What Now?

cropped-dsc_64721
(photo: Sarah Robinson)

By Sarah Robinson
December 8, 2016

[Ed. note: Sarah Robinson is a South African/Canadian writer who has worked as a human rights observer in Israel/Palestine with Ecumenical Accompaniment Program to Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) and Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT). On October 17, Sarah was detained as she arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport  in Tel Aviv. She was subsequently deported and banned from re-entry for five years.]


I am not done. As I have committed to before, I will do what I can where I am to collaborate in the struggle to bring justice to Palestine and Israel. I am not giving up. I will not let the Israelis win. They cannot overcome my desire and my heart for a solution to the Israel and Palestine conflict. It is likely that I will never have the chance to have my feet on the ground in Palestine but my heart will always be there.


It has been just over seven weeks since I was deported from Israel while trying to visit Palestine. I wrote a post detailing my experience which I shared on my blog and my Facebook page. The post was read by several thousand people and the story was picked up by multiple news agencies and spread further. It was interesting to receive feedback from people who had had similar experiences while trying to enter Israel. For many readers, my post was their first exposure to what the Israeli’s are afraid of and, as a result, how they treat foreigners attempting to get to Palestine. I understand that the publicity my post received has not helped my chances of getting back to Israel and Palestine but I believe it was important to share my story.

Continue reading “What Now?”

On Optimism and Despair

President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G7 Summit, Krün, Germany, June 2015
President Barack Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G7 Summit, Krün, Germany, June 2015. (photo: Pete Souza / White House)

A talk given in Berlin on November 10 on receiving the 2016 Welt Literature Prize.

By Zadie Smith / The New York Review of Books
December 22, 2016


At this moment, all over the world — and most recently in America — the conductors standing in front of this human orchestra have only the meanest and most banal melodies in mind. Here in Germany you will remember these martial songs; they are not a very distant memory. But there is no place on earth where they have not been played at one time or another. Those of us who remember, too, a finer music must try now to play it, and encourage others, if we can, to sing along.


First I would like to acknowledge the absurdity of my position. Accepting a literary prize is perhaps always a little absurd, but in times like these not only the recipient but also the giver feels some sheepishness about the enterprise. But here we are. President Trump rises in the west, a united Europe drops below the horizon on the other side of the ocean — but here we still are, giving a literary prize, receiving one. So many more important things were rendered absurd by the events of November 8 that I hesitate to include my own writing in the list, and only mention it now because the most frequent question I’m asked about my work these days seems to me to have some bearing on the situation at hand.

The question is: “In your earlier novels you sounded so optimistic, but now your books are tinged with despair. Is this fair to say?” It is a question usually posed in a tone of sly eagerness — you will recognize this tone if you’ve ever heard a child ask permission to do something she has in fact already done.

Sometimes it is put far more explicitly, like so: “You were such a champion of ‘multiculturalism.’ Can you admit now that it has failed?” When I hear these questions I am reminded that to have grown up in a homogeneous culture in a corner of rural England, say, or France, or Poland, during the 1970’s, 1980’s, or 1990’s, is to think of oneself as having been simply alive in the world, untroubled by history, whereas to have been raised in London during the same period, with, say, Pakistani Muslims in the house next door, Indian Hindus downstairs, and Latvian Jews across the street, is thought of, by others, as evidence of a specific historical social experiment, now discredited.

Continue reading “On Optimism and Despair”

Muslim and Jewish Women Join Together

06unity-4-master768
Women dance during a workshop at a Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom conference at Drew University in Madison, N.J. (photo: Yana Paskova / The New York Times)

Both Feeling Threatened, American Muslims and Jews Join Hands

By Laurie Goodstein / The New York Times
December 5, 2016


“If Muslims have to register, we’re all going to register . . . Jews know what it means to be identified and tagged, to be registered and pulled aside. It evokes very deep emotions in the Jewish community. . . . All of us have heard the story of the Danish king who said if his country’s Jews had to wear a gold star, all of Denmark would, too.”


Jolted into action by a wave of hate crimes that followed the election victory of Donald J. Trump, American Muslims and Jews are banding together in a surprising new alliance.

They are putting aside for now their divisions over Israel to join forces to resist whatever may come next. New groups are forming, and interfaith coalitions that already existed say interest is increasing.

Vaseem Firdaus, a Muslim who has lived in the United States for 42 years, spent Friday night at a Shabbat dinner for members of a women’s group called the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, in a home here filled with Jewish art and ritual objects.

Until Mr. Trump was elected president, Ms. Firdaus, who is 56 and a manufacturing manager at Exxon Mobil, felt secure living as a Muslim in America. She has a daughter who is a doctor and a son who is an engineer, and she recently traveled to Tampa with her husband looking to buy a vacation home. But Mr. Trump’s victory has shaken her sense of comfort and security.

Continue reading “Muslim and Jewish Women Join Together”

Palestine: The End of the Bedouins?

shulman-ayyub
Abu Rasmi Ayyub amid the ruins of his village, al-Hammeh, demolished by the Israeli army on September 27, 2016. (photo: Giy Hircefeld)

By David Shulman / The New York Review of Books
December 7, 2016


We are simple people. We want to graze our sheep, to feed our families, to educate our children. Only that. In the late 1980s, at the time of the Oslo agreements, there was hope, but in the end the disaster became even more terrible. They are doing whatever they can to drive us out. The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the situation here should be frozen, and no more demolitions take place, but the soldiers pay no attention. When a soldier comes to tear down my house, where is the judge?  . . . My daughter was wounded in front of my eyes by an Israeli girl, a soldier. What am I supposed to feel? How am I supposed to live with the Israeli people, in what they claim is the only democracy in the Middle East?


One way to tell the story of the Middle East as a whole is to describe the endemic struggle between peripatetic nomads and settled peasant farmers — a struggle attested already in ancient Mesopotamian documents. For centuries, all the political regimes of the region have tried, with varying success, to get the Bedouin to come to rest on the land. But in Israel and in the occupied territories we see, alongside this familiar policy, persistent attempts to uproot Bedouin populations who have already settled on the land, sometimes generations ago, and who usually have clear claims to ownership of these sites.

Today, most of the Jordan Valley, undoubtedly one of the most ravishing landscapes on the planet, is situated in what is known as Area C of occupied Palestinian territory. This means that, with the exception of the ancient city of Jericho and its surroundings (which are in Area A, under Palestinian rule), the valley is under direct and exclusive Israeli military, legal, and political control, and also that large parts of it are taken up by Israeli settlements or by lands that have been reserved for future Israeli settlement. It also means that a Palestinian population of some 15,000 Bedouins who are settled in the valley is tacitly targeted for expulsion.

According to the Oslo accords, the division of the West Bank into three different zones was intended as a preliminary stage leading eventually to the end of the Israeli occupation and to achieving Palestinian statehood. The policy of the present Israeli government appears to be aimed at eventually annexing to Israel the whole of Area C, which constitutes over half the territory of the West Bank; this goal has been explicitly and repeatedly stated by the minister of education, Naftali Bennett, head of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party and a major force in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition. As a result, we are now witnessing in the Jordan Valley an accelerated process of what must, I fear, be called ethnic cleansing. It’s not a term I use lightly.

Continue reading “Palestine: The End of the Bedouins?”

Bishop Saves 226 Hostages from ISIS

mar-afram-athneil
Bishop Mar Afram Athneil, right, greets Maryam David Thalya after her release from more than a year of captivity by Isis. (photo: AP)

Assyrian Christian Mar Afram Athneil raised millions of dollars to pay ransom

By Lori Hinnant / The Independent
December 6, 2016


“Honestly, this man should go down as a saint, the things that he’s done, the sacrifices he’s made to help these people. He’s refusing to leave Syria until all his flock is secured.”
— Aneki Nissan


Deep inside Syria, a bishop worked secretly to save the lives of 226 members of his flock from the Islamic State group — by amassing millions of dollars from his community around the world to buy their freedom.

They were seized from the Khabur River valley in northern Syria, among the last holdouts of a minority that had been chased across the Mideast for generations. On February 23, 2015, ISIS fighters attacked 35 Christian towns simultaneously, sweeping up scores of people.

It took more than a year, and videotaped killings of three captives, before all the rest were freed.

Continue reading “Bishop Saves 226 Hostages from ISIS”

“We Are Orphans Here”

04refugee1-superjumbo
Palestinian children waiting inside the Shuafat Refugee Camp for buses to take them to school. (photo: Luca Locatelli/Institute, for The New York Times)

Life and death in East Jerusalem’s Palestinian refugee camp.

By Rachel Kushner / The New York Times
December 1, 2016


The camp is, according to Israeli law, inside Israel, and the people who live there are Jerusalem residents, but they are refugees in their own city. Residents pay taxes to Israel, but the camp is barely serviced. There is very little legally supplied water, a scarcely functioning sewage system, essentially no garbage pickup, no road building, no mail service (the streets don’t even have names, much less addresses), virtually no infrastructure of any kind. There is no adequate school system. Israeli emergency fire and medical services do not enter the camp. The Israeli police enter only to make arrests; they provide no security for camp residents. There is chaotic land registration. While no one knows how many people really live in the Shuafat camp and its three surrounding neighborhoods, which is roughly one square kilometer, it’s estimated that the population is around 80,000. They live surrounded by a 25-foot concrete wall, a wall interspersed by guard towers and trapdoors that swing open when Israeli forces raid the camp, with reinforcements in the hundreds, or even, as in December 2015, over a thousand troops.


Standing at an intersection in Shuafat Refugee Camp, in East Jerusalem, I watched as a boy, sunk down behind the steering wheel of a beat-up sedan, zoomed through an intersection with his arm out the driver’s-side window, signaling like a Nascar driver pulling in for a pit stop. I was amazed. He looked about 12.

“No one cares here,” my host, Baha Nababta, said, laughing at my astonishment. “Anyone can do anything they want.”

As Baha and I walked around Shuafat this spring, teenagers fell in behind us, forming a kind of retinue. Among them were cool kids who looked like cool kids the world over, tuned in to that teenage frequency, a dog whistle with global reach. I noticed that white was a popular color. White slouchy, pegged jeans, white polo shirts, white high-tops. Maybe white has extra status in a place where many roads are unpaved and turn to mud, where garbage is everywhere, literally, and where water shortages make it exceedingly difficult to keep people and clothing clean.

Continue reading ““We Are Orphans Here””

Israel Needs to Decide Its Own Policy

tzipi-livni
Tzipi Livni, a leader of the opposition in the Israeli parliament, at a 2015 summit in London. (photo: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters)

Q&A with former Israeli peace negotiator Tzipi Livni

By Ruth Eglash and William Booth / The Washington Post
December 6, 2016


We need to understand what we all are facing. This is against foreigners and Jews. Anti-Semitism is raising its ugly head in different parts of the world. All together we should fight terrorism, fight anti-Semitism, fight xenophobia and fight for our values. This is what makes Israel part of the free world. Instead of saying workers of the world unite, moderates of the world should unite.


The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fretting over what President Obama may or may not do in the waning days of his administration.

Will Obama endorse a U.N. resolution enshrining a rough outline for what a two-state solution to the long-running Israel-Palestinian conflict should look like — regarding future borders, the fate of the Jewish settlements and Palestinian refugees, the sharing of Jerusalem?

Or maybe Obama will give a speech.

Or send Secretary of State John F. Kerry to Paris to mull the “French initiative” to push for an end to Israel’s 50-year military occupation, a conference that appears to be stalled.

Or. Or. Or.

Continue reading “Israel Needs to Decide Its Own Policy”

Jared Kushner’s Foundation Donated to Settlements

jared-kushner-1
Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of President-elect Donald Trump, walks through the lobby of Trump Tower. (photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

By Carol Morello / The Washington Post
December 5, 2016


“I imagine this will be the end of State Department statements for 50 years calling settlements illegal to illegitimate, unhelpful or obstacles to peace. American foreign policy is about to be dramatically shifted. . . . It’s not about one check from Jared Kushner, but a broad threat to 50 years of bipartisan support for the proposition that settlements are an obstacle to peace. Now, that could be declared dead. I’m very alarmed.”
— Jeremy Ben-Ami, President of J Street


Jared Kushner, who may become a Middle East peace envoy in his father-in-law’s administration, is a director of a family foundation that has made charitable donations to West Bank settlements.

The gifts totaled $58,500 between 2011 and 2013, a small portion of the almost $8.5 million the Seryl and Charles Kushner Family Foundation gave away in that period, according to IRS records first reported by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and reviewed independently by The Washington Post. Kushner and his three siblings are directors, along with their parents, of the foundation.

President-elect Donald Trump has said he may make his son-in-law, who is married to Ivanka Trump, a broker for talks between Israelis and Palestinians, saying Kushner would be “very good” at working with both sides.

Continue reading “Jared Kushner’s Foundation Donated to Settlements”

East Jerusalem Brothers Forced to Demolish Their Own Homes

2016_12_4-palestinian-brothers-from-east-jerusalem-forced-to-demolish-their-own-homes-3
Said Al-Abbasi, Silwan Neighborhood, East Jerusalem. [photo: MA’AN News]
By Middle East Memo
December 5, 2016


Demolitions of Palestinian structures and homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem have seen an unprecedented surge this year, with the number of structures demolished in the first half of 2016 well exceeding the total number of demolitions carried out in all of 2015. At least 1,569 Palestinians have been displaced since the beginning of 2016 as a result of demolitions in the occupied territory, compared to 688 Palestinians displaced over the entirety of 2015, according to U.N. documentation.


Two Palestinian brothers in the neighborhood of Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem were forced to demolish their own homes on Saturday in compliance with an Israeli court order.

One of the owners, Said Al-Abbasi, told Ma’an that he and his brother Nasser had built their homes in the Karm Al-Sheikh area of Silwan two-and-a-half years ago. However, before construction could be completed, the Jerusalem municipality delivered demolition orders for their homes.

During the court hearings, the Al-Abbasi brothers, who have 12 children between them, were forced to close the construction site with concrete until all legal proceedings had concluded. Said told Ma’an that the Jerusalem municipality threatened to imprison the pair if they tried to resume construction at the site.

Continue reading “East Jerusalem Brothers Forced to Demolish Their Own Homes”

Israel Votes to Authorize Illegal Settler Homes in Palestine

3500
Israeli settlers at Amona, near Ramallah in the West Bank. [photo: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters]

Passage of bill to evacuate one settler site while retroactively recognizing others meets with condemnation from U.N. and U.S.

By Peter Beaumont / The Guardian
December 5, 2016


“Today, the Israeli Knesset shifted from a path to establish a Palestinian state to a path of extending sovereignty to Judea and Samaria [as Israel calls the occupied Palestinian territories]. Let there be no doubt: the regulation bill is what will spearhead the extension of [Israeli] sovereignty.”
— Naftali Bennett, Israeli Minister of Education and Minister of Diaspora Affairs
“[The legislation] has the objective of protecting illegal settlements built on private Palestinian property in the West Bank. It is a very worrying initiative. I encourage Israeli legislators to reconsider such a move, which would have far-reaching legal consequences across the occupied West Bank.”
— Nickolay Mladenov, U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process


Israel’s parliament has voted to retroactively legalize thousands of illegitimate settler homes in outposts built on private Palestinian land, in a highly controversial move described by critics as a “land grab.” The measure, which passed in a stormy Knesset session late on Monday, has been met with international condemnation, and has already strained relations within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing rightwing coalition.

It comes in sharp defiance of a call on Sunday by the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, who urged Israel again to rein in the construction of settlements on West Bank land.

Israeli critics and Palestinians have described the legislation as a land grab that would further distance prospects for a two-state solution to end the long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some high-profile political supporters, echoing that view, celebrated the vote by saying it opened the way to annexation of the West Bank and the end of any prospect of a Palestinian state.

According to estimates by opponents — including the prominent anti-occupation group Peace Now — the new law, if finally approved, would effectively annex 55 illegal outposts and approximately 4,000 housing units in settlements and illegal outposts.

Continue reading “Israel Votes to Authorize Illegal Settler Homes in Palestine”