Thursday, June 8, 2017

50 years of occupation will not kill hope for a free Palestine

50 years of occupation will not kill hope for a free Palestine

Samia Khoury
On its 40th day, the mass hunger strike by Palestinian political prisoners was suspended after an agreement was reached to allow two visits per month.
 
Picture by Non Violent Vigilante. Flickr.com (CC BY-NC 2.0). Some rights reserved. 

The strike was hailed as a small victory and highlights the dire conditions of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons. The demands throughout the strike have been within the minimum rights of political prisoners in accordance with the Geneva Conventions: Regular visits from their families, access to telephones to call home, access to media in Arabic, as well as better food and better health care. Unfortunately the Israeli authorities have long ignored those requests and these basic demands, failing to respond to the humanitarian crisis.

I am just wondering what was it that moved Israel to respond to their demands, especially that the international community did not take any action.

Before the strike was suspended, Mahmoud Abbas seized the opportunity of his meeting with Donald Trump in Bethlehem to highlight the issue of those prisoners. Unfortunately there was no reaction from Mr. Trump, or as much as a promise to consider the request. In fact Mr. Trump gave Mr. Abbas a lecture on the need to fight terrorism, and to cut the regular stipend for the families of the prisoners. It is worth noting that Mr. Trump also avoided visiting the Church of Nativity because the mothers of those prisoners were holding a sit-in in that area. Perhaps he did not want to face those mothers and look straight into their eyes lest he feel some compassion towards them? However, from the way he goes about his business, I doubt that compassion is one of his strong suits.

Terrorism was highlighted in his visit in Saudi Arabia as well. For those who were not born during the days of the British Mandate in Palestine, it is worth remembering that it was in that era that the Jewish underground were the first perpetrators of terrorism in our region. The late Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin was on the wanted list of the British Mandate Government, for the terrorist act of blowing up the British Government Secretariat wing in the King David Hotel in July 1946, and other places like the Samiramis Hotel. However when he became Prime Minister of Israel, he was received officially at Buckingham Palace in London.
The memory of the victorious is very short, but that does not mean that the victims forget. Yes they might forgive, but that does not change facts on the ground, and the grief for the loss of dear ones lingers on.

Invading Iraq, Libya, and Syria by western powers, under the guise of spreading democracy, has brought about havoc to the region. Therefore, it is not surprising that terrorism ended up as a normal reaction to those unjustified wars of terror that devastated those countries. And it is indeed very sad that it is the innocent people in the region and in the west that are paying the price.
In the meantime the Palestinians are commemorating fifty years of a brutal military occupation. With the Oslo agreement in 1993 we were all made to believe that the occupation will soon be over and that peace was around the corner. But after more than twenty years of futile negotiations we realised that this is not a normal occupation that was going to end by a UN resolution. It is in reality a settler colonial regime with an ongoing process of dispossession.

East Jerusalem which Israel unilaterally and illegally annexed to West Jerusalem was no more accessible to the Palestinians living in the West Bank except with special permits. Although the international community has considered the annexation of occupied East Jerusalem as illegal, the Israeli Prime Minister makes it a point to stress the fact that his guests are welcome in “the united and eternal capital of Israel.” In fact he was hoping that during his visit, Mr. Trump will announce the moving of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Assuring both parties that he wants to forge peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, he was wise enough to avoid a controversial action that will label him one-sided. But then again, when was the USA ever a neutral or honest broker for peace in our region? Without its financial as well as moral support, Israel could never have survived or maintained the illegal occupation or the settlements that mushroomed in the Palestinian occupied territories.

After 50 years, it is not easy to maintain hope and not to despair especially when we watch new realities on the ground as Israel continues to defy international law and UN resolutions. The institutions of East Jerusalem continue to suffer because of a variety of discriminatory laws as well as financial restrictions. But when I visit Rawdat El-Zuhur, the school which I served for many years and look at the bright shining eyes of the children, or when I hear my young grandson practicing his trumpet in the late afternoon I am determined that we cannot lose hope for the sake of those children. And of course when justice is on our side, how can we lose hope. So we continue to dream of a better future with dignity and liberation. As John Lennon sings: “A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is a reality.” To start with, we as Palestinians need to unite so we can dream together. And we certainly hope and expect the international community to dream with us and work for justice, because as Edmund Burke says,‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

We continue to hope and pray for some wisdom and compassion towards those prisoners who are incarcerated for no other reason than for  their legitimate right to resist an illegal occupation.


democraciaAbierta image

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Starving for Justice

How would you feel if your son or daughter went on a
hunger strike demanding justice for more than a month, and nobody
bothered to call you or check on you and your beloved one?  The
silence is so loud that our hearts bleed with those mothers who are
gathering daily in various areas including  the Red Cross offices  in
the Palestinian Territories. Yet there is  no reaction or action from
the Israeli authorities or the international community to respond to
their demands for basic rights  as political prisoners,  in accordance
to the Geneva Convention.  So many of those political prisoners have
been  under administrative detention without any charge or trial.

In fact the only action taken was to move most of those prisoners to
prisons near hospitals so that they can be hospitalised if need be or
force-fed without any intention of starting a dialogue with them.
How long  will Israel continue to  ignore the basic  demands of those
prisoners, and continue to  get away with treating  them with contempt
void of any human dignity.  Do they need to die before anybody cries
out Enough is Enough.

The focus this week has been  on the visit of Mr. Trump to the region.
And Israel claimed a couple of days ago that it is introducing  easier
measures for the Palestinians.  Is this a gimmick? Or is the
occupation authority trying to pull wool over  the eyes of the
American administration and the international community? How about
introducing easier measures for those prisoners, and starting a
dialogue with them?  Please we appeal to you our friends to raise your
voice before it is too late to save the lives of those young men and
women incarcerated for no other reason than for  their legitimate
right to resist an illegal occupation.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Another UN Report

Once again Israel acts with rage because it cannot cope with the
Truth.  It  is very unfortunate that the UN has not only failed for
the last seventy years to bring justice to the Palestinians, it has also
lost its credibility for reacting outrageously against any statements
or reports that expose the truth about Israel.  The recent report of
ESCWA describing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as apartheid led
to the resignation of Rima Khalaf,  a Jordanian  UN diplomat and
executive secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western
Asia, when she was pressured by the UN General Secretary to withdraw
diplomats had this kind of integrity.

Actually I wonder whether the General Secretary even bothered to read
the report.  It looks like he was pressured as usual and unwilling to
stand up for the principles of the UN body lest he face the Israeli
music and the  usual accusations  of  anti-Semitism.  Almost a month
ago the name of Salaam Fayad a former Palestinian Prime minister, came
up for a special UN envoy to Libya, but the Secretary General was
pressured to withdraw the name.  Maybe the UN should consider
changing its name if it is only the US and Israel who actually call the
shots.

Israel considers itself special and wants the whole world to treat it
as special irrespective of what it does.  Moreover, when it  claims to
be the "only democracy in the Middle East" and its army is the most
moral army, it has to be accountable.  No other Arab country in the
region has claimed that it is a democracy.  We have heard courageous
voices saying enough is enough, but they paid heavily for raising
their voice.  Yet, sadly we have watched  how the international
community as well as church leaders  continue to be intimidated and
silenced for attempting to expose the truth.  Until when does the
international community have to deal with this spoiled child every
time he puts up a tantrum?  Even Israeli voices have said it loud and
clear that the occupation is creating an apartheid system.  What do
you call a system that allows its authority to confiscate land,  and
bulldoze complete areas where Palestinians are living so as to
provide housing for Israeli settlements?  And this is but one phenomenon
of the system.  The report was correctly documented with facts
such as:

Israel’s Law of Return, “conferring on Jews worldwide the right to
enter Israel and obtain Israeli citizenship regardless of their
countries of origin and whether or not they can show links to
Israel-Palestine, while withholding any comparable right from
Palestinians, including those with documented ancestral homes in the
country,” as a policy of “demographic engineering” meant to uphold
Israel’s status as the Jewish state.”

The report further accuses Israel of “practices” that have fragmented
Palestinians, “This fragmentation operates to stabilize the Israeli
regime of racial domination over the Palestinians and to weaken the
will and capacity of the Palestinian people to mount a unified and
effective resistance,”

“Israeli law normally allows spouses of Israeli citizens to relocate
to Israel but uniquely prohibits this option in the case of
Palestinians from the occupied territory or beyond.”  Even
Palestinians in East Jerusalem have to go through an endless ordeal to
be able to have their spouses from the West Bank join them in
Jerusalem.  And very often the request is denied.

Actually the following paragraph in the preface of the report should
be a wake up call to the United Nations to realize its responsibility
to put an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories
and to  bring about a just and lasting  solution to the Palestinian
Israeli conflict.

“The situation in Israel-Palestine constitutes an unmet obligation of
the organized international community to resolve a conflict partially
generated by its own actions. That obligation dates formally to 1922,
when the League of Nations established the British Mandate for
Palestine as a territory eminently ready for independence as an
inclusive secular State, yet incorporated into the Mandate the core
pledge of the Balfour Declaration to support the “Jewish people” in
their efforts to establish in Palestine a “Jewish national home”.
Later United Nations Security Council and General Assembly resolutions
attempted to resolve the conflict generated by that arrangement, yet
could not prevent related proposals, such as partition, from being
overtaken by events on the ground. If this attention to the case of
Israel by the United Nations appears exceptional, therefore, it is
only because no comparable linkage exists between United Nations
actions and any other prolonged denial to a people of their right of
self-determination.”

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Home Coming

Whenever there is a plan for home-coming, it is always thought of as a happy occasion.  Whether one is coming home for the Christmas holidays, or the summer break, or whether one is joining a class reunion, there is always a feeling of excitement and joy that one looks forward to.

It is only when one is coming home to Palestine, that home-coming  becomes a nightmare.  All the excitement and joy turn into hours of harassment and interrogation at the borders by an occupying force that makes a Palestinian or anybody of Palestinian origin  feel as an intruder,  or a suspect.  By the time one reaches home all the excitement is gone and the tension of the interrogation is released with anger and very often with tears of frustration.  Whether one is arriving at the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv (known originally as the Lydda  airport,) or whether one is crossing the bridge via Jordan, because West Bankers are not allowed to travel through the airport, it  is all the same.  Of course, not withstanding the fact,  that some are completely denied entry, and some are harassed and stripped on the way out. 


Now that the Christmas holidays are over,  all those young people who came to visit their  parents and grandparents have  gone back to their universities or their work.  But despite what they went through on their most  recent visit, they are determined to come back again and again as no harassment will stop them from coming home, with the hope that one day soon their home-coming will be to a liberated Palestine. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christmas Greetings

Dear Family & Friends:

In his weekly  reflections which  he shares with us, Patriarch
Emeritus Michel Sabbah is quoting Prophet Isiah:  "Strengthen all
weary hands; steady all trembling knees; and say to the faint-hearted:
Be strong, do not be afraid' (Is 35: 3-4).

Very comforting words indeed, but much easier said than done when we
have been subjugated to a brutal occupation over and above a
dispossession that has lingered for almost seventy years.  As strong
as they try to be, the Palestinians are afraid and children are
terrified as they never know whether they will find their home when
they come back from school, or just a pile of rubble,  or when a dear
father, brother or sister  will be picked up by the army in the middle
of the night.

Yet once again Patriarch Sabbah  draws our attention to what Prophet
Isaiah said  "He gives justice to the oppressed; he gives food to the
hungry; he sets prisoners free" (Ps 146: 6-7).

I keep wondering how we keep holding onto hope when there is no
justice,  when families are separated and not allowed  family
reunification, when  our young people are languishing in Israeli jails
and when we see so many hungry people, especially children.  Those
children  who constitute  the largest sector of the wave of refugees
from all over our region trying to seek  a safe haven after being
exposed to so much  brutality due to foreign wars imposed on their
countries.  Yes our hands are weary, and our knees are trembling, and
we do not know what the future holds for us, and that is why it breaks
our heart to see some of our young people leaving  the country to seek
a better future for their children. However most of us  are determined
to stay put, although very often we feel like crying out “Until when O
Lord, until when?”

From our land,  the Holy Land where our Lord Jesus Christ was born,
I  send you warm greetings and best wishes for a Joyful Christmas and
a Peaceful New Year.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

On The American Elections

Now that it is almost over, I could not resist a few lines on this election campaign
The US has become a laughing stock as the parties  went low down that lane
Commentators have written about  Evil and lesser Evil as the only choice
A tragedy when a super power cannot come out with a good or better voice

For Trump to represent the  Republicans  seemed at the beginning like a joke
But the joke ended up on the Democrats seeing that Trump was no bloke
The thrust of Obama and Michelle was needed to salvage the party’s  prestige
Having Hillary lose against Trump would be  a disaster they could never appease

In a few hours we will really know and may the Lord have mercy on this globe
Whether it is the evil or lesser evil who will run the show, we will all have to cope
For us Palestinians it does not matter any more another  disappointment
So we’ll simply watch as you lament your fate or rejoice with enjoyment

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Irony of the Veto



While listening to the news about Syria and all the devastation, I
thought it was ironic that France and its allies would condemn Russia
for using its veto right in the resolution submitted by France.

Maybe it is high time that the structure of the United Nations and
the power given to the five permanent members in the Security Council
should be reconsidered so that there is no double-standard in
sanctioning countries that violate International Law.

If anybody knows that feeling of frustration because of the veto
power it is us Palestinians.  We  have  been taking our case to the
United Nations ever since 1948 when we were dispossessed of our
country and our right to return.  Although we have never given up on
the  UN to redress the grave injustice inflicted upon us, we also
realize how impotent that body has been in implementing its
resolutions.

Over and above being  dispossessed of our  land, freedom, and right to
self –determination, we  have had to bear with  a military occupation
for almost fifty years.  And to add insult to injury,  every time a UN
resolution is presented  to sanction Israel for its violations
against a whole population living under a military occupation, the
American veto is there to salvage Israel.

So now,  Russia has given the Western countries a taste of their own
medicine.