How an Historic Site Became a Children’s Library

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Children participate in psychosocial support activities at Maqam Al-Khidir, also know as the Saint George Monastery, in the Gaza Strip. (photo: Palestine Square)

Palestine Square
January 4, 2017


“Some people feel that their stories, suffering, and lives are being exploited. I wanted them to feel that they own and would benefit from the project through their own contributions. I was overwhelmed by the support.”
— Reem Abu Jaber, Executive Director of NAWA for Culture and Arts


After decades of neglect, archaeological sites in the Gaza Strip are finally receiving needed attention. The ancient Saint George Monastery, locally known as Maqam Al-Khidir (sometimes Al-Khudr), is now open to the public following extensive restoration by a local NGO in Deir Al-Balah, NAWA for Culture and Arts, an organization that provides pyschosocial support for children.

While historical information about the site are scarce, the Survey of Western Palestine, carried out by the British Corps of Royal Engineers in 1872, suggests that the ancient Greek inscriptions found at the monastery reveal it was built during the late sixth century. The site has long been revered for spiritual and meditation purposes by both Muslims and Christians. Over the centuries, however, it fell into ruins and lost its significance. Situated in the city of Deir Al-Balah, Arabic for “Monastery of the Palms,” the site extends across an area of 200 square meters. Three domes top the monastery, which is surrounded by stonewalls. The main chapel is located underground, ten paces down a small flight of stairs to an area that houses three apses, where an historic water well was once used for drinking and baptism. In addition to two ancient Greek inscriptions, a stone tomb has also been found.

Reem Abu Jaber, Executive Director of NAWA, said the site restoration idea came about almost unintentionally. Her organization, which was founded in the Spring of 2014 by a group of young people, 80% of whom are female, works to provide psychosocial support for the city’s children through a wide range of cultural activities. Once the organization received proper accreditation, “I shared a post on Facebook inviting people to donate books to establish a small reading place in the area,” Abu Jaber explained. At the height of school vacation season, NAWA received 200 children within the first week.

Continue reading “How an Historic Site Became a Children’s Library”

The Annexation of Palestine Could Be Closer Than you Think

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Members of Knesset from the Likud and Jewish Home parties, including Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (R), take part in an event demanding the annexation of West Bank settlement Ma’ale Adumim, Jerusalem, October 31, 2016. (photo: Yonatan Sindel / Flash90)

A perfect storm of domestic Israeli politics combined with the changing of the guard in Washington could create an opportunity for those advocating annexation to finally make their move.

By Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man / +972 Magazine
January 1, 2017


Since his election, President-elect Trump has been sending clear signals that his administration’s policy toward Israel, and especially the settlements, will be markedly different from that of Barack Obama, John Kerry, and, one would conclude, the previous eight American presidents since Israel occupied the Palestinian territories in 1967. The president-elect has not minced words, tweeting in response to John Kerry’s 75-minute admonition of Israel’s settlement policy: “Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”


Senior Israeli government minister Naftali Bennett announced on Sunday that he will introduce legislation to effectively annex Israel’s third-largest settlement in the West Bank, Ma’ale Adumim, by the end of January. It is safe to assume, that when Bennett says “by the end of January,” he means after the January 20 inauguration of Donald Trump.

Bennett’s desire to incrementally annex parts of the West Bank are neither new nor secret. The chairman of the Jewish Home party has run on a platform of annexation since he first ran for office in 2013 and in every election since. Through short videos and aggressive sound bites, the Israeli education minister has attempted shift the public discourse, in Israel and around the world, toward his annexationist aims. . . .

Ayelet Shaked, also of Bennett’s Jewish Home party and now Israel’s justice minister, in the past advocated annexing the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. More recently she announced plans to apply Israeli civil law to the occupied territories, which is considered de facto annexation (the West Bank is currently subject to Israeli military law). A few months ago Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely made a direct demand of her government. Similar pleas and plans can be heard on an almost daily basis throughout the Israeli government and ruling coalition, not to mention in right-wing circles and media outside the government. And while demands from within the government to advance annexation have become the new normal in recent years, for a variety of reasons they are often dismissed as fringe or unrealistic.

Continue reading “The Annexation of Palestine Could Be Closer Than you Think”

How Netanyahu’s Dangerously Twisted Words Hide the Truth

Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem
(photo: PBS)

By Peter Beinart / The Forward
January 4, 2017


In the West Bank, Israel is not the “one true democracy in the Middle East.” It is not a democracy at all. It is not a democracy because Palestinians — who comprise the vast majority of the West Bank’s inhabitants — cannot vote for the government that controls their lives: the government of Israel. . . . If Israel really were a democracy in the West Bank, and millions of West Bank Palestinians could vote in Israeli elections, Netanyahu wouldn’t be Israel’s prime minister.


Last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued two public statements. When the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution criticizing settlements, Netanyahu attacked it for not condemning Syria. When Secretary of State John Kerry defended the Obama administration’s decision to let the resolution pass, Netanyahu attacked him for not sufficiently condemning the Palestinians.

In both responses, the Israeli leader illustrated George Orwell’s famous insight: The abuse of human beings starts with the abuse of language.

“At a time when the Security Council does nothing to stop the slaughter of half a million people in Syria,” Netanyahu declared after the UN vote, “it disgracefully gangs up on the one true democracy in the Middle East, Israel.”

The first clause is a non-sequitur. Yes, Syrians in Aleppo and elsewhere are suffering more than Palestinians in the West Bank. Yes, the UN should be doing more to relieve their plight. But the test of whether Israeli settlement policy deserves international condemnation is whether Israeli settlement policy is morally wrong, not whether other governments deserve condemnation more.

Continue reading “How Netanyahu’s Dangerously Twisted Words Hide the Truth”

“Church Militant” Theology Put to New, and Politicized, Use

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Michael Voris, the senior executive producer of ChurchMilitant.com, says the website’s positions are a righteous defense of patriotism and morality. (photo: Brittany Greeson / The New York Times)

By Samuel G. Freedman / The New York Times
December 30, 2016


“This is breaking down into forces that believe in God and those that don’t. Largely, I would say this is a war of religion versus non-religion.”
— Michael Voris, senior executive producer of ChurchMilitant.com

“[Historically,] when you heard the expression ‘the Church Militant,’ it didn’t bring to mind a call to arms or some kind of mobilized, militant action in the way we understand the term now. A lot of the struggle of the Church Militant is against interior temptations that lead you to greed and all kinds of spiritual pathologies. And it’s about engaging in acts of mercy. Part of the victory of the Church Militant is the victory of love. It didn’t have the triumphalist and militarized connotation that’s been attached to it now.”
— John C. Cavadini, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame


A week after Stephen K. Bannon helped engineer the populist revolt that led to Donald J. Trump’s election, Buzzfeed unearthed a recording of him speaking to a Vatican conference of conservative Catholics in 2014.

In his presentation, Mr. Bannon, then the head of the hard-right website Breitbart News and now Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, called on the “church militant” to fight a global war against a “new barbarity” of “Islamic fascism” and international financial elites, with 2,500 years of Western civilization at risk.

While most listeners probably overlooked the term “church militant,” knowledgeable Catholics would have recognized it as a concept deeply embedded in the church’s teaching. Moreover, they would have noticed that Mr. Bannon had taken the term out of context, invoking it in a call for cultural and military conflict rather than for spiritual warfare, particularly within one’s soul, its longstanding connotation.

Continue reading ““Church Militant” Theology Put to New, and Politicized, Use”

One-State, Two-State

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By Sarah Robinson
December 31, 2016

[Sarah Robinson is a volunteer with the World Council of Churches who has written about Israel-Palestine since 2012. On Oct 17, 2016, she was refused entry to Israel at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv and deported . — Ed.]


In my opinion, [no] solutions are viable without visionary leadership and the willingness to compromise. Recalling the experience of South Africa, bold leadership and compromise brought apartheid to an end, and I believe the same is needed in Israel and Palestine. . . . I believe the appetite of both populations indicates that they are willing to start these talks but the lack of real leadership is restraining any progress.


This week, the Israel-Palestine conflict was nudged into the international spotlight. Last Friday, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) voted in favor of Resolution 2334 condemning the proliferation of settlement development and expansion in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Usually, the United States (US) vetoes such resolutions but on Friday they abstained from voting thereby allowing the resolution to pass. Israel was quick to respond with damning language, threatening rhetoric, and victimized aggression. Originally, Egypt put the resolution forward to the UNSC, but after receiving pressure from president-elect Donald Trump, withdrew the application. Thus, a random mix of countries, including New Zealand and Venezuela, resubmitted the resolution which went to a vote. Israel has since accused New Zealand of declaring war in their action to present Resolution 2334 to the UNSC.

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry, gave a 1 hour 13-minute speech in Washington DC justifying the US choice to abstain, summarizing the history of US-Israel relations, UN resolutions, and peace negotiations, and outlining five principles to a solution and lasting peace. It was a good speech and it elicited swift condemnation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, the speech was about twenty years too late. It rehashed positions and policies that have been ignored or bypassed for decades and although it sounded good, with less than three weeks remaining in the White House, the Obama administration is grasping at proverbial straws. Secretary Kerry pleaded with Israel to not execute the two-state solution but, in my opinion, the death of the two-state solution took place years ago, and this latest activity will not resuscitate it.

Continue reading “One-State, Two-State”

“Rhetoric of Fascism” is Rising in U.S. and Europe, Says U.N. Rights Chief

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Pro-Europe protester and artist Kaya Mar shows his painting depicting President-elect Donald Trump and European leaders in stylized Nazi uniforms, as he demonstrates outside the Supreme Court in London on Monday. (photo: Andy Rain / European Pressphoto Agency)

By Ishaan Tharoor / The Washington Post
December 9, 2016


“We don’t have to stand by when the haters drive wedges of hostility between communities. We can build bridges. We can raise our voices. We can stand up for the values of decent, compassionate societies.”


The values and politics that underpin inclusive, peaceful societies “risk being swept away,” warned Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations human rights chief, in a statement ahead of the annual global commemoration of Human Rights Day this Saturday.

“2016 has been a disastrous year for human rights across the globe,” Zeid said in Geneva. He pointed to a world buffeted by complex crises, from the rise of violent extremism to “yawning economic disparities” to climate change and refugee crises. The inability of national governments to adequately address these challenges, Zeid said, has created space for “siren voices exploiting fears, sowing disinformation and division, and making alluring promises they cannot fulfill.”

Zeid, an outspoken Jordanian royal who has been in the post since 2014, was directing his critique in part at an array of Western far-right, ultranationalist politicians who channeled anti-immigrant sentiment and resentment of multiculturalism to score political gains in 2016. Continue reading ““Rhetoric of Fascism” is Rising in U.S. and Europe, Says U.N. Rights Chief”

Gaza Music School Overcomes Effects of War

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(photo: Mohammed Asad)

By Ahmad Kabariti / Mondoweiss
December 16, 2016


“To play music means to spread happiness among others. I think that even the ones who used to make people suffer and were involved in killing and destruction, would not mind to have moments of joy and happiness.”


Just outside a building in the Tal al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City a group of young people gather under a window to listen to the beautiful classical music coming out of the window a few meters above.

The window belongs to a small apartment used as a modest music school, which runs without proper lighting due to long hours of power cuts in Gaza. The music they’re listening to is played by Raslan Ashour, 16, who is practicing Mozart’s “Exsultate, Jubilate” on a trumpet.

As he started to play another melody, Natasha Radawn, his tutor watches closely and smiles. “His performance has improved a lot, despite some tiny mistakes,” she says.

Ashour’s passion to learn oriental and western classical music was not very welcomed by his mother who believed her son should learn “something more useful” such as management, in order to be like his father who works in the fashion business.

“My father is the one who bought me the trumpet in the first place. I have a dream of being a maestro waving a baton in front of an orchestra. Why not? I would love to be that person,” Ashour told Mondoweiss. Continue reading “Gaza Music School Overcomes Effects of War”

Ralph Nader: An Open Letter To President Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama participates in his last news conference of the year at the White House in Washington
(photo: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)

Decision time for Israeli-Palestinian peace

By Ralph Nader / The Huffington Post
December 19, 2016


“[Recognizing Palestine]  is the best — now, perhaps, the only — means of countering the one-state reality that Israel is imposing on itself and the Palestinian people [and] that could destroy Israeli democracy and will result in intensifying international condemnation of Israel.
— Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter


Dear President Obama:

On November 28, 2016, Jimmy Carter, the President who negotiated the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt in 1978, wrote an op ed for the New York Times titled, “America Must Recognize Palestine.” His urgent plea was directed to you to take “the vital step . . . to grant American diplomatic recognition to the state of Palestine, as 137 countries have already done, and help it achieve full United Nations membership,” before you leave office on January 20, 2017.

Mr. Carter referenced your reaffirmation in 2009 of the Camp David agreement between Israel and Egypt and United Nations Resolution 242 when you called “for a complete freeze on settlement expansion on Palestinian territory that is illegal under international law.” He noted that in 2011 you made clear that, in your words, “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines” and that “negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine.”

Former President Carter sees that the “combined weight of United States recognition, United Nations membership [for Palestine] and a UN Security Council resolution solidly grounded in international law would lay the foundation for future diplomacy.” Continue reading “Ralph Nader: An Open Letter To President Obama”

Relocating the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem is Illegal

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The Jerusalem site formerly known as the Allenby Barracks, a possible location of the US Embassy. (photo: Raphael Ahren / Times of Israel)

The proposed move is a reckless provocation.

By Palestinian Square
December 14, 2016


“With all that Jerusalem connotes, it is, to say the least, unbecoming for the United States’ future embassy in that city to be built on land that is stolen property.”


Kellyanne Conway, President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign manager, has stated that relocating the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is a “a big priority” for the incoming administration. She added, “It is something that our friend in Israel, a great friend in the Middle East, would appreciate and something that a lot of Jewish-Americans have expressed their preference for.”

Meanwhile, in a passage that has since been removed from the online article, the Times of Israel has reported that the Trump transition team “has begun exploring the logistics of moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv, and checking into sites for its intended new location,” adding that the site being considered was formerly the location of the Allenby Barracks, the site of the British army’s Jerusalem garrison during the Mandate.

However, as is revealed by Walid Khalidi’s SPECIAL REPORT on the subject, originally published in the Journal of Palestine Studies, the site being considered is Palestinian private property stolen from its owners, including the waqf [an endowment made to a religious, educational, or charitable cause] property of several families. Continue reading “Relocating the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem is Illegal”

What Could Happen if Trump Moves the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem?

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Proposed site of U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. (photo: Getty Images via Economist)

By Rebecca Shabad / CBS News
December 20, 2016


“Even though the peace process is, I think, comatose and is unlikely to advance in the near term, why overload the circuits and potentially take a step that could permanently undermine the prospects of a two-state solution? You’re simply going to feed Iranian propaganda, you’re going to feed Sunni-jihadi propaganda and most likely, you’re going to trigger a fair amount of violence and even terror.”
— Aaron David Miller, The Woodrow Wilson Center


Moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem may have been one of President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promises, but experts and Palestinian officials are warning of serious consequences if he follows through.

“We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem — and we will send a clear signal that there is no daylight between America and our most reliable ally, the state of Israel,” Mr. Trump said in a speech to the powerful Jewish lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in March.

Last week, in an indication of Mr. Trump’s seriousness, he announced that he would nominate bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman to serve as ambassador to Israel. Friedman, an Orthodox Jew, made clear in a statement that he looks forward to doing the job from “the U.S. embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.”

Daniel Kurtzer, U.S. ambassador to Israel under President George W. Bush, called Friedman’s nomination a “serious mistake” in an op-ed in The New York Times over the weekend.

“The consequences of acting upon Mr. Friedman’s public suggestions are clearly dangerous. Moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem — not a pressing issue for most Israelis — will inspire riots across the Islamic world,” Kurtzer wrote. Continue reading “What Could Happen if Trump Moves the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem?”