In January 2015, Christie’s announced that a painting by the Palestinian Suleiman Mansour, Camel of Burdens II (Jamal al-Mahamil), would be the highlight of its annual auction of modern and contemporary Arab, Iranian and Turkish art held in Dubai. The piece was listed as the second version of the 1973 original, which was thought to have belonged to Muammar al-Qaddafi, the long-time Libyan dictator, and to have been destroyed in the US bombing of his Tripoli military compound in 1986. An iconic portrayal of Palestinian steadfastness (sumud) in the struggle for a homeland, it was expected to sell for somewhere between
$200,000 and $300,000.
What makes Hebron special is the religious-nationalist militancy of the Israeli settler projects in the city and its environs—along with the ferocity of the accompanying violence. In the province as a whole, the settlement pattern is the same as elsewhere in the West Bank—the inward creep of colonization forces the occupied population into ever smaller and denser enclaves. The southern Hebron hills are a recurrent flashpoint, as settlers and Israeli army bulldozers repeatedly try to push Palestinian shepherd families out of their villages.
Omar Shakir and Megan Marzec came to northeastern Ohio last week to discuss the constraints on speech about research and activism with regard to Palestinian rights. Their host was the Northeast Ohio Consortium on Middle East Studies (NOCMES).
For those accustomed to the themes of Sino-Arab diplomacy, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo on January 21 was predictable enough. It might not have attracted much attention at all if not for Xi’s statement that “China firmly supports the Middle East peace process and supports the establishment of a State of Palestine enjoying full sovereignty on the basis of the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
Two quiet but revealing developments related to Middle East water were announced in the spring and summer of 2015. On February 26, Israeli and Jordanian officials signed an agreement to begin implementation of the long-awaited and controversial Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Project. And, on June 9, a civil society-based coalition led by EcoPeace, a regional environmental NGO, released the first ever Regional Master Plan for Sustainable Development in the Jordan Valley. The two schemes represent very different approaches to solving water problems in the region—the first is an old-school engineering fix requiring massive new infrastructure, while the second is a river restoration project rooted in sustainable development principles.
In February, the well-known British street artist Banksy went to the Gaza Strip to draw attention to the plight of Palestinians in the aftermath of the devastating Israeli assault the previous summer. With regard to the murals he painted around the Strip, he wrote: “Gaza is often described as ‘the world’s largest open-air prison’ because no one is allowed to enter or leave.
“We are not just talking culture and art for the sake of having a vision (lil-tanzir), holding exhibitions irrespective of who comes or doesn’t. To the contrary, we have a mission!” At the press conference in Ramallah on October 21, 2014 for the second edition of the Qalandiya International Biennale (QIB2), impassioned organizers responded to a pointed question about the role art could have in protecting Palestinian identity and overcoming Israeli oppression. The spokesperson, Jack Persekian, proclaimed that naming the biannual Palestine art event for the infamous checkpoint in the Israeli separation wall could transform the barrier into a bridge.
At the close of 2014, Mahmoud ‘Abbas, head of the Ramallah wing of the Palestinian Authority (PA), announced that he would sign the Rome Statute, the 2002 treaty establishing the International Criminal Court based in The Hague. This move opens the possibility that the Palestinians could ask the Court to investigate Israeli military operations and/or occupation practices as violations of international law. ‘Abbas accepted Court jurisdiction retroactive to June 13, 2014, when Israel began the raids that developed into Operation Protective Edge, the seven-week bombardment and invasion of Gaza. The meaning and efficacy of the PA’s maneuver are subjects of considerable debate.
During the summertime war in Gaza, the two most progressive members of the US Senate stirred up controversy among their backers with expressions of uncritical support for Israel. At a town hall meeting, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the lone Senate independent, responded to a questioner that Israel had “overreacted” with its 52-day bombardment and ground incursion, but then proceeded to justify Israel’s actions with the usual pro-Israel talking points about “missiles fired from populated areas” and “sophisticated tunnels.”  An audience member began to shout objections, to which Sanders said, “Shut up.”
The brutal Israeli assault on Gaza, the fourth in less than ten years (2006, 2008-2009, 2012 and now again), has triggered a burst of solidarity in Latin America.
As Israel pounds Gaza by land, air and sea, we turn for a moment to the West Bank city of Hebron. In 1997, Israel withdrew its military from the majority of the city’s area, called “H-1,” which became part of “Area A,” the parts of the West Bank policed by the Palestinian Authority (PA). Israeli soldiers remained in “H-2,” the old city, where some 400 Jewish settlers live among 40,000 Palestinians and where the Tomb of the Patriarchs / Ibrahimi mosque is located. When H-2 is not under curfew, visitors can walk down Shuhada Street and see soldiers in mesh-enclosed positions above.
Targeted killings. Ground operations. No option off the table. Once again, Israel is using the technocratic vocabulary of twenty-first-century warfare to obscure its colonization of Palestine, and, once again, the Western media is collaborating in the grand deception.
It was predictable, sadly, that Israel would move onto an aggressive war footing when, in June, three Jewish teenagers disappeared in the West Bank and later were found dead. Not because military retaliation was the just response or the surest means of guaranteeing the safety of Israeli citizens, but because only thus can Israel retain the upper hand in its twin quests to divide and dispossess the Palestinian people and to conceal that goal from world opinion.
I recently came across two accounts of Arab youth that fly in the face of conventional wisdom. One is Kristin Diwan’s issue brief on youth activism in the Arab Gulf states for the Atlantic Council, and the other is a documentary by filmmaker Jumana Manna on Palestinian “male thug culture” in East Jerusalem. The film is called Blessed, Blessed Oblivion.
In the autumn of 2011, as the international outcry against Bashar al-Asad intensified, it was impossible for the government of China to avoid being drawn into the conflict in Syria. After China joined Russia in October of that year in vetoing a UN Security Council resolution condemning the brutality of the Asad regime, a series of demonstrations erupted throughout the Middle East. Many protesters reserved their strongest feelings for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who had become the most visible opponent of international intervention in Syria. Yet China, which up to that point had rarely inflamed such passions in the Arab world, was also a target of the demonstrators.
Yesterday in Gaza representatives of Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization announced a blueprint for talks about forming a government of national consensus (Arabic text here). Hamas and the PLO’s dominant Fatah faction have been at loggerheads, and occasionally at war, since 2007, when the Islamist movement expelled Fatah security men from their Gaza posts and took over the coastal strip.
On Tuesday, Mahmoud ‘Abbas surprised peace processers by making use of Palestine’s recently upgraded status as a UN-recognized “state” to sign 15 international agreements, mostly concerning human rights, humanitarian law and diplomatic protocol. The move was announced at a hastily convened meeting of the PLO executive committee, but appears to have been carefully crafted to support extending the US-sponsored negotiations that have dragged on haplessly over the past nine months.
Some 43 years ago, a group of activists in the movement to end the war in Vietnam founded the Middle East Research and Information Project.
The impetus was that the American public, including the anti-war left, was poorly informed about the Middle East and the US role there. The region was commonly depicted as alien, its politics uniquely determined by religion and impossible to explain with ordinary categories of analysis. The original idea behind MERIP was to produce better reporting that would get picked up by existing left outlets.