Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A Democratic Constitution for Israel

Adalah, a legal organization dedicated to upholding the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, has proposed a draft constitution for the country (Yes, Israel has never had a constitution) to address some of the radical inequalities and exclusions upon which the state is based.

The full text of the new constitution, which would eliminate the eclusively Jewish character of the state of Israel and accomodate the return of Palestinain refugees from 1948 with relatives currently in Israel, can be found here.

According to Marwan Dwiary, the Chairman of the Board of Directors, the proposed constitution is based on "the concept of a democratic, bilingual, multicultural state" and draws on universal principles and international conventions on
human rights, the experiences of nations and the constitutions of various
democratic states:

[W]e decided to propose a democratic constitution, which respects the
freedoms of the individual and the rights of all groups in equal measure, gives
the proper weight to the historical injustices committed against Arab citizens
of Israel, and deals seriously with the social and economic rights of all. If
"The Democratic Constitution" succeeds to underscore the enormous gap between
it and the other proposals, and to create an objective public debate and
dialogue on the nature of rights and freedoms in the country, then we will have
taken an important step forward in the issues of racial equality, freedoms and
social justice.

The new constitution would also invalidate the discriminatory Law of Return, which grants automatic citizenship to people with at least one Jewish grandparent, four generations back, even if they have no connection to Israel otherwise. INstead, it proposes that citizenship will be granted to those who come to Israel for humanitarian reasons, regardless of their religion.

Finally, the tide is turning. Ok maybe not turning, but at least there are small little ripples being made against this insanity Israel (and Saeb Erekat and his gang) would have the world believe is possible (namely, the two-state solution)... but that is the subject of another post, soon I hope (if you haven't already, read Ali Abunimah's book One Country.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Israel prevents all boats and fishing off the Gaza coast

Adding to the imprisonment effect mentioned in the previous post, new research by the Israeli human rights group B'tselem has found that Israel has forbidden all movement of boats and already beleaugered fisherman off Gaza's coast since June of 2006, an act that constitutes collective punishment for the capture of Gilad Shalit:

The prohibition has seriously harmed the fishing sector, which provides a livelihood for many residents of the Strip. Fishermen who violate the prohibition risk being shot at by Israeli Navy craft.

In addition to the use of gunfire, in recent months, Israeli forces have adopted a practice of harassing and humiliating the fishermen. B'Tselem learned of many cases in which Navy crews stopped fisherman in the open sea, ordered them under gunpoint to undress, jump into the cold water in their underwear, and swim to the Israeli vessel. The crew then took them to Ashdod Port for questioning. Following many hours, and sometime a full day, at the port, they were returned to their boat. In some cases, Israel returned the fisherman to the Gaza Strip via Erez Crossing.

In response to B'Tselem's inquiry, the IDF Spokesperson's Office stated that fishing off the coast of the Gaza Strip was restricted to six nautical miles (eleven kilometers) and that the restriction was imposed for security reasons. However, the fishermen who were apprehended by the Navy did not exceed the six-mile limit, and did not enter the northern and southern waters along the Gaza Strip, where Palestinian boats are prohibited.
Israel has the right and duty to protect its citizens from attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip, but its unofficial prohibition on fishing is unlawful inasmuch as it constitutes collective punishment.

(All pictures mine)

What is Gaza?

Things seem quiet on the Eastern front. So says my father, who reports that a two week long truce negotiated at Mecca seems to be holding, and that the members of the new Unity Government will be announced in days.

Meanwhile, the Ghetto-ization of Gaza continues, with the Erez border crossing (already inaccessible to Palestinians-and Israelis-alike) being designated an "official border" by Israel.

The few Israelis or foreigners who do cross over must have their passports stamped and are listd as having departed the country (to where?).

As Yousuf asked me last week, out of the blue, on our way back from the supermarket:

"Mama, what is Gaza?"

I stumble. How do I answer that? What has Gaza become? What is and was Gaza?

"Is Gaza the ma3bar?" he prods inquisitively.

"um...i guess, that is part of the experience of Gaza, yes, habibi. But Gaza is a place. It is home. It is where Seedo and Tete are now."

That is what the Gaza experience has become in my now 3 year old's mind: it is reduced to his experinces on borders. It is that strange faraway place that takes days and sometimes weeks to get to. THe place no one wants to talk about anywhere, or hear about. And most of all, the place that no one one can provide you answers about, least of all to a curious and confused little 3 year old.

Amira Hass sums it up nicely in her article "What a Strange Abroad".

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ensure the survival of Israel-from New Jersey!

Well, our foul-mouthed friends are at it again. Settlers have reached a new low by attempting to market properties in illegal West Bank Settlements, such as Shilo, Kiryat Arba, and Ofra on the outskirts of Ramallah, to American Jewish congregations.

The convenient transaction, laid out in the flier to above, would allow prospective buyers to "ensure Israel's survival" (and our destruction) without ever setting foot there, and subsequently having their newly purchased illegal property rented out to illegal settlers at the expense of Palestinians in surrounding villages and towns.

According to this article in the Jerusalem Post:

The project is being billed as an opportunity for American Jews to have a say in Israel's future. The Amana campaign reminds US Jews that they could leave their "thumbprint" on Israel's destiny.

"We are trying to help the settlements grow and prosper, and we see it as an investment in Israel's future," said Rabbi Pruzansky of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun [whose NY Synaoguge
is hosting the even].

The article goes on to say that this new venture will enable young settler families to continue to "re-populate" (see: occupy) the settlements.

In Karnei Shomron for example, said Amrusi, 100 couples married last year. In her home settlement of Talmon one third of the residents live in caravans or rented basements because there is no housing.

I'm devastated inside, really I am. If only it weren't for that whole occupation thing...

If you're interested in buying-or protesting-the informational meeting is being held at Congregation Bnei Yeshurun (flier here), 641 W. Englewood Ave. in New Jersey this Sunday, February 24.

And not to worry-according to the flier, your investment is "insured, protected, and 100% legal".

Friday, February 16, 2007

from East Jerusalem to Durham

Sahar is from East Jerusalem. I am from Gaza. Our cities are about an hour away (without interruption). But now, ironically, due to Israeli closure policies banning Palestinians on either side of the divide from travelling to each other's locales, the only place we could meet was Durham, North Carolina, not Gaza; not East Jerusalem; not even Ramallah.

Sahar is a field officer with the Red Cross, here for a few months on a program at Duke. We had lunch the other day with a mutual Israeli friend and rotary fellow at UNC.

Sahar carries an East Jerusalem ID card. I carry a Gaza ID card. this means I am not allowed to cross Erez to visit Sahar in Jerusalem or the West Bank, and she cannot cross over to visit me in Gaza.

The Jerusalem ID is particularly precarious because the Israeli government makes it extremly difficult for Palestinians residents of East Jerusalem to maintain their residency there and thus their status through a series of draconian laws that are not applicable to the city's Jewish residents.

It is part of a decades old policy of maintaining the Jewish majority in Jerusalem by a ratio of 73.5% to 26.5% to reduce the Palestinian presence in the city. These measures included the controlling and revoking identity card holders inside the city for not paying things like "TV taxes" on time or being present at the residency address on a consistent basis (made more difficult by the wall and other restrictions faced by residents).

Students who continued to study long years abroad have also had their ID cards revoked. Palestinians who married and stayed abroad lost their right to be residents of the city. One Palestinian from Jerusalem I met last year is married to a Ramallah resident (who are also now not allowed into the city) and because she has lost her Jerusalem residency has to sneak in and out of the city to visit her parents.

One woman in an article I wrote a couple of years back explained it well:

“Our occupation is of a different kind than in the West Bank or Gaza,” said Huda al-Imam, director of the Centre for Jerusalem Studies at al-Quds University.

"It has a clear strategy of annexing the land of East Jerusalem while not annexing the people, but transferring them,” she added.

"I have a difficult time explaining my legal status to people, even Israelis- I am not a citizen of Israel and at the same time I do not carry a Palestinian Authority passport (all signs of Palestinian nationhood are banned in Jersualem, including flags). I carry an Israeli 'travel document' but this does not entitle us t any of the rights or services that citizens get."

The idea is, Israel wants East Jerusalem, but does not want its people. Bad for both its economy, and for its demography.

That is one of the reasons they made sure their viscious Wall last year cut through neigbhorhoods of East Jerusalem, cutting off nearly 150, 000 Jerusalemites from their schools, hospitals, and work in Jerusalem. Eventually the journey across the checkpoints and through the Wall may become too arduous, it is hoped, and they will move out of Jerusalem altogether into the West Bank.

"Its like a force of habit-people reach for cigarettes, I reach for my hawia (ID card), even here in the US," joked Sahar.

Jerusalem is the main exit for the north-south link in Palestine, from Bethlehem to Ram Allah, and from northern West Bank to southern West Bank.

"It's very strange that Israel is so much more preoccupied with creating more settlements than providing any service for legal residents and it's equally amazing Israel wants to overcrowd a very important world heritage that is under threat and has been defined as such by Unesco," remarked former Palestinian minister of Jerusalem Affairs, in an interview with me last year, in reference to the Israeli Muncipality's approval of new Jewish housing units in the Muslim Quarter of the City near the Dome of the Rock at the time.

Khoury went on to describe what it means to have a Jerusalem ID:

"As Jerusalemites, in 1967 when we were occupied by Israel, we were given identity cards to indicate that we are residents of the city. But we are not citizens of Israel - simply residents.
As residents, we are given permanent residency if we stay in the city, and if our centre of life is in the city. But if we live outside of city for seven years, then we have no right to come back.
In practice, it works differently. Students - including my son - who were away for two continuous years, came back to find their driver's licence and insurance cancelled.
Palestinians are treated as residents if they stay in Jerusalem, but many Jerusalemites found themselves in diaspora and couldn't come back, nor their children. These Palestinians have no right to come to Jerusalem."

[More of her interview here].

Monday, February 12, 2007

Rumors abound on Unity Government makeup

Its semi-official: the individuals have been chosen, the dates have been set. But not official word yet from either the Quartet or Israel.

Everyone in Gaza is waiting anxiously for this miracle plan of all plans that is supposed to save Gaza from its ultimate spiral towards self-destruction to unfold.

According to my father, a lot of nail-biting in anticpation of the official unveiling. Haniya is meant to give a nation-wide talk tommorow (Tuesday) evening upon his return from Mecca (incidentally, a great article was published by Amira Hass in Haaretz a few days ago on how Fateh officials were given the VIP treatment out of the West Bank en route to Mecca, while Hamas officials were purposefully delayed and harassed, and how this is official state policy to "ease burdens" Fateh VIPs..hmm).

Anyway, rumours abound about who will fill what Ministerial slot. My father says he's heard that Fateh strongman, Mohammad Dahalan, will fill the post of "deputy PM" to give him a taste of the power he worships, but sort of "keep him in check".

"But isn't that just giving him what he wants?" I asked

"At this point, its not as important who is in what position as it is that they actually get a unity government done so people can live their lives…we’ve seen some very black days in Gaza over the past weeks…did you see Iraq today? 3 bombings. You want us to be like that?"

Apparently, the makeup of the new cabinet will include 4 independents (al-Mubadara's Mustapha Barghouthi a likely contender here), 5 from other parties (PFLP, DFLP, etc.), 9 Hamas, 6 Fateh.

Possible contenders include:

Minister of Finance: The Third Way's Salaam Fayyad

Minister of Interior: Not sure the name but someone to replace Saeed Siyam, also from Hamas

Foreign Affairs: Ziyad Abu Amr

Deputy Prime Minister: Dahalan

It should be intersting to see if they can make this work. God knows we need something to work for us right now.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Palestinian factions agree on Unity Government

Well, that's what the press is saying. I've just finished watching the press conference live on Aljazeera.

Its obvious the agreement was more to please the outside world than each other. It is also clear that the intl community won't have it either way, so it seems futile in that regard: the've said in no uncertain terms they will not accept a government with Hamas members in it, particularly one that does not meet its ridiculous demands. Ultimately, the demands remain hypocratical and unjust. What borders are they agreeing to when Israel itself does not have internationally recognized borders and why shoud anyone be forced to wholeheartedly accepted peace deals that are almost unanimously considered flawed, or give up their right to self-defence, when they are still Occupied? The whole thing is too bizarre for words, too Kafka-esque for even Kafka himself.

ANyhow. Abbas was solemnly scratching his hair as the announcement was being made. Haniya looked on unceremoniously. Everyone seemed really tense, exhausted, not particularly enthused about anything that had apparently been agreed.

Which brings us to the meat of the agreement...

Personally speaking, I couldn't figure it out and I listened to the whole thing. I just heard a bunch of old promises about dialogue and something about "overcoming egos". The most I got was "They agreed to ban Palestinian bloodshed".

But nothing about the exact points of agreement. Just that it would be "Agreeable" to the internaitonal community.

Nevertheless, the moment the announcement-less announcement was made, the streets of Gaza-according to my father who relayed the news by phone-erupted in celebration. "Do you hear that? Gushots!" "What else is new" I replied, not amused. "No, its celebratory gunfire! and fireworks! I don't think we'll sleep tonight! People are celebrating the agreement!"

Whether it will really be news to celebrate remains to be seen. Recent months have provided much to optimistic about, but I suppose we must try. We have no other choice.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Norway workers' union votes for sanctions against Israel

My friend Olaf Berglihn in the Norwegian city of Trondheim, Norway's third largest city (which I visited and spoke at this past fall) tells me that the annual workers union conference on Sunday January 28th unanimously voted to support a pledge to the government which calls for changes in policy towards the PA and Hamas and sanctions against Israel, among other things. The Union has 83, 000 members.

A number of prominent politicians and other organizations have also signed, according to Olaf. The pledge will go public in coming days.

The main points, translated by Olaf from Norwegian, are as follows:

1) Stop the boycot of Hamas and channel eccononic support through the PA,
and ask other govenments to do the same.

2) Put pressure on Israel to stop military actions against in the
Palestinian teritories, dismantle the wall and settlements and release
detained PA members.

3) Establish a weapons embargo of Israel

4) Pull out investments in Israel from the Norwegian Pensions Fund
(former Norwegian Oil Fund).

5) Require Israel to disengage from occupied territories (this the translation I was given-I'm not sure if the text literally said disengage-which carries for me negative political associations, or "withdraw/end occupation").

The conference also decided (separately) to call for a 2% "war tax" on
all Israeli produce - funds that should be used to rebuild Palestinian

I asked Olaf what kind of impact he things this will have, if any. He says that while he doesn't know for sure, he is certain the government must provide some kind of answer and that district and muncipality governments are up for election this fall. Olaf says they are keeping the pressure on them and that this will set a good precedent, and keep the ball rolling so to speak. "There are already more and more people in unions and politics writing in the press about their concern regarding Norway financing a coup in Palestine by supporting Abbas and all the weapons now given to Fatah and Dahlan."

A stunning view of Trondheim from across the river, taken this fall during my visit.

Update from Gaza

No, I'm still in Durham, but keeping up to date with much concern with the latest happenings in Gaza via my parents and their vantage point in Gaza City. They passed through a terrifying few days last week-street battles swirled all around them, and my mother got stuck on her way back from Khan Yunis in southern Gaza where she was visiting my grandmother.

She heard gunshots and then people began to talk about another "clash", so she stopped at my Aunt's house for a while. But then, for fear my father might be foolish enough to drive out to get her, as he's done before (and subsequently found himself in the middle of a gunbattle) she decided to take it by foot! Of course she doesn't tell us of her (reckless?) heroics until later.

Halfway there when it became too dangerous ("I heard gunshots and saw masked gunmen and just said "salaam" to them but I couldn't really see where the gunshots were coming from") she called my father who came to pick her up from near the Islamic UNiversity, which was up in flames after Fateh forces had attacked it. "It was the saddest the thing I've ever seen-a university burning." emblematic, perhaps, of the entire situation in Gaza.

To make matters worse,the electricity had cut off for a straight 40 hours, leaving them amidst the incessant richochet of bullets in the dark.

My father says things are once again "calm" now as ceasefire #??? goes into effect. No one knows what tommorow will hold. They struggle to pass each day and live as normal lives as they know how.

Before I left Gaza, I conducted a series of interviews with fighters from FAteh and Hamas-the result can be seen in "An Eye for an Eye in Gaza" here.