Marking Ramadan, Palestinians launch ‘Date and Water’ campaign to break fast on the road

May 29, 2017

A group of Palestinian volunteers have launched their annual campaign to offer dates and water to drivers and their passengers across the occupied West Bank throughout the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Dubbed “Dates and Water”, the campaign has been launched for the third year and caters for travelers who are on the road at Iftar time, sunset.

Mahmoud Abdulmoneim, one of the volunteers responsible for the campaign, told Quds Press that the idea behind the campaign was initiated by a group of youths in the town of Sebastia, near occupied Nablus.

The youths wanted to encourage volunteering in the West Bank, Abdulmoneim said, adding that the location was chosen because it is a central area through which hundreds of Palestinians pass.

The process of distributing dates and water starts shortly before the call for Maghreb prayers, which comes at sunset, Abdulmoneim added.

Around 15 volunteers participate in the campaign, aiming to offer dates and water to around 300 travelers.

A number of local Palestinian companies and donors provide the dates to the volunteers for free.

The campaign was well-received, with some drivers coming out of their cars to help the volunteers distribute their Iftar packs, Quds Press cited Abdulmoneim saying.

The campaign inspired youth to come up with more initiatives, such as volunteering to clean and decorate Sebastia to mark the month of Ramadan.

Abdulmoneim called for utilizing the month of Ramadan to maximize volunteering activities among Palestinians and reinforce the sentiments of support and solidarity in light of the difficult living conditions that Palestinians endure under occupation.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170529-marking-ramadan-palestinian-volunteers-launch-campaign-to-enable-travellers-to-break-their-fast-on-the-road/.

Hamas says Ismail Haniyeh chosen as Islamic group’s leader

May 06, 2017

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Hamas Islamic militant movement that controls the Gaza Strip announced Saturday it had chosen its former Gaza prime minister Ismail Haniyeh as the group’s new political chief.

Haniyeh succeeds Hamas’ longtime exiled leader Khaled Mashaal, and the move comes shortly after Gaza’s rulers unveiled a new, seemingly more pragmatic political program aimed at ending the group’s international isolation.

Hamas is trying to rebrand itself as an Islamic national liberation movement, rather than a branch of the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood, which has been outlawed by Egypt. It has also dropped explicit language calling for Israel’s destruction, though it retains the goal of eventually “liberating” all of historic Palestine, which includes what is now Israel.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the group hoped Haniyeh’s election “would see opening to the region.” Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007, after securing an overwhelming victory in legislative elections the previous year and ending 40 years of political domination by its rival Fatah party. Hamas captured the coastal strip by violently overthrowing forces loyal to the Fatah movement, led by Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel, along with Egypt, has been enforcing a crippling border blockade against them since then. Though it has softened some of its rhetoric, Hamas’ new platform clung to the hard-line positions that led to its isolation. The group reaffirmed it will not recognize Israel, renounce violence or recognize previous interim Israeli-Palestinian peace deals — the West’s long-standing conditions for dealing with Hamas.

In its founding charter, Hamas called for setting up an Islamic state in historic Palestine, or the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, which also includes Israel. It also included anti-Jewish references.

Over the years, Hamas has carried out shootings, suicide bombings and rocket attacks against Israel. Since 2008, Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza have fought three cross-border wars. Abbas has been an outspoken opponent of violence, saying it undercuts Palestinian interests. Repeated reconciliation efforts between the Palestinian factions have failed. Hamas has sharply criticized Abbas’ political program, which rests on setting up a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War.

Haniyeh’s selection marks the final phase of the secretive Hamas elections. In February, the group chose militant commander Yehiya Sinwar, one of its most hard-line figures, as its new Gaza chief in charge of the group’s core power base.

Haniyeh, 54, was born in the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza. He was the private secretary of Hamas’ founder and spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin. In 2006, after Hamas won the legislative elections, Haniyeh was chosen by the movement to form its first government. He resigned as prime minister after Hamas and Fatah agreed to form a unity government in 2014 — a government has never taken hold.

For the past four years he has served as Mashaal’s deputy. Haniyeh’s first task will be to cope with escalating tensions between Hamas and Fatah. In recent weeks, Abbas has threatened to exert financial pressure, including cutting wage payments and aid to Gaza, as a way of forcing Hamas to cede ground.

Gaza resident Rani Abu Samra said he hoped Haniyeh’s election could bridge gaps with Fatah and mark “a new beginning for a real reconciliation on the internal Palestinian level.” In Gaza, where Haniyeh still resides in his home in a refugee camp, some residents saw his election as a sign that could draw attention to the territory’s woes.

“If someone is from outside Gaza, he won’t talk about Gaza’s ordeals and worries properly,” said Ahmed Okasha, a Gaza vendor. Since quitting his longtime base in Damascus in 2012, Mashaal has mostly lived in lavish suites in the capital of the oil rich gulf state of Qatar.

For Palestinians in Lebanon, 69 years of despair

May 14, 2017

SIDON, Lebanon (AP) — Ahmad Dawoud recalls the day 10 years ago when a Lebanese soldier asked to search his taxi. Then 17, the Palestinian didn’t wait for the soldier to find the weapons hidden in the trunk.

He jumped from the car and fled into the nearby Palestinian refugee camp, where the Lebanese army has no authority. But it was not long afterward that Dawoud, who once admired the radical groups that have sprouted in the camps in Lebanon, decided he was tired of running. That same year, in 2007, he surrendered to authorities and spent 14 hard months in jail.

Although he was released without a conviction, he couldn’t erase the biggest strike against him: As a Palestinian in Lebanon, he is a stateless, second-class resident in the only country where he’s ever lived.

On Monday, Palestinians mark 69 years since hundreds of thousands of them were forced from their homes during the 1948 war that led to the creation of Israel. Many settled in the neighboring West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

As refugees, various U.N. charters entitle them and their descendants to the right to work and a dignified living until they can return to their homes or such settlement is reached. But Palestinians in Lebanon suffer discrimination in nearly every aspect of daily life, feeding a desperation that is tearing their community apart.

Many live in settlements officially recognized as refugee camps but better described as concrete ghettos ringed by checkpoints and, in some cases, blast walls and barbed wire. The U.N. runs schools and subsidizes health care inside.

In Lebanon, there are 450,000 refugees registered in 12 camps, where Lebanese authorities have no jurisdiction inside. “Our lot is less than zero,” Dawoud said in a recent interview outside Ein el-Hilweh, the crowded camp in Sidon that is one of the most volatile.

On peaceful days, children play in the damp alleys and merchants park their carts of produce along the camp’s main streets. But the place feels hopelessly divided along factional and militant lines, and it frequently breaks down into fighting between Palestinian security forces and militants or gangs that capitalize on the general despair.

Last month, 10 people were killed in a flare-up that drove out thousands of the camp’s estimated population of 75,000. Palestinians are prohibited from working in most professions, from medicine to transportation. Because of restrictions on ownership, what little property they have is bought under Lebanese names, leaving them vulnerable to embezzlement and expropriation.

They pay into Lebanon’s social security fund but receive no benefits. Medical costs are crippling. And they have little hope for remediation from the Lebanese courts. Doctors are prohibited from working in the Lebanese market, so they find work only in the camps or agree to work for Lebanese clinics off the books, and sign prescriptions under Lebanese doctors’ names. That leaves them open to employer abuse, a condition normally associated with low-skill work.

“If a young boy gets in trouble because he is Palestinian, the prosecutor writes in his note to the judge, ‘He is Palestinian,’ meaning: ‘Do what you wish to him. Be cruel to him. Forget about his rights,'” said Sheikh Mohammad Muwad, a Palestinian imam in Sidon.

The crush of war refugees from Syria has made it even harder for Palestinians here to find work. Nearly six in 10 under age 25 are unemployed, according to the U.N.’s Palestinian relief agency UNRWA, and two-thirds of all Palestinians here live below the poverty line.

UNRWA country director Claudio Cordone said they feel trapped in political limbo and see an “almost total lack of meaningful political prospects of a solution” to their original displacement from Palestine.

Lebanese politicians say that assimilating Palestinians into society would undermine their right to return. But Palestinians say they are not asking for assimilation or nationality, just civil rights.

“They starve us, so we go back to Palestine. They deprive us, so that we go back to Palestine. Well, go ahead, send us back to Palestine! Let us go to the border, and we will march back into Palestine, no matter how many martyrs we must give,” Muwad said.

For those in the camps, the line between hustling and criminality is often blurred. Unemployed and feeling abandoned by the authorities, many turn to gangs for work. Adding to this is a widely shared disaffection with the Palestine Liberation Organization, which many Palestinians now see as having sold out their rights with the failed Oslo Accords of 1994.

This has helped fuel the rise of radical Islam — a shift in the occupied Palestinian territories that is reflected by Hamas’ rising popularity, and one outside the territories in the meteoric trajectory of militant groups such as Fatah al-Islam in the volatile and deprived Nahr al-Bared camp.

Growing up in Nahr al-Bared, a camp much like Ein el-Hilweh, Dawoud felt a strong affiliation for Fatah al-Islam, his gateway to radical extremism. “They were the only ones who seemed honest,” he said. “Of course, later I figured out they were just like everyone else, too.”

In 2007, the Lebanese army razed most of Nahr al-Bared to crush Fatah al-Islam. By that time, Dawoud already was in Ein el-Hilweh, and his arrest was the beginning of a slow falling out with the gangs that once sheltered him and treated him like a brother. After his stint in prison, they began to feel they couldn’t trust him, and he was chased out of Ein el-Hilweh in 2013. Now, he can only enter the parts of the settlement firmly under PLO control.

With no job, no prospects and little wealth, Dawoud now runs errands for others in his white 1980s-era BMW — all done under the table, of course. Palestinians cannot apply for the red license plates that identify taxis and other commercial vehicles.

“I don’t even think about marrying and getting into those situations,” he said, waving off starting a family at age 27. His ambition now is to apply for a visa to leave Lebanon. But first he needs a travel document, and for that he needs to be on good terms with the Lebanese authorities.

Not all Palestinians live in camps, but even the most privileged among them endure discrimination. At a panel on Palestinian labor rights at the American University of Beirut, Muhammad Hussein asked a Lebanese Labor Ministry official why he was denied work even in sectors that are formally open to Palestinian employment.

The 22-year-old graduate showed the official an email he received from a marketing firm in Dubai refusing his job application on the grounds that the Lebanese office had to give priority to Lebanese workers.

“The problem isn’t finding vacancies,” Hussein said. “It’s getting the job.”

Jordan plunges into economic crisis following Qatar blockade

June 14, 2017

Jordan’s economy has incurred losses worth $2 million since a closure of the Saudi land borders last week against the Jordanian exports heading to Qatar as a result of the Gulf diplomatic rift.

On 5 June, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and began an economic blockade against the Gulf state. Jordan later joined the move by announcing a reduction in diplomatic representation with Qatar.

According to sources at Jordan’s Exporters and Producers Association for Fruits and Vegetables, Jordanian traders who have previously signed exporting contracts with Qatar, started exporting their products by air.

Jordanian shipments’ volume to the Gulf state has also dropped to 90 tons per day, down from 600 tons per day before the blockade.

According to Al Jazeera, Saudi Arabia has prevented the entry of 85 Jordanian trucks loaded with vegetables and fruits, and over 10 trucks which were loaded with livestock heading to Qatar, following the rift.

Qatar has begun pursuing alternative routes and agreeing on new deals with other countries to counter the blockade imposed by most of its neighboring Arab states. Turkey was ready to help resolve the dispute, according to the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, while Iranian officials have offered to send food to Qatar by sea.

Moreover the Danish company, A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S, which owns the world’s biggest container line, has worked to bypass the transport ban imposed on Qatar by using alternative routes. Last Friday, it announced that it would begin container shipments to Qatar via Oman, avoiding trade restrictions imposed on the Gulf state by Arab countries.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170614-jordan-plunges-into-economic-crisis-following-qatar-blockade/.

Morocco refuses to attend African summit due to Israel’s presence

June 2, 2017

The Moroccan Foreign Ministry yesterday stated that King Mohammed VI has cancelled his attendance of the 51st Summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) because Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has also been invited.

In a statement the ministry said King Mohammed VI had planned to visit the Liberian capital, Monrovia, on 3-4 June to attend the 51st ECOWAS Summit, which was expected to examine Morocco’s request to join the regional group as a full member.

The statement added that, “During this Royal visit, a meeting with the President of Liberia, talks with ECOWAS Heads of State and a speech at the Summit were all scheduled.”

However, over the last few days, major ECOWAS member states have decided to reduce their level of representation at the summit, to the bare minimum, due to their disagreement with the invitation handed to the Israeli prime minister. The statement also noted that other member states also expressed their astonishment at this invitation.

The Foreign Ministry’s statement also mentioned that King Mohammed VI “does not want his first appearance at the ECOWAS summit to take place in a context of tension and controversy, and wants to avoid any confusion.”

During the summit, members of ECOWAS will decide on the admittance of Morocco as a full-fledged member of the regional bloc.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170602-morocco-refuses-to-attend-african-summit-due-to-israels-presence/.

Germany considering Jordan, Cyprus for anti-IS base

May 17, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s defense minister says her office has drafted a list of eight locations where it could move aircraft supporting the anti-IS mission if Turkey continues to block German lawmakers from visiting troops at the Incirlik base.

Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday a team is already in Jordan to assess a site there for its Tornado reconnaissance jets and a refueling plane, and Cyprus is also being considered. Nonetheless, she stressed talks with Turkey were still ongoing.

Germany has granted asylum to some soldiers Turkey believes were involved in a failed coup attempt last summer. That has prompted Turkey to block a request for German lawmakers to visit some 270 troops serving with the coalition against the Islamic State group at the Incirlik air base.

UK’s Labor Party: We will immediately recognize the state of Palestine

May 28, 2017

Britain’s Labor Party announced in its 2017 elections manifesto that if elected in June, the party would immediately recognize the state of Palestine.

A Labor government will immediately recognize the state of Palestine

The manifesto stated that the party was committed to a two-state solution to solve the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, adding that “there can be no military solution to this conflict.”

Both Israel and Palestine must “avoid taking action that would make peace harder to achieve,” the manifesto continued, referencing the need to end the decade-long Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip, the half-century Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and Israel’s continued settlement expansions.

It added that Hamas, the de facto leaders in the besieged Gaza Strip, must also end rocket and “terror attacks,” in order for leaders to enter “meaningful negotiations” and develop a “diplomatic resolution.”

Earlier this month, the United Kingdom’s House of Lords released a statement that strongly criticized the British government’s “very degrading, dismissive attitude” towards international efforts to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and suggested that it take a stronger stance to advance a two-state solution, including recognizing a state of Palestine.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170528-uks-labour-party-we-will-immediately-recognise-the-state-of-palestine/.