Yacoub Shaheen, the Assyrian singer from Palestine taking Arab Idol by storm
Ajam 17 Feb by Alex Shams — In just a few short months, Yacoub Shaheen has gone from a local singer in the West Bank town of Bethlehem to a household name across the Arab World. Shaheen is Palestine’s contestant on Arab Idol, the glamorous yearly entertainment contest that is must-see TV for millions across the Middle East. He has wowed audiences and judges with his smooth voice, good looks, and soulful rendition of classic Arabic songs. The following clip shows him singing a Palestinian nationalist song, entitled “Her earth is my soul,” wrapped in a kuffiyeh: … Shaheen’s rise to fame has triggered excitement not just in Palestine, where he was born and raised, but in an unexpected corner of the region as well: northern Iraq. Assyrians around the world have quickly taken note of a part of Shaheen’s biography less-mentioned on the show: he is Syriac, a small community that is part of the Assyrian nation. Syriacs, like most Assyrians, are Christian. Church services are conducted in Syriac, a liturgical language related to Aramaic. Aramaic is an early Semitic language related to modern Arabic, Hebrew, as well as Assyrian, which is the closest modern relative of the language and is also called neo-Aramaic. In Palestine, very few Syriacs speak Assyrian, but liturgical Syriac is in church use. The following video shows Shaheen singing a Syriac song beside a Syriac priest:….
Palestinians celebrate victory of Bethlehem singer in Arab Idol contest
[with photos] BETHLEHEM (Ma‘an) 25 Feb — Jubilant crowds gathered in the Palestinian towns of Bethlehem and Majd al-Krum on Saturday evening to watch the highly anticipated announcement of the winner of the Arab Idol singing contest in Beirut, which has had millions of viewers glued to their TV screens since November. Raucous celebrations broke out in Bethlehem, as native of the town Yaqoub Shahin was declared the winner after fans cast their votes from around the world. He is the second Palestinian to claim the title since the contest premiered in 2011. Shahin, a Syriac-Palestinian and member of Bethlehem’s small community of Assyrians, competed against fellow Palestinian Amir Dandan and Yemeni national Ammar Muhammad in the final round of the pan-Arab singing contest’s fourth season. It was the first time in the program’s history that two of the remaining three finalists were from the same national background … Thousands crowded into Bethlehem’s Manger Square and took to the streets across the southern occupied West Bank city, causing major traffic jams, as thousands more gathered in Majd al-Krum, a Palestinian town in Galilee in northern Israel, where Dandan, who now lives in the US, was born … A Palestinian delegation attended the final performance in Beirut on Friday, which included Yasser Abbas, son of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, General Manager of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation Ahmad Assaf, and Bethlehem Mayor Vera Baboun. On Thursday evening, the president also hosted the three finalists at his residence in Beirut. The ambassador of Yemen in Beirut hosted them as well. Muhammad Assaf, a Palestinian from the besieged Gaza Strip who won the contest in 2013, was also in Beirut for Saturday’s announcement. Assaf’s victory was the first such success for a Palestinian entertainer and sparked an unprecedented response in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Violence / Detentions — West Bank / Jerusalem
Palestinian woman shot, injured by Israeli forces at Qalandiya checkpoint
BETHLEHEM (Ma‘an) 27 Feb — A Palestinian woman was shot and injured by Israeli security guards early at the Qalandiya checkpoint between the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem on Monday afternoon, as Israeli police claimed that she was carrying an unspecified object. Police spokeswoman Luba al-Samri said in a statement that a “suspicious” Palestinian woman entered the vehicle lane of the checkpoint “seemingly” carrying out an object. “The security guards noticed her and instructed her to stop but she ignored the instructions,” al-Samri said. “The guards then started arrest procedures and neutralized the woman,” al-Samri added, using an Israeli forces term to indicate that a Palestinian was shot without specifying whether they were injured or killed. Al-Samri later clarified that the woman had been “lightly injured,” and that she had been “carrying a bag in a suspicious way.” This is a developing story.
Israeli forces storm Tuqu‘ school, attack teachers with pepper spray
BETHLEHEM (Ma‘an) 26 Feb — Three Palestinian teachers suffered from pepper spray inflammation at the hands of Israeli forces, when the latter stormed a secondary school in the southern occupied West Bank village of Tuqu‘ to remove posters commemorating 17-year-old Qusay Hassan al-Umour, who was shot dead by Israeli forces in the town in mid-January. Israeli forces raided the school to remove photos of al-Umour which were posted to mark the 40 days since his killing. Witnesses told Ma‘an that teachers who tried to prevent soldiers from taking down the posters were assaulted and pepper sprayed in the face. Adel al-Shaer, Murad Mufarrih, and Alaa Hmeid were treated on the scene for the inflammation caused by the pepper spray. After Israeli troops stormed the school, clashes broke out in the town between Israeli soldiers and schoolchildren. Witnesses said Israeli soldiers chased the youth through the town’s alleys and showered the area in tear gas. No injuries were reported …
Israeli military presence in Tuqu‘ has escalated since al-Umour was shot dead during clashes in the town, when the Israeli army claimed that the teen had been the “main instigator” among Palestinian youth throwing stones at border police. However, video footage showed forces running towards the teenager’s motionless body moments after he was shot, as he was lying in a field at least 100 meters away from the road where the clashes were taking place. Investigations by BADIL prompted the Palestinian NGO to brand the shooting as an “extrajudicial killing,” asserting that the teen “could not have presented a lethal threat to the well-protected Israeli border police from a distance of around 100 meters, and the use of live ammunition against him was therefore unjustified.” Following the incident, at least seven Palestinian youth have been detained in Tuqu‘ during overnight raids, while Israeli forces previously installed a military base at the western entrance to the town, periodically preventing residents from entering or leaving. Israeli forces also raided the village earlier this month to take over a Palestinian home that has a view of the site of al-Umour’s killing, turning the house into a military post.
Several Palestinians injured as Israeli army gas-bombs near Jenin
IMEMC 27 Feb — Many armored Israeli military vehicles invaded, on Monday at dawn, the town of Jaba‘, south of the northern West Bank city of Jenin, and clashed with local youths, before firing dozens of gas bombs at them, and homes, causing several Palestinians to suffer the effects of teargas inhalation. Media sources in Jenin said the soldiers invaded a pharmacy in the town, and violently searched it, leading to clashes. The soldiers fired rubber-coated steel bullets, gas bombs and live rounds, causing many to suffer the effects of teargas inhalation. In addition, the soldiers stopped and held many cars, and interrogated several Palestinians, in addition to confiscating the ID cards of two siblings, identified as Mahmoud Hammour and his brother Morad, and summoned them for interrogation.
PFLP demonstrates on anniversary of alleged assassination of Omar Nayif
JENIN (Ma‘an) 25 Feb — Supporters of the left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) organized rallies in the northern occupied West Bank district of Jenin and in the besieged Gaza Strip on Saturday, to mark the anniversary of the death of PFLP member Omar Nayif in the Palestinian embassy in Bulgaria last year, which the group believes was an assassination carried out by the Mossad (Israel’s foreign intelligence agency). Nayif, a 52-year-old man from Jenin, had been living in Bulgaria for years, but in 2015 sought refuge in the Palestinian embassy after Israel demanded his extradition so he could see out a life sentence over the killing of an Israeli in Jerusalem’s Old City in 1986. Nayif was one of a number of prisoners that should have been released by Israel as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords, which obligated Israel to release Palestinian political prisoners held until that point. Bulgarian police reportedly gave Nayif 72 hours to turn himself in but Nayif refused, considering the procedure illegal, the Palestinian Committee for Prisoners’ Affairs reported at the time. Palestinian Authority (PA) officials had said that embassy staff found Nayif in the embassy’s garden covered in blood, [he] was rushed to hospital, and died en route. According to Palestinian ambassador Ahmad al-Madbuh, Nayif had been alone at the embassy and had been locked in for his own protection and there was no visible evidence of anyone having broken in to the three-storey villa. However, al-Madbuh later told reporters that the death was “murder” and said it was “a result of the continuing persecution by Israel.” Omar Nayif’s brother Ahmad Nayif said shortly after the incident that his family held the PA responsible the death, which he said was an assassination by Israel … Ahmad challenged the PA’s version of events, saying that “a group of people raided the embassy and Omar’s room in order to assassinate him, when a fight erupted and they threw him out of the embassy’s balcony, killing him.”….
Israeli Supreme Court postpones decision over release of 6 slain Palestinians’ bodies
BETHLEHEM (Ma‘an) 27 Feb — The Israeli Supreme Court has agreed to a demand by the Israeli government to postpone a ruling regarding the return of the bodies of six Palestinians who died while committing or allegedly committing attacks on Israelis, according to a Palestinian committee dedicated to securing the release of the bodies to their families for burial. The Israeli state has also demanded that the court back down from a decision made in June agreeing to release the body of Abd al-Hamid Abu Srour. Israel’s security cabinet said last month that the body of Abu Srour, along with those of two other slain Palestinians — Muhammad Tarayra and Muhammad al-Faqih — would not be returned to their families due to their alleged affiliation with the Hamas movement, and that they would instead be buried inside Israel in a “graveyard for enemy dead.” Israel considers the bodies to be a bargaining chip that could be used in a future exchange deal with Hamas, the de facto rulers of the besieged Gaza Strip, where the bodies of two Israeli soldiers are believed to be held. Muhammad Elayyan, a member of the legal committee established to recover the bodies and the father of slain Palestinian Bahaa Elayyan, said during a committee meeting on Sunday that the Israeli Supreme Court had postponed looking into the combined cases of all six bodies until March 22. It remained unclear under what grounds the bodies of Fadi al-Qunbar, Muhammad Nabil Zeidan, and Rami Awartani remained held, and how their cases could be combined with the three Hamas-affiliated Palestinians….
Israeli forces detain 5 Palestinians in predawn military raids
RAMALLAH (Ma‘an) 26 Feb — Israeli forces carried out predawn military raids across the occupied West Bank on Sunday, detaining at least five young Palestinians, including at least three minors. The Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS) released a statement saying that two 15-year-old boys, identified as Muhammad Nashat Hamamra and Zeid Muhammad Hamamra, were detained the village of Husan west of Bethlehem in the southern occupied West Bank. In the northern district of Qalqiliya, PPS said that 24-year-old Said Ziyad Abu Haniyeh was detained in the town of ‘Azzun, and that Israeli forces detained 24-year-old Abdullah Muhammad Shatat in the village of Biddya in the central Salfit district.An Israeli army spokesperson confirmed two detentions were made in Husan, as well as one in Biddya and one in ‘Azzun.The army spokesperson did not confirm, however, the detention of 17-year-old Mahmoud Muhammad Sarsour in Qaddura refugee camp in the central occupied West Bank district of Ramallah, as reported by PPS.
Israeli soldiers abduct 21 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank
IMEMC 27 Feb — Israeli soldiers invaded, overnight until early morning hours Monday, many Palestinian communities in different parts of the occupied West Bank including occupied East Jerusalem, searched dozens of homes, and abducted 21 Palestinians, including a woman who is also a former political prisoner, from Hebron. The Hebron office of the Palestinian Prisoners Society (PPS), in the southern part of the West Bank, said the soldiers invaded Hebron city, and many nearby towns and villages, violently searched homes and abducted seven Palestinians. It identified the abducted as Jihad Mahmoud Hmeidat, 22, Ma‘an Hamdallah Hmeidat, Mohammad Mousa Abu ar-Reesh, 22, Mos‘ab Mahmoud Sweity, 17, Mohammad Mahmoud Najajra, 36, Noureddin Mohammad al-Hoor, and a former political prisoner, identified as Ehsan Mohammad Dababsa, 35. In Salfit, in central West Bank, the soldiers broke into and searched homes and abducted three Palestinians, identified as Aysar Mo’men Bouziyya, 22, Bilal Abed Souf, 23, and Kamal Suleiman Kleib, 58. In Nablus, in the northern part of the West Bank, the soldiers abducted two Palestinians, identified as Shadi Bishkar, 40, and Kamal Salama….
Opinion: Reality check: enemies of the state / Jeff Barak
JPost 26 Feb “Whenever possible, this government always thinks the worst of Israel’s Arab citizens.” — …When an Israeli-Arab citizen is killed by police gunfire, in today’s climate there is no crime in being quick to denounce the victim as an Islamic State terrorist before a detailed investigation has been conducted to see whether this was in fact the case. The incident during last month’s house demolitions in the unrecognized Beduin village of Umm al-Hiran was truly tragic. Yacoub Abu al-Kaeean [Qi‘an] was killed by police fire as he drove away from the scene of the demolitions and, after these shots were fired, his car then plowed into nearby policemen, killing a young police officer, Erez Levi. The official report on the incident has not yet been released, but it seems that the Justice Ministry’s Police Investigations Department (PID) is expected to announce that Kaeean did not deliberately drive into Levi during the incident. But neither Erdan nor Alsheich were prepared to wait for the full report. Rather than calm the atmosphere surrounding this botched operation, and check whether the initial police reports from the scene were accurate (past experience of police cover-ups has shown that this is not always the case), both men were eager to label Kaeean a terrorist. Alsheich was even quick to promote Kaeean’s guilt by association: “Everyone knows that the terrorist served as a schoolteacher where there had already been six teachers arrested who chose to teach the ideology of Daesh [Islamic State, or ISIS] instead of the curriculum of the Education Ministry,” while Erdan chose to blindly support the police.
Human rights violations and popular struggle in South Hebron Hills
Operation Dove report released in January – with detailed maps. General overview: In the South Hebron Hills area Operation Dove volunteers recorded a wide range of human rights violations against Palestinians carried out by both Israeli forces and Israeli settlers. On January 7, a group of Israeli settlers from the illegal Israeli outpost of Havat Ma’on attacked Operation Dove volunteers and Israeli activists while they were coming back to the Palestinian village of At Tuwani, after they had accompanied Palestinian farmers who were plowing their land. Masked settlers beat up one Operation Dove volunteer and one activist, threw stones at the group, and stole one camera. On January 11, Israeli Army and Israeli Civil Administration (DCO) blocked and destroyed part of the agricultural road that links the two Palestinian towns of Bani Na‘im and Yatta in the Hebron governorate … Israel army and police: Children from the Palestinian villages of Tuba and Maghayir Al-Abeed began the first semester of the 2016-17 school year with Israeli soldiers escorting them to their school in the nearby Palestinian village of At-Tuwani. This is the thirteenth continuous year that these children have needed a military escort in order to walk to school safely. To get to school the children must walk along a road which once provided easy travel between the villages, but which now runs between the Israeli settlment of Ma’on and the illegal outpost of Havat Ma’on. For the past thirteen years violent behavior by settlers from the outpost, the existence of which is illegal under both Israeli and International law, has made the road inaccessible to Palestinians. Even escorted by Israeli soldiers the schoolchildren continue to face the possibility of violence, harassment and intimidation as they walk to and from school … Operation Dove volunteers documented multiple instances in which the military escort failed to provide protection to the children, leaving them vulnerable to settler violence on many occasions during the first semester of the 2016-2017 school year….
Man who stabbed Jew he mistook for an Arab sentenced to 11 years
[with video of the attack] Ynet 27 Feb by Ahiya Ravad & Gilad Morag — A Jewish Israeli man was sentenced to 11 years in prison on Monday for attempted murder after he stabbed a man he mistook for an Arab at a supermarket in northern Israel in 2015. Pinto was also ordered to pay damages of NIS 50,000 to the victim. In their ruling, the Haifa District Court judges said that the perpetrator, Shlomo Pinto, “acted out of a sense of revenge and ideology in order to inspire people to act like he did, when the only goal is to kill an Arab victim.” Pinto, a resident of Kiryat Ata who had a police record for a series of property crimes, was convicted in December of attempted murder. The attack took place in October 2015 during the height of a wave of stabbing terror attacks that swept the country. Pinto entered a supermarket in Kiryat Ata armed with two knives. After observing Uri Rizken, a worker at the supermarket, Pinto concluded he was Arab and stabbed him several times in the back and waist before chasing him through the store and seriously wounding him … In handing down the verdict, judges noted the premeditated nature of the crime, its severity, the nationalist motivation and the damage done to the victim. As such, the judges handed down a sentence consistent with that given to terrorists also convicted of attempted murder (between 9 and 15 years of actual time spent in prison).
Loss of residency status
Jabal Mukaber faces Israel’s collective punishment
JABAL MUKABER, Occupied East Jerusalem (Al Jazeera) 26 Feb by Ylenia Gostoli — From the terrace of her home in Jabal Mukaber, a neighbourhood perched on the steep hills of occupied East Jerusalem, Manwa al-Qanbar looks over the checkpoint dividing it from a-Sheikh Saad, where part of her family still lives. It is only a couple of blocks away, but those living on the other side of Israel’s separation wall in the occupied West Bank need special permits to enter Jerusalem. And Manwa may soon be expelled to there, after the Israeli government revoked her status as a permanent resident of East Jerusalem. Manwa’s son, 28-year-old Fadi, was shot dead in early January after he rammed a truck into a group of soldiers in the illegal East Talpiot Jewish settlement, killing four and injuring 13. “Just a day after he was killed, the police came to hand me a letter saying they were considering to revoke my residency papers,” Manwa told Al Jazeera … The letter to Manwa, issued by Israel’s Population Authority, alleged irregularities with how she had acquired her residency from her marriage, before measures were tightened in the early 2000s for spouses from the occupied territories. After more than 30 years, the government is now disputing her application on the basis of an alleged bigamous marriage. Twelve other members of Manwa’s family also received notices that the Interior Ministry intended to revoke their status in Jerusalem, with notices stating: “Following the attack … information was received according to which several members of your extended family are suspect of having connections with ISIS and involvement in terror activity. Therefore a security risk is posed by your continued presence in Israel.”….
IDF attacks in Gaza in response to rocket fire
Ynet 27 Feb by Yoav Zitun, Matan Tsuri, Elior Levy — The IDF attacked targets in the Gaza Strip on Monday afternoon in response to a rocket fired from the strip that exploded in open area in the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council in the early morning hours. Among the targets of Monday’s IDF attacks was a military post near the Nuseirat Camp in the center of the Strip. The rocket fired early in the morning did not activate the Code Red siren. There were no injuries and no damage caused as a result of the rocket … [On 6 Feb] a rocket was fired toward the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council. Using tanks and aircraft, the IDF attacked three Hamas positions in the northern Gaza Strip in response to the rocket fire.
Israeli soldiers open fire on homes in southern Gaza
IMEMC 26 Feb — Israeli soldiers fired, on Saturday evening, dozens of live rounds at homes close to the border fence, east of Khan Younis in the southern part of the besieged and impoverished Gaza Strip. Media sources in Gaza said many live rounds struck homes in Khuza‘a town east of Khan Younis, causing damage, in addition to striking streets in agricultural lands close to the fence. The sources added that the soldiers also fired several flares in the area, but did not invade the Palestinian lands.
Israel shoots down Hamas drone from Gaza Strip: military
Reuters 23 Feb — An Israeli fighter jet on Thursday shot down a drone belonging to the Islamist group Hamas that had taken off from the Gaza Strip, the military said. The interception prevented “an immediate threat of infiltration” into Israeli airspace and the drone fell into the Mediterranean sea, the military’s statement said. No Hamas comment was immediately available. In December, Hamas, which controls Gaza, blamed Israel for killing one of its drone experts in Tunisia. Israel had no official comment. Israel has in the past voiced concern that armed groups in Gaza and Lebanon would use drones carrying explosives inside its borders in a future war. Hamas and other Islamist militias have fired thousands of rockets at militarily superior Israel in previous conflicts but have made scant use of drones. The last Israeli interception of a drone that took off from Gaza was in September. During the 2014 Gaza war, a U.S.-supplied Israeli Patriot missile destroyed an unmanned Hamas aircraft over the southern Israeli port city of Ashdod. Israel is itself a world leader in drone technologies and has used the vehicles extensively in combat.
Israel barring Palestinians from entering for medical care over cellphones, witnesses say
Haaretz 23 Feb by Jack Khoury — Gaza women say they were turned back at border because they didn’t have their cellphones, which were taken by Hamas — Palestinians from Gaza attempting to enter Israel claim that Israel’s Shin Bet security service has recently begun demanding they hand over their cellphones when being questioned and that those who refuse are barred from entering. According to two female cancer patients from the Gaza Strip, who need medical treatment that is unavailable in Gaza, when they told Israeli officials they did not have cellphones, they were sent back and were later told their request to enter Israel has been denied. The phenomenon is apparently part of the ongoing intelligence war between Israel and Hamas. According to Physicians for Human Rights Israel, the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet often mine such patients’ phones for intelligence purposes, downloading contact information, intercepting text messages, emails and pictures, eavesdropping on conversations and monitoring data traffic. According to the organization, which helps Gazans obtain medical care in Israel, without a cellphone the women lose their intelligence value to Israel, and as a result they are often denied access to essential and lifesaving medical care. Gazans explain that Palestinian patients seeking to cross into Israel at the Erez checkpoint must first undergo a security interview. Now they must first pass a Hamas checkpoint, known as “Point 44,” where Hamas security officers ask the patients to leave their cellphones so they cannot be examined by Israeli security authorities. Rabab Zarnadah, 47, of Jabalya, was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2014.…
Palestinian shipments of medication heading to Gaza
RAMALLAH (Ma‘an) 26 Feb — Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah announced on Sunday that 27 trucks loaded with medications had left the northern occupied West Bank city of Nablus and were headed towards the besieged Gaza Strip. Hamdallah said that the shipment included antibiotics, as well as medication for cancer and kidney transplants. “The Gaza Strip is a part of our homeland and there is no (Palestinian) state without the Gaza Strip,” Hamdallah said. “Gaza was and still is a priority for Palestinian leadership and the (Palestinian Authority) government, and we are undertaking huge efforts to meet the needs of our people in Gaza Strip amid the Israeli siege.” The official’s statement came amid ongoing heated discussions between the Fatah-led PA in the West Bank and the Hamas government in Gaza over whether the blockaded coastal enclave would be included in upcoming municipal elections.
UN suspends Gaza staffer amid allegations of Hamas ties
JERUSALEM (AP) 26 Feb — The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees suspended a Palestinian staffer Sunday, a spokesman for the U.N. agency said as Israel alleged the employee was elected to a leadership position with the Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Chris Gunness of UNRWA said Suhail al-Hindi, the chairman of the UNRWA Palestinian workers’ union in Gaza and the principal of a UNRWA elementary school, was suspended due to “substantial information” received by the agency. The Israeli defense body COGAT said al-Hindi was elected to Hamas’ politburo in a secret vote this month, though al-Hindi denied that. The U.N. agency forbids its staff from holding political office. Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai of COGAT said in a statement Sunday that he demanded the U.N. agency investigate the matter. Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organization. “We have seen the latest communication from the Israeli authorities,” Gunness said. “Before that communication, and in light of our ongoing independent internal investigation, we had been presented with substantial information from a number of sources which led us to take the decision this afternoon to suspend Suhail al Hindi, pending the outcome of our investigation. As with all UN Agencies, we will ensure that a staff member’s due process rights are followed.” The agency temporarily suspended al-Hindi in 2011 for participating in events with Hamas officials. [On the 23rd, UNRWA had accepted al-Hindi’s denial that he was elected to political office since no evidence to the contrary had been seen]
In besieged Gaza, first English library to open window to world
GAZA (AFP) 26 Feb by Mossab Abu Toha has never actually left Gaza, instead devouring books as an escape. Now he is struggling to open the first English-language library in the beleaguered Palestinian territory. “Send us books in English, new or used,” says the 24-year-old reading enthusiast on his Facebook page. Abu Toha, like so many Gazans effectively trapped in the Palestinian enclave by Israeli and Egyptian restrictions, dreams of travelling.“Freedom begins when one frees one’s mind,” says the young graduate in English literature from the Islamic University of Gaza, who shares his passion by teaching Shakespeare at a United Nations school. “I have read dozens of books in English, and with them I can travel to every country in the world and through all periods. I feel like I am in another world.” … Since the July launch of their “Library & Bookshop for Gaza” page, which has nearly 2,500 followers, the two friends say they have collected more than 200 books, including from American and European donors, as well as $2,000 (Dh7,343). But delivery has again been an issue. For months in 2016, Israel blocked the arrival of parcels into the Gaza Strip because they alleged its Islamist rulers Hamas were using it to send in weapons components. The transfer was restored in December, with Abu Toha announcing joyfully on Facebook: “You can now send your books.” For the time being, the 200 books received and his personal library — about 400 — stand on shelves in the family home in Beit Lahia in northern Gaza. The goal is a thousand more books. Of all his books, he highlighted three from American philosopher Noam Chomsky, who sent them to him personally….
Gazans excited over territory’s new indoor mall
GAZA CITY (AP) 22 Feb by Fares Akram — In a welcome sign of normalcy, a new Western-style indoor shopping mall — complete with an international retail chain, three-story bookstore and bustling food court — has opened in the Gaza Strip. The owners have overcome conflict and an Israeli-Egyptian blockade to build the gleaming 1,800 square meter (19,000 sq. feet) Capital Mall. Now, they just have to find enough free-spending customers to keep the place afloat. In many ways, the center is a reflection of the fragile local economy, which has been flooded by consumer goods from Israel that few people can afford. Stifled by the blockade, Gaza produces very little on its own, and poverty and unemployment have soared. The mall, like the rest of electricity-starved Gaza, requires a generator to keep the power flowing. In the short term, the mall appears to be thriving. Thousands of Gazans have visited as it slowly opened in recent weeks, buying shoes and clothes from the Turkish chain “De Facto,” searching for gifts and school supplies in the bookstore and heading up to the fourth-floor food court to enjoy burgers, pizza and ice cream … While Gazans refer to a handful of small shopping centers as “malls,” the Capital Mall is the first to be built according to global standards … The mall is banking on Gaza’s tiny middle class to stay in business. The Palestinian Authority continues to pay salaries to tens of thousands of former civil servants who have not worked for the past decade. Others include those who work for international aid groups or the United Nations, as well as some senior Hamas employees….
Poll: Israelis believe Gaza policies hurting security
JERUSALEM (AP) 26 Feb — A new poll shows that 67 percent of Israelis believe the government’s policies in the Gaza Strip have worsened security. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, leading to the takeover of the territory by Hamas militants two years later. Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade over Gaza since then, restricting the movement of people and goods in and out of the territory. Israel says the measures are needed for security. The sides have fought three wars since 2008. Sunday’s poll also said 69 percent believe improving conditions in Gaza helps Israel’s interests. The poll was conducted by New Wave Research for Gisha, an Israeli advocacy group that pushes for greater movement by Gaza Palestinians. It interviewed 650 people and had a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points.
A haunting game of survival set during the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict
[with trailer] Hyperallegic 22 Feb by Allison Meier — Liyla and the Shadows of War is a game that considers the civilian impact of war, its nighttime setting illuminated by the bombings and drone attacks of the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict. I finally tried out Liyla recently, and although the experience is brief, only measured in minutes, and the graphics minimal, it is haunting and compelling in its journey. You mostly control a father who is attempting to reunite with his family, then protect his daughter (the titular Liyla) from the debris and explosions. A bit of a spoiler: as in all war, there is no happy ending, but the dead rising as blue embers into the night sky provide a very affecting final image. While the puzzles (none too challenging), played by silhouetted characters in the shadowy two-dimensional world, certainly utilize game mechanics, Liyla is above all a political statement. The New York Times noted in its review that it was “more of an educational experience than a game.” Yet its classification as a game in the App Store undoubtedly expands its audience, and a global audience is very much the creators’ intention (as evidenced by the addition of Spanish). Like the recent 1979 Revolution: Black Friday game set during the Iranian Revolution, Liyla is aiming to place the player on uneven terrain, to empathize with a perhaps unfamiliar side of the conflict — namely, in Liyla, the children lost to war … Liyla and the Shadows of War is available for free download on Google Play and the Apple Store.
Video: No electricity? No problem! Watch this barber from Gaza’s refugee camp use fire to style hair
DNA 22 Feb — Palestinian barber Ramadan Edwan has found an unusual technique to get around electricity cuts, frequent in the Gaza Strip where he works, using fire instead of hair dryers to style and straighten his customers’ hair. He uses fire in a hair-straightening technique with a client at his salon in the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip.
Opinion — The higher the rank, the greater the immunity for killing Palestinians / Amira Hass
Haaretz 26 Feb — Unlike Elor Azaria and Ben Dery, low-ranking soldiers of Moroccan origin, the officers responsible for the killing of the Abu Dahrouj family in Gaza have not been brought to justice — Let me guess: As opposed to Elor Azaria and Ben Dery, the soldiers who took the lives of two women and two children of the Abu Dahrouj family are not of Moroccan origin. Nor were they filmed in the act. The military authorities admitted that the killing of the four was a mistake, but the military advocate general decided there would be no criminal investigation. The killers of the Abu Dahrouj family enjoy the anonymity that was denied Azaria and Dery, who killed Nadim Nawara, a teenager who posed no threat to him. Is being Moroccan a condition for the rare instance in which the authorities prosecute soldiers for killing Palestinians? Let me guess: It’s not a condition, but it helps. Among the ruling echelons, the non-Ashkenazi is still the “other” who it’s easier to present as the exception and to sacrifice on the altar of the false claim of purity of arms. Let me guess: In the state comptroller’s report on 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, which is due to be released this week, there will be no mention of the Abu Dahrouj family, nor of the other 141 families that lost three or more members who were killed by our military with the push of a button or two. A total of 742 people. The primary characteristic of that summer offensive was the bombing of homes with their occupants inside. We wiped out families and we erased this fact from every political, military, ethical, philosophical, media or legal discussion. … Let me guess: It’s not being Moroccan or the presence of cameras. The higher the rank of our purely-armed fighters and the larger the number of Palestinians killed, the more likely the killers will be granted immunity from any questions, suspicions, investigations or public ethical criticism.
Land, property theft & destruction / Ethnic cleansing / Settlements
Israeli government to decide if Regularization law allows expropriation of agricultural lands
BETHLEHEM (Ma‘an) 26 Feb — After the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, passed a law earlier this month that granted official state recognition to more than a dozen illegal settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli Supreme Court is now reportedly awaiting a response from the government regarding whether or not the law also allows for the expropriation of agricultural lands where no settler homes have been built. According to Israeli daily Haaretz, the Israeli general prosecution told the court last week it was mulling the issue, in response to a petition filed by Palestinians claiming ownership of agricultural land near the illegal Israeli settlement of Shiloh northeast of Ramallah, which has been worked by settlers for several years since they forced the Palestinians off their land. While the broadly worded law does authorize the expropriation of “agricultural areas used by” a settlement or outpost, its main purpose is to prevent the demolition of settler homes, according to Haaretz. The attorney representing the Palestinian petitioners told Haaretz that no homes had been built on the agricultural land in question, as far as they knew. According to the report, Israel’s Civil Administration, which imposes Israeli policies in the occupied territory, ordered settlers to cease cultivating the land in 2009, but never enforced the orders, after which the Palestinians landowners asked the court to have the land restored to them. Most recently, the Israeli state asked the court to give it until April 30 to submit its conclusions regarding the ownership claim, in light of the newly passed law. However, as Haaretz noted in its report, the application of the so-called Regularization law in this case may be moot, since it has already been challenged by a petition filed to the Supreme Court.
Palestinian children attend class in the street after Israeli shuts down school
JERUSALEM (Ma‘an) 26 Feb — After Israeli authorities shut down a Palestinian elementary school in the occupied East Jerusalem town of Sur Bahir last Thursday over alleged “incitement” in its study materials, students attended class in the street on Sunday and protested against Israel’s decision to close the school. Children who were enrolled at al-Nukhba (“the elite” in Arabic) arrived at the campus with their parents in an action organized by the parent committees of Sur Bahir’s schools, holding posters expressing support for al-Nukhba and denouncing Israel’s closure of educational institutions as “tyrannical.” Last Thursday, head of the school Luay Jamal Bkirat and the school’s financial manager Nasser Hamed were summoned to an Israeli police station for interrogation, when Israeli intelligence officials informed them that the school was being shut down for carrying inciting content in the teaching materials used at the school. Bkirat denied the claims, saying that al-Nukhba school was “teaching the Palestinian curriculum used in all schools in Jerusalem and that no one of the faculty had ever been summoned for interrogation before over incitement.” He added that the school — which serves 250 boys from kindergarten to grade six — was opened last year and gained a temporary operating license from the Jerusalem municipality, and that the license was revoked in November for unknown reasons … The Times of Israel reported that the school was shut down for being a “Hamas front,” after a months-long joint probe by Israel’s Education Ministry, Jerusalem police, and Israeli intelligence, the Shin Bet….
Israeli forces demolish home of Palestinian citizen of Israel in Kafr Qasim
KAFR QASIM (Ma‘an) 26 Fab — Israeli authorities demolished the house of a Palestinian citizen of Israel without prior notice in the central Israel town of Kafr Qasim on Sunday, the owner told Ma‘an. Ghazi Issa said that hundreds of “heavily armed” Israeli police officers escorted bulldozers which tore down the house. Issa said that the demolition was under the pretext that the house lacked a building license issued by Israeli authorities, although he added that the case was currently still being discussed in court. “I can’t express my true feelings as I watched my home being demolished in front of my eyes, but I believe I am not in a better situation than that of the residents of Umm al-Hiran and Qalansawe, or others whose homes are facing demolition threats in the territories occupied in 1948,” he said….
Illegal outpost rejects another illegal outpost’s evacuees
Ynet 25 Feb by Elisha Ben Kimon — Those who were removed from Amona three weeks ago still don’t have a home. They’d like to move to Geulat Zion—another hilltop settlement that Israeli authorities continually have to dismember—but those who have already laid claim to it aren’t having any of it….
Palestinian refugees – Lebanon
3 injured in armed clashes at Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon
[with videos] BEIRUT (Ma‘an) 25 Feb — Three people were reportedly injured in clashes between supporters of the Fatah movement and gunmen affiliated to “fundamentalist Islamic groups” in Lebanon’s Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp on Saturday. Activists shared reports on the Arabic-language Facebook page “Friends of Ain al-Hilweh Refugee Camp,” which said that the clashes broke out in the upper part of the camp around midday Saturday. The reports said that the Lebanese army closed the main entrance to the Palestinian refugee camp to protect civilians from being caught up in the clashes. Lebanon’s national news agency later confirmed the reports, though they said that only two people, including a woman, were injured amid the violence. It remained unclear if those injured were civilians or fighters involved in the clashes. The report said that leaders of Palestinian factions met in the camp’s mosque and made efforts to contain the fighting and prevent a serious deterioration of the security station in Ain al-Hilweh. A ceasefire agreement was made after the conveners reached out via telephone to the commander of the Palestinian national security forces in Ain al-Hilweh Subhi, Abu Arab, and the commander of the local Sunni fundamentalist group Osbat al-Ansarin….
Citing small-town neo-Nazi row, Montana moved to crack down on Israel boycotts
AP 25 Feb — Montana lawmakers advanced a bill Saturday that pledges solidarity with Israel by refusing to do business with firms boycotting the Jewish state. Spurred in part by a spate of controversies over anti-Semitism in Whitefish, Republican House Speaker Austin Knudsen of Culbertson said his bill allows Montana to stand in solidarity with Israel. His bill “sends the message that we will not send our taxpayer dollars to companies which chose to participate in the boycotting and sanctioning of one of our nation’s strongest allies,” Knudson said. The bill would direct the Montana Board of Investments to sever ties with companies supporting a pro-Palestinian movement to boycott Israel. Opponents said the bill is well-intentioned but a potential infringement on free speech. Some argued Montana should stay out of global politics. Nevertheless, the House endorsed the measure 59-41 on preliminary vote. In doing so, Montana is seeking to join other states that have passed similar bills.
Palestinians seek unity as new threats, political bickering mar gathering
ISTANBUL (MEE) 25 Feb by Suraj Sharma — As 4,000 Palestinians gathered in Istanbul on Saturday, their message was simple: put an end to political short-sightedness and the pursuit of personal ambitions and instead fight for Palestinian rights which are under threat like never before. Palestinian flags were waving and the mood was largely jubilant and defiant, as patriotic songs blared into a large conference centre in Istanbul. The Palestinians, from 50 countries, are coming together for over two days to make themselves heard and to say that they are an integral part of ending the Palestinian nation’s woes. The sight of so many ordinary Palestinians with views ranging right across the political spectrum united in their demands for their rights was pleasing to many of the attendees as they fear the worst of times with US President Donald Trump now in office. This show of unity was, however, marred by the ever-present curse of domestic Palestinian political infighting and bickering casting a dark shadow on the conference. The Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) sought to discredit the Palestinians Abroad conference from the very outset, saying it wasn’t representative of the Palestinian people and that the job of organising and uniting the Palestinian diaspora belongs to the PLO only. Others criticised the choice of Istanbul as the location for the conference, saying that alone was enough to show that the conference was not being organised along non-factional lines … Mood different among attendees ..For most of the attendees, it was a festive occasion where they hoped to present a unified Palestinian voice to the world. Rabih Azad-Ahmad had travelled from Denmark with his wife and young child. An official at the Department of Culture and Citizens’ Services in the Danish city of Aarhus, he told MEE that it filled him with joy to see Palestinians from the world over gathered under one roof and shouting in one voice….
Qalandiya refugee camp activists continue protest measures against PA
RAMALLAH (Ma‘an) 27 Feb — Palestinian activists from Qalandiya refugee camp in the central occupied West Bank closed al-Quds Ramallah Street and all entrances of the camp that lead to Jerusalem for the second consecutive day on Monday morning, aiming to pressure the Palestinian Authority (PA) to help secure the release of two residents of the camp held in Israeli prison without trial or charge for more than a year. Activists blocked the road with burning rubber tires and dumpsters lit on fire, sending black smoke billowing over the refugee camp as scores of commuters were stuck in traffic gridlock. Qalandiya refugee camp residents Jamal Abu al-Leil, 50, and Raed Fayez Mteir, 47, declared hunger strikes on Feb. 16, after being imprisoned by Israel without charge or trial for one year under the widely condemned policy of administrative detention. Israeli authorities have issued six-month administrative detention orders for the two prisoners three times since they were detained. Abu al-Leil is a former member of Fatah’s revolutionary council, while Mteir is head of the Qalandiya youth center. Both had been previously detained by Israel several times….
Palestinian security forces suppress Hizb al-Tahrir march in Hebron
HEBRON (Ma‘an) 25 Feb — Palestinian security forces suppressed a rally in the southern occupied West Bank city of Hebron on Saturday that was organized by the Hizb al-Tahrir organization, and detained several members of the group after firing tear gas and allegedly assaulting protesters. Security forces declared the Ibn Rush square in the center of Hebron a “closed military zone,” and prevented citizens from accessing the area. Hizb al-Tahrir organized the rally in order to protest the detention of 15 of the group’s supporters who were arrested last week during another demonstration in Hebron. Palestinian police were redeployed throughout the streets of Hebron after dispersing the rally. Director of the Hebron office of the Independent Commission for Human Rights Farid al-Atrash condemned Palestinian police for using force against peaceful demonstrators, calling the “assault” a “violation on the right of citizens to assemble peacefully.” “Tear gas was used, live gunshots were fired into the air, and citizens were assaulted with rods,” he added, while urging Palestinian forces to “observe the law and respect citizens’ right to assemble peacefully.”….
Reports of shooting on President Abbas’ Beirut motorcade denied by Palestinian security
IMEMC/Agencies 25 Feb — A senior Palestinian security source has denied reports that PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ motorcade was exposed to shootings during his departure from the Lebanese capital Beirut, today. According to the PNN, the source said that the news is baseless and suspicious, aiming to disrupt a successful visit of President in Lebanon, over the past three days. The source also said that Abbas had held successful meetings with Palestinian faction leaders and officials on different levels of Palestinian institutions from the refugee camps, along with successful and constructive meetings with Lebanese officials. The Palestinian Embassy in Lebanon and Lebanese TV channel LBC both denied the reports, saying it did not publish any such news.
PNA free medical insurance suspended
RAMALLAH (Gulf News) 22 Feb by Nasouh Nazzal — The Palestinian government has agreed to continue dispensing free medical insurance for unemployed Palestinians, but imposed seemingly impossible requirements to obtain the insurance. Following public outrage over the controversial suspension of the insurance programme that was set to take effect March 1, 2017, the Palestinian cabinet relented but introduced strict procedures to obtain a certificate stating unemployment. Jobless Palestinians must get approval from seven different Palestinian ministries and departments clearly stating the applicant does not work at all and that no property is registered in his or her name, according to Hussain Al Foqaha’a, who heads the Ramallah branch of the Palestinian Trade and Laborers Unions … The free insurance programme, locally known as “Al Intifada medical insurance”, was approved and instated by the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in 2000 at the beginning of the Second Palestinian Uprising. Statistics recently released by the Palestinian Health Ministry show that 100,000 Palestinians qualified for the free medical insurance last year, bringing the total number of Palestinians who have benefited from this programme since its inception to 340,000….
Rebirth of public hammams in West Bank
RAMALLAH (Gulf News) 24 Feb by Nasouh Nazzal — At one time, Palestine had 38 hammams (bathhouses), 10 of which were based in the town of Nablus alone. But today, only two bathhouses remain functional in the city.The Romans first introduced hammams to the city, and they became extremely popular during the time of the Ottoman Empire from the early 16th to the early 20th Centuries. But Palestine’s more recent history has seen the demise of the once-popular bathhouses, with around 95 per cent becoming deserted … Over the years, people have lost interest in visiting the hammams for various reasons.“The introduction of solar water-heating systems, and then electric water heaters at homes, meant that spending hours at the hammam started to seem burdensome,” Al Jabi told Gulf News … But it wasn’t until the first Palestinian uprising (Intifada) in the late 1980s, that the hammams faced near-extinction as communal gathering places were regular targets of Israeli raids.“Palestinians avoided congregating in the hammams in particular to spare themselves the embarrassment of being arrested naked,” said Al Jabi. “The second Intifada erupted in 2000 and lasted until 2005, a time during which Palestinians lived under an oppressive police-like state,” he said. After the end of the Second Intifada, Palestinians felt more at ease and slowly began returning to the hammams, which have since witnessed a resurgence in popularity. “The hammams played a central role in the social life of Nablus in the early days, and now Palestinians are experiencing a rebirth of that culture,” said Al Jabi … Visiting the Al Shifaa bathhouse is like entering a time warp and stepping back in time.The Al Shifaa Bathhouse was built in 1225 by traders of the Ayyubid dynasty and retains most of its original features….
Palestinian women workers abused in West Bank colonies
Ramallah (Gulf News) 21 Feb by Nasouh Nazzal — Palestinian women from the West Bank are being forced into servitude as maids in Israeli colonist homes despite being originally recruited to work on farms in the fields of the colonial area by Palestinian job agencies, according to Palestinian officials.The women’s financial needs make them easy prey for these employers and Palestinian agents, they say. “Those women were originally recruited to work in agriculture, but they are forced to work as maids and in the event, they refuse to do that, they are fired and never granted any further colony work permits,” said Shaher Sa’ad, secretary general of the Palestine General Federation of Trade and Labour Unions. This problem is made worse because some West Bank women who are recruited to work in agriculture can enter the colonies without holding entry permits from the security companies who guard the colony entrances because they pass through the colony gates in their employers’ vehicles. “The Palestinian National Authority or PNA does not have any supervision due to this direct colonist employer-employee relationship,” Sa’ad told Gulf News. “Palestinian women are therefore victimised by the colonist employers and their Palestinian agents mainly in their salaries and the nature and hours of their work.” While the payment of a Palestinian female worker is supposed to be $53 per day, this payment is made by the colonist employer to his agent–not directly to the women workers. Thus, the broker only pays the female worker $21 and keeps the rest … The PNA and all its bodies view the Israeli colonies in the occupied Palestinian territories as illegal so they refuse to intervene regardless of the mistreatment taking place there against female workers….
Netanyahu suggests bringing international forces into Gaza
IMEMC/Agencies 26 Feb — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for deployment of international forces in the Gaza Strip, expressing his concern of the International Criminal Court (ICC), in the Hague. Netanyahu said, in his meeting with Austrian foreign minister Jolie Beshop, on Sunday morning, that Israeli forces must impose its control over the West Bank while the Palestinian Authority’s power should be limited. He added, according to Al Ray Palestinian Media Agency, that Israel “must seek other security alternatives through deploying international forces in the Gaza Strip. He explained that Israel has dealt with such an experience, after the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon, in 2000. The Israeli PM suggested the possibility of re-experiencing this model in Gaza, where International forces can dominate the Gaza Strip and face “terrorist” issues, as he asserted. This is considered to be the first time Netanyahu has presented this idea publically; Israeli channel 2 explained that it was not clear on the seriousness of this suggestion. Netanyahu demanded prevention of the ICC from exerting pressure on Israel, through presenting its military and political leadership to the court and accusing them of committing war crimes. He also suggested that Austria might affect other countries to practice pressure on the ICC not to prosecute Israeli leaders.
Netanyahu: We will never relinquish security control of West Bank
Times of Israel 26 Feb — Israel will never relinquish security control of the entirety of the West Bank, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Sunday. Netanyahu was answering Bishop, who had asked him what he meant when he spoke of supporting a “Palestinian state,” according to a report by Israel Radio about the meeting between the two. According to a source close to the prime minister, Netanyahu told Bishop that Israel’s insistence on security control stemmed from the failures of international forces to protect the country from past acts of aggression by its neighbors.
153 French lawmakers call on Hollande to officially recognize Palestinian state
BETHLEHEM (Ma‘an) 26 Feb — More than 150 French parliamentarians signed a letter calling on French President Francois Hollande to officially recognize a state of Palestine, French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche reported on Sunday. The 153 signatories hailed an international conference held by France last month as “an occasion to solemnly reaffirm the international community’s attachment to the two-state solution.” However, they expressed serious concerns regarding the staunchly pro-Israel stance of new US President Donald Trump — particularly regarding his campaign promise to move the US embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — as well as Israel’s recently passed Regularization law, which grants official governmental recognition to a number of illegal settlement outposts in the occupied Palestinian territory. The lawmakers asked Hollande to recognize a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution before the end of his presidency in May — as right and far-right presidential candidates were projected to score a significant number of votes, potentially jeopardizing France’s recent efforts to push for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “In this context, France cannot stay silent,” the letter read, reminding Hollande that the French National Assembly and Senate had adopted two resolutions calling for French recognition of a state of Palestine in 2014….
Book Review – The Arab commander who lost the 1948 war: hero or failure?
Haaretz 23 Feb — Focusing on the outsized life of pan-Arabist Fawzi al-Qawuqji, Laila Parsons’ ‘The Commander’ paints a rich picture of the history of Arab nationalism and anti-colonialism through 1948.