Archive for August, 2014

Teachers begin nationwide strike as MPs seek to broker solution

by Khaled Neimat

Aug 17, 2014

AMMAN — Members of the Jordan Teachers Association (JTA) on Sunday started an open-ended strike amidst parliamentary efforts to resolve the issue one week before students return to school.

The association issued a statement on Sunday reporting that the majority of teachers around Jordan have joined the strike.

No major incidents took place, according to the statement, but, the JTA claimed that security agencies sent agents to nine schools to collect information on participants, describing such actions as “unjustified”.

Moreover, some school principals attempted to pressure teachers to prevent them from participating in the strike, the statement said, adding that “they threatened teachers with salary deductions if they don’t go back to work.”

“The strike, on its first day, went according to plan,” the statement quoted JTA Spokesperson Ayman Okour as saying.

Teachers showed up at schools across the country, but did not carry out any duties, he added, noting that this week marks the return of teaching and administrative staff to work.

Students return to school next Sunday.

“We hope that the government will meet our demands before students go back to school,” Okour said.

Meanwhile, the Lower House Education Committee on Sunday met with a delegation from the JTA, in the presence of Education Minister Mohammad Thneibat, to discuss the demands of the association and to find a way out of the current situation.

The meeting did not bring about any positive results, but the parties agreed to meet again to further discuss the demands and set a timetable for implementation.

Deputy Mohammad Qatatsheh, who heads the House’s Education Committee, said the majority of the JTA’s demands are “valid”, but noted that “we in the Lower House will support the public interest.”

The JTA demands focus mainly on issues relating to reforming the education sector in the country, JTA Vice President Ghaleb Mashaqbeh said, dismissing claims that the syndicate is “playing politics”.

The JTA wants the government to amend the civil service by-law, improve teachers’ health insurance, draft laws to protect them, offer them more financial benefits, endorse the private schools by-law, and refer the education security fund case to the Anti-Corruption Commission.

Source: The Jordan Times.


Turkey calls on UN to intervene against Israel

12 July 2014 Saturday

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on the international community to intervene immediately to help stop Israeli airstrikes on Gaza.

Erdogan said in a phone conversation with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday, that the ceasefire agreement signed between Israel and Palestine in 2012 should be reinstated, according to Turkish Foreign Ministry officials.

He said that the Israeli government needed to understand that national security could only be ensured through a fair and comprehensive peace.

Following the conversation, Erdogan also had a phone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, during which the two leaders agreed that the Israeli offensive must end.

Erdogan and Rouhani both stressed the urgent need for a ceasefire and provision of humanitarian aid to the Gazans.

‘Revenge attack’

The two leaders also agreed that the foreign ministers of both countries would stay in close contact in order to take the initiative in helping halt the attacks and provide humanitarian aid.

According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 121 Palestinians have been killed and 904 injured since Israel’s operation began on Tuesday, following a rise in tensions after three Israeli teenagers were found murdered last month and a Palestinian teenager was killed days later in a suspected revenge attack.

Israeli jets have carried out air attacks while Hamas has reportedly fired rockets into Tel Aviv and as far north as Haifa, 130km away from Gaza.

There have been no reports of Israeli fatalities.

“It is unacceptable for citizens on both sides to permanently live in fear of the next aerial attack,” Ban said in an emergency UN Security Council session convened pm Thursday amid fears of a ground invasion by Israeli forces in Gaza.

Embattled enclave

Ban warned of the risk of “an all-out escalation” of conflict in Gaza amid Israel’s four-day-old offensive and called for a ceasefire between Israelis and Palestinians, adding that the threat of an Israeli ground offensive was “palpable”, and an escalation was “preventable only if Hamas stops rocket firing (rockets).”

Israeli warplanes have pounded the Gaza Strip over the past four days as part of a military offensive – dubbed “Operation Protective Edge” – with the stated aim of ending rocket fire from the embattled coastal enclave.

Gaza-based resistance factions, meanwhile, have continued to fire short-range rockets into Israel – without causing any fatalities – in response.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry claimed on Thursday that at least 681 rockets had been fired at Israel from Gaza since 7 June.

Source: World Bulletin.


Syrian opposition plans bring refugees home

16 August 2014 Saturday

The Syrian opposition has announced plans to resettle refugees in areas not blighted by conflict.

The Syrian National Coalition, an umbrella group of parties opposed to the regime of Bashar al-Assad, said on Friday that Syrians who had sought refuge in neighboring countries would return to rebel-controlled regions of Syria.

Coalition spokesman Khalid Hodja told reporters in Istanbul: “We have an important project called ‘Returning to Syria’. It aims to resettle the Syrian people who have fled to neighboring countries in secure regions inside Syria.”

Hodja said the plan, for which he did not give a timetable, would require the support of neighboring countries and the international community.

He also called for a no-fly zone inside Syria.

There are approximately 4 million Syrian refugees living outside Syria in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, according to the coalition. More than 1 million have crossed into Turkey since April 2011.

Source: World Bulletin.


Palestinian unity scores concessions from Israel in Cairo

Daoud Kuttab

August 14, 2014

The decision by the Palestinian delegation in Cairo to extend the cease-fire another five days and the statements by its head, Azzam al-Ahmad, that most issues for a permanent agreement have been resolved point to a breakthrough of sorts.

Gazans appear to be on the verge of seeing the gradual lifting of a cruel and inhumane siege that has been going on for seven years, leaving the question as to what made the Israelis change their position.

Palestinian unity, best articulated by what looks now like a smart decision by President Mahmoud Abbas to create a unified delegation headed by a PLO official, of all factions including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, has made a major contribution. And while this unity has made a contribution, there was clear strength in the Palestinian negotiating team that was never seen during the nine-month political negotiations between chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni.

The difference between the two sets of negotiations was certainly not the individuals or the parties involved, but the very fact that Palestinian negotiators were able to walk away from the talks if the Israelis didn’t take them seriously. Even though the Cairo talks were indirect, it was obvious from anyone following them that they were much more productive than the US Secretary of State John Kerry-sponsored meetings.

A Jordanian columnist of Palestinian origin, Orayb Rantawi, points out the need for any negotiations to be backed up by a position of strength. “The first and most important lesson is that resistance of all kinds including armed resistance is not a useless act.” After giving the Palestinian unity his second lesson, Rantawi insists that negotiations without the backing of elements of strength are a “failed option.”

Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, whom the Jordanian author criticizes as “lazy,” have refused to give up security cooperation and preferred to talk about “peaceful popular resistance,” but have done little to make this option an effective option that is taken seriously by the Israelis.

Supporters of Palestine around the world as well as in Palestine and nearby Arab countries have taken up the need to boycott Israel economically as a translation of the need to send a message to the Israelis that the illegal and unacceptable occupation will cost Israel financially and politically.

In the West Bank, the boycott of Israeli-produced products that have a Palestinian alternative has been resurrected as a result of the war on Gaza. The largest supermarket in Ramallah has publicly stated that they have cleared all their shelves of any Israeli products. Other stores are putting stickers on Israeli products to make sure that customers are aware of the origin of these products.

In Jordan, a group of women have launched a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) group, Al-Monitor has learned. Other BDS branches that have been established based on a call by Palestinian organizations in 2005 seem to be gaining power and credibility.

Regardless of the method of resistance that Palestinians pursue, it’s now obvious that negotiations for the sake of negotiations, as Rantawi has argued, are a waste of time. Any new negotiation must be part of a national Palestinian strategy that can produce the desired results.

Such a strategy will not be easy to come by and should not be cooked quickly. Using the newly discovered unity, Palestinians of all walks of life — both current members of political and guerrilla factions as well as independents — need to take time out and agree on a strategy that is doable and one that can produce the desired results. Such a discussion might lead to actions that will require sacrifices and therefore the need for a national buy-in is absolutely necessary.

It’s unfair that Palestinians in Gaza continue to pay this extraordinary price while fellow Palestinians including the leadership enjoy life in air-conditioned offices and a relaxed lifestyle. Such a strategy might require the suspension or even the end of the current Palestinian-Israeli security cooperation. It might also point to the need to dissolve the current Palestinian government and give the keys of running the occupation to the Israelis. It makes little sense that the Palestinian leadership is assigned to do all the Israeli security’s dirty work in the occupied territories, while the Israelis keep the land without having to pay the cost of its occupation.

Any such well-thought strategy that gains a national buy-in shouldn’t be made as a mere tactic. The Israelis will quickly see through any such tactic and ignore it. It must be a serious effort and the leaders must be willing to go all the way in carrying it. Of course, this might require a change of the current leadership.

If we have learned anything from the most recent war on Gaza, it is that Palestinians can extract serious concessions from the Israelis if they are united, determined and willing to pay the heavy price that freedom requires. Independence and freedom will not be given to Palestinians on a silver plate. It has to be earned on the ground.

Source: al-Monitor.


S. African activists to join Gaza Freedom Flotilla

15 August 2014 Friday

A number of South African activists are expected to join the Freedom Flotilla Coalition (FFC), made up of rights groups from several countries determined to sail to the Gaza Strip in defiance of Israel’s years-long naval blockade on the coastal enclave.

“In South Africa, over 50 people want to take part in the flotilla,” Ismail Moola of the Palestine Solidarity Alliance (PSA) told Anadolu Agency.

He said they were considering high-profile South African figures for the venture.

Moola could not give names of those who will be going on the boat from South Africa, until they receive full clearance from the ports and also know the size of the boat that they will be using.

“We can’t give you the names until we complete a selection process of who we are taking,” he said.

“We are currently seeking clearance from various ports, including Turkey and Cyprus,” asserted the activist.

He said many people have expressed interest in going to Gaza on the flotilla.

Omar Abdulkadir, a Johannesburg resident, is one of them.

“I am ready to leave my work and family and go to Gaza if selected to be part of the group,” he told AA.

Abdulkadir believes the Palestinians have a “just cause” and is willing to contribute to it.

The FFC, a solidarity movement formed in 2010 with the aim of ending the Israeli siege of Gaza, met this week in Istanbul, Turkey.

There, the group decided to challenge Israel’s naval blockade and take badly needed humanitarian aid to the besieged coastal territory sometime later this year, following more than a month of devastating Israeli attacks.

At least 1959 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed and more than 10,000 injured in Israel’s devastating onslaught.

The Israeli offensive has left a trail of massive material destruction, including thousands of homes, buildings, schools and mosques.

Palestinians and Israelis are now observing a five-day Egypt-brokered ceasefire, which came into effect in the early hours of Thursday.

A key Palestinian demand during indirect talks with Israel in Cairo was the lifting of the siege on Gaza.

Israel has imposed a watertight siege on the Gaza Strip since 2007.

“The blockade must end,” said Moola. “The people of Gaza cannot go on suffering.”

Four years ago, the Israeli navy attacked the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship in a Gaza-bound humanitarian aid flotilla, killing ten activists, including nine Turkish nationals and a Turkish-American citizen.

South Africans have held several protests since Israel began its onslaught on Gaza in early June.

Most of them empathize with the Palestinian struggle for nationhood, having faced similar conditions during South Africa’s apartheid era.

Last week, nearly 200,000 people demonstrated outside the parliament building in Cape Town to demand that their government take “decisive diplomatic action” against the self-proclaimed Jewish state for its ongoing offensive in Gaza.

Source: World Bulletin.


‘Youth Troupe of Yarmuk’ rare ray of light in Syria’s refugee camp


By Rana Moussaoui


In the Yarmuk camp in southern Damascus, the notes escape a piano set in a scene of destruction and the children in Ayham al-Ahmed’s little group sing of hunger and suffering.

The music in the Syrian camp, under siege for a year and wracked by violence seems at odd with the brutality that is all around.

It is almost reminiscent of the story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish pianist in the World War II, immortalized in the film “The Pianist” directed by Roman Polanski.

“I loved that movie, which I saw in 2007, but I never thought that I would come to embody such a character,” Ahmed said, contacted by the Internet.

In photos posted on Facebook, the 26-year-old plays the piano in streets littered with debris, his face growing thinner with each passing month.

Once a thriving neighborhood home to 150,000 Palestinian refugees and Syrians, Yarmuk has been reduced to a shell of its former self in the conflict that began in March 2011.

Caught in fighting between rebels and the regime, just 18,000 residents remain, suffering under a government siege that has caused the deaths of some 200 people in a year, including 128 of hunger.

“I weighed 70 kilos between the sieges, today I weigh 45,” says Ahmed.

Since the end of June, when a truce was reached between the regime and rebels, with approval from Palestinian factions in the camp, the siege has been loosened slightly.

But the privations in the camp were so serious that Ahmed, who loves to play Haydn and eastern jazz, evacuated his wife and two-year-old son, both suffering severe anaemia.

– Music ‘to emerge from despair’ –

Under the circumstances, Ahmed’s creation of the “Youth Troupe of Yarmuk” in 2013 was a rare ray of light.

“It was important to emerge from the despair we were living in,” he says.

When he plays, he says, he feels that “there is once again something good in this life”.

Ayham’s father, 62-year-old Ahmed al-Ahmed, is a blind violinist who played with the troupe until rheumatism exacerbated by malnutrition forced him to quit.

An admirer of Bach, as well as the greats of Arabic music, Ahmed is proud of his son, who composes music for songs written by amateur poets in the camp and refugees abroad.

“Music is a universal language, a passport to reach that other,” the elder Ahmed says.

“I want to put a smile on the faces of children,” says Ayhem al-Ahmed, who named his children’s choir “Buds of Yarmuk”.

One song about those in exile from the camp, called “Brother, we miss you in Yarmuk”, spread like wildfire on social networks.

It describes the story of Syrians who have been displaced from their homes or become refugees — some nine million citizens in all.

“You have been gone for a long time… you who are in Beirut, in Turkey, we miss you,” the children sing.

“When the children sing, I feel that there is hope again,” says Ahmed, who dreams of one day playing in a professional orchestra.

In the deserted streets of the camp, opinion about Ahmed’s project is sometimes divided.

“Some people say to me ‘People are dying and you’re making music,'” Ahmed says.

But others, like resident Abu Hamza, say the troupe expresses the camp’s suffering and helps lift spirits.

“When we hear them, we are able to forget our misfortune a little bit,” he said via the Internet.

– ‘Threatened to break my fingers’ –

In the middle of a raging civil war that began as an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, Ahmed remains non-partisan.

“Our message is living without bullets,” he says.

One song is dedicated to the “martyrs of hunger”, those who have starved to death under the tight siege on the camp.

“I drink distress in the morning, I wait for death in the evening,” the plaintive lyrics go.

Moving his piano from street to street with his friends to play, Ahmed incurred the wrath of extremists who had taken up positions in the camp, before withdrawing under the truce.

“For them it is haram (religiously prohibited). They threatened to break my fingers,” Ahmed says, “so I played early in the morning while they slept.”

Of late, Ahmed has composed songs about the situation in Gaza, but Yarmuk remains at the heart of his music, which often mixes classical music and jazz.

Separated from his family, Ahmed does not want to leave Yarmuk, and says Syrians write to him from abroad to encourage his music.

“They write ‘when you play it gives us hope that we’ll return’,” he says.

And any doubts about his frame of mind are dispelled by his Facebook status update, which says it all: “Feeling optimistic”.

Source: Middle East Online.


Gazans displaced by war to be housed in ‘mobile homes’



BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Thousands of Gazans displaced in Israel’s recent assault on the besieged enclave will be housed in mobile homes until a permanent solution can be found, a Palestinian official said Wednesday.

Mufid al-Hasaynah, minister for public works and housing, says the ministry is trying to arrange the entry of 3,500 mobile homes donated to Gaza by Turkey.

Over 17,000 homes were completely destroyed while 43,000 suffered damages in over a month of Israeli attacks.

Palestinian deputy prime minister Ziad Abu Amr arrived in Gaza Tuesday to meet with government officials and NGOs and prepare for reconstruction.

The United Nations’ Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry is scheduled to visit the Gaza Strip Wednesday where he will meet with Palestinian ministers, al-Hasaynah said.

According to the UN, about 110,000 Palestinians in Gaza are using UNRWA schools as shelter after their houses were destroyed.

Since Hamas took power in 2007, Israel has launched three major offensives on Gaza, including the 22-day Operation Cast Lead over New Year 2009, and the eight-day Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, killing over 3,500 Palestinians.

Source: Ma’an News Agency.