US embassy move is a day of mourning and a warning

First published by the Middle East Eye on 14/5/2018

As Trump celebrates the relocation of his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, Israel should recognise that the next generation of Palestinians will never stop fighting back

The vultures are circling again, this time on a mission to take another bite out of Palestine’s heart, Jerusalem, 70 years after savaging her to create Israel and in the process driving any remaining doves of peace into the sea.

As Israel celebrates on Monday the US embassy relocation to Jerusalem, President Donald Trump believes that by doing so, the Palestinians’ dreams of freedom will be dealt the final fatal blow, forcing them to accept that it will never happen.

Failure to acknowledge the Nakba

The “leader of the free world” is sending his son-in-law and senior adviser on the Middle East, Jared Kushner; his special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt; and his daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, with Ambassador David Friedman to mark the embassy move and Israel’s 70th anniversary of independence. All four – including his daughter, who converted to Judaism – would qualify for Israeli citizenship. Their hearts and minds are all firmly on Israel’s side.

To them, like the original Zionists who decided that Palestine would be theirs, indigenous Palestinians are at best an inconvenience and at worst a violent people driven by an inexplicable hatred towards their invaders and oppressors.

A bunch of supposedly civilised people in suits and dresses, under heavy protection by the forces of a settler colonialist state, will celebrate an act of naked armed robbery

If Trump’s team had any morals or feelings for the Palestinian people, they would join them in commemorating the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, a day later. Neither they nor their hosts have acknowledged the wrongs done to Palestinians or shown any sensitivity towards them. The rush to move the embassy to coincide with the Israeli celebrations was deliberate, calculated and humiliating.

Palestinians can be excused for taking this to mean that far from wanting to see them attain their legitimate rights, they just hate them.

A bunch of supposedly civilised people in suits and dresses, under heavy protection by the forces of a settler colonialist state, will celebrate an act of naked armed robbery. Jerusalem was taken from the Palestinians by force in two stages: the western part in 1948 and the east in 1967. Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem is illegal under international law, yet it continues to keep it by force.

Its status as illegally occupied was reconfirmed by the judgement of the International Court of Justice in 2004, UN Security Council Resolution 2334 and UNESCO in 2017.

Israel’s facts on the ground

If Trump was genuine about finding a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and wanted to help the two sides peacefully share the land, he could have announced that the US recognised West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital.

He could have subjected this to a set of conditions, including that the city must remain undivided, that illegal settlement-building must stop and be reversed, and that changes to the demography and Israel’s Judaisation policy must cease.

Trump claimed he was recognising reality. In other words, the more facts on the ground that Israel creates, the more ‘reality’ he will recognise

He could then have set a date by which a Palestinian state would be created on 1967 borders and a resolution reached to all outstanding issues between the two sides in accordance with international law.

Instead, Trump claimed he was recognising reality. In other words, the more facts on the ground that Israel creates, the more “reality” he will recognise. Only the staunchest supporters of Israel in his administration could have convinced him that this decision would bring peace any closer.

People walk near the compound of the US consulate in Jerusalem, which will host the new US embassy, as posters praising the US president hang in the street on 11 May 2018 (AFP)

The international community (minus the US and Israel) rejected his decision, both in statements and at the UN Security Council and General Assembly. However, it has taken no action to pressure Israel to return to genuine peace negotiations.

Trump’s decision unleashed anger and protests in every corner of the world, but the reality is that the protests could not be sustained beyond the initial few weeks after the announcement, and the anger has not been channelled into a strategy by Palestinians or their supporters to reverse it.

Entrenching the occupation

The decision, however, helped to precipitate the peaceful Great March of Return, in which Palestinians in Gaza camped at the fence separating them from the homes from which they were violently driven through Zionist Jewish terror in 1948. Palestinians once again reminded the world that they are still waiting to return to the parts of Mother Palestine from which they were expelled 70 years ago. They will never give up this right, whatever facts on the ground Israel creates.

Israel continues to deny them this right by force, with peaceful protesters, journalists and medics being gunned down by Israeli snipers who are heavily protected and hundreds of metres away. It will take whatever it gets, whenever it can, to entrench its occupation, and it will continue to oppress Palestinians and build on their land until the Zionist project is complete.

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Palestinians face reckoning with US administration in a shifting Middle East

Israel’s first prime minister David Ben Gurion thought that “the old will die and the young will forget” when asked what to do with those Palestinians who remained. Well, the old died, as did he, but the young have not forgotten.

Their unshakeable connection to every inch of Mother Palestine has been handed down from one generation to the next. Israel has to deal not only with the six million who live between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, but another six million refugees who yearn for return. That is a reality that Trump does not understand, but the Israelis do, and they are continuously troubled by it.

Resistance lives on

Both of my parents were born in Jerusalem. My father has passed away; my mother is still alive, but has no right to return to her town of birth. A Jewish lady from any part of the world, with no connection to her city, can decide to move to Jerusalem today and be welcomed by Israel and given citizenship, but my mother can’t.

Peace will come to the holy land when my mother can return, and when Jewish Israelis see Palestinians as human beings like them with rights, and not inferior beings.

Trump’s US embassy move is a day of mourning for Mother Palestine, but also a day of warning to Israel that a younger Palestinian generation will take the baton to keep hope alive and resist until Palestinians attain their rights, living peacefully with all in their historic homeland, and Jerusalem is freed from the colonialist vultures.

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a long-standing campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) and a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). He appears regularly in the media as a commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tweets at @kamelhawwash. He writes here in a personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: A Palestinian protester stands over cartoons of US President Donald Trump and pictures of him defaced with a blue Star of David during a demonstration in the city of Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on 20 December, 2017 (AFP)

Interview: Palestinians in Europe hold annual conference

I took part in the Sun will Rise programme for Press Tv which was broadcast on 4/5/2018

The PNC meeting was ‘much ado about nothing’

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 7/5/2018

 
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (2nd L) makes a speech during the 23rd session of the Palestinian National Council in Ramallah, West Bank on 30 April 2018 [Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency]
After a 22-year lull, the highest Palestinian legislative authority of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the Palestinian National Council (PNC), finally met in Ramallah for its 23rd session. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas faced severe criticism for holding the meeting in Ramallah, which remains under occupation, thus excluding many members and figures who would not be allowed into the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) by Israel, or who faced arrest and even assassination if they attempted to enter.
The PNC consists of 765 members, including 198 independents, 132 members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), 49 representing Fatah, 98 representing other factions and a whole multitude of members representing different Palestinian organisations.

 

The meeting was held in the smart Ahmad Shukeiri Hall in Ramallah, named after the first chairman of the PLO; it was filled to the rafters when Abbas was in attendance over four long days. The front row, reserved for the leadership, looked as familiar as ever; it lacked any significant representation of women, non-Fatah faction representatives or young blood. The 23rd session of the PNC was named the “Jerusalem and protecting legitimacy round” in reference to the dangers Jerusalem faces and the need to renew the legitimacy of a number of the PLO institutions.

The meeting was boycotted by three major Palestinian factions — Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) — and a number of independent figures, including well-known members like Dr Salman Abu Sitta, Abdel Bari Atwan and Dr Anis Kassem.

Dr Salman Abu Sitta at Middle East Monitor's 'Jerusalem: Legalising the Occupation' conference in London, UK on March 3, 2018 [Jehan Alfarra/Middle East Monitor]

Dr Salman Abu Sitta at Middle East Monitor’s ‘Jerusalem: Legalising the Occupation’ conference in London, UK on March 3, 2018 [Jehan Alfarra/Middle East Monitor]

The meeting kicked off on 30 April with chaotic scenes as attendance was established by every name of the hundreds of existing members being read out and recorded as present or absent; various lists of replacements were placed in front of the ageing Chairman of the PNC, Saleem Al-Zanoun, adding to the confusion. The session concluded with a proclamation that the meeting was quorate, made to rapturous applause.

What followed was another rambling speech by Abbas lasting for 1 hour 48 minutes. Listening to it, I struggled to identify anything significant to take away with me, which was astonishing given the gravity of the situation the Palestinians face. Nor was there anything to distinguish it from his last speech to another PLO institution, the Palestinian Central Council (PCC) in January. While supposed to be reading his speech, Abbas went off script regularly, which is not a good idea when every word is scrutinised by friend and foe alike, especially when it comes to his attempts to present his version of history to an international audience. His explanation of the reason for the Holocaust drew almost universal condemnation, including some from the Israeli Prime Minister, Britain’s Foreign Secretary and the editorial board of the New York Times. While a more accurate translation of what he said gives context to his remarks, he should really have learnt by now that venturing into this area provides an open goal for accusations of anti-Semitism and those want to quote him out of context.

Attendees listened to speech after speech from leaders, members and guests representing various organisations and over 30 friendly states. The general message was one of support for the Palestinian cause, rejection of Trump’s US Embassy move and an emphasis on the importance of holding the PNC meeting. However, it was the many conversations, sometimes heated, taking place behind the scenes about possible names for membership of the PNC, PLO Executive Committee and the PCC that drove the real business of the meeting.

The closing session took place in the late hours of day four, concluding with a shorter speech by Abbas and the emerging decisions of the PNC. Abbas was “re-elected” by proclamation as President of Palestine and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the PLO. The PNC Chairman reminded the meeting how decisions are reached in the PNC, by standing up and applauding. There is no ballot. This drew heavy criticism from Nabil Amer, a former PLO Ambassador to Egypt, who had wanted to stand for the Executive Committee. He was initially told not to speak by Abbas but was eventually allowed to say a few words by the PNC Chairman. He simply reiterated his intention to struggle for decisions to be taken through a ballot and called on the PNC to hold Legislative Council and Presidential elections without delay.

Amer’s remarks were only heard after the PNC agreed to Abbas’s list of members of the Executive Committee, which he claimed had been agreed with “nationalistic factions”. Fifteen names were presented, including seven former members and eight new people. Those familiar to followers of Palestinian politics were Mahmoud Abbas, Saeb Erekat and Hanan Ashrawi. Abbas explained that the Committee had kept three seats vacant to allow the PFLP, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which boycotted the meeting, to join the PNC. In the case of Hamas, he conditioned this on the movement agreeing to abide by existing agreements. “We don’t want to see them out of our national unity and we don’t like exclusion,” he claimed.

The PNC was also asked to approve membership of the smaller PCC, which was to take on the terms of reference of the PNC due to the difficulties it faces in meeting annually, as it should. Presenting the names, the newly-installed Executive Committee member Azzam Al-Ahmad, known for his role in negotiating reconciliation with Hamas, stressed the great efforts made to ensure the widest possible geographic and factional representation on the PCC.

Earlier, 35 PNC members urged Abbas to end the sanctions he had imposed on the Gaza Strip since May 2017 to force Hamas, which has controlled the coastal enclave since 2007, to hand over power to the Palestinian Authority. Abbas skated around the subject but confirmed that the April salaries for those on the PA payroll in Gaza would be paid immediately and that the lack of payment had been due to a “technical hitch” and was not intended to punish the besieged workers.

In his closing remarks, Abbas took a swipe at those who boycotted the meeting held under occupation. “When we said [that we will] meet in this beautiful Ahmad Shukeiri Hall we are in our country, in our homeland not under the pikes of the occupier,” he insisted. “Yes, there is an occupation, but we can say what we want here. I am not prepared to go and seek a place to meet in an Arab country or any other when I can meet on my land.”

The closing statement of the 23rd PNC meeting is long but uninspiring. It reiterates the decisions of the PCC held in January, which remain un-actioned, including suspending recognition of Israel until it recognises Palestine and the end of security cooperation with the occupying power.

Much will now be written about the PNC meeting, its legitimacy, operation and decisions. Those who questioned its legitimacy will not change their stance, but what can they do to oppose them? The significant Palestinian factions which boycotted the gathering are unlikely to suddenly accept the invitation to re-join a body that they consider illegitimate. Healing the pain of the division has been taken off the table. Fatah and the small number of individuals around the Palestinian President will continue to operate without wide consultation and take crucial decisions on issues facing the Palestinian people. There is no accountability for the actions of the Palestinian leadership including, the Palestinian National Authority. Has it delivered any meaningful improvement to the lives of Palestinians or moved them closer to achieving their legitimate rights? Can refugees in Jordan, Lebanon or Syria see an end to their exile? Are the Palestinians in the diaspora represented in the PLO’s institutions in the proportion that they should be, or are they simply a number to call upon when the scale of the suffering of the Palestinians since the Nakba needs to be highlighted? Sadly, the reality is that there is no new emerging strategy to meet the aspirations of the Palestinians or to oppose the Trump juggernaut as it implements Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s diktats on “peace” through what is touted as the “deal of the century”.

The 23rd meeting of the PNC has come and gone and will in my view be remembered as one of the least significant events in Palestinian history; it was definitely “much ado about nothing”. However, Abbas pleased the meeting by announcing that Palestinian child prisoner Ahed Tamimi, convicted for slapping an Israeli soldier, will be made an honorary member of the Council. We might have to wait a little longer, but perhaps a President Ahed Tamimi or a member of her generation will one day take up the baton and lead the Palestinians to justice, freedom and equality.

 

Interview: Israel’s violent response to Friday protests by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is gradually drawing international reactions.

I was interviewed by On the News Line for Press TV, which was transmitted on 16/4/2018

Obituary: Farewell to Rim Banna, Palestinian cultural icon

First published by the Arab Weekly on 1/4/2018

Banna performed her music in a youthful, magical manner, which reached deep into the hearts of her audiences.
A 2009 file picture shows Palestinian singer Rim Banna performing during a concert in Damascus. (AFP)
Prolific legacy. A 2009 file picture shows Palestinian singer Rim Banna performing during a concert in Damascus. (AFP)

I never had the honour of meeting Rim Banna or hearing her sing in person but that did not stop me from shedding a tear when I heard she had succumbed to her illness a few days after Mother’s Day. She died March 24 in her birthplace, Nazareth, at the age of 51 after a 9-year battle with breast cancer.

My tears were for the loss of a Palestinian cultural icon and a supporter of justice whose smile lit up every photo or video I had seen of her. Her smile transcended borders and reached into every Palestinian home from China to Chile, from Finland to Cape Town.

If proof were needed of where her biggest love lay, it came during her funeral when mourners movingly recited “Mawtini”

(“My Homeland”), the unofficial national anthem of Palestine. Banna dedicated her life and much of her art to the homeland of 13 million Palestinians of all nationalities and faiths — Palestine.

Banna was a singer, composer, musical arranger and activist. She was immersed in Palestinian culture from an early age. Her mother is poet Zuhaira Sabbagh. Her formal musical education was undertaken at the Higher Music Conservatory in Moscow. That is where she met Ukrainian guitarist Leonid Alexeyenko, whom she married in 1991, a marriage that lasted 19 years. She raised their children alone from then on.

The training she had in Russia broadened her musical skills, which she skilfully applied to develop modern interpretations of traditional Palestinian songs. She was particularly successful in using her rapporteur of skills and talent to breathe new life into children’s songs and popular women’s melodies without divorcing them from their or her Palestinian roots.

Banna performed her music in a youthful, magical manner, which reached deep into the hearts of her audiences. Her music has been described as “haunting, emotional, at times bordering on kitsch.” She said her music was a means of cultural self-assertion.

She wrote and composed her own songs and added melodies to poetry, including works by Palestinian poets such as Mahmoud Darwish and Samih al-Qasim.

Her message often focused on the suffering of Palestinians. She sang of the stolen homeland, of the children of the refugee camps, of the bleeding youth of Gaza on the way to long-awaited freedom.

Where she could, Banna performed concerts, such as in Jerusalem and the West Bank. For places she could not reach in person, such as Gaza, she made webcasts to reach her fans.

Banna was not only an ambassador for Palestinian music and song but also for traditional Palestinian dress, as she was always clad in embroidered Palestinian clothing and large, antique silver jewellery.

Her cultural legacy consists of at least ten albums, stories, songs, thousands of words, films she appeared in and jewellery she designed.

Banna will be remembered for being one of the first artists to call for a cultural boycott of Israel. She could not understand the hypocrisy of artists whose work encouraged resistance and called for liberation but who also agreed to perform in an occupying country.

She applied the occupation theme to her battle with cancer, describing it as the occupier in her body. She resisted it with all her power, despite losing her wild, curly hair. Some of the most iconic photographs were of her with a shaved head, which enunciated her big eyes and a smile that lit the image, defiant and strong.

In 2016, Banna lost the ability to sing after cancer ravaged her vocal chords. Surgery could not resurrect her beautiful voice but she could still speak. “It’s not the same thing but I will continue to sing to my people, as long as I breathe,” she said then.

I bet Rim Banna is looking down on us with her beaming smile, happy that, even in death, she strengthened the bond between Palestinians and their homeland as more of her compatriots scoured the internet for her songs, which they will learn and hum for years.

Farewell, Rim Banna. You are in a better place but we promise you that the young will not forget Palestine and your music will outlast us all to provide them and generations after that, if need be, inspiration to carry on the fight for freedom, justice and equality.