Bloggin’ Banat

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Palestinian Reality in Atlanta? June 16, 2009

Block PartyNo, definitely not.  In an absurd move, CBS has walled off an entire neighborhood in Atlanta to force the neighbors to spend time with each other.  It’s all for a new reality show tentatively called “Block Party.”

The image of the wall built for this show looks very similar to Israel’s apartheid wall in the West Bank.  Of course, life in Palestine, particularly in areas like, Gaza, Ni’lin and the Aida Refugee Camp is anything but a block party.

The details on the specifics of this show are not clear except that the families “will be trapped inside the 20′ maximum security-looking wall for about three weeks for a cash prize.”

I find it insulting to have an entertainment show with a premise built around a crippling and devastating reality faced by an entire population of Palestinians.  While these contestants will be confined behind this wall for three weeks and possibly end up with money for the sake of entertainment, Palestinians have been confined for years within Israel’s illegal wall with no end in sight.

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Tradition Isn’t Always Right May 15, 2009

The other day I came across an article in the Christian Science Monitor about one of the two first female Islamic judges in the Middle East.  The article focused on Khouloud el-Faqeeh who is Palestinian. She is described as not only being exceptional in her knowledge (top in her class at Jerusalem’s Al-Quds University and one of the highest scorers out of 45 people in the qualifying sharia judge exam) but she’s also a straight arrow; she won’t bend the rules for anyone.  Pretty fantastic.

But there was one thing in the article that annoyed me.  It was the view that women are ‘too emotional’ to take on such a position.

Sheikh Hamed Bitawi, who’s the head of the Association of Islamic Scholars and Scientists,  said that there are two schools of thought on the issue: that every position but that of a caliph is open to women, and that women are too emotional to make legal decisions – as judges or as witnesses.

“I am of the second view because I consider women to be gentle human beings who should not be subjected to difficult situations or difficult decisions,” Mr. Bitawi says. “They cry easily, and hence their judgment is tainted with emotions. Moreover, lawyers are difficult to deal with and people who come to courts are angry and violent.”

Give me a break.  I’ve heard this perspective before and for the life of me I still can’t believe why people continue to buy into this archaic and stereotypical argument.  As if men aren’t emotional?  Men indeed are emotional. One could also make the stereotypical argument that men tend to have a short fuse and they consequently yell, scream or react violently.  Therefore, they too are ‘tainted with emotions.’  Would that make them a better judge?  Of course not.  That’s why one’s qualification shouldn’t be based on gender but by their individual abilities.

El-Faqeeh explained that “In Islam, it says a sharia judge has to be a Muslim, rational adult” – not necessarily a man.  Whenever I would discuss this with the chief judge, he would say, ‘This is tradition.’ ”

I’m all about tradition. But when it comes to professional matters, sometimes tradition counters common sense and what’s right and that needs to be corrected.  As el-Faqeeh said “I’m a legal person, and, to me, legal issues are stronger than tradition.” Case closed.

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West Bank Formaggio May 6, 2009

pecorinoA group of Italian agronomists have helped start the first West Bank Italian cheese factory at the Golden Sheep cheese factory in Tubas.  Three Palestinian farmers have been trained in Italian cheese-making and so far the project has been a success.

The project initially started ten years ago when Stefano Baldinia from Ucodep, an independent Italian group that sponsors small-development projects around the world, trained Palestinian farmers to make mozzarella.  Apparently though, Palestinian cows aren’t cut out for making mozzarella.  I wonder if a male, milk-producing goat could do the trick.  Now, ten years later, the Golden Sheep cheese factory is successful in making pecorino, smoked ricotta and scarmorza cheeses.

The idea for this cheese-making factory was conjured up to help the West Bank economy. So even though a lot of Palestinians aren’t accustomed to the taste of these Italian cheeses and most likely can’t afford to buy them, the cheeses are a hit with wealthy Palestinians who’ve lived abroad and with the various internationals living in the West Bank.

Inevitably, as with many business endeavors in the West Bank and Gaza, Golden Sheep has its setbacks.  Power outages make it difficult to keep a steady temperature in the ripening room.  They don’t have a refrigerated truck and therefore can’t sell the cheeses all over the West Bank.  And the cheese that they can distribute is hampered by long delays at Israeli checkpoints.

Regardless, I think Golden Sheep has a bright future despite the various setbacks.  They’ve started making pecorino with za’tar to cater to the Palestinian palate.   Sounds good to me.

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NPR’s Series On Israel’s Separation Wall April 7, 2009

A Palestinian man walks towards the security fence, which separates the West Bank town of Mesah from nearby Israeli settlements. (David Gilkey/NPR)

(David Gilkey/NPR)

NPR is running a four-part series on Israel’s separation wall called “Israel’s Barrier.”  The series started on Monday and will air on the afternoon program “All Things Considered.”  The reports look into daily life along the wall and the effects it’s had on Palestinian and Israeli life.

The series is a compilation of works by reporter Eric Westervelt and photographer David Gilkey.  Westervelt writes that “the series captures the realities of life along the barrier, including the struggles of the people who find good and bad in it everyday.”  You can listen to the reports and see photos and videos at the series’ website.  It’s worth checking out.

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Israel’s Senseless Acts Of Brutality April 3, 2009

This week’s death of an Israeli teenager allegedly by an ax wielding Palestinian was reprehensible. Killing children can never be justified.  What I have a problem with is how Israel is going about finding who committed this act. First, let’s look at the facts. This attack took place in an Israeli settlement, Bat Ayin, which is illegal and shouldn’t exist in the first place.  Second, one of the settlers who fought with the assailant managed to take the ax away from him.  So, not only did he get a good look at the guy but the authorities also have evidence.idf1

How did Israel respond? Well, the IDF surrounded the nearby Palestinian village of Safa, where the attacker supposedly ran to, and closed off all the roads with bulldozers. Then they placed a 24 hour curfew on the residents. They took over the homes of three Palestinian families in the village and declared them military posts.  And they detained over 28 people and have taken them to an undisclosed location.  Basically, an entire community is locked down, not for its own safety, but to give the IDF full reign in interrogating residents and raiding their homes and destroying property in the process.  Obviously, this form of investigating, if you can even call it that, doesn’t do any good.  It’s collective punishment and it’s wrong.

You know, when a crime is committed in the States, within Israel and pretty much anywhere else in the civilized world, the proper authorities look any evidence available and follow leads.  If they have a piece of evidence, they look for fingerprints and check it with their database for possible matches.  If their leads take them to a particular area then they go around and ask people what they may know. And then eventually, if there is enough evidence piled up on a particular suspect, an arrest is made and a trial takes place where the evidence is brought forth and the defendant is given the opportunity to defend himself.  Unfortunately, that’s not  how Israel rolls when it deals with the Palestinian population it occupies.  With Palestinians, the army detains as much Palestinians as it sees fit. Holds them, many times indefinitely, without charging them with anything and usually without providing access to a lawyer.  Then they hold a military trial, issue the sentences and the case is closed.

Although Israel likes to portray itself as a beacon of democracy in the Middle East with a moral army, it surely is not.  Israel is an occupying power that only knows to deal with Palestinians through force.  And because Israel is an occupying power, it has thousands of troops throughout the West Bank for the sole purpose of protecting the illegal settlements and the settlers who live there.  Not only that, but as we all know, there are hundreds of checkpoints placed all over the West Bank along with Jewish only roads.  The Israeli government spokesperson, Mark Regev, has the nerve to put out a statement saying he expects a “zero tolerance policy” from the Palestinian Authority regarding such attacks. I’m sorry, but you can never prevent attacks from happening 100 % of the time.  And if all the measures that I’ve stated that Israel has in place in the West Bank for the sole purpose of protecting its settlers can’t stop this type of incident from happening then the Palestinian Authority, which has no real authority to begin with, sure as hell can’t either.

Regev called this incident a “senseless act of brutality against innocents.”  Sure, it was an immoral act. But it was committed by an extremist individual.  I’d like to remind Regev that collective punishment, destruction of property and the bombing of the Palestinians in Gaza are also senseless acts of brutality on innocents committed by the State of Israel with its over 40 year occupation of Palestinian lands.

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Palestinian Institute Wins Children’s Literature Prize March 24, 2009

The Tamer Institute For Community Education has been awarded the 2009 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award which is the world’s largest prize for children’s literature.  The award is named after the Swedish author of “Pippi Longstocking” and the cash prize is a little over $600,000.  On the their website, the Ramallah based institute states that its focus is “principally on the rights to education, identity, freedom of expression, and access to information, Tamer works across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, primarily targeting children and young people and developing alternatives and supplements to formal education.”  The institute publishes children’s books and educational material as part of its program.


The organizers of the award said in a statement that “With perseverance, audacity and resourcefulness, the Tamer Institute has, for two decades, stimulated Palestinian children’s and young adults’ love of reading and their creativity…Under difficult circumstances, the institute carries out reading promotion of an unusual breadth and versatility.”  A program director for the institute, Ruba Toha, said that the prize is dedicated to the children of Palestine.

Kudos to the Tamer Institute for supplying educational services and providing inspiration to young Palestinian children in the West Bank and Gaza through reading.  Their work in providing educational material to children without access to formal education, who cannot go to school due to the obstacles of the Israeli occupation, is particularly commendable.  It’s just great to see a Palestinian organization get the recognition it deserves for such a worthy cause.

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Family Reunification Isn’t So Easy For Palestinians March 3, 2009

palestinian-idWeddings, funerals, the birth of a relative, etc. are all events when family and friends from near and far come together. Unfortunately, for many Palestinians that’s not an option.  Why?  Because they don’t have a Palestinian ID card.  Without one, Palestinians can’t travel in and out of the West Bank and Gaza.  The only way to get one is through a family reunification process that must be approved by Israel. It can be a very long, tedious and discriminating process.  It’s an aspect of the Israeli occupation that rarely gets much attention.

Palestinians without a Palestinian ID card can be basically put into two categories; those that live in the Palestinian Territories and those who do not. For those Palestinians without ID’s who live in the West Bank and Gaza, their situation can be summed up like this:  they came to Palestine via Israel with their US passport or passport of their country of residence, they decided they wanted to stay beyond their 3 month visa, tried to renew their visa and were denied but chose to stay anyway.  As a consequence, they’re classified by the Israeli government as illegal residents, even if they were born and raised there.  Therefore, if they decide to leave the Territories for any reason, they wouldn’t be allowed back.  For those who live outside of the Palestinian Territories and don’t have ID’s, most likely they have spouses and immediate family members that have Palestinian ID’s that either live in the Territories, and therefore cannot spend time with them beyond the 3 month visa allowance, or they would like to go back and live “legally” in Palestine.  I happen to have relatives who belong to both categories.

Just yesterday, Israel approved over 3,400 family reunification applications and, fortunately, a couple of my relatives happened to be on the list.  For some people, the process has taken years.  However, just because the applications were approved doesn’t mean that the applicants automatically get their ID’s.  Once the applications are approved, the applicants must go to the Palestinian Department of Civil Affairs to fill out more paperwork and then wait weeks, if not months, for their ID’s to be issued to them.  For those Palestinians who live outside of the West Bank and Gaza and had their applications approved, they must come back to the Territories and cannot leave until their ID’s are issued to them.  That means these people will be away from their family and jobs for an unknown period of time.  Of course there are problems that arise from those circumstances. If you’re the breadwinner in the family, then you need to make sure that the family you leave behind is taken care of financially.  Not only that, but you might not have a job when you do eventually get back. Because honestly, what boss would keep your job for you if they didn’t know when you were coming back?

According to Maan News Agency, there have been over 20,000 family reunification applications approved by Israel over the past year.  I’m sure President Abbas would love to take the credit for that. But the fact is, the Palestinian Authority simply provides the names of the Palestinian applicants to the Israeli authorities.  It’s the Israeli authorities that decide who gets approved, how many get approved at any given time and when the names of the approved applicants are released.  The PA is just the messenger between the Palestinians and the Israelis in the process. That also pretty much sums up the role of the PA in general.  So while Husein Ash-Sheikh, the head of Palestinian Civil Affairs, would like us to believe that the approvals came about out of the “hard work on this initiative upon the instructions of President Abbas”, in reality it wasn’t even his decision to make.  However, Husein Ash-Sheikh is right when he says family reunification “is of national importance, since citizenship is a right for each Palestinian.”  Which is why this should be a Palestinian process through and through and Israel should have no say in the matter.  The “authority” in the PA is a joke.

It’s such a shame that in addition to all of the isolation, deprivation and humiliation that the illegal Israeli occupation places upon Palestinians that they can’t even share time and be with their immediate family and loved ones. It’s just wrong.  And Israelis wonder why Palestinians are pissed?  The next time you get together with your loved ones, please remember the thousands of Palestinians who can’t be with theirs as a result of the Israeli occupation. Let’s hope they all get that opportunity and soon.

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