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Israel’s obsession with hummus is about more than stealing Palestine’s food

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Israel’s obsession with hummus is about more than stealing Palestine’s food

By Ben White

When Israel expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their villages and homes in 1948, many left with little more than the clothes on their back. Food was left on the stove. Crops were left unharvested. But the land emptied of its inhabitants was soon occupied by new residents.

From 1948 to 1953, almost all new Jewish settlements were established on refugees’ property. The myth of making the desert bloom is belied by the facts: in mid-1949, two-thirds of all land sowed with grain in Israel was Palestinian land. In 1951, “abandoned” land accounted for nearly 95 per cent of all Israel’s olive groves and almost 10,000 acres of vineyards.

During these early years, many Palestinian refugees attempted to return to their lands. By 1956, as many as 5,000 so-called “infiltrators” had been killed by Israeli armed forces, the vast majority of them looking to return home, recover possessions, or search for loved ones. Palestinian women and children who crossed the frontier to gather crops were murdered.

The Nakba in 1948 was the settler colonial conquest of land and the displacement of its owners, a dual act of erasure and appropriation. Citing “reasons of state”, Israel’s first premier David Ben-Gurion appointed a Negev Names Committee to remove Arabic names from the map. By 1951, the Jewish National Fund’s “Naming Committee” had “assigned 200 new names”.

But it did not stop with dynamite and new maps. The Zionist colonisation of Palestine has also included culture, notably cuisine. This is the context for the so-called “hummus wars”: it is not about petty claims and counterclaims, rather, the story is one of colonial, cultural appropriation and resistance to those attempts.

In the decades since the establishment of the State of Israel on the ruins and ethnically cleansed lands of Palestine, various elements of the indigenous cuisine have been targeted for appropriation: falafel, knafeh, sahlab and, of course, hummus.

Though these dishes are common to a number of communities across the Mediterranean and Middle East, Israel claims them as its own: falafel is the “national snack”, while hummus, according to Israeli food writer Janna Gur, is “a religion”.

In a 2002 article on recipes, the Israeli embassy in Washington acknowledged that “Israel lacks a long-standing culinary heritage”, adding that “only a few years ago, Israelis even doubted the existence of their own authentic cuisine”.

Such an admission is hard to find these days, as appropriation has become propaganda.

In 2011, Jerusalem-based chef Michael Katz visited Australia and told a local newspaper how the Israeli government had “decided, through culture, to start improving Israel’s image”.

“They started sending artists, singers, painters, filmmakers and then the idea came of sending chefs.”

In 2010, the Israeli government decided to distribute pamphlets at Tel Aviv airport, to equip Israelis who go abroad with, in the words of then-public diplomacy minister Yuli Edelstein, the “tools and tips to help them deal with the attacks on Israel in their conversations with people”. Included in the literature was the claim that “Israel developed the famous cherry tomato.”

Now, as the Jewish Telegraphic Agency put it earlier this year, “Israel has been on the culinary ascent of late, with dozens of food blogs, new high-end restaurants, cooking shows and celebrity chefs, and a fascination with everything foodie”.

It is not just food that is enlisted in Israel’s global PR initiatives. A few year ago, pro-Israel students at Brandeis University, in Massachusetts, held a “hookah night” with the help of campus-based “hasbara fellows”, professional Israel advocates who noted without any irony that “hookah is not specifically an Israeli cultural facet”.

In addition to smoking and snacks, the “cultural” evening also included belly dancers. Explaining the rationale for the event, a member of the Brandeis Zionist Alliance said they had found that “students are more receptive to Israel-related education when we use a cultural lens”.

Now we have “International Hummus Day”, launched by an Israeli, Ben Lang, who is explicit about the propaganda value of his project: “The idea was to connect people around hummus and get more people talking about it and hopefully get people to see the good things that are happening in Israel.”

“I just wanted to make sure that people saw that the initiative started in Israel.”

As everything from food to the keffiyeh is used to “rebrand” the state that colonised Palestine in the first place, Palestinians and their supporters have fought back.

When an Israeli choreographer included the dabke traditional dance in his company’s repertoire in 2013, a New York-based dabke troupe responded with a thoughtful critique that noted how, by “appropriating dabke, and labelling it Israeli”, the “power imbalance” is only furthered.

They added: “This makes us feel taken advantage of. Exploited. Commodified.”

In December 2014, after a campaign by Palestinian students and their allies, the student assembly at Wesleyan University in Connecticut agreed to remove Sabra hummus from campus dining facilities. The product symbolises Israeli appropriation and ongoing brutality; its parent company, the Strauss Group, donates to the Israeli military.

Accusations of cultural appropriation can produce some misleading responses. It’s not about who is “allowed” to eat what, or even about an objection to the natural cross-pollination that occurs in culture through language, cuisine and more.

That is not the point. It is about the claim of ownership in a context of historic and ongoing violent erasure and displacement.

It is about efforts to create an artificial history that justifies the establishment and continued existence of a settler colonial state.

Even a mainstream Israeli food writer like Gil Hovav has pointed to this reality. “Food is about memory and identity,” he told the Israeli media last year. “Claiming ownership over a food is a way to assert a nation’s narrative. Israeli Jews have made hummus their own.”

Cuisine is where efforts to both deny the existence of Palestine and appropriate its land and heritage meet. It is both an act of theft itself, and a way of justifying that theft.

(Source / 23.05.2015)

Written by altahrir

May 23, 2015 at 7:37 pm

Posted in Opinion others

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Nakba and the Question of ‘Palestinian Strategy’

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Why It’s Important


“What is the Palestinian strategy?” is a question that I have been asked all too often, including on 15 May, the day that millions of Palestinians around the world commemorated the 67th anniversary of the Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians by Zionist militias in 1947-48.

The question itself doesn’t require much elaboration, as in, “What is the Palestinian strategy to combat Israeli military occupation, siege violence, apartheid and racial discrimination?” The painful reality is well known to many, although few take on the moral responsibility to confront it.

And the posing of the question is telling in itself. It wouldn’t be asked if there was a strategy in place, being implemented, and regularly revisited and modified. The question is a testament to all the failures of past strategies, and the political disintegration of any credible Palestinian leadership, currently represented by Mahmoud Abbas and his circle of wealthy businessmen and “politicians”.

But the very idea of formulating a strategy would require urgent prerequisites that are currently lacking. These prerequisites are not only essential, but most critical if Palestinians wish to overcome the current stalemate and surpass the dead-end process that is the so-called “peace process”.

First, the centrality of the Nakba for the Palestinian historical narrative must be transformed to be central to the political agenda of any Palestinian leadership that is truly representative of the political aspirations of the Palestinian people.

But why is the Nakba important if it is an event that is supposedly located in the past?

What makes the Nakba a particularly poignant and painful experience is the fact that it has never truly concluded. The original 750,000 who were removed or forced to flee their historical homeland have morphed to over five million, and those who became internally displaced in their own Palestinian homeland, later renamed the State of Israel, continue to fight for basic rights. This makes the Nakba a present political event, granted its historical origins.

The Nakba, or Catastrophe, was an earth-shattering experience for the entirety of the Palestinian collective. Rarely before was a society almost entirely displaced in a relatively short period of time with such brutality and violence, followed by every possible attempt at erasing every piece of evidence, every link, every claim, every memory that the refugees affiliated with their homeland.

That ruthlessness, however, is further accentuated by two major events. One is that for 67 years Israel has both refused to recognize the original sin upon which it was created, and two, it has done its utmost to deny the disaffected Palestinian people any political aspirations that would finally allay the pain of dispossession, handed from one generation to another.

Palestinians in exile subsist in a nomadic political landscape, as they only belong to a place that has been stolen at gunpoint, yet are forced to exist in places that they cannot see as home for a whole set of reasons.

Palestinians in the occupied territories – from the occupied West Bank, annexed East Jerusalem or besieged Gaza – experience the Nakba in its most raw and painful forms. It is not just an event that delineates memory, but the very event that ushered in a process of dispossession, dislocation and deprivation, not just of land and freedom, but even of the right to form a national identity within the safety of a place that Palestinians can call home.

This year in particular, the 15 May events commemorating the Nakba within Israel’s Palestine ’48 community – made up of Palestinian citizens of Israel – was massive and involved all aspects of society, including the political leadership. These events highlighted the centrality of the Nakba question to 20 percent of Israel’s own population, who were disaffected directly by the dire consequences of the Catastrophe and all of its negative impacts until this day.

If the Nakba is Israel’s original sin, discounting the Nakba and the right of return for refugees by the Palestinian Authority (PA) is the Palestinian leadership’s own sin against its people. This takes us to the second prerequisite for the formulation of any sound Palestinian strategy: the current PA leadership structure is simply contrary to the aspiration of the Palestinian people.

The PA is one of the most corrupt political structures in the Middle East. The current government in Ramallah is not an elected one and its “president” continues to serve with a mandate that expired years ago. Naturally, fair and democratic elections are unwelcome by both the PA and Israel – for it would probably lead to other unpleasant outcomes such as those that brought Hamas to power in 2006.

The PA and its Israeli benefactors are keenly invested in perpetuating the status quo, for it is allowing the latter to cement its military occupation at a minimal cost of policing occupied Palestinians, while the former benefits in terms of enjoying access to international funds, investments and the chance to move freely in and outside occupied Palestine. The vast majority of Palestinians, however, are confined behind walls, checkpoints and barbed wire. Their imprisonment is guarded as carefully by Palestinian security forces as by the Israeli army.

Sure, there is always the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), an old political structure that is more politically representative of Palestinians and reasonably democratic – especially if compared to the corrupt elites of Ramallah. But sadly, the key to the resurrection of the PLO lies exclusively in the hands of Fatah, the PLO’s largest party, and the one currently controlling the PA. Without a revolt within Fatah itself, there can be no restructuring of the PLO, for a democratic PLO would most likely challenge the PA head on and dismantle its entire wretched apparatus of political peddlers and businessmen.

Thus, the third prerequisite would have to wrangle with the question of leadership, one that doesn’t serve necessarily as an alternative to the PLO, but rather as a platform that unifies Palestinian energies in the occupied territories, in Israel and throughout the shatat (diaspora). This platform must be essentially political with grassroots links, so it communicates clear political messages, but representative and difficult to crush. Also, it would have to remove the obstacles that hindered Palestinian national unity, throughout Palestine, Israel and the world.

That alternative body must also be based in Palestine itself for that’s the only way to secure a degree of authentic representation and remain directly connected to the land. But, it should give an equal and fair representation of all Palestinian communities especially those in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. Doing so would eliminate the danger of elitism and ensure that the refugees are not a question or a problem to be contended with, but the center of the Palestinian political initiative.

This body must not be factional either, and cannot be seen as a competitor to Fatah, Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and all the rest, for it’s a platform that is essentially meant to overcome factionalism, and open the door for factions to break away from the tribal confines of politics to something entirely different.

This is not a strategy per se, as only the Palestinian people – once they have a platform and a democratic representation centered on the question of the Nakba and the right of return – should have access to the very idea of formulating a strategy in the first place.

(Source / 22.05.2015)

Written by altahrir

May 22, 2015 at 8:15 pm

Posted in Opinion others

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Reflections on my grandmother’s memories of Nakba

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A local magazine’s picture features my grandmother Tamam shouting at an Israeli soldiers during a curfew imposed on Jabalia Refugee Camp during the second Intifada

A local magazine’s picture features my grandmother Tamam shouting at an Israeli soldiers during a curfew imposed on Jabalia Refugee Camp during the first Intifada

Edward Said once eloquently wrote,

To be sure, no single Palestinian can be said to feel what most other Palestinians feel: ours has been too various and scattered a fate for that sort of correspondence. But there is no doubt that we do in fact form a community, if at heart a community built on suffering and exile.

This shared state of suffering and exile has started since 1948 when the Zionist state of Israel waged its so-called War of Independence, which Palestinians call al-Nakba. Then, the series of Palestinian tragedies of uprootedness, dispossession and state of permanent temporality of the exile began; more than 800,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their villages and currently number more than six million Palestinians dispersed within the Occupied Territories and in exile, mostly in the neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

As Palestinians are commemorating the 67th of Nakba, my grandmother, whose no longer present in my life, feels more present in my thoughts and closer to my heart than any other day. As children, my grandmother brought up my siblings and me while my parents went to work. The more I became aware of the challenging life she led, the more I admired her. She was truly a fighter. The picture above was shot during the first Intifada when Jabalia Refugee Camp was under curfew and no one was allowed to enter the camp. This picture was printed on the front page of Al-Ayyam, a local magazine with a caption reading “Palestinian women arguing with an Israeli soldier at the entrance of the camp”. Armless as she stood without any fear, shouting powerfully at an armed-to-teeth Israeli soldier who ironically seem scared of her. She was filled with anger for being prohibited to enter and go to her home where my grandfather was dying. Dad saved the picture in spite of my grandmother’s rejection. She was frightened of this picture as she thought, “the Israeli occupation can do anything. A picture can make you a convict”.

My generation, the third-generation refugees, was deeply blueprinted with the traumatic events of the Nakba, which for Palestinians, is not only a tragic historical event that resides in the past, only to be commemorated once a year with events that include demonstrations, clashes with the Israeli forces, art exhibits and national festivals among other things. The memories of the old days in our green villages were our day and night stories that we were brought up hearing, our lullabies that always put us to sleep. I am no exception.

Since Nakba, my grandmother led a life of exile, which Edward Said described as, “the unbearable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home”. It always felt to me that she was incomplete, torn in between her physical place Jabalia Refugee Camp, and the place that she was dispossessed and exiled from Beit-Jerja. Nevertheless, my grandmother embraced the dream to return to Beit-Jerja until the last day of her life. She made sure her grandchildren memorize the stories she always repeated of the old days without any boredom as if stressing, “Never forget!”

“It was never one Nakba,” my grandmother used to say asserting that it was never a one-off event that happened in 1948. The Nakba is experienced instead as the uninterrupted process of Israeli settler-colonialism and domination that was given continuity by the 1967 occupation, and which every aspect of daily Palestinian life is affected by. Growing up hearing our grandmothers recount the life they had before, the dispossessed lands that most would never see again, has formed the collective memory of the Palestinian people. My grandmother described a peaceful life in green fields of citrus and olive trees, the tastes, the sounds, the smells that remained only in her memories in our village Beit-Jirja which was violently emptied of its inhabitants and razed to the ground in 1948 like hundreds of other villages. My grandmother, then, was a pregnant mother with a 2-year-old boy when she lived the trauma of the Nakba, a fact that made her deliver her second child before time as she was in panic making her way to northern Gaza.

At the beginning, she thought it would be a matter of few weeks and in no time, she would return and harvest the crops of olives, grapes and citrus fruits that they left behind. But they never did, or – to keep the hope alive – let’s say they didn’t return yet. Though illiterate, she understood the aim behind the United Nations’ ‘humanitarian’ work, which, she argued, wasn’t to ‘solve’ the problem of the displaced people back them, but to sentence them to a life-long refugee status. She could foresee that the aids that the UN provided were part of a systematic process aimed at making Palestinian refugees forget about their political rights and strip them from their past, a deliberate process that seeks to get them locked in the moment waiting to receive some help or charity to survive.

Similarly, the Palestinian intellectual Jabra I. Jabra, who was born in the same year as my grandmother in 1920, reflected on his memories of Nakba and in a very bitter language he wrote, “the dislodged population was to be deliberately called ‘refugees’” and that “the horrific political and human issue would be twisted that the maximum response it might elicit from a then weary world would be some act of charity, if at all”, and “we would be lumped together with them (the Second World War refugees), at worst another demographic case for the United Nations”, and the systematic destruction and ethnic cleansing of Palestine would be “soon to be hailed by hack novelists and propagandists in America and Europe as a heroic ‘return’”. Then the victims, who paid a devastating price for a crime committed in Europe, will be told: “You’re refugees, don’t make a nuisance of yourselves: we’ll do something about it. Refugee aid after a few months will trickle in: you’ll be numbered and housed in tattered tents and tin shacks. And try and forget, please. Hang on to your rocks wherever you are, and try to forget”.

Zionism has been clearly concerned about the Palestinian refugees whose negation is the most consistent thread running through Zionism. It has desperately attempted to erase them from the dominant narrative that reduced the settler-colonial Zionist project to a ‘heroic return’ and a mere ‘re-claiming’ of a land originally promised to them by God. Israel’s fourth prime minister, Golda Meir who notoriously once said, “There was no such thing as Palestinians, they never existed”, assumed that time will make the Palestinian refugees forget about their right to return: ‘The old will die and the young will forget’. Similarly, Ben-Gurion once bluntly said, “We must do everything to ensure that they never do return!” However, Palestinians, generation after generation, have demonstrated that forgetting was deemed just impossible and unthinkable. Thus, it is no wonder that the issues of the Palestinian refugees, as well as the Palestinian citizens of ‘Israel’ are the ones that electrify Israel the most.

As Jabra I. Jabra once stressed, “The Palestinian may still be an exile and a wanderer, but his voice is raised in anger, not in lamentation”. Currently, Palestinians, including intellectuals, artists, journalists and activists, are dispersed everywhere, doing every thing possible to make the issue of Palestine reclaim its centrality in the world’s political arena. The Palestinian struggle for liberation has become a global struggle thanks to the collective efforts of justice believers around the world. This anger shall keep resonating as long as Palestinians keep enduring the injustices that were brought to them due to the existence of the Zionist state of Israel, regardless of their geographic location. Countless examples of Palestinians have constantly demonstrated that even if the elderly die without returning, the young will keep on holding the key, embracing their legitimate right to return.

I drew this in commemoration of Nakba and to emphasise our embrace of our legitimate right to return

My drawing: We Shall Return

(Source / 17.05.2015)

Written by altahrir

May 17, 2015 at 10:05 pm

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Message to the friends of Palestine

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Dear friends of Palestine,

I have been receiving many responses to the skeptical statements I made yesterday about the symbolic efforts of ‘recognition’ of Palestine undertaken by some governments across the globe. Good, since this is exactly why I made them. It means I challenged people’s thoughts, and this was my objective.

Someone needs to point out the hypocrisy in the dealings in the diplomatic and political world with regard to Palestine. 
Someone needs to keep the pressure up with regard to recognition of the Nakba, and the Right of Return. 
Someone needs to keep pointing out what the true Palestinian cause is, and it is a cause of liberation from an illegal invasion, before it is anything else. 
If I have to be that someone, simply because it is not being said and done enough, then I will be that someone.

Of course I understand the ‘Realpolitik’ comments I received in response to my statements, and I expected them. I’m sure many think I would disagree with most of what was said, but that is much less the case than they think. I am a realist, but don’t forget that it is also unrealistic to cheer from the bottom of your heart for developments that are laden with such a high dose of hypocrisy.

Therefore, I will give you some more things to think about.

We have seen governments that have recognized ‘Israel’ decades ago, and have friendly and warm dealings with their ambassadors, while at the same time witnessing the horrendous war crimes that are continuously unleashed upon the Palestinians in an illegal occupation. While they now say friendly things to the Palestinians, we did not see them expel the Israeli ambassador; we did not see them cancel trade agreements with ‘Israel'; we did not see them cause any significant trouble for the Israelis while things continue to get worse, day after day, year after year.

We see these same countries pondering the recognition of Palestine, or even going so far as granting recognition and opening an embassy. Do I applaud that? Sure I do, don’t get me wrong. But do I consider this to be enough? Hell no. Do you consider it to be enough?

Do you think mine or your ‘gratitude’ matters at all, if 570 innocent dead children in Gaza did not matter enough for these countries to call for an embargo on weapons, or a comprehensive boycott of the illegitimate Zionist state? Do you seriously think that these governments are influenced by my gratitude, or the lack of it? Please.

Therefore, my messages are not aimed at those governments who still have a long way to go before they can even begin to earn my trust. My messages were meant for YOU. I am irrelevant to these governments, and so are you, until perhaps our numbers become so huge that there is simply no way to ignore us, and we are still far away from that.

I have to remind you of the true heart of the Palestinian struggle, just as a signal to your mind not to forget what this is about.

Surely, we all believe that the crimes of the Zionists will someday meet with due punishment and retribution.

My duty is to protect the Palestinian cause until that day comes, and I will fulfill this duty with diligence and dedication. The Palestinian cause is the fight against the ongoing Nakba, and against the denial of its gruesome past. It is the struggle against the Jewish supremacy that was violently forced upon our land in a Holocaust that still hasn’t ended today.

We must protect our cause from ‘diplomatic contamination’. Our rights have been squandered enough as it is. We will protect every last one of our inalienable rights, first and foremost the Right of Return. And you, activists and supporters for the Palestinian cause from around the world, can help us make a relentless fist against Nakba-denial, since it is Nakba-denial that is the root cause of misconceptions about the Palestinian struggle, and the devaluation of our rights as a people.

Stay with us as we continue our struggle. Expand our ranks, without contaminating the core of our cause. Educate the people around you, familiarize them with the symbols of our struggle: our flag, our kuffiyeh, our front door key, and our olive tree. Keep up the great work. I love it that you are here on this page with me, and I appreciate your support for our people.

Until liberation and return,


Doc Jazz

aka Tariq Shadid

Palestinian artist

(Source / 16.05.2015)

Written by altahrir

May 16, 2015 at 8:38 pm

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Killing Abu Sayyaf: what it means in the fight against ISIS

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Dr. Theodore Karasik

The firefight that killed ISIS official Abu Sayyaf by U.S. Special Operations is a major achievement and long overdue against the ISIS leadership. Sayyaf’s wife, Umm Sayyaf, was captured during the firefight and is currently in Iraqi military detention. There are implications of the killing that go beyond the role of the couple in ISIS’s economic operations.

Interestingly, the operation is highly reminiscent of the killing of Abu Mussab Al-Zarqawi in June 2006. It is not so much the method of the killing as it is for the significance. Al-Zarqawi of course is known as the head of Al-Qaeda Iraq, the precursor to today’s ISIS. Al-Zarqawi played a major role in a number of key operations back in the 2000s in Iraq. Just as targeting Al Zarqawi to “cut off the head of the snake” the SOF operation killing Abu Sayyaf meant to not only illuminate a battlefield commander but also kill part of ISIS’s economic model of illicit criminal activity including oil sales and slavery.

now that Delta Forces have been used in Syria, Operation Inherent Resolve actually has real teeth

It is important to note the role of Jordan and American special operations forces in the Hashemite Kingdom. In Zarqa is the Joint Special Operations Command and a presence of American special operators and their equipment for raids into Syria. American special operations along with other Arab operators, have been set for such a raid for a while now because Zarqa is at the confluence of the Syrian and Iraqi borders. Jordanian special operation forces are especially well connected with the topography and network within ISIS to gather valuable intelligence.

Was Iraq in the equation?

The Iraqi part of the equation that led to the Delta force killing of Abu Sayyaf also is vital. Baghdad needs a tactical victory badly given that ISIS is now trying to control Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province in Iraq. Despite the tactical defeat of ISIS in Tikrit last month, ISIS is continuing its path of destruction. ISIS has taken over the main government compound that houses the Anbar governor’s office, police headquarters, and intelligence headquarters. Hikmat Suleiman, the spokesman for Anbar’s governor stated that ISIS managed to seize the heavily fortified complex on mainly due to a lack of backing from the central Baghdad government: “For months we were complaining and telling the Security Ministries that there was no coordination,” he said, adding that the military ignored requests for much needed weapons.” In other words, the Iraqi security forces may not be on top of their game.

The fact that Ramadi fell—for the time being—goes into the timing of the Abu Sayyaf raid and claims of Iraqi permission. The Abadi government, along with its Iranian-backed Shiite militias, are fighting a gruesome battle in Anbar. In addition, with Ramadi going to ISIS for the time being, ISIS is close again to Baghdad. One Gulf official told me that he questions Iraq was involved in the operation all together. “The government was certainly aware but that was the end of the story: they are too busy with their own failures.” Now there are Iraqi security forces moving on Ramadi; there perhaps may be no time for Syrian operations or coordination.

Finally, the Abu Sayyaf raid is a major statement to the participants in the Camp David meetings regarding GCC security requirements. In the wake of the discussions—which at the end of the day resulted in nothing truly new—the Obama administration is illustrating perhaps a new face on targeting ISIS leaders in Iraq and Syria. Perhaps the day of enforcing red lines is actually here instead of Washington backing off. In addition, now that Delta Forces have been used in Syria, Operation Inherent Resolve actually has real teeth. That fact is highly significant in order to actually destroy the ISIS economic model.

The prognosis is that more raids may become fashionable.

(Source / 16.05.2015)

Written by altahrir

May 16, 2015 at 7:57 pm

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Nakba Day 2015

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p.63 #44 (1)

On this Nakba Day, Palestine Square presents a before-and-after look at the dispossession of the Palestinians and the colonization of Palestine in the three major Palestinian cities prior to 1948: Jaffa, Jerusalem, and Haifa.

The old Zionist mantra of ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’ is readily disproved through photographic evidence of a Palestinian people that tilled the land, published newspapers, founded schools, lived in the countryside and the cities, and even after decades of European Jewish immigration to Palestine still outnumbered the Yishuv (pre-Israel Jewish community) by a ratio of two-to-one.


By the mid-1940’s, the port city of Jaffa was home to about 100,000 Palestinian Muslims, Christians and Jews (the Jewish population was roughly 30%). One of the largest cities in historic Palestine, Jaffa boasted a vibrant Palestinian middle-class, a cinema, the Near East radio (on which the legendary Lebanese singer Fairouz was discovered), two Palestinian-owned newspapers, several academies, and the famed Jaffa oranges.

p.63 #44Jaffa from the sea. p.261 #319

p.133 #153

p.262 #320

p.178 #236

Students of the National Christian Orthodox School, Jaffa, 1938. The school was founded in 1921 by the Christian Orthodox Welfare Society.

The 1947 United Nations Partition Plan placed Jaffa within the Arab state, but the city stood as an island surrounded by the proposed Jewish state (the city of Tel Aviv abuts Jaffa from the north).

The Irgun, a right-wing paramilitary/terrorist organization, launched a three day barrage of mortars on the Palestinian quarters. Tens of thousands of Palestinians fled; many on boats to Gaza and Egypt, scores drowning in the sea. Today, the descendants of the few thousand Palestinians who remained continue to reside in Jaffa as citizens of the state of Israel, but the city’s vibrant Palestinian identity and culture is a shadow of its former self. Much of the city was razed to make way for Tel Aviv’s beach promenade, its lasting old quarter was expropriated from its Palestinian owners and remade into an Israeli artist colony, and the Jaffa oranges, Palestine’s gift to the world, have been re-branded as “Israeli”.

Jaffa came under attack and its inhabitants forced to flee before May 14, 1948, the day of Israel’s declaration of independence. The mainstream Zionist paramilitary, the Haganah, joined the Irgun offensive by launched Operation Chametz on April 25 to isolate and conquer Jaffa and the surrounding villages. The city was conquered by Zionist forces on May 10. Rather than a plucky Jewish state attacked by unprovoked Arab armies, the classic Zionist myth, it was the Yishuv’s offensive against the Palestinians and the stream of Palestinian refugees pouring over neighboring Arab borders that compelled reluctant, if not indifferent, Arab governments into war at the behest of their Arab subjects demanding they come to the aid of their Palestinian brethren.

p.338 #415_0Palestinians fleeing by boat. 

p.337 #414Many Palestinians left solely with the belongings they could carry. Many expected to return after the mortar attacks were stopped; which they were by the British, still the Mandate power, on the third day, but Israel continues to prohibit the right of return for Palestinian refugees. 


Left: The Grand Serai, housing local government offices, in Jaffa, July 1908, as a large Palestinian crowd gathers to celebrate the revolution in Constantinople popularly known by the Arabs as al-Hurriyyah (“liberty”) and declared by the “Young Turks” against the despotic sultan Abdul Hamid.

Right: Ruins of the Grand Serai. A truck loaded with explosives covered with oranges was parked outside the entrance on 4 January 1948 by members of the Stern Gang, a right-wing Zionist paramilitary/terrorist group. The resulting explosion destroyed the building and killed twenty-six Palestinian civilians.


The neighborhood of Manshiyeh pre-1948.
p.336 #412Ruins of the Manshiyeh quarter after the Irgun attack.


Today, the name Manshiyeh exists solely in the history books. Tel Aviv’s municipality (which now includes all of Jaffa, the region is known in Israel as Tel Aviv-Yafo) planted a park over the razed neighborhood (a common Israeli feature). Manshiyeh is now the Charles Clore park (above) named after a British Zionist. 


One of the few structures still left standing, a Palestinian home, was converted into a museum dedicated to the Irgun with a plaque recognizing the “liberators” of Jaffa. A victorious momentum for Zionism its symbolism is not lost on Palestinians: the imposition of a new structure, the state of Israel, (and, quiet literally, the glass facade) on the ruins of Palestine.


The golden city of Jerusalem was similarly home to a community of Jews, Muslims and Christians. The Palestinian Jews were mainly Sephardic (Middle Eastern origin), spoke Arabic,  culturally integrated, and maintained amicable relations with their Muslim and Christian neighborhoods. Although many Palestinian Jews welcomed cultural and economic Zionism for improving the condition of Palestine’s Jewry, they were deeply wary about the political ambitions of Zionism. Many warned early on that Zionist colonization, which would necessitate the dispossession and subordination of the Palestinians, would engender hostility between Jewish and non-Jewish Palestinians.

p.156 #196 (1)Mayor of Jerusalem Raghib al-Nashashibi, standing center, gives a tea party at his home in honor of Shaikh Abd al-Hayy al-Kittani (seated to his right), a Moroccan religious leader and scholar, on the latter’s visit to Jerusalem in 1930. The other guests are Palestinian notables and dignitaries. The child is the visitor’s son. p.157 #198

Ali al-Kassar, an Egyptian actor, visits friends in Jerusalem, 1934. Seated first right is Fawzi al-Ghosein from Ramleh, a graduate in law from Cambridge University, England.

p.71 #59A soccer match in the Palestinian quarter of Bab al-Zahirah (Herod’s Gate), outside the Old City walls to the northeast – perhaps the earliest photograph of a sports event in Jerusalem. p.268 #329

Soon after the 1947 Partition Plan, the Zionist leadership began to construct Plan Dalet, a master plan for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the forceful creation of a Jewish state even beyond the borders of the proposed Jewish state (already the greater part of Palestine even though the Yishuv constituted no more than a third of the population and less than 7% of land ownership). In Jerusalem, this entailed Operation Jevussi launched on April 26, 1948.

Zionist forces occupied Palestinian residential quarters in the western part of the city: Katamon, Talbiyya, the German Colony, the Greek Colony, Upper Bak’a, and Lower Bak’a. Nearly all of the Palestinian cultural, political and intellectual elite was forced into exile. Their homes and possessions, including important library collections, were seized by the Zionist paramilitary forces. Palestinian refugees streamed into nearby Ramallah and Bethlehem (the West Bank) and Jordan.

The neighborhood of Talbiyya was an affluent Palestinian Christian community built on land purchased from the Greek Patriarchate. Their palatial and ornamental homes were handed over to Jewish settlers (including a future prime minister of Israel). Today, Talbiyya is an affluent Israeli Jewish neighborhood known as Komemiyut. Its Arabesque homes stand as testament to a lost world.





Akin to Jerusalem and Jaffa, Haifa was also home to a mixed community of Arabs and Jews. About half the population was Jewish and the rest roughly equally Muslim and Christian. Situated in the north of Palestine, Haifa served as the banking capital of the Middle East, a role assumed by Beirut after 1948.

p.65 #48

Haifa, a view from Mount Carmel.

p.155 #194

A Christian wedding, Haifa, 1930. The bridegroom is Hanna Asfour, a Catholic Palestinian lawyer; the bride, Emily Abu Fadil.

p.95 #82

The Third Palestinian National Congress on 14 December 1920. Delegates to the congress represented the main cities and districts of Palestine. Seven congresses were held between 1919 and 1928. At the Third Congress it was decided to form an Executive Committee to conduct business between congresses. These congresses, forerunners of the Palestinian National Congress (PNC) held under the aegis of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) since 1964, reflect early Palestinian attempts at political organization. They passed resolutions expressing fear of Zionist objectives and affirming Palestinian demands for proportional representation and national independence. From right to left, the banner in Arabic reads: “Palestine is the cradle of Jesus”; “Preserve al-Aqsa Mosque”; “Palestine is Arab.”

Haifa was the first of the three major Palestinian cities to fall to the Haganah. The British withdrew from the city on April 21 and the Haganah took the initiative with Operation Misparayim. Haifa fell on April 22-23 as thousands of Palestinians fled by land and sea to Lebanon and Egypt.

About 60,000 Palestinians were expelled or forced to flee and the remaining Palestinian population fell to less than 10% of the city’s residents. Many of them congregated in Wadi Nisnas, which remains a Palestinian urban slum in Haifa neglected by the city’s authorities accustomed to budgetary discrimination between Arab and Jewish neighborhoods.


Parts of Wadi Nisnas have been transformed into contemporary ruins due to severe inattention by the Israeli municipality. 


Today, a Palestinian community remains in Haifa and constitutes 15% of the city population. Haifa is a center for civil rights activism among Palestinian citizens of Israel and is the headquarters for organizations from Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel to Mada al-Carmel, Arab Center for Applied Social Research. Both champion an inclusive state based on equal democratic citizenship for Arabs and Jews.

The fall of the three major Palestinian cities to Zionist forces brought about the destruction of the Palestinian community and sealed the fate of Palestine before Israel declared independence. By the time Arab armies intervened it was too little, too late to reverse a fail accompli: a Jewish state on the ruins of Palestine.

67 years after the Nakba, the Palestinian people, including those within Israel (Jaffa, Jerusalem and Haifa) continue the struggle for Palestinian rights and self-determination in a shared homeland.

(Source / 15.05.2015)

Written by altahrir

May 15, 2015 at 7:46 pm

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The Dispossessed

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Sixty-seven years ago, Israel created a Jewish state, and my grandmother was made homeless.

The author’s grandmother, Beirut, 1957.
The author’s grandmother, Beirut, 1957.

Every year, on May 15, I ask my grandmother to tell me the story of how she was made homeless. It happened 67 years ago. She was 14, the youngest of 11 siblings from a middle-class Christian family. They had moved to Haifa from Nazareth when my grandmother was a little girl and lived on Garden Street in the German Colony, which used to be a colony for German Templars, later becoming a cosmopolitan center of Arab culture during the British Mandate. When I ask her to recall what life in Haifa was like back then, her eyes fix on the middle distance.

“It was the most beautiful city I have ever seen. The greenery … the mountains overlooking the Mediterranean Sea,” she says, as her voice trails off.

My grandmother remembers clearly the night her family left. They were woken up in the middle of the night by loud banging on the front door. My grandmother’s cousins, who lived in an Arab neighborhood of Haifa, had arrived to tell them that Haifa was falling. The British had announced they were withdrawing, and there were rumors that the country was being handed to the Zionists. At the time, the German Colony had been relatively insulated from the incidents of violence in the rest of the country, which included raids and massacres of Palestinian villages by Zionist paramilitary groups. Yet the Haganah, a paramilitary organization that later formed the core of the Israel Defense Forces, saw the British withdrawal from Haifa as an opportunity and carried out a series of attacks on key Arab neighborhoods where my grandmother’s aunts and cousins were living.

“That night our Jewish neighbors told us not to leave,” my grandmother remembers. “And my father wanted to stay, to wait it out. But my mother … well she had 11 children, and of course she wanted us to be safe. And her sisters were leaving because of the attacks in their neighborhoods.”

The Bathish family. The author’s grandmother, the youngest of 11 children, is second from left in the front row. Taken around 1936–37.
The Bathish family. The author’s grandmother, the youngest of 11 children, is second from left in the front row. Circa 1936–37.

The family debated all night. In the morning, they reached a decision. They each quickly packed a small suitcase and left the rest of their belongings. “We hid the most valuable things we couldn’t take in a locked room in our house, thinking it would be safe until we came back,” she tells me, chuckling.

As the women of the family packed, my grandmother’s older brother, who had once been employed by the British forces, struck a deal, allowing them to leave on one of the last British vehicles withdrawing from Haifa. With what little they could carry, my grandmother’s family travelled to the Lebanese border, hiding in a British army vehicle.

When they arrived to Na’oura, on the border between Palestine and Lebanon, they were shocked to see so many other people from across the country. “It felt like the world had ended. The borders were overcrowded with cars and trucks full of people and belongings fleeing the violence. Others were leaving by sea.”

At the border they were ordered into a car, which drove through Lebanon for a few more hours. They were dropped later that night in Damour, a coastal town just south of Beirut. It was dark, they didn’t know anyone, and with no place to rest, the family of 13 slept on the streets in front of a supermarket, the dirty ground littered with rotting fruits and vegetables. As the sun rose the next day, they walked the streets of the unfamiliar town, recognizing friends and neighbors from Haifa who were also wandering the streets aimlessly. After hearing that Beirut was too crowded with refugees, they headed to Jezzine, in south Lebanon, where friends helped set them up in a tiny room in the home of some family friends.

“All summer we waited for news that we could go back,” my grandmother says. “By September, we realized there was little hope, and made plans to move to Beirut.”

For the next few years my grandmother’s family survived through the goodwill of friends and strangers, as well as through food parcels, given to them by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which contained, among other things, powdered eggs, much to my grandmother’s fascination. Her older brothers eventually took up jobs in Beirut to support the family. My grandmother’s family was lucky on balance: As wealthier and Christian refugees, they were given Lebanese citizenship. However, the vast majority of Palestinian refugees were never naturalized, instead placed in one of the dozen UNRWA-operated camps in Lebanon, where they continue to live to this day.

My grandmother’s story is not a unique one. In 1948 Zionist militias depopulated and destroyed more than 530 Palestinian towns and villages. An estimated 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes, and many who were unable to flee were massacred. By the end of July 1948 hundreds of thousands of  Jewish immigrants from outside Palestine, many of whom were survivors of the Nazi Holocaust, had been housed in homes formerly belonging to Palestinian families like my grandmother’s. In December, the new Israeli state implemented a series of laws commonly referred to as the Absentees’ Property Law. These laws created a legal definition for non-Jews who, like my grandmother, had left or been forced to flee from Palestine. The laws allowed the newly created Israeli state to confiscate 2 million dunams (about 500,000 acres) of land from Palestinian families, including my own. In April 2015 the law was extended to cover land in the West Bank, thereby legalizing the continued expulsion of Palestinians and the confiscation of their land and property in order to house new Israeli citizens coming from abroad.

The uniqueness of what has become known as the Palestinian Nakba, or catastrophe, is partly the timing: It occurred at the dawn of state formation throughout much of Asia and Africa, which meant that hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish Palestinians found themselves stateless, unrecognized in the new world of postcolonial nation-states. Perhaps as a result, there is a joke that Palestinians collect passports obsessively, fearful that we might be stripped of one or the other. But is that really surprising given our history, that moment where the door was shut, leaving us on the outside, unrecognized—not just homeless, but stateless as well?

Photograph of the author's grandmother's passports over the years.
Photograph of the author’€™s grandmother’€™s passports over the years.

In 1948, upon Israel’s creation, David Ben-Gurion, the founder and first prime minister of Israel, remarked that “the old will die, and the young will forget.” Given the centrality the Jewish tradition places on memory and the commemoration of struggle and suffering, Ben-Gurion should have known better. For the past 67 years, Palestinians have resisted the Israeli government’s continued efforts to erase the memories of trauma and resistance that began with the Nakba. To this day, Palestinians of my grandmother’s generation often wear the keys to their old houses around their necks, a sign that despite the dispossession of their land, their memories refuse to dim.

Every time my grandmother recounts her experience, a new memory emerges, and I add it to the story, embellishing it with new details and anecdotes. But as her memories made their way onto the page, I had a moment of self-doubt: In my grandmother’s recollection, she was clear that her family had made a decision to leave. Might this play into one of the myths used to justify the establishment of modern-day Israel on Palestinian land—the myth that, despite overwhelming historical evidence to the contrary, Palestinians left on their own free will?

“Are you sure you left voluntarily?” I ask my grandmother. “There was a war,” she replies.

“But no one kicked you out, yes? No one was directly attacking you?” I continue.

The author's grandmother and grandfather as newlyweds, Beirut, 1952.
The author’€™s grandmother and grandfather as newlyweds, Beirut, 1952.

“Not us personally, but my mother was worried by the reports. We thought we would be gone for a few weeks at most.”

Could my grandmother’s memory of the Nakba bolster the false narrative that Palestinians voluntarily left, given that her family had not been physically removed form their home? As I considered this, my thoughts began to coalesce around two points. The first—which seems particularly poignant in 2015, as boats of Arab and African migrants sink off European shores—is a question: What constitutes voluntary displacement? On May 15, 1948, in the face of growing hostilities and the threat of a regional war, my great-grandmother did the only thing she knew to protect her children: She left. Does running away from an imminent war, with a small suitcase and plans to return, constitute a voluntary departure? And if so, is the departed then unentitled to the land and belongings they left behind, and forbidden from ever returning?

My second thought centered on the politics of memory in war. In his novel, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera writes: “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” Israeli politicians hope that, given enough time and pressure, Palestinians will forget and accommodate themselves to their loss. This remains true to this day, as the Israeli state consolidates its occupation, constricting the remaining Palestinians into ever-shrinking ghettos.

Meanwhile, the collective Israeli memory of the Nakba continues to ignore the bloody events that led to the expulsion and displacement of the Palestinian Arab population. In textbooks, the events of May 15, 1948, make no mention of how Palestinians experienced the Nakba and instead represent Israel as a heroic David defeating the many enemies arrayed against it. Since 2011, the refusal to acknowledge the Palestinian Nakba is enshrined in Israeli law, with organizations facing fines if they commemorate the day.

In the face of a powerful Israel that seeks to wipe away remnants of Palestinian life and culture, there is an instinct to close ranks and develop a single story. Nuance and contradiction are luxuries that a people under threat cannot afford. Yet to remember the events of 1948 and to recount them, with their nuances and diversities, is a form of resistance: resistance against forgetting. The collective memory of the Nakba is made up of 750,000 stories, one for each of those who left their homes and were never able to return. Taken together, they offer a nuanced, real, and humane look at a community’s reaction to what is now widely accepted as an act of ethnic cleansing. My grandmother’s story, unique to her, is but one part of a collective memory of this trauma that must be told in all its shades of gray.

To recount the unique personal stories of those who lived through the Nakba is to commemorate the struggle and suffering of Palestinians who lost their land and lives at a time when Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived side by side on the land of historic Palestine. It is to inscribe individual fates onto the canvas of history, which the victors painted in large, ugly blocks. It is personal stories like my grandmother’s, and their ability to be passed down to future generations, that serve as a reminder that peace and coexistence are possible, so long as the memories of all are acknowledged.

(Source / 14.05.2015)

Written by altahrir

May 14, 2015 at 10:22 pm

Posted in Opinion others

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