Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Czech ministry to correct school atlas over Jerusalem blunder

The Czech Ministry of Education said it will recall a geography book used in schools after erroneously showing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

According to a report by Ma’an News Agency, the ministry informed the Palestinian embassy in Prague that the deal to use the atlas will not be renewed after 2017, the year in which the current license expires.

Palestinian ambassador Khalid al Atrash said that the book will be adopted again only after the mistake is corrected.

“The school book was reviewed by an accuracy committee of two specialists who did not inform the Czech ministry of the mistake or the need to correct it,” the ambassador added, citing the letter received from the Czech Ministry.

The Palestinian embassy added that the Czech move ensured that Prague’s position was in line with that of the European Union, which considers the Israeli annexation of Jerusalem illegal.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 and annexed it in 1980 in a move deemed void by the UN Security Council.

The lack of recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital explains the presence of the majority of foreign embassies and diplomatic staff in Tel-Aviv.

Ironically, these countries usually set up their diplomatic missions to serve the Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem. 

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Palestinians scoff at #Thanks_Hamas video clip

Palestinian Twitter users ridiculed a video clip produced by Hamas as part of its campaign for the 206 local Palestinian elections.

The slick video clip showed different scenes from what appeared to represent Hamas's achievements in the Gaza Strip since its takeover in 2007. 

All the scenes were taken in bright daylight. What looked like ordinary Palestinians, including women and children, carried a sign of the hashgtag #شكرا_حماس, which is Arabic for #Thanks_Hamas.

Most of the frames in the video were apparently taken by a camera mounted on a drone. In one part, Gaza’s water park was highlighted, while the new housing projects (mostly built by Qatari and UAE aid) were superimposed.

Strangely, none of the scenes of destruction brought about by Israel’s recurrent wars with Hamas were visible in the clip.


The video spread quickly on social media. On Twitter, many Palestinians began to use the hashtag to highlight Hamas’s failures.

“#Thanks_Hamas because you achieved the highest unemployment rate that even great countries couldn’t reach,” said one Twitter user.

Hamas’s rivals were also quick to capitalize on the opportunity to scoff at its latest PR effort. The Palestinian secular group, which is led by President Mahmoud Abbas, produced a video of its own.

Fatah’s video used the same hasghtag and it was dominated by scenes from the vast destruction in Gaza.

Unlike Hamas’s bright scenes, Fatah’s video clip showed mostly dark pictures  and began with a huge question mark, highlighting footage from the tunnels used by many in Gaza to breach the Israeli blockade.

The online tussle took place ahead of the Palestinian local elections. The vote will be held in October 2016 for the first time in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since 2006.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Why was Israel pricked at the Palestinian participation in Rio?

Team Palestine in Rio opening ceremony (Source: Google)
The participation of Palestine at the Olympic Games in Rio appears to have censed the Israelis.

The dual-nationality of some players, especially from Germany, seemed to be the main source of Israeli media interest. 
According to the Times of Israel website, in the Palestinian delegation, "three are Germans of Palestinian descent and one was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt".
"No Palestinian athlete has ever made the Olympic medalists’ podium. Don’t bet on that changing in Brazil," the website declared, sealing the fate of Palestine's participation.
Players with dual-nationalities, or who get naturalized specifically for representing a particular country, are not out of the world of sports. Bahrain, Qatar and Israel, to name only three, have granted citizenship to many players to play for their colours.

German "businessman"

But for the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, a German player has got a special prominence, with a profile written solely on him, out of other ones.

"How a German Businessman Ended Up Representing Palestine in Rio," the Haaretz headline blurted out. 
The paper said: "Though it is unclear how he gained a Palestinian citizenship, his curious story seems to be a mix of both ideology and opportunism." It is the Olympic spirit time but for Ha'aretz, the ulterior motives of Zimmerman are more important.
Regardless of Zimmerman's motivations, the bitterness (or saltiness to use the internet slang) has been strangely very palpable in the Israeli media.

This was preceded by the seizure of the Palestinian Olympic gear by the Israeli authorities. A team member's travel from Gaza was also obstructed by the Israeli government. These problems were solved only after the Palestinians complained at the International Olympic Committee.
Palestinian public diplomacy 

The appearance of Palestine at the launch ceremony has its significance. 
It is not a secret that thanks to its popularity, regional and global sport events are golden opportunities for exposure to the media and a reminder of a country' existence. It is an unplanned moment of peaceful public diplomacy.

For the Palestinians, such events have become a reminder of the image of what Palestine is: a country that doesn't officially exist, but it is still represented as a country at the Olympics. 
The Olympics opening ceremony was also a TV moment for the Palestinians to appear to the world without being contested by the dozens of Israeli spokespeople, who bully the news media under the name of "balance". 

Watching the small delegation going around the Maracana stadium was very special. There were the slim male players who wrapped the Keffiyeh around their shoulders. The Palestinian identity shone thanks to the female players, who donned the majestic Palestinian thawb (Arabic for dress), with its unique hand-made embroidery patterns. The Maracana crowd, for its part, contributed to the moment, as they went berserk after Palestine's name was announced to the whole world.

The team might not get any medals. Some of its players have already lost in the early stages. 
But the reaction of Israel and its conduct against Palestinian sports teams and players is just a reminder that Israel’s physical actions are not only related to protecting itself, but rather to stomp any Palestinian attempt at self-determination, even if it was a judo game or a horse ride.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Is Israel an Apartheid system?

The internet is obviously awash with arguments, rebuttals and keyboard activism on this question. 

My two cents below briefly cover how this analogy is relevant to the Palestinian territories (and to a lesser degree to Israel itself). I'm no professor emeritus but I have had the chance to grow up in that part of the world, and as such, can claim to understand both sides.

By definition Israel is a state made for the Jews, so some Israeli laws (the Jewish National Fund, the Present Absentees, the Right of Return) will favour the Jews over the Arab in Israel (while the Palestinians in the territories will be totally out of this equation).

This status is strange, given the multi-ethnic, multi-religious state of Israel. At the individual level, it becomes even unfathomable when, say, a Jew from France (who very likely emigrated to France from North Africa) can smoothly migrate and reintegrate into Israeli society with full state support. But then a Palestinian from Shafat in East Jerusalem - an area all the staunch pro-Israel crowd brags about as being part of "the united capital of Israel" - cannot get that support.

I guess you can sometimes get away with things, especially when the judges of our times (i.e the West) have the guilt and responsibility for the death of 6m Jews in WWII and before that.

The Arabs in Israel aren't disenfranchised. They have lots of access to government funds/services like any other Jew. Per se, an Arab, or a Palestinian for that matter, going to an Israeli state hospital for medical care or a university for education will still be treated and will receive education.

But still many lament the apparent priority given to Jewish communities in some important aspects. 

The military service is considered a requirement if any Israeli citizen wishes to become part of the system. Arab access to some jobs will be by default restricted without doing the military service (think high-tech and state organizations not assistant bar tender, a brickie or a hotel receptionist). 

But then, again, how can you, as an Arab Israeli, serve in an army where you may go the next day to your village to fire live bullets on nothing-to-do youths who are throwing stones? Going to t his village, which isn't exactly an "existential threat" to Israel, makes no sense. It is confusing and brain-splitting, especially when it is against people you probably know and also identify with.

The bigger problem for Israel regarding the Apartheid analogy is the Palestinian territories: You are occupying an area of 3.5m people, not giving them self-determination and not naturalizing them either. Not only that, but you're incentivizing other Jews to settle in part of that land and you shower those new arrivals with all the help (financial and material) they want. You treat the new comers according to Israeli civil law, while the Palestinian living 200 meter downhill is treated under Israeli military law. Excuse me?

Think of  East Jerusalem, the other half of Israel's "United Capital". Once you cross the 1967 border from west Jerusalem to East Jerusalem, the visually unappealing scene will make you understand the material and the psychological gap separating the two sides. 

Many will tell you "East Jerusalem Palestinians are free to apply for Israeli citizenship if they want to". Of course they are goddamn free to apply. In fact, anyone in this world is free to apply, but does the mere application mean they will get citizenship? and even if they get it, best-case scenario is they will get "privileges"under the same pro-Jewish policies mentioned above i.e they will become "Arab Israelis".

Other will claim that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank takes care of the public services (health, education, policing..etc) provided to the Palestinians over there. Israel has got nothing to do with controlling them. But what is Area A? It's ~3% of the whole West Bank. Area B? It's ~25 % of the West Bank. 

This division gives Israel more ease in controlling the Palestinians than it gives the Palestinians more self-determination and freedom. Few years ago, the Palestinians began building a new city called Rawabi (on lands in Area A and B). The amount of bullying, blackmailing the Palestinians got to build this city and connect it to other Palestinian areas by a road would make one think the Palestinians were building a nuclear programme.

It is not as if Israel is unaware of these problems. Israeli academia have probably written a warehouse-load of research papers on these issues and on ways to solve them. 

But the problem is that Israeli politicians seem to enjoy a buzzword called "conflict management". In short, it means they can keep playing around, juggling an egg and a stone, while delaying a solution. In the meantime, keep subjugating the Palestinians and bite off parts of their land in tactics meant to to regulate the mood of the Israeli public. 

The wheel of time is rolling faster than how the Jewish rulers are responding, nevertheless. At some point, even if they will decide to improve the situation and achieve equality and justice, it will be just too late. 

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Libyan city continues to fight, but this time for normality

The pigeons barely moved in their small cages. The ducks, free, gathered around each other on the asphalt as the bulbuls chirped in the background.

In Misrata’s Friday makeshift birds market, simple Libyan peasants, children and few old men stood by their goods in unintended rows. Potential buyers walked to and fro, inspecting the birds. Misrata was a big city of half a million residents but it still had the spirit of a small village. For few months, it has been trying to regain its normality after a heroic fight against Gaddafi’s forces.

“Get that yellow paper please,” said the security officer at the gate of Misrata airport. Me and Mohamed Madi had just arrived from Benghazi. We understood quickly. It is Misrata, and you have to get your details entered into a database before you enter the city even if you came from another Libyan city.

January 25 2012. Five months since the end of Gaddafi’s siege and his intensive offensive against Libya’s third biggest city. Misrata has not yet recovered from its deep wounds.

How quickly will that happen? The experience at the airport left bitterness in my throat. “Did the war turn them into xenophobes?” I wondered.

I met Ahmad Ben Wafaa, a 20-something Libyan blogger from the city. He took me around to show me the scars of a bitter fight for survival. Gaddafi thought that by taking Misrata, 200 km east of Tripoli, his grip would be maintained on western Libya. The resistance by the Misratans was not only about their lives or their city. It was about the unity of Libya that had then been split in two: the east (Benghazi and Green Mountain) and the west (Tripoli).

In most of the buildings near the city centre, holes in the walls of many houses from tank and mortar shells remain gaping in awe. Every building was dotted with what looked like indiscriminate machine gun fire. A bank stood closed, while the storeys above it were pitch-black from fire. Another, which housed a pension fund, was completely charred and its silver metal façade turned into a scary structure of burnt aluminium.

Building in Shari Tripoli st. (from www.dl3-ly.com)
Between February and August 2011, the fighting in Misrata was focused on its main streets: Tripoli St in the west and in the east Benghazi st. On the sides of Tripoli streets, houses and businesses were still closed and many were partially destroyed. A mosque nearby was decapitated, as the upper part of its minaret was shelled out of this world.

The cool and humility of Misratans hid scars of trauma that I – the Gazan – recognized very well. The last real war Misrata saw was probably WWII, but 2011 was not only about fighting, either. It was about betrayal and solidarity.

Bin-Wafaa told me various stories about the efforts made to take care of the city’s inhabitants under the rain of Gaddafi’s Grad rockets and Mortar shells. The distribution of food, the supply of medical services and the prayers. The prayers that were uttered day an night by the frightened civilians.

The war is over now. The wounds of Misrata will take time to heal, however.

Bin Wafaa spoke bitterly about the residents of Taourga, the smaller city 45 km to the south, whose residents always worked in and traded with Misrata.

But Taourga, or most of its residents, sided with Gaddafi’s forces. They were promised to take half of Misrata if Gaddafi wins. Bin-Wafaa went on to say that the good ties with Misrata had been forgotten as the Taourgans pillaged Misrata and according to him committed horrific crimes, such as gang rape of Misratan women and men, murder and theft.

Things didn’t work according to plan and Taourga now is a ghost town after its residents fled quickly before the wrath of Misratans reached them. For Bin-Wafaa, this was a better outcome since massacres were averted.

I already knew about what happened in Taourga. Like many others, I cried racism. Taourga’s residents were descendants of African slaves and news reports spoke about black Africans being singled out. Bin-Wafaa categorically said no. It was not racism. He added that Gaddafi’s forces were based in nearby Zliten (20 km to the west), but there was no vengeance from Misrata. Unlike Taourga’s, the civilians of Zliten did not join Gaddafi’s forces with promises of the spoils from Misrata’s defeat. I also saw many black Libyans in shops, cafes and streets of Misrata. While I and Bin-Wafaa walked on, an old man said hello. “Saw him? He is from Taourga but has lived here with us for a long time,” said Bin-Wafaa

In Misrata’s tiny market, businesses have reopened and some repairs were done to few buildings. In a nearby café, young Libyans sat smoking their Shishas and sipping macchiatos but the grimness in the faces is startling.

The six-month-long season of fear has turned into a sense of pride of what Misrata did to protect itself and keep the push against Gaddafi alive. I understand now why the excessive security measures and graffiti on the walls declare: “no to reconciliation”.  Misrata is now sarcastically known by other Libyans as the “emirate of Misrata”.

Libyans in a café were looking at TV, but their eyes were almost aimless. Smiles can hardly be seen, even though teens were drifting their cars dangerously in Misrata's tiny streets in an expression of their freedom. 

It is possible to deal with physical pain, but overcoming the trauma within is not going to be easy, for Misrata will never be the same.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Libya 2012: Of Green trainers and curly hair

I have raised eye-brows in Tripoli sooner than I thought. Since my arrival, it was the tiny details that appeared to matter most for Libyans. The first incident involved my trainers with their lime green stripes. Our taxi driver pointed at them in a “the-fuck-is-this?” manner. My poker face pleaded not guilty, and I insisted that it was fluorescent yellow, not lime green.

During my first dinner at a Turkish restaurant in Zawiyat al-Dahmani, where my hotel is located, another Libyan man wondered about what on earth made me wear a dark green jumper. This time, I swallowed my tongue. I realized the extent of intolerance to anything that could evoke Gaddafi, including his favourite colour.

Luckily, no one has so far made any comment on my curly hair, or Chafchoufa in Libyan dialect – the word of 2011 that Libyans used to mock Gaddafi’s hairstyle. I anticipated that by quickly having a haircut the following day.

Regardless of my lack of tact, Gaddafi and his legacy do still have a place in the hearts and minds of Libyans and is likely to do so for a while.

I went with Mohamed Madi to his grandma’s house in Gorje, an underdeveloped housing neighbourhood west of old Tripoli. The warm welcome quickly faded into a debate between the grandma and Mohamed’s friend (who drove us there).

The young man was complaining about the decisions by his university to suspend early results of examinations. To him, this was as fair and unjust as another decision to ban all cars manufactured before 1987 (which includes that wheeled box that he drove).

Gaddafi quickly came back to the discussion. After all, under his rule, universities became scenes for occasional mock trials and executions of opposition Libyan dissidents.

The grandma, who actually didn’t look that old, overflowed with emotions about Muammar. She admitted that his killing was inhumane. But she went on to say that he reaped what he sowed. She also said that his son Saif al-Islam, who is now held by the rebels, should face a similar fate.

The strong emotion about the late colonel is one thing, but I must say that the admiration of some of his acts - e.g. his alleged humiliation of Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi - seem to still provoke the admiration of few Libyans that I talked to.

A young Libyan man bragged about Gaddafi’s famous jet-lag remarks at the UN General Assembly (when he tore the UN charter). Another, with whom I smoked Shisha at Algeria square, told me that had Gaddafi been the president of Egypt, he would have done better to help the Palestinians. Certainly, Libyans hated the colonel and his sons for the squandering of Libya’s finances and despotic rule. But this is not the case when it comes to Gaddafi’s quirky behaviour i.e Libya’s foreign policy.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

A Visit to Free Libya January 2012

My journey from the UK to Libya started with awkwardness. The interior of Tripoli airport was as dusty as if it was in disuse and the scruffy immigration officers began to complain about the hung-up computers. You only need to reset your computer pal! But No. Apparently, another officer with a captain rank began to stamp everyone’s passports and to hell with those modern abacuses! This meant that if you were blacklisted in Libya, you could still get in to the country with no hindrance. It seems that Libya became libertarian rather than liberated.

The brand-new baggage carousels started to push bags and cases As I and my mate waited near the Cairo carousel (from where we traveled), we were surprised to find our cases appearing on the Tunis carousel, behind us! Luckily, there were only two carousels there, and whether from Cairo or Tunis, our baggage finally made its way.

Since the fall of the Gaddafi’s regime, I saw and heard a lot about the chaos in Libya. Militants who contributed to the takeover of the capital were everywhere with their anti-aircraft guns and ad-hoc checkpoints that challenged the local police and their firing in the air as if “they were at war with the sky”, as Charlie Brooker described it. For few Libyans, an iron-fist rule was still in need.

Soon enough I would be challenged as we made our way to the taxi and our driver set off. There were the usual scenes of traffic mayhem; cars that just move and switch lanes aggressively, I was taken by feeling that we would sooner or later crash into another car.

As we drove toward the city, I saw no militias and no militants. The road from the airport was in an excellent condition, and within 15 minutes we started to get to the scenes of the real Tripoli.

I expected the colour green – Gaddafi’s trademark – everywhere on buildings and streets, but again it was not there. Modern yellow housing complexes sprawled the road from the airport to the city, as new rising towers slowly headed towards us - or us towards them - in the horizon.

I could see that some aspects of life in Tripoli were still in limbo. The new Libyan tri-colour flag hovered on top of many places and from uncountable balconies. The three colours of the flag with the white crescent and star also covered what seemed to have few months earlier been billboards and pictures of defiant Gaddafi. However, most of the cars – and my visa – still had the name of Gaddafi’s “state of the masses” - or Jamahiriya - on them.

This transition – or contradiction – seems to be the headline of the moment. The graffiti written here and there and the nice billboards told the current story of Libya: a wish to restore law and order and move on versus the energetic armed militants who refuse to lay down their arms. .

One spraying apparently by the Misrata militants, who captured and killed Gaddafi, said: “Libya is everyone’s capital; Misrata is the capital of martyrs”. “Al-Zintan revolutionaries were here,” declared another statement on another wall.

Rebels from Misrata (200 km east of Tripoli) and Al-Zintan (75 km south of Tripoli) became a strong force in the toothless capital when Gaddafi’s supporters made their way in their last trip to Sirte, few hundred kilometres to the east. Stories in Libya about the strange actions of these militants are many. Mohamed told me that few militants from Al-Zintan apparently took the elephant in Tripoli’s Zoo back to their city. A local paper reported that rebels towed Gaddafi’s Scud missiles from Sirte to Misrata!!

However, in every Tripoli street I passed through, billboards showed a clear anti-militant sentiment. “A martyr’s will: Tripoli is everyone’s capital but without arms”. “Let us be enlightened, tolerant and let’s co-exist”. “Yes to police, to national army, no to arms”.

This may explain why the militants vanished from the streets and their fight with the sky came to an abrupt end.

Against this backdrop of cultural battle lied a city that seemed to be waking up from a year-long slumber, if not a 42-year coma, which is how long Gaddafi remained in power.

During my first day, I came face to face with my preconception of the Libyan revolt and alleged Islamist impact that was propagated in the West. I saw many women without headscarves, and more of them were driving, likely on their way to have an espresso or to an aerobics session somewhere. Chic teenagers seemed to care more about their hair style and Western clothes than the application of Shariah law.

We drove by a café called Pentapolis, and outside, Libyan men sipped their espressos and macchiatos. While I couldn’t hear what they were saying from inside the car, I was able to see the vivacity of a life finally free of oppression and awoken to a new dawn.

I arrived at my hotel room with its stunning of Tripoli’s harbour on the Mediterranean. The clear blue sky and warm weather filled me with a feel-good sensation as I am about to spend an amazing time in Libya.