Saturday, May 19, 2012

Open Zion....Hussein Ibish: Beware "Creative Alternatives"


It's easy to understand why so many people are giving up on negotiations and a two-state solution, and instead are looking for “creative alternatives.” Israeli-Palestinian talks are at an impasse. The two sides haven't seemed this far apart since the second intifada. The number of settlers and settlements continues to baloon relentlessly. Israel's government appears united behind recalcitrant policies, while the Palestinians appear hopelessly divided.

But any purported “creative alternatives” to a negotiated two-state solution need to be subjected to a simple litmus test before they can be taken seriously. They have to be plausibly acceptable to all parties that would need to agree in order for them to be realized. If any such “alternatives” are by definition unacceptable to any of the parties, then they're not serious ideas. In most cases, they quickly reveal themselves to be thinly disguised versions of long-standing maximalist fantasies.
A man places a sticker on a car in Jerusalem. (Awad Awad / AFP / Getty Images)

Take, for instance, the perennial fantasy on the pro-Israeli right that “Jordan is Palestine” or that Egypt can somehow be induced to take responsibility for Gaza. Palestinians, Jordanians and Egyptians all categorically reject any such idea, so it can't happen.

Similarly, in pro-Palestinian circles the idea of a South Africa-style “one-state” solution of a single entity for all Israelis and Palestinians, including refugees, based on "one-person one-vote," is a total nonstarter for the overwhelming majority of Israelis. So that, too, simply won't happen.

Some of the most dangerous “creative alternatives” are being increasingly floated on the pro-Israeli right, especially the idea of a greater Israel including the occupied territories but without full or equal citizenship, or voting rights, for its Palestinian population. In other words, formalized, permanent apartheid...READ MORE

Wasim Salfiti: My Family's History with Nakba

Wasim Salfiti is a writer living in Washington, DC and frequently travels to the Middle East. He was an Editorial Fellow at Mother Jones Magazine and is a graduate of Columbia University and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). He speaks Arabic, Hebrew, English, and French. He was born to a Palestinian family and raised in Amman, Jordan.

This week, Palestinians around the world commemorated the Nakba, or "catastrophe," referring to the displacement of over 700,000 Palestinians at the time of Israel's founding in 1948. From the West Bank to the West Coast, protestors waved colorful flags and held signs demanding recognition for the plight and rights of the dispossessed.

Yet beneath the barrage of political symbols and slogans lies a human experience of heartache and loss, to which Americans of all backgrounds might possibly relate.

I was shielded from this experience as a child. In Amman, Jordan, where I grew up in the '80s, events across the ever-dwindling river were background noise. My friends at school mostly talked about last Thursday's party and the cute girls in class.

It was at an American summer arts camp, of all places, that I began to confront my family's ruptured past. At age 15, amid Michigan's woodlands and the sounds of Beethoven's Waldstein sonata, I made Jewish friends for the first time. At first, we mostly talked about music...READ MORE

Palestinian Beauty... traditional costumes

A 1980s UNRWA poster showing a classic Ramallah traditional costume  from the collection of Widad Kawar, Amman (Photo: M Nasr)
Child's quilt 1991 Jordan River Designs, Amman, showing contemporary use of the Palestinian heremezy appliqué technique (Palestine Costume Archive, Canberra)
Cover of Palestinian Heritage Foundation Video "Palestinian National Costume: preserving the heritage".
Postcard of a variety of Palestinian regional costume (pre 1948) from the collection of Maha Saca, Director, Palestinian Heritage Centre, Bethlehem.
Wedad Boutagy, a member of the Sydney Palestinian community, stands in front of an exhibition exhibition graphic showing her in a Jerusalem studio photograph as a young woman, at the opening night of the Archive's travelling exhibition "Portraits without names: Palestinian costume" at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, 1996.  The story of the Boutagy family was one of the diaspora stories told in the Sydney installation of the exhibition (courtesy: Powerhouse Museum).
Symbolic defiance: Palestinian costume and embroidery since 1948 travelling exhibition installation, showing intifada dresses designed by the ANAT Workshop, Yarmouk Refugee Camp, Syria, displayed at the First World Congress of Middle Eastern Studies, Mainz, Germany, 2002 (courtesy: Jeni Allenby)

A selection of cushions available through Sunbula including cross stitched cushions from the Bethlehem Arab women's Union (A, B, D and E) and the couched style of the Women's Child Care Society of Beit Jala (C). (image courtesy of Sunbula)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Palestinian author Ibtisam Barakat "...and the world is at heart playful..."

I went to buy something and the lady behind the counter pulled out the newspaper from a month or so ago and asked me if I would sign my name next to the article about me as a Palestinian author :):) She has been keeping the newspaper until I showed up . . I have signed books and shoes and extended arms and necks and small pieces of paper including napkins and even chests for teenagers, but today I signed the newspaper for a lady doing paper work behind a counter :):) I did not have to show my ID . . This makes me laugh . . . I feel like a child each time such thing happens . . and I feel that all people are children . . . and the world is at heart playful . . .
Poet and author Ibtisam Barakat 2012 

Tasting the Sky

 Winner, Arab American National Museum Book Award for Children's/YA Literature, among other awards and honors.

In this groundbreaking memoir set in Ramallah during the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War, Ibtisam Barakat captures what it is like to be a child whose world is shattered by war. With candor and courage, she stitches together memories of her childhood: fear and confusion as bombs explode near her home and she is separated from her family; the harshness of  life as a Palestinian refugee; her unexpected joy when she discovers Alef, the first letter of the Arabic alphabet. This is the beginning of her passionate connection to words, and as language becomes her refuge, allowing her to piece together the fragments of her world, it becomes her true home.

Transcending the particulars of politics, this illuminating and timely book provides a telling glimpse into a little-known culture that has become an increasingly important part of the puzzle of world peace.

Nakba and Memories (1967 War) By Mike Odetalla

Nakba and Memories (1967 War)
By Mike Odetalla

May 15th. 2002 - The 54th anniversary of Nakba: the disaster of the people of Palestine. On this date, May 15th 1948, we, the people of Palestine began our long and painful journey into exile. Dispossessed from home and homeland, this was the start of the refugee ‘problem’ that still exists today. More than 3 million Palestinians live as refugees in squalid conditions in camps in Palestine and throughout the Arab world. I sat this week watching old black and white films of my people as they fled their homes, clutching children and what few possessions that they could carry, I could not help but realize that there, but for the grace of God, could easily have been my family as well. But I, it seems, have a different fate, a different responsibility: to tell our story, to document, so that it may never be forgotten.

Shortly after the June 1967 War began, the people of our village, Beit Hanina, realized with grim reality that the Israeli army would be coming here: the realization brought panic; people began to prepare to flee their homes. With memories of the atrocities of Deir Yasein and other Palestinian villages still vivid in their minds, they feared that massacres might once more be carried out. The gruesome stories of death and murder were known by all Palestinians, indeed, by all in the world who chose to know them.

It was against this backdrop that my mother decided to join our neighbors as they fled with their families to the surrounding caves in the hills overlooking our village. I recall my mother frantically trying to gather what she thought we would need and could manage to carry. She instructed me to go across our village and get my oldest sister, Aziza, who, married for a year, had given birth to her first child, a son, on May 20th, 1967. Running as fast as a six year old could, I reached her house and relayed the message. My sister instructed me to tell mom that she would follow us, with her husband, as soon as they were able to gather a few belongings. I returned home and assured my mother that Aziza and her family would join us soon.

Meanwhile, my mom decided that my second sister, Najah, a 13-year-old beauty with long, beautiful, blond hair and striking blue eyes, must be made to look like a boy. She feared for her safety if the Israeli soldiers should happen to come upon us. Grabbing a pair of scissors, she chopped away at that long, beautiful hair, and then she tossed some of my brother, Musa’s, clothes to wear. There! Now she looked just like a little boy.

When my sister, her husband, and infant son arrived, shortly before sunset, we took what we could carry and ran to the hills. After a long and arduous climb, we made our way to a large cave whose opening faced Jerusalem, providing a vantage point for viewing the battle raging in the distance. Already inside the cave were about 17 people, mostly women and children. We brought in our belongings and settled into a niche of the cave. Then, I made my way to the cave’s mouth and sat down to watch the "fireworks show" lighting the night sky. Fear and anxiety could be seen on all the faces of the adults inside, but the only noise was the crying of my infant nephew and the muffled weeping of the women who pondered our fate. We had left our homes and all we had behind, and now we were sharing our fate in a cave infested with snakes and scorpions.

Around midnight, when we’d been in the cave about 4 hours, my mother noticed an Israeli jet circling and buzzing the area of our cave, lit by a very bright, full moon. After a couple of more passes over our heads, my mom instructed us to gather our belongings and get out of the cave. Others pleaded with her, trying to convince her to stay: if she left in the full moon, she would be inviting the slaughter of her children. But, my mother refused to listen and grabbing me by the hand began walking with me away from the cave to a large olive tree about 50 meters away. My mother called out to those still in the cave, begging them to join us: she feared that the Israeli jet was about to strike. Slowly, they began to leave the cave and joined us under the olive trees. Just then, the jet reappeared: it made two passes, before, on the third, it fired two missiles into the mouth of the cave. The explosion and light was beyond anything I’d ever imagined; the ball of fire that blew out of the mouth of the cave was so terrifying that I still hear it today. I realized that, had we not listened to my mother, we would have blown to bits in the cave.

We stayed under the olive trees for about an hour, waiting, lest the jet returned; eventually we headed to the other side of the mountain to seek another cave. We found one whose mouth faced straight up to the sky. Once inside, one could go deeper in any direction. A child of 6, I was no stranger to the caves surrounding my village, none of us children were. We had spent glorious days playing there: flying kites; tagging along as the older boys hunted pheasants; climbing in the olive trees; eating the succulent grapes from the vines all around.

After a couple of days, the hunger and thirst began to set in: we were nearly 20 people in the cave; there was not enough food or water for everyone. My mom would sneak into the wheat fields and cut bunches of wheat stalks, still green in mid June. She brought back the stalks and roasted their soft, green grains over an open fire, then rubbed them together to make the roasted grains fall out so that she could give us the grains to eat. Hunger helps enrich the memory of the food we eat for a long time: I remember the taste of that grain to this day. (Author’s note: the practice of roasting green grain is still practiced over much of the Arab world. The grain is roasted and cracked before being cooked in a type of soup called "freaka", usually cooked with lamb or chicken.)

Today, I can’t help being mindful that we Palestinians have our own experiences with the unleavened bread - as is celebrated by the Jews who commemorate their exodus and freedom from Pharaoh. Except, of course, we commemorate our exodus and entry into Diaspora. The Palestinian women, anxious to feed their children, would slip into nearby abandoned homes looking for any kind of food to feed us. Once they returned with flour, water, sugar, and olive oil. They kneaded the dough and immediately baked it over a fire covered with the metal lid of a barrel, the lid providing the surface upon which the bread was baked: there was no time to wait for the dough to rise. As an adult, sharing the Jewish holiday of Passover, with my friends, I am drawn by powerful but ironic parallels between the Palestinian experience of running away in fear into the wilderness, chased by an army, looking for freedom, eating unleavened bread as we ran. For me, Pharaoh’s army was the Israel Defense Forces and we; the Palestinians were the persecuted Jews.

Not 40 years, but a mere 10 days had elapsed since we were forced to flee our homes. Still wearing the same clothes, the clothes, which we had left with, no bath since we fled, our situation was becoming desperate: there was no food or water. What little water we were able to get from the nearby wells was dangerously costly: some of the men had been shot and killed trying to draw water from those wells. Most of the people staying with us in the cave began to speak of heading for Jordan, about 30 Km to the east. We had heard that the Israelis were offering ‘safe passage’ to Palestinians fleeing to Jordan: indeed, the policy of the Israeli government was to ‘facilitating’ the movement of Palestinians into Jordan. My grandfather, uncles, their families, had all made their way to Jordan: none of my mother’s family had remained in Palestine. Still, my mother was hesitant to leave our home. The entire group, we among them, left the cave early that morning, in the already hot, blistering mid June sun. We tied a white piece of cloth to a stick, and marched behind it, a flag of surrender. A neighbor, an elderly gentleman of 75, took me by the hand, carefully instructing me to stay with him: if the Israeli soldiers came for him, I was to start crying and tell them he was my grandfather. He could barely walk without the aid of a cane; I clung to his hand and helped him walk the entire way. We headed due east to Jericho and Jordan. About 6 kilometers into our journey, we came across an abandoned home. The residents had left in a hurry for the door was wide open. One of the ladies went inside and returned a few minutes later with dried loaves of bread, several days old. My mom took a piece from her and gave it to me to eat. She then went to the remains of the vegetable garden and cut some green onions for me to eat with my stale bread. I had one hell of a time trying to swallow that mixture of green onions and stale bread, but my mother noticed and offered me a sip of precious water to help it down.

The sights and smells that greeted this 6 year old boy as we made our way toward Jordan, can never be forgotten: the bullet riddled bodies of Jordanian soldiers, and of Palestinian civilians, mostly women and young children; the putrid stench of the decaying bodies, bloated by the hot June sun. I noticed some medical personnel wearing masks drenched in perfume, trying to bury some of the bodies. My mom urged me not to look, to keep walking, but I could not obey: death and destruction were all around and sometimes; I still see these images in my sleep.

We walked for another 3 hours and suddenly, my mom stopped. She told us we were going to head back: she feared that if we did get to Jordan, we would never be allowed to return home. There was no one to help us in Jordan: our only option there would be a refugee camp. My mom refused the prospect of condemning her family to a refugee camp for the rest of their lives.

Against all the protestations of our fellow refugees, my mother turned us around and headed back to Beit Hanina. The others tried to tell her that she would get herself and her children killed, but she wouldn’t hear any of it. About half of the people with us joined her lead and headed back into Palestine, the rest joined the long, steady stream of refugees headed for Jordan: parents carrying children, men carrying the elderly, poor people clutching their meager belongings. We were human beings, in great pain, trekking in fear and in search of sanctuary. Most were never allowed to return to their homes in Palestine. Some managed to sneak back, but most become refugees in Jordan. My aunt and uncles were among those stranded in Jordan.

The pictures of the “humane” Israeli army helping people across the Allenby Bridge into Jordan, make great propaganda: the Israeli soldiers carried children across collapsed bridges - a very powerful image for the world to see: I, too, see them helping the poor Palestinian refugees flee, but I also see that this was the intent of the Israeli government –which was fully aware that their job was to maximize the number of Palestinians “ethnically cleansed” from Palestine by helping them to cross over into Jordan. The Israeli government had no intent of ever allowing these people to return to their homes. The Israeli soldiers were not performing humanitarian aid to refugees: they were carrying out the orders to transfer Palestinians out of Palestine. They were merely expediting the departure of the Palestinians, and getting good press from it at the same time. This past month, 35 years later, and the world is again witnessing refugees on the move in Palestine. The pain and anger has resurfaced as if they had never died: old wounds not yet allowed healing.…

Mike Odetalla. Copyright 2002-2011. All rights reserved.
— in Palestine.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Randa Jarrar: Imagining Myself in Palestine

May 14, 2012
On a recent trip to Israel, Randa Jarrar gets detained, denied entry, and sent to 'the Arab Room.'

Image from Flickr via Rusty Stewart

Trouble began weeks before I boarded my flight to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport. I had heard horror stories about a detention area there, dubbed The Arab Room, and in my anxious and neurotic style, I had emailed a dozen people—American academics and artists of Arab, Indian, Jewish, and European descent— and asked them what I was supposed to tell the immigration officers at Ben Gurion once I arrived. They all wanted to know if I was using my American passport, and I assured them that I was. The vast majority told me not to tell the officers I would be staying at my sister’s in Ramallah. They said this would cause trouble, and offered up the names of friends and family for my use. The generosity of people poured in, and I was advised to say that I was staying with this writer, or that visual artist, or this former-IDF soldier—people I had never met, but who had volunteered themselves to be my proxy hosts. A friend of mine, who is a phenomenal photojournalist, gave me her phone number and said to tell the officers I would be staying with her, and I agreed. She told me to prepare for the officers to call her themselves once I gave them her number, as this is something they are known to do.

I was so afraid of facing the guards at the airport that I had a difficult time imagining the rest of my trip. I would picture myself walking around Ramallah with my sister, or attending a concert, or visiting my aunts, or seeing the separation wall, or staying at the American Colony Hotel for an evening, and I would draw a blank. There was a wall there, too, between my thoughts and Palestine.

Growing up, my Palestinian identity was mostly tied to my father. He was the Palestinian in the family, and when we went back to the West Bank it was to see his brothers and sisters and parents. We always entered Palestine through Amman, crossing the Allenby Bridge over the river Jordan and waiting in endless inspection lines. I remember these trips dragging on through morning and midday and well into the afternoon. My father would sit quietly, and when I complained my Egyptian mother would tell me that the Israelis made it difficult for us to cross into the West Bank. She told me that they wanted us to give up, that they would prefer we never go back. “We must not let them win,” she’d said. My relationship with my Palestinian identity was cemented when I enrolled in a PLO-sponsored girls’ camp as a tween. We learned nationalistic songs and dances and created visual art that reflected our understanding of the occupation. After my family and I moved to America in 1991, my Palestinian identity shifted again, and I began to see myself as an Arab-American. My father’s fiery rants on Palestine died out when Yitzak Rabin was murdered by a Jewish-Israeli extremist. I remember my father weeping in our American wood-paneled den. He said that Rabin had been the Palestinians’ last chance.

When my sister got a job in Ramallah last year, teaching music to children, I knew I would want to visit her. I had not been to Palestine since 1993. I had planned to go back in the summer of 1996, but I was pregnant and unmarried. My parents did not want to speak to me, let alone take me with them, in such a shameful condition, to the West Bank. I never went back with family after that. I led my own life....READ MORE

Hanan Ashrawi: Recognizing Nakba, Reaching Peace

Hanan Ashrawi, head of the PLO’s Department of Culture and Information

May is the cruelest month despite the promise of spring. It carries the bitter memories of ongoing loss and injustice for a nation, my nation. Every year, Palestinians mark Al-Nakba, or the Catastrophe, of 1948, to remember how our vibrant society was physically and politically crushed by violence and forced expulsion.
It was not a natural disaster. Indeed, we have no doubt that itwasa detailed plan of systematic destruction carried out with chilling efficiency. It was the biggest assault and threat Palestinian heritage has ever endured and the beginning of a deliberate effort to suppress the Palestinian narrative.  

For many Israelis, recognizing what happened back in 1948 is a painful process. The slogan “Your independence is our Nakba”, which is on display in many Palestinian cities is indeed correct. Many Israeli historians have researched and written about this dark era, demonstrating that Palestine was a land with a vibrant society and rich culture. These brave historians ended decades of denial about Palestinian society and suffering.  

By 1948, Palestine was one of the most developed Arab societies, boasting one of the healthiest economies under the British mandate and a high school enrolment rate, second only to Lebanon. Commerce, the arts, literature, music, and other cultural aspects of life were thriving in Palestine. 

We remember that between 1911 and 1948, Palestine had no less than 161 newspapers, magazines and other regular publications, including the pioneer “Falastin” newspaper, published in Jaffa by Issa al-Issa. 

Dozens of bookstores across the country selling hundreds of Palestinian and internationally-authored books could hardly keep up with the demand. Books like “The Arab Woman and the Palestine Problem” by Matiel Moghannam, a feminist leader, and George Antonious’ “The Arab Awakening”, were highly popular in Palestine, England, the US, and beyond. 

Palestine had a strong women’s movement as early as the 1920’s. Women excelled in many fields, including education, journalism, and political activism. Women activists were among the first to lobby for Palestinian self-determination at the beginning of the British Mandate. 

Palestinian dedication to education is deeply rooted in our culture. By 1914, there were 379 private schools in Palestine, including the country’s first girls’ school, Al Moscobiye, in Beit Jala, founded in 1858 as the first school for girls in Palestine, and the Friends School, founded by the Quakers in 1869, which continues to be among the most advanced education institutions in Palestine. 

In the area of arts, music, and drama, Palestinian creativity was boundless, inspiring artists around the region. Composers like Yehya Al-Lababidi collaborated with famous Arab singers of the time, like Farid Al-Atrach. Other singers like the legendary Um Kalthoum and Mohamad Abdel Wahab regularly performed to Palestinian audiences in Haifa, Jaffa, and Jerusalem. Our cinemas, from Gaza to Akka, were showing the latest films of the time. 

Al-Nakba represents the abrupt and unnatural disruption of these accomplishments and signaled the beginning of a culture of exile and dispossession. In being forcibly expelled from their homes, Palestinians lost their properties, personal history, and cultural assets. 

This included thousands of books. In West Jerusalem alone, 30,000 books were “collected” from Palestinian houses, as well as around 50,000 other books from homes in Jaffa, Haifa, Tiberias and Nazareth. Khalil Sakakini was one of those people who lost his entire library. A number of his books can be found today in the National Library of Israel, marked ‘AP’, meaning “Abandoned Property.” 

Al-Nakba is therefore not merely a historical date to be commemorated.  It is the collective memory of Palestinians, which shapes their identity as a people. Al-Nakba is not a distant memory but a painful reality that continues to fester, as the rights of refugees continue to be denied and the inalienable rights of our nation remain unfulfilled. 

It is time to recognize that Al-Nakba is as real for Palestinians as it should be for Israelis. It is an inescapable story of loss, dispossession and a great historic injustice that targeted the most precious characteristic of any people: its identity. 

But Al-Nakba to Palestinians is not about defeat. Stripping the Palestinian people of their national and cultural symbols, as well as stunting the growth of Palestinian cultural life was a merciless crime, no doubt. But our people have persevered, rebuilding, time and again, their heritage of cultural and educational excellence. 

There have been many new challenges and setbacks since Al-Nakba, especially the military occupation that began in 1967 and its oppressive policies targeting culture and education. But Palestinians kept marching forward, holding on to the proud memories of excellence and building new ones. 

For peace to prevail, for two states to live side by side, for a future of security and prosperity to begin in the region, Israel should not be afraid to recognize Al-Nakba and learn the lessons of its history. Israel must come to recognize its historic accountability in creating Al-Nakba for neither denial nor distortion can serve the cause of peace.  

Genuine recognition is a sine qua non for the process of historical redemption. Peace is a phase of healing that must be established on truth, justice, transparency, and equality. There is no other formula. By recognizing our historical narrative and suffering, Israel will be embarking on a true journey for a just and comprehensive peace.
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi is a member of the PLO Executive Committee and head of the PLO’s Department of Culture and Information

Haaretz Editorial: Nakba is part of Israel's history
Palestinian children hold a key to commemorate Nakba day. Photo by AP

Nakba is part of Israel's history

A person who understands that an Arab citizen should not be forced to sing 'a Jewish soul still yearns' should be expected to let that citizen commemorate the Nakba without having to pay for it.

Haaretz Editorial | May.15, 2012

"I don't expect an Arab national to sing 'A Jewish soul still yearns,' Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said two months ago, after Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran refrained from singing the national anthem. Although the message was conveyed to Joubran indirectly, it reflected Netanyahu's understanding of the fundamental contradiction underlying an anthem that addresses only one people, the Jewish one.

Yet such an understanding is nonexistent when it comes to remembering the Nakba, or "catastrophe" - the Palestinians' term for what happened to them when the state was founded in 1948. This is the tragedy of hundreds of thousands of refugees and their millions of relatives, for whom May 15 - the day the establishment of the State of Israel was announced - symbolizes the day they lost their land, property and status.

The historic controversy over the responsibility for the Palestinian people's tragedy is still pending. It will continue to hover over both nations, and its explosive potential will continue to grow as long as the conflict is not settled at the negotiating table....READ MORE


The task before us is to make sure that no further nakbas, no more pogroms or unspeakable horrors, ever occur again

A girl leans on a chain, during a protest to mark the 64th anniversary of Nakba, at Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp near the port-city of Sidon, in south Lebanon May 15, 2012. Nakba, or catastrophe, marks Israel's founding in 1948 war, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced to leave their homes. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho

Bradley Burston:  "And now I learn, from studying the terrible events of a terrible war, that Abu Shusha, the village that had once stood on the slopes of Tel Gezer, overlooking the kibbutz, had been the site of a massacre. 

And that, in the way of catastrophe and of true history, the massacre of the Arabs of the village of Abu Shusha was followed by killings and expulsion of the Jews of Kibbutz Gezer.

On the 13th of May, 1948, Abu Shusha was stormed by the pre-state Haganah militia. Accounts differ as to how many villagers were killed in the attack, and how many were subsequently lined up against a wall and executed. There were reports of rape. There were reports that only women were left to bury the dead. Several days later, every villager who remained was expelled. 

The next month, just before a UN-imposed truce was scheduled to take effect, a battalion of Arab Legionaires and irregulars, backed by a dozen armored cars, attacked and captured Gezer, shouting "Deir Yassin, Abu Shusha." Here, also, there were executions. Irregulars and neighboring villagers looted the kibbutz. Defenders, who were still alive, were taken prisoner and driven off. 

This is where the story diverges, and the Nakba begins. Gezer was rebuilt, and remains a kibbutz to this day. The people of Abu Shusha lost their village, and were never allowed to return and rebuild. 

The sense that both stories need to be told, informs a remarkable Open Zion essay by Jerusalem-born physician Ziad J. Asali, founder of the American Task Force on Palestine, on the fundamental lessons of Nakba Day. 

Sixty-four years, Dr. Asali writes, "after I lost my home and suddenly found myself a refugee at age six, the task before us is to make sure that no further nakbas, no more pogroms or unspeakable horrors, ever occur again." 

In order that this may happen, "Palestinians must recognize and accept Israel, which is a legitimate member state of the United Nations. The Palestinians must have one place on earth, the territories occupied in 1967, where they can live freely as first class citizens in their own independent state. There is no other way to end the cycle of bloodshed, pain and hatred has that lasted for so long." 

"The only way to honor our tragic histories is to create a future for our children free of manmade tragedy. This means making peace fully, completely and without reservation, between Israel and a State of Palestine."

If I had Alex Miller's ear - as he, for better or worse, has mine - I would suggest that on this Nakba Day, there is a Jerusalem physician in exile in America, who has something that Miller needs to hear." 

Thank you, Russian immigrant to Israel, for Nakba Day

Alex Miller will go down in history as the Israeli politician who tried his damnedest to erase the memory of the Nakba - and, in doing so, made the Nakba an indelible part of our lives.


Qalqiliya unveils 'train of return' to mark Nakba & Abbas applauds steadfastness on Nakba Day

The train symbolizes return from exile.
QALQILIYA (Ma'an) -- Hundreds of students, local officials and activists gathered in Qalqiliya on Tuesday to commemorate the Nakba, the mass expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in 1948.

Qalqiliya governor Ribhi Khandaqji unveiled the "train of return," a model train symbolizing the right of refugees to return from exile.

Khandaqji said the train was facing Israel, and noted that the northern West Bank city was a short distance from Palestinian villages and towns confiscated in the Nakba.

"This train will remind us, and will remind our children of the right of return," the governor added.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced or fled from their homes in fighting to create the state of Israel.

Abbas applauds steadfastness on Nakba Day

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- President Mahmoud Abbas applauded Palestinian steadfastness on Monday, in a speech commemorating the 64th anniversary of the Nakba, or catastrophe, of Palestinian expulsion in 1948.

"We will remain on this land. We will remain like oak trees. We will remain like our olive trees," Abbas said, lauding Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and people killed in conflict with Israel.

The president also applauded Palestinian leaders, "who led us from Nakba to revolution, to statehood," in his speech.

Abbas also insisted that any peace deal include Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state.

"Jerusalem is the key and the gate to peace. Any attempt by the occupation to mess with the holy city means igniting tension and wars in the region and in the world," he said.

"We insist on each particle of soil and each stone in Jerusalem," he continued.

"Words are not enough -- we need deeds which support the heroic steadfastness of our Jerusalemites defending Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of Holy Sepulcher. This can be achieved if our Arab brothers pay what they pledged during Arab League summits."

Palestinians on Tuesday mark the 64th anniversary of forced displacement of more than 700,000 Palestinians from their homes by pre-state Jewish militias in 1948, known as the Nakba or catastrophe.

Thousands of Palestinians rally every year in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Israel and the Diaspora to defend their right to return to their homes and lands.

The Key

Exodus 1948 التهجيرعام (19 photos)

Palestinians march in annual mourning ritual

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators hold boards during a rally marking Nakba Day, outside Tel Aviv University, as a counter-protest (not pictured) was held nearby, May 14, 2012. On May 15, Palestinians will mark Nakba Day, or day of catastrophe, of Israel's founding in a 1948 war, when hundreds of thousands of their brethren fled or were forced to leave their homes. REUTERS/Nir Elias (ISRAEL - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Palestinians on Tuesday marked their mass displacement that followed Israel's creation with a blend of sadness and hope, stopping in their tracks for a mournful siren but also flashing victory signs and carrying banners proclaiming their right of return.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced from their villages during the war that established the Jewish state in 1948, an event they commemorate every year as their "Nakba," or catastrophe.

Today, surviving refugees and their descendants number several million who are scattered across the globe, many still living in squalid camps in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and surrounding Arab countries.

Saadat Jaber, 62, said he has passed on the story of his family's uprooting from what is now the Israeli city of Lod to his offspring.

"I still have hope," Jaber said as he marched with thousands of others to the center of the West Bank town of Ramallah. "Now Israel is a great power, but there were empires in history that collapsed and people that were oppressed by these empires took back their rights."

In three West Bank areas north and south of Jerusalem, dozens of Palestinian stone-throwers clashed with Israeli troops who fired tear gas and rubber-coated steel pellets. The Palestinian Red Crescent said 30 people were hurt by the rubber bullets and dozens suffered from tear gas inhalation.

The 64th anniversary of the Nakba comes after nearly two decades of failed efforts to negotiate the terms of a Palestinian state with Israel....READ MORE
A Palestinian with his face painted in the colours of the Palestinian flag takes part in a rally marking Nakba in Gaza City May 15, 2012. Israeli security forces were on high alert for violence on Tuesday, the day when Palestinians mark "Nakba", or catastrophe, of Israel's founding in a 1948 war, when hundreds of thousands of their brethren fled or were forced to leave their homes. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)
Members of Hamas security forces carry a large Palestinian flag during a rally marking Nakba in Gaza City May 15, 2012. Israeli security forces were on high alert for violence on Tuesday, the day when Palestinians mark "Nakba", or catastrophe, of Israel's founding in a 1948 war, when hundreds of thousands of their brethren fled or were forced to leave their homes. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST ANNIVERSARY)
Palestinians take part in a rally marking Nakba in the West Bank city of Ramallah May 15, 2012. On Tuesday, Palestinians mark "Nakba", or catastrophe, of Israel's founding in a 1948 war, when hundreds of thousands of their brethren fled or were forced to leave their homes. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman (WEST BANK - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST ANNIVERSARY)
Palestinians gather around candles lit ahead of Nakba, in the West Bank city of Ramallah May 14, 2012. On May 15 Palestinians will mark Nakba, or catastrophe, of Israel's founding in a 1948 war, when hundreds of thousands of their brethren fled or were forced to leave their homes. REUTERS/Ammar Awad (WEST BANK - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)

EU foreign ministers on Monday issued a harsh critique of Israel, saying the gathering pace of settlement-building, settler extremism and ill-treatment of Palestinians threatens a two-state solution.

EU foreign ministers on Monday issued a harsh critique of Israel, saying the gathering pace of settlement-building, settler extremism and ill-treatment of Palestinians threatens a two-state solution.

"The EU expresses deep concern about developments on the ground which threaten to make a two-state solution impossible," the bloc's 27 ministers said in a statement issued during talks in Brussels.

"The viability of a two-state solution must be maintained," the three-page European Union statement added.

Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now said on Monday that Israel was moving ahead with plans to build around 2,000 new homes in the settlement of Gilo, in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

"There was an announcement of depositing for public review, plans for 942 housing units with an option for 300 more," the group's Hagit Ofran told AFP. "The public now has 60 days to present objections."

"Next week, on May 22, there will be a discussion on objections to a different plan for Gilo, for 900 units," she added. "Another stage in the approvals process."

The Jerusalem Post daily said it could take years before all steps were complete and construction could begin.

Reiterating that settlements on occupied land are illegal under international law, the ministers notably condemned "the marked acceleration" of settlement building since the end of a 2010 moratorium and expressed "deep concern" over settler extremism in the West Bank.

They also voiced concern over evictions and the demolition of Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem "and the prevention of peaceful Palestinian cultural, economic, social or political activities".

Turning to the so-called Area C zone of the occupied West Bank, where Israel has full civil and security control, the statement noted "the worsening living conditions" of the Palestinian population in general.

The ministers' stand came on the heels of a damaging report by NGOs this weekend alleging that Israel last year demolished dozens of Palestinian homes, water cisterns and farm buildings built with European funds.

In Area C, Israel has placed "serious limitations" on the Palestinian Authority's ability to promote economic development, the statement said.

Saying the future of Area C was critical to a future Palestinian state because this was its main land reserve, the EU urged Israel to halt demolitions and simplify the granting of building permits....READ MORE

View of the Jewish settlement of Har Homa near the West Bank town of Bethlehem. EU foreign ministers have issued a harsh critique of Israel, saying the gathering pace of settlement-building, settler extremism and ill-treatment of Palestinians threatens a two-state solution. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat: For a more constructive Congress on Palestine

"The U.S. administration realizes very well that Palestinians have been forthcoming and engaged in the past three years. We offered proposals, and made suggestions and ideas only to be met with a lack of substantive counterproposals from the Israelis. Instead of a meaningful and sincere engagement by the Israeli government, its answer was to accelerate settlement activities in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in a manner that clearly indicates their desire to destroy, once and for all, the two-state solution. Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat, Chief Representative of the General Delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organization to the United States. - 05/14/12

 General Delegation of the PLO to the United States
Read today's op-ed in The Hill paper by Ambassador Areikat, entitled "For a more constructive Congress on Palestine."

Arab writers returning from Gaza condemn Hamas repression, lament erasure of Palestinian character

Arab writers return from Gaza, overshadow literature festival with anti-Hamas testimonies
May 14, 2012

Mohammed Saad
Ahram Online
May 13, 2012 - 12:00am

The closing ceremony of the fifth Palestine Festival of Literature (aka Palfest) was overshadowed by politics as writers who returned from a trip to the Gaza Strip gave their testimony on the situation there and described Hamas’s “repressive rule.”

At the Palfest closing ceremony, which was held in Cairo on Friday at the Rawabet Theatre, writer Ahdaf Soueif presented the Egyptian and Arab guest writers, including Khaled El-Khamisi, Sahar El-Mougy, poet Amin Haddad, Tunisian writer Khaled Najjar and Palestinian Poet Tariq Hamdan.

“We’re holding the closing ceremony here in Cairo, not Gaza, for two reasons: firstly, we wanted you to share this event with us and, secondly, we wanted to underline the importance of reviving the Egyptian-Palestinian relations,” Soueif explained.

During the past four editions of the Palfest, no Egyptian or Arab writers were among the members of the delegation that visits Gaza. Delegates were mostly European and American writers, who would have less trouble entering Gaza than their Egyptian colleagues. Not only would Egyptians struggle to pass the Egyptian-Palestinian border, but they may need an Israeli visa, which would be prejudicial against them because intelligence agencies at home would suspect them of spying. But after the January 25 Revolution, there has been a stark change, with most of the writers in the delegation coming from Egypt and other Arab countries.

“The past Palfests used to be held in the West Bank, but this time we decided to hold it in Gaza to stress the new reality in Egypt,” Soueif said, referring to the Mubarak regime’s role supporting the Gaza blockade.

Palfest mainly consists of three activities: first, literary and creative writing workshops in Palestinian schools and universities; second, sightseeing; third, cultural discussions and concerts in the evening.

Fierce blockade, Egyptian praise
The people of Gaza are living in inhumane conditions due to the blockade imposed by Israeli authorities. Officially, Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but it imposed a road and naval blockade since Hamas was voted into power in 2006. According to many Palestinians at the event, Gaza is still under occupation.

“The main feeling you get while in Gaza is anger, and there are many reasons there for that. The situation there is atrocious; the blockade is everywhere, and this creates chaos that inevitably leads to fear,” Khaled El-Khamisi said.

The people of Gaza are angry not only towards Israel, but also towards Egypt and — more significantly — Hamas.

”The approach of Egyptian authorities towards Gaza is despicable. We’re following the American and Israeli agendas by helping to blockade Gaza. This should change in post-revolution Egypt. We should decisively boycott Israel and open all the crossings at the Gaza border,” El-Khamisi asserted.

Cultural hunger
Most of the writers who visited Gaza had one opinion with respect to cultural activities in Gaza: “deplorable.” They say the aim appears to be to erase the Palestinian character and culture, which gave the world thinkers and poets like Mahmoud Darwish and Edward Said.

Professor of English Literature Sahar El-Mougy said that there’s a deplorable condition of cultural hunger. There aren’t even cinemas, libraries, or shops that sell books on the arts, philosophy or literature. The only available books are those on Islamic Sharia (Islamic jurisprudence) and Fiqh (thinking).

“There’s a conspiracy against the Palestinian character, to destroy its beauty. Hamas is erasing Palestinian culture, replacing it with an extremist version of Islam. They don’t even allow men and women to be in the same place!” El-Mougy objected.

“But through all this, and despite the security and intelligence, who we saw everywhere in Gaza, students we met have the spirit of resistance — not against Israel this time, but against the repressive practices of Hamas.”

“When we started writing workshops with young girls in schools, they first wrote about resistance against Israel,” said El-Mougy. “But when we showed them that writing could also express your inner feelings, the results were magnificent. Girls started to realise that writing is also about the self.”

El-Mougy says that Hamas, the resistance movement against occupation, became itself a movement of repression. “Hamas stands between Palestinians and life.”

Palestinian Spring
Palestinians attending the event were impelled to participate in discussions about Hamas violations in Gaza after observations form the delegation overshadowed other talks in the ceremony.

Some argued that blaming Hamas for the conditions in Gaza wrongfully lifted some of the guilt off Israel, the main enforcers of the Gaza blockade.

The 15 March protests to end the Fatah-Hamas division were discussed too. Some saw it as a revolution; others thought it was just a mistake and the right option would be to topple both from power, since neither work for the sake of the people.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Ahdaf Soueif declared that Palfest is still boycotting Israel at all levels and won’t change its mind anytime soon.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

to be an authentic voice... a poem by Anne Selden Annab

The echo chamber
swallows up
and consumes
the naive & disconnected

Makes them feel alive-
popular and empowered

Pushes them farther and farther
from reality itself
for the echo chamber
feels loud
feels huge
even feels real

It is a la la land
of passionate strangers
and agent provocateurs

Wiser folks listening
to a larger world
a more complex
and complete world
a more honest world
and a more nuanced world
move on and away
to be an authentic voice...

leaving the echo chamber convinced
that echoes are all that matter.

poem copyright ©2012 Anne Selden Annab