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.
On a Friday afternoon in September 2013, dozens of Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces looked exasperated as they tried to move Palestinian youth away from the wall near Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem. Attempting to corral hundreds of children, the PA troops pushed them down the hill toward Aida refugee camp and implored them to stop throwing stones at the Israeli military positions above.
The release of the Swiss Institut de Radiophysique’s Experts Forensic Report Concerning the Late President Yasser Arafat has lent further credence to the proposition that the iconic Palestinian leader’s 2004 demise was an act of Sharon rather than of God or nature. Speaking to the Guardian, forensic scientist David Barclay concluded the report provides
When Israeli security forces arrived in the middle of the night at the Tamimi house in Nabi Salih, the occupied West Bank, the family was already in bed. The raid was not unexpected, as news had traveled around the village on that day in January 2011: Soldiers were coming to houses at night, demanding that young children be roused from sleep to be photographed for military records (to assist, they said, in the identification of stone throwers). Bilal Tamimi, Nabi Salih’s most experienced videographer, had his own camcorder at the ready by his bedside table when he was awoken by the knock on the door.
In September 2012, declining living standards ignited a firestorm of street protests and strikes in the West Bank. The immediate spark was a sharp increase in fuel prices, alongside an increase in the value-added tax (VAT) rate. It seems that the protesters had a message for Palestinian Authority (PA) policymakers: It is no longer acceptable to blame all of Palestine’s economic woes on Israeli occupation. Demonstrators were demanding that the PA manage the economy better, the occupation notwithstanding.
The 2012 US presidential election elicited less interest among Palestinians than any such contest in living memory. While most Israelis, and their government in particular, expressed a clear preference for a Republican victory, Palestinians seemed resigned to continuity in US foreign policy irrespective of which party won the White House. The main reason was that President Barack Obama, self-proclaimed apostle of change and widely hailed as such in the region when he assumed office four years ago, has yet to demonstrate a meaningful inconsistency with his predecessor George W. Bush when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Events since the election have only confirmed this policy direction and thus the validity of Palestinians’ indifference.
When President Barack Obama addressed the UN General Assembly in September 2010, he sounded hopeful that by the following year there would be “an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations — an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.” Sure enough, in September 2011, the Palestinians asked the UN Security Council to recognize a state of Palestine — but Obama ordered the US delegate to veto the request. What gives?
For many months, the streets of downtown Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian Authority (PA), have literally been heaps of earth. Workers have labored intensively to replace water and sewage pipes, repave roads, lay beautiful carved stones at roadsides and install thick chains along the edges of sidewalks in order to better separate pedestrian and automotive traffic. Shopkeepers have been told to reduce the size of their storefront signs; specially designed electricity poles jut skyward. Not every town resident is impressed. As they navigate the mounds of dirt, cynics joke: “The PA is covering the road to self-determination in asphalt.” “We have the sewers; all that’s left is the sovereignty.” “The streets of Ramallah are paved with white stones — who needs Jerusalem?”