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Sep 24, 2015

The Pope and the Refugee Crisis

The first visit of Pope Francis to the United States coincides with the autumnal equinox, when days and nights all over the world are equal in length. Such auspicious timing resonates with the Pope’s message of global parity in all arenas, including human and economic rights, environmental conservation, and protection of the vulnerable.

Pope Francis’s populist religious and international persona puts him in a unique place in terms of encouraging and supporting work for what he called, during his White House speech, “the path of reconciliation, justice and freedom.” Indeed, he is credited with helping to facilitate the recent rapprochement between the United States and Cuba.

Last November Pope Francis stated, “We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery… The boats landing daily on the shores of Europe are filled with men and women who need acceptance and assistance.” He then issued an appeal earlier this month for all Catholic institutions—parishes, monasteries, and the like—in Europe to take in families of refugees, starting with two parishes within the Vatican. It would be a positive gesture if the pontiff would ask the same of Catholic institutions in the United States.

President Obama has committed to accepting 10,000 refugees from Syria over the coming year. Secretary of State Kerry’s statement that he would like the United States to accept up to 100,000 refugees by 2017 would be a more generous step, though it is unknown whether Congress would approve the plan.

Many of the families fleeing Syria come from the 12 Palestinian refugee camps there, including the largest one, Yarmouk Camp. The experience of displacement is familiar to them; most fled Palestine decades ago, in 1948, when the state of Israel was established. About three-quarters of a million Muslim and Christian Palestinians fled for their lives, many forced to do so as a result of armed conflict. Generations have been born and raised in the camps. Some of them continue to carry the keys to their homes in Palestine, even as they flee from the dangerous situation in Syria at present. For them, “It is 1948 all over again.

There are 560,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria registered with UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees), 95 percent of whom are in constant need of humanitarian aid. Half of the total are now internally displaced. Lebanon and Jordan host approximately 44,000 and 15,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria, respectively.

Despite the laudatory efforts of Europe and the incipient efforts of the United States, the vast majority of refugees from Syria continue to remain in the region—mostly in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. A political solution in Syria is sorely needed. Pope Francis, President Obama, and Arab and European leaders must have this as their overarching goal.

Like their co-religionists, Catholic Christian Arabs regard Pope Francis as the supreme leader of the Catholic Church. Christian Arabs (approximately 10-12 million) in general, as well as non-Christian Arabs, have a special and deep respect for the Pope. And at this crucial time in history, they look to him to help in providing solace and relief for those fleeing war and danger. They also hope he will enlighten others in the world in the principles of equality and peace with justice for all, especially the refugees.

Zeina Azzam is executive director of The Jerusalem Fund. The views in this essay are hers and do not reflect those of the Fund.

Sep 21, 2015

Talking BDS with Chris Hedges

Last week, the Palestine Center hosted its first speaker of the fall, author and Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Chris Hedges. In a lecture entitled “Building the BDS Movement for Justice in Palestine,” Hedges asserted that the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement is the only remaining avenue by which activists can effectively advocate for the rights of Palestinians. Likening Israel to apartheid South Africa, he argues that only by crippling Israel economically can activists bring the state to the negotiating table. Prior to the lecture, the Palestine Center interns sat down with Hedges to gain some insight on the reasons for which he supports the BDS movement. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Will pressure on corporations and simple shifts in consumer culture be enough to disrupt the functions of a political entity such as the state of Israel? Do political institutions need to endorse BDS in order for the movement to be successful?

Chris Hedges: No, not unless there is an arms embargo as well. Boycott, divestment, and sanctions includes weapons; that is key.

So will it be necessary that political institutions support an arms embargo?
Hedges: The problem is [that] political institutions won't get behind it. We have to build a mass movement that demands it because political institutions are hostage to corporate power and corporate profit. General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon are essentially running foreign policy; they want endless war because that means endless profit. We just saw Jeremy Corbyn become the head of the Labour Party: he doesn’t officially support BDS, but he supports almost everything that BDS stands for, including a two-way arms embargo (meaning we won’t buy from Israel, and we won’t sell to Israel). That is the only hope we have left because within the system, money has replaced the vote. Between the Israel lobby and the war industry, elected officials have just been bought up. You saw it in the middle of the bombing of Gaza a year ago: 100 senators [voted to support the bombing] like it was like the old Soviet Union. You are telling me that not one senator disagrees with what is patently a war crime: the bombing of a civilian population that is defenseless, with no army, no mechanized units, no artillery, no navy, and no command in control.

[BDS is] all we have left, and that is why Israel is quite frightened. They are trying to pass laws in states making it illegal. They understand it is a long process, but just as the apartheid regime in South Africa was discredited and sanctions brought them down, I think that Israel is fearful [of the same fate]. This movement has a lot more support in Europe than in the United States, but it is growing. When you have institutions calling for divestment, it is moving. It is the biggest threat to Israel.
There are some well known academics, such as Norman Finkelstein, who have criticized BDS and have subsequently been denounced by Palestinian solidarity circles. What do you think of these BDS criticisms?

Hedges: First of all, [Finkelstein] is a friend and someone I admire very much. He has paid a horrific price for his integrity and courage. As I understand it, his criticism of BDS [refers to] the intent behind it: he believes that its intent is to destroy the Jewish State. But I don’t know what other mechanism we have at this point. Politically, the Israeli government does whatever it wants. It ignores Washington: it is no secret that the White House detests Bibi Netanyahu and the [Likud] government, but they are almost powerless, given the strength of the Israel lobby, to carry out any kind of restraint. They humiliate the Secretary of State, John Kerry, when he visits; they just don’t care. And the Congress is bought and paid for, as we saw with the [2014] vote in which 100 senators, like wind-up AIPAC dolls, trotted out to cheerlead not an act of war, but an act of mass murder [in Gaza]. I don’t think there is any other mechanism we have. We have to make [BDS] work.

The expansion of BDS to the global scale is an effective method of advocacy for the Palestinian diaspora. But how will it affect those on the ground in Palestine who are in need of the assistance of USAID and other organizations?

Hedges: Well, USAID is a weapon used against Hamas. Let’s be clear: it’s a counter-insurgency weapon. Money gets funneled to the Palestinian Authority because it is pliable and malleable to U.S. and Israeli interests, so the idea that USAID is providing significant resources to Palestinians is just incorrect. The only group that is doing that is the UN. At this point, the level of human suffering  in Gaza is so egregious, and there is so little help from the international community, that I think it has become imperative for us to build some kind of resistance. Things in Gaza have really deteriorated in terms of daily life. It has become horrific; I don’t see how BDS is going to make anything worse. Israel controls everything that goes in and out.

Do you think the BDS movement would be more effective if it endorsed a political solution: either one-state, two-state, or something else?

Hedges: No. I think the power of the BDS movement is in bringing Israel to the [negotiating] table and in punishing Israel enough that they stop the slow motion genocide that they’ve put in place. They have already taken so much land: 40 percent of the West Bank and all the aquifers, including [those] in Gaza. It’s going to be really hard to roll back, but it can be rolled back if Israel is punished the way South Africa was punished. They are already an international pariah. I don’t think people recognize that on the world stage, Israel is a pariah. The linchpin is the United States. Without U.S. support, Israel can’t do what it does. That is why it is vitally important that the BDS movement gains support in the States: if we can get enough traction behind it, and once Israel is not propped up by the U.S. empire, it’s finished. I mean, it has to change.

Another criticism of BDS is that people often see it as the end and not the means; however, BDS is just one tool in a toolbox of a variety of tactics for Palestinian advocacy. How can organizations continue to work on BDS campaigns without losing sight of the main goal?  

Hedges: What would be the other tactics at this point?

Well, there is always protesting, lobbying…

Hedges: Lobbying is a waste of time. It is an utter waste of money and time. Under international law, Hamas has a right to defend itself; that's just a fact which most people don’t want to ingest. According to international law, if a subject population is attacked and appeals to the international community for help, and there is no help forthcoming, they have a right to resist. So Hamas has every right to resist. The Qassam rockets, I think, are more of a psychological weapon; that’s another issue. Hamas has every right to do what is does. I would argue that the Qassam rockets are a war crime because they are indiscriminate, but they don't compare to the war crimes committed by the Israeli government because the size of disparity is so vast. And [look at the] numbers: you had over 2,000 dead, 500 [of whom were] children, while almost every Israeli killed was a soldier. For those of us on the outside, BDS is the tactic, whether there is a one-state solution or a two-state solution. At this point, we have to force Israel to begin to recognize the rights of Palestinians—they don’t even do that—and then whatever is negotiated is negotiated. Israel has to be crippled. That is the only way Israel is going to bend.

So we are not even necessarily talking about fully scaling back but rather about bringing Israel to the negotiation table.

Hedges: Well, [we will bring Israel to the negotiation table] the same way that South Africa was brought to the negotiation table. South Africa didn’t have a choice. It’s not like they developed some sort of sensitivity to racial justice; it's because they were pressured. We have to build the same kind of pressure on Israel if we are to successfully defend the interests of the Palestinians.

The views expressed by speakers, writers, and others do not necessarily reflect those of the Palestine Center or The Jerusalem Fund.

The Palestine Center is a non-political, educational forum and does not take positions on issues.

Aug 7, 2015

Gaza in the U.S. Media: A Conversation with Omar Baddar

The Palestine Center ended its 2015 Summer Intern Lecture Series last week with a panel entitled “Operation Protective Edge: Representation in the U.S. Media.” Panelists Dr. Edmund Ghareeb, professor of Global Kurdish Studies at American University, and Omar Baddar, political analyst, digital producer, and human rights advocate, gave their perspective on American coverage of the 2014 Gaza war across different media outlets. Our interns sat with Omar Baddar after the lecture to probe further into how U.S. media has shaped American understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

What were the difficulties that American sources faced when reporting in war zones, such as Gaza in the summer of 2014? Which American media outlets, if any, do you think offered laudable coverage of the war?

Omar Baddar: In terms of the restrictions that media outlets face, war zones are places where virtually nobody is allowed in. That is always a problem. For example, throughout the clashes that happened during the second intifada it was very difficult for media outlets to gain access. There were cases of journalists actually being shot, including Western journalists, and not just Palestinian ones, by Israeli occupation forces. It is very unsafe, and it is understandable that the media would be somewhat reluctant to cover a war zone. You end up with Al Jazeera effectively being one of the few outlets that cover what is happening. They get very direct footage of the unfolding destruction.

In terms of what outlets have laudable coverage, it is hard to say, because it is a really comparative thing: sometimes the level of improvement that a certain outlet had is more laudable than another outlet that has always had good coverage and just maintained it. If you look at Democracy Now’s coverage it was obviously fantastic, but that is what you expect from Democracy Now; they are going to be really good on an issue like this. Yet, in terms of improvement, what was noteworthy was MSNBC’s coverage. The presence of Chris Hayes on the network and the kind of perspective he brings, the openness he has for having different points of view and different backgrounds of guests being presented is really noteworthy. It might be hard to imagine a show where Yousef Munayyer and Noura Erakat together speaking on a major U.S. network, but Chris Hayes’ show is where that sort of thing happens.

How did the media’s portrayal of this last Gaza War compare to more general depictions of the Arab world, Middle East, and Palestine in American media?

The most relevant comparison would be to earlier episodes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I started paying attention to media coverage during the second intifada when the narrative was extremely one sided. It was very much that Israel was the victim of Palestinian violence and it had to protect itself. When you compare that coverage with this latest round of violence, you see that there was an improvement of sorts. Suddenly, the war was portrayed as one between two equal parties. Even though that is an improvement it remains deeply problematic. You are talking about a false moral equivalence because ultimately you are dealing with an occupier and an oppressor fighting against an occupied and an oppressed population. In terms of balance of power there is also a problem because Israel is the most sophisticated military force in the entire region, certainly one of the most sophisticated in the entire world, and the Palestinians are effectively a defenseless population with no military capabilities apart from some guns and makeshift rockets that hardly do any damage. Even though one can say that there is improvement over previous coverage, it remains extremely biased in many ways.

How has the American media’s coverage of Gaza shaped or influenced Americans’ understanding of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?

There are subtle biases that are hard to detect. There was an acceptance of Israel’s narrative that the starting point of this round of violence was the kidnapping of three Israeli settlers and their subsequent killing. Yet, just the day before that there was a Palestinian man and his ten-year-old child killed by an Israeli strike. It doesn't occur to anyone to consider this as the starting point of the conflict because people in the United States are just reflexively used to the idea that Palestinians initiate violence and Israel responds. More broadly, there is very little mention of the fact that Palestinians are living under an illegal occupation, and that this is really what stokes the conflict. Criticism of Israel's position in these subjects focuses on the disproportionate nature of Israeli attacks. Some Americans come away with the sense that Israel is responding disproportionately and causing much suffering to the Palestinians and that is terrible. Ultimately, though, they are under the false impression that Israel is only responding to violence disproportionately as opposed to initiating it and perpetuating this conflict.

Do you think that the growing power and pervasiveness of social media, "Gaza snapchat" for instance, is a key tool in the reformation of major news outlets and how they cover events on the ground in Palestine?

I think this sort of thing is actually very useful and very important. I know there are some criticisms by people who say, “Oh well, snapchat featuring the West Bank doesn’t really make up for Tel Aviv featuring on the eve of the war,” but the fact that you got something out of it is still something. Even though you don’t get everything out of it, you still get something. The more people engage in these types of things, the more active they are on social media in general, then the more buzz they create around certain communities. Even if you are talking about life in Palestine in a very non-political fashion, that still counts for something.

I think there is this mindset that whenever you mention the word Palestine, you immediately get images of conflict, and I think reminding people that there is still a Palestinian society beyond that is really important. That is one thing that really suffered the most damage because of Israeli policies in Palestine. When Palestine becomes free, and I am very hopeful that one day it will be, the biggest challenge will be to rebuild Palestinian society. Whatever society that you end up with after enduring so many years of exile and occupation is going to be different from the society that your parents or grandparents might remember. I think that any attempts to keep Palestinian society alive in people’s consciousness, through social media, have a positive impact in the long run. And in the short run, any buzz you create around it is positive as well.

What impact has social media and the media in general had on the successes and failures of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement? What potential help can social media give to BDS to allow it to grow?

The BDS movement has been a really invaluable tool in the struggle to achieve Palestinian rights. At a time when there is complete political stagnation and media blackout, the fact that people had a way to fight back through BDS is crucial.  It has a major impact in spite of the lack of mainstream coverage of it. We have gotten to the point where there have been so many major victories that even Israeli politicians are openly talking about BDS as a threat, in many cases exaggerating it and distorting the aims of the movement. Nonetheless, the way they are reacting to it and trying to de-legitimize it tells you something about just how effective it has been.

It has been very effective. I don’t think mainstream media outlets have been helpful at all. There was a congressional briefing about BDS not long ago that did not have a single Palestinian on the panel, and not a single person fully supportive of the broader BDS campaign was there to speak. So the way BDS is being dealt with through official channels is still extremely problematic, but I think that we can take some satisfaction in knowing that it is actually having an impact and that the Israeli political establishment is reacting to it in really negative ways. It is only a matter of time before mainstream outlets have to accept the fact that it is a broad movement that is gaining significant momentum. It is interesting that BDS is supported by the overwhelming majority of Palestinians in a way that no other political idea, party or ideology is.

How does media coverage of BDS movement compare to coverage of the divestment movement in South Africa during apartheid?

We are definitely not there yet. Hopefully, we will get there one day. The divestment movement took so many years in South Africa to get to the point of mass support, and of having a significant impact on U.S. foreign policy. We are still years away from that, but I think that so long as we keep doing what we are doing, then we will get there one day.

The views expressed by speakers, writers and others do not necessarily reflect those of the Palestine Center or The Jerusalem Fund.

The Palestine Center is a non-political, educational forum and does not take positions on issues.


Aug 5, 2015

By the Numbers: Mapping Settler Violence in Summer 2015

Harassment and violence are daily concerns for Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. Dating back to the beginning of Israeli occupation in 1967 (see our last blog post on settler violence), the Israeli Defense Forces and Israeli settlers have attacked Palestinian civilians on a routine basis. Reports of settler violence against men, women, and children from all areas of the West Bank continue to pour into databases. Recently, a Palestinian home was set on fire by Israeli settlers in Duma, Nablus, killing 18-month-old Ali Dawabshe and hospitalizing the Dawabshe family. While multiple news outlets covered the attack, most instances of settler violence go unreported. The graph below, comprised of data from the Palestinian Liberation Organization Negotiations Affairs Department, tracks trends in settler violence since 1 June, 2015. It also provides insight into the types of attacks and the conditions that Palestinians face under the ongoing Israeli occupation.

Chart 1 redonw.PNG

Figure 1 shows the number of injuries per day in two-week segments from the beginning of June until early August (note that this data only includes three days’ worth of data in the month of August). We see an upward trend in the number of injuries with five injuries in the first two weeks of June to 19 injuries towards the end of July. In total, over the last 64 days there have been 48 injuries (0.75 injuries per day). This is slightly higher than the average daily injuries from the previous ten months (during July 2014 - May 2015 the average was 0.72 per day). Injuries due to settler violence have occurred almost daily for the past eleven years we have tracked settler violence, and the number of incidents has generally increased in the most recent months of the conflict. The PLO’s report does not include damage to property, psychological damage, or interruption of everyday routines in its definition of injury.

Chart 1 redonw.PNG

The PLO Negotiations Affairs Department’s daily report on settler violence tracks the occurrence of assault within the West Bank. These attacks are constant, and the reports frequently list more than one attack per day in major cities such as Hebron and Nablus. Figure 2 shows the number of attacks that occurred on each day from the beginning of June until 3 August. We see a general rise in the number of attacks, with a slight ease of violence in early to mid July. The attacks remain consistently high towards the end of July, with a maximum of nine attacks in early August. There were a total of 145 attacks in the 64 days recorded (2.27 attacks per day). 

Map of where settler violence occurred in Summer 2015
The violence is persistent and has been increasing in the more recent weeks. Palestinians living in the West Bank are under constant threat of violence as they carry out their daily routines.
Within these incidents of settler violence reported by the PLO, there were:

  • 29 stonings of Palestinians, which resulted in at least one hospitalization.
  • Eleven vehicular assaults whereby eleven Palestinians were run over and hospitalized.
  • 44 assaults on places of worship, 39 of which were on Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem.
  • Three incidents of arson which resulted in at least three injuries and the death of an 18-month-old Palestinian infant.
  • 31 incidents of destruction of property, some of which overlap with other incidents.
  • Two incidents of open gunfire of armed settlers toward unarmed Palestinian civilians.
  • 16 settler raids on Palestinian villages and homes.

We recognize that documenting settler violence represents only a small fraction of the structural, cultural, physical, and psychological violence inflicted upon Palestinians as part of the brutal Israeli military occupation of Palestine. This post does not describe the injuries and deaths that have occurred at the hands of the Israeli Defense Forces, nor attacks by Palestinians on Israeli property or livelihood. Furthermore, the numbers reported in this post do not represent 100 percent of all settler violence incidents against Palestinians, but rather only the incidents that have been recorded by the PLO.


Jul 28, 2015

Gaza in Context: A Conversation with Nathan Brown and Yousef Munayyer

The Palestine Center began its 2015 Summer Intern Lecture Series last week with a panel entitled “Gaza in Context: Broader Implications in the Palestinian Plight.” Panelists Dr. Nathan Brown, professor of Political Science at George Washington University, and Dr. Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, gave their take on Gaza’s place within the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Our interns sat with the speakers after the lecture to probe further into how Gaza adds to and complicates the conflict.

Below are excerpts from the interview, which have been condensed and edited from the original.
Do you think that the character of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has changed with the advent of the last three wars in Gaza?
Munayyer: I would say that the core issues in the Israel-Palestine question remain the same, but I think that the impact these recent wars have had have been significant, but mostly on the international perception of the situation. I would add also to these wars in Gaza the [2006] war in Lebanon as well--where you saw a very powerful state with a very powerful military using its force in significant ways against what are essentially non-state actors or a stateless population that cannot compare. The civilian casualties are always the highest and the damage to civilian infrastructure is always significant.
For a generation of people who are coming to consciousness during this time, the image of Israel that they see is not the image of the generation that came to consciousness in 1967 and in 1973, where their understanding of the situation was formed by the realities of very, very different wars, where Israel was engaged in fighting against multiple state-backed armies, which also had the support of the Soviet Union in some cases. This is not Israel the underdog--this is very much Israel the dominating, oppressive factor. That has a big impact on shaping public perception on where the responsibility should be and where the blame should be and whose policies have to change. I think over time that will have an effect on the way that this issue is resolved.
Brown: I basically agree. If you look at this internationally, an awful lot of the focus was diplomatic--a peace process. Even before the Oslo agreements---the Madrid conference back in 1991 or you go back to UNSC resolution 242, a lot of this was just about some kind of diplomatic process getting started, and if it was a focus on any kind of fighting, it was Israel versus Arab states. What I think the wars have done from a peace process standpoint, is that they were a distraction. But, with no viable peace process, I think they are suddenly much more at the center point. And that’s true not simply on a policy level but rather very much on a popular level. Instead of all the focus being on the next summit conference, the aura surrounding this conflict is one of really ugly violence. I would say for Palestinian society it has made a difference as well. But that you could trace back a little earlier in the seventies, eighties, and nineties.
The strategy of the Palestinian leadership was mostly focusing on diplomacy, and that diplomacy seems to have run its course. Sometimes, depends on what your opinion is as a Palestinian, for some that was what the second Intifada was about, but certainly, with the last round of fighting, the idea that there is some kind of meaningful diplomatic process is one that just doesn’t have any purchase anymore. The extent of the war and the feeling of powerlessness, in the West Bank feeling almost disenfranchised with this, and the extent of the devastation in Gaza, is likely to be very, very large. Last time I was in Gaza in 2012, and even then, people would just--you would be walking on the street and people would point out, “Oh that’s where I was holed up during the last round of fighting,” or “There used to be a building there but it was brought down.” So it impinges on people’s thinking on Gaza tremendously.
How do you think last year’s war and its lasting effects are different from the previous two conflicts in Gaza?
Brown: It was longer and more destructive, I would say that. Both sides in essence went through previous rounds of fighting almost deliberately thinking they had specific goals that they wanted to accomplish and last summer’s fighting just went on in a way that was not only enormously destructive to the people, but was completely divorced from any kind of realistic political agenda. If anything, I think it probably showed the bankruptcy of the Israeli strategy. To some extent, I think it may have done the same to all of the Palestinian leadership; Hamas, for letting itself get dragged into this conflict and the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah for -- in the eyes of some Palestinians--being complicit in it, and at the least being powerless to stop it.
Munayyer: I think militarily speaking there was a big difference in this most recent round than the previous rounds. In 2008-2009 for example, that war lasted a little over 20 days. More than a week into it, the Israelis decided to go in on the ground, and then they were on the ground for about fifteen days. They were very easily able to trisect the Gaza Strip, cut it up into different pieces, use night vision to move around in the evening, and to gain an advantage against the Palestinian militants there, and do so with very few casualties, relatively few casualties. The biggest difference militarily speaking in this conflict was the use of the tunnels and the ability of militants to essentially level the battlefield by being underground and bogging down the Israeli forces and if you look, what those tunnels effectively did was preventing an advance on land beyond three km. The Israelis never entered beyond three km because they were afraid of having militants pop-up behind them at all times and a number of times they did, and inflict much heavier losses than they did when the Israelis were in on the ground before that.
Of course, this war came with huge costs to the Palestinian population as well. But what it underscored is that there is no military solution to the problem in Gaza. And the policy that the Israelis have called “mowing the lawn,” which is essentially a maintenance policy through repetitive bombing every few years, is not going to solve the problem. In fact, what I think the militants were able to prove this time is that, without addressing the foundation of the problem, it’s only going to get worse. And it has. And so I think that immediately after the war, we began to hear some statements from members of the international community saying, “Look, this can’t happen again. There is no military solution to this.”
What concerns me is that since then, no serious steps have been taken to prevent the recurrence of another war. In fact, the conditions that existed before the war continue to exist now, and any minor escalation could lead to a flare-up and then a major operation again. So I think that it’s in between wars that those efforts need to be made, and unfortunately we haven’t seen them.

Does it work in Israel’s interest to treat Gaza and the West Bank separately? What has been done to bridge the divide that Israel is attempting to push?

Brown: What I would say is that this is definitely a project: a deliberate project of the Israeli Right. With the Israeli Left, there’s been different kinds of strategies, including, at times, an idea that what they wanted to do was foster a Palestinian leadership that could essentially negotiate authoritatively, but a feeling that the right leadership had to be fostered. And they were not very effective, I think, in playing the internal game of Palestinian politics. And I think right now, both because of the deliberate effort of the Right and failure of the Left, policies have been successful in the sense that there are not strong Palestinian institutions - the ones that operate for day-to-day administration operate just fine - but there aren’t strong Palestinian national institutions to pursue any kind of national strategy. I’m not even sure if there’s much strategic thinking on the part of Palestinian leaders. There is a very, very deep division.
For those parts of the Israeli political spectrum that were always pessimistic or opposed to the Palestinian national cause - that for them is a good outcome. And that is one that is not unsustainable but one that - to use the phrase that Yousef used earlier for Gaza - a different kind of “mowing the lawn.” Periodically, there will have to be attempts made by Israelis to continue to run place of securing an atomized Palestinian political environment. My own sense is that that serves society very, very poorly in the long-term. And that while it works out very, very well on a day-to-day, week-to-week, and even sometimes year-to-year basis, the fact is that a lot of Israelis sense almost an existential crisis for their society and for Zionism, that it’s creating a society that’s emerging as a pariah internationally and that is strong and secure in the conventional sense, but is not necessarily the kind of society you want to bequeath to your grandchildren. And so I’m not sure that approach is one that serves the members of the society long-term.
Munayyer: I think a lot of that is right. I think that there is definitely a difference between how the Israeli Left and the Israeli Right approaches this. That being said, I think one of the biggest underlying factors behind this division was really a product behind the Israeli Left’s efforts, whether intended or not, and that’s the Oslo process. The Oslo process essentially put the Palestinian leadership - they may not have had too much choice in the matter - in a position where the Israelis in the international community had far greater leverage over shaping their interests and their capacity than they ever did before when they operated in the diaspora.
And what this meant was that the leadership of the Palestinian Authority became increasingly vulnerable and dependent, because at the end of the day, it’s really the Israelis that allow that to happen. The Palestinians are not there by show of their own force. But also because the extent of the dependence the authority has on the international community and primarily the United States and Western European funders.
And so this has put the Palestinian Authority in a place where the independence of its policy-making is severely compromised, even to the extent that it is not capable of strategizing around national interests, because it merely wants to continue making payroll. And when you’re in that kind of situation and they share a lot of responsibility for the situation that they find themselves in, it’s very difficult to talk about long-term interests. I agree that there is obviously a long-term interest for Israelis and Palestinians to get out of this situation. But the level of strategy-making right now, the place where it’s at, is not a place where that is the focus. And I think so much of that is rooted in the Oslo process. And if they are in fact moving away from a U.S.-led process and willing to really take the leap, and not simply use internationalization as a method to boomerang back into a U.S.-led process, then I think they can start thinking about those interests differently.
But while they have talked about internationalization and moving away from a Washington-led process, it’s only been in the context of a longer-term plan of eventually going back, and I really don’t see that as being successful in the long-term.


Jul 10, 2015

Gaza Students Explore Creative Expression at The Jerusalem Fund

On Friday, 19 June, Executive Director Zeina Azzam and Gallery Al-Quds Curator Dagmar Painter organized a three-hour session with ten high school students from Gaza who had spent the academic year in the United States. They were participating in the State Department-funded Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program, living with host families in different cities throughout the U.S. and studying in local high schools.

gaza students table

Painter gave them a tour of the exhibition “Creative Dissent,” currently on show at the Gallery, and introduced them to the art of graffiti. She said to the group, “You don’t have to be an artist to make graffiti; you just have to have something to say.” Painter encouraged the students to produce some graffiti works to add to the Galley’s exhibition, and several completed pieces that are now hanging in the current exhibition space.

looking at art

As the students toured the Creative Dissent show, they commented on the power of the wall paintings and photographs that young people in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Tunisia created during the first days of the Arab Spring. They were especially interested in the videos of the songs, chants and puppet shows created during that time, and the role that social media can play in disseminating dissent. Painter concluded with a short talk on the history of graffiti on the walls in Gaza, from the calligraphy schools held in the early days of Hamas rule, to the latest Banksy incursions.  They viewed graffiti on the gallery walls created by interns and other young visitors, and thus encouraged, produced some expressive works of their own.

student graffiti 2
student graffiti

Azzam conducted a session on poetry with the group, focusing on American poet Langston Hughes and several Palestinian and other poets. The group also wrote poems based on the session and shared them with each other. One of the exercises was to write a poem with a similar structure as Langston Hughes’s “Harlem” (see –that is, starting and ending with a question, and exploring possible answers within the poems itself. Below are some of the poems they wrote. Note that the students were given about ten minutes to write these poems, so they had no time to revise or work further on them. We are quite impressed with their profound ideas and writing, despite the short time frames.

What if there wasn’t hate in this world?
Would it still be so hard to live?
Or would you peacefully go and stand up
for yourself?
Would you be still complaining
about how the world is so unfair,
or would you actually go and make a change?
Maybe it’s so easy not to hate.
But not many people are willing to participate.
Will you be strong enough
to be the change?

What happens to my patience when I’m forced to wait?
Does it hope death for me
like my body does:
Or does it cry silently
till it gets out of breath?
Does it commit suicide,
or tries to stop me from doing the same?
Maybe it loves me and wishes me the best.
Or it’s not just something to think about
because aren’t we both just one?

When do we fade away?
Is it when we give up
                Like a coward in a battlefield?
Or is it when we lose faith
                And act like Judas and his traits?
Is it when we talk
                But act as adolescents?
Maybe we always just fade away,
Even if you are a martyr or a stinking corpse.

What happens when a flower dies?
Does it ever hear the music of a singing bird?
Or does it sway in the morning sky?

Many said that they were deeply transformed by their experiences in the United States. To that end, Azzam gave the students another exercise: to write a poem similar to Shel Silverstein’s “What a Day” (see, except to title it, “What a Year.” Here is a sampling of the poems they produced:

What a year,
Oh what a year!
My heart at first was so afraid.
It wasn’t until now I realized a dream was just made.
And from one splits two the family
Home as well side by side.
Friends, experience with tremendous amount
We used to say: 1, 2, 3, don’t stop the count!
I am 17 years old.
Now I am going home.
Oh what a year!

What a year,
Oh what a year!
Like waking up from a dream.
All the memories just fade away,
and now life is from where it stopped last year.
Oh it is gonna be the same?
Or it’s just the fear of yesterday.
I’m 16 years old
and I’ve felt my heart
for the first time in my life.
I’ve seen it grow!
Oh what a year!

What a year,
Oh what a year!
My life transformed from sky to another sky.
My heart doesn’t know if it will again fly.
And now my life will not be the same again.
I’m 16 years old
And feeling trapped between my own sky and their sky.
Oh what a year!

What a year
Oh what a year!
My ignorance ran away from me.
My new thoughts kicked out the old.
And now my world will not be all black.
I’m 16 years old
and feeling proud.
Oh what a year!

What a year
Oh what a year!
My small innocent mind ran away.
And now my thoughts will not be the same.
I’m only 17 years old
but it seems like that’s very old.
Oh what a year!

What a year
Oh what a year!
I got myself out of that dark box.
I knew myself better.
And now my dreams will no longer wait.
I’m 17 years old
and shaping my life just the way I want.
Oh what a year!

What a year,
Oh what a year!
My hatred left my heart.
My heart full of light.
And now my mind will not be deceived.
I’m 17 years old
and feeling proud.
Oh what a year!

The group seemed to enjoy these exercises as they spent some time in Washington, DC, before returning to their homes in Gaza. The YES program’s aim was to give them a few days of transition time to reflect on their academic year and prepare them to “re-enter” their country of origin. This session at The Jerusalem Fund allowed these students to bond with each other and to approach their experiences from an expressive and creative angle.