Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Hamas 'implicitly accepts Israel'

Palestinian militant group Hamas has agreed to a document backing a
two-state solution to the conflict with Israel, officials say.

The initiative, devised by Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli
jails, implicitly recognises the Jewish state.

Hamas's charter currently calls for Israel's destruction by force and
rules out peace negotiations with it.

The deal comes amid heightened tension with Israel following the
capture of an Israeli soldier by militants on Sunday.

Israeli tanks and troops have massed on the border and Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert has warned that a large scale military operation
is rapidly approaching.

Palestinian militants acknowledged for the first time on Tuesday that
Israeli tank gunner Gilad Shalit was alive.

"The soldier is in a secure place that the Zionists cannot reach,"
said Mohammed Abdel Al, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance
Committees, one of three Palestinian groups involved in Sunday's

According to Israeli media reports officials believe he was injured in
the stomach and hand during the attack near Kerem Shalom.

More of the story from BBC NEWS:


On Friday, I'm going to Haifa.

A city where everyone gets along, a coastal jewel, a holy place, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Haifa has become a symbol for me. At home, a surprising number of people of all faiths ask me if I have been to Haifa, tell me to go to Haifa, and ask me if it's as beautiful as they've heard. After Friday, I'll be able to answer their questions.

Why aren't I feeling more excited?

Maybe I'm having mixed feelings because of stories I've heard about Haifa from Palestinians I've met. More than anyone else, they've told me how beautiful the city is, how much they would like me to see it, and how much they would like to see it themselves. Some families have also told me that they used to live in Haifa. They used to wake up in the mornings knowing they could walk down to the sea. But that was many years ago. While the state of Israel was being founded, an armed and organized Jewish gang called the Haganah, attacked Haifa in an effort to secure the city for themselves and drive out the Palestinian population. Many, many Palestinians left their homes before the city was taken and many others were forced to leave afterwards. They became refugees and they still cannot go home.

I know that Haifa is not just a beautiful place, but also a place where terrible things happened. There are many places in the world like that, perhaps nearly every beautiful place as has a dark history. But this one seems different to me because this time the terrible things happened to my friends.

Haifa's history hangs over me, but I don't think that's why I am feeling uncomfortable going. I think I'm feeling uncomfortable because my friends can't go with me. Haifa is in Israel proper, on the Northern coast, far outside of the West Bank. To visit Haifa, my Palestinian friends would have to obtain a permit from the Israeli government. The process is daunting and my friends would almost certainly be denied. I was actually supposed to visit Haifa last summer, but the 6th graders at the Ramallah Friends School whom I was supposed to accompany applied for permits over and over and over again and were denied each time.

My friends tell me how much they would like to go to the sea, to see it again or for the first time. How is it that I can go see the sea and Palestinians who used to have homes in Haifa or the surrounding areas cannot go and may never be able to?

On Friday, I'll go to Haifa. I'll see the Baha'i temple. I'll look out at the sea. I hope that I really will see a city where everyone gets along. I hope it will be even more beautiful than what I have dreamed. But I know I will wish that I could share Haifa with the people who I've come to count among my closest friends.

What would happen if I tried to take my friends with me? What if we, foreigners who can go to Haifa and Palestinians who cannot, were to walk to the checkpoint together and ask why some of us can go to Haifa and others cannot? What if we asked when the Holy Land's holy places - Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem, and Haifa - will be free, open to everyone, owned by all, places of peace? Could we convince the soldiers to ignore their orders and let all of us through? It seems like an impossible hope.

The truth is, we can guess what might happen if we were to go to the checkpoint together, because similar demonstrations have been tried to before. If we were to go to the checkpoint, just my friends and I, my friends would sent home or be arrested and I would be powerless to get them out of jail. If we were to have a demonstration, like Palestinians and internationals have had here in Bethlehem before, it's likely we would disorient the soldiers but eventually they would shoot tear gas, threaten us all with arrest, and possible do worse. Traveling together to Haifa does indeed seem to be impossible.

Nonetheless, I still hope and dream that some day we will walk together into a brighter future for everyone and visit Haifa together.

Small Miracles

Two wise people have told me to be on the look out for small miracles. It's good advice because Palestine has become a place where one has to search for hope.  I've been feeling discouraged lately, so the task of finding miracles, even small ones, has seemed daunting.  Daunting, that is, until I realized every day I am in Palestine I do meet small miracles in the form of children.

"Hello!  Hello!  What's your name?"  Just five minutes ago I walked through the old city of Beit Sahour passing through a group of boys sucking on purple popsicles.  Like seemingly every child in Palestine, these boys shouted greetings at me and asked my name more as a ritual mantra than a question.  I responded in Arabic "Ahlan shabab," Hey guys.  The boys erupted into a flurry of Arabic that made me break out laughing.  I think that by the time I leave Beit Sahour, every child living here will have yelled at me "Hello!  Hello!  What's your name?"  I'm honestly looking forward to answering each of them.

I dearly love Palestinian children, but I'm often surprised by all that they endure as they live under Israeli military occupation. Palestinian children are incredibly vulnerable, as much as their parents may try to protect them.  Their very childhoods are occupied.

Last week in Abu Dis, I met a kind, respectful boy named Saleem.  Saleem made me smile when he told me that I looked like his cousin, expect that I was very short.  Saleem told me that he was eleven years old.  Then he said that a few years ago an Israeli solider stopped him while he was playing on the street and asked him what he was doing. Saleem answered that he was visiting his uncle. Then, Saleem told me, the soldier slapped him in the face.

I've heard many stories like the one that Saleem told me and witnessed a few incidents myself.  Let me share a few of them with you.   Then you can understand what life is sometimes like for these beautiful children.

  • Last week I met a boy named Abdulhaddi who lives in Aida refugee camp, one of the three camps here in Bethlehem.  The Wall runs through Aida camp and has cut the children off from the field where they used to play.  Now soldiers enter the camp nearly every night.  The children are angry and sometimes they throw stones and often soldiers shoot tear gas, or worse, at them.  Most children are suffering from physiological trauma.
  • Too many schools in Palestine have been disturbed by the arrival of soldiers or by harassment of children on their way to school.  In Hebron, internationals must accompany children and their teachers as they pass through checkpoints and as Israeli settlers throw rocks at them.  When I visited Hebron last summer, girls had been sexually harassed by soldiers at a checkpoint.  In the village of at-Tawani, settler attacks have become so out of control that the Israeli army has to escort the children to school.
  • My friend Mohammed (name changed out to protect his privacy), a teenager from Marda, is a medic with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society but also occasionally throws stones at Israeli soldiers as they help to construct the Wall on his village's land.  Last summer,he was arrested and beaten.  During interrogation, the officials insulted his family and made him sign a statement in Hebrew, which he could not read.  He was then released in the middle of a settlement of ideological settlers, where he had to run for his life.  Mohammed knows that I don't approve of rock throwing, but I hope he also understands that I know this punishment was out of proportion to his actions and is illegal under international law.  During this second intifada, at least 2,200 Palestinian children, 17 and under, have been arrested like Mohammed.

I could share many more painful stories with you.  In light of what these children face, their survival seems miraculous.  But instead of telling you more terrible stories, let me list for you more about what Palestinians children have given to me.  These are some of the reasons I still have hope.

  • I have hope because of Taher and Athena, two students at the Ramallah Friends School, and all of their friends who taught me my first words in Arabic and made me feel like a visiting movie star during my first two weeks in Palestine.
  • I have hope because of 11 year old Hamoodi who refused to believe that I don't speak Arabic fluently and showed me how to sit down in front of the Israeli army while they as threatened to enter Marda, the village where Hamoodi lives.
  • I keep hope alive for Moncade, Homoodi's 4 year old brother, who opened his arms wide when he saw me and said "asalam ayalkum!" like a television host welcoming me onto the Tonight Show.
  • I have hope because of Shams, a young woman with so much talent, who was one of the first Palestinians I knew I could count as my friend.
  • I have hope because my new friend 8-year-old Agnes who can dance like nobody's business and who informs me that my new name is "Ju-Ju."
  • I have hope because of every child who has ever ran through a meeting, played soccer with me, sat on my lap, or shouted "what's your name?"

There is still so much life here, thanks to these children. In light of everything they go through, every smile, every laugh, every child is a small miracle.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Not another Brick in the Wall (sorry, but I couldn't resist)

Pink Floyd is slated to perform in Bethlehem next summer, but is in
Israel right now, creating quite a discussion.



Thursday, June 15, 2006

Is it the 'worst of times'?
By Sami Awad
Once more as Palestinians we see ourselves making statements such as, "we are now living in the worst situation we have ever been in and it can't get worse than this." I have been hearing such statements for several years now. We all know what we will hear six months from now: "we are NOW living the worst situation and …" followed by: "I wish things go back to what they were six months ago." Has this become our reality? Going from one level of "worst of times" to the next with little or no hope for a better tomorrow? How long can this last and what will the final "worse of the worst of times" look like? Is there no way we can disrupt this trend and move Palestinian society in a different direction where we start seeking and fighting for the "best of times"?
I don't disagree with the fact that we are living in difficult times and that the trend is moving us to a grimmer and more hopeless reality. Here are just some of the many issues facing us as Palestinians today:
- The Israeli occupation machine is working overtime to building new, and expanding existing illegal Jewish only settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. At the same time, Israel is forcing a strict confinement of all Palestinians living in Palestinian areas, even in the Gaza Strip which Israel claims to have "de-occupied." I am sorry, but I cannot get myself to say the word "liberated" in describing what happened in Gaza because Israel only moved from an internal occupation and created a large de-facto prison camp holding the Gaza residents under strict and forceful control.
- The Israeli government is building the Separation Wall (or Apartheid Wall) as if it is a spider on steroids building its complex and deadly web purposely dividing and cutting Palestinians from each other, from their land, and even their natural resources. It is now considered an actual miracle to be able to complete a usual half hour trip between two Palestinian cities in less than two hours. I cannot be convinced that this wall is done for "security reasons." The wall and the military checkpoints are justified for Israeli security as much as the war on Iraq is justified due to the Iraqi position of nuclear and biological weapons.
- The Israeli policy of assassinations, raids, arrests, and attacks has continued with great force. Like always, those who are suffering the majority of the attacks are the civilians. You have to even think twice now before taking your family for a swim on the Gaza beach as we recently witnessed an Israeli missile attack that killed seven members of one family. Again, I know that many will ask what about the innocent Israeli civilians killed by Palestinian attacks? I oppose such acts and believe that it is a moral responsibility for all of us to prevent the killing of the innocent. However, it remains a fact that the greater legal and rational responsibility is for the occupier to insure the safety of those it occupies from its organized, well trained, and dominant forces than for Palestinians to insure the security of the occupier from unstructured, untrained and comparatively inferior militant groups.
- For the first time, following the Israeli lead, the international community is punishing, strangling, imposing economic sanctions, and demanding political concisions from an occupied people with no justified reason why such punishment is being inflected and no assurances to why such political concisions should be made. This act of vengeance is in response to us engaging in democratically free and fair elections that resulted in an undesirable result to Israel and the international community. Sanctions are usually imposed on countries that violate international law and precedents. Guess what? Palestinians are being punished by the international community for engaging in free elections while Israel continues to violate international law after international law without even the slightest criticism.
- The economic sanctions have resulted in an economic disaster to all aspects of Palestinian society; public employees (mostly belonging to what the West and even Israel considers to be the moderate Fatah party) have not been paid in over three months, private businesses are falling into debt and going bankrupt, and the NGO community is witnessing tremendous monitoring of its financial transactions, forcing many donors to either cancel their aid programs or put their funds on hold until this issue is resolved.
- Finally, even though there is great pressure not to move in that direction, the economic and political pressures imposed on us are bringing us closer than ever to an internal civil war.
Yes, the situation is bad and yes it can get worse, but the question remains one: for how long will we, the Palestinian people, remain silent? Yes, the Palestinian people, and no one else. I believe that the time has come for the Palestinian masses to rise and in one united voice say enough is enough. Enough to us allowing the world to continue treating us as if we are victimizer; more importantly, enough to the internal feeling that we are the helpless victim. Enough to internal strife and bickering over pointless political statements and positions by our leaders; they only make the rest of the population shake our heads in disgust. Enough to fighting over 'crumbs' while ignoring the occupation that is devouring the 'cake' around us. Finally, enough to complaining about how bad things are and let us answer the question: what can we do to reverse this trend?
To my people I say that we as Palestinians must stand up and say enough ignoring the fact that the power of the people engaged in nonviolent resistance and direct action can create the real and tangible change we are looking for. We must realize this, our leaders must realize this and the world must realize this as well. Everyone knows that Israel already realizes the threat of a popular/non-armed resistance movement to the occupation. It is now our turn to realize this power that is within us and we must organize our resources, our strategies, and population around it. It is only through the empowerment of the people that we can make the change we seek. The occupation is affecting us all and it is therefore our collective responsibility to do something to end this occupation as soon as possible and begin building for the 'best of times'.
Sami Awad is the Executive Director of Holy Land Trust. A Palestinian nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the nonviolent resistance movement in Palestine. For more information please visit http://www.holylandtrust.org/.
For the past few months Holy Land Trust has been conducting an intensive program of nonviolent and popular participation training across the West Bank. Hundreds of Palestinians have been trained and hundreds more will be trained before the year is over. The results of the trainings have been extremely positive, promising and, dare I say, even hopeful! This program is only part of a growing nonviolent movement and will compliment the rest of the nonviolent work taking place in Palestine.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

"Peace be With You"

I wish it were possible to prepare myself for returning to Palestine.
When I arrived in Tel Aviv, I wrote the address of an Israeli contact
on my entry card. The woman behind the glass asked me only two
questions before stamping my passport and waiving me through. I was
elated to receive a visa so easily and stepped out of the airport
feeling buoyant and hopeful. Then I took a taxi to Jerusalem and
entered a land of ever-accelerating military occupation.

When I visited Bethlehem a year ago, the Israeli settlement of Har
Homa seemed scattered and small, hardly worth mentioning. Now it
dominates the view from the hilltop of Bethlehem. One year ago, the
checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem was a gap in the wall,
manned by a soldier and his gun. Now the checkpoint is barely
recognizable. The soldier has been replaced with a terminal– a huge
complex of lanes, interrogation rooms, high tech cameras, and
soldiers. One year ago, I could still see Rachael's tomb inside
Bethlehem. Now the Wall, 25ft of seemingly impenetrable cement,
surrounds this holy sight. The settlement, the terminal and the Wall,
each feel to me like a paralyzing ache. For the first time I feel my
optimism flagging. I wonder how Palestinian nonviolent resistance can
possibly keep pace with the occupation of the world's fourth largest
military power.

On the side of the new terminal, the Israeli government has erected a
sign which reads in Hebrew, Arabic, and English "Peace Be With You." I
am left to wonder what sort of peace the Israeli government has in

I arrived in Jerusalem in time for an annual event that Israelis call
"Jerusalem Day." Jerusalem Day commemorates in the anniversary of the
unification of Jerusalem – when Israel took over control of East
Jerusalem from Jordon in 1967. I heard Israelis describe the event as
a festival– with flags and singing and dancing– but I watched as
Palestinians had to close their shops early so that Israel protestors
could march through the Old City much in the same ways that
Protestants and Catholics march through opposing neighborhoods in
Northern Ireland. The arresting image for me was of Israeli
demonstrators walking down the steps to the Damascus Gate and lifting
up a red plastic police line to cross under it.

I remember another plastic ribbon from one year ago. This one was
yellow and tied between two olive trees in the village of Sulfit. I
stood in front of this yellow ribbon with a group of Palestinians,
mostly farmers and young men, who wanted to go to their olive groves
before they were removed to make way for the path of the Wall. Between
us and the olive groves was a thin yellow ribbon– and a line of
soldiers behind it. With guns and tear gas, they made sure that we
understood that crossing the yellow ribbon would be dangerous, that
they were the people with power. As I stood in Jerusalem and watched
Israelis cross under the police line without rebuke, I remembered the
sting of tear gas and I realized again just who has power in this
situation.What peace will be offered to the Palestinians? Will it be a
peace of justice or a peace designed to keep Israelis powerful and
Palestinians weak?

Over the next few months, the Olmert government is expected to make a
"peace" offer. The Convergence Plan is expected to, at best, claim an
Israeli border along the Jordon River, and offer Palestinians most of
the West Bank, but divided into north and south sections. Israel will
remain in control of the Bethlehem-Jerusalem-Ramallah corridor. This
area represents 95% of the Palestinian economy and most of the
potential for economic growth. By depriving Palestinians of an
international boarder and the ability to freely develop in Bethlehem,
Jerusalem, and Ramallah, the Israeli government will create a
Palestinian state wholly dependent and easily exploitable.

Many analysts expect Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to make this offer and
for the Palestinian Authority to reject it. When that happens, Israel
is likely to once again claim that the Palestinians are simply not a
partner for "peace." My question is, will Americans again be duped?
Will we finally be able to see the effects of what the Israeli
government calls a "peace plan"? Or will we once again side with the
Israeli government and call Palestinians terrorists for simply wanting
an independent, prosperous state?

On the side of the new terminal, the Israeli government wishes peace
to all who pass through. The peace they offer, however, is the
so-called peace of walls, colonization, and economic subjugation. It's
the sort of "peace" that must be enforced by the barrel of a gun. It's
the peace that Martin Luther King, Jr. rejected when he embarked on
nonviolent protest against segregation and economic exploitation of
African Americans. It's the peace that the Palestinians people reject
when they use nonviolent protest to demand real, meaningful freedom
and justice for themselves and their families. It's time for the
American people, who could hold so much power in this situation, to
see through what the Israeli government calls "peace" and demand the
peace that will come once the military occupation of Palestine has
ended. Both Israelis and Palestinians deserve the true peace that will
come only with justice.
I've finally returned to Palestine.  In fact, I've been here for about 10 days.  I'm sorry for my lack of updates to this blog and my inability to respond to all of the wonderful emails I've received.  I'm very busy studying Arabic, visiting friends, and taking in life in Bethlehem.  But the primary reason I haven't written is that I simply can't put words to what I am experiencing.  It's difficult to return after a year.  The pace of occupation is accelerating and I sincerely wonder how much longer Palestinian will be able to survive it.  As I said, it's difficult to find the words to describe it and it's even more difficult to arrange those words into sentences, and those sentences into paragraphs.  When I try to write, I feel like I'm trying to impose order into a situation that is marked by disorder, an occupation that is aimed at producing enough chaos to destroy the fabric of Palestinian life.  How I can write in such circumstances? 
But that said, I have been writing and I hope that I'll be able to post soon.  Expect one, two, or maybe even three articles in the next few days.