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News from Palestine: Palestinians performing therapy through art

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  • Zafar Khan
    Palestinians performing therapy through art Dance, music and improvisational theatre are being used throughout the Occupied Territories to help ease hardships.
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 28, 2013
      Palestinians performing therapy through art
      Dance, music and improvisational theatre are being used throughout the Occupied Territories to help ease hardships.
      Creede Newton Last Modified: 26 Apr 2013 13:51


      Ramallah, West Bank - On a chilly Tuesday evening, a group of Palestinians and foreigners gathered to watch France's Maguy Marin dance company gracefully contort itself on stage in the Cultural Palace of Ramallah.

      It was the beginning of the annual Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival (RCDF), which has brought some 110 international dance companies and more than 1,200 artists to Ramallah over the past seven years. More than just a dance festival, the RCDF offers workshops, film screenings, panel discussions and city-wide performances.

      The RCDF is the first large-scale artistic festival to take place since November, when the Palestinian Authority gained non-member observer status at the UN General Assembly.

      Since then, the occupied Palestinian territories have experienced dramatic upheavals: Israel launched an assault on the Gaza Strip later that month, the West Bank has been further threatened by expansion of Israeli settlements - particularly in the strategically significant E1 Area - and a new wave of grassroots protest was sparked in response.

      "The war on Gaza and the increase in settlements, these things reawakened our sense of urgency," Sami Metsawi, a seasoned Palestinian actor, writer and musician, told Al Jazeera. "When you see injustice, especially when it's related to you, you explode."

      Palestinian museum showcases prisoner misery
      Abu Jihad Museum highlights woes of inmates - past and present - as Palestinians mark Prisoners' Day.
      Dalia Hatuqa Last Modified: 17 Apr 2013 10:06


      Abu Dis, West Bank - Several mammoth slabs of concrete and a metal gate - a miniature replica of the Israeli separation wall - greet visitors to the Abu Jihad Museum for Prisoners Affairs.

      Step inside and you're immediately met with metal bars and pictures of Palestinian detainees in tents waving across coils of barbed wire, and a map outlining all Israeli prisons and detention and interrogation centres where Palestinians are held and questioned.

      The museum, based in the West Bank city of Abu Dis, just 6kms from Jerusalem, tells the story of Palestinian prisoners from the British Mandate era to modern day Israel. Today, there are some 4,700 Palestinians - including 169 held without charge under the "administrative detention" clause, according to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.

      "Jesus was the first Palestinian prisoner," says Fahd Abu El-Haj, the museum's director, as he starts his tour outside in the museum's garden, pointing to steps made of stone taken from the Old City of Jerusalem, which he says resembles the Via Dolorosa, the path that Jesus took on the way to his crucifixion.

      Once inside, Abu El-Haj introduces some of the site's exhibits: pictures of blindfolded, shirtless men being taken away by armed soldiers, plaques with information about child detainees, and posters by different factions marking Palestinian Prisoners Day, commemorated widely on April 17 each year.

      The museum is named after Ahmad Al Wazir, also known as Abu Jihad, a Fatah leader who was assassinated in Tunis by Israeli commandos in 1988. The centre is Abu El-Haj's brainchild; he opened the site housed at Al Quds University after spending 10 years in Israeli prisons, starting when he was just 17.

      "I wanted to salvage the wealth of information and literature made by prisoners," said Abu El-Haj, whose museum is also working on the largest archive for letters, notes and books written and read inside Israeli prisons.

      'Heinousness of prison'

      On the bottom floor of the three-story museum is a corner with six concrete beams built on plastic green grass encased in a base made out of red tiles. "The pillars represent the heinousness of prison, the ground is green because our land is fertile, and the red base resembles the blood of Palestinians," Abu El-Haj explains.

      There are billboards telling tales of prisoners who escaped from Israeli prisons. An entire wall is dedicated to pictures and names of those who perished inside Israeli jails starting in 1967.

      The museum, however, makes no mention of the charges made against Palestinian detainees. It also omits the stories of members held in the prisons of rival Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas.

      In one corner is a glass casing with a noose inside, a grim reminder of the Palestinians executed under British rule. A letter dating back to that era tells the somber story of a man who writes to his family after British soldiers inform him he would be hung the next day.

      Palestinian village in UNESCO bid
      Battir residents hope world heritage status will help preserve farming traditions dating back to Roman times.
      Last Modified: 16 Apr 2013 15:03


      Palestinians have applied for a village near Bethlehem to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

      The people of Battir are hopeful that world heritage status will help preserve the village's traditions and culture.

      Families living in the quiet valley cultivate their crops using an irrigation system dating back to the Roman era.

      Al Jazeera's Nicole Johnston reports from Battir, in the occupied West Bank.

      Hamas segregates Gaza schools by gender
      New law means boys and girls in Gaza will attend separate schools, as critics accuse Hamas of imposing hard-line agenda.
      Abeer Ayyoub Last Modified: 11 Apr 2013 09:29


      Gaza City, occupied Palestinian territories - Beginning this September, girls and boys above the age of nine in the Gaza Strip will be segregated in school under a new law passed by Hamas, which governs the coastal Palestinian enclave.

      The law passed earlier this month will also exclude male staffers from working in girls' schools in Gaza. The legislation has been criticised by human rights groups and women's organisations as an attempt to impose Hamas' political agenda on Gazan society.

      The new measures are the latest in a series of controversial steps taken recently by the Islamist movement, which has ruled here since 2007.

      Walid Mezher, a legal adviser to Gaza's Ministry of Education, told Al Jazeera the Palestinian education system was "organised before by the Egyptian 1933 education law, which is very outdated. It's time for Palestinians to have their own modern law that matches their needs".

      Regarding the most controversial aspect of the law, which seeks to ban gender mixing in schools, Mezher said this was the case already. The difference now is that it would be law and not merely social tradition.

      "Even for the schools which are run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency [UNRWA] and not our government, the two genders are separated based on the Palestinian traditions," he said.


      The law will also affect the seven percent of schools in Gaza that are private, including Christian schools. They will need to expand their buildings to be able to hold special classes for each gender. However, the law allows Christian schools to teach non-Muslim students subjects related to their religion.

      With 1.7m people, Gaza has 690 schools with 466,000 students.

      In a press statement, the Gaza Centre for Womens' Legal Research and Consulting condemned the decision as "gender-based discrimination".

      "Such decisions don't help to base Palestinian society on equality and justice, neither do they help the Palestinian cause towards national unity," the statement read.

      Another article of the law regulates relations between Palestinian educational institutes and Israel, by banning schools from receiving aid meant to encourage or promote the normalisation of ties with Israel.

      The new decision is one of many polarising measures that Hamas has recently taken. Earlier this year, it launched a "Virtue Campaign" aiming to spread Islamic Sharia traditions in Gaza by fighting against "Western" dress and behaviour.

      In March, Hamas banned women and girls from participating in Gaza's UNRWA-organised marathon, causing the UN agency to cancel the event in protest. Other Hamas bans prohibit women from smoking water pipes in public, riding on the back of motorcycles, and having male stylists do their hair.

      "In the last six years, Hamas has been going forward - and sometimes a step backward because of protests - but there is a strategy to implement the Islamic law in society," said Mkhaimar Abu Sada, a Gaza political analyst and university lecturer.

      Broken promises

      When Hamas won parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories in 2006, it promised Palestinians it would not interfere with personal freedoms. Two years later, the secular Fatah party ousted the Islamist Hamas movement from the West Bank, after more than a year of skirmishes between the two sides.

      With Hamas governing Gaza, whose borders, airspace and coast are controlled by Israel, and Fatah in charge of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the social divide between those living in the two territories has deepened.

      The new law has only been approved by Hamas lawmakers in Gaza.

      In the West Bank, no law exists segregating male and female children, however, most public schools separate students by the fourth grade.

      Mezher said sooner or later the division between Gaza and the West Bank would end. "Only then, we can agree on a united law between the two territories."

      Other Muslim-majority countries such as Iraq, Jordan, Gulf states, and Pakistan also generally practice gender segregation, particularly for older children.

      The majority of Gazans seem comfortable with the new law, because of the conservative nature of society here. Bodour Abu Kwaik, a 22-year-old journalism graduate, said although she supports separating genders at schools, she opposed barring male teachers from working in girls' schools.

      "I was educated in separated schools, and I don't think it would be a problem if the law is implemented," she said. "But I don't understand why male teachers would be stopped from teaching girls. They are mature and responsible enough to do it."

      Yasmeen Saleem, a 21-year-old psychology student, said she opposed what she described as the government's attempts to impose a specific religious tradition on the people it governs.

      "There are mixed and separated schools in Gaza. People should have the choice of where to educate their children," Saleem said.

      Palestinians find way back to Gaza from Syria
      Civil war forces some Palestinians living in Damascus to become refugees twice over.
      Last Modified: 11 Apr 2013 12:44


      UN cuts Gaza aid citing 'unsafe' conditions
      Food distribution and other operations suspended after Palestinians angered by cutbacks stormed UN aid agency office.
      Last Modified: 05 Apr 2013 12:52


      Palestinians gear up for Land Day
      On Saturday, thousands of Palestinians plan to protest on anniversary of Israeli land confiscation in Galilee region.
      Patrick Strickland Last Modified: 29 Mar 2013 13:04


      Ramallah, West Bank - Palestinians in Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, and abroad are gearing up to commemorate Land Day on Saturday.

      Land Day is held on the anniversary of March 30, 1976, when Palestinian villages and cities across the country witnessed mass demonstrations against the state's plans to expropriate 2,000 hectares of land in Israel's Galilee region. In coordination with the military, some 4,000 police officers were dispatched to quell the unrest. At the end of the day, six Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed by state security forces.

      On Saturday, buses will shuttle activists from around the country to two central rallies, one in southern Israel's Negev region and the other in Sakhnin in the northern Galilee.

      Raja Zaatry of the Hirak Center for Higher Education in Arab Society said local activities are scheduled to take place in Arab villages and towns across Israel, in coordination with similar protests in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Protests are also expected in the Gaza Strip.

      Groups across the country have been engaged in Land Day preparations for weeks. "Last week in Arab schools, we staged lessons about Land Day and Palestinian history because they're not part of the official curriculum from the Israeli Ministry of Education," Zaatry said.

      "In Haifa, for instance, there are cultural activities scheduled in the Wadi al-Nisnas neighborhood. There will be a movie screening about Land Day. Last week in schools, we held events for the children to learn about Land Day and the history because it is not part of the official curriculum from the Israeli ministry."

      On Land Day 2012, Al Jazeera reported that at least 121 people were injured at the Qalandia checkpoint near Jerusalem when Israeli forces used water cannons, tear gas, and rubber-coated bullets to push protesters back to nearby Ramallah, in the West Bank.

      Palestinians buy land to protect future state and generations
      A son of refugees has battled with the Palestinian Authority to create hundreds of plots with title deeds for Palestinians to own
      Phoebe Greenwood in Farkha
      guardian.co.uk, Monday 18 March 2013 16.44 GMT


      Ali and Sana Dabbagh were amazed at how easy it was to buy a piece of Palestinian land. Their parents fled in the 1948 war, leaving their homes forever. But more than 60 years later, it took just one click of a mouse for them to claim their own hilltop outside the ancient village of Farkha, looking out over undulating terraces of olive and almond trees towards Tel Aviv.

      "It felt unreal. We've bought land elsewhere before but there's an emotional factor when it comes to Palestine – it was hard for me to accept that I owned land there," Ali recalled. "It had also been pretty much impossible to buy land in Palestine and guarantee that you owned it until we met Khaled."

      Khaled Sabawi, the Canadian-born son of Palestinian refugees, launched Tabo three years ago. Appropriating the Ottoman term for "title deed", the business was built upon a dream of his father's to help Palestinians buy Palestinian land. It is a dream that most of the estimated 5 million scattered Palestinian refugees would consider impossible.

      The conflict that Barack Obama flies into this week for the first time during his presidency is essentially an Israeli-Palestinian battle for land. It is a fight for ownership of the 10,000 sq miles (26,000 sq km) of historic Palestine claimed by both sides as a holy land and a homeland. In terms of "facts on the ground", it is a battle that Israel is winning.

      In 1993, the international community witnessed Israeli and Palestinian leaders sign the Oslo agreement to divide the land into two states for two peoples. Yet, since 1996, more than 100 new Israeli outposts have been established in the future Palestinian state. The Palestinians have built one, Rawabi.

      Many Israeli Jews believe they have a God-given right to settle anywhere in the biblical land of Israel. Others justify the defiance of international law on the grounds of national security or argue that Arabs cannot be trusted.

      Many settlers have benefited from cheap mortgages and enjoy an enviable lifestyle. As Michael Sfard, a top Israeli lawyer advising the human rights group Yesh Din, puts it: "During the second intifada, at negotiations in Taba and Camp David, Israelis said you can't negotiate peace in one room when there is shooting outside.

      "By the same token, you can't negotiate peace in one room while an unofficial land grab is being waged outside. Even if [Israeli prime minister, Binyamin] Netanyahu signs a peace deal today, this won't stop Israel from expanding inside Palestine unofficially."

      Sabawi and other critics of the Palestinian Authority would add that Israel's ongoing success in the struggle for territory is aided by the Palestinian leadership's failure to protect Palestinian land. Legal proof of ownership is almost impossible to come by in the West Bank, where 70% of land is unregistered and ancestral property is inherited by dozens of heirs.

      Israeli settlements have thrived on this legal ambiguity. "The best way to protect Palestinian land is to create title deeds and we have created hundreds of parcels of title deed land that are now owned by Palestinians. But it was a laborious, arduous, exhausting process throughout which the bureaucracy of the Palestinian Authority – not Israel – has been the greatest obstacle," Sabawi said.

      It took Tabo's team of lawyers and engineers four years to register 100 hectares (250 acres) of Palestinian land. In each case, the process started from scratch. It involved negotiating with multiple heirs claiming ownership of a plot of land, agreeing on the borders of that plot, getting an official map of the land approved by the council and then applying for a title deed to legalise ownership.

      The Tabo website invites prospective buyers in the West Bank, Jerusalem and the far-flung diaspora on a virtual tour of every plot of registered land with a 180-degree view from the site, its height from sea level and slope gradient. Plots are sold for $13,000 (£8,600) to $80,000 and can be paid off over three years.

      The new high-rise development at Rawabi is Tabo's closest counterpart in the affordable Palestinian housing market. The urban project benefited from major international support, primarily from USAid and Qatar, and Israeli co-operation.

      Bashar al-Masry, the Palestinian businessman behind the private venture, was allowed exceptional privileges. The bureaucratic challenges Sabawi and other Palestinians face were pushed aside and title deeds for Rawabi land were granted in one bundle. Locals who owned land in three villages on the proposed site and refused to sell were forced to accept the market rate by the Palestinian Authority. A row about preferential treatment to well-connected individuals ensued.

      In Farkha, where 90 plots of land have been sold through Tabo, the council is cautiously supportive of the initiative. Tabo has paved roads and extended water and electricity networks to reach their plots of land. "The newcomers will probably help our economy and it's better that the land is not in the hands of settlers. But Sabawi is not buying our land because he likes our blue eyes. He's got a good business going," said Hassan Abdullah Hajaj, a council leader for 16 years. Most villagers, he said, sold land to Tabo for $5,000 per 1,000 sq metres or less out of economic necessity.

      Unlike Hajaj or Sabawi, the Dabbaghs still cherish an optimistic ideal of Palestine. Ali is an eye surgeon specialising in diabetes and plans to open a clinic in Farkha. The couple have hired an architect to design their home, even though they have yet to receive permission from the Israeli authorities to live in the West Bank. When Ali last flew to Tel Aviv, he was refused entry, despite a British passport.

      "At least 10 of our friends and relatives have bought land through Tabo after we told them about it. Some don't even plan to live there – they feel they are protecting the land just by owning it," Sana explained. Ali added: "For me it was just something I took for granted. I knew I was going to end up in Palestine. If, God forbid, I don't get to, at least now I know my children can."

      Gaza marathon cancelled by UN after Hamas bans women from participating
      UN agency for Palestinian refugees says it has been forced to cancel Gaza marathon after Hamas reverses previous approval
      Phoebe Greenwood in Tel Aviv and Hazem Balousha in Gaza City
      guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 5 March 2013 17.56 GMT


      Two films on Israeli occupation in Oscar race
      Examination of settlements issue from opposite perspectives arrive at similar conclusion.
      Last Modified: 23 Feb 2013 21:04


      Palestinians learn to survive in divided land
      East Jerusalem neighbourhood populated mostly by Palestinians remains under Israeli control.
      Last Modified: 16 Feb 2013 21:13


      Legal dispute continues over West Bank wall
      Palestinian landowners and Catholic convent present final arguments against proposed wall in Israeli court.
      Last Modified: 12 Feb 2013 08:01


      Palestinian inmates 'sneak sperm out of jail'
      Fertility doctor claims he has used prisoners' sperm smuggled out of Israeli jails to help their wives have babies.
      Last Modified: 07 Feb 2013 07:50


      Palestinians discover the strength of soft power
      The Palestinians built a new tent city Friday, a tactic likely to win them much more sympathy than clashing with the IDF at the border or committing clear acts of terror.


      U.S. President Barack Obama's carefully timed attack last week on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was apparently the first seed. The disputes will continue after Netanyahu's expected election victory Tuesday. Obama may have an interest in keeping a low profile on the Iranian threat, but not on the peace process.

      Palestine: What is in a name (change)?
      The Palestinian Authority has adopted the 'State of Palestine' as its new name - a move likely to anger Israel.
      Inside Story Last Modified: 08 Jan 2013 07:49


      Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has officially renamed the area he controls.

      He has called for all official documents - including passports, drivers' licenses, postage stamps and car number plates - to now bear the name 'State of Palestine', instead of the generally used 'Palestinian National Authority',

      Abbas has also ordered foreign ministries and embassies around the world to start using the title.

      The move follows the UN general assembly's recognition of Palestine as a state.

      Abbas said that this latest presidential decree was aimed at enhancing "sovereignty on the ground" and was a step towards "real independence".

      There have been a number of important developments for Palestinians in recent months.

      In November, after a week-long conflict in Gaza, Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire.

      Later that month, despite Israeli and US opposition, the Palestinian Authority was upgraded to a non-member Observer State by the UN general assembly.

      Encouraged by this success, Fatah allowed Hamas to hold anniversary rallies in the West Bank.

      Two weeks later, Israel eased the blockade it imposed on Gaza when Hamas took control in 2007.

      And on Friday, Hamas allowed a large Fatah rally in Gaza, signalling a possible end to the five year rift between the two sides.

      Meanwhile, there has been no official word from Israel on the decision to adopt the name 'State of Palestine', but it is an announcement bound to anger.

      So, is the move itself a passport to a new reality for the Palestinians or merely a symbolic gesture?

      To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Shiulie Ghosh, is joined by guests: Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator; Robbie Sabel, a former legal adviser to Israel's foreign ministry; and Rosemary Hollis, a professor of Middle East Policy Studies at City University London.


      Mahmoud Abbas wants passports and ID cards to say 'State of Palestine'
      Until now official documents have said 'Palestinian Authority'
      'State of Palestine' is to be used on passports, documents and stamps
      Palestinian ambassadors abroad have been told to act as envoys of state
      The United Nations voted to change Palestinian status in November
      The UN changed Palestinian status from non-member observer entity to state
      Most members of the UN general assembly voted in favour of the upgrade
      The assembly voted 138-9 in favour with 41 nations abstaining
      Palestinians say the upgrade will strengthen their position to negotiate
      Israel criticised the upgrade for bypassing peace negotiations

      Gaza: Left in the Dark
      Constant power outages mean the people of Gaza are forced to live much of their lives off the grid.
      Al Jazeera World Last Modified: 09 Jan 2013 04:24


      Life in Gaza is not easy amid constant power outages caused by limited electricity supplies and fuel shortages.

      Gaza is in the midst of an acute power crisis, with blackouts lasting for up to 12 hours and a shortage of generator fuel.

      Abdul Aziz Abu Safiea, who works for the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company, says: "It's a strange job that only exists in Gaza. I cut the power off and reconnect it according to a set timetable.

      "I cut off the power to every home in Gaza for at least eight hours every day. Every second, one-third of Gaza's population is without electricity."

      The frequent power shortage puts at risk the lives of cardiac and dialysis patients and babies in incubators, and increases the daily hardship among the general population.

      Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are a people under siege. Israel occupied Gaza and the West Bank back in 1967. Although Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza in 2005, they have maintained a blockade on the territory.

      As a result, over 1.5 million Palestinians suffer to this day from high levels of poverty and dependence on aid.

      The blockade has prevented the reconstruction of Gaza's infrastructure - badly damaged during Israel's successive military assaults on Gaza in recent years.

      Living without dignity

      Gaza's electricity sector remains deficient. Israel refuses to allow in the spare parts needed to rebuild the broken-down infrastructure. Limited amounts of fuel reach Gaza from Israel and Egypt - well below the bare minimum required.

      Fathi Barakat, a Palestinian, says: "When it's hot, we can't tolerate the heat inside these houses. We stay outside. The fans and fridge broke down because of the heat. We live without dignity."

      His wife Sabah adds: "We always have to check the electricity schedule. To know what time the power cuts [are] and for how long. We live our life around power cuts."

      Power cuts also mean that children experience prolonged periods of darkness at a time when they have to study. Often there is no option but to do their homework by gas lamps or candlelight.

      Gaza: Left in the Dark portrays the many obstacles and complications of life in Gaza caused by the shortage of electricity.

      Factors such as Israel's continued sanctions, Egypt's crackdown on smuggling, and the fallout from the long Fatah-Hamas enmity all contribute to the dire situation in that part of the world.

      When the regular blackouts occur, the people of Gaza must find a way to continue life off the grid.
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