Thursday, January 3, 2019

25th anniversary of the ESNCM

Music never fails to lift our spirits.  What a joy it was to bid farewell to a year filled with so many sad events,  with the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Edward Said National Conservatory of music.    December 30th was a very wet and foggy evening and heading to Birzeit University was quite an ordeal.   But when we eventually got there, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Naseeb Shaheen Hall already packed for that special program.  The program included a variety of items, starting and ending with the Palestine Orchestra performing  under the baton of Sian Edwards from the United Kingdom.  The opening piece was  by  Dmitri  Shostakovich, followed by an  oriental Dance by Salvadore Arnita, who taught music at Birzeit in its earlier  days as a high school.

Other items were by the Arabic Music Orchestra and the String ensemble performing music composed by teachers and graduates Dina Shilleh, Mohammad Nijim, Tareq Abboushi and Ahmad el-Khatib.  Ramzi Shomali played the piano piece, an oriental Waltz,  composed by Amin Nasser.  The Palestine Orchestra played the well known song by the Rahbani Brothers “Take me back Home”  with soloist Nai Barghouti, one of the graduates of the Conservatory.   In between there were few words by the founding members, Rima Tarazi, Nadia Abboushi, Amin Nasser and Suhail Khoury.  Rima made a special mention of the late friends and supporters  of the conservatory, Edward Said, Edward Karkar, Gabi Baramki, Ken Landis and Diana Taqi-eldeen.    A slide show appeared on the screen in between the music showing  the different stages of the development of the conservatory, which started in Ramallah with 40 students and now has six branches including one in Gaza and an out-reach program in Hebron which altogether serve around 2000 students. 

The program ended with the first movement of the 25th Symphony by Mozart and The Hungarian Dance No. 1 & 5 by Johannes Brahms. The clapping did not stop, and one  could see the joy on the faces of the people as they gathered for a reception after the performance.

May the New year mark the beginning of a new era of  joy,  justice, peace and freedom  for all the peoples of the world,  And Long Live Music. 

Saturday, October 13, 2018

YWCA International Conference on Youth

The Young Women Christian Association of Palestine (YWCA)  a member of the World YWCA is holding its international conference on Youth  this weekend based on UN Security Council Resolution 2250.    The resolution which was adopted on Dec. 9, 2015, emphasizes the importance of youth as agents of change in the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.  So the  slogan of the conference is “ Youth participate,  and Youth decide; Toward Freedom and Justice.  Youth from Gaza were also able to attend through video conference linked with the YMCA of Gaza.  I was at the opening session yesterday, and felt so proud of this organization which has been so close to my heart and where I had spent many years of  my volunteer work.  I wish I could have stayed  throughout  the conference sessions, but physically I cannot cope anymore.  I could not even attend the special reception in the evening marking 125 years on the establishment of the YWCA of Palestine.  Quite a long and rich history.

Speaking at the opening session held  at the Red Crescent Hall in Bireh-Ramallah, were  the President and  National General Secretary of the YWCA of Palestine,  the World YWCA General Secretary, the Palestinian Minister for Women’s Affairs, the general secretary of the YM/YWCA of Norway, the Representative of the United Nations Population Fund and Head of the United Nations Youth Group in Palestine.  The representative of Sweden was not allowed in at the airport, but  another member of the delegation spoke on her behalf.  When you live under occupation, no matter how well you plan a conference, there is always a surprise waiting for you at the end of the day.  Fortunately it was just one member out of all those guests.
All the presentations were very good and most pertinent.  The local Palestinian organizations were well represented and it was a pleasure having so many internationals in the conference representing Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Japan, Macedonia, India, Ukraine, Romania, Switzerland and the USA.

One of the first lessons I learned from the World General Secretary, the late Elizabeth Palmer is that the YWCA must have  antennas to sense the needs of its community and be able to adapt its work  and comply with those needs.  Indeed the history of the YWCA of Palestine has been closely knitted to the history of Palestine.  I still recall the programs we used to have at the YWCA of Jerusalem before 1948, and which also served as  the premises for the YWCA of Palestine at the time.  It included leadership training through a variety of programs like drama, sports, debates and handicrafts.  We were also privileged to be able to make use of the YMCA  gym, swimming pool and library.  Things changed completely after 1948.   But the  spirit of the YWCA did not change.  There were capable leaders to restart the organization in East Jerusalem, Amman, and Jericho.  Since the time when the West Bank was annexed to Jordan, the YWCA became part of the National movement of the YWCA of Jordan, and working with the Palestinian refugees became a priority.   In fact   the World YWCA was one of  the first international organizations that came to the rescue of refugees at Aqbat Jaber in Jericho, one of the largest Palestinian refugee camps after 1948. 

Another landmark in the history of Palestine,  was the June 1967 war when over-night we found ourselves under a new reality: an Israeli occupation.   In fact on Monday June 5, the morning of the war, we were supposed to go to Amman for a National Council meeting.  Well  that was not possible for some time, but when eventually we resumed our trips for the National Council meetings, they were quite an ordeal because of the strenuous procedures of the bridge crossing. One can actually write a whole book about those experiences.  

Once again there was a new reality that the YWCA  had to face and adapt programs to,  in order to meet the needs of the whole community which was quite at a loss.  With a committed General Secretary and her team of staff and board, the YWCA of Jerusalem became a centre for the various sectors of the community.  Over and above its vocational school, clubs for all ages, men and women were established to provide leadership training, and to fulfill the needs of the community.  Summer camps, art, music and  folk dancing helped uplift the spirit of the young people, and a mothers’ club helped to  identify the needs of the children, and played a role in the establishment of parent-teachers associations.   The YWCA  seemed like a centre of information for many groups and especially the church groups that were guests at the new  hotel in the Jerusalem YWCA building.  Speaking to those groups to make them aware of the grave injustice committed against the Palestinians was part of our  purpose.  .  The first human rights committee started at the YWCA  long  before any of the official Palestinian  NGOs on the subject started, and the World YWCA helped us circulate Action Alerts.  In fact the YWCA has been avant garde on all levels, and never hesitated to get involved in any forum that would help the community and the Palestinian cause. 

The youth have  always been a major  focus of the YWCA, so it is not surprising that the YWCA was avant garde once again in planning this conference.  The World YWCA has set a model to its affiliated organization by its involvement ahead of anybody else in so many world issues.  I still remember that the first time I heard of divestment was at one of the World YWCA council meetings when a resolution was taken to divest from banks that supported the apartheid regime in South Africa.  Global warming and disarmament were always some of the issues brought up at the various world council meetings.  The World YWCA was the first international organization which recognized the YWCA of Palestine  as an independent organization.  It  affiliated as such to the World YWCA Association in its Council meeting in Stavanger, Norway in 1991, although the state of Palestine was not yet recognized .   It did much better than the Oslo agreements which took place two years later, and are  still marking time.  However, we will continue to hope that with the energy and commitment of the Youth we shall overcome someday.  Yes indeed we cannot lose hope because we have a just cause, and three cheers for the YWCA, its leadership, and its members.  

Saturday, September 29, 2018

What was wrong with both UN speeches?

On Thursday,  September 27, 2018, both the Palestinian President Abbas and the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the United Nations  General Assembly.  

Every time I listen to speeches like those, I keep hoping against hope that something new or fresh might come up to uplift our morale and truly give us reason to look forward to better days.  Of course it was necessary for president Abbas to draw the attention of the assembly that the USA has not been  an honest broker to the peace process, because they turned a blind eye to the violations of Israel to all the agreements signed with Israel.  He  announced that the Palestinians are not willing to continue  committing themselves to agreements that Israel has not kept, including the recognition of Israel, while Israel refuses to recognize Palestine or its right to self-determination.  He criticized the recently passed  Nation State Law, which actually has been criticized by many Jews inside and outside the State of Israel.  However it was very out of place for Mr. Abbas to carry the conflict with Hamas to the International Arena.  This is something that he should deal with on the local scene and if any help is needed it should be solved in the Arab Summit meetings. 

On the other hand, Mr. Netanyahu’s  main  emphasis,  before responding to some of the points that  Mr. Abbas referred to, was on Iran.  He had a theatrical presentation, showing diagrams and sites of nuclear facilities, which actually American experts announced immediately that it was false information.  Furthermore, he urged the world community not to tolerate this at all because this is a threat to the whole region.  And of course he thanked the president of the USA, Mr. Trump for pulling out of the agreement signed with Iran during the term of Mr. Obama, and urged other countries to do so

We have seen how previous false threats regarding Iraq led to a war, that the whole region is still suffering from.   How ironic indeed when Israel itself was the first country in the whole region that had  acquired a nuclear reactor  built in the Southern part of Israel as early as the fifties with the help of France at the time.   Over and above Israel has never signed the non-proliferation agreement, neither has it ever allowed any inspectors to the site. So by what right was Mr. Netanyahu  talking so vehemently about Iran as if it were  threatening the very existence of Israel.  "I have a message for the tyrants of Tehran - Israel knows what you're doing," Netanyahu said. He added that Israel will continue to act against Iran - "also in Syria and also in Iraq."

Both Israel and Iran are aware of each other’s nuclear potential,  unless Israel has an ulterior motive to wage a war, the outcome of which will be a completely new Middle East, with the Palestinians being its collateral damage. 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Emperor

Mr. Trump,  who on earth appointed you the Emperor of the universe as to think you can undo treaties, cancel UN resolutions, and impose sanctions on countries all over the world.

Ever since you took office you have been handling matters according to your whims and wishes antagonizing people and regimes, whereby the whole world seems to be in a big mess, and on the verge of a war, here and there.  

Because you have the power and money, you think you can get away with all this.  The day will come when all your actions will boomerang, and your own people might be the first to raise their voice against your actions.  Let alone all other countries whose destiny you have been meddling with.  

As  a Palestinian, I ask you what right do you have to cancel the UN resolution regarding the “right of  return of the Palestinians,” and the money allocated by the UN to UNRWA which was established as a temporary organization until the Palestinian refugees would be able to go back to their homes.  You are morally and financially obligated to see to it that those refugees are granted their right.  And until that happens you are still obligated to fund UNRWA because it is the veto power of the US used along the years that  has been the reason  behind  the failure of the implementation of UN resolutions that would  redress the grave injustice inflicted upon the Palestinians in 1948 as well as in 1967.  

You are dealing with issues with the principle of MIGHT is RIGHT.  We are no more in a jungle Mr. Trump.  There are rules and regulations, and an international law that governs actions of governments.  If you want the law of the jungle to prevail, then wake up, because that law will not spare anybody,  and the emperor will eventually be exposed  "as naked as can be" (according to  Hans Christian Andersen)

Monday, August 13, 2018

Why a cultural Centre?

A few days ago Israel bombarded the Mishal  cultural centre in Gaza destroying it completely.  Why?  This centre has been the gift of Said Meshal to the youth of Gaza to help them cope with all the pressure of living under  siege for the last twelve years.  It is neither a Hamas nor a Fateh Centre.  In fact there is an Egyptian cultural centre in the building.  Ironic indeed when Egypthas been  trying  to mediate some sort of  a long term truce “Hudna” between Israel and Hamas.  

Is it not enough that those young people as well as all the people of Gaza are deprived of a normal life, that it was too much for Israel to see them enjoying some fun with music art, and drama.   Once again, I cannot help but see the irony of it when at the same time Israel is asking that help to UNRWA in Gaza should not be curtailed because it will make life  for  the people of Gaza much worse.  

Indeed it will,  and so will the demolition of a cultural Centre that was supposed to lift up the spirit of the youth,  and engage them with activities that are normal to all children of the world ?  

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

UNRWA laying off its staff

I have written more than once on the UNRWA crisis, but this time UNRWA is laying off its staff and is causing a great deal of concern within the Palestinian community.  The financial situation, especially in Gaza has been deteriorating so badly  that the last thing this besieged area could deal with is the cutting of UNRWA  services and laying off its staff.  

When UNRWA was established in December 1949,  it was established as a temporary relief agency for the Palestinian refugees who,  in 1948, were driven out of their homes at gun point, or fled  for their lives, when the state of Israel was established on Palestinian land . 

Why was it temporary?  Because a year earlier, and in December 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 194  allowing  all Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.  Israel which planned that exodus in the first place, was determined not to allow the Palestinians to go back to their homes and in no time it started destroying villages and occupying  Palestinian homes to settle Jewish families in them,   so  that a new reality would hinder any return of the Palestinians.   Even the Palestinians who stayed in the newly established state and had been evicted to another area of Israel, were not allowed to go back to their homes.  

The failure of the UN to implement that resolution, and to link it with the  acceptance of Israel as a member state, is the root cause of the crisis that UNRWA is facing at the moment.  

Instead of exerting its effort on a political solution for  the refugees,  the UN  member states who supported UNRWA kept  raising funds and supporting the budget, and supporting the salaries of their representative staff working with UNRWA, without any financial support from Israel itself which was basically responsible for the refugee problem.  

Undoubtedly the Palestinians have been grateful for this support which sustained them for a long time.  However,  they  would have been much more grateful had the UN taken a legal and moral approach to the refugee problem and worked  towards their return  instead of draining their budgets year after year on services that are now being  curtailed  for financial reasons.  

Of course one  of the main reasons that the UN could never implement resolution 194 was the veto power of the US, and its blind support of Israel  which did not even oblige Israel to be morally and financially responsible for the refugee problem.   Furthermore, the US has exacerbated the financial crisis by withdrawing its commitment to UNRWA.  How ironic indeed.  As I mentioned earlier in an open letter  to Mr. Trump.  “ We are not requesting charity, we are demanding our rights.  And that is why the UN is legally and  morally obligated to set the record straight, and to keep supporting the work of UNRWA until it implements a just solution to the refugee problem. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Human Rights Commission

How ironic that the US has decided to withdraw from the UN Human Rights Commission because it is one sided, at a time when the focus of  the world is on the issue of the children of the immigrants being separated from their parents at the US borders.  How brutal.  But then of course the decision was mainly taken to avoid further embarrassment about shielding Israel from violations of human rights as well as international law. 

What makes it more ironic is the reaction of Israel agreeing completely with the decision and bragging as usual  that Israel is the only democracy in the region.  Yet it emphasizes the fact that it is a Jewish State.  How can it be Jewish and democratic when 25% of its population is not Jewish.    Addressing the Congress on Judaism and Democracy, earlier this year,  on the controversy over the Jewish nation-state bill, the Israeli Minister of Justice  Ayelet Shaked  said  that there is place to maintain a Jewish majority even at the price of violation of human rights.
 I   wonder who makes the human rights commission  one sided?  Isn’t the USA basically responsible for that fact,  when it meddles in other countries’ affairs and wages wars in the name of democracy,  and at the same time vetoes every resolution condemning Israel for its human rights violations.    As a settler colonial power Israel has refused to implement any of the UN resolutions regarding the Palestinian plight, whether it was the right of return of the 1948 Palestinian refugees  as stipulated in UN  resolution 194  or the end of  the occupation of the land captured in 1967 in accordance with  resolution 242. But it seems that the powerful can get away with anything.