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Aug 13, 2014

Thank You Sean Hannity (and Russell Brand)

Sometimes good things come out of unpleasant experiences. When I participated in a "debate" on a Fox News program hosted by Sean Hannity last month, I certainly was not expecting the reaction it would get but in retrospect, I am very glad I went on and need to thank Mr. Hannity for the opportunity.

Speaking with even a bit of sympathy for Palestinians on Fox News usually is not welcome. I knew that going in of course but figured it was worth appearing if only to reach a few viewers. I also knew that unlike on some other networks, the interview would be particularly hostile so how I conducted myself would be very important. I've sat through plenty of interviews where I was immediately put on the defensive but this was a bit different. This was a circus. 

Once the segment began it became clear to me that Mr. Hannity and his producers were trying to pull the old "Good Arab/Bad Arab" routine. This is a common gimmick on Fox News and the way it works is that they have two guests on for a "debate," both ostensibly of Middle Eastern background. One, in this case Zuhdi Jasser, is there to agree with everything the host says, embrace Israel, the United States and all their policies, and criticize Arabs, Muslims and their culture, religion and politics. This is the "Good Arab," the kind Fox News likes and wants its viewers to like. The other, in this case myself, is there to represent something closer to what most Arabs actually think and feel. This is the "Bad Arab," which Fox News does not like and wants its viewers to despise.  

But for the Good Arab/Bad Arab routine to really work, the "Bad Arab" has to fit a certain stereotype. They must come off as emotive, barbaric, hot-blooded, violent and generally unfit to engage in civilized Western discourse. Of course this is not who I am, and though I, like anyone, can be provoked when insulted, I was doubly determined not to allow that to happen and fall into the "Bad Arab" trap. If Sean Hannity wanted a circus, there was little I could do at that point to stop him, but I could certainly make sure he alone would come off as the clown. And so it was. The badgering, berating, loud-mouthed, emotive interlocutor unfit to engage in civilized discourse was part of the show in the end, but it was Sean Hannity. 

It was not fun to sit through but my hope was that in the end, reasonable and objective observers watching the segment would realize how inappropriate Hannity's behavior was, how unbecoming it was of anyone doing "journalism" and that the "Bad Arab" wasn't so bad after all and was making important, reasonable points that were being silenced. Of course how successful this would be really depended on how many reasonable and objective observers watched Fox News. Or did it? Apparently in the age of social media and the internet, it does not. Numerous blogs picked up the segment criticizing Hannity's behavior but after a day or so it was largely forgotten and fewer objective eyeballs were exposed to it.

Enter Russell Brand. 

The English celebrity/commentator put together a twelve minute YouTube video picking apart Hannity, showing how ridiculous his behavior and line of questioning was, and talked about legitimate Palestinian grievances.

Fox News dominates the ratings among cable news competitors. The night I was on Hannity's show, July 24th, Hannity brought in 1.9 million viewers. Russell Brand's YouTube video has been viewed nearly 3 million times. 

The amount of exposure and sympathy this created for the narrative Mr. Hannity was attempting to silence was remarkable and the number of messages I received from people around the world who had seemingly heard little about this issue before were huge, far outweighing the few hate messages I got from Hannity's loyal ilk. Below, I've included excerpts from some of these messages which, due to the situation in Gaza, I have not had the time to respond to individually but ultimately will. 

Many emails focused on criticism of Fox News and Sean Hannity’s style of coverage...

“Wanted to congratulate you both on keeping your cool as well as being brave enough to enter Fox space.” 
“We thought it was such a disgrace, that ridiculous presenter shouting and pointing.” (Brazil) 
“ I would have enjoyed listening to an in-depth perspective of the situation from your viewpoint but obviously this wasn’t allowed to happen. It is no wonder that people do not understand the conflict when even the news anchors have no interest in the story and are only out to make reasonable explanations sound radical for the prime time news.” 
“There are plenty of people with common sense and intelligence enough, whether or not they understand the politics, who can clearly see the badgering that exposes how desperate he is to not let rational information dare be spoken or heard.” 
“It saddens me that this is the state of the news programs in America.” 
“I know what the local news shows have said, but knew there were always two sides to every conflict and felt I was not getting the whole story. I was hoping to learn more when I turned on that Hannity show. Unfortunately I did not get to hear what you had to say due to his wanting to hear himself rant and not air civil discourse” 
“Never before have I been privy to a more embarrassing display of propaganda.” 
“Your treatment on this programme was terrible and the host's bullying will be counter productive in the minds of reasonable people.” 
“While I usually avoid Fox News, I saw your recent 'interview' with Sean Hannity.”  
"I just wanted to say how embarrassing Sean Hannity is and how gracefully you conducted yourself.” 
“I do believe that this 'journalist' showed significant bias in driving his own views and was very closed-minded to any possible opposing views or facts.” 

One email addressed directly to Hannity was shared as well…

 “Whether you agree with their points of view or not, as a professional interviewer you are supposed to allow your audience a balanced view, so that they can make up their own minds about the subject being debated. Clearly you had no intention of doing this and simply wished your own single minded views to be heard.” 

 Some emails expressed support with Palestinians and their struggle…

 “I cannot claim to understand the complexity of the situation in Gaza. I can only imagine the grief and anger that exist there.”   
“Praying and marching and posting for Gaza.” 
“I called my Senator yesterday… many people seem to support more bombing Gaza and that I was probably one of a few callers to the Senator stating the bombing of Gaza should stop. The Senator's receptionist said, ‘No, I assure you many people are calling that are against the bombing.’” 
“I believe that the struggle of the Palestinian people is ‘mis-’ and under-represented. There must be a better venue to present the Palestinian perspective.” 
“I was terribly sorry that, once again, it is impossible to have a rational conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in our country. And in particular, that it is near-impossible to criticize Israel.” 

Many appreciated my reluctance to take Hannity's "Bad Arab" bait...

 “You acquitted yourself with dignity and strength and grace though it would have been nice if he had let you speak!” (Los Angeles) 
“I applaud you for ‘going the distance,’ for confronting his tactics and for sustaining your integrity in the face of such an insulting and shameful tirade.” 
“I found the debate with Sean Hannity to actually be very informative. It is telling to the viewers, as you quite rightly said during the ridiculous badgering by Sean Hannity, exactly what he was trying to accomplish. It is such a shame that somebody with the power to influence people’s opinions is so obtuse.” (United Kingdom) 
“I appreciate your dignity under fire in that interview on FOX with Sean Hannity. Thank you for demonstrating your integrity.” 
“I wished to hear you speak on behalf of those you intended to defend, but you were clearly prevented from doing so by a pathetic and unfair barrage of propaganda.” 
“I feel you have done a lot in showing how difficult it can be for a minority to voice opinions in a propagandist environment.” 
Some of my favorites came from Ireland...

"The fact that this man can claim Irish heritage is embarrassing - if he was in anyway educated he would realise that we, the people of Ireland, suffered at the hands of our oppressors for centuries. He may also discover that the very reason he's American and not Irish is because his ancestors were driven out of this country but I guess they were lucky, they were able to get out unlike the people trapped and imprisoned in the Gaza Ghetto." 
"I wanted to let you know that I thought you handled yourself very well the other night when confronted with Hannity's badgering and downright rudeness. As the descendant of Irish people who fled Ireland from the oppression of the British HE of ALL people should have a bit more savvy."

So, I suppose, thanks are in order. Thank you Sean Hannity for giving me an opportunity to prove to countless viewers that the only way the legitimate concerns of Palestinians can be argued against are through silencing and intimidation. Thank you Russell Brand for amplifying this message across the social media waves and helping reach fair-minded people world-wide. Thanks to those who wrote in to let me know what they were thinking. Onward.


Jul 15, 2014

Gaza Cease-Fire Dynamics Explained: What Cease-Fire will Work?

After nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip over the past week, there is finally increased discussion of attaining a cease-fire. The truth is, everyone knew it would have to end with a cease-fire, the only questions were how many more Palestinians would be killed, when would it happen and on what terms. Much of the discourse on this issue to tragically misinformed about the dynamics or fire between Israel and Gaza both during and outside of cease-fire agreements. Using data that ranges nearly ten years and with a closer focus on a subsection that was the 2012 cease-fire period, we explain below how these dynamics work in an effort to inform a way forward.

This first chart below depicts the number of launches from Gaza of projectiles from September of 2004 through this May. That is nearly a decade. It starts at September because that's how far back our data set goes on this issue, but this significant span of time gives you a very clear picture of the ebbs and flows. Launches can involve one projectile (which is often the case) or more. I've highlighted some key events.

[Click Image to Enlarge]

Two things become very clear when looking at this chart. The single most effective way to bring projectile fire from Gaza to a halt is through a cease-fire agreement. Military campaigns have only had the effect of increasing the number of projectiles fired. The June 2008 agreement brought projectile fire from Gaza to near zero until the Israelis broke the truce on Nov. 4th, 2008 sparking the escalation that culminated in the massive attack that was "Operation Cast Lead". What's clear from this is that the military operation generated far more rockets than the absence of it. Keep in mind the context which this is taking place, prior to "Operation Cast Lead", according to B'Tselem's statistics, over 392 Palestinians were killed on average in each year from 2004-2008in Gaza alone. That's more than one a day for 4 years.

A similar story plays out in 2012. We covered the lead up to this escalation and dynamics of fire earlier in 2012 showing how the vast majority of projectiles from Gaza were provoked by Israeli strikes causing Palestinian casualties. The most significant event that lead to Hamas' participation in the eight-day bombardment in 2012 was the assassination of Ahmad Jaabari who was killed by Israel as he was negotiating a longer term truce. Again, a military campaign by Israel generated more projectile fire than the absence of it, proving once more that there was no military solution to this problem for Israel.

After the eight-day bombing campaign in 2012, a cease-fire agreement was reached through Egypt and US mediation. We began watching adherence to the terms of that agreement closely. The terms of the agreement included both sides halting attacks and Israel easing restrictions as well. This meant:

Israel shall stop all hostilities in the Gaza Strip land, sea and air, including incursions and targeting of individuals.  
All Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel, including rocket attacks and all attacks along the border.  
Opening the crossings and facilitating the movement of people and transfer of goods and refraining from restricting residents' free movements and targeting residents in border areas. Procedures of implementation shall be dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the ceasefire.

So what did adherence to these terms look like? Well, we graphed it out below. Numbers here for attacks from Gaza come from Israel's Shabak, so it is unlikely they are understated. Numbers for Palestinian injuries, deaths, Israeli incursions and attacks on fishermen come from UN OCHA.

[Click Image to Enlarge]

In the immediate aftermath of the cease-fire agreement no projectiles were launched from Gaza into Israel. Rather Israel continued to fire into Gaza, killing one Palestinian, injuring 42 others, committing four incursions and firing at or detaining 48 Palestinian fishermen off the coast. It was not until after most of these violations that the first projectile from Gaza post-ceasefire was launched on Dec. 24, 2012.

What the chart above clearly depicts is that even when rocket fire comes to a halt as called for by the cease-fire agreement, Israel continues its violations with total impunity. When the rockets stop, the siege, occupation and colonization of Palestine does not. I think we can draw from this some keys to a sustainable cease-fire agreement:

1. An agreement must be clear in terms of what constitutes a violation so that the actors will have to consider the ramifications of public condemnation before committing a violation.

2. An agreement must take into consideration the dramatic imbalance of power between the sides. If there is a Palestinian violation, Israel retains the capacity to hold them accountable independently and at will, often inflicting disproportionate causalities leading to escalation. But when Israel violates the cease-fire, Palestinians cannot hold them accountable. The absence of any mechanism for monitoring Israeli violations and holding them to account creates incentives for Palestinians to do so in other ways, like firing projectiles.

3. An agreement must ensure that Israel does not use its position of power to unilaterally change the terms. The previous cease-fire included an easing of restrictions as part of the detailed understanding between the parties negotiated through Egypt. This meant fisherman could fish up to six nautical miles from the coast instead of the previously imposed three nautical mile mark. It also meant Palestinians could access farm land up to 300 meters from the fence, previously Israel had fired at Palestinians as far as 1500 meters away. But during the course of the cease-fire, Israel unilaterally changed those terms, reinforcing the three nautical mile mark and going back to shooting Palestinians near the fence even as far away as 1500 meters.

4. An agreement must take into account the devastating human rights crisis and humanitarian situation in Gaza that lies at the foundation of discontent there. As mentioned above, when it came to "easing restrictions" the previous agreement was mostly about determining what would be the dimensions of the prison cell that is the Gaza Strip. For real progress, an agreement must challenge the very notion that Palestinians should be stuck in this prison at all and move toward ending the collective punishment that is Israel's siege on the Strip.

Of course there are bigger problems here as well, including the ongoing denial of Palestinian self-determination and repatriation which all people who care about justice should continue to struggle for, but an agreement that followed the points above would be a marked improvement over previous ones and undoubtedly be more durable that its predecessors given the reasons they have failed. Chances are however, given the power dynamics in Israel, Egypt and the US, it's more likely that the type of agreement that will be imposed on Palestinians will likely only fall apart. The only question is how many months it will last and how many Palestinians will be killed during this "cease-fire."


Jul 1, 2014

Has CNN officially become Israeli State TV?

Since the initial disappearance of three Israelis feared kidnapped when hitchhiking in occupied Palestinian territory almost three weeks ago, Israel unleashed a wide-scale campaign of arrests and raids that resulted in ten Palestinian deaths and over 500 arbitrarily arrested Palestinians, and the destruction of property in countless homes. Yesterday, the news broke that the bodies of the three Israelis had been found in a field near the Palestinian city of Al-Khalil. Prior to these events, several other Palestinians were killed and scores of Palestinian political prisoners, held without charge, were engaged in a multi-month long hunger strike.

CNN decided to cover the developments after the fate of the missing Israelis became clear yesterday. Here is who they had on to talk about the events on the ground.

Former Israeli Ambassador turned CNN contributor Michael Oren was on in the 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. hours.

Just to break things up a bit though, and you know, give you another perspective, CNN shifted from the former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, to his replacement and sitting Israeli Ambassador Ron Dremer in the 4 o'clock hour.

In the same hour, CNN had the aunt of one of the Israeli victims.

And, in case you really wanted another official Israeli perspective but got tired of only hearing from current or former Israeli ambassadors, Mark Regev, the spokesperson for the Israeli Prime Minister's Office was there at 6 p.m. to provide a fresh stale take.

So, how many Palestinians were brought on to speak about the large-scale violence and collective punishment of civilians wrought upon them by the Israeli military machine? ZERO. In fact since the Israeli crackdown began on June 13th, CNN has invited no Palestinian guests on.

Maybe CNN should just change its name to the Israeli News Network.


Jun 24, 2014

Rudoren Misses Context in Crackdown Coverage

Jodi Rudoren has a new article up published yesterday about the search for three missing Israeli settlers. There is so much lacking in the general coverage of recent events in Occupied Palestine, particularly in the under-reporting of the wide-ranging and brutal Israeli crackdown, that it is hard to know where to start. For this reason, I'm just going to point out one thing in the piece that is actually representative of a bigger problem with Rudoren's coverage of the area (Naom Sheizaf gets at some other issues with this piece here).

In the piece, Rudoren notes that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated Hamas was behind the disappearance of the three Israeli settlers. Yesterday, Hamas' political leader in exile Khaled Meshal, gave a long interview to Al Jazeera in Arabic. The very first question he was asked by the interviewer was about the three settlers. Meshal's response, and this is my translation, came at about 1:50 in the video: 

"Confirmation or denial is tied to information, and, in all honestly, we have no information about what happened." 

For the next six or so minutes, Meshal goes into a lengthy response describing the context of occupation in which the alleged kidnapping occurred in great detail. He concludes with a message to the families of the three missing settlers; that the situation might have been brought about by the Israeli government and Benjamin Netanyahu, whose provocative policies toward settlement expansion, Judaization of Jerusalem and continued administrative detention of hunger striking Palestinian prisoners fueled Palestinian anger and created the conditions for the alleged kidnapping.

Then, the interviewer says, "What you are saying now seems to apply in the event that you can confirm these [three settlers] were taken, but yet you neither confirm nor deny.

Meshal responds: "I am speaking about all possibilities, you asked me about Hamas and I told you I have no information about this to be able to confirm or deny it, however, if what did occur was the outcome of a Palestinian act to capture them, then may the hands that capture them be blessed because this is a Palestinian obligation, this is the responsibility of the Palestinian people. Our prisoners must be released, not Hamas prisoners, Palestinian prisoners. There are 5,700 prisoners, 25 of them are women, 400 of them are children. It is a Palestinian obligation to free these prisoners, to defend themselves and to defend their land..."     

What Meshal is saying, and what anyone who listened to the interview would come away with, is that Hamas knows nothing about what took place but he views the act as one of Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation. 

Meshal may be lying. Meshal may be telling the truth. But whatever one thinks about whether Hamas is or is not involved in this is irrelevant to what he said and what he said should be reported as such. That is not, however, the way Jodi Rudoren reported it. Here is all what she reported about Meshal's response:
Khaled Meshal, the political leader of Hamas, said in an interview on Monday, “I cannot confirm or deny the abduction,” but “blessed are the hands” that did it.
The single most important and newsworthy part of Meshal's response, that Hamas had no information about the event, which makes clear that the organization's leadership did not plan or order it, according to one of its leaders, was not reported. Instead of making that point clear, Rudoren instead presents Meshal's comments as duplicitous and deliberately ambiguous when in fact he was clear about knowing nothing about what took place. She also mentions nothing about the context Meshal describes which made up the vast majority of his response to the question.

Why did Rudoren do this? Misreporting Meshal's response in this way fuels the official Israeli narrative. Netanyahu has used the allegation against Hamas as a pretext for a massive crackdown against the organization from its political players down to its charities, so failing to note that Meshal said they know nothing about it only buttresses Netanyahu's narrative. But, the question remains, was it deliberate? It is hard to tell. What we do know is that Rudoren did not report the quote from listening to the interview herself because she does not understand Arabic. So she must have relied on someone or something else to provide a translation or merely lifted the quote from somewhere else.

Where did this information come from? Was it a translator? Did she read a translated transcript of the interview and the response to the question in its entirety or did she just re-report a spliced quote published elsewhere? How often does this occur in her reporting?

Whatever the answer to these questions are, we know that a reporter who understood the language and was able to listen to the entire interview independently would come away with a different quote than the one Rudoren used and would likely better represent the reality and context of the comments that were being quoted.

That didn't happen here and The New York Times' readers missed out on important information because of it.



Jun 9, 2014

Who's Who in the New PA Government

Last week, a new Palestinian Authority (PA) government was announced after a reconciliation agreement between the PLO and Hamas decided to establish a consensus government of independents and technocrats to pave the way for new elections. Obviously, the technocrat part was very important for various reasons. First, it allows the parties to side-step what would almost certainly be an impossible-to-overcome dispute over which party controls which ministries. Second, and this was of course most important to Abbas' Fatah faction, keeping Hamas members out of the ministerial positions would help keep western donor dollars flowing smoothly. Third, putting specialists in charge of specialized ministries is not a bad idea.

But despite the fact that Hamas was explicitly not involved in the government, U.S. mainstream coverage of the new government focused on its involvement. Numerous outlets, including the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times ran stories with headlines stating that Hamas was part of the government (even though several paragraphs into the article you would learn they are not). By and large, U.S. coverage echoed Israeli talking points about the government by overstating the role Hamas played in it (none) in an effort to label it a "terrorist" government. What supported this echo chamber in the coverage was the lack of any mention of who the actual members of the government were. Instead of actually telling readers who the ministers were and what their backgrounds and qualifications are, most journalists in the mainstream covering the government mainly presented it as a he said/he said, pitting the Israeli narrative about "terrorists in suits" with the Palestinian narrative about independents. We've pulled together some actual biographical information about the members of the new PA government in a effort to convey some of the information mainstream journalists thought was secondary in priority to blanket Israeli descriptions aimed at smearing Palestinians.

Rami Hamdallah- Prime Minister, Minister of the Interior

Rami Hamdallah was born in the West Bank village of Anabta to a well off family that included a father serving as deputy mayor and an uncle in the Jordanian Parliament. He received his undergraduate degree at the University of Jordan, following up with master's and PhD degrees at universities in the UK. He spent the majority of his professional career in academia, primarily at the al-Najah National University where he began as the chair of the English department in 1988 and eventually served as president from 1998 to 2013. As president of the university, Hamdallah secured USD $300 million in donations, mostly from expatriate Palestinians.

In 2013 Hamdallah was appointed to Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority by President Mahmoud Abbas, where he threatened with resignation only two weeks in to office amid conflict with ministers. Due to his previous appointment by Abbas, his 2014 appointment to the same position in the unity government comes as a foreseen move. Hamas has endorsed Hamdallah as the Prime Minister of the new government. Hamdallah is also an attractive candidate for both Abbas and the United States as he has spent his career outside Palestinian politics and has little ties to political parties other than the West-aligned Fateh.

Ziad Abu Amr – Deputy Prime Minister of Political Affairs, Minister of Culture

Ziad Abu Amr was born in 1950 in Gaza City. He is currently married, with four children, and living in the West Bank.. He grew up in Gaza but left to complete his higher education. He received his bachelor's in English literature and language from Damascus University. He then attended Georgetown in the United States to receive his master's and PhD in comparative politics.

His work experience has largely been a combination of academic and political positions. He was a professor of political science at Birzeit University in Ramallah from 1985 to 1996. He has authored several publications including the book Islamic Fundamentalism in the West Bank and Gaza: Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Jihad. In 1996, the year Hamas did not participate in PLC elections in protest, Abu Amr was elected to represent Gaza City as an independent. In 2003 he was appointed as the Minister of Culture in the PA. He is the President of the Palestinian Council of Foreign Relations and the Deputy Secretary-General of MIFTAH, a Palestinian civil rights organization.

In terms of political ideology, Abu Amr largely aligns with the young guard. He is a political ally of Mahmoud  Abbas and has been quite vocal about the negative effect suicide bombings have had on international image. He also believes that a true Palestinian democracy rests on the inclusion of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the form of opposition groups. These views have likely made him an appealing choice for the new unity government.

Muhammad Mustafa – Deputy Prime Minister of Economic Affairs, Minister of National Economy

Muhammad Mustafa was born in 1954 in Palestine, but spent most of his young life outside of his home country. He completed his secondary education in Kuwait and then attended George Washington University in the United States. There he received his master's and Phd in management and economics. Later he attended the University of Baghdad to complete a bachelors in electrical engineering.

After completing his studies, Mustafa continued to travel. He worked as a professor at George Washington University, and as a senior official in the World Bank for fifteen years. There his focus was on the economic development of several countries. In addition he was the economic reform adviser to the government of Kuwait and the lead adviser to the Public Investment Fund of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In 2005, Mustafa decided to return to Palestine to bring his expertise in economic development to his home country. He became the chairman and chief executive officer of the Palestine Investment Fund. His stated goals were to make Palestine less dependent on foreign aid and to create a more diversified and sustainable economy that could generate employment and opportunities for Palestinians. In terms of policy, Mustafa has expressed interest in increasing the role of private investment in the Palestinian market over donor packages. In a 2013 interview, he promoted the the use of private investment to reduce arrears and spoke specifically about the important role of government in implementing policy that will facilitate this strategy.

Ali Abu Diak - Secretary General of the Council of Ministers

Born in the northern West Bank city of Jenin in 1967, Abu Diak earned a law degree from the University of Jordan and he also completed a master's degree from the Institute of Law at Birzeit University. Abu Diak served as legal adviser to the Legislative Council from 1996 to 2003, and then as Director General of Legal Affairs in the Ministry of Justice until 2007. He then served as Assistant Undersecretary at the Ministry of Justice before becoming President of the Court of Fatwas and Legislation in 2012.

Shukri Bishara – Minister of Finance, Minister of Planning

A political “independent,” Bishara has spent his career in finance. He received his bachelor's at the American University of Beirut and a master in economics at the University College in London. His professional career consists of former vice chairman of the Palestine Electric Company, chairman at the Jordanian based financial advising company AIMS, head of the Arab Bank and a member of the PA Cabinet since 2013.

Bishara has been outspoken about the financial crisis facing the PA since being appointed office in 2013. Bishara stated in 2013 that the PA is facing $5 billion in budget deficits. The Finance Minister also claimed that the Arab donations that the PA relies on to fund their government as well as pay the salaries of civil servants can only cover around 50% of the current budget deficit. The IMF has called the state of the West Bank economy “increasingly precarious,” and blames Israel's “restrictions on movement and access” for continuing to hamper growth in the occupied economy.

Bishara inherits an economy that recently experienced its first decline in growth in a decade last year. Reuters reported that both the West Bank and Gaza “saw annual economic growth of some 9 percent in the years 2008-2011. That slowed to just 1.9 percent year on year in the first six months of 2013, with West Bank GDP contracting.” Yet, even as the Palestinian GDP experienced growth in the early parts of the 21st century, conditions in the lives of Palestinians have not improved, as “unemployment and poverty have grown to affect around a quarter of Palestinians.”

Nayaf Abu Khalaf – Minister of Local Governance

Nayaf Abu Khalaf, the appointed local governance minister, has had a largely academic background. His degrees come from various universities across the world. He has a bachelor's in political science and public administration from the University of Jordan, a master's
in political science from Northeastern Illinois University Chicago, and a PhD in peace studies from the School of Peace Studies at Bradford University.

After completing his education Abu Khalaf began working in the world of academia at An-naja University. He began as a lecturer on political science and then became chairman of the department of political science. He was soon promoted to the vice president of cultural affairs and university relations and later became the co-director of the master's program. He authored the book The European Community and the International Conference for Pace in the Middle East. Alongside his regular employment Abu Khalaf was engaged in the An-Najah University employees union, and the Al-Amiriyaa Housing Society.

Rula Maaya – Minister of Tourism and Antiquities

Rula Maaya will be keeping her position as tourism minister. She has spoken about Israeli efforts to hinder the growth of the Palestinian tourism sector. In 2013, the tourism sector in Palestine saw significant growth, but also had some significant instances of Israeli intervention. In December of 2014, five tourism ministers from various Arab states attempting to enter the Bethlehem in order to attend Christmas celebrations were refused entry by Israel. This is just one example of a greater trend in Palestine and Israel, of a diminishing Christian presence. This issue has been of concern to Maaya considering the amount of tourism revenue provided by Christian tourists every year.

Haifa al-Agha – Minister of Women’s Affairs

Haifa al-Agha obtained her Phd in educational studies from Oklahoma State University in 1991. She stayed at OSU to work in the college of education.

After returning to Palestine, she worked as a resident of the faculty of education and as a lecturer for the psychology department at al-Aqsa University in Gaza. Al-Agha has worked as the director of internal control for the Ministry of Education in the previous Fateh government, as well as general director of the internal monitoring department in the Ministry of Health and as the Palestinian Authority Education Ministry's director general in the Gaza Strip. When Hamas came into control in Gaza in 2007, she assumed the position of director of the Ministry of Education in the Hamas government.

While serving as the director general of the Ministry of Education in Gaza, al-Agha reported that student failure rates at schools run by the Palestinian Authority in Gaza were deliberately lowered in order to handle the situation of overcrowded classrooms, too few schools and limited educational funds.

Mamoun Abu Shahla – Minister of Labor

Mamoun Abu Shahla was born in Acre in 1943. He was educated in Gaza, Egypt and the United states, holds a British passport, and has lived in Gaza since 2006. The new minister has served on the director’s board of the Bank of Palestine, al-Azhar University, the Atta Gaza society, the Palestinian Trade Center and Palestinian Telecommunications Company, which has privatized and monopolized telecommunications service in Gaza after the Oslo II agreement.

In 2006, Abu Shahla wrote an article for the online BBC about the strained status of the banks in Gaza. In the article, the minister addressed the problematic relationship with the Hamas government, and the banks were taking blame for the economic situation in Gaza. Shahla responded to the accusations that, “everyone has to understand that banks are different; their role is not to save people. Our aim today was to explain to Ismail Haniyah that we have a limited part to play in solving the government's problems. I believe we succeeded in that. We are under a mutual understanding with international banks to avoid dealing with the Hamas government.”

Mufeed Hasayneh – Minister of Public Works and Housing

One of the leaders of the political independents in the Gaza Strip, he is also a prominent businessman and owns the company Al-Husayna Business. He received his PhD in engineering and project management from an unspecified university in the United States and lived there for ten years before returning to the Gaza Strip.

Al-Hasayneh participated in the 2012 dialogues for Palestinian reconciliation in Cairo as a representative of political independents in the Gaza Strip. He currently is president of the Nadi Al-Mushtel Al-Riyadi in the Gaza Strip.

Mufeed Hasayneh lives in the Gaza Strip. He and two other Gaza ministers were prevented from leaving the Gaza Strip for the inauguration ceremonies. They were sworn into office by way of live stream video.

Yusef Adeis - Minister of Religion and Waqfs

Sheikh Adeis was born in 1960 in a small Bedouin village in the Jerusalem governorate. He received his bachelor’s degree in Da’wa and the origins of religion at Al-Quds University in 1983, and received a master's in fiqh, legislation, and its origins in 2008 at the same university.

He spoke voluntarily at mosques in the northwest of Jerusalem and was appointed as a judge of shari’a in 1993 in a number of villages in the West Bank. He also headed a number of positions in the shari’a court system and was appointed deputy to the chief justice in Palestine and deputy to the president of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Courts. He was additionally appointed as professor of personal status and inheritance matters at the college of law at Birzeit University and the school of law at the Modern University College in Ramallah. Sheikh Adeis served as president of the Higher Sharia Court Council and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Courts and was the acting chief justice of Palestine.

In 2013, on the 44th anniversary of the burning of the al-Aqsa mosque, Adeis spoke out about the imminent physical collapse of the mosque. He targeted repeated raids of the site by members of the local Jewish population as well as archeological excavations under and around the mosque for destabilizing al-Aqsa. The archeological digs have garnered criticism for intentionally speeding up the collapse of the sight, as they interfere with the land surrounding the 1300 year old building.

Riyad al-Maliki – Minister of Foreign Affairs

Born in 1955, Dr. al-Maliki first received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at Pontifical Xavierian University in 1978. He continued his studies at the American University and received his Ph.D. in civil engineering. He is a former professor at Birzeit University and worked at the university in the engineering department beginning in 1978, becoming head of the civil engineering department.

In July 2007, al-Maliki was named the Minister of Information of the Palestinian National Authority, as well as Foreign Minister. He also founded and headed Panorama, the Palestinian Center for the Dissemination of Democracy and Community Development.

Hamas has publicly taken a negative stance to Maliki’s nomination. Abu Zuhri, a spokesman from the Gazan party, stated "Al-Maliki is undesirable from a nationalistic point of view as he used to have very negative stances, especially towards the Gaza Strip." Ma’an reported that despite Hamas’ reservations about Maliki’s appointment, however, they are willing to compromise and state that the unity government will “move forward regardless and the government will be announced even if al-Maliki remains a cabinet minister.”

Salim al-Saqqa – Minister of Justice

Born in the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip in 1954, al-Saqqa received his primary and secondary education in Khan Younis. He graduated from the faculty of law of the University of Alexandria in 1978. He worked in the legal profession for 35 years and is a board member of several Palestinian NGOs.

Al-Saqqa was nominated for the presidency of the Council of the Judicial Institute of the Ministry of Justice in 2003. An advocate for Palestinian reconciliation throughout the past seven years, the new justice minister participated in many events, marches and sit-ins in the city of Khan Younis calling for the end of Palestinian division.

In 2008, he joined the debate regarding the Palestinian Authority presidential term, stating that it is difficult to handle due to the lack of legal recourse in the debate. Al-Saqqa maintained that both sides of the debate are politically motivated and therefore cannot be settled through legal justification. He called for committing to the general principles of the law in order to settle the ongoing crisis.

Khawla al-Shakhsheer – Minister of Education

Born in Nablus, Dr. al-Shakhsheer first received her bachelor's degree in chemistry at the University of Al-Azhar in Cairo, only to change paths and receive her diploma of education from the University of Ain Shams a little while later. She then traveled to the United States and received her master's degree and PhD in curriculum and science education from the University of Northern Colorado. She was a professor of educational sciences in the faculty of education at Birzeit University. She has served as the dean of the graduate studies faculty, the head of the education and psychology department as well as the master of education program, and as director of the teachers training program, all at Birzeit University.

Outside of Birzeit University al-Shakhsheer has worked as a consultant for various education programs and institutions in Palestine, including UNDP, UNESCO, UNCTAD, UNRWA, and Save the Children. She is a board member of the Accreditation and Quality Assurance Commission (AQAC) in Palestine.

Allam Moussa - Minister of Transportation, Minister of Communication and Information Technology

Allam Moussa began his work with science education in 1990 when he graduated from Eastern Mediterranean University with a bachelor's in electrical and electronic engineering, ranking first out of EEE graduates and second out of general university graduates. In 1992 he received a master's in electrical and electronics engineering at EMU, and in 1996 he obtained a PhD in the same field.

Since 1990 Moussa has been involved in science education at institutes of higher education. He was a teaching and research assistant at EMU between 1990 and 1996, worked in the electronic and engineering department at Al-Quds University between 1996 and 2000, and between 2000 and 2008 he taught part-time at Al-Quds Open University in Nablus. Since 2009 he has been promoted to the Directors of Quality Assurance Unit at An-Najah University and deputy president for planning development and quality at the same university.

Some of his other work includes acting as chairman and co-founder of the Palestine subsection of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in 2012 as well as acting as counselor and co-founder of the student branch of IEEE at An-Najah University. He has traveled globally, presenting his research at conferences in Croatia and attending workshops in Germany, Bahrain, and India. Research interests include quality assurance and planning for higher education as well as digital signal processing. Moussa speaks Arabic, English, and Turkish.

Shawqi al-Ayasa – Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Social Affairs, Minister of Prisoners

Born in Dheisheh camp in Bethlehem in 1962, Al-Ayasa received his master’s degree in international law at the Moscow State University in 1990, then worked as a visiting researcher for a year at Harvard University in 1999. He acted as one of the judges at the Supreme Court in 1998, focusing on Human Rights cases. Additionally he has worked for several international organizations since 1990, focusing on the defense of human rights.

At a ceremony in Ramallah commemorating his appointment to Minister of Agriculture, al-Aiysa spoke boldly about the importance of his duties as Minister, including “confronting the [Israeli] settlements” and “defending the [Palestinian] farmers.”

Ma’an News Agency reported on 6 June 2014 that the new Minister of Prisoners would consider the hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners in Israel his top priority. “They won't be left prey to the occupation's savagery and grudges.”

Adnan al-Husseini – Minister of Jerusalem Affairs

Born in Jerusalem in 1947, al-Husseini attended al-Ibrahimieh School, graduating in 1965. He studied architecture at Ein Shams University in Egypt, graduating with a bachelor's in 1970. He became the supervisor of Islamic waqfs and worked on several projects in the West Bank and Jerusalem, including renovation of the Al-Aqsa Mosque following the arson attack in 1969. In the 1980's he became a member of the sub-committee for the Restoration of Waqf Properties in the Old City of Jerusalem, in 1989 he became the Director General of the Islamic Waqf Administration and has retained the position since. He is also a member of the Committee for the Restoration of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Amman.

Al-Husseini has also worked with local educational institutions. Between the 1970's and 1990's he served as technical advisor for Dar Al-Tifl Al-Arabi School, contributing in renovating both the school building and its Palestinian Heritage Museum. Other activities and positions include his work as a member of the board of  directors of Al-Rahmah Charitable Home for the Elderly as well as the Palestinian Society for the Physically Impaired, Jerusalem. He served as head of the Palestinian Housing Council in the West Bank and Gaza Strip from 1999 to 2003, and has been a member of the advisory committee of the Higher Council for Tourism in Jerusalem since 1999. In 2008 Al-Husseini became governor of Jerusalem, and in 2012 he was named the Minister for Jerusalem Affairs.

Jawad Awwad – Minister of Health

Born in the town of Sa’ir in the governorate of Hebron, Dr. Awwad studied medicine in the Republic of the Ukraine, specializing in dermatology. He also practiced dermatology in the Medical Army Services. In 2009, he was elected as head of the physicians at the Jerusalem Center and re-elected for the position in 2011 and a third time in 2013. In June 2013, Awwad was sworn in as Minister of Health in front of President Mahmoud Abbas to serve in the 15th government under the leadership of Rami Hamdallah.

May 28, 2014

Nakba Day Killings: The Scoop the New York Times Didn't Want?

Last week I passed on to the New York Times some obvious questions that could lead to a scoop and it seems that they missed the opportunity. After two Palestinian kids were killed on Nakba Day, the New York Times had erroneously reported their ages. I contacted the relevant folks covering and editing these stories at the Times about the error and to their credit they eventually made the correction. 

A few days later, CNN released video that corroborated earlier video of the shootings but also showed the Israeli forces actually firing a kill shot. When I watched the video, something seemed odd to me. Why where the different Israeli forces assembled there in different uniforms? Why was the shooter approached from behind just before the shot by what appeared to be another member of the Israeli forces who was frustrated about something? Why did that seemingly frustrated figure try to take the gun away from the soldier before the shot, why did he ultimately take it away afterwards?

Something seemed fishy here. I decided to write a quick email to the sleuths at the Times, who are trained at uncovering the truth. There were two kids dead and now video evidence showing odd behavior at the moment a shot was fired was available. At minimum, more questions should be asked. I wanted them to look into it as quickly as possible and get the story right. If my hunch about something else going on here was right, the New York Times would break the story, or so I hoped. Below is the exact email I hastily sent to the same relevant journalists at the Times regarding the video (typos, misspellings and all).

From: Yousef Munayyer
Sent: Thursday, May 22, 2014 1:09 PM
Subject: RE: Nakba Day Killings 

Hello                         , 
CNN has release footage it claims shows one of the kill shots  
Please watch it and focus closely around 1:56 to 2:15. Several armed Israeli forces are filled[sic] on a roof top. One, in what seems to be a green helmet and perhaps from a different unit, is crouched down and aiming. His helmet is different from those around him. Just before the shot is fired, it appears the individual behind him in black fatigues and a black helmet and clear face shield realizes something is wrong. He moves toward the crouched shooter and seems to attempt to get his attention. It almost looks like he was trying to take the rifle from him before the shot and then the shot is fired at which point the man in black fatigues jumps back as if he was not expecting it to come at the moment when his hand was near. He then takes the rifle that fired the supposed kill shot away from the shooter in the green helmet.  
I’m no expert on these matters, but this doesn't pass the smell test. My hunch is that different units were involved here with different commands, perhaps there was a dispute over jurisdiction etc. This would explain why the investigation is taking time and isn’t clear. It seems someone wanted to use live fire and many someone else didn’t. For a couple of shots, the guy that wanted to use the live fire won the battle and two boys ended up dead.  
If you listen to the shots about 10 seconds later from what seems to be the same mic in pretty much the same position they sound different. Perhaps the military policy[sic] unit or whoever those dressed in black were only fired rubber bullets but they may not have been the only ones firing. 
This is at minimum something to look further into. I hope you will be able to now that this footage seems to raise new questions.  
It is impossible from the footage to tell exactly what happened between those Israeli soldiers/police but it is clear something was out of the ordinary. I didn't hear back from the journalists at the Times that I e-mailed though I often do. Six days later, today, Haaretz publishes this:

Last Thursday, a week after the incident occurred, the belated broadcast of footage taken by a CNN cameraman seemed to shed new light on what happened. That footage showed one member of a group of border policemen firing at the Palestinians. The camera then showed the Palestinians evacuating Nuwara, who was hit by a bullet in the chest and died of his wounds soon afterward. But it now turns out that the person seen shooting a rubber bullet in that footage was actually a soldier from the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit who had been sent to document the proceedings.  
The CNN video shows a soldier wearing the green IDF uniform, a different shade than the Border Police uniform. His sleeves are rolled up in a way that cannot be done on Border Police uniforms, and his helmet lacks the plastic shield of Border Police helmets. The footage also shows the Border Police commander at the scene taking the rifle away from the soldier immediately after he fired the rubber bullet. The Border Police had been tasked with controlling the demonstration, with an IDF artillery unit present as back-up.  
The belated revelation that this soldier opened fire during the incident reveals a problem that emerged during the second intifada (2000-05): Specialists from other units - from drivers to dog handlers, violated orders - who were attached to operational forces tasked with containing violent demonstrations or conducting arrests behaving inappropriately.  
The fact that the specialist was not fully subordinate to the operational chain of command in the field makes it harder for field commanders to supervise his activities. Yet he is also far from his regular unit commanders back at base, which means they cannot keep a close eye on him either.
Oh, one other relevant tidbit from Haaretz:

The details of the case are under a military court gag order.
Recently the New York Times Public Editor wrote about Israeli gag orders influencing coverage and how she found it  "troubling that The Times is in the position of waiting for government clearance before deciding to publish."

Did something like that happen here? Or rather was this just a case where the journalists at the Times didn't find the deaths of two Palestinian children a relevant enough story to follow up on, even though they were made privy to insight that should have led them to this story almost a week before Haaretz broke it? Maybe they did ask questions and were told the story is under gag order. If so, did they comply and keep what they knew under wraps?

As I'm writing this, the New York Times has just posted a Reuters story on the matter. But it is odd that a paper like the New York Times would use a wire service to cover a story in a country where they have a bureau and multiple reporters and had a lead 6 days before others got around to publishing it.

I just can't figure out why the Times wouldn't look further into this and would be playing catch up today when they could have been ahead of the pack in getting to the truth of what happened here.

Many questions still remain. The shot fired in the CNN video killed Nadeem Nuwara at 1:45pm. The rifle was the supposedly taken away from what Israel is now saying was an unauthorized shooter. But Mohamed Abu Thaher was shot later at 2:48pm. What happened then? Was the gun given back to him? Was it a different shooter? Why are children being shot with any type of projectile at a moment they pose no threat? Why does the official Israeli story on this continue to change every day?

These are the kinds of questions reporters should be asking about this incident now to get to the bottom of it and dig through what seems to be an Israeli cover up. If there are any reporters out there who want to use this info to chase this story down please do, I'd send it along to the New York Times but, well, I'm not so sure they really want it.