We mourn the passing of the great Palestinian artist, Kamal Boullata, who died on August 6, 2019. Kamal was a dear friend and colleague, and closely associated with MERIP from its earliest days. We offer the following tribute.
Last week, SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum and Mayor Talal Al-Krenawi of the Negev Bedouin city Rahat issued a joint statement offering the absorption of 1,000 refugees from Syria, who would be supported by employment at the new SodaStream factory in nearby Idan haNegev.
When refugees from the Syrian war first began to stream into Jordan, the Jordanian Ministry of Interior registered the newcomers and placed them in the care of families, under the kafala system, mainly in the capital of Amman. The kafala or guardianship system has roots in Bedouin customs, but in modern times the term refers to how many Arab states handle migrant workers. A citizen or a company, known as a kafil, sponsors the migrant for a work visa and residency permit. At first this system accepted everyone, regardless of nationality or legal status—including 55 Palestinian families coming from Syria.
In the shadow of the Israeli separation wall, and on the bucolic campus of al-Quds University in Abu Dis, a suburb of East Jerusalem, sits a museum dedicated to Palestinian prisoners of Israel. The Abu Jihad Museum for the Prisoners’ Movement is named after the Palestinian political prisoner and martyr, Khalil al-Wazir or Abu Jihad, who gained notoriety as a leader of the first intifada and an advocate for prisoners’ rights. Al-Wazir was assassinated by Israel in Tunisia in 1988.
Since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, around three quarters of a million Palestinians have been arrested, sometimes for actions taken against Israeli soldiers or civilians, but at other times for association with others or for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the early days of the occupation, thousands of Palestinians were rounded up, many serving sentences of ten years or more.
Palestinians have found an ally in the indigenous peoples of Latin America. Over the last decade, indigenous movements have been among the most vocal supporters in the region of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. Bolivia’s Evo Morales, the first self-identified indigenous president in Latin America since colonization, has broken off diplomatic relations with Israel, endorsed the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, called Israel a “terrorist state,” and denounced Israeli “apartheid” and “genocide in Gaza.” No other Latin American head of state has gone so far in supporting the Palestinian cause.
The world’s attention again shines on Ferguson, MO, where Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American 18-year old was shot by white police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014. This time, the occasion is the grand jury’s failure to indict the officer. There will be no trial. There will be no opportunity for Brown’s family to defend their son’s reputation and see justice served.
Opera is dying in New York. Or at least it was until last month.
The New York Times is the most prestigious of the prestige press in the United States. The famed “gray lady” is the newspaper of record, a citadel of objectivity, it is said, where the first draft of history is crafted. It sets the agenda for other newspapers, for the broadcast news programs and even for cable TV news.
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.
On July 2, 16-year old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir was abducted, beaten and burned alive, apparently by a group of Jewish Israelis. News of this “torture and murder by fire,” prominent American commentator Jeffrey Goldberg confesses, “initially prompted in me a desire to say, ‘But.’” Alas, his considered response was scarcely more enlightened.
With intensity unknown since the second intifada and at a daily cost of $12 million to the Hebron economy alone, Israel is cracking down on the West Bank in its search for three missing Israeli settler youth. The result is a growing Palestinian chorus: Stop Israeli-Palestinian “security coordination.”
This past winter, I was privileged to participate in several events in Chicago organized by Rasmea Yousef Odeh, associate director of the Arab American Action Network and leader of that group’s Arab Women’s Committee. The events brought together anywhere from 60-100 disenfranchised women, all recent immigrants, from nearly every Arabic-speaking country. The attendees were there to learn English, share meals and stories, and discuss personal struggles, in everything from marriage and parenting to navigating the US educational and medical industries and the US immigration system. The women also talked about fending off racism.
Yesterday the New America Foundation (NAF), a center-left think tank located one block north of big, bad K Street, hosted a discussion about the 1948 war, the expulsion of Palestinians from what would become Israel, the new state’s imposition of a draconian military regime upon the Palestinians who managed to stay inside the armistice lines, and all that this painful history implies for the present and the future.
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.
Update 1 on prisoners and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, from the halls of the State Department: Last week, the United States considered releasing Jonathan Pollard, an American convicted of espionage on behalf of Israel, in exchange for Israel doing, as political analyst Yousef Munayyer put it, “several things it already should have done long ago,” including releasing both short- and long-term Palestinian prisoners. The media attention to the Pollard case is just another distraction from the wider issue of Palestinian political prisoners, whose incarceration affects thousands of families every day.