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Friday, May 23, 2014

My letter to the NYTimes RE Open a Middle Road to Mideast Peace by Dennis B. Ross

American Task Force on Palestine NEWS Holy Land prepares for papal visit
Two days before Pope Francis arrives in the Holy Land, Israelis and Palestinians were putting the finishing touches Thursday on a flurry of festive preparations for the visit.
RE: Open a Middle Road to Mideast Peace
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/23/opinion/open-a-middle-road-to-mideast-peace.html?_r=0

Dear Editor,

Do we walk away from Mideast Peace?  Some always have, some always will- but many good and decent people world wide have been hoping for a just and lasting peace for both Israel and for Palestine, and doing all they can to help make that hope a reality. 

The proposal to end the Israel-Palestine conflict is already here, and has been.  It is a fully secular two state solution, shaping a fully sovereign Palestine living alongside an already sovereign Israel, with both Israel and Palestine respecting each other as well as fully respecting international law and universal human rights, including but not limited to true respect for the Palestinian refugees inalienable right to return to original homes and lands to live in peace.

Palestinian refugees must be free to return, but they should not be forced to return, nor should they be forced to hang in stateless limbo for yet another generation, with more and more native non-Jewish Palestinians pushed into poverty and forced exile by a Jews-preferred Israel controlling all the land and resources.

Palestinian families need justice and real freedom, including the freedom to make a new life where they want to live and work and pay their taxes and pledge allegiance.  Engaged citizenship where ever they might be has already helped formulate more inclusive and informative media coverage for Palestine and for peace here in America.

Jewish is a religion. Peace needs to be between Israel and Palestine: Tax payers (here and there) should not be forced to fund religious scholars and schemes. Dennis Ross might have good intentions, but American leadership should not be advising Palestinians or Israelis (or anyone one else who might be listening) to endorse and empower the idea that a person's religious identity is the best way to determine citizenship, entitlements, job opportunities, home ownership, security, and state subsidies.  Peace is and must be an ongoing project, with ALL people, ALL MEN, WOMEN and CHILDREN fully empowered to contribute regardless of their supposed race or religion.

Sincerely,
Anne Selden Annab

NOTES
"It is critically important to have a broad strategic vision of the future that embodies the values and aspirations of your people. And it is equally important to be able to project how you can see that vision being implemented in the short term. " James Zogby of AAI...

"Thinking about the future means we do not create "false idols" of the past or present. It means that we understand that we are human, subject to God's laws, and that we do not allow ourselves become so arrogant as to subject God to our own whims and fancy. It also requires that we reject the temptation to use means that contradict the very ends we seek to accomplish."

Connecting the dots: How We Stop the Next Boko Haram... Attacks on dissenting journalists show how scared Hezbollah really is... Maronite patriarch's Israel trip raises Hezbollah ire... Experts Outline Challenges, Propose Solutions for Gaza at ATFP-UNRWA Briefing

My letter PUBLISHED CSM May 19, 2014 The 'big-ticket questions, such as Palestinian sovereignty, claims to Jerusalem, and the "right of return" ' are very relevant to the day-to-day lives of Palestinians.

Christian exodus shadows papal visit to Holy Land

Pope Francis to visit The Holy Land: JORDAN hopes the visit will "push for achieving peace and stability in the region, including the Israeli-Palestinian peace process"

How do we want to define feminism in 2014?   In the first panel discussion at the second annual FORBES Women’s Summit this morning, a four-woman slate moderated by former Hewlett-Packard HPQ CEO Carly Fiorina, gave personal answers to Fiorina’s thoughtful questions. The conclusions: Women should reclaim the term and think of it as the struggle for gender equality, while looking to their own personal experience for strength....READ MORE

Miriam Awadallah, Intern at the American Task Force on Palestine: Assaf is Now My Idol: Sorry, Kanye West

Hussein Ibish: ADL Anti-Semitism survey has the potential to mislead

Religious Fact ... a poem in Growing Gardens for Palestine

"Laws are necessary but not sufficient for countering intolerance in individual attitudes. Intolerance is very often rooted in ignorance and fear: fear of the unknown, of the other, other cultures, nations, religions. Intolerance is also closely linked to an exaggerated sense of self-worth and pride, whether personal, national or religious. These notions are taught and learned at an early age. Therefore, greater emphasis needs to be placed on educating more and better. Greater efforts need to be made to teach children about tolerance and human rights, about other ways of life. Children should be encouraged at home and in school to be open-minded and curious."

"It is, of course, na├»ve to expect total reconciliation. Some grievances are so deep that the people who suffered them will never be satisfied. But the point is not satisfaction — the point is that the present is superior to the past, and it has to be cultivated as such."  Colum McCann  author of the novel “TransAtlantic” and a co-founder of Narrative 4, a global story exchange project

Visual map of how the Israeli ID system is stratified to limit democratic access to home ownership, security, services & participation in the polical system which creates and sustains the Israeli ID system

STAY CONNECTED... 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

UNITED NATIONS: International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People 2014

American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) congratulates Arab America for the outstanding accomplishment in organizing a highly successful event that featured “Arab Idol” Mohammed Assaf and Lebanese vocalist Ziad Khoury on May 11 2014 ... in Growing Gardens for Palestine

850 Guests Attend Arab America "Ya Hal Arab" Event with Mohammed Assaf and Ziad Khoury  "Tonight we celebrate the unwavering Palestinian unity and determination to see a Palestinian homeland after more than 66 years of occupation!"

UN photo archive tells story of Palestinian exodus

"We Refuse to Be Enemies" a briefing call with Daoud Nassar, a Palestinian farmer

Reasonable voices & helpful resources ...America for Palestine MAY 2014

The Arab villages lost since Israel's war of independence - Guardian Interactive: ...Pre 1948 ...March 1948 ... May 1948 ...June 1948 ...Oct 1948 ...July 1949 ...Now

Remembering the Nakba: Israeli group puts 1948 Palestine back on the map Zochrot aims to educate Israeli Jews – through tours and a new phone app – about a history obscured by enmity and denial

Growing Gardens for Palestine: "And it's up to all of us together"... a Spring poem for Palestine & peace

Peace Building ... civic muscle

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

The Golden Rule... Do unto others as you would have them do unto you
"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." American Task Force on Palestine's born in Jerusalem Dr. Ziad Asali: To honor a tragic history, we must work for peace 

"It is critically important to have a broad strategic vision of the future that embodies the values and aspirations of your people. And it is equally important to be able to project how you can see that vision being implemented in the short term. " James Zogby of AAI...

"Thinking about the future means we do not create "false idols" of the past or present. It means that we understand that we are human, subject to God's laws, and that we do not allow ourselves become so arrogant as to subject God to our own whims and fancy. It also requires that we reject the temptation to use means that contradict the very ends we seek to accomplish."

[AS ALWAYS PLEASE GO TO THE LINK TO READ GOOD ARTICLES IN FULL: HELP SHAPE ALGORITHMS (and conversations) THAT EMPOWER DECENCY, DIGNITY, JUSTICE & PEACE... and hopefully Palestine]

The Importance of Vision

Monday May 19, 2014

A few days ago, I spent an afternoon with members of the Syrian opposition delegation visiting Washington. They briefed me on their many meetings with the Obama Administration (including a lengthy session with the president) and with members of the Senate and Congress. We also discussed problems they are facing on the ground in Syria and issues with their messaging strategy.

At the very end of our wide-ranging conversation, a leader of the delegation surprised me with a few unexpected questions. He asked "What is your long-term vision for the region— from Iraq to Lebanon— how do you see it in the future? And what do you see for us in the next three years?"
I was surprised, but I was also delighted, because these are exactly the questions that should be asked and answered by leaders on all levels of government and civil society across the Middle East.

It is critically important to have a broad strategic vision of the future that embodies the values and aspirations of your people. And it is equally important to be able to project how you can see that vision being implemented in the short term.  

My initial response might have been a bit flippant, saying that looking 100 years down the road I can see an Arab boy from Amman marrying an Israeli girl from Tel Aviv and taking a job and settling down in the suburbs of Damascus. But I quickly added that what I meant was that I envisioned a region at peace with itself, with integrated societies, economies, and open borders (or no borders, at all) allowing for the free movement of people and commerce.

Given the bloody wars of the last several decades and continuing tumult and tension, such a vision might appear to some to be fanciful. There will be naysayers who will go so far as to argue that it is not in the genetic makeup of this or that side to ever accept such a peace or integration. But I am convinced that they are wrong. No group of people is uniquely indisposed to peace and integration and no people are immune from the inevitable pressures of history.

In this regard, the Middle East is not exceptional. It is true that the region is plagued by war and upheaval— but then what region of the world has not been so plagued. Much the same despair was once widespread across Europe. That continent had, for centuries, been the setting for bloody conflicts that pitted nations and sects against each other, culminating in the 20th century's two devastating world wars. Who, in the midst of the last century's horrors, could have imagined a Europe at peace with itself?

In the past few decades, Europe formed an economic union and then ended a Cold War that had divided the continent. Though still not a "perfect union," it is impossible to ignore the profound and positive transformations that have occurred and are still unfolding across that once tormented region. 
  
What is important is that, in the midst of conflict, people be given a vision of the future and the possibility of change, precisely so that they not surrender to despair. Projecting such vision can inspire and motivate societies to move forward, rejecting the paralysis that comes from feeling trapped by present day "realities". By projecting a progressive vision of the future, leaders are also able to present a stark contrast between the idea of the world they seek to create with notions advocated by those operating without such a vision.

When applied to the conflicts raging across the Levant, the matter becomes clearer.  

What, for example would be Bashar al Assad's vision of the future? And who would want to live in the future projected by ISIS or Jabhat al Nusra? Is there anyone who hopes that Lebanon one hundred years from now is still divided by sect, with power monopolized by the same families who have governed their clans or regions for the past century? And is there any future in the exclusivist, irredentist notions advocated by hard-line Israelis or their counterparts in the Palestinian camp? 

Having a progressive vision of the future allows one to challenge those who can't think beyond the dead-end constraints of the present. It rejects those who for reasons of power and personal privilege want to freeze current realities or elevate them to the status of the eternal, and those whose blasphemous distortions of religion cause them to envision the future as a return to an idealized past.

Thinking about the future means we do not create "false idols" of the past or present. It means that we understand that we are human, subject to God's laws, and that we do not allow ourselves become so arrogant as to subject God to our own whims and fancy. It also requires that we reject the temptation to use means that contradict the very ends we seek to accomplish.  

This leads me to consider my Syrian friend's second no less important question, which is to envision the Levant in three years’ time. In some ways, this is a more difficult challenge because it forces us to directly confront the constraints of the present day. While I believe that 100 years from now there will be no latter-day "al Assad" on the scene, no "religious" fanatics tormenting those who are "less pure", no clan leaders or ultra-nationalists— they are precisely the characters who define present day life. 

They must be defeated— but how they are defeated matters. That's why a future vision based on values is important. Fighting evil with evil, repression with repression, or fanaticism with fanaticism, is a no-win proposition. New ideas matter and so do new means by which to bring those ideas to life.    

I thank my Syrian friend for asking his thoughtful questions and for the discussion that followed. It provided us both an opportunity to reflect on means and ends and goals. The very fact that he asked these questions made me appreciate his leadership. I would love to hear this challenge put to other leaders, on all levels, across the Levant. Their answers would be revealing.

Connecting the dots: How We Stop the Next Boko Haram... Attacks on dissenting journalists show how scared Hezbollah really is... Maronite patriarch's Israel trip raises Hezbollah ire... Experts Outline Challenges, Propose Solutions for Gaza at ATFP-UNRWA Briefing

NOTES  
[AS ALWAYS PLEASE GO TO THE LINK TO READ GOOD ARTICLES IN FULL: HELP SHAPE ALGORITHMS (and conversations) THAT EMPOWER DECENCY, DIGNITY, JUSTICE & PEACE... and hopefully Palestine]
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/05/22/how-we-stop-the-next-boko-haram.html







How We Stop the Next Boko Haram

To prevent future Boko Harams, American Muslims must speak out forcefully against their radical coreligionists—and the media must cover it.
 
It’s time we had an honest discussion about groups like Boko Haram and how we can prevent the rise of similar ones in the future.  And, yes, this conversation must include addressing the role Islam plays—even at the risk of upsetting some of my fellow Muslims.


I’m not saying Boko Haram’s actions are based on Islamic principles. I believe the opposite, and in fact, I made that very point in my article last week. Of course, the anti-Muslim crowd denounced my article as inaccurate. Having those people explain Islam is like having Mel Gibson explain Judaism.

But when I say Islam plays a role, I mean that there’s no doubt that Boko Haram and their followers identify as Muslims. And I’m sure some if not most of those in that terrorist group believe they are doing God’s work by engaging in violent attacks.

Here’s the bottom line: Preventing new Boko Harams requires a multifaceted approach, and Muslims need to be one part of it. And I say this as a Muslim who for years had bristled at the idea of being called on to denounce terrorists who commit violence in the name of Islam because I didn’t feel I was in any way connected to these despicable murderers.

I would often scoff at people when they would say: “Muslims need to stop these terrorists.” My typical response was: Do you want me to fly to over there and speak to them?! I have no more to do with those extremists than the typical Christian has with those who attack abortion clinics.

But my views have evolved. No, I’m not boarding a jet to Nigeria to have a sit down with Boko Haram. I have however come to believe—as have many other American-Muslims I have spoken with—that we can and must play a role in combatting Muslim extremism outside of our borders. (Muslims have already been doing that for years in the United States, even though the media rarely report it.)

Shamsi Ali, a well-known New York City-based Imam who does extensive interfaith work with Rabbi Marc Schneier and Russell Simmons, stated emphatically, “It is paramount important for the Muslims worldwide to speak out against any criminal tendencies within the community without any reservation.”


Arsalan Iftikhar, senior editor of The Islamic Monthly and adjunct professor of religious studies at DePaul University, and Qasim Rashid, a Muslim-American lawyer and author of the soon to be released book Extremist, also emphasized the need for Muslims to publicly denounce terrorists who invoke Islam.  “Muslim leaders need to condemn all terrorist attacks made in the name of Islam because we are called to do so by the Koran,” noted Rashid.

The rationale for this is twofold.  One, it unequivocally lets non-Muslims know that these terrorists don’t accurately represent Islam. And secondly, this message will hopefully “marginalize these groups” from mainstream Muslims as they are made aware that these terrorists’ actions are un-Islamic, hence making it more difficult for them to attract support of Muslims, noted Imam Ali. Iftikhar added that these denunciations should be made “in Islamic religious terms which will resonate” within the Muslim community.

Imam Ali also urged two other specific measures. First, the need to increase literacy among Muslims in developing nations. Why does this matter? As Imam Ali explained, a political or terrorist leader can literally make things up and claim they are in the Koran, and those unable to read will not be able to check if that is accurate. Keep in mind that in Nigeria, 51 percent of the 170 million people are illiterate.

Second, Imam Ali raised an issue that few have publicly discussed. He explained the importance of Muslims actually understanding the true meaning of certain passages of the Koran, calling for them to “broaden their horizons” and view the scripture “within proper context and not literally.”

Ali gave as an example the current controversy in Sudan over a judge sentencing a woman to death for leaving Islam under that country’s version of sharia law. (Sudanese officials recently noted that the verdict was not final.)

Ali explained that to understand the true meaning of the passage of the Koran that addresses the punishment for renouncing Islam, it must be viewed in its historical context.  That part of the Koran addresses a time of war in 625 AD and was intended to punish those who renounced their faith in an effort to desert the military, making it in essence punishment for “treason.” As Ali noted, it was not intended to be applied outside of war because that would be completely inconsistent with one of the main tenets of Islam: “Let there be no compulsion in religion.”

However, Muslims alone can’t prevent all radicals in their faith. In Nigeria, there are other factors that led to Boko Haram’s formation and success in recruiting, namely injustice, government corruption, and especially poverty. In Nigeria, 61 percent of the people live on less than a dollar a day. Consequently, it’s easy to recruit people by the promise of food and even small amounts of money.

As a local governor in Nigeria recently declared, the way to prevent future Boko Harams is a “three-pronged strategy of military, socio-political and economic solutions. What needs to be added to that list is that Muslims must vigilantly denounce the actions of groups claiming to act in the name of Islam, and just as importantly, the media need to cover these condemnations with the same gusto as they cover the terrorists.

Dean Obeidallah

@Deanofcomedy

Comedian/writer/speaker trying to change world for better. Columnist Co-Director comedy documentary now on iTunes/Amazon/Netflx
Dean Obeidallah is a former lawyer turned political comedian and writer.  He is a frequent commentator on various cable-news networks. He has also appeared on Comedy Central’s “Axis of Evil” Special, ABC’s “The View” and he co-directed the comedy documentary, “The Muslims Are Coming!”  His blog is The Dean’s Report.

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Attacks on dissenting journalists show how scared Hezbollah really is
The vicious lies about NOW editor Hanin Ghaddar are a symptom of Hezbollah's panic

I suppose it's completely pointless to expect gangsters to have any regard for free speech, or, for that matter, the truth. After all, their stock in trade is brute force. It's always set up on a sliding scale: first comes "friendly advice," then a "word to the wise" warning. Then the bullying. Then blatant threats. And the logical culmination is some sort of physical attack. Nowhere has this progressive logic of the political hoodlum been in greater evidence than in Lebanon in recent decades.

So when a nationally- and internationally-noted Lebanese journalist has clearly been dragged into the bullying and borderline blatant threat stage of attack by thugs and their henchmen in the public press, it's essential to raise the loudest possible outcry. The only reasonable collective response is: back off and don't you dare think about going a step further.

As it happens, Hanin Ghaddar, managing editor of this website, is facing precisely such a campaign of threats and intimidation by Hezbollah, its Lebanese allies, and the hacks and propagandists they employ. Hezbollah front or fellow traveler publications like Al-Akhbar, Al-Manar, and Tayyar all piled onto the lies that she had broken Lebanese law by appearing with Israeli officials at a conference in Washington.

The record is clear: she did no such thing. On the contrary, she stipulated that the conference she attended was structured to enable her to scrupulously abide by Lebanese law. This is confirmed by the hosting organization, all attendees, and the published schedule.

So Hanin is completely innocent of the charges leveled against her. But let's imagine, counter-factually, that she had actually shared a stage with an Israeli. That might've been a violation of Lebanese law. But how would it have compared to the grossly unlawful conduct, on the daily basis, by Hezbollah and its allies?

What would that have been compared to blowing up former prime ministers in the middle of crowded streets? Assassinating journalists or rival politicians on a routine basis? Maintaining a large, well-supplied, and foreign-funded and -dominated private army? Dragging Lebanon into a devastating and pointless war with Israel in 2006?

Or how about Hezbollah's unilateral intervention in the Syrian conflict, in direct contravention of the Baabda Declaration? And what have they done in Syria except, in effect, help 'Amo Bashar wipe out scores of thousands of his own people, and drop sarin gas, barrel bombs, and, most recently, chlorine weapons on innocent Syrians?

The idea of such people and their propagandists concocting a campaign of vitriol and hatred against someone based on false accusations of having spoken on a stage with an Israeli, given their own conduct, is the height of effrontery. They even sank to the level of having some of her relatives issue public "denunciations" of her, a familiar tactic Hezbollah has used in the past to try to intimidate Lebanese Shiites who don't toe the party line.

There's no doubt why Ghaddar is being targeted so viciously. Hezbollah is sinking into a profound crisis in Lebanon generally, and within the Shiite community in particular, because of its disastrous intervention in Syria. The organization is finding it very difficult to explain to ordinary Lebanese Shiites why their sons should be dying for towns they've never heard of, and for a vicious dictator who has nothing to do with their daily lives.

Everything Hezbollah ever claimed about why other Lebanese, including Shiites, should find it somehow acceptable that the organization maintains a huge private army and a foreign policy that has allowed them to drag the country into calamitous conflicts with both of its immediate neighbors has been totally exposed in recent years for the lies they are. Ostensibly Hezbollah's state-within-a-state is for "resistance" and to protect Lebanon from Israel. In reality, of course, its weapons are used mainly to enforce its domestic political agenda on other Lebanese, and in the service of its Iranian and Syrian patrons, most notably through the intervention in the Syrian conflict.

This is becoming increasingly obvious to even the most credulous of Lebanese. Hezbollah therefore feels particularly vulnerable. Cue the attack on Ghaddar, along with other vicious efforts to fend off its critics, particularly within the Shiite community. There has been a significant push-back in Lebanon against the attacks on her, but so far it's insufficient.

And what of the media organizations that have led the charge against her? Well, the odious Ibrahim al-Amin, editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar, has been accused of obstruction of justice for refusing to appear at a hearing of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Amin is the same charmer who recently opined that the suffering of the Palestinian refugees in the Yarmouk refugee camp outside Damascus was entirely the fault of the refugees themselves.

Al-Akhbar also regularly features the gurglings of one Assad AbuKhalil, who "teaches" unfortunate students at a school called California State University, Stanislaus (no, I've never heard of it either). AbuKhalil is quick to condemn anyone and everyone of being a traitor, Zionist, imperialist stooge, or lackey, and every other epithet imaginable.

Yet it was recently revealed that, some years ago, the US Central Intelligence Agency paid him to do something. He issued a denial, in which he asserted that he had never been an employee of the CIA. One plausible explanation, given what's known and what can be inferred from his own statements, is that some while back the CIA may have paid him to give one or two unclassified briefings. There is no reason to be embarrassed about that, except given what he and his newspaper would have said about anybody else who had done that makes admitting a simple and otherwise banal and straightforward truth quite impossible.

AbuKhalil threatened to sue everyone in sight, but of course he didn't. And he won't. Because he would have to submit to discovery and there may be something there, even though no one thinks he was a staff employee of the CIA. But given the attitudes he and Al-Akhbar peddle, is this not the very height of hypocrisy? These are the people who put themselves in the vanguard of the attack on Hanin Ghaddar for giving a public talk at an established Washington think tank on a serious topic, and carefully arranging things to remain within the confines of Lebanese law?

So everybody involved in this campaign of bullying and intimidation against Ghaddar should be on notice. First, she has an extensive national and international base of support. The world is watching. Second, she has bravely vowed to continue her journalism and commentary undaunted by these outrageous scare tactics and abuses. Third, those who are attacking Ghaddar – who did not in fact violate any laws or norms – are shills for mobsters and murderers of the first order, who are guilty of some of the worst crimes imaginable.

And fourth, and most importantly, it's obvious that this entire outrageous attack on Ghaddar is prompted by a sense of desperation  on the part of Hezbollah and its lackeys, and an intensified impulse to try to squash any dissent within the Shiite community. That's because such dissent is growing, and the reputation of the organization, even in its main constituency, is rocked to the core for dragging the Lebanese Shiites, and the rest of the country, into by its reckless intervention in Syria.

Hezbollah is clearly scared, and with good reason. The cowardly bullying of an independent-minded and serious journalist – who, thankfully, refuses to be intimidated – could not provide a clearer sign of incipient panic in the self-appointed "Party of God." So, back off and don't you dare think about going a step further.

Hussein Ibish, PhD
Senior Fellow
American Task Force on Palestine
http://www.americantaskforce.org/

Twitter: @ibishblog
Blog: http://www.ibishblog.com/
 

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http://news.yahoo.com/maronite-patriarchs-israel-trip-raises-hezbollah-ire-195255593.html
Lebanon's Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai speaks to an AFP journalist on May 13, 2014 at the See of the Maronite Catholic Patriarchate in Bkerke (AFP Photo/Anwar Amro)

Maronite patriarch's Israel trip raises Hezbollah ire

Bkerke (Lebanon) (AFP) - An unprecedented visit by Lebanon's Maronite Patriarch to the Holy Land has angered the powerful Shia Muslim movement Hezbollah, a sworn enemy of Israel, technically still at war with Lebanon.


Patriarch Beshara Rai's planned visit is highly sensitive in a country where power is shared between Christians and Muslims, and where political divisions carved out during the 1975-1990 civil war have never quite healed.

Though an erstwhile Christian political domination has faded, tiny Lebanon is the only country in the Arab world with a Christian president under a complex, informal power-sharing arrangement.

Rai's visit is the first by a Lebanese religious official to the Holy Land since the state of Israel was established in 1948 and is intended to fit in with Pope Francis's three-day pilgrimage to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories that begins Saturday.

Rai has come under intense fire from media outlets that support Hezbollah, which dominates Lebanon's political life and advocates armed struggle against Israel. 

But he has insisted "it's not a political visit, it's a religious one."

"The pope is going to the Holy Land and Jerusalem. He is going to the diocese of the patriarch, so it's normal that the patriarch should welcome him," he told AFP.

"It's also normal that the patriarch goes to visit his diocese's parishes," said Rai, who is the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, a Maronite community of some 10,000 in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

While Rai will not be a part of Pope Francis' official delegation, he will welcome the pontiff in Jordan, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and then visit the Maronite community in the Galilee, in Israel, his deputy Boulos Sayyah said.

- 'Historic sin' -

Rai will not participate in any political meetings with Israeli officials, but he will meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Lebanese law prohibits all contact with Israel, and any Lebanese who travel to the country can face charges of treason.

One exception is Lebanon's Maronite clergy, who are allowed to travel to the Holy Land to minister to the faithful there.

The spearhead of Lebanon's resistance until the end of Israel's occupation of the south in 2000, Hezbollah fought a war in 2006 against the Jewish state.

The Shiite movement recently warned that Rai's visit would have "negative repercussions".
Two pro-Hezbollah newspapers went further in their criticism, with Al-Safir describing the visit as a "historic sin" that sets a "dangerous precedent".

Al-Akhbar said the visit "would signify a normalisation with the occupier" Israel.

But Rai told reporters he was going to Jerusalem "to say Jerusalem is Arab, and I have authority over it."

"Jerusalem is our city, our city as Christians before anyone else."

"The Christians have been there for 2,000 years, while Israel was created in 1948."

- 'No one has the right to stop him' -

Rai also faces criticism for his plan to visit 2,500 Lebanese who fought in the Israeli-sponsored South Lebanon Army.

They moved to Israel when the Jewish state ended its occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000.

Many Lebanese regard them as traitors and want to see them punished.

But a writer and expert on religious minorities in the Middle East, Antoine Saad, believes Rai's visit will show Christians in the Holy Land -- many of whom are emigrating -- that "they have not been abandoned."

Rai will tell Christians "not to fear Israeli pressures" and encourage them "not to sell their land," Saad told AFP.

Christian politicians in Lebanon have expressed their support for the patriarch's trip, as have average citizens.

"The patriarch's visit will confirm the Christian identity of the Holy Land, and no one has the right to stop him," 32-year-old Fadi Abi-Lama told AFP.

"As a Christian, I dream of the day I will be able to visit the land where Christ was born, lived and died."
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   [AS ALWAYS PLEASE GO TO THE LINK TO READ GOOD ARTICLES IN FULL: HELP SHAPE ALGORITHMS (and conversations) THAT EMPOWER DECENCY, DIGNITY, JUSTICE & PEACE... and hopefully Palestine]
http://www.americantaskforce.org/in_media/video/2014/05/19/experts_outline_challenges_propose_solutions_gaza_atfpunrwa_briefing


Experts Outline Challenges, Propose Solutions for Gaza at ATFP-UNRWA Briefing

A group of prominent experts identified a number of key challenges facing the Gaza Strip and its Palestinian residents, and ways to address them, at a briefing jointly hosted by the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in Washington, DC on May 19. Robert Turner, Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, said he thought the most important agenda item for improving the prospects in Gaza is access to external markets. Mara Rudman, a former Obama and Clinton administration national security official, now at Quorum Strategies, LLC, proposed that water resource management -- which she said could include regional partners as well as public-private initiatives -- might be best placed at the top of the agenda for improving the lives and prospects for Gaza residents.

The briefing, entitled "The Future of Gaza: Trajectories, Trends, Challenges and Opportunities," at the National Press Club looked at numerous aspects of the challenges facing Gaza, including scarce resources, overpopulation, lack of access and ability, and growing despair. However, Turner and Rudman, and panel moderator ATFP Executive Director Ghaith Al-Omari, also examined numerous ways in which the prospects and outcome for Gaza can be improved. Turner warned that Gaza's aquifer would be all but useless by 2020, and noted that there has been a huge spike in unemployment since the closing of the Rafah crossing for most of the past year. He also emphasized that moving goods out of Gaza was virtually impossible, especially when compared to the limited but steady flow of goods into the territory. He noted that the United States was the key aid donor to UNRWA, but expressed surprise that Israel was still enforcing a policy of separation between the West Bank and Gaza even though its technical and security requirements had already been met.

Rudman noted that pilot projects for exports from Gaza had existed in the past and may still be ongoing, but emphasized the need for a political track as well as an economic and development one. She stated that the United States has been a major beneficiary of aid to the Palestinian Authority, and that Americans, as well as Israelis and Palestinians, would feel the consequences of any cut off in aid to the PA. She therefore urged maximal caution in dealing with that question.

A video of the ATFP/UNRWA event can be viewed by clicking here.

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So that they may be one: In this Monday, May 12, 2014 photo, a welcome poster with a picture of Pope Francis is posted at a street near the Church of the Nativity, one of the stops of Pope Francis during his upcoming visit in the Holy Land at the end of this month, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Israel's internal security agency said it fears there could be more anti-Christian vandalism attacks, and local Vatican officials have urged Israel to safeguard Christian holy sites ahead of the pope's visit at the end of the month. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
In this March 20, 2013, file photo provided by the Vatican paper L' Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis, right, meets Bartholomew I, the first ecumenical patriarch to attend the installation of a Pope since the Catholic and Orthodox church split nearly 1,000 years ago, at the Vatican. Pope Francis insists his weekend pilgrimage to the Middle East is a “strictly religious” commemoration of a key turning point in Catholic-Orthodox relations. But the three-day visit is the most delicate mission of his papacy and will test his diplomatic chops as he negotiates Israeli-Palestinian tensions and fallout from Syria's civil war. (AP Photo/Osservatore Romano, File)

Christians, Muslims and Jews take part in a protest in Jerusalem, against attacks by suspected far-right Israelis, dubbed "price tagging", May 11, 2014. The top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land said on Sunday a spate of attacks he described as acts of terror against the church were poisoning the atmosphere ahead of this month's visit by Pope Francis, and urged Israel to arrest more perpetrators. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun (JERUSALEM - Tags: POLITICS RELIGION CIVIL UNREST)
Israeli Arab Christians take part in a procession in the northern city of Haifa May 11, 2014. The top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land said on Sunday a spate of attacks he described as acts of terror against the church were poisoning the atmosphere ahead of this month's visit by Pope Francis, and urged Israel to arrest more perpetrators. REUTERS/Ammar Awad (ISRAEL - Tags: POLITICS RELIGION)
Shadows of people praying are cast against a stone wall in the crypt of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected, in Jerusalem's Old City May 16, 2014. For as long as Christians have been coming to the Holy City, they have retraced the final steps of Jesus during his Passion. Fourteen stations of the cross are marked along a meandering pathway through bustling markets, streets crowded with praying pilgrims and shoppers, as well as residents, and devotees of the world's major religions. Pope Francis will pray at the church during his visit to Jordan, the Palestinian Territories and Israel between May 24 to May 26, on his first trip as pope to the region. Picture taken May 16, 2014. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly (JERUSALEM - Tags: RELIGION SOCIETY)
   
 
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Pope's Mideast trip will test diplomatic skills

Associated Press


For a pope who embraces spontaneity and shuns papal protocol and security, the potential pitfalls are obvious. Not to mention the fact that Francis' stated purpose for traveling to Jordan, Israel and the West Bank has little to do with the geopolitical headlines of the day.

Francis has said his pilgrimage is designed to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Patriarch Athenagoras.

Their iconic 1964 embrace — with the diminutive Paul almost dwarfed by the bearded, 6-foot, 4-inch (1.9-meter) Patriarch of Constantinople — ended 900 years of mutual excommunications and divisions between Catholic and Orthodox stemming from the Great Schism of 1054, which split Christianity. It was the first meeting of a pope and ecumenical patriarch since 1437, when Patriarch Joseph II was forced to kiss the feet of Pope Eugene IV in a sign of subservience.

"This meeting just opened the way ... for reconciliation," the Greek-Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, told The Associated Press in a recent interview in his offices in Jerusalem's Old City.

The highlight of the trip that begins Saturday will be a prayer service led by Francis and Athengoras' successor, Bartholomew I, inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where the faithful believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected. The service itself will be historic given that the three main Christian communities that share the church — Greek-Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic — will pray together at the same time...READ MORE

Thursday, May 22, 2014

My letter PUBLISHED CSM May 19, 2014 The 'big-ticket questions, such as Palestinian sovereignty, claims to Jerusalem, and the "right of return" ' are very relevant to the day-to-day lives of Palestinians.

Anemone coronaria flowers in Palestine. Photo By: Bahaa Nasser/WAFA
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http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Readers-Respond/2014/0519/Readers-Write-A-day-Japan-and-South-Korea-can-share-Palestinians-daily-struggles

Big questions affect Palestinians daily

Regarding the May 5 commentary “To work, Mideast peace must first address daily concerns,” by Matthew Longo, Daphna Canetti, and Nancy Hite-Rubin: The lived aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are indeed the core of the conflict, and ending Israel’s occupation and settlement projects in the illegally occupied territories should most certainly be a priority. However the “big-ticket questions, such as Palestinian sovereignty, claims to Jerusalem, and the ‘right of return’ of displaced Palestinians” are also very relevant to the day-to-day lives of Palestinians.

A just and lasting peace based on full respect for international law, universal human rights, and golden rule thinking shapes two separate sovereign states. Religion should be a personal, private choice for individuals and their families, not a state-funded dictate determining who gets freedom, job opportunities, and subsidized housing. As Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote: “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home....”

Anne Selden Annab
Mechanicsburg, Pa.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Christian exodus shadows papal visit to Holy Land

In this photo taken Sunday, May 18, 2014, the entrance of an abandoned house that belongs to a Palestinian Christian emigre family, one of a half dozen abandoned homes that were saved and purchased by local Christians through the mediating efforts led by Father Ibrahim Shomali, the parish priest of Beit Jala, in the West Bank town of Beit Jala. Pope Francis will be arriving this weekend to the land where Christianity was born, and where Christians are disappearing. The Christian community in the Holy Land is one of the oldest in the world. But it has dwindled to around 2 percent of the population today, as economic hardship, violence and the bitter realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have sent them searching for better opportunities overseas. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
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http://news.yahoo.com/christian-exodus-shadows-papal-visit-holy-land-063003375.html


BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — Pope Francis will arrive this weekend in the land where Christianity was born — and where Christians are disappearing.

This ancient community has dwindled to around 2 percent of the region's population as economic hardship, violence and the bitter realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have sent Christians searching for better opportunities overseas.

The Christian exodus, underway for decades, has reached critical levels in recent years. Emigration is a central concern to local Vatican officials, who are trying to stave off the flight with offers of jobs, housing and scholarships.

"I am sad to think that maybe the time will come in which Christianity will disappear from this land," said the Rev. Juan Solana, a Vatican envoy who oversees the Notre Dame center, a Jerusalem hotel for pilgrims that employs 150 locals, mostly Christians.

Solana said he employs Christians to encourage them "to stay here, to love this land, to be aware of their particular vocation to be the witnesses of Christianity in this land."

The Christian exodus is taking place across the Middle East. Jordan, where Pope Francis will begin his three-day trip Saturday, has thousands of Christian refugees from war-torn Syria and Iraq.

For the Church, the phenomenon is particularly heartbreaking in the cradle of Christianity. According to Christian tradition, Jesus was born in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, spent much of his life in Nazareth and the northern Galilee region of Israel, and was crucified and resurrected in Jerusalem.

The pope said in a November speech that "we will not be resigned to think about the Middle East without Christians," lamenting that they "suffer particularly from the consequences of the tensions and conflicts underway" across the region.

Christians in the Holy Land have dwindled from over 10 percent of the population on the eve of Israel's founding to between 2 and 3 percent today...READ MORE



Pope Francis to visit The Holy Land: JORDAN hopes the visit will "push for achieving peace and stability in the region, including the Israeli-Palestinian peace process"

Biblical site: The site of John the Baptist's settlement at Bethany beyond the Jordan, where Jesus was baptized, has long been known from the Bible (John 1:28 and 10:40) and from the Byzantine and medieval texts.
The settlement of Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John the Baptist lived and baptised, includes the hill where the Prophet Elijah is said to have ascended to heaven on a chariot of fire, according to Christian beliefs.
http://news.yahoo.com/jordan-hopes-papal-visit-push-regional-peace-173408699.html
Jordan hopes papal visit would push for regional peace

Amman (AFP) - Jordan expressed hope Wednesday that Pope Francis's visit to the Holy Land would help the cause of regional stability, including the advancement of the stalled Middle East peace talks.

"The pope's May 24-26 visit carries a lot of meanings of peace," government spokesman Mohammad Momamni told a news conference.

"We hope the visit will push for achieving peace and stability in the region, including the Israeli-Palestinian peace process," said Momamni, who is also information minister.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur told a group of journalists that "the pope's visit will show Jordan's civilised image and will show that the kingdom is an oasis of peace and security in a turbulent region with a sea of blood, wars and repression." 

Francis will visit Jordan on Saturday for a few hours at the start of his first Middle East trip.
He will meet King Abdullah II, celebrate mass in a stadium and meet Syrian refugees -- giving him a chance to speak out against the war there as well as the forced migration of Christians from the Middle East.

Jordan is home to around 600,000 Syrian refugees.

The kingdom will issue special stamps marking Francis's visit as well as the 50th anniversary of a visit of Pope Paul VI to the country in 1964.

Following his Jordan stop, the pope will travel to Bethlehem, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, wrapping up the visit on Monday with a mass in the place where Christians believe Jesus held the last supper with his disciples.

Francis will meet with all the main Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian leaders, but only briefly.

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How do we want to define feminism in 2014?


 "The fourth panelist, Maysoon Zayid, an Arab-American comedian and activist of Palestinian descent who has cerebral palsy, talked about how feminism is part of everything else she stands for: “I’m disabled. I’m a woman, I’m Muslim and I’m from New Jersey [laughter from the audience]. The idea that ‘feminism’ is a bad word never occurred to me.”  Wearing heels, tight-fitting beige pants and a flowing black blouse, Zayid, who co-founded both the New York Arab American Comedy Festival and an organization that helps disabled and wounded refugee children, said she doesn’t worry about being the only woman to make a mark. She keeps advocating for the causes that are important to her, including  expanding the visibility of disabled people in entertainment.

Next Fiorina asked the panelists what has to happen in order for women to achieve equality.
Brohi talked about the need for women to connect with one another and how she appreciated being a panelist. “I never imagined myself being on a stage like all of you here.”

Then Zayid broke in and said that one of the most important issues for her is violence against women. She condemned so-called honor killings, saying we should change the term because there is no “honor” in a husband killing a wife or a father killing a daughter."

Forbes Staf
How do we want to define feminism in 2014? In the first panel discussion at the second annual FORBES Women’s Summit this morning, a four-woman slate moderated by former Hewlett-Packard HPQ -0.85% CEO Carly Fiorina, gave personal answers to Fiorina’s thoughtful questions. The conclusions: Women should reclaim the term and think of it as the struggle for gender equality, while looking to their own personal experience for strength....READ MORE

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Miriam Awadallah, Intern at the American Task Force on Palestine: Assaf is Now My Idol: Sorry, Kanye West

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Assaf is Now My Idol: Sorry, Kanye West