Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Three Unrelated Things

Firstly, my apologies to Hamas.

A while ago I published a post on how Hamas is passing (or announcing that they will pass) conservative Islamist laws to restrict personal freedoms of women and men in the Gaza Strip. Male hairdressers can't cut women's hair, school girls must wear long dresses, men can't go swimming without wearing a shirt, etc.

Since then, I have learned that Hamas does not generally reinforce such laws, but seemingly only passes them for show. Or something.

So: my apologies.

Secondly, I was invited out for dinner by a French group working on a project together with a West Bank municipality yesterday evening. The donor for the project raised his glass and happily declared that the dinner was on Israel!

The day before, the money changer in Tel Aviv had mistakenly given him a 1,000 euros worth in shekels instead of the 500 euros he had actually bought.

"I take from the Israelis and I give to the Palestinians!" he said.

I couldn't help but smile at his enthusiasm.

Thirdly and lastly, the other day I was sitting with my boyfriend's family when the cell phone of my boyfriend's uncle--a senior official in the PLO--rang for the third or fourth time. Tired of never being left alone, he handed over the phone for Tarek to answer. From the looks of it, preferably something in the line of "He can't get to the phone right now, can I take a message?"

Tarek took it and walked out of the room. We kept talking. Tarek came back. Handed the phone back to his uncle, who went something like:

"Pffffft," in a very annoyed tone of voice. And then: "Who is it?!"

Tarek went: "Salam Fayyad."

Pause for effect.

(For those of my readers who perhaps don't know who he is: Salam Fayyad is the Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority).

Wait. I can't let this moment slip by. That's like sitting at your boyfriend's house in the U.K. and Gordon Brown suddenly calls his uncle on his cell. Or the same scene in Sweden, only Fredrik Reinfeldt calls. Or Stephen Harper in Canada, Makhdoom Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani in Pakistan, Bernard Makuza in Rwanda, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Manmohan Singh in India, Jean Bellerive in Haiti... (I like Google).

You get the picture.

Need I mention that Tarek's uncle took the call?

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Third Intifada?

Amidst diplomatic crises and clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli army in Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, there is talk of a third intifada.

Ismail Haniyeh, leader of Hamas in Gaza, talks of religious war in Israel and keeps calling on the West Bank to launch a third intifada.

PLO Executive Committee member Ahmad Qrei'a worries that if Israel continues building illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and attempting to Judaize the city, a third intifada will ensue whether we like it or not.

With failing proximity talks (before they even started), the continued expansion of Israel's illegal settlements, rumors of an Israeli take-over of Al-Aqsa, it seems as if the situation is indeed building up to yet a Palestinian uprising. And who can blame them? Living under occupation, being restricted, enclosed, besieged, marginalized out of existence, who wouldn't revolt?

But before any premature moves are made, let's ask who would win and who would lose out if a third intifada is launched?

Certainly, a third intifada would play directly into the hands of Israel. Not only would it divert attention from their illegal settlement expansions, but it would provide a perfect excuse not to go down the negotiations-road that will lead to an eventual two-state solution.

Because let's be honest: academics can point out all they want that it is in Israel's own interest to see to it that a two-state solution is reached--in order to avoid the "demographic threat" and whatnot--but Israel doesn't want peace anyway.

They'd much rather follow the plan they devised in the late 60s (when it was obvious that forcible expulsion of Palestinians didn't slip by the rest of the world unnoticed any longer). The plan to slowly but surely take over all of historic Palestine by simply transferring parts of the Israeli population into the occupied territories, restricting movement for Palestinians, denying basic rights, and making life next to unlivable for the average Palestinian, so much so that Palestinians eventually emigrate on their own accord. So-called "soft transfer".

Why go back to peace talks that will inevitably lead to a two-state solution and a whole bunch of concessions on Israel's part, when they can get the whole cake by simply inciting violence on the Palestinian side so that the blame for failed peace talks can be put squarely on Palestine once again? While they can keep building their settlements in peace (well... it's a saying).

Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary-general of the executive committee of the PLO, is of the same opinion. He says that the recent policies is all a part of Israel's plan to push the Palestinian people back into the battlefield so that they lose their connection to the political arena and popular, peaceful resistance. All that has been gained over the past few years--the rebuilding of the West Bank since the last Israeli invasion, the preparations for an autonomous state with institution-building, economic development,  improvement of the educational system--will be lost. Lost. Lost. In military attacks, increased restrictions of movement, closure, arrests, detentions... the people of the West Bank will gain nothing and lose everything if a third intifada is launched.

The people of Gaza are already under siege and have very little left to lose, but nothing really to win either by having Israel clamp down on their brothers and sisters in the West Bank. The only difference would be that their de facto Hamas government will get a chance to advance their position if the PLO and the PA are weakened, which would further play into the hands of Israel. If Hamas takes over the West Bank too, peace talks would be really dead. Because Israel can't negotiate with terrorists! God forbid.

Abed Rabbo, again, is reassuringly sane and assures that “The Palestinian people are aware of these plots, and can take their own decision."

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Israel-U.S. Diplomatic Crisis and West Bank Settlements

It is somewhat reassuring, in a manner of speaking, that the United States finally sets its foot down and condemns Israel's expansion of their illegal settlements. Because maybe, maybe, maybe this is a sign that the international community will finally stand up for the Palestinian people and that the world will follow these condemnations with a demand that Israel make real effort to make possible a resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians.

But something I don't understand is why the U.S., the EU and the international media is so outraged at the illegal settlement expansion plans in East Jerusalem (yes, they are illegal and they damage any prospects for peace talks as well as an eventual two-state solution, but let's be fair--Israel never even pretended they would stop building in East Jerusalem so this shouldn't come as such a shock). I don't understand why the international community is outraged at the settlement expansions in East Jerusalem and don't seem to be bothered at all by Israel's continued expansion of other West Bank settlements (where they actually did say they would halt expansion for a period of 10 months, but clearly didn't).

I linked to this article before, but here is one example of illegal settlement expansion inside the West Bank.

On the way from Ramallah to Jericho, there are construction sites at the side of the road. The bulldozers prepare for infrastructure--for roads, for water, for electricity. This is in the middle of the desert, in area C (i.e. Israel-controlled occupied West Bank area) and there is no other plausible explanation than this: Israel is preparing for at least two new settlements. And people here are saying that soon, we don't know exactly when, but soon the new road between Ramallah and Jericho will be a settler/Israeli-only road closed for Palestinians. And if we want to visit Jericho, we will have to take the old, longer, bumpier, windier road that runs along the mountain sides.

I should have taken pictures to show you. I promise I will do that the next time we go to Jericho. If we can still use the new road.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Israeli Settlements, Joe Biden and the "Peace Process"

An Illegal Israeli Settlement Behind Israel's Illegal Wall

On Monday, Israel approved the building of 112 new homes in the illegal Israeli settlement in Beitar Illit outside Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. This is after Israel declared it would temporarily halt its settlement expansion during ten months (after international pressure, most notably from the U.S.) in November last year; and the night before U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Israel in an attempt to restart the so-called peace process in the Middle East.

Israel says the move had nothing to do with Biden's visit to Israel and Palestine. 

On Tuesday morning, Israel approved the construction of another 1,600 homes in occupied East Jerusalem, all the while insisting that the announcement had nothing to do with Biden's attempt to restart peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

Okay. If they say so.

Ma'ale Adummim, One of the Largest Illegal Israeli Settlements in the West Bank

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has kept saying that Palestine will not return to any form of peace talks with Israel unless and until Israel keeps its word and freezes all settlement expansion--until they show real commitment to the peace process. This was until a few days ago when he suddenly decided to return to indirect talks with Israel with the U.S. as a go-between.

What happened?

Is Abbas selling out again? Or is it another Goldstone Report case? --Remember last year when Abbas surprised everybody by agreeing to postpone the vote on the UN Goldstone Report on the war crimes that were committed by Israel (and, to a much lesser degree, Hamas) during the 2008-2009 war on Gaza? It turned out he was pressured by Israel to do so, and that if he didn't in fact defer the vote, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin said that the West Bank would be turned into a second Gaza.

But why would Israel pressure Palestine into agreeing to renew peace efforts? It doesn't exactly seem as if Israel wants peace. Unless it's the peace the U.S. has as its vision:

U.S. Vice President Biden did condemn Israel's continued settlement expansions on Tuesdays visit to Israel, and said that Israel is undermining the trust that is needed to restart the peace negotiations. But at the same time, he said that the goal of these negotiations is a Palestinian recognition of the "permanence and legitimacy of the Jewish state of Israel."

The legitimacy of the Jewish state of Israel. Not of Israel as a democratic state that provides the same protection and privileges to all its citizens, no matter who their mother and father are.

This is like, during the time when South Africa was apartheid, asking the indigenous population to recognize the legitimacy of South Africa as a White State. And recommending the creation of a Black State alongside it, so that the Whiteness of South Africa wouldn't be jeopardized.


"How Do You Sleep at Night"
Graffiti on the Palestinian side of Israel's Apartheid Wall in the West Bank

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hamas and Gaza Women

Interesting how the de facto Hamas government in Gaza one day decides to ban male hairdressers from working in women's salons and prohibit women from riding motorcycles (and, to be fair, make it illegal for men to remove their shirts on the beach); only to have the de facto Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh announce that he plans to appoint "a number of female ministers to better include them in the decision-making process," the next day.

Maybe it's just me, but it seems a little contradictory to say that you will enhance women's rights, and then at the same time come with stupid restrictions of women's (and men's) personal freedom that concerns hair (and shirts).

Leave it up to Gazan men and women to decide who cuts their hair, who rides a bike, and who swims with their shirts on.

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Sunday, March 7, 2010

To Boycott H&M or Not to Boycott H&M

Recently, there have been calls to boycott H&M on the grounds that they are opening two stores in Israel in March, and a third one in September.

Naturally, I'd rather see that no companies invest in countries that so flagrantly violate human rights and international law as Israel does. And I'm all for boycotting everything Israeli, as you well know, because I believe that Israel will not stop their illegal occupation of Palestine or their brutally violent policies against Palestinians unless and until it becomes too expensive for them to continue.

But the problem is so much bigger than H&M. Zara already has stores in Israel. Mango too. Top Shop. And major make-up brands (but not i.d. Bare Escentuals--lucky me!), shoe brands, sports clothes brands. Computers, cell phones, electronics in general--they all sell their products in Israel. Major food companies do too. 

Of course one solution could be to just boycott almost everything.

(Add to the list all the companies that exploit workers in their factories in Asia, or those who destroy natural resources in developing countries, or those who dump subsidized food products in weak economies, and there's basically nothing left to buy).

I get distressed when I  think of it and I feel ashamed when I shop. But I do, nevertheless, shop. Because I'm sort of stuck in society as we have constructed it and don't have time to knit my own clothes or grow my own food. And I'm too materialistic not to buy new clothes and shoes even if I don't exactly need them.

So I choose my battles. Right now my major battle is with Apartheid Israel and their racist laws, policies and practices against Palestinians.

If you, like me, would like to do something to make it too expensive for Israel to continue their occupation of Palestine, but you're not prepared to boycott pretty much everything, start by boycotting everything Israeli. Israeli companies, Israeli culture, Israeli academic institutions. Do it actively. Be sure to check the origin of everything you buy--citrus fruits, persimmons, avocados... check everything and be consequent.

Second (or rather, simultaneously), boycott everything that comes from the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank (which, for clarity, includes all settlements).

Thirdly, boycott all companies (no matter where they are from) that invest in or somehow contribute to the illegal settlements and/or the illegal Israeli occupation.

If you are a diplomat or an influential decision-maker, fourthly: cut all diplomatic ties with Israel until they show honest and reliable commitment to solving the conflict and follow it with real action on the ground. 

This way you will target those that contribute to Israel's policies and practices most directly, you will make a statement, and in the long run, you will be one of those who make it too expensive for Israel to continue.

But companies that open a store in Israel... that's not where I'd focus my boycotting.

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