A Daily news digest by Jasper van Santen

Posts Tagged ‘Palestine’

Half a day with the “last Arab Jew” | The Chronikler

In News, Politics on August 7, 2012 at 07:48

Half a day with the “last Arab Jew” 

Sasson Somekh, critic and friend of the late Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz, believes literature transcends politics and can bridge cultures.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

These are troubling times for Arab-Israeli relations. Arabs watch on with rising alarm as Israel continues to cement its hold on the occupied Palestinian territories and toys with the idea of denying that there even is an occupation. Meanwhile, Israelis look on with mounting apprehension as Egypt elects the unknown quantity of its first Islamist president and Syria slips further into civil war.

Amid all this uncertainty and distrust, one man insists on keeping his feet firmly planted on both sides of this chasm. Sasson Somekh describes himself as both a Jew and an Arab, as both Iraqi and Israeli.

This poet, academic, writer and translator of Arabic literature into Hebrew invited me to spend “half a day” with him, in a witty allusion to a little-known short story by Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz. Penned in the latter years of Mahfouz’s prolific career, this allegorical tale relates the events of just half a day in which the narrator enters the school gate for the first time as a young boy in the morning and emerges as an old man in the afternoon.

“How could all this have happened in half a day, between early morning and sunset?” the elderly narrator asked, perplexed.

I wondered the same, as this sharp-witted tortoise of a man, slow of body but swift of mind, snailed through time and space to take me on a riveting journey from the contemporary Israel of his silver years, back to the disappeared world of his youth, Jewish Baghdad (which he eloquently evokes in the first part of his memoirs, Baghdad, Yesterday), via the literary salons of his middle age in Egypt.

Born in Baghdad in 1933 into a well-to-do, middle-class Jewish family, Somekh remembers summers spent swimming in and loungingby the majestic Tigris, the river along whose banks some of the first human civilisations were born. When temperatures soared and water levels dipped, a patchwork of small islets would emerge, providing ideal seclusion for family picnics, consisting primarily of fish grilled on a special covered Iraqi barbecue. “Those were the most enjoyable days of my life,” he recalled wistfully.

At the time, Baghdad was a very Jewish city, with Jews – who were active in all walks of life, including commerce, the professions, politics and the arts – comprising as much as a third of the Iraqi capital’s population. “When you walked down Baghdad’s main street, al-Rashid, half the names on the shops and offices were Jewish,” he noted.

Iraqi Jews were so enmeshed in their country’s social fabric that they described themselves, and were regarded, as “Arabs”, and viewed Judaism as a religion and not an ethnicity. As Somekh put it, he grew up with Arabic as his mother tongue and Arab culture as his reference point.

The ancient Jewish presence in Iraq led to some interesting cultural symbioses: Iraqi Jews traditionally wrote Arabic in Hebrew script and Baghdadi Jews spoke a vernacular that had died out among Muslims and Christians. Jews also affected Iraq’s daily life. For example, Somekh recalls, some Shi’ites, who worked for Jewish businesses switching their own day of worship to Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, during which Muslim neighbours often helped perform tasks Jews were ritually forbidden to carry out, such as lighting stoves.

Despite the image in Israel of Middle Eastern Jews being very traditional and religious, the educated or wealthy Jewish elites did not keep Sabbath and were very secular. Somekh, whose father was a senior clerk at a British bank, grew up knowing very little about his religious heritage, which was not even taught at the Jewish schools he attended.

During his teenage years, Somekh was a promising young poet who hung out in Baghdad’s vibrant literary salons and managed to get some of his poetry published. But his youthful dreams of a glittering literary career in his homeland were rudely interrupted by history and the shifting tectonic plates of geopolitics.

Though the vast majority of Iraqi Jews played no part in what befell the Palestinians, they were nonetheless blamed for it. And by 1951 the situation had become untenable.

Iraqi Jewish refugees in Israel were, like the Palestinians, settled in makeshift camps, a huge step down for the Somekhs from the comfort and prestige they had enjoyed in Baghdad. But eventually the family got back on its feet, and the young Sasson Somekh refused to give up on his literary dreams. “Literature is literature. Politics does not enter into it,” he told me with disarming simplicity.

Somekh not only became involved with the only Israeli literary magazine in Arabic at the time, one run by the Israeli communist movement, he also redoubled his efforts to learn Hebrew so that he could translate Arabic poetry into this new-old language.

Somekh’s crowning achievement was to become one of the foremost authorities on Naguib Mahfouz. When Somekh first took an interest in the Egyptian novelist, Mahfouz was almost unknown outside the Arab world. As there was so little information available on Mahfouz’s literature in English, the Nobel committee, according to Somekh, relied heavily on his PhD thesis to assess the Egyptian novelist’s work.

Intellectual interest soon blossomed into an improbable and controversial (given the Arab boycott of Israel) friendship between the Egyptian writer and his Israeli critic. The two men kept up a correspondence for years, and the pen pals were finally able to further their friendship when Somekh moved to Cairo in the mid-1990s, to head the Israeli Academic Centre.

“Our two peoples knew extraordinary partnership,” Mahfouz once confided in Somekh. “I dream of the day when, thanks to the co-operation between us, this region will become a home overflowing with the light of science, blessed by the highest principles of heaven.”

Palestinian hunger strikes: Media missing in action – Al Jazeera English

In News, Politics on May 7, 2012 at 20:03

Palestinian hunger strikes: Media missing in action – Al Jazeera English.

The article makes a point.

Can anyone doubt that if there were more than 1,500 prisoners engaged in a hunger strike in any country in the world other than Palestine, the media in the West would be obsessed with the story? Such an obsession would, of course, be greatest if such a phenomenon were to occur in an adversary state, such as Iran or China, but almost anywhere it would be featured news, that is, anywhere but Palestine. It would be highlighted day after day, and reported on from all angles, including the severe medical risks associated with such a lengthy refusal to take food, with respected doctors and human rights experts sharing their opinions.

At this time there are two Palestinians who were the first to start this current wave of resistance to the practice of administrative detention, Thaer Halalheh and Bilal Diab, enduring their 70th day without food. Both men are reported by respected prisoner protection association, Addameer and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, to be in critical condition with their lives hanging in the balance. Examining doctors indicated recently that both detainees were reported to “suffer from acute muscle weakness in their limbs that prevents them from standing” and are under the “dual threat” of “muscle atrophy and thromohophilia, which can lead to a fatal blood clot”.

Despite this dramatic state of affairs, until today there has been scant notice taken by Western governments, media and even the United Nations, of the life threatening circumstances confronting Halalheh or Diab, let alone the massive solidarity strike that is of shorter duration, but still notable as a powerful expression of nonviolent defiance.

In contrast, consider the attention that the Western media has been devoting in recent days to a lone blind Chinese human rights lawyer, Chen Guangcheng, who managed to escape from house arrest in Beijing, find a safe haven at the US embassy, arrange a release and then seek an exit from China. This is an important and disturbing international incident, to be sure, but is it truly so much more significant than the Palestinian story as to explain the total neglect of the extraordinary exploits of thousands of Palestinians who are sacrificing their bodies, quite possibly their lives, to nonviolently protest severe mistreatment in the Israeli prison system, and by extension, the oppressiveness of an occupation that has gone on for 45 years?

“Hana Shalabi was among those released in the prisoner exchange, but then barely recovering from her prior detention period, was rearrested in a night arrest raid, once again confined by an administrative detention decree for a further four months in Israeli jail.”

 

Israel legalizes West Bank settler outposts – The Guardian

In News, Politics on April 24, 2012 at 09:28

Israel legalizes West Bank settler outposts 

This doesn’t help the peace process. 

Israel legalized three unsanctioned West Bank settler outposts and was trying to save another on Tuesday, infuriating the Palestinians as the chief American Mideast envoy was in the region laboring to revive peace efforts.

The decision fueled suspicions that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline coalition would try to legalize as many rogue settlement sites as possible to cement Israel’s hold on occupied land the Palestinians claim for a state.

Netanyahu faces stiff pressure from pro-settler hardliners within his own coalition to fend off legal challenges to the unauthorized construction. Some hardliners have even warned that the coalition, which until now has been remarkably stable, could unravel over the issue.

Palestinians claim all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem as the core of their hoped-for state, and see all Israeli settlement as illegal encroachment on those lands. They have refused to restart peace talks until construction halts.

“We call upon the Israeli government to immediately stop all unilateral acts,” said senior Palestinian official Nabil Abu Rdeneh. “Netanyahu is pushing things into deadlock once again.”

A string of Israeli governments have pledged not to build any new settlements. But critics say the settler movement, with quiet support from the government, has used the outposts to grab more West Bank land. Dozens of clusters of houses or mobile homes dot the West Bank, in addition to more than 120 authorized settlements.

Netanyahu says the issue of settlements should be resolved through peace talks, which broke down more than three years ago over the settlement issue.

Israel began settling the West Bank and east Jerusalem immediately after capturing them in the 1967 Mideast war, and 500,000 Jews now live there. The international community widely condemns the construction.

 

Günter Grass, Israel and the crime of poetry- Al Jazeera English

In News, Politics on April 18, 2012 at 06:32

Günter Grass, Israel and the crime of poetry

Israel is a European colonial settlement, the last astonishingly barefaced remnant of European colonialism in a world that calls itself “postcolonial”.

The same people who are with perfect justification enraged by the foolish Ahmadinejad (when he denies the Holocaust) are evidently entirely undisturbed when their Prime Minister Golda Meir or their favourite presidential candidate Newt Gingrich denies the existence of Palestinians.

The daring imagination of Günter Grass’ poem – a heroically tragic act precisely because the poet is implicated in the moral outrage of his own poem – is significant precisely because it captures this German and by extension European logic/madness of colonial conquest and moral cannibalism. A German intellectual exposing the structural link between Zionism and colonialism marks the even more innate link between the Holocaust and colonialism – precisely at the moment of warning against the regional warmongering of Zionism as the post/colonial extension of European colonialism.

What Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reaction to Günter Grass’ poem, and many others like him, do not recognise is that precisely when they accuse the German poet of anti-Semitism they are in fact acknowledging the colonial provenance of the Jewish state. The harder they object to Günter Grass, the clearer becomes the fact that the Jewish state is the rhetorical articulation of the very logic of European global colonialism, of which the Jewish Holocaust, as Aimé Césaire rightly recognised, was a local overdose.

There is one, and only one, definitive resolution for that paradoxical consistency to come to an end: the one state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian dilemma. It is only in that basic, simple, elegant, humane, non-violent, enduring and just resolution that the paradox of Zionism as colonialism, and the structural link between the Jewish Holocaust and European colonialism, can once and for all be resolved.

The fact and the inevitability of that solution, delivering both Israelis and Palestinians from their mutual (however asymmetrical) sufferings, has been staring the world in the eye from day one – and yet the belligerent politics of despair has caused an intentional blindness that prevents that simple vision. So, yes, Günter Grass is right – and in this revelation he could no longer possibly be an anti-Semite:

Only this way are all, the Israelis and Palestinians,

Even more, all people, that in this

Region occupied by mania

Live cheek by jowl among enemies,

In the end also to help us.

 

Israeli soldier clubs Danish protester with rifle – guardian.co.uk

In News, Politics, Really?!? on April 17, 2012 at 19:19

Israeli soldier clubs Danish protester with rifle

Click the above link to see the video.. it really is a must see

Denmark has demanded an explanation from the Israeli government for video footage showing a senior Israeli army officer striking a Danish activist in the face with an M16 rifle, an act which has been sharply criticised by the Israeli prime minister, president and chief of staff.

In the video, Lt Col Shalom Eisner, deputy commander of the Jordan Valley territorial brigade, is clearly seen slamming his rifle into the face of Andreas Ias. There was no obvious reason for the assault in the clip, which was broadcast on Israeli television and posted on YouTube. The soldier was suspended by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) pending an investigation.

The video emerged on the same day as Israel launched a security operation to prevent hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists entering the country en route to the West Bank, claiming they were provocateurs and were planning acts of violence. The assault on the Danish man and the operation to block the entry of Palestinian sympathisers have led to questions about whether Israel’s response to activists is excessively heavy-handed and will damage its image.

The Danish ambassador to Israel, Liselotte Plesner, asked for detailed information about the assault on the activist. A statement from Denmark’s foreign foreign minister, Villy Sovndal, said: “We are not aware of all the circumstances surrounding the incident. The Danish ambassador has asked the Israeli authorities for an immediate explanation.”

Ias, 20, was part of a large group of European pro-Palestinian activists cycling near Jericho on Saturday when, according to Palestinian media reports, the IDF stopped the participants. Israel said the protesters were attempting to block the road. In the ensuing scuffle, some activists were injured and taken to hospital, and others were arrested.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/video/embed

Israel forces airline to cancel tickets of British ‘flytilla’ activists -guardian.co.uk

In News, Really?!? on April 14, 2012 at 08:42

jet2 taking off from newcastle

Israel forces airline to cancel tickets of British ‘flytilla’ activists 

no flying… but no refund. 

Israel has forced low-cost airline Jet2.com to cancel the tickets of three women from Manchester intending to travel to Bethlehem via Tel Aviv this weekend for a gathering of pro-Palestinian activists.

Jet2.com informed the women by email that the airline would refuse to carry them and no refund would be paid. The move follows pressure on airlines from Israel to ban known activists.

One of the women, retired nurse Norma Turner, said Jet2.com had caved in to pressure. “It never crossed my mind that Israel could stop people with British passports leaving British airports,” she told the Guardian.

Israel has promised to deny entry to hundreds of activists due to arrive at Tel Aviv airport on Sunday en route to the West Bank for a week of educational and cultural activities.

Up to 2,000 mainly European sympathisers plan to board planes in what has been dubbed a “flytilla” in reference to previous attempts to breach the blockade of Gaza by flotillas of boats.

Jet2.com’s decision followed a similar move by the German carrier Lufthansa, which cancelled the tickets of dozens of activists on Thursday, saying it was complying with Israel’s demand not to fly certain passengers to Tel Aviv. Other airlines are expected to follow suit.

In an email sent to the three women, Jet2.com said it had been obliged to provide the Israeli authorities passengers’ names, dates of birth, passport numbers and nationalities.

In the Eye of the Storm: Israel Wary of Changes in the Arab World – SPIEGEL ONLINE

In News, Politics on April 6, 2012 at 12:27

Photo Gallery: Israel's Increasing Skepticism of its Neighbors

In the Eye of the Storm: Israel Wary of Changes in the Arab World 

Israel has been reacting in recent months the way it so often does when threatened: by walling itself in. The Gaza Strip and the West Bank disappeared behind security walls some time ago. There are high fences along the country’s other borders, as well as land mines, but now it wants to improve border security even further by building a high-tech system like the one on the border with Egypt.

The Jewish state has tried to integrate itself into the Middle East for decades. Now it is trying to cut the cord between itself and the surrounding region, blocking out the changes in its neighborhood.

A year after the beginning of the Arab rebellions, it has become a story of mistrust, fear and apathy. Politicians like President Shimon Peres had long dreamed of a “new Middle East,” a zone of democracy and freedom. But now that a new Middle East is in fact taking shape, the majority of Israelis and their government are not welcoming it. Although they want democratic neighbors, they are afraid of the democratization process, especially its uncertainties, as well as the instability and loss of control. No one knows yet what the new Middle East will look like, but the government has already decided that it is better to curl up into a ball than explore its options.

Israel’s caution is understandable. Turmoil in the region has often embroiled the country in wars. Three times since the beginning of the recent uprisings, Arabs have tried to storm the Israeli border from Lebanon and Syria, most recently last week. But precisely for this reason, it is astonishing to see how little initiative the country is taking to achieve lasting peace in the region, even as it pulls out all the stops to ward off the more abstract threat of a possible Iranian nuclear bomb. In fact, if Israel truly intends to attack Iran, it will be all the more important for it to emerge from its isolation.

Israel sees itself as a “villa in the jungle,” as Israeli politicians say, a vulnerable island of civilization surrounded by Islamists, as if Israel were not the most politically influential and militarily powerful force in the region. It’s telling that in Israel the Arab Spring is merely referred to as the “Islamic Winter.” Israelis like to point out that Gaza is an illustration of what happens when Islamists come into power, even though it hardly qualifies as an example.

Israel Evicts Settlers From Hebron House – NYTimes.com

In Politics, Really?!? on April 4, 2012 at 17:07

What one hand giveth… the other hand taketh away- 

Israeli police and border officers swiftly evicted a group of Jewish settlers from a contested house in the volatile West Bank city of Hebron on Wednesday on the orders of the minister of defense, officials said, though at the same time, the Israeli government signaled strong support for more Jewish settlement in areas it captured in the 1967 war.

Among the signs of official support, the Ministry of Housing, on its Web site, invited bids for plots for the construction of more than 800 apartments in Har Homa, a Jewish development across the 1967 lines in southeast Jerusalem, and in Givat Zeev, a settlement north of Jerusalem in the West Bank.

“The principle that has guided me is to strengthen Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said later on Wednesday, using the biblical names for the West Bank. “But there is one principle that we uphold,” he added, in a warning to unruly settlers. “We do everything according to the law.”

The official support complicates any prospect of renewed peace talks, as Israeli and Palestinian leaders prepare for a rare high-level meeting later this month.

 

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood pressing Hamas to Compromise with Israel – NYTimes.com

In News, Politics on March 24, 2012 at 10:55

Egypt’s Election Victors Seek Shift by Hamas to Press Israel

 “As it prepares to take power in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is overhauling its relations with the two main Palestinian factions in an effort to put new pressure on Israel for an independent Palestinian state.

Officials of the Brotherhood, Egypt’s dominant Islamist movement, are pressing its militant Palestinian offshoot, Hamas, which controls Gaza, to make new compromises with Fatah, the Western-backed Palestinian leadership that has committed to peace with Israel and runs the West Bank.”

 

UN body to probe Israeli settlements – Al Jazeera English

In News on March 22, 2012 at 16:52

UN body to probe legality of  Israeli Expansionist Settlers Actions

The United Nations Human Rights Council has passed a resolution ordering a first probe into how Israeli settlements may be infringing on the rights of the Palestinians.

The resolution was adopted on Thursday, with 36 votes in favour and 10 abstentions. Only the United States voted against it.

Presenting the resolution, a Pakistani envoy criticised Israel for insisting on building more settlements in the occupied territories, saying that they are “in violation of international humanitarian and human rights laws”.

“This resolution seeks to respond to the humanitarian and human rights challenges this illegal Israeli practice has created in the occupied territories,” he said.

Beyond ordering an investigation into the implications of settlements, the resolution also calls on Israel to “take and implement serious measures” such as confiscating arms to prevent acts of violence by Israeli settlers.

The United States, however, spoke up against the move, saying it was “deeply troubled by this Council’s bias against Israel”.

If there is any “Bias” here… it’s certainly not the Council’s.