamed for wanting their salaries and therefore taking protest measures to demand them, neither can the PA be fully blamed for not being able to deliver. Israel is withholding money that is rightfully ours and the Arabs have yet to make good on their promise of providing a financial safety net to the PA. While many may say the government has not managed the crisis very well, if anyone or anything is to blame, it is the system created by the Oslo Accords that allows such crises to happen in the first place. The fact that the Palestinians are almost completely dependent on Arab and foreign aid coupled with the uneasy fact that Israel can freeze the transfer of our tax revenues whenever it wants, means this is a faulty system from the get-go. The Palestinians can never have a stable and viable economy as long as this lopsided and discriminatory system is in place.

This brings us to the element of hope this Christmas. The Palestinian leadership, very aware of this faulty system, have started to turn things around. The recent status upgrade for Palestine at the UN to a non-member state is a quantum leap for the Palestinians. While the road is understandably still long and full of obstacles, the wheel has been put into motion. Palestine is now a state under occupation, a status recognized by the overwhelming majority of world countries. Israel is violating international law by its presence in this occupied state in the form of settlements and the Palestinians have now been empowered by the tool of international criminal courts to fight this. Things are changing, even if slowly.

So even though pockets may be almost empty this Christmas, Palestinians still count their blessings. Christians celebrate the birth of Christ, our own Palestinian-born prophet and his tremendous sacrifice for humanity. We know a thing or two about sacrifice and therefore never ever lose hope.

Merry Christmas to all from the occupied State of Palestine.

Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mid@miftah.org.

Laylat Al-Milad, the night of Christmas. Arabic Carol

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas in Bethlehem: Image and Reality, 2012

Philip Farah

If you have a miniature manger in your home today, or if you've heard a piece of music in the mall with "Bethlehem" in it, I -- as a Palestinian Christian in whose life Bethlehem has played a big role -- have a favor to ask you: Please go to your computer and do a search using these words: "Bethlehem Christmas wall." Check out some of the articles and the images. If your curiosity is piqued, go a bit further and check out the images for "al Masara village," or "al Walaja village," two tiny villages near Bethlehem. I think this is an important exercise for anyone who has formed a mental image of the Little Town of Bethlehem during this holiday season.

Today, Bethlehem and the surrounding areas still have some of the holiest churches of Christianity, and they still vibrate with the prayers and celebrations of Palestinian Christians. But the Palestinians of Bethlehem, Christians and Muslims alike, are a people besieged. For Bethlehem today is surrounded by a host of physical barriers, including several miles of a concrete wall that is over 20 feet high, built by the Israeli occupation authorities.

This wall -- deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004 -- separates the Palestinians of the Bethlehem area from huge swaths of their land. Much of that land has been taken from them to build Jewish-only settlements...READ MORE

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Video: From Palestine on Christmas

http://youtu.be/NdPjsNpuqCk
Published on Dec 21, 2012
Justice is possible and hope is justified.

Bethlehem 2012 Christmas in Palestine

Christian worshipers visits the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, ahead of Christmas, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Friday, Dec. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
In this photo taken on Monday, Dec 17, 2012, Bethlehem’s first female mayor, Vera Baboun tours near the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West bank city of Bethlehem. Bethlehem’s first female mayor, Vera Baboun, can’t walk through the main square of the biblical town without being stopped by admirers. “This is our new mayor, who is turning Bethlehem into one of the greatest cities in the world,” a tour guide hollered to a group of Christian tourists passing by the Church of the Nativity, built over the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born. After seven years of Islamist Hamas control of Bethlehem that drained the town of international aid funds, Baboun, a Christian, and her colleagues from the more moderate Fatah Party hope to turn things around, starting with the Christmas season. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
A Palestinian vendor pushes a cart in front of a Christmas tree as he sells corn at Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem December 16, 2012. REUTERS/Ammar Awad (WEST BANK - Tags: RELIGION FOOD) 
People watch fireworks explode after the lighting of the Christmas tree outside the Church of Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem December 15, 2012. REUTERS/Ammar Awad (WEST BANK - Tags: RELIGION)
A Palestinian wood carver works on a figurine of the baby Jesus in an olive wood factory in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, ahead of Christmas, Friday, Dec. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
A worshipper lights a candle in the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank town of Bethlehem December 20, 2012. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman (WEST BANK - Tags: RELIGION)

Bethlehem's new female mayor gears up for Christmas 

 ****

Tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists are expected to visit Bethlehem in the West Bank over Christmas. Photograph: Musa Al-Shaer/AFP/Getty Image

 

"OK, we are living in a big prison, but we still hope that things will change."

Bethlehem is "a symbol of hope and peace" to the world, said Rishmawi. However, he added: "Hotels in Bethlehem will be full at Christmas, but we need families to come here all the year round, to walk in our streets and eat in our restaurants."

No room at the inn – but Bethlehem's popularity is a boon for Palestinians

More visitors and statehood recognition raises hopes for tourism industry in West Bank city, which is largely controlled by Israel.

Joining our voices in seeking and offering hope for a better future...

Bethlehem Service

Jerri Bird (Jerine Bettybea Newhouse b 1926): "A viable, independent Palestinian state would be a step in the direction of two peoples in the same land living harmoniously"

Family Photo - Jerri Bird, an activist for Middle East peace, died Dec. 13 at her home in Washington. Pictured are, from left, Jerine "Jerri" Bird, her children, and her husband Eugene Bird, in Jerusalem in 1956.

In her activism, Mrs. Bird often confronted the argument that a Palestinian state would jeopardize Israel’s security needs... “Israel is already the one of the most modern military forces in the Middle East, and this has not protected it against violence,” she wrote in a 2002 letter to the editor published by the New York Times. “Israeli human rights violations against Palestinians guarantee continued violent resistance. A viable, independent Palestinian state would be a step in the direction of two peoples in the same land living harmoniously. The only alternative is endless bloodshed.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/jerri-bird-dedicated-activist-for-middle-east-peace-dies-at-86/2012/12/19/ee78d382-493d-11e2-ad54-580638ede391_story_1.html

Jerri Bird, ‘dedicated’ activist for Middle East peace, dies at 86


Jerri Bird spent three decades accompanying her husband on his Foreign Service assignments throughout the Middle East during the Cold War. They witnessed ethnic and religious tensions that often spiraled into extremist violence and lured generations into a cycle of terror, grief and the desire for retribution.

“An eye for an eye has turned into twelve for one or better,” she wrote to her parents in Oregon at the start of the 1956 Suez Canal crisis. At the time, she and her husband were stationed in East Jerusalem... READ MORE

Friday, December 21, 2012

My letter to the NYTimes RE The Fading Mideast Peace Dream



RE: The Fading Mideast Peace Dream
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/21/opinion/the-fading-mideast-peace-dream.html?ref=opinion

Dear Editor,

First I read the delightful story The Christmas Frog, and then I read your somber editorial "The Fading Mideast Peace Dream." I can not help but keep thinking of that little frog- the magic of finding him in the first place, and the miracle that he lived to swim and sing... a miracle made possible by the writer's conscientious care, and listening skills.

The news from Palestine really is dire. Both Israel's continuing investments in the settlements and anti-Palestine policies, as well as Hamas/Islamist rockets and bellicose rhetoric certainly are not leading to peace or security for anyone in the region. The Holy Land is inspiring the worst in many people- on both sides of the Israel/Palestine conflict with many very negative ramifications all through out the region and beyond.

Ziad Asali of The American Task Force on Palestine wisely points out that "The only way to honor our tragic histories is to create a future for our children free of man-made tragedy. This means making peace fully, completely and without reservation, between Israel and Palestine."

Obama is not the only American who should "be exhorting both sides to halt retaliatory measures".  Every elected leader, every pundit, every editor, every writer, every reader should do their part... help the word spread.  We all give peace and both Israel and Palestine a much better chance by clearly calling for an end to the conflict with a negotiated two state solution- in line with international law and fully respecting basic human rights on all sides of every border.  

Sincerely,
Anne Selden Annab

Notes

Palestinian cause redefined as Hamas spins Pyrrhic victories: "Either the Palestinian national movement will continue to seek an independent state through negotiations and by building the national institutions on the ground. Or it will be defined by an open-ended "armed struggle" against Israel under an Islamist banner.... This is not simply a Palestinian choice. Israel, above all, but also the United States, the European Union, and other international actors, will have a major role to play in influencing which of these two visions predominates in the Palestinian national movement in the years to come. Regional and international incentives will be a major, if not a decisive factor, in the outcome." Hussein Ibish


The Arab Peace Initiative

The Golden Rule... Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

"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

The Office of International Religious Freedom ( http://www.state.gov/j/drl/irf/)   Given the U.S. commitment to religious freedom, and to the international covenants that guarantee it as the inalienable right of every human being, the United States seeks to:
Promote freedom of religion and conscience throughout the world as a fundamental human right and as a source of stability for all countries

".... it being clearly understood that nothing
          shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious
          rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine..."

Israel Defies Allies in Move to Bolster Settlements... Settlements are illegal under international law and detrimental to any international efforts to restart peace negotiations and secure a two-state solution

map
 “We call on the Israeli government to rescind these plans,” said the statement issued by Israel’s allies Britain, France, Germany and Portugal, saying the actions “send a negative message and are undermining faith in its willingness to negotiate.” 

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/20/world/middleeast/rejecting-criticism-israel-forges-ahead-on-settlements.html?ref=middleeast&_r=2&

The Housing Ministry authorized construction on 1,000 housing units in the West Bank, while the city of Jerusalem approved 2,610 units in Givat Hamatos, a new neighborhood in an area annexed after the 1967 war. 

The actions came after 1,500 controversial units in the Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo were approved Monday and 500 others in Givat Hamatos on Tuesday. An additional 1,000 units, in Gilo, are expected to move forward on Thursday, in what experts said was the most activity in years in the areas known collectively as East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians see as their future capital. 

Every member of the United Nations Security Council except the United States issued statements on Wednesday condemning the construction....READ MORE

11 million Palestinians scattered around world

Palestinians who fled violence in the refugee camp of Yarmouk are seen at the Masnaa Lebanese border crossing with Syria as people stamp their documents before entering Lebanon on Wednesday (AFP photo)
http://jordantimes.com/11-million-palestinians-scattered-around-world

RAMALLAH — There are some 11 million Palestinians scattered around the world, including more than five million refugees living throughout the Middle East.

Their plight has made headlines in Syria, where the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA says as many as 100,000 Palestinians may have fled the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus in recent days because of fighting.

Thousands returned to the camp on Thursday despite sporadic gunfire.

On Wednesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged the international community to help those refugees fleeing fighting in camps in Syria to enter the West Bank and Gaza.

The fate of Palestinian refugees and their descendants is one of the most sensitive issues in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

It remains an emotive issue for Palestinians more than 60 years after many first fled during what they call the “Nakba” or “catastrophe” of their exodus during the fighting that followed Israel’s creation in 1948 on Palestinian land.

Around 760,000 fled or were forced from their homes during that time, followed by several hundreds of thousands more who left during the 1967 war in which Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics earlier this year put the Palestinian population living in the Palestinian territories at 4.29 million, with 2.65 million in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and 1.64 million in Gaza.

Another 1.4 million Palestinians live in Israel and are often referred to as Arab Israelis. They have citizenship and now make up 20 per cent of Israel’s population.

Hundreds of thousands live in countries throughout the world, with large communities in the United States and several countries of Latin America.

According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), there are another five million Palestinian refugees and their descendants in the Middle East.

The number includes 850,000 in the West Bank, 1.2 million in Gaza, two million in Jordan, 525,000 in Syria and 450,000 in Lebanon.

Their living conditions and rights differ vastly from place to place, with Jordan the only Arab country to grant the population nationality.

In Lebanon, many professions are off-limits to Palestinians, who live in difficult conditions in refugee camps. Their situation in Syria had been comparatively comfortable, before the outbreak of violence in the country.

Palestinians are also present throughout much of the Gulf, where they began moving in the 1960s lured by the opportunity of employment.

The right of return for Palestinian refugees remains a key issue in peace negotiations with Israel.

UN General Assembly Resolution 194, adopted on December 11, 1948, stipulates that “the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date”.

It says that compensation should be paid for the property of those who do not want to return.

The Palestinians — backed by the Arab world — want Israel to recognise the principle of the right of return, with a detailed solution to be negotiated subsequently.

But Israel fears that this would open the door for a massive influx that could chance its character as a Jewish state.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Israel's continuing pattern of provocative action....

Givat Hamatos is set to become the first new Jerusalem neighborhood to be built outside Israel's internationally recognized borders since 1996. Israel announced the expansion plans today. Sebastian Scheiner/AP/File

Israel moves to further seal off Jerusalem from West Bank

Israeli officials approved plans for 2,612 homes on Givat HaMatos, a hill between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Critics say the move would so fragment Palestinian areas that drawing borders of a future state would be unworkable.

By Christa Case Bryant, Staff writer / December 19, 2012

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2012/1219/Israel-moves-to-further-seal-off-Jerusalem-from-West-Bank

Israeli officials today approved plans for 2,612 new homes to be built on Givat HaMatos, or Airplane Hill, which is set to become the first new Jerusalem neighborhood to be built outside Israel's internationally recognized borders since 1996.

The placement profoundly concerns Palestinians and advocates of a two-state solution. They say that it and other building projects under way would make drawing the borders of a future Palestinian state unworkable by fragmenting Palestinian areas, and thus could deal a devastating blow to the two-state solution.

“I believe that Givat HaMatos is a deal-breaker,” says Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli attorney and founder of Terrestrial Jerusalem, which tracks developments that could jeopardize a two-state solution. “How many times can you cut a worm in half and the worm starts wiggling?”

Some 549 new homes in Givat HaMatos for Arab residents were also approved yesterday, but went largely unnoticed amid a series of Israeli moves to expand building in East Jerusalem and the highly controversial area of E1, which would create an Israeli bubble deep into the West Bank. Critics of Givat HaMatos have called it a mini-E1.

The US State Department yesterday used unusually strong language to criticize what it characterized as a “continuing pattern of provocative action” that jeopardizes a two-state solution....READ MORE

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

UNESCO: The First World Arabic Language Day 18 December 2012

UNESCO celebrates first Arabic Language Day              (Photo courtesy UNESCO)

In 1948, the 3rd General Conference of UNESCO held in Beirut (Lebanon), declared that Arabic, in addition to English and French, will become the third working language of the governing bodies meeting in an Arabic-speaking country. More on the history of the Arabic language at UNESCO

 Message from Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of the first World Arabic Language Day 18 December 2012


"Languages contribute to the beauty of the world because each one enriches that which it names. Our languages are not only tools of communication, they carry values and identities. Linguistic diversity broadens the mind and provides the means to build intercultural and interreligious dialogue based on genuine mutual understanding
 
World Arabic Language Day is an opportunity for us to celebrate the language of 22 Member States of UNESCO, a language with more than 422 million speakers in the Arab world and used by more than 1.5 billion Muslims. 

By celebrating the Arabic language, we are also acknowledging the tremendous contribution of its writers, scientists and artists to universal culture. These are the Arabic language authors who enabled the transmission of Greek knowledge to the Latin of medieval Europe, weaving indissoluble ties between cultures through time. The works of Averro√ęs, Ibn Khaldun and Naguib Mahfouz are among the most profound of the human spirit and it is in Arabic that they deliver their full power. This love and fascination for the language – expressed for example in calligraphy and poetry, so dear to the Arab culture – is a crucible from which the greatest cultures have emerged.

In the face of transformations that are challenging the world and the emergence of plural societies, every language provides a key to living together better, to building solidarity and to helping each other to be heard. Multilingualism is a force for the rapprochement of peoples and cultures. The more cultures come together, the more it is in the interest of individuals – especially young people – to master several languages and learn about the works and values that they convey, in order to broaden the horizons for dialogue and cooperation. This is the spirit of the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity and the programmes carried out under the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. 

On 18 December 1973, the United Nations General Assembly included Arabic among its official and working languages. Nearly 40 years later, we are celebrating the power of the Arabic language to bring us together around shared values, to give strength to our ideas and depth to our ambitions, for peace and sustainable development."



Time Magazine: A Perfect Christmas in the Holy Land

Vera Baboun, mayor of Bethlehem, Palestine

For me, like other Christians in the Holy Land, Christmas means a new birth, a new beginning. Bethlehem is the city of the Nativity and all citizens, Christians and Muslims alike, come together in a unique celebration. On Dec. 16 we light the Christmas tree in Manger Square, and on Dec. 24 we have the most beautiful festivities when the Latin Patriarch processes to the old Church of the Nativity accompanied by scout groups playing drums and bagpipes. Then there’s midnight Mass especially for the visitors, which is broadcast worldwide.

It’s important that tourists spend some time in and around Bethlehem, visiting famous sites such as the Grotto of the Nativity and Shepherds’ Fields in the neighboring village of Beit Sahour, with its 4th century cave-church. But to really experience Bethlehem’s Christmas spirit, you need to walk our streets and talk to our people.
An eastern European pilgrim walks away from the Armenian section of the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Dec. 24, 2011. Marco Longari / AFP / Getty Images

Let these residents bid you welcome and be your guides...

Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, Ramallah, Palestine
Maoz Inon, hotelier and co-founder of the Jesus Trail, Nazareth, Israel
Vera Baboun, mayor of Bethlehem, Palestine
Mariam Shahin, author of Palestine: A Traveller’s Guide, Ramallah, Palestine
Raed Saadeh, owner of the Jerusalem Hotel, East Jerusalem

There is a growing triumphalism from those who advocate perpetual conflict. The more Americans of goodwill abandon hope and walk away from the issue, the closer the voices of hatred are to dominating the conversation. But ATFP refuses to walk away....

                                    ATFP needs our help!
Dear friend,

Over 175 Palestinians killed. Six Israelis killed. More than 1,500 Israeli strikes launched at Gaza. At least 1,400 Palestinian rockets fired at Israel. How and when will this madness end? The recent conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza only underscores the founding principles of ATFP: there is no military solution; peace can only be based on two states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace, security and dignity; and our own country, the United States, has a vital national security interest in ending the conflict through a negotiated agreement.

Almost 10 years ago, in early 2003, ATFP was created to achieve a number of objectives. We have striven to bring Palestinians and Americans closer together in every possible way. We have successfully mainstreamed the issue and the cause of Palestine in the American policy making and framing conversation, and become an important voice in Washington in advocating for peace and Palestine. Even though the situation is grim, it is more obvious than ever that only ATFP's approach offers a solution for Palestinians, Israelis, their neighbors and our own country. Otherwise, we will all remain trapped in an endless cycle of violence, primarily at the expense of ordinary human beings such as the innocent people of Palestine and Israel.

As ATFP enters its second decade, our work is far from done. The upheavals in the Arab world have created new challenges and opportunities. The Palestinian issue can no longer be isolated, nor can the region be stabilized or move forward without progress on resolving it. This past year witnessed many setbacks and frustrations. Negotiations are at an impasse. Palestinians, Israelis and Americans are drifting further apart at a time when they need to move closer together to bring this conflict to an end. The Palestinian institution-building program, which has been giving Palestinians the security and effective, accountable governance that they deserve, is being threatened by a lack of funds. The Palestinian issue is no longer near the top of US regional priorities. And finally came the conflict in Gaza. Hope for Palestinians and Israelis requires reestablishing the virtuous dynamic that only the kinds of partnership championed by ATFP can deliver.

These negative developments have emboldened extreme voices on all sides. And these shrill, strident voices have little difficulty garnering significant financial support by appealing to peoples' basest instincts. There is a growing triumphalism from those who advocate perpetual conflict. The more Americans of goodwill abandon hope and walk away from the issue, the closer the voices of hatred are to dominating the conversation. But ATFP refuses to walk away.  We refuse to succumb to despair. As a consequence, we have come under unprecedented attack by those who would condemn Palestinians and Israelis to a future of conflict and suffering. Nonetheless, we remain committed to advocating partnership and compromise. We believe this is the only way to advance the cause of peace and American interests and values.

Despite numerous institutional and policy challenges, we have remained active in Washington and beyond. We were instrumental, working with several partners, in securing the release of $200 million of last year’s US assistance to the PA and we will continue these efforts. We have worked to bring Palestinians and Israelis closer together in numerous public and private engagements. In the past year, our staff has addressed audiences in more than 65 cities across the country to counter the narrative of despair and nihilism with one of realistic hope. We published scores of articles and made countless media appearances to advocate for peace and the institution-building program we believe lays the necessary groundwork for a successful, independent Palestine. This is the only viable win-win scenario for both peoples and for our own country.

ATFP has never been more badly needed than it is now. But ATFP has never needed your help more urgently than it does now. Please consider supporting ATFP by making a donation by clicking here.

The past year has been trying for the Task Force and our cause, but has vindicated everything we stand for and all that we are trying to achieve. We have proven, despite many doubts and critics, that it is possible to successfully argue on behalf of peace at the highest policy levels in Washington. We are convinced that crucial opportunities to promote and protect the cause of peace will unfold in the coming months. However, when we say we rely on your generosity, this is literal and precise. We are committed to doing everything we can in this indispensable cause. To maintain and pursue our independent policies and decision-making, we rely entirely on your support. We ask you, through your generosity, to allow us to continue our work on behalf of peace, Palestine and the American national interest.

We are counting on you and your commitment to a better future! Please donate here

Sincerely yours,
Ziad J. Asali, MD, President;
Ghaith al-Omari, LLM, Executive Director;
Hussein Ibish, PhD, Senior Fellow

American Task Force on Palestine.
1634 Eye St
Suite 725
Washington, DC -20006
United States
- 202-887-0177 - info@atfp.net - The American Task Force on Palestine


A stamp from 1994, the first year of PNA stamps
Arabian Horses

Hussein Ibish: Palestinian cause redefined as Hamas spins Pyrrhic victories

"Either the Palestinian national movement will continue to seek an independent state through negotiations and by building the national institutions on the ground. Or it will be defined by an open-ended "armed struggle" against Israel under an Islamist banner.... This is not simply a Palestinian choice. Israel, above all, but also the United States, the European Union, and other international actors, will have a major role to play in influencing which of these two visions predominates in the Palestinian national movement in the years to come. Regional and international incentives will be a major, if not a decisive factor, in the outcome." Hussein Ibish




My letter to the NTimes RE "West Bank Land, Empty but Full of Meaning "

Khaled al-Saidi, right, said his family bought land in E1, between East Jerusalem and Maale Adumim, in the 1990s. The Israelis have told him to leave. Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times
RE: West Bank Land, Empty but Full of Meaning
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/18/world/middleeast/e1-on-west-bank-is-empty-but-full-of-meaning.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_ee_20121218&_r=0

Dear Editor,

A person might be very tempted to usurp an 'empty' patch of their neighbor's yard, but clearly such a move crosses a line, a legal and a moral line:  Israel knows that West Bank E1 land is Palestinian land and yet is intentionally crossing a crucially important line and then obfuscating so as to more easily continue on with the nefarious practice of demolishing Palestinian homes, pulverizing Palestinian communities and pushing even more Palestinians into poverty, forced exile, and despair.... and extremism.

Israel is also pushing its own citizens into extremism and religious bigotry with its anti-Palestinian/anti-Palestine policies.  Full sovereign respect for international law, basic human rights, and real democracy would go a long way towards calming down the situation and laying the ground work for fair and just negotiations to finally and completely end the Israel-Palestine conflict with a fully secular two state solution.

Sincerely,
Anne Selden Annab

NOTES
Raja Shehadeh reflects on the UN resolution to recognise Palestine as a non-member observer state

Human Rights Day 2012: Palestine refugees and human rights

12-12-12 National Geographic photo of the day: Art Student, Jerusalem 1926.

Beyond the UN vote: New futures for Palestine and Israel: The Israelis and Palestinians are not as far apart as experts make them out to be. All issues are resolvable if there is vision, intentionality and political will.
 
Israel's Jewish extremists vandalize Jerusalem monastery


Israeli authorities 'to demolish West Bank road'


Israeli separation wall threatens world heritage site of Battir's ancient terraces
 
Gaza: 'My child was killed and nothing has changed'

Mesha’al oils Israel’s propaganda machine with his statement


At Hamas’s anniversary celebration in Gaza last week, the organization’s Politburo leader Khaled Meshaal delivered one of the most cynical, damaging and dangerous speeches in the history of the Palestinian national movement

They Call It Victory
 
Almond Blossoms and Beyond

Israel's education ministry 'suspends program' over Palestinian novel


Palestinian Artist Khaled Jarrar Chips Away at the Wall

Raising Peace

Israel must develop a clearer vision not only for the interests and aspirations of the Palestinians but also for its own long-term survival


It is urgent for both sides of this conflict to understand that their best interests lie in coming to an agreement that will make them both better off. 
  I Am From ... a poem by Saba Abu Zaanona



Israel is not the only country in the region that has either restricted the rights of or discriminated against Palestinians



The Golden Rule... Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

The Arab Peace Initiative


"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

The Office of International Religious Freedom ( http://www.state.gov/j/drl/irf/)   Given the U.S. commitment to religious freedom, and to the international covenants that guarantee it as the inalienable right of every human being, the United States seeks to:
Promote freedom of religion and conscience throughout the world as a fundamental human right and as a source of stability for all countries

".... it being clearly understood that nothing
          shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious
          rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine..."

The United States is deeply concerned by reports that dozens of civilians, including women and children, were killed or wounded in Yarmouk, an area of Damascus home to 150,000 Palestinian refugees


Airstrike Killing Palestinian Refugees in Yarmouk, Syria
Press Statement
Victoria Nuland
Department Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
December 17, 2012

The United States is deeply concerned by reports that dozens of civilians, including women and children, were killed or wounded in Yarmouk, an area of Damascus home to 150,000 Palestinian refugees, as a result of aerial bombardment and fighting between Syrian government forces and armed opposition on December 16. These latest attacks mark a significant and alarming escalation of the conflict in Syria. All parties must stop unlawful attacks on civilians and comply with international law. Those who are responsible for atrocities against the civilian population must be held accountable. We express our deepest condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives in Yarmouk.

In addition to the suffering endured by the Syrian people, the United States is concerned about the situation of the more than 500,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria who are also increasingly suffering from the escalating violence. The Government of Syria should allow all humanitarian actors full and unfettered access in order to protect and assist the victims of the conflict.

The U.S. Government remains the largest bilateral financial supporter of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), including its emergency operations in Syria. UNRWA is providing cash and food assistance to the more than 350,000 Palestinians in Syria who have been directly affected by the conflict, as well as sheltering displaced Syrians and other civilians in its schools and other facilities. Vulnerable refugees in Syria are also receiving emergency health care, water, sanitation, and educational support through partners with U.S. Government funding.