Friday, February 17, 2012

On Israeli closures of Palestinian Institutions in East Jerusalem

In the past year or so Israel has shut down a dozen some institutions in East Jerusalem, including parks, NGOs, research centers and other facets of civil society.  The purported reason is that they accept money from Hamas.

The battle continues to keep these NGOs open, as the Meyzan Institute for Human Rights in Nazareth has just filed a petition to the high court in Israel to keep the "Institute for the Development of Jerusalem," which was closed down in October 2011.

I have to say, Israel is really shooting itself in the foot here by shutting down the apparati, the foundations, the skeleton, the basis of democratic and pluralistic society in East Jerusalem.  Shutting down these institutions means fewer young people will have opportunities to work in NGO work in the city. In feeds into anti-Israel propaganda, by providing groups like HAMAS with precisely the ammunition they need to convince youngsters that Israel seeks to push Arabs out of Jerusalem and control everything for themselves.  Indirectly, the Israeli injunction cuts more Arab East Jerusalemites off from important public services.  

Let's assume they are receiving Hamas money for the money.  The idea that Israel can somehow defeat Hamas by shutting down these NGO is so shockingly stupid that you have to wonder what Israel policy makers could possibly thinking.  To "defeat Hamas"?  Well, it is precisely BECAUSE of this NGO, and many others like it, that Palestinians in East Jerusalem have forums and institutions to advocate for human rights, reject of violence, demand the fair application of international law and promote an agenda that embraces non-violent resistance. 

In fact, if Israel ACTUALLY wanted to sideline Hamas, it would provide funding for dozens more NGOs in East Jerusalem, rather than shutting down the few that exist.  This would ultimately lay the foreground of a civil, democratic society, committed to peaceful, non-violent engagement with the Jerusalem municipality and Israel.  

Alas, Israelis fails to realize what is in their own best interest.  Perhaps Israeli politicians' real incentive here has nothing to do with Hamas and everything to do with pushing Palestinians out of East Jerusalem.  After all, Abbas just rejected meetings with Netanyahu recently because Jerusalem's status as eternally belonging to Israel was basically made a precondition for talks by Netanyahu.  This is one more tragic stone that Israel is building of its own grave.  

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Palestinian Intellectuals Series (pt. 1): Faisal Hawrani

This will be the first post in a series of posts on Palestinians intellectuals, past and present, with a focus on bringing to light personalities that are less well known to Western audiences and discussing the landscape of Palestinian intellectual life.

Today's post will be about Faisal Hawrani, born in Masmiyya, a village in the north of the Gaza district. He was displaced by the 1948, making his way to Syria in 1948.  There he received his education and help found the Association of Palestinian Studies, becoming its President in 1964.  He subsequently worked as journalist, and then as the head of the research center of Palestine studies, associated with the PLO.

He has published a number of novels, including Muhasirun (Trapped), Bir al-Shum (A smell?) and others, as well as a number of works of non-fiction and history, including al-Judhur al-Rafd al-Filastini 1918-1948 (The Roots of Palestinian Rejection 1918-1948) and many others.

The following is a nice summary of his ideas on Palestinian 'rejection' before 1948.  He argues that the foundation of the Palestinian political lanscape before 1948 lied on these hinges: (1) the reliability of the broader Arab and Muslim worlds (and there exaggerated) unfulfilled hopes; (2) the contradiction on rejecting Zionism on the one hand, yet trying to reconciliate with the Mandatory authorities (who were facilitating the Zionist project); (3) the failure to consider Britain an enemy from the beginning; (4) the failure to realize the importance of the complete representation of the citizens, including the Jews; (5) a failure to forge significant alliances; (6) The Palestinians' exaggerated imagination on the Arab and Islamic world's support for Palestine. (7) A lack of willingness to use violence as a means to achieve their national demands; (8) the failure of the Palestinian leadership to look after the needs of the Palestinians; among other things.

He published a "Dialogue with Khaled al-Hassan," an early advisor to Yasar Arafat, in the July 1980 edition of Shu'un Filastiniyya, probably the most serious Arabic-language journal of Palestinian Studies that exists.

He is also a contributor to journals such as Kitab al-Sanawi, a new publication of the Yassar Arafat Foundation in Ramallah.         

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"Avodah Aravit" or "Shughl Arab" or "Arab Labor"

The third season of "Avodah Aravit" (Arab Labor), perhaps the most popular TV series in Israel, launched yesterday.  The comedy show -- described by Haaretz as the single best TV series today in Israel, "the jewel in the crown of the rainbow," is a sitcom which focuses on an Arab family in Jerusalem, in particular on the life of Amjad, a Palestinian-Jerusalemite journalist.

The show pokes fun at cultural stereotypes; exposes the struggles of this Jerusalemite Palestinian man, who desperately wants to become Jewish Israeli in every way possible -- own a dog, learn how to swim, buy an "Israeli Jewish car," even moving to an all Jewish middle-upper class neighborhood (Rahvia) of Jerusalem.

Much like Israeli audiences raved about Ajami -- the Israeli film about violent Arab Palestinian life in Jaffa -- it seems that, precisely because the show deals with the red hot buttons of Israeli society -- chief among them Arab-Zionist/Jewish issues, the show has gained widespread success.  And, let's be completely honest here: this is by far the best Israeli TV show I've ever seen, far better than even other good shows like "Ramzor," the humor absolutely brilliant.

But it's more than just the humor.  I think there is a large segment of Israeli society that desperately wants to put these issues on the table -- is interested in Arabic, Palestinian culture, society and so on, a lot segment that wishes they had more "Arab friends" (just like White Americans love talking about their black friends, Israeli Jews love talking about their Arab friends).  In fact the show makes fun of this very stereotype all the time -- Amjad's Israeli neighbors are "liberal Israelis" and try to show him how "liberal" they are all the time -- hey, "we vote for Meretz!"

The show adeptly moves seamlessly between Arab and Jewish society in Israel.  In this sense language plays a profoundly important role in the show -- that, if one is merely reading the subtitles -- one will completely miss a great deal of fascinating social commentary (there are Hebrew subtitles whenever the characters are speaking Arabic, and Arabic (and Hebrew) subtitles whenever the characters are speaking Hebrew, although no Arabic subtitles when the characters are speaking Arabic).

Let's provide at least one example to illustrate the point.  The opening scene from one episode recalls Amjad begging his wife to have sex with him.  She clearly does not want to, frustrated by his failure to help around the home.  Finally she says, "alright, just do it," and angrily lies flat, awaiting his penetration.  He says something like "shway Heshek, eeehh?" a little "emotion" or "lust," (will you?).... Amjad asserts.  Amjad throws in the Hebrew word for "emotion"as a way of disguising his distaste for his wife's reaction. This is the first example that comes to mind, but the entire show is ridden with these kinds of examples.   More to come on this show in the future!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Testimony from Palestinian Women in East Jerusalem

We will now begin a featured series of testimonies from an excellent by the Women's Center for Legan Aid and Counseling in November 2010 titled Forced Evictions: Assessing the Impact on Palestinian Women in East Jerusalem.  These testimonies are all quotes from interviews conducted by members of the Women's Center with women from East Jerusalem.  These are the stories that often get lost in the press coverage of East Jerusalem, and it is important to acknowledge the voices of residents of East Jerusalem themselves:

We will begin with Maisa Al Kurd, who lives in Sheikh Jarrah, and is facing the threat of eviction from her home:  “On 24th November [2009]which was the night of Eid Al-Adha, a Muslim holiday, I was up late after my son Munjad came back after his late shift at  the hotel.  It was around 1am when I heard the sound of moving furniture in the extension and I went outside with my mobiles.   It was lit up outside from the lights from the settler house opposite and I could see that there were four settlers inside the house and one of them standing outside the house.  As I approached the settler stood outside, he pushed me away towards the wall in my chest. I could see him clearly, he had ginger hair.  My son M came out of the house and saw the settler push me and said: ‘what are you doing to my mother’ but then the settler put his hands around M’s neck.  I was frightened of what
was going to happen and phoned the police while I was still stood with my back against the wall.

On another day – December 1st [2009], I was attacked by a settler who hit me with a metal bar.  My sons tried to defend me but when the police arrived they arrested my sons because the settlers accused them of attacking them.  Always, they believe what the settlers say even though   it is them attacking us and them coming onto our property and trying to take it from us.  My sons were then ordered to stay away from the house and from Sheikh Jarrah for 47 days.   Once this expired, M was arrested again and banned for another two months meaning that he couldn’t work because the hotel he works in is in Sheikh Jarrah.  Even now the orders have expired, my sons are too scared to come back here in case they are arrested.”" [end of quote].

Saturday, February 4, 2012

East Jerusalem Settlements and the Imminent Demise of the Two-State Solution

Terrestrial Jerusalem has just published a new report in January 2012 titled East Jerusalem Settlements and the Imminent Demise of the Two-State Solution

Here are some of the highlights:

"Under the 2003 Geneva Accords, the area of Har Homa is to fall under Palestinian sovereignty. But today, a settlement neighborhood that did not exist in 2000 is now home to 12,000 Israeli  residents."  It will be very difficult to convince Palestinians to accept that -- after Oslo, after it was long clear that Jerusalem needed to be shared by both sides -- they should forfeit this land to Israeli settlers.

"Following a quiet, de facto settlement freeze imposed by PM Netanyahu in March  2010, in November 2010 settlement activities in East  Jerusalem resumed and have since exceeded even  previously high levels by 50%-200%. East Jerusalem  has not witnessed settlement activities of such a pace and scope since the 1970s."

The report also discusses a "welding" process in East Jerusalem, whereby new settlement construction in East Jerusalem is strategic in order to create a buffer between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem (through additional construction in Givat Hamatos, announced in October 2011).  What is particularly interesting about this construction is that some 1800 of the 4000 new housing units will be built as a part of Beit Safafa.  On the one hand, this is great news for Beit Safafa residents and more generally Palestinian East Jerusalem.  On the other hand, one wonders if this isn't a ploy to justify the additional Jewish settlement construction -- some 2200 units, as well as to inter-link, or "weld," as Terrestrial Jerusalem puts it, the Arab neighborhoods of the city into the Jews ones.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What Do East Jerusalemites Want?

Evelyn Gordon, a regular blogger at Commentary Magazine, just published a piece titled "Consult Jerusalem's Palestinians Before Rushing to Divide the City."  The article sites some statistics that, depending on the poll taken -- and the immediate political context in which it was taken -- about 1/3 of the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem would prefer remaining in Israeli if a two-state solution emerged.  She suspects, based on the number of "declined to answer" respondents, that as many as a half of the residents of East Jerusalem would prefer to stay on the Israel side.

Gordon almost seems glee about the whole thing, and you can bet that most right-of-center readers on Israel/Palestine polemics are going to smirk when they read this data.  "Ha, all this talk about dividing Jerusalem, and the Palestinians themselves want to stay in Israel."   OF COURSE Palestinians in East Jerusalem would prefer to stay in Israel: where, despite being second class citizens, they have access to jobs and health care that is far better than in the West Bank.

But Gordon misses the broader point -- which should be (but of course isn't) profoundly scary to her.  If the Palestinian community in East Jerusalem itself is so fundamentally split -- which the numbers suggest -- that makes it even more difficult to the divide the city, something that would already be a nightmare and half, given that large Jewish settlements tugging Arab neighborhoods on all sides, as well as the growing presence of Jewish settlements in the Arab neighborhoods themselves.  What this means is that, if it's impossible to divide Jerusalem -- than it's impossible for a Palestinian political leadership to accept the two-state solution.  This is the key point Gordon seems to miss out on. 

And if a great many Palestinians in East Jerusalem want to stay in Israel, it's not a stretch to imagine Palestinians in the West Bank starting to talk about staying in Israel. 

Of course, Israelis don't ever consider this, but if a mass movement inside the West Bank emerged to pressure Israel to just give them equal rights inside Israel -- rather than demand this bantu-stanized, Jerualem-less, chopped up West Bank, without control of borders, resources, and what have you, then Israel will find itself in a very precarious situation (that is if it wants to remain a Jewish-majority state).