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.
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.
Crossing the border at Masna‘, al-‘Abboudiyya or Mashari‘ al-Qa‘a, Syrian refugees entering Lebanon face an immediate choice: Stay in the tented settlements in the north and the Bekaa Valley or make their way to coastal cities such as Beirut and Sidon. Their experiences will vary greatly depending on the choice they make. The tented settlements are exposed to the elements, lack privacy and have virtually no job opportunities, but are accessible to aid providers. By contrast, refugees from Syria often have family connections in the coastal cities. Though Beirut and Sidon are expensive and crowded, there are more varied accommodations, schooling options and limited chances for employment.
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.
For months Arab television watchers have been engrossed in the phenomenon of Muhammad ‘Assaf, the 23-year old Gazan singer who has now been crowned the winner on “Arab Idol.” Modeled after “American Idol,” the popular show is broadcast on MBC, a satellite channel based in Beirut. As on the original, the victor of the “Arab Idol” competition is decided by the votes of the audience, cast through text messages and phone calls. ‘Assaf received over 67 million votes.
Every year around Christmas and Easter, a kind of meta-ritual takes place in which American journalists describe how these holidays are celebrated in the “Holy Land.” It is a long-running story, never stripped of politics. In 1923, for example, the New York Times published a classically Orientalist opposition of here and there, us and them. Easter in Jerusalem was a “frenzy of devotion,” “an annual release of the entire community, such as you and I in New York know nothing of. Somewhere in the centuries during which our ancestors were moving westward from the Middle East we have lost the gift of it and we have never recaptured it.” 
When anti-monarchical revolution swept the Middle East in the 1950s, Jordan was one of the few populous Arab states to keep its king. King ‘Abdallah II, son of Hussein, the sole Hashemite royal to ride out the republican wave, has all the credentials to perform a similar balancing act. Aged 49, he has been in charge for a dozen years, unlike his father, who was just 17 and only a few months into his reign when the Egyptian potentate abdicated in 1952. And the son has grown accustomed to weathering storms on the borders, whether the Palestinian intifada to the west or the US invasion of Iraq to the east.
The neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, a 20-minute walk up the hill from the Damascus Gate to the Old City of Jerusalem, has become the focal point of the struggle over the expanding project of Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The authority to plan and order physical space is among the most significant powers a government possesses. Spatial planning can be a force for reform and emancipation or a mechanism of control and subordination. In Israel, national planning goals are rooted in Zionism’s agenda of nation building and “Judaization” of territory. In the southern desert, known in Arabic as the Naqab and in Hebrew as the Negev, those priorities have led to the expropriation of more than 90 percent of the historical lands of the Palestinian Bedouin for the establishment of Jewish towns. The result is one of the clearest examples of apartheid in Israel.
The town of Bayt Sahour spills down the hills to the east of Bethlehem, spreading out along ridges and valleys that mark the beginning of the long descent to the Dead Sea. Up the slopes the roads carve out twisting rivers of dirt and asphalt, wending their way through clusters of soft brown stone houses, but across the ridges they run straight and smooth.
It’s easy to forget, but the United States has a pressing year-end deadline to meet in Israel-Palestine as well as in Iraq. At Annapolis in November 2007, President George W. Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pledged to “make every effort” to hammer out a comprehensive peace accord “before the end of 2008.” For Bush, the joint statement underlined a previous vow, uttered soon after the 2004 election, “to use the next four years to spend the capital of the United States” on creating a Palestinian state.
Some good news, for a change: The excruciating ordeal of the Los Angeles Eight is finally over. On October 30, federal prosecutors gave up on their efforts to deport Khader Hamide and Michel Shehadeh, the last of the seven Palestinians and one Kenyan arrested in 1987 on patently silly anti-terrorism charges whose cases remained before the courts.
Bernard Rougier, Everyday Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam Among Palestinians in Lebanon (translated by Pascale Ghazaleh) (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).
The village of al-Tuwani in Masafir Yatta, or the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank, is the poorest and most desolate place I have seen. In June 2007, I accompanied Rebecca Vilkomerson on her visit to Hafiz Hurayni, a representative of al-Tuwani’s popular committee. Rebecca is working with the popular committee and the South Hebron Committee to raise funds to build a playground for al-Tuwani’s children. She is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, which has also supported the playground project. Al-Tuwani needs a new well. When the existing one runs dry in the spring and summer, al-Tuwani is forced to buy water at inflated prices. Meanwhile, surrounding Jewish settlements have a nearly unlimited water supply.
“Who is trying to change the names of Haifa streets to the street names in the period prior to the War of Independence?” This question led an article in the December 15, 2004 edition of the Israeli daily Ma’ariv. Someone — “people from outside,” said the mayor — had placed signs in Arabic that labeled major thoroughfares as they had been known prior to the expulsion of many of the city’s Palestinians, and the incorporation of Haifa into the nascent state of Israel, during the war of 1948.