GAZA – They have almost all left: Bachar for Sweden, May for Spain, Imad for Tunisia, Mohamed for Qatar, Assad for Egypt, Adham for Belgium. Moustapha, Asmaa’s brother also left for Belgium, while Mohamed Matar, aka Abou Yazan, the leader of the short-lived March 15 Movement, that tried to bring the Arab Spring to Gaza, has gone to Germany.
Too much repression from Hamas, too much disappointment from waiting for an intra-Palestinian reconciliation that never came. Too much suffering, too many wars and hardships, but most of all – the Israeli blockade.
A hope that has died and a future that is dead-ended, especially for young graduates. So many young people have left, but Asmaa stayed — determined, courageous, as combative as ever.
If there should only be one person left, it should be her. “I could have gone too, but I love Gaza, and Europe bores me. Over there, I am nothing, and there is nothing to change. I need challenges, fights to fight and causes to defend.”
Asmaa leaves our meeting like she arrived, by foot, her hair uncovered, wearing a jean and not caring one bit about what others think. While she was telling me her story, she chain-smoked and pointed to the beach below the hotel.
This is where everything happened, during the summer of 2009. She was walking on the beach with a group of young men and women. The morality police arrived, took the boys to jail. Asmaa was released, but her passport was confiscated.
In 2007, shortly after the Palestinian civil war, Asmaa, a journalist since 2001, was in South Korea for a journalism course. During her stay, she wrote an article in the form of an open letter to her uncle, a senior military leader for the Hamas. The article, entitled “Dear Uncle, Is This The Homeland We Want?” criticized the movement’s extremist Islamist views. In response, her uncle threatened to kill her.
In Oct. 2009 “before the Arab Spring,” she says, she founded the Iss Ha (Wake Up) movement with around 20 friends. “Our objective was to fight against the Hamas’ Islamization of the Gaza strip.”
The next year, the group of young activists walked the streets of Gaza carrying a huge ballot box demanding Palestinian elections – which are still eagerly awaited.
The number of arrests increased, and so did harassment. In Jan. 2010, Asmaa was arrested with others. “We were guilty of demonstrating our support to the revolution against Mubarak!” She spent eight hours in jail, humiliated, beaten by policewomen who accused her of “not being Muslim.”
In Nov. 2010, the police closed the Gaza offices of the Sharek Youth Forum, a UN-funded NGO that organizes camps and after-school programs for Palestinian children and youths. Eighteen activists were arrested and severely beaten. From then on, protests and arrests became a regular thing. In March 2011, Asma is thrown in prison and violently beaten by police officers.
Too many threats
Asmaa El-Ghoul is a 30-year-old free-lance journalist and writer. She writes for the Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam but mostly, she blogs relentlessly, with absolutely no taboo. She writes about forced islamization, the “honor crimes”, corruption, human rights violations and about woman rights. “If you want to be able to write about these subjects honestly, you have to be in the streets too,” she says.
The arrests and punishments keep coming. Death threats, by phone, by mail and on her blog continue to increase. “We will kill you, we will break your bones, burn you with your son.”
But the awards keep coming too. Last October she was given honored with a “Courage in Journalism” award by the International Women’s Media Foundation.
Before that one she received a similar prize given by the Dubai foundation and an award by the Anna Lindh Foundation for her “commitment to freedom of expression and her courage in facing repression.”
Asmaa El-Ghoul uses this international recognition to find fortitude, to give her strength in her new fights. The latest of these fights is emblematic of the rampant islamization of Gaza.
In Jan. 2013, the board of the Al-Aqsa University in the Gaza strip decided that social and family pressure to insure that all women dress “properly” wasn’t enough. The board voted to impose a dress code on female students – saying that from the next semester it would be mandatory for them to wear “clothes that respect the customs and traditions of the Palestinian society.” These clothes include a headscarf (hijab), and a loose-fitting ankle-length robe (jilbab).
Asmaa does not feel concerned by this – she got rid of her headscarf in 2006. However, she feels responsible for the girls of Gaza who refuse to wear the Islamic uniform.
She has stopped blogging for a while now. She received too many threats. “If after my son, they start threatening my six-months old daughter, I will go nuts.”
She also now tries to be less provocative – has stopped smoking on the beach or in the street. “Sometimes I feel like I am alone in the middle of a storm,” she says.
She is writing a book on Gaza and continues to write articles, mostly for Al-Monitor. Talking about freedom, it’s like an illness for her, she says. “An illness I’ll have all my life, but an illness I love.”
Read the article in the original language.
Photo by – Asma Al Ghoul
All rights reserved ©Worldcrunch – in partnership with LE MONDE
THE cease-fire that ended the latest round of violence between Israel and the Palestinians has enhanced the popularity of the militant group Hamas. This extremist organization has become the only interlocutor for the Arab world, for the West and, indirectly, for Israel. But Hamas refuses to recognize Israel’s existence or to negotiate with Israelis. Meanwhile, the pragmatic Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, is rapidly losing legitimacy and Israel’s recent strikes on Gaza will only weaken it further. Negotiating with Hamas may secure a lull, but Hamas cannot be a partner for peace.
If the world wants to express support for the Palestinian party that recognizes Israel, seeks to avoid violence, and genuinely wishes to reach a peace agreement in which a Palestinian state exists alongside — not instead of — Israel, it will have its chance later this week when Mr. Abbas makes his bid for recognition of Palestinian statehood before the United Nations. If American and Israeli opposition to a Palestinian bid continues, it could serve as a mortal blow to Mr. Abbas, and end up being a prize that enhances the power and legitimacy of Hamas.
It is paradoxical that Israel’s current government is so vehemently opposed to Mr. Abbas’s bid for recognition. After all, it was 65 years ago this week, on Nov. 29, 1947, that the Palestinians and their friends in the Arab world expressly rejected United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181, which recognized the need to establish a Jewish state alongside an Arab state in the former British Mandate territory of Palestine.
Now, the Palestinians are admitting their mistake and asking the same assembly to recognize a state of Palestine alongside Israel, and requesting that the boundaries of their state be determined as a result of negotiations with Israel. Meanwhile, Israel’s right-wing parties — which in 1993 rejected the Oslo Accords that envisaged Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the establishment of Palestinian autonomy in those areas — are now using, and abusing, that same agreement to prevent Palestinian statehood.
This week’s request wouldn’t be taking place if both sides had abided by the Oslo Accords’ original time frame, if Israel’s peacemaking prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, hadn’t been assassinated in 1995, and if we’d reached a permanent agreement by May 1999, as initially envisioned.
Since Rabin’s assassination, there has been little progress toward ending the conflict. No proper negotiations have taken place for four years. And because Mr. Abbas has committed to the principles of nonviolence, diplomatic means, like the statehood bid, are his only way of putting Palestinians back on the global agenda. In retaliation, the Israeli Foreign Ministry is now threatening to nullify the Oslo Accords, if the world recognizes a Palestinian state. This is preposterous.
The Oslo Accords have allowed Israel’s right-wing government to hide behind an interim agreement that, for almost 20 years, has permitted Israel to continue the expansion of settlements in the West Bank; to rid itself of the responsibility of day-to-day management in the Occupied Territories; to save itself the costs of occupation (as donor countries are financing the Palestinian budget); and to benefit from cooperation with Palestinian security forces. There is no chance that Israel will nullify the accords.
The claim that Palestinians are violating the Oslo agreement by presenting their proposal to the General Assembly is completely unfounded. The topic of Palestinian statehood was never one of the five issues (Jerusalem’s status, the fate of refugees, security arrangements, borders and settlements) that were considered “final status” issues in the 1993 Oslo accord. The Palestinians chose not to mention the issue of a state, as they saw self-determination as a basic right for their people; and it was convenient back then for Israel not to address the topic.
Moreover, Mr. Abbas has clarified that if the General Assembly decides to recognize a Palestinian state, he would agree to negotiations with Israel’s government without preconditions, a move that is in both America’s and Israel’s interests. The only difference is that these negotiations would take place between two internationally recognized states.
President Obama and Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, should think twice before rejecting Mr. Abbas’s request. Blocking his bid for statehood will only empower extremists further.
There is no reason for the United States to oppose Mr. Abbas’s move, pressure the Palestinians not to raise this issue, or threaten to freeze their budget.
And Israel has no reason to wage a diplomatic war against the Palestinian appeal. Rather, Mr. Netanyahu should be the first to recognize a Palestinian state and Mr. Obama the last to prevent it.
Yossi Beilin, an architect of the Oslo Accords, has served as Israel’s deputy foreign minister and minister of justice.
The suffering of Sderot: how its true inhabitants were wiped from Israel’s maps and memories -Robert
I think I found the village of Huj this weekend – but the road sign said “Sederot”. The world knows it as Sderot, the Israeli city where the Hamas rockets fall. Even Barack Obama has been there. But Huj has a lot to do with this little story.
By my map calculations, it lies, long destroyed, across the fields from a scruffy recreation centre near the entrance to Sderot, a series of shabby villas on a little ring road where Israeli children were playing on the Shabat afternoon.
The inhabitants of Huj were all Palestinian Arab Muslims and, irony of ironies, they got on well with the Jews of Palestine. We have to thank the Israeli historian Benny Morris for uncovering their story, which is as grim as it is filled with sorrow.
Huj’s day of destiny came on 31 May 1948, when the Israeli Negev Brigade’s 7th Battalion, facing an advancing Egyptian army, arrived in the village. In Morris’s words, “the brigade expelled the villagers of Huj … to the Gaza Strip”.
Morris elaborates: “Huj had traditionally been friendly; in 1946, its inhabitants had hidden Haganah men from a British dragnet. In mid-December 1947, while on a visit to Gaza, the mukhtar (mayor) and his brother were shot dead by a mob that accused them of ‘collaboration’. But at the end of May, given the proximity of the advancing Egyptian column, the Negev Brigade decided to expel the inhabitants – and then looted and blew up their houses.”
So the people of Huj had helped the Jewish Haganah army escape the British – and the thanks they got was to be sent into Gaza as refugees. According to Morris, three months later the three headmen from the nearest Jewish kibbutzim even complained about the treatment of their former neighbours to David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister. He wrote back: “I hope that the HQ will pay attention to what you say, and will avoid such unjust and unjustified actions in the future, and will set right these things in so far as possible with respect to the past.” But Ben Gurion did not instruct the new Israeli army to allow the villagers of Huj to return.
The following month, they pleaded to go back. The Israeli Department of Minority Affairs noted that they deserved special treatment since they had been “loyal”, but the Israeli army decided they should not go back. So the Palestinians of Huj festered on in the Gaza strip where their descendants still live as refugees.
But the present day Sderot, writes the Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi, was built on farmland belonging to another Palestinian Arab village called Najd, its 422 Muslim inhabitants living in 82 homes, growing citrus, bananas and cereals. They shared the same fate as the people of Huj. On 12 and 13 May 1948, the Negev Brigade of the Israeli army – again, according to Morris – drove them out. They, too, were sent into exile in Gaza. Thus did the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, as another Israeli historian, Illan Pappé, calls it bluntly, wipe from history the people who farmed the land on which Sderot would be built.
You can see Huj and Najd on Munther Khaled Abu Khader’s reproduced map of Mandate Palestine. Sderot was founded in 1951 but Asraf Simi, who arrived there in 1962 and later worked in the local library, knows nothing of this. She shrugged her shoulders when I asked about them. “We didn’t hear anything about Arabs around here. My uncle came near the beginning, around 1955, and was living in a tent here – and we all thought this would be one of the most modern cities in Israel! I’m not frightened – but I’m not happy about the ceasefire. I think we should have gone in there to finish it all forever.”
Another irony. Asraf Simi was born in Morocco and learned Moroccan-accented Arabic before she left for Israel at the age of 17. And she does not know that today, in the squalor of Gaza, live well over 6,000 descendants of the people of Huj. Thus does the tragedy of the Palestinian Nakba – the “catastrophe” – connect directly with the Israelis of Sderot.
That is why they cannot “finish it all forever”. Because the thousands of rockets that have fallen around them over the past 12 years come from the very place where now live the families that lived on this land. Thus does Sderot have an intimate connection with a date that President Obama may have forgotten about when he came visiting: 1948, the year that will never go away.
Real estate mogul Donald Trump is a notoriously outspoken critic of President Barack Obama and his policies. But on Wednesday, the Donald had nothing but kind words for the commander-in-chief.
DonaldTrump – Tweet
“Pres. Obama’s steady support of @Israel throughout this crisis helped stop the war. He did a good job’.
A cease-fire agreement between Israel and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers took effect Wednesday night, bringing an end to eight days of the fiercest fighting in years. The agreement was sponsored by Egypt.
Trump was apparently in a particularly good mood on Wednesday, he even wished everyone a happy Thanksgiving — including his “many enemies.”
Pro-palestinian supporters, members of the National Collective for a fair peace between Palestinians and Israeli (Collectif National pour une paix juste entre Palestiniens et Israéliens), demonstrate in front of the Opera Garnier on November 17, 2012 in Paris to protest against Israel’s ongoing airstrike over Gaza