Green in the City

It has been eight years since I spent the summer in Cairo and this is my first visit back. There has been a lot that has changed here, uprising not withstanding (see Jadaliyya on Egypt’s recent past, especially herehere, and here). Given that I am merely a visitor here, and a foreigner at that, it is not my place to write about the political scene in Egypt. Others (linked to above) are doing that better than I can.

Instead I have been doing my part to help the Egyptian economy, which has suffered from less tourist traffic since the uprising. The number of craft shops seems to have doubled or tripled since 2004. And the kinds of crafts being sold in the city or in the souq seems to have changed, too. Either that or I am merely noticing different types of objects. I am especially in love with the Berber embroidery and drafts from Siwa, which I would get on the bus and visit (there are some amazing ecolodges there) if it were not so hot outside. And because it is Ramadan there are additional craft fairs around the city at night, such as the one I went to a couple of weeks ago at Darb 1718.

The other thing that has been most striking to me over the past couple of weeks is al-Azhar Park. The park is built in the heart of a poor community in old, Islamic Cairo not far from Khan Khalili market. Although the arial shot above makes it seem like the park is an oasis in a midst of a concrete jungle, much of Cairo is actually pretty Green. If you drive along the Nile, for example, it is incredibly lush. Spending the last couple of years in Beirut, and Amman before that, I had forgotten how much I miss green spaces. There are very few public parks in Beirut for picnicking or for children to swing or play football. Although Ba’albek does have quite a lovely park where you can do those things.

At the entrance of al-Azhar Park you see a beautiful fountain, which children play in. The park does have an entrance fee (the equivalent of about $1), but if you are one of the families who live in the area you get in for about $.25. As a result, it the grass is filled with families having picnic iftar dinners while children run around on the playground. There is also a year-round souq and a Ramadan outdoor souq with beautiful crafts for sale.

 

It is refreshing to see such a wide, open space in the center of an urban metropolis. The weather is cooler there, the people seem happy, and the energy is amazing. I walked around the perimeter of the park last weekend right around iftar began (this hour of the day is not ideal for photography, but the images should give readers a small slice of what it looks like).

The park is also filled with beautiful landscaping, gardens (plant names are identified in Arabic and English on placards). There are restaurants and cafes and an amphitheater hosting terrific music.

My first weekend here I saw Oumeima el Khalil (photograph above) and last weekend I went to Dina el Wadidi’s concert. Wadidi sings in a band that fuses the incredible sounds of the accordion, violin, piano, and tabla (also bass and electric guitar, which unfortunately drown out the other beautiful sounds). One of the many people sitting around me filming the concert on their cell phones posted one of the songs on Youtube:

As I enjoyed the park I wondered about its construction. I thought about the people in Beirut who are working for greening the city. Every time I look at the enormous port I imagine how beautiful it would be as a green park with football fields, playgrounds for children, and areas for families to picnic. But, of course, this is Solidere territory (the best article on the history and context of how Solidere ruined downtown Beirut see Saree Makdisi’s articles here and here). The contrast between the once public space, albeit not green, of downtown Beirut and the public space of al-Azhar Park is striking in many ways (although similar kinds of encroachments on downtown Cairo were part of Mubarak’s re-imagining of the city). Whereas Solidere wants to keep poor people out, al-Azhar at least appears to be working to make all families able to access its space. Poor people may not be able to afford to buy crafts or eat at the restaurants, but for under $1 they can picnic and their children have a place to run around and play.

If only it were that simple.  I did a little research to see how this park was created. A foreign corporation, the Aga Khan Trust, financed the construction of this park. I was told by an Egyptian friend that the fees that one pays when entering go to that corporation for about thirty years before Egyptians may retain control over their own park (reminds me of the Suez Canal and the British). The microfinance division of Aga Khan collaborates with USAID on a number of projects, including one in Aswan, Egypt (they also have a numer of projects in Afghanistan and elsewhere in collaboration with USAID). It is unclear what role USAID has had in the building of al-Azhar Park. But there are some indications that they played a role. One document says, for example, that through the American Research Center, that USAID funded a part of a project in the park, but it doesn’t specify what. Another article suggests that USAID, along with the Ford Foundation, helped to fund part of the municipal underground water beneath the park.

Of course all this transpired under the Mubarak regime. Indeed, Suzanne Mubarak was apparently quite the champion of the park. It’s not yet clear to me how much of the park has been funded with USAID. But even a dime from that entity spells danger. But I am not at all surprised. This is what USAID does best: it appears to be a lovely gift from the Americans to the Egyptians (or the Haitians or the Palestinians), but in reality it is a mechanism of domination and control. This is why ALBA nations recently pledged to kick out USAID from their countries in a bold anti-imperialist move.

Egypt has been controlled by USAID since Sadat’s treacherous signing of the Camp David Accords in 1979, which gave Egyptians back the Sinai Peninsula (though not military control over it) and sold out the Palestinians. In exchange for this agreement, Egyptian people began to receive funds and imports from the United States. But it is not so simple.

Jason Hickel explains how this works in the most important sector, the agricultural sector:

To push along the process of neoliberal reform, USAid has given $200 million each year to the Egyptian government in handouts to encourage “continuing reduction in tariffs” and the privatisation of 314 government-owned companies. Furthermore, USAid devotes some 25 per cent of its budget to a special Commodity Import Programme designed to help Egypt buy American-made goods and reinforce bilateral trade.

Programmes like these have proven to be devastating for many Egyptians: they tend to undercut local manufactures, encourage foreign monopolies, concentrate wealth in the hands of political cronies and ultimately contribute to unemployment, which (depending on the measure used) has risen to 25 per cent in recent years and reaches as high as 30 per cent among the young.

Some of the most extreme neoliberal measures have been directed at Egypt’s agriculture sector. As a condition for development aid, USAid has required Egypt to shift its formidable agricultural capacity away from staple foods and toward export crops such as cotton, grapes and strawberries in order to generate foreign currency to pay off its burgeoning debt to the US.

According to Columbia University professor, Timothy Mitchell, USAid first began to facilitate this process in the 1980s through its Agricultural Mechanisation Project, which was designed to develop the productive capacity of Egyptian export agriculture by financing the purchase of American machinery.

In the end – despite USAid’s projections to the contrary – the programme did very little to help common farmers. Instead, it disproportionately benefitted the few large landholders who could afford to take out the loans, while slashing the demand for agricultural labour and causing rural wages to plummet.

To propel the transformation to export-led agriculture, USAid forced the Egyptian government to heavily tax the production of staples by local farmers and to eliminate subsidies on essential consumer goods like sugar, cooking oil and dairy products in order to make room for competition from American and other foreign companies.

To ameliorate the resulting food gap, USAid’s so-called “Food for Peace” programme provided billions of dollars of loans for Egypt to import subsidised grain from the US, which only further undercut local farmers. The result of all of this “agricultural reform” was an unprecedented spike in food prices which made livelihoods increasingly precarious and forced much of the workforce to accept degrading and dehumanising labour conditions. The widespread social frustrations that resulted from these reforms helped spark the 2011 uprising.

Similar forms of neoliberal shock therapy been applied to the public services sector. USAid has aggressively pushed for so-called “cost-recovery” mechanisms, a euphemism for transforming public healthcare and education into private, fee-based institutions. Indeed, USAid typically spends nearly half of its health and education budgets – more than $100-million per year – on privatisation measures.

This has been fantastic for multinational medical companies, as it translates into greater dependence on imported drugs and equipment. For Egyptians, however, privatisation means having to pay large sums on healthcare and education. Mitchell shows that such expenditures – as a percentage of household income – now rank at the second and third highest in the world, respectively.

To make matters worse, Mitchell also demonstrates that USAid’s cuts to public service budgets have forced the wage rates of workers in hospitals and schools below the rate of inflation, causing deep income deficits among working-class households.

These destructive, pro-corporate policies get obscured by the rhetoric that USAid deploys. According to its website, USAid claims to have helped Egypt become a “success story in economic development”, citing “improvements” in the quality of education and – amazingly – “the administration of justice” (a shocking contradiction, given that the US actively funded Mubarak’s repressive military apparatus and its widespread human rights abuses).

Egypt’s vigorous market liberalisation programme has attracted foreign investment and boosted GDP growth, but these gains have only benefited the very rich, while the country’s bottom quintiles have seen their portion of the economic pie shrink significantly over the same period.

This one aspect of American control over Egyptian society since the 1980s–in other words since Camp David–gives one a sense of why USAID is so dangerous and also provides context over the ongoing uprising in Egypt.  Additionally, and a reason why USAID is associated with the CIA in most of the global south, is because there is often a relationship between NGOs and USAID. This relationship may be predominantly financial, but it is one that can be used to foment unrest, one reason why a few months ago Egyptians also considered removing USAID.

This issue of funding and the way it is used to control people is a huge problem, especially for those who have amazing ideas that they want to make tangible. Creating a park is an amazing thing to do for a community. But whether it is a park or a farm, one has to weigh the funding of such projects with societal control by outside corporations, foundations, or governments that have an agenda. There is no easy answer to this. But there is a reason why Henry Kissinger, who negotiated Camp David for Carter, famously said, “If you control oil, you control nations. If you control food, you control people.”

palestine and absurdism

elia suleiman, one of my favorite palestinian filmmakers has a new movie out entitled “the time that remains.” the film premiered at cannes and i’m hoping it comes to a theater near me very soon. here is a clip from the film, though it is in arabic with french subtitles:

here is a synopsis:

THE TIME THAT REMAINS is a semi biographic film, in four historic episodes, about a family -my family – spanning from 1948, until recent times. The film is inspired by my father’s diaries of his personal accounts, starting from when he was a resistant fighter in 1948, and by my mother’s letters to family members who were forced to leave the country since then. Combined with my intimate memories of them and with them, the film attempts to portray the daily life of those Palestinians who remained in their land and were labeled « Israeli-Arabs », living as a minority in their own homeland.

one of the reasons i love his films so much is that absurdism as a style (think samuel beckett) is the best at capturing the insanity that sometimes contextualizes this history and its present. absurdism captures zionist crimes as well as its collaborating allies in the palestinian authority. a recent article in electronic intifada by ali abu nimah and hasan abu nimah lays out the absurdity, for instance, of salam fayyad trying to declare a palestinian state in its current and ever shrinking archipelago form:

Late last month, Salam Fayyad, the appointed Palestinian Authority (PA) prime minister in Ramallah, made a surprise announcement: he declared his intention to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip before the end of 2011 regardless of the outcome of negotiations with Israel.

Fayyad told the London Times that he would work to build “facts on the ground, consistent with having our state emerge as a fact that cannot be denied.” His plan was further elaborated in a lengthy document grandly titled “Program of the Thirteenth Government of the Palestinian National Authority.”

The plan contains all sorts of ambitious ideas: an international airport in the Jordan Valley, new rail links to neighboring states, generous tax incentives to attract foreign investment, and of course strengthening the “security forces.” It also speaks boldly of liberating the Palestinian economy from its dependence on Israel, and reducing dependence on foreign aid.

This may sound attractive to some, but Fayyad has neither the political clout nor the financial means to propose such far-reaching plans without a green light from Washington or Tel Aviv.

Fayyad aims to project an image of a competent Palestinian administration already mastering the craft of running a state. He boasts, for instance, that the PA he heads has worked to “develop effective institutions of government based on the principles of good governance, accountability and transparency.”

But what is really taking shape in the West Bank today is a police state, where all sources of opposition or resistance — real or suspected — to either the PA regime, or the Israeli occupation are being systematically repressed by US-funded and trained Palestinian “security forces” in full coordination with Israel. Gaza remains under tight siege because of its refusal to submit to this regime.

In describing the Palestinian utopia he hopes to create, Fayyad’s plan declares that “Palestine will be a stable democratic state with a multi-party political system. Transfer of governing authority is smooth, peaceful and regular in accordance with the will of the people, expressed through free and fair elections conducted in accordance with the law.”

A perfect opportunity to demonstrate such an exemplary transfer would have been right after the January 2006 election which as the entire world knows Hamas won fairly and cleanly. Instead, those who monopolize the PA leadership today colluded with outside powers first to cripple and overthrow the elected Hamas government, and then the “national unity government” formed by the Mecca Agreement in early 2007, entrenching the current internal Palestinian division. (Fayyad’s own party won just two percent at the 2006 election, and his appointment as prime minister by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas was never — as required by law — approved by the Palestinian Legislative Council, dozens of whose elected members remain behind Israeli prison bars.)

From 1994 to 2006, more than eight billion US dollars were pumped into the Palestinian economy, making Palestinians the most aid-dependent people on earth, as Anne Le More showed in her important book International Assistance to the Palestinians after Oslo: Political Guilt; Wasted Money (London, Routledge, 2008). The PA received this aid ostensibly to build Palestinian institutions, improve socioeconomic development and support the creation of an independent state. The result however is that Palestinians are more destitute and aid-dependent than ever before, their institutions are totally dysfunctional, and their state remains a distant fantasy.

PA corruption and mismanagement played a big part in squandering this wealth, but by far the largest wealth destroyer was and remains the Israeli occupation. Contrary to what Fayyad imagines, you cannot “end the occupation, despite the occupation.”

A telling fact Le More reveals is that the previous “programs” of the PA (except those offered by the Hamas-led governments) were written and approved by international donor agencies and officials and then given to the PA to present back to the same donors who wrote them as if they were actually written by the PA!

Everything we see suggests Fayyad’s latest scheme follows exactly the same pattern. What is particularly troubling this time is that the plan appears to coincide with a number of other initiatives and trial balloons that present a real danger to the prospects for Palestinian liberation from permanent Israeli subjugation.

Recently, the International Middle East Media Center, an independent Palestinian news organization, published what it said was the leaked outline of a peace plan to be presented by US President Barack Obama.

That plan included international armed forces in most of the Palestinian “state”; Israeli annexation of large parts of East Jerusalem; that “All Palestinian factions would be dissolved and transformed into political parties”; all large Israeli settlements would remain under permanent Israeli control; the Palestinian state would be largely demilitarized and Israel would retain control of its airspace; intensified Palestinian-Israeli “security coordination”; and the entity would not be permitted to have military alliances with other regional countries.

On the central issue of the right of return for Palestinian refugees, the alleged Obama plan allows only an agreed number of refugees to return, not to their original homes, but only to the West Bank, particularly to the cities of Ramallah and Nablus.

It is impossible to confirm that this leaked document actually originates with the Obama administration. What gives that claim credibility, however, is the plan’s very close resemblance to a published proposal sent to Obama last November by a bipartisan group of US elder statesmen headed by former US national security advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Moreover, recent press reports indicate a lively debate within the Obama Administration about whether the US should itself publish specific proposals for a final settlement once negotiations resume; so there is little doubt that concrete proposals are circulating.

Indeed there is little of substance to distinguish these various plans from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s concept of “economic peace” and a demilitarized Palestinian statelet under overall Israeli control, with no right of return for refugees. And, since all seem to agree that the Jordan Valley — land and sky — would remain under indefinite Israeli control, so would Fayyad’s airport.

Similar gimmicks have been tried before: who remembers all the early Oslo years’ hullabaloo about the Gaza International Airport that operated briefly under strict Israeli control before Israel destroyed it, and the promised Gaza seaport whose construction Israel forbade?

There are two linked explanations for why Fayyad’s plan was launched now. US Middle East envoy George Mitchell has repeatedly defined his goal as a “prompt resumption and early conclusion” of negotiations. If the kinds of recycled ideas coming from the alleged Obama plan, the Scowcroft-Brzezinski document, or Netanyahu, are to have any chance, they need to look as if there is a Palestinian constituency for them. It is Fayyad’s role to provide this.

The second explanation relates to the ongoing struggle over who will succeed Mahmoud Abbas as president of the PA. It has become clear that Fayyad, a former World Bank official unknown to Palestinians before he was boosted by the George W. Bush Administration, appears to be the current favorite of the US and other PA sponsors. Channeling more aid through Fayyad may be these donors’ way of strengthening Fayyad against challengers from Abbas’ Fatah faction (Fayyad is not a member of Fatah) who have no intention of relinquishing their chokehold on the PA patronage machine.

Many in the region and beyond hoped the Obama Administration would be a real honest broker, at last bringing American pressure to bear on Israel, so that Palestinians might be liberated. But instead, the new administration is acting as an efficient laundry service for Israeli ideas; first they become American ones, and then a Palestinian puppet is brought in to wear them.

This is not the first scheme aimed at extinguishing Palestinian rights under the guise of a “peace process,” though it is most disappointing that the Obama Administration seems to have learned nothing from the failures of its predecessors. But just as before, the Palestinian people in their country and in the Diaspora will stand stubbornly in the way of these efforts. They know that real justice, not symbolic and fictitious statehood, remains the only pillar on which peace can be built.

nablus, where i lived last year, is being held up as a sort of model for this. last month in the independent ben lynfield reported on this:

The shopkeepers in Nablus, the West Bank’s toughest town, are smiling for a change. But no one knows for how long.

Dubbed “the mountain of fire” by Palestinians for its part in the revolt against the British mandate during the 1930s, Nablus is usually known for its violent uprisings, choking Israeli clampdowns and prowling Palestinian gunmen extorting protection money.

It is difficult to reconcile that reputation with the reality on the streets today. The centre of town is filled with shoppers picking up everything from new trainers and perfumes to armloads of dates for Ramadan, the Muslim festival which began on Saturday.

Nablus now has its first cinema in more than 20 years, grandly called “Cinema City”, which offers a diet of Hollywood blockbusters such as Transformers and Arabic romantic comedies, complete with cappuccinos and myriad flavours of popcorn.

Israel has eased its chokehold of army checkpoints around the city, particularly the one at Huwwara in the south. It was once one of the worst West Bank bottlenecks, with long queues and copious permits required. But now Israeli soldiers wave cars through with the minimum of fuss.

Store owners in Nablus’s ancient casbah say sales are up 50 or even 100 per cent since the beginning of the year. Much of the upswing in trade can be attributed to the fact that, for the first time in eight years, Israel now allows its Arab citizens to drive into Nablus on a Saturday .

“It’s a better feeling when you sell more,” said Darwish Jarwan, whose family store sells toys, clothes and perfumes. “You are happier.”

The reminders of unhappier times are all around. There are bullet holes on the steps of the shop and he had to fix the door three times over the past eight years after it was damaged during Israeli army operations.

The Israeli easing at certain checkpoints is part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s effort to demonstrate he is serious about encouraging Palestinian economic improvement in order to build peace “from the bottom up”. Israeli army officials credit the work of US-trained Palestinian Authority security forces, which have allowed them to lift the checkpoints.

The Israeli and PA moves have produced the most positive economic indicators for years, with the International Monetary Fund saying last month that growth could reach 7 per cent provided there was a more comprehensive easing of restrictions on Palestinian trade and movement.

But critics say Mr Netanyahu’s approach is aimed at evading the broad political concessions needed to really defuse the Israeli-Palestinian powder keg. Nablus residents are themselves cautious, especially given the Jewish settlements that surround the town. Back at his shop, Mr Jarwan says the economic boost alone will not be enough to satisfy his countrymen.

“Buying and selling isn’t everything,” he explains. “We want our own Palestinian country and to get our freedom. If the settlements continue to go on like this, I’m sure there will be another explosion.”

Nablus is known for its pastries, especially knafeh, a sweet made out of goats’ cheese. The Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, was the first to sample the “largest knafeh in the world”, which was prepared to draw attention to the city’s revival and as a celebration of the new sense of security and relative normalcy.

But at the city’s most revered bakery, al-Aksa Sweets, there was a sour after-taste as an unemployed teacher declared after finishing his helping: “The lifting of checkpoints is all theatre, nothing substantial, a show for the Americans and Europe. All of this is for a limited time.”

Another resident stressed that Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement that swept municipal and legislative elections in Nablus in 2005 and 2006, is still popular, although that is not visible since its leaders are in jail and its activities suppressed.

At the new Cinema City, the owner’s son, Farouk al-Masri, was also hesitant about painting too rosy a picture. “Things are better,” he says. “There is more security, police are keeping law and order, there are less Israeli incursions and less restrictions at checkpoints. The great number of Palestinians from Israel who are coming have breathed life into the city. We’ve been living in this fear, being isolated and not being able to go in and out but now there is more room to move.” But he added: “It’s all very flimsy. We saw it during the years of the Oslo agreement. There were signs of great things ahead and it all collapsed in the blink of an eye.”

The cinema is often cited as a symbol of the new Nablus, although at £4 a seat, tickets are beyond the reach of many residents. Nonetheless, the current bill, an Egyptian romantic comedy called Omar and Salma has sold out every night since it opened 10 days ago.

“They love comedy here,” said Mr al-Masri. “We had one movie that was very bloody. People didn’t accept it and only a few came to see it. Blood – we’ve had enough of that.”

but today it was reported that 55 palestinian homes in nablus will be demolished. and herein lies the absurdity of this model of palestinians trying to create “facts on the ground” or economic security rather than fighting for liberation and the right of return:

Despite the outcry raised by Palestinian and international human rights organizations, the Israeli military announced this weekend it plans to go ahead with 55 home demolitions in Nablus — a city deep inside the West Bank which is supposed to be under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

The homes in question are located in the Sawiya district in the city of Nablus, in the northern West Bank, an area with few Israeli settlements — although Israeli settlers have announced plans to expand the settlements located there.

“The Israeli decision constitutes a serious turning point in the development of Israeli attacks on Palestinian human rights,” said the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in a statement released on Friday. The group said that it is concerned that these 55 demolitions will set a precedent for further demolitions in areas that are supposed to be under Palestinian control.

on fasting

i like fasting for ramadan. in fact, i like fasting in general. i used to fast a couple of times a year for an entire week (though not without water and tea) to detox. and in either case the fact of being hungry, of being conscious of what your body feels and that your stomach is empty, i have always found to be a tremendously useful thing for so many reasons. it makes people realize how much they constantly over-consume, eating when they are not even hungry, because they are bored, etc. it also makes you realize what many people experience as a fact of life: not having enough to eat, of being hungry because there is no more food. in the best cases people use this time to reflect and to do something to help those less fortunate. i keep reading about and seeing news reports of the desperate situation in gaza (and, of course, this is true in so much of the world) during ramadan. and it disturbs me when i see jordanians running around, partying, shopping, enjoying the globized excesses of capitalism while others are suffering. i wonder how many of these rich people are actually doing something to help others. i wonder how many of these people are sharing their 20 different dishes that the stuff themselves with at iftar to others who are less fortunate (including their maids who are doing all the cooking and cleaning in the first place, often while fasting, too). and i do not just mean now because it’s ramadan (as americans do one day a year on thanksgiving). i mean all the time. every day.

so here is some food for thought for those of you who stuff yourselves and shop til you drop as if that is the spirit of ramadan…ayman mohyeldin reported on al jazeera about the difficult situation during ramadan for palestinians in gaza:

and here is an article from ma’an news about being a perpetual refugee–from palestine to iraq to palestine again:

is a Palestinian who fled Iraq to the Gaza Strip in 2008; he has one daughter living in Jordan with her husband while the rest remain in Iraq.

While staring at his family’s photo, Barhoum told Ma’an how worried he was about them.

Barhoum was a major in the Palestinian Liberation Army in Iraq. He was compelled to leave Iraq after being threatened several times by militiamen who gave him two choices; leaving Iraq, or being killed. He said armed gunmen with the militias would open fire at his home from all directions on a nightly basis to help him make his choice.

According to Barhoum, the only grudge the armed groups bore him was his affiliation to the Arab Liberation Front, and that he belonged to the Sunni sect.

While in Iraq, Barhoum and his family lived in the Ad-Doura neighborhood, which was home to a mix of religious, sects and nationalities including Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, Kurds, Turks, Palestinians, and Syrians. After the US invasion of Iraq, everything changed, he said. The Shiite neighbors’ children, who Barhoum said he practically raised himself and who used to call him “uncle Abu Ali”, began to threaten to kill him if he didn’t leave the country. When at one time the neighborhood showed him respect for the time he spent in Israeli jails, following the war he said there was no more goodwill.

Now Barhoum only wants to bring his wife and children into Gaza with him. “But, there is no way to do that as they don’t have Palestinian IDs,” he lamented.

“When I was compelled to flee Iraq, I was also listed as wanted by the Syrians, and banned from entering Egypt. I managed to flee and stay in the Sinai Peninsula for more than a year until I was able to sneak into the Gaza Strip through a smuggling tunnel in Rafah, the city where I was born. I came back to the same room UNRWA gave my family in 1967; there were only a few changes made by brother while I was abroad.”

Barhoum told his story this week in Gaza when the Iraqi-Palestinian Brotherhood Society organized a Ramadan dinner for families forced to leave Iraq after the US invasion and the toppling of Saddam Hussein and his government. The dinner was held at the Gaza City beach, and Barhoum was joined by dozens of others, mostly men, forced to flee yet another country where they sought refuge.

and from ma’an on the lack of school supplies in gaza:

School started fifteen days ago in Gaza but schoolchildren remain without books or pencils, as high prices prevent most parents from purchasing necessary goods.

The only stationary in Gaza comes from the Rafah-area smuggling tunnels, and the cost of smuggling keeps prices too high for average families. Israeli crossings authorities have refused to allow paper and pencils into the Strip.

A request for supplies for school and special foodstuffs for Ramadan were denied by Israeli authorities. Shop owners say truckloads of the goods are stranded in warehouses in Israel.

The Israeli army earlier agreed to allow 100-180 truckloads of stationary and school supplies into Gaza two weeks before the beginning of the school year, but no action was taken on the promise, and supplies continue to sit in warehouses.

Gaza’s chamber of commerce head Gaza Maher At-Taba apologized to residents for the high prices. He said the law of supply and demand was the sole factor in the exorbitant prices of school books, and said once Israel allows more supplies in the prices should go down.

Merchants are forced to pay for the costs of storing goods in warehouses when Israeli officials refuse their entry into the Strip. This cost will also be reflected in the goods when and if they do enter the area.

Traders remain skeptical over whether the supplies will ever be let in.

The de facto ministry of education appealed urgently to the United Nations and International organizations, asking that they pressure Israel to allow stationary into Gaza.

or eva bartlett’s article in electronic intifada about zionist terrorist colonists targeting farmers and fishermen in gaza:

On 4 September, 14-year-old Ghazi al-Zaneen from Beit Hanoun was killed when an Israeli soldier shot him in the head. Along with his father, uncles and some of his siblings, the youth had gone to collect figs on their land east of Beit Hanoun. Although it is near the border with Israel, the farmland where al-Zaneen was killed is still more than 500 meters away.

“They had driven to the land and were walking in the area. Ghazi got up on the rubble of a house to look further. Then the Israelis started shooting heavily. Everyone lay on the ground. When the shooting stopped, they got up to run away and realized that Ghazi had been shot in the head,” said his aunt.

Maher al-Zaneen, Ghazi’s father, testified to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights that Israeli soldiers continued to fire as he carried the injured boy to the car. Ghazi al-Zaneen succumbed to his critical head injuries the following day.

The day after his death, Ghazi’s mother sat surrounded by female relatives and friends. She asked, “How would mothers in your country feel if their sons were killed like this? Don’t your politicians care that Israel is killing our children?”

Israeli authorities reportedly claimed that “suspicious Palestinians approached the fence” and troops responded by “firing into the air.” But the shot to Ghazi al-Zaneen’s head and the two bullet holes in Maher al-Zaneen’s car suggest otherwise.

Since the end of Israel’s three-week winter invasion of Gaza during which approximately 1,500 Palestinians were killed, nine more Palestinian civilians have been killed at sea or on the strip’s border regions. This includes four minors and one mentally disabled adult. Another 30 Palestinians, including eight minors, have been wounded by Israeli shooting and shelling, including by the use of “flechette” dart-bombs on civilian areas.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, roughly one third of Gaza’s agricultural land lies within the Israel’s unilaterally-imposed “no go zone,” or “buffer zone.” This band of land stretching south to north along Gaza’s borders to Israel was established in late 2000 during the second Palestinian intifada. Initially set at 150 meters, it has varied over time. At one point, it was nearly two kilometers in the north and one kilometer in the east. At present, Israeli authorities say 300 meters along the border are “off limits” and those found within the area risk being shot at by Israeli soldiers.

or bartlett’s other recent electronic intifada piece about zionist terrorist colonists holding goods at the border in order to deprive palestinians:

Abu Abed can’t make a profit, and although 54 years old, he still has not married. “I can’t pay my rent, I can’t afford a wedding.”

His shop, roughly 3 meters by 4 meters, costs him more than $3,500 a year in rent alone.

His wares are laid out on tables on a busy pedestrian street in the Saha market area in Gaza City. The goods, plastic toys and running shoes imported from China, were brought in via the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, at a high price.

One large bag of grain filled with the cheaply made toys cost $30 to purchase, but the tunnel trip added another $70 to Abu Abed’s expenditures. “I can make maybe $20 when I sell these toys, but that will take two or three months.”

Now that the month of Ramadan is under way, festive decorations and toys are among his stock. Yet with unemployment in Gaza hovering near 50 percent, and searing poverty at 80 percent, few can afford the luxury of such items, at now grossly inflated prices.

“That toy is 20 shekels,” Abed says pointing to a plastic toy. “It should only cost maybe five or six shekels. People don’t want to buy it.” But if Abu Abed wants to break even, he cannot sell the toy for less than 20 shekels.

For Ghazi Attab, a fruit vendor in Saha market, regular crossing procedures couldn’t come quickly enough. He estimates that 30 percent of his produce is spoiled due to long hours in the sun waiting for Israeli clearance to enter Gaza.

“The Israelis don’t allow the fruit to enter Gaza right away. It sits at the crossings for five or six hours under the sun,” he said, pointing to a box of rotted mangos.

Hazem, father of four, has a store in a different region of Saha. The shelves are stocked with shampoo, hair and skin creams, cosmetics, toothpaste, cleaning products and other everyday items. All of his stock was brought through the tunnels, at a high price.

Before the Israeli siege on Gaza, Hazem used to import goods via Israeli crossings.

or the way in which the siege is affecting palestinian education as indicated in this irin report:

Some 1,200 students at al-Karmel High School for boys in Gaza City returned to class on 25 August without history and English textbooks, or notebooks and pens — all unavailable on the local market.

Severe damage to the school, caused during the 23-day Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip which ended on 18 January, has yet to be repaired. Al-Karmel’s principal, Majed Yasin, has had to cover scores of broken windows with plastic sheeting.

“The entire west side of the school was damaged adjacent to Abbas police station which was targeted on 27 December,” said Yasin. “We have yet to repair the $65,000-worth of damage, since glass and other building materials are still unavailable.”

Educational institutions across Gaza are still reeling from the effects of the Israeli offensive, compounded by the more than two-year-long Israeli blockade (tightened after Hamas seized power in June 2007), according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

At least 280 schools out of 641 in Gaza were damaged and 18 destroyed during the military operation. None have been rebuilt or repaired to date due to continued restrictions on the entry of construction materials, OCHA reported.

At the start of the new school year, all 387 government-run primary and secondary schools serving 240,000 students — and 33 private sector schools serving 17,000 students — lack essential education materials, according to the education ministry in Gaza.

“The war had, and continues to have, a severely negative impact on the entire education system,” Yousef Ibrahim, deputy education minister in Gaza, said. “About 15,000 students from government schools have been transferred to other schools for second shifts, significantly shortening class time.”

He said the damaged schools lacked toilets and water and electricity networks; their classrooms were overcrowded, and they also suffered from shortages of basic items such as desks, doors, chairs and ink for printing.

or finally, as people go shopping for eid, maybe they can think about the struggle to get new shoes in gaza as this anera video documents:

sa7tein

on orange & other adventures in normalization

i love orange. it’s my favorite color. i even painted my office at boise state university orange a few years ago. but in this region colors always take on new meanings that destroy colors and what they mean. for instance, when i first moved to palestine in the summer of 2005 i discovered that orange was the color that the zionist terrorist colonists in gaza were using to protest their removal from occupied gaza. you still see their orange ribbons on backpacks and and rear view mirrors. these are the same people who are building new colonies and expanding them in naqab, al quds, nasra and everywhere else.

orange

but why am i writing about orange? well, actually it’s not the color i’m speaking of. it’s the corporation. when i lived in jordan (2005-2006) i had a land line in my house from the jordanian national telecom company and i had internet from a company called wanadoo. it seems that in the time since i lived here last, both have been swallowed up by orange (which is why i won’t be having a land line or internet service or cell phone service from orange). for the land lines this is a huge issue: it means that jordan has privatized its telecommunications sector to a foreign company. apparently, this happened two years ago:

The Jordanian mobile operator, MobileCom – a subsidiary of Jordan Telecom Group (JTG) has rebranded under the Orange brand name. Jordan Telecom is 51% controlled by France Telecom which in turn, owns Orange.

“With this move, Orange becomes the sole commercial brand for JTG’s fixed, mobile, and internet services,” said Chairman of the Board of Directors of JTG Dr Shabib Ammari. “Our customers will be enjoying Orange’s competitive range of telecom solutions and top quality services, enjoying the premium offering that will meet their needs to full satisfaction through this single and reputable provider,” added Ammari.

The GSM arm of JTG was first registered on 21st September, 1999 and launched full public service across the Kingdom on 15th September, 2000. The infrastructure was provided by Ericsson.

Orange Jordan has around 1.7 million subscribers according to figures from the Mobile World, which gives the company a market share of 36%.

and orange has fully inserted itself and its brand into jordanian life. billboards are everywhere. there are orange ramadan placemats in restaurants and cafes. and they even have some magazine that i found in my hotel room when i was in amman on my way to the u.s. for a couple of days. it is inescapable. but it is also possible not to participate in this orange branding of jordan, which, according to the jordanian blogger black iris, they aren’t offering such hot service:

Since writing that open letter to Orange Telecom Jordan on their terrible service I’ve noticed the link really flying around the twittersphere. It’s gotten around 1,700 views in the past 48 hours, which, along with the comments and emails people left me, is a real indication that many are simply not happy with the Kingdom’s telecom giant and it’s level of service.

but i think there are other reasons, aside from crappy service, that people in jordan should be up in arms that their national telecom industry was handed over to orange. some of what i am about to say is speculative, but the facts will be backed up with reports. my suspicion about orange was first raised because i know it to be one of the main mobile phone companies in the zionist entity. for many years, it was the only mobile company that palestinians had access too before they created their own network, jawal. orange is not an israeli company, but i have been told it was started by two french jews. i have looked to find out more about the people who started and/or who run orange headquarters, but it has been difficult to find anything out on them. my curiosity is that is suspect they are like howard shultz, ceo of starbucks, who donates a significant amount of his profits to the zionist entity every year. i don’t have any such information yet (though if anyone out there knows the dirt on orange please send it my way! ), but here is what wikipedia has to say about it:

Microtel Communications Ltd. was formed in April 1990 as a consortium comprising Pactel Corporation, British Aerospace, Millicom and French company Matra (British Aerospace soon acquired full control of the company). In 1991 Microtel was awarded a license to develop a mobile network in the UK, and in July 1991 Hutchison Telecommunications (UK) Ltd acquired Microtel from BAe. BAe was paid in Hutchison Telecommunications (UK) Ltd. shares, giving the company a 30% share. Hutchison Whampoa held 65% and Barclays Bank the remaining 5%. Microtel was renamed Orange Personal Communications Services Ltd. in 1994. The Orange brand was created by an internal team at Microtel headed by Chris Moss (Marketing Director) and supported by Martin Keogh, Rob Furness and Ian Pond. The brand consultancy Wolff Olins was charged with designing the brand values and logo and advertising agency WCRS created the Orange slogan “The Future’s bright, the Future’s Orange” along with the now famous advertising. The logo is square because a round orange logo already existed for the reprographics company, Orange Communications Limited, designed by Neville Brody in 1993.

Orange plc was formed in 1995 as a holding company for the Orange group. France Telecom formed the present company in 2001 after acquiring Orange plc (which had been acquired by Mannesmann AG, itself purchased by Vodafone shortly after, leading Vodafone to divest Orange) and merging its existing mobile operations into the company. The company was initially 100% owned by France Telecom (although there were and still remain minority investors in some of the national operating companies). In 2001 15% was sold in an IPO, but in 2003 the outstanding shares were bought back by France Telecom.

so there is no proof or connection to the zionist entity in any way yet. but that is okay. there is proof that their hands are dirty any way. like all cell phone companies that exist in the zionist entity, they are a part of the colonial infrastructure. here is a report from who profits laying out how orange, along with the other cell phone companies participate in colonialism and occupation:

All Israeli cellular communication companies are commercially involved in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Golan Heights. These companies build infrastructure, maintain property and equipment in illegal Israeli settlements, much of it on privately owned Palestinian lands. They all provide services to the Israeli military and to all Israeli settlers, and some provide specially designed services. They use the Israeli control of the Palestinian territory to exploit the Palestinian frequencies and to impose their services on the Palestinian captive market.

Currently there are four Israeli cellular communication service providers: Cellcom, Partner (Orange), Pelephone and MIRS. Cellcom is part of the IDB group, a conglomerate of Israeli and international companies, one of the major players in the Israeli market; Partner is a subsidiary of the Chinese Hutchison Telecommunications International (HTIL); Pelephone is fully owned by Bezeq, the Israeli Telecommunication Corporation; MIRS is a subsidiary of Motorola Israel.

All four have dozens of antennas, transmission stations and additional infrastructure erected on occupied Palestinian land: MIRS holds at least 86 antennas and communication facilities on occupied territory, Cellcom at least 191, Pelephone 195 and Partner 165. As a survey by Yesh Din reveals, many of these antennas and communication facilities were erected on confiscated privately owned Palestinian land. Often, these devices are guarded by Israeli guards, and at least in one occasion, they were used as seeds for a new settlement outpost. Using this infrastructure, the companies provide services to Israelis in these areas, both to the settlements and to the Israeli soldiers operating in the occupied West Bank.

All four, Cellcom, Partner, MIRS and Pelephone, operate service stores in West Bank settlements. Additionally, MIRS is the exclusive provider of cellular phone services to the Israeli army (since 2005 and at least until 2011). This company installs communication units in army vehicles and it builds communication facilities in army bases throughout the West Bank and Golan Heights. The company also offers special rates for service personnel and their family members.

Cellcom, Partner and Pelephone are also operating in the Palestinian market. The conditions of the occupation ensure several advantages for these companies over the Palestinian cellular communication providers. The Israeli authorities do not provide permits for Palestinian companies to install antennas and transmission infrastructure in area C, which is under full Israeli control and constitutes 59% of the entire West Bank, making it virtually impossible for Palestinians to provide cellular coverage in many areas of the West Bank. Additionally, the frequency allocation granted by the Israeli authorities to Palestinian providers is very limited, and the Israeli authorities impose significant limitations on the Palestinian providers when it comes to the import of devices or the on ground installation of communication transmission devices. Even when the Israeli authorities do allow equipment into the Palestinian territory – it is often delayed by months or years, and by the time it arrives to the Palestinian providers it is outdated. Together, these limitations restrict the reception ranges and the overall quality of service by Palestinian providers, and the Palestinians turn to services provided by the Israeli companies, especially when traveling outside of the major Palestinian cities.

The Israeli control of frequencies and the implications of this control have been evident in the case of Wataniya Palestine. In 2007 Wataniya Palestine, a joint venture of Palestine Investment Fund and Wataniya Telecom of Kuwait, was licensed to become the second Palestinian cellular communication provider. On July 28, 2008 an agreement was signed by the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, allocating frequencies for Wataniya’s use. The frequencies were supposed to be released by April 1 of 2009. As of August of 2009, none were released due to ongoing delays from the Israeli government. Consequently, Wataniya Telecom announced that it would back out of its initiative to operate cellular communication services in the occupied Palestinian territory.

According to a World Bank report issued in January of 2008, 20% to 45% of the Palestinian cellular market at that time was in the hands of Israeli companies. In breach of the Oslo Agreements, the Israeli companies do not pay taxes to the Palestinian Authority (PA) for their commercial activity in the Palestinian market. The World Bank report estimated that the lost annual PA tax revenues due to unauthorized Israeli operations amounted to $60 million. Additionally, the PA claimed that these Israeli companies have been targeting West Bank clients and actively selling to the Palestinians in the West Bank although they were never licensed to do so by the PA.

Surprisingly, even when using Palestinian providers, Palestinian customers have to rely on the Israeli companies because of the restrictions on Palestinian construction of telecommunication infrastructure. The Israeli companies collect a percentage surcharge on all interconnection revenues from calls between Palestinian landlines and cellular phones as well as calls between cellular phones of Palestinian operators and Israeli operators. Similarly, Palestinian operators have to depend on the costly services of Israeli companies for any international call, for calls connecting the West Bank and Gaza and for calls between different areas in the West Bank.

For more information, see the Who Profits website at: www.whoprofits.org.

here is a brief summary on orange in the zionist entity by who profits as well (who i normally don’t link to because they are colonists who don’t see themselves as colonists merely because they don’t live in the west bank):

An Israeli provider of cellular phone services.

The company erected more than 160 antennas and telecommunication infrastructure facilities on occupied land in the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

The company provides cellular communication services to the settlers and Israeli soldiers in the occupied territory. Additionally, the company enjoys the structural advantages of Israeli cellular services providers over Palestinian competitors in the Palestinian market.

Click here to read the full report about the involvement of the Israeli cellular companies in the occupation.

Involved in:

Palestinian Captive Market
Israeli Construction on Occupied Land
Services to the Settlements

51% of company shares are held by Scailex, which is controlled by Ilan Ben-Dov.

so this is why i am boycotting orange. i don’t need a land line. i have a cell phone from a kuwaiti company (zain) and internet (insha’allah soon) from a jordanian company (umniah). but what i see a lot of in jordan is heavy levels of consumption among a population who does not know, does not want to know, or does not want to sacrifice in the ways one must sacrifice in order to resist. part of this may be because i don’t have internet at my house yet and the only place near my house to get it (i.e., within walking distance) is a mall. so i’m being subjected to my least favorite sort of space with people participating in my least favorite activity all around me as i work in an internet cafe around people who eat and drink and smoke all day while i fast (it is ramadan, but there seem to be lots of jordanians who are not fasting). and i’m thinking a lot about sacrifice. not just because it is ramadan and i am fasting and my empty stomach makes me think about it, but also because i don’t understand why it consumption and globalization have turned the world numb and dumb. the divide between want and need is completely gone. and this is something i find so disturbing. i don’t know why people cannot just say no to so many things.

i also wonder why people cannot say no to normalization with the zionist entity. why they cannot say no on a personal or a collective level in places like jordan. for instance, there was a report in ha’aretz a few weeks ago about a sweatshop owned by zionist terrorist colonists in jordan:

If the term “sweatshop” used to be associated with Asian countries and global brands such as Nike, now such methods of production by exploiting workers have made aliyah. Two Israeli entrepreneurs run a sweatshop in Jordan that produces clothes for leading Israeli brands such as Irit, Bonita, Jump and Pashut, Haaretz has learned.

The National Labor Committee, a U.S.-based workers’ rights organization, has released a report accusing the Musa Garments factory in Jordan of employing workers under inhuman conditions, and charges the company with “human trafficking, abuse, forced overtime, primitive dorm conditions, imprisonment and forcible deportations of foreign guest workers.”

The report exposes what is said to be one of the biggest secrets of the Israeli fashion industry, saying the cheap production costs for Israeli labels is a very expensive price for workers’ rights at Musa Garments.

The report says Mr. Musa, the owner, is an Israeli. But the real owners are Jack Braun and Moshe Cohen from Tel Aviv. The factory is located in the Al Hassan industrial area in Irbid, Jordan. The two employ 132 people from Bangladesh, 49 from India and 27 Jordanians. Chinese, Sri Lankans and Nepalese have also worked there in the past. “They all come for one reason only: To earn as much money as they possibly can to pay off the debts they incurred to purchase their three-year work contracts in Jordan, and send money home to their families,” states the report.

The report explains how the “guest workers” face inhuman conditions from their first day. Management takes away their passports, sometimes for the entire three-year period. Workers who asked for their passports back – or at least a copy – were refused, an illegal act and serious human rights violation.

The conditions are close to slavery. Until December 2008, when the economic crisis hit the company, workers averaged shifts of between 12 and a half and 13 and half hours a day, seven days a week – even though their contracts give them Fridays off. They also had to work on Jordanian national holidays. Anyone who missed a shift was fined three days’ wages, the report claims.

After December last year, the pace of production was stepped up and instead of having to sew 30 pieces an hour, workers were made to sew 40 – for the same wages.

“The public must know that products have a heavy human cost too,” said Dr. Roi Wagner of the Kav LaOved (Worker’s Hotline) organization. “The pursuit of lower production [costs] is very often dependent on violating human rights. The price is paid by Israeli workers whose jobs disappear, and also by the ‘cheap’ workers who produce goods in places where it is easier to abuse them. The manufacturer is not the only one responsible, but also the companies [that buy the goods] and the consumers,” said Wagner.

The list of complaints is long, including subhuman living conditions such as 4-8 people in a tiny dormitory room, no showers and water for only an hour or two a night. There is no heat in the rooms in the winter, and the bathrooms are filthy. The roofs leak.

One of the owners, Jack Braun, claims the truth is completely different. “The report is a total lie,” he said. “The workers went on strike for a reason I don’t know. As a result, human rights organizations arrived and the workers lied – though every one of their claims was proved false. They attacked the Bangladeshi consul and police who tried to talk to them. The conditions we provide them, in terms of work and food and housing, are above and beyond. We always paid them as required – they earn tiny salaries, so why shouldn’t we pay them?” said Braun.

Bonita’s management said they do not work with the company.

Kobi Hayat, one of the owners of Pashut, said: “I do not know of the place since we work through a subcontractor who receives the material from us, manufactures in Jordan and returns the clothes. I have never been there, and I do not know who receives the work, so it is hard for me to discuss the claims.”

a few days later another article appeared saying it was not a sweatshop:

Jordan’s Ministry of Labor on Wednesday rejected accusations that a local factory supplying clothing to Israel was abusing its workers, saying there was no evidence of either human trafficking or forced work.

On Sunday The National Labor Committee, a U.S.-based workers’ rights organization, released a report accusing the Musa Garments factory in Jordan of employing workers under inhuman conditions, and charges the company with “human trafficking, abuse, forced overtime, primitive dorm conditions, imprisonment and forcible deportations of foreign guest workers.”

of course, it is great to see that the government in jordan is concerned about having a sweatshop or human trafficking in their midst. but whee is the outrage over having a zionist terrorist colonist business on their land and in their midst? given that official jordanian policy is that they are at “peace” with the enemy, it makes sense that the government isn’t outraged. but where are the people? compare this to how egyptians responded recently when the government was working on a gas deal with the zionist entity as reported by adam morrow and khaled moussa al-omrani in the electronic intifada:

Opposition figures and political activists have slammed a new deal to sell Egyptian liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Israel at what they say are vastly reduced prices.

“Egyptian gas is being sold to Israel at prices far below the international average,” Ibrahim Yosri, former head of legal affairs and treaties at the Egyptian Foreign Ministry told IPS. “This agreement is proof that the ruling regime is unconcerned with public opinion and is insistent on depriving the Egyptian public of its rightful national assets.”

On 28 July, Egypt formally agreed to sell between 12.5 billion and 16 billion cubic meters of LNG per year to Israel for a period of between 17 and 22 years. The Cairo-based Egyptian-Israeli energy consortium Egyptian Mediterranean Gas (EMG) will supply the gas to Israeli firm Dorad Energy for a total reported cost of between $2.1 billion and $3.3 billion.

Given longstanding popular condemnation of Israeli policies, particularly those relating to Palestinian populations in the Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank, the deal also stirred political controversy.

“It is absolutely forbidden that we support a country currently at war with Islam and Muslims, and which occupies the land of Palestine,” Nasr Farid Wassil, former Grand Mufti of the republic, was quoted as saying in the independent press. “All economic relations with such a country should be severed.”

Despite its unpopularity, the deal is not the first: under an earlier energy accord, Egypt has been exporting LNG to Israel since May of last year. Extracted from fields in Egypt’s northern Sinai Peninsula, gas is pumped via submarine pipeline from the coastal town al-Arish to the Israeli port city Ashkelon.

The first accord, signed in 2005, allowed EMG to sell 1.7 billion cubic meters of LNG annually to the Israeli state-run Israel Electric Corporation for a period of 15 years. The sale price was never officially disclosed, fueling speculation by critics that gas was being sold to Israeli buyers at reduced prices.

Egypt is one of the few Arab states, along with Jordan and Mauritania, to have full diplomatic relations with Israel. Nevertheless, bilateral cooperation has remained severely hampered by popular disapproval of Israeli policies.

meanwhile the united states–and hillary clinton in particular–are pushing normalization among african countries with the zionist entity as ips reporters jerrold kessel and pierre klochendler explain:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been busy pursuing one aspect of the Obama Administration’s agenda – carrying to Africa the U.S. message of accountability. With a rather different agenda, Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Liberman also has Africa in his sights.

Whereas the U.S. is pressing a moral message hard – more democracy and less corruption, the Israeli approach is entirely pragmatic.

It’s not the first time Israel has been heavily involved in Africa.

Tanzanian freshmen at the University of Dar es Salaam will be excused for being unaware of the fact that their campus strikingly resembles facilities in Tel Aviv and Beersheba, two of Israel’s leading universities. That’s because the UDSM campus was designed by Israeli architects.

Nearly half a century ago, there was unexpected interaction between sub- Saharan Africa, just emerging from the dark years of colonial rule, and Israel – which had come into existence a decade-and-a-half earlier after ridding itself of a British presence – busily engaged in reaching out to other emerging nations.

Ever since, it’s been a relationship of ups and downs.

The aid to development programmes of Israeli experts, especially in the fields of irrigation, agriculture, communal rural development and medical training, won Israel considerable sympathy, and friends, in many of the newly- independent states. Hundreds of African students and experts underwent specialised training, tailor-made for their societies, in Israel.

But, as was the case in the Cold War era, the Israeli development projects were not entirely altruistic.

There was also the political motive of trying to break the ostracism in which Arab states and their allies in the Third World were encasing the fledgling new Middle Eastern state. This became especially acute following the 1955 conference of the non-aligned world in Bandung in Indonesia, where non- co-operation with Israel was adopted as policy.

There was a strategic dimension too. Israel’s legendary first prime minister David Ben-Gurion and his foreign minister Golda Meir foresaw a policy of encircling the circle of Israel’s regional isolation through alliances with non- Arab states on the periphery of the region – Turkey and Iran and, critically, Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa.

Just back from an extensive tour of South America, Liberman is soon to set out on a five-nation African tour. The Israeli foreign ministry calls it “an out- of-the-ordinary visit”, the most extensive ever by Israel’s top diplomat to the continent. He will criss-cross Africa to take in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Angola and Nigeria.

if you look at the website for the orange company, by the way, or its wikipedia page, you’ll notice that many of the above-listed countries in africa are also being subjected to orange telecom. just say no.

on deleting madonna & other boycott news

although i tried to work it out so that my internet would be up and running by the time i got back to jordan, that has not turned out to be the case. i have tried two different companies here–one kuwaiti, one jordanian–and neither gives me a singal. the third and fourth option, well that’s my next post so you’ll have to wait to read about that. but all this is to day that for the next couple of weeks in particular, if you want to follow boycott news you should follow the u.s. campaign for the academic and cultural boycott of israel site via your news readers and twitter. many of you know that i also do that website; given that internet cafe time is challenging during ramadan (don’t forget to boycott those zionist terrorist colonist dates! ) for a number of reasons, on days when i can only manage a couple of hours that’s the blog i’ll be updating first.

but while i am on the subject of boycott i have a confession to make. since i was about fourteen years old i have had a secret love of madonna’s music. not all of it. not all of the time. but it was one of my closeted guilty pleasures in life. (i don’t have many.) over the past few years, enabled by the invention of mp3s and also the fact that i move so much, i no longer have any cds, just mp3 files of music i like (most of which is political). so, when macy gray had her event with the zionist terrorist colonist consolate in los angeles last year, i deleted her from my computer. likewise i did the same for madonna a few weeks ago. and here’s why:

1. During Monday’s whitewashing concert appearance in Tel-Aviv, Madonna made empty references to peace, before wrapping herself in the Israeli flag:

“I truly believe that Israel is the energy center of the world. And I also believe that if we can all live together in harmony in this place, then we can live in peace all over the world.”

Meanwhile in Gaza on Monday, fishermen were attacked by Israel “Defense” Forces for…fishing. Apparently, they failed to live “in harmony” well enough.

here is the above-referenced appalling video (if you can hold your cookies…) :

2. Any political malaise that she may have risked evoking among Israelis dissipated when she was handed an Israeli flag by one fan. Madonna used it to make her final parade on the stage draping herself in Israel’s national blue-and-white colours and displaying where her sympathies lie.

There was certainly none of the controversy she had aroused on her previous two stops, in Romania and Bulgaria.

In Sofia, the Orthodox clergy berated her for showing disrespect to Christianity. In Bucharest, she was booed for criticising discrimination against the Roma (gypsies) of Eastern Europe.

Midway through the show, breaking away from the carefully scripted performance, Madonna expressed her deep affection for Israel: “I shouldn’t have stayed so long away,” she told the adoring crowd. Her last concert here was in 1993.

The 51-year-old entertainer has long claimed a special bond with the Jewish state. For more than a decade, she’s been flirting with the Kabbalah, the essence of Jewish mysticism, and has even adopted a Hebrew name, Esther.

In the run-up to the first of her two shows, Israeli radio stations played Madonna hits round the clock. On Army Radio, a DJ quipped, “Tonight, Aunt Esther is playing at Yarkon Park.”

Brought up as a Roman Catholic, Madonna wrote in advance of her Israeli tour in an article for Israel’s best-selling newspaper, Yediot Achronot, that the study of Kabbalah helps her understand life better.

3. Madonna is reportedly spending the Sabbath eve at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s home.

Y-Net reported Friday that Madonna will light the sabbath candles and will spend time with Netanyahu’s children at the official residence in Jerusalem.

The pop singer, who sold out two Tel Aviv concerts, this week toured Jerusalem’s Old City and Tsfat, the seat of Jewish mysticism in northern Israel.

and this is why i’m psyched about artists against apartheid’s new propabanda site (basically a s^(* list of musicians who don’t abide by the boycott):

The artists listed here have committed to performing in Apartheid Israel, in disregard of the Cultural Boycott of the State’s ongoing human rights violations, apartheid rule, and expropriation of land from indigenous inhabitants.

To cover its extreme racism, massacres, and flagrant violations of Human Rights and International Law, the Zionist State of Israel relies heavily on propaganda “Branding Efforts”, spending Millions of Dollars per year on public relations campaigns, and encouraging “whitewashing” events such as concerts by these International Artists:

Leonard Cohen
Sponsor: Israel Discount Bank (which also finances settlements on stolen Palestinian land)

MGMT

Madonna

Faith No More

Dinosaur Jr.

Lady Gaga

Kaiser Chiefs

Calexico

Depeche Mode

Pet Shop Boys

Macy Gray

Suzanne Vega

Steve Vai

These artists may be drawn by extraordinarily high performance fees, or the desire to “sing for peace”. However, the cultural effect of their appearance is to assist the Israeli ministries in their efforts to normalize of Israeli Apartheid, while disregarding the non-violent struggle for equal rights and justice in Palestine-Israel.

If you are an artist interested in coordinating with the non-violent resistance to colonialism and apartheid, please refer to the Guidelines for Applying the International Cultural Boycott of Israel recommended by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) before booking your tour.

i can proudly say i do not have a single mp3 song with any of the above apartheid supporting musicians.

and, the other big story on the boycott news front–with those adhering to it and respecting it, that is–is about the toronto film festival:

The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation

An Open Letter to the Toronto International Film Festival:

September 2, 2009

As members of the Canadian and international film, culture and media arts communities, we are deeply disturbed by the Toronto International Film Festival’s decision to host a celebratory spotlight on Tel Aviv. We protest that TIFF, whether intentionally or not, has become complicit in the Israeli propaganda machine.

In 2008, the Israeli government and Canadian partners Sidney Greenberg of Astral Media, David Asper of Canwest Global Communications and Joel Reitman of MIJO Corporation launched “Brand Israel,” a million dollar media and advertising campaign aimed at changing Canadian perceptions of Israel. Brand Israel would take the focus off Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and its aggressive wars, and refocus it on achievements in medicine, science and culture. An article in Canadian Jewish News quotes Israeli consul general Amir Gissin as saying that Toronto would be the test city for a promotion that could then be deployed around the world. According to Gissin, the culmination of the campaign would be a major Israeli presence at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. (Andy Levy-Alzenkopf, “Brand Israel set to launch in GTA,” Canadian Jewish News, August 28, 2008.)

In 2009, TIFF announced that it would inaugurate its new City to City program with a focus on Tel Aviv. According to program notes by Festival co-director and City to City programmer Cameron Bailey, “The ten films in this year’s City to City programme will showcase the complex currents running through today’s Tel Aviv. Celebrating its 100th birthday in 2009, Tel Aviv is a young, dynamic city that, like Toronto, celebrates its diversity.”

The emphasis on ‘diversity’ in City to City is empty given the absence of Palestinian filmmakers in the program. Furthermore, what this description does not say is that Tel Aviv is built on destroyed Palestinian villages, and that the city of Jaffa, Palestine’s main cultural hub until 1948, was annexed to Tel Aviv after the mass exiling of the Palestinian population. This program ignores the suffering of thousands of former residents and descendants of the Tel Aviv/Jaffa area who currently live in refugee camps in the Occupied Territories or who have been dispersed to other countries, including Canada. Looking at modern, sophisticated Tel Aviv without also considering the city’s past and the realities of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza strip, would be like rhapsodizing about the beauty and elegant lifestyles in white-only Cape Town or Johannesburg during apartheid without acknowledging the corresponding black townships of Khayelitsha and Soweto.

We do not protest the individual Israeli filmmakers included in City to City, nor do we in any way suggest that Israeli films should be unwelcome at TIFF. However, especially in the wake of this year’s brutal assault on Gaza, we object to the use of such an important international festival in staging a propaganda campaign on behalf of what South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and UN General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann have all characterized as an apartheid regime.

This letter was drafted by the following ad hoc committee:

Udi Aloni, filmmaker, Israel; Elle Flanders, filmmaker, Canada; Richard Fung, video artist, Canada; John Greyson, filmmaker, Canada; Naomi Klein, writer and filmmaker, Canada; Kathy Wazana, filmmaker, Canada; Cynthia Wright, writer and academic, Canada; b h Yael, film and video artist, Canada

Endorsed by:

Ahmad Abdalla, Filmmaker, Egypt

Hany Abu-Assad, Filmmaker, Palestine

Mark Achbar, Filmmaker, Canada

Zackie Achmat, AIDS activist, South Africa

Ra’anan Alexandrowicz, Filmmaker, Jerusalem

Anthony Arnove, Publisher and Producer, USA

Ruba Atiyeh, Documentary Director, Lebanon

Joslyn Barnes, Writer and Producer, USA

John Berger, Author, France

Dionne Brand, Poet/Writer, Canada

Judith Butler, Professor, USA

David Byrne, Musician, USA

Noam Chomsky, Professor, USA

Guy Davidi Director, Israel

Na-iem Dollie, Journalist/Writer, South Africa

Igor Drljaca, Filmmaker, Canada

Eve Ensler, Playwright, Author, USA

Eyal Eithcowich, Director, Israel

Sophie Fiennes, Filmmaker, UK

Peter Fitting, Professor, Canada

Jane Fonda, Actor and Author, USA

Danny Glover, Filmmaker and Actor, USA

Noam Gonick, Director, Canada

Malcolm Guy, Filmmaker, Canada

Mike Hoolboom, Filmmaker, Canada

Annemarie Jacir, Filmmaker, Palestine

Fredric Jameson, Literary Critic, USA

Juliano Mer Khamis, Filmmaker, Jenin/Haifa

Bonnie Sherr Klein Filmmaker, Canada

Paul Laverty, Producer, UK

Min Sook Lee, Filmmaker, Canada

Paul Lee, Filmmaker, Canada

Yael Lerer, publisher, Tel Aviv

Jack Lewis, Filmmaker, South Africa

Ken Loach, Filmmaker, UK

Arab Lotfi, Filmmaker, Egypt/Lebanon

Kyo Maclear, Author, Toronto

Mahmood Mamdani, Professor, USA

Fatima Mawas, Filmmaker, Australia

Tessa McWatt, Author, Canada and UK

Cornelius Moore, Film Distributor, USA

Yousry Nasrallah, Director, Egypt

Rebecca O’Brien, Producer, UK

Pratibha Parmar, Producer/Director, UK

Jeremy Pikser, Screenwriter, USA

John Pilger, Filmmaker, UK

Shai Carmeli Pollak, Filmmaker, Israel

Ian Iqbal Rashid, Filmmaker, Canada

Judy Rebick, Professor, Canada

David Reeb, Artist, Tel Aviv

B. Ruby Rich, Critic and Professor, USA

Wallace Shawn, Playwright, Actor, USA

Eyal Sivan, Filmmaker and Scholar, Paris/London/Sderot

Elia Suleiman, Fimmlaker, Nazareth/Paris/New York

Eran Torbiner, Filmmaker, Israel

Alice Walker, Writer, USA

Thomas Waugh, Professor, Canada

Howard Zinn, Writer, USA

Slavoj Zizek, Professor, Slovenia

and if you want a real treat check out an amazing artist and musician who has an amazing vision and history. here is an interview with the incomparable harry belefonte and avi lewis on al jazeera’s fault lines:

strike part deux

I’m usually the last person to leave my office or the campus each evening, or so it seems. Saturday I needed to get some research done and I have no internet connection at home so I spent some time in the late afternoon in the solitude of my office. But whether or not it is the weekend or a weekday, I always seem to be the last one to leave. That is, if you exclude the security workers. The men and women who work the security gates/entrances at An Najah University are lovely people whose daily greetings I look forward to. Normally, during Ramadan, I’ve been leaving work around 5:30 PM to make sure I can catch a taxi and get home before iftar begins. But on Saturday I wasn’t quite finished with work and I decided to push it a bit. As I left campus I noticed that the security workers had set up a table for their iftar dinner (see photograph above). They invited me to join them, but I had my own iftar goodies waiting for me at home.

I was thinking about this generosity today of some of the people who are paid the lowest in the university. It seems that the strike extravaganza has spread and now tomorrow the workers will go on strike tomorrow. Today, however, it was the students who were on strike. As with the student strike when I taught at Al Quds University, these students are demanding that their tuition fees be decreased. But now it is more serious as I mentioned in my last post on the faculty strike because the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar/Jordanian dinar and the Israeli shekel is so low (half of what it was 3 years ago when I last worked here). Now I don’t know what the student tuition was then, but my students told me today that their tuition in the Liberal Arts part of An Najah University (and this may also vary among universities) used to be 21 JD per credit hour and that a normal course load for them is 15-18 credit hours. Now it has been raised to 35 JD per credit hour. But then I learned that this is isolated to my college–to the Liberal Arts. Students in other parts of the university pay more. So if you want to study engineering the fee is 45 JD per credit hour. Medicine is the highest fee per credit hour in the university. And this is one thing that can become a factor in a student choosing his or her major. This is a huge issue that affects so many families–the economic aspects of colonialism and occupation here. And it connects everyone in some way because my students’ parents who pay for their education may or may not be receiving salary increases where they work and jobs in general are so difficult to find here. And to top it all off we have Palestinians who question the quality of Palestinian made goods and prefer to buy Israeli products (even though the price is higher for the colonial version). Can you imagine? Official reports state that 70% of the students went to their classes today, but if the English department is any judge the student report that 90% of the students supported the strike is far more accurate. Apparently there is a small Student Support Fund to help students with fees, but it’s not very large. Too, it is not only tuition that is the problem; indeed one of my students confessed to me last week that she cannot afford the photocopied reader I made for the students at the university bookshop and she wondered if I could purchase it for her. I supported my students today on their strike, though the university required us to teach classes. But I had maybe 4 students or so in each class and so we spent the time discussing politics, life, Ramadan. I wonder why economics is not more a part of resistance because it connects all these daily aspects of people’s lives here. The fact that economics is such a huge part of the occupation and colonization project it always kills me that more people don’t find ways to resist where and when they can. Moreover, I wonder why it is that the Right2Education campaign here, as a friend pointed out today, is not making the economic crisis here connected to the overall rights related to accessing education.

To be sure, the strike here in the West Bank is very different than the one in Gaza that the international media seems to be focusing on. The strike here is about labor and about making sure faculty earn a living wage, for instance. However, the faculty strike here at An Najah, which was supposed to resume tomorrow, has not been canceled; this is especially problematic as it seems we are the only Palestinian university faculty body who is braking from the rest of the faculty unions (but this could be because not all of the other universities have begun their sessions and we were the only university operating last week when the strike began). There it is more about political divisiveness as this Al Jazeera report demonstrates:

Additionally, here is an article on the subject of strikes in Gaza as well.

Back to the boycott: the Big Campaign in the UK launched a new campaign related to Ramadan, which I think is really important to publicize for those of you out there in the blogosphere who have the Zionist state’s products forced upon you. It seems that dates, a staple of the diet when one breaks fast during Ramadan, is being subject to such products:

sa7tein!

seeds

(Note: This post, especially the photographs, is dedicated to three dear friends who love, appreciate, and desire Arab food most in the world: Baha’a, Rami, and Tamara.)

Working full time on several projects every day (teaching, writing, studying Arabic, activism) over the past several years has meant that some things I just cannot include into my schedule. One of those things, unfortunately, is cooking (because when I used to cook I was pretty good). For the most part living in Palestine, Jordan, or Lebanon it’s fairly easy to find staples in my diet at various small shops and markets so that I can have well-balanced meals. But during Ramadan I have had to get creative about what I can buy and when. Much of the hummus that one can find in Nablus markets seems to be Israeli so I cannot buy it. But I let my patience hold out and I was rewarded. I had no idea that a very famous local hummus chef was directly across the street from my university. I left my office about 5:30 pm the other night so I could go home and have my iftar for the day. As I was walking down the street a bit, searching for a taxi, I saw a bunch of men standing in line waiting for…hummus. The shop (see photo above) has no sign on it (which is probably why I’ve walked by it many times without noticing it), but it’s called Rami’s Hummus. And Rami has been making hummus for people for 27 years, following in his father’s footsteps. He learned how to make it at the age of 7.

The pictures above show Rami making his hummus that so many men gather around waiting for every night, especially during Ramadan, it seems. The hummus is delicious and all the happy customers swear by it and say it’s the best in Nablus, if not in Palestine. Of course, in keeping with the boycott I asked about where the ingredients come from. All of them are بلادي and mostly from Jenin except for the sesame seeds used to make the tahina, which is made in Palestine; the sesame seeds, however, come from Ethiopia and not from the Zionist state. I found it interesting to hear that the one non-Palestinian ingredient came from Ethiopia, and especially interesting that this item was a seed. I had just read an article about the increasing famine and its consequences in Ethiopia in which families are resorting to eating their seeds prior to planting them to ward of hunger:

Martne Harja had prepared her three-quarter hectare piece of land at Galcha Seke village in Wolayita zone of Ethiopia’s Southern Region for the planting season, but her seven children found themselves without food after the rains failed.

“I did not have any other option but to eat the 25kg of haricot bean seed that I had saved from last year,” she said. “I readied my land to plant when the rain came again [but] I knew I would not be able to get any seeds.”

It was the first time in her life that she had eaten her seeds without planting them. Martne is, however, not alone. According to aid workers, many Ethiopian farmers resorted to eating their seeds after unprecedented heavy rains followed by drought last season.

Reading stories like this during Ramadan, I think, can be helpful, especially when you are fasting. I think it is important to remember that there are people who are hungry–starving even–every day. They don’t have a choice about whether or not they get to see another meal or not.

Here people do struggle with making enough money that one can purchase basic necessities like food from. Here is a brief story from Jenin that shows the plight of Palestinians with respect to scrimping for money to buy food:

Hazim, a Palestinian Authority (PA) employee in Jenin showed us the grocery list he was carrying in his pocket and put his other hand on his head, wondering where he would get the money to buy even basic needs. “What shall I do now?” he said, “the month has just started and I’m still waiting for the salary to buy things I need. I don’t think of buying more than that since my salary only covers basic needs, how would I, when Ramadan means higher prices than all other days?” Hazim says that during a normal month, he waits and waits for his salary from the cash-strapped PA. When his check finally arrives, he spends it all on the necessities of life. If there is a wedding in his family, he goes into debt. He said he also went into debt to pay school expenses for his five children.


Here is yet another story about the economic situation and its relationship to people providing their families with basic necessities in Tulkarem:

The price of food is soaring, unemployment is rising, and many ordinary families are struggling to pay supplies and tuituion for the new school year along with food and other expenses for Ramadan. Contributing to the economic stagnation is Israel’s network of checkpoints, walls, roadblocks and other forms of closure. In Tulkarem, and throughout the West Bank, the Palestinian economy is barely coping with these physical impediments. The UN counts 29 such closures in the Tulkarem area alone. Because of these, goods cannot be moved to market, and workers cannot reach their workplaces. Na’il Abdul-Jawwad is an average Palestinian. His monthly salary is 130 shekels, or about 35 dollars. He cares for a family of ten with his meager earnings. He said that his salary could never cover his family’s needs, especially what is required to send his children to school. He complained that prices have risen sharply.

While these two stories are just from Tulkarem or Jenin, the same can be said all over Palestine. The struggle is the same. That said, going down to the old city market this morning after Friday prayer I found it bustling with Ramadan supplies going quickly. In fact, I took a stroll around the old city to just enjoy the atmosphere. When I returned to buy my iftar supplies many fresh items were already gone (and this as only about 1PM).

And in spite of the economic issues that plague most families here, Palestinian generosity is at a premium. In fact, the first night I went to Rami’s Hummus shop to buy some of his amazing hummus, one of the men standing in line with me refused to let me pay for it. He bought my first batch for me. I argued, but to no avail. Likewise, two taxi drivers this week, both from Balata refugee camp, refused to take my money when they drove me home after work. And Jawal (my mobile phone company) seems to have given out extra minutes or credits to its users this month. Ramadan tends to carry a different energy with it–a heightened sense of gratitude perhaps. And this in spite of the fact that people are hungry, often, hot, and sleepy during this month. I can hear this every night from my apartment as I listen to families laughing over their dinner, their children playing outside our building, and the dancing and singing to the tabla that I am enjoying each night.

The pictures that pepper this blog post are mostly from the various people I buy my produce from. Some of these people sell the same products all year long; others sell certain items only during Ramadan, or more of certain items only during Ramadan. Fresh and dried dates, for instance, which are pictured above, from Eriha. These dates are the most amazing dates I’ve ever had in my life. Even the dried dates are incredibly fresh, soft, like butter. They melt in your mouth. I have never had dates that tasted so good–not from Egypt, not from Saudi Arabia, not from anywhere.

There are lots of little shops in the old city of Nablus selling various Ramadan food items; there are also a number of people selling and making treats on carts that they put in front of shops or that they move around the old city. Some of the Ramadan sweets that I took pictures of (see above) are on such carts in the middle of the old city streets.

There are also people squeezing fresh juice on carts (like the pomegranate juice pictured above), as well as tamil hind and lemonade juices, which they then bottle or bag for you to take home for iftar. The pomegranate juice, however, much to my dismay seems to only be squeezed from Israeli pomegranates (you can see the sticker on the fruit in the photograph above if you look closely), thus I will be spending a fall without one of my favorite fruits. I suppose that means no sawdat dajaj either?

And speaking of boycott, I will also definitely not be eating any oranges or drinking any orange juice while I’m living here, it seems. All of the oranges I found here in Nablus are coming from Yaffa in 1948 Palestine. In other words, all of these oranges are coming from the orange groves that the Zionists stole and now use to market the formerly Palestinian crops. It is especially sad to see such boxes of oranges here. It feels like rubbing salt into a wound to see stolen Palestinian oranges being cultivated and sold by Israelis every day.

And anyway I wonder just how good those oranges are anymore if Israelis had their hands on them. I hear many stories from friends who come from small farming villages about the difference in taste, quality, and health between Israeli-grown and Palestinian-grown produce. One reason seems to be an Israeli penchant for pesticides and GMOs like their American farming friends (who also destroyed an ingenious agricultural system when they destroyed all of the various Native American tribal lands and people). But I have heard even more disturbing news, though this is only through friends so I cannot confirm it. It seems that Israelis have been pushing their genetically modified seeds on to some Palestinian farmers. This means that the farming and produce here could dramatically change over the course of time. However, the same friend told me that there are older village women who are maintaining the traditional, historic, pure Palestinian بلادي seeds and making sure that they are not corrupted or polluted by mixing with the kind that the Israelis are pushing. It makes me think of the situation in Iraq with Monsanto forcing its seeds on Iraqi farmers. Though this is particularly damaging as Monsanto, which is, to be sure, doing this globally has particular consequences as once you accept their seeds you’re forever bound to using them.

My last picture here is one of my favorites. These boys sell me my bread every couple of days. They are very cute and sweet and love to chat. But look closely at this Nabulsi bread. It is very different than the normal Arabic bread one finds in the rest of Palestine. And it is a hundred times more delicious and fresh tasting. I adore this bread and will find a way to bring some to Lubnan next time I go.

For now, Ramadan Karim, with 1.5 hours to go until iftar.

on zionists teaching amrikans

When I crossed the Malak Hussein Bridge to come to Palestine I noticed that people were carrying fewer suitcases and more large gallon or two-gallon jugs of water. Sometimes when I travel I see such containers, but in the past they were always filled with olive oil. I’ve been thinking about that a lot as I think about the lack of water here in Palestine. There was a report on Al Jazeera English recently about the problem of water resources in Palestine, largely due to the Zionist state stealing water from Palestinian resources:

Obviously Israeli theft of water, like everything else, which contributes to Palestinians’ lack of water, is a problem here. But imagine my surprise when this afternoon I learned that my hometown is helping to produce and exacerbate the whole-sale theft of Palestinian water. It seems that this summer mayor Antonio Villaraigosa visited the Zionist state and after that he announced that Los Angeles “would engage in joint cooperation wtih Israel on water issues. “This involves both working with Kinrot and Mekorot National Water Company” (download fact sheet on website for flyer with quotations, more facts, and how you can help). For those of you who are still not convinced as to why it is necessary for academic institutions to boycott the Zionist state, particularly its academic, cultural, and sports institutions, notice how American academic institutions are participating in this (perhaps it is time to also start boycotting American academic institutions as well). The agreement states that:

* Israeli companies will have access to Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) facilities for pilot projects

* Forsees the installation of Israeli technologies in the DWP facilities

* Entails cooperation in water R&D ventures and academic studies, which will encompass the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

* Includes the transfer of know how from Kinrot to the Los Angeles municipality on how to set up a water technology incubator.

Really, I think they forgot to say that the Zionists would teach the Los Angelenos how to steal water, land, resources (Or do you forget Mayor Villaraigosa that Los Angeles is also stolen land like Palestine and that all of its resources once belonged to the indigenous tribes and later to Mexico before the U.S. stole it in 1848?). Clearly this mayor cannot see the connection, though I know that there are many who do get it. Here is another problem with this collaborative venture: Mekorot is a government-owned company and it steals water form land it annexed (read: stole) from Palestinians. Further, “Mekorot has applied a system of pricing whereby Palestinians are charged exorbitant rates while Israeli settlers occupying land in the West Bank enjoy a lower pricing scheme. Mekorot is effectively stealing Palestinian water and then re-selling it to the same communities.” You can download the flyer from the BDS linked website from above, but I will also upload it here. It also contains information about what you can do to help: waterfa

It seems that these “collaborative projects between the Zionist state and the Americans do a lot to help Americans realize their imperial vision of the world. Of course, we see it in Iraq and Afghanistan every day. For instance on Raed in the Middle’s blog today he highlights the deceptive double-speak used by the Americans in the media to make it seem as if they are making plans to withdraw troops when in fact the opposite is closer to the truth:

I read about a leaked copy of the US-Iraqi agreement a few days ago when a radio station in Iraq mentioned some of its details, then it was mentioned in some Arab newspapers like Al-Qabas and Al-Sharq Al-Awsat. A couple of days ago, one Iraqi website (linked to an Iraqi armed resistance group) published the leaked draft on their web page for less than a couple of days before their website went offline….

There are many outrageous articles in the agreement that violates Iraq’s sovereignty and independence, and gives the U.S. occupation authorities unprecedented rights and privileges, but what has draw my attention the most (so far) are three major points:

1- the agreement does not discuss anything about a complete US withdrawal from Iraq. Instead, it talks about withdrawing “combat troops” without defining what is the difference between combat troops and other troops. It is very clear that the US is planning to stay indefinitely in permanent bases in Iraq (or as the agreement calls them: “installations and areas agreed upon”) where the U.S. will continue training and supporting Iraqis armed forces for the foreseeable future.

2- the agreement goes into effect when the two executive branches exchange “memos”, instead of waiting for Iraqi parliament’s ratification. This is really dangerous, and it is shocking because both the Iraqi and U.S. executive branches have been assuring the Iraqi parliament that no agreement will go into effect without being ratified by Iraq’s MPs.

3- this agreement is the blueprint for keeping other occupation armies (aka Multi-national forces) in Iraq on the long run. This explains the silence regarding what will happed to other occupiers (like the U.K. forces) after the expiration of the UN mandate at the end of this year.

Welcome to the wonderful world of Oslo, my Iraqi friends, beware of what you sign. For any agreement promising a removal of troops will bring double the troops; anything promising peace and security for Iraqis will bring war and insecurity. You get the picture. The Americans, like the Israelis, love to force “peace agreements” on people that are really more like promises of escalating war. Perhaps this is yet another reason why Vice Presidential candidates Joseph Biden and Sarah Palin are racing to kiss the ass of the Israeli lobby or AIPAC as soon as they are nominated: Palin rushed to tell her AIPAC friends that she wants to have strong ties with Israel and Biden promises to have equally strong ties and protect his colonizing friends from Europe. American law enforcement is also learning really well from the Israeli Terrorist Forces as it targets journalists at this year’s Republican National Convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Of the journalists targeted were three from Democracy Now!, including Amy Goodman, and their show today covers, in detail, just how clearly the police was targeting, harassing, beating up, and jailing journalists in particular. So far inside the U.S. American police seem to just be roughing up and arresting journalists–but beware the U.S. does indeed kill journalists in Iraq so this could come to an American town near you. Likewise, the Israeli Terrorist Forces (ITF) are experienced at targeting journalists–Palestinian and international alike:

According to information obtained by PCHR [Palestinian Centre for Human Rights], and the testimony of Wafa Abu Mezyed, a Reuters soundman who was wounded in the attack, at approximately 17:00 on Wednesday, 16 April 2008, Fadel Subhi Shana’a, 23, a cameraman, and Wafa Younsi Abu Mezyed, 25, a soundman, both working for Reuters, were near al-Ihasn Mosque in Juhor al-Dik village, southeast of Gaza City, documenting crimes committed by IOF [Israeli Occupation Forces] in the area. When they finished their work, Shana’a and Abu Mezyed traveled in their sport utility vehicle bearing “TV” and “Press” markings towards Salah al-Din Street to leave the village. Abu Mezyed Sated: “When we were traveling towards Salah al-Din Street, Israeli military vehicles were nearly 700 meters away from us. We stopped and got out of the vehicle and Shana’a started to [document] the military vehicles. We were wearing bulletproof suits and carrying cameras. When I was driving a number of children away from us, I was surprised by a shell falling near Shana’a who was standing near the vehicle. I saw him falling on the ground and I was wounded by shrapnel to the left hand. Another shell hit the back of the vehicle, and I was wounded by shrapnel to the pelvis and the right foot. I cried and ran towards ambulances to save us.”

The Palestinian journalist bloc has documented the hardships that the Palestinian people are suffering, reflected in the difficult and unfortunate situation of Palestinian media. With the recent Hamas-Fatah infighting and events in Gaza, Palestinian media organizations have become an easy target for those who want to vent their anger and revenge. In the West Bank, literally a massacre took place against Palestinian media organizations and journalists at the same time that scores of international journalists managed to enter the Gaza Strip due to the relaxed atmosphere and security provided there without any attacks against them. [click link here to read the very long list of violations targeting journalists]

I am a Palestinian journalist from Gaza. At the age of 17, I armed myself with a camera and a pen, committed to report accurately on events in Gaza. I have filed reports as Israeli fighter jets bombed Gaza City. I have interviewed mothers as they watched their children die in hospitals unequipped to serve them because of Israel’s embargo. I have been recognized for my reporting, even in the United States and United Kingdom, where I have won two international awards. I have also been beaten and tortured by Israeli soldiers.

The above is just a small sampling of what happens to people who report on the reality of the situation here in Palestine. Apparently there are truths in Minneapolis/St. Paul that the U.S. government doesn’t want to let out of the bag either.

There has been a strange rumor circulating in the media the past few days, but I didn’t know what to make of it, especially since it came from an Israeli source and Israelis have perfected the art of deception. It was an article that mentioned the ITF would end its occupation of southern Lebanon. But today the National is reporting that such a deal is moving through the UN and that the last couple of remaining villages like Ghajar in South Lebanon may finally be liberated. It seems too good to be true, but be careful ya Lubnan: as your citizens are far to aware that every time the Zionist state signs an agreement your people will have hell to pay in more ways than one. For instance, here there is supposed to be a truce, but a truce is something that the ITF violate on a daily if not hourly basis. Take a look at this report released today:

The National and International Department at the Palestinian Liberation Organization, PLO, issued a press release documenting the Israeli violations during the month of August as the Israeli army killed 2 Palestinians, shot and wounded 131, including 26 children, demolished 5 homes, and 22 patients died in Gaza due to the ongoing Israeli siege.

Importantly, this same report shows how disingenuous the Zionist state is when it says it is doing some sort of goodwill gesture to release political prisoners:

The department also said that while Israel released 198 detainees in August as part of its “good will” gesture towards president Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli soldiers kidnapped 344 Palestinians during the same month.

I still haven’t counted up to that high of a number because I started my count with the day of the release of the prisoners, which was towards the end of the month. But I have a few more to add ot the list:

Wednesday, September 3rd, Beit Lahem: Israeli forces on Wednesday morning seized ten Palestinians during raids in the West Bank. According to Israeli sources, the arrestees were from Nablus and Qabatiya in the northern West Bank as well as Halhul in the southern West Bank. Palestinian security sources said that Israeli military vehicles invaded the old city of Nablus and forcibly searched several homes before they arrested 6 young men. The sources identified the arrestees as, 16-year-old Ra’id Hamdan, 17-year-old Nasr Mabroukah, 21-year-old Ramiz Jum’ah, 20-year-old Eyhab Al-Arboudi, his brother 23-year-old Tha’ir and 19-year-old Zahi Fatayir.

Wednesday, September 3rd, Jenin: Jenin – Ma’an Israeli forces on Wednesday arrested an Islamic Jihad activist in the northern West Bank town of Qabatiya, Islamic Jihad sources said. “Dozens of Israeli military vehicles raided the town and launched a search campaign allegedly looking for wanted activists affiliated to the Islamic Jihad’s Al-Quds Brigades. Then, the invading forces apprehended Shadi Zakarnah after they ransacked his family home,” the forces said.

That brings my count up to 163.

And one final little Ramadan bit. I did not have time to comment on this new Human Rights Watch report from Lebanon a couple of weeks ago about the abuse of domestic workers. I’m glad it’s out; it is a problem regionally, something I have seen in Jordan as well, and certainly something that is a problem in the U.S. though that is not on the radar screen and I do not suppose we’ll be seeing a similar such report documenting abuse of domestic workers in the U.S. In any case, now Human Rights Watch has some new report about treating workers well during Ramadan. Is it just me or is this odd? Shouldn’t they be treated well every day of the year? Or better yet, shouldn’t this modern-day form of slavery be abolished?

الضربة

So I learned a new vocabulary word today: الضربة, which means strike. I heard rumors of this yesterday from colleagues in the English department, that today the faculty would go on strike. Apparently it is not just my university either as has been reported in Palestinian media today. There was a البيان released yesterday about the strike and put on An Najah university’s website. Here is what that statement says:

بيان صادر عن مجلس اتحاد النقابات
في الجامعات والمعاهد العليا الفلسطينية
استمرار نزاع العمل بين مجلس الاتحاد والجامعات الفلسطينية

الزميلات…..الزملاء
تحية نقابية وبعد..,
يتقدم مجلس اتحاد النقابات في الجامعات والمعاهد العليا الفلسطينية اليكم باجمل و اطيب امنياته و تحياته بمناسبة حلول شهر رمضان المبارك.
يؤكد الاتحاد على الاجراء النقابي الذي اعلن عنه في بيانه بتاريخ 18/8/2008 وذلك بتعليق الدوام الشامل يوم الثلاثاء الموافق 2/9/2008 مع تواجد العاملين في حرم الجامعة. كما ويدعوكم الاتحاد لحضور اجتماعات الهيئات العامة التي ستعقدها الهيئات الادارية في كل جامعة وذلك لوضعكم في صورة اخر المستجدات والتطورات في المفاوضات مع اللجنة المنبثقة عن مجلس التعليم العالي.
ادامكم الله سندا وفخرا لهذا الوطن

رئيس اتحاد نقابات اساتذة و موظفي الجامعات الفلسطينية
د.امجد برهم

Like most strikes this one is about money. When I taught at Al Quds University in Abu Dies I remember that my colleagues complained of having received absolutely no salary–some of them in excess of 3 years. They managed to get by because they had large families who helped them out or land from which they could eat; they never stopped teaching, though of course they did strike from time to time, because they are that committed to the students. Faculty at my new university receive a salary, but it is a shrinking one. A typical salary here, when I taught here three years ago, around $1800 per month, was worth about 10,800 shekels (Israel’s colonial currency that everyone here is forced to use); today that same exact salary is worth only 6,543 shekels. The problem is that we are paid in Jordanian dinars, which is tied to the dollar, and the shekel (for some odd reason) is not. Thus people’s salaries in general in Palestine–most of whom receive their salaries in dollars or dinars–are finding their salary slipping away.

Of course, it’s not just faculty who are suffering economically. Students here–who only have access to photocopied books anyway because it’s too difficult to import anything into Palestine–purchase their books little by little. For my drama class, for instance, the students go down to the photocopy shop and buy one play at a time because that is all they can afford. All morning I had students coming into my office in two-by-two pairs asking me if there would be a lecture today and I had to apologize and tell them no. They all seemed disappointed. (In the U.S., students would throw a party and spend their time wasting money and time rather than bothering to request a teacher hold class in spite of the strike; Tam Tam claims the same would hold true at AUB.)

The faculty union held a meeting this morning in the university auditorium during which many people spoke and the university president attended and spoke as well. I probably only got half of the context given the fact that my hunger from fasting started to get the better of me and that my Arabic still can’t follow the entirety of a complex conversation. But what I gathered is that many faculty are upset because of their salaries; one said that she spent all this time and money obtaining a degree outside Palestine only to return to find that she receives the same salary as a PhD as those who are working in secondary education. There was a lot of heated debate in the room, though people argued with one another respectfully. I could not help but think that this was another sign of how things would be different here if people organized themselves differently. Everyone has a common need to receive a salary to feed their family, for instance. This is why class-based political organizing can unify people in spite of their religious or ideological differences. It made me wonder where PFLP is in their organizing and why they don’t capitalize on these issues to move things forward–get out of the PA and its corrupt methods of collaborating with the Zionist state. Of course even in the best of circumstances one has to deal with corruption in universities too and those who choose not to be on the side of the people whether they are working in the Palestinian Authority or whether they are teaching in a university; this is a not-so-subtle reference to a story a friend told me about Saeb Erekat, that PA man who loves normalizing with Israeli terrorists so much that he sends his children to a normalizing camp, a camp that silences Palestinian voices about occupation and an nakba and simultaneously forces Palestinian children submit even further to stories that only Jewish people suffer (of course their historical stories have nothing to do with people in this region who bear the burnt of their violence).

I especially thought of this after the 1.5 hour meeting when I took off down town to buy some food for my الإفطار tonight, which is as simple as possible because I simply don’t have the time or energy to cook on top of everything else I need to do. In the end I think this is good, too, because I don’t think it is healthy to fast all day and then stuff yourself all night. So really I’m not eating anything too different than usual. Anyway, I was walking into the old city to buy some fresh food for tonight when I saw new flags up on this PFLP monument downtown. I remembered that I read there was an event on Saturday for Abu Ali Moustafa. The picture above shows what the scene looks like now commemorating him and others like George Habash (see other pictures below).

I don’t know why PFLP is not stronger. I had hoped that with the death of George Habash that people would wake up and realize the ways in which its ideology can unite people. It always surprises me when PFLP is not stronger on university campuses as well for similar reasons. But in reality, as much as I love Habash and PFLP, I think that if political parties could be pushed to the side for the sake of a unified resistance movement that things here would improve dramatically. That people would have the manpower to fight for al awda. But the manpower does not exist, in part, because the Israeli Terrorist Forces (ITF) do an excellent job of playing the old colonial game of divide and rule: between helping Hamas and Fatah to acquire weapons to fight among themselves or by locking resistance leaders up in Zionist torture chambers or by merely killing Palestinians on a daily basis, it becomes difficult to act, to move forward in any sustained way. The second you’re perceived as powerful you’re the target. Really, Palestinians could learn so much from reading about the Black Panther Party. This is what the U.S. government did to strong African American leaders: they either assassinated people like Fred Hampton, jailed people like Assata Shakur, or infiltrated the party (through COINTELPRO).

The same holds true here in Palestine (the Americans and Zionists teach each other well, unfortunately). Education has always been under attack by the Zionist state, as I’ve written about on numerous occasions. The Right to Education Campaign always has excellent reports and statistics on this as I’ve reported earlier. My university has about 6 professors and hundreds of students who are currently in administrative detention (meaning they are held with out trial). At least 54 students have been murdered in the past 8 years. And in 2002 my campus, like most university campuses and much of the West Bank in general, was destroyed and closed by the ITF. Today I found these testimonies of students from my university speaking to the violence they incur, which of course is daily in the lives of Nabulsis and other people who reside in Nablus while waiting to return to their original villages. Here are some of the subheadings in that series of testimonies;

Faculty Member Detained in his House

Student Killed at Road Block

Palestinian Academic Denied Freedom to Practice Religion

Respected Academic Abused and Humiliated at Checkpoint

Student Loses an Eye


As I look out my office window (photograph above) I think about these things. I think about the Palestinian political prisoners in jail, on hunger strike, as Noura Al-Hashlamoun came home this week. But I’m thinking about the prisoners who are growing in number steadily. At last count there were 152. Now we are up to 156 (5 more kidnapped Palestinians, plus 1 releasted).

Friday, August 29th, Nablus: The Israeli army forced their way into the playing field of a Palestinian secondary school in the village of Tell in south west Nablus district on Friday afternoon. Local witnesses told Ma’an that dozens of Israeli soldiers stormed the area where a soccer game was about to be held and arrested 19-year-old Isma’iel Ibrahim Afanah and took him to unknown destination. Afanah had been preparing to play the soccer game for his team in the village, when he was arrested.

Sunday, August 31st in Jenin: Israeli forces detained four civilians at a military checkpoint near Tubas from different villages in the Jenin governorate. The civilians were traveling from the area to Nablus city and were stopped at a checkpoint set up by Israeli forces on the road between Tubas and the El-Far’a refugee camp. Several cars were stopped and checked. The four men, Jihad Hassan Ibrahim from Kafr Ra’i, Wahid Najem Nawasrah from Fahma and Nayef Hardan and Sobhi Arda from Arraba were taken out of the cars they traveled in and transferred to an unknown location.

Monday, September 1st, Nablus: Israeli forces arrested a Palestinian boy at the Huwwara checkpoint south of the West Bank city of Nablus on Monday afternoon after he reportedly attempted to stab an Israeli soldier. Fifteen-year-old Ahmad ‘Aref Mohammed Saleh Hamayel was arrested. Local sources in the village of Beita, Hamayel’s home, denied reports that he had been carrying a knife. According to sources in the village, Hamayel left for school on Monday morning and never returned. Hamayel is in the 10th grade. The boy’s relatives appealed to the Palestinian Authority and humanitarian organizations to intervene with the Israeli side in order to release their son.

While I still haven’t found definite statistics to show whether or not the ITF has kidnapped up to or more than 199 Palestinians, it should be said that Addameer reports that for the month of August in general the ITF kidnapped 279 Palestinians. From August 18th (they day the Zionist state announced the prisoner release) until August 25th (the day the political prisoners came home) 83 Palestinians were kidnapped.

On another note, Hurricane Gustav seems to have given people some sort of reprieve. Though, finally, today I began to see stories in the media of those who were left behind–those too poor to be evacuated. Those who are usually forgotten in all such circumstances and who are the most vulnerable. It seems as though the Common Ground Relief collective has now set up a website for Gustav Solidarity so those of you who want to do something you may click on the link and see what is needed. I also encourage people to watch or listen to today’s episode of Democracy Now! and listen to Jeremy Scahill on Blackwater in New Orleans. It’s not new information per se, but if you don’t know about these mercenaries moving back and forth between New Orleans and Iraq you should.

Finally, for those unfamiliar with the murder of Fred Hampton, here is a bit on his assassination. It is long but definitely worth watching. We were seriously deprived of an amazing young leader through this U.S. government assassination.