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Gay Pride Parade in Holy Jerusalem

July 31, 2013 | Al-Monitor


JERUSALEM - In a sparkling, beaded black dress and stilettos, 30-year-old "Gallina Port des Bras" bid welcome from the stage of "Mikveh" — the self-proclaimed "one and only lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and straight-friendly club in Jerusalem." Smacking her strawberry red lips and flipping her long blond wig, Port des Bras — whose offstage name is Gil Naveh — told Al-Monitor that though Jerusalem has bred the country’s most famous drag queens, the city is no easy place to be a drag queen, or for that matter gay.

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Israeli Wall Creates Limbo for Seam Zone Palestinians

July 2, 2013 | Al-Monitor

The land between the 1967 armistice line, the so-called Green Line, and the separation barrier being built by Israel in and around the West Bank is referred to as the seam zone. Many of the Palestinians living there hold West Bank ID cards, but their homes are on the western, or "Israeli side," of the barrier. While some have received Jerusalem identification cards allowing them to stay in their homes and move freely in Israel and the West Bank, others have only the West Bank permit, making them technically illegal in their own homes.

Two such people are Ruqayya and her mother Kefayah. When the wall was built through the village of Hizma, north of Jerusalem, their family’s three houses were separated from the rest of the village. 

“We are stuck here. We live disconnected from the world because no one can visit [our homes] without getting a permit to cross the checkpoint,” Kefayah told Al-Monitor at her daughter’s house. She added that when she had to go to the hospital urgently last year, she had to be carried to the Hizma checkpoint because Palestinian cars and ambulances are not allowed in the seam zone.

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Gaza Women Raise Voices Online

June 18, 2013 | Al-Monitor

Female activists in Gaza have turned to social media to air their thoughts, but on-the-ground activism is still constrained by a largely male-dominated society.

Sitting in an armchair with her feet tugged up under her and a laptop in front of her, blogger Malaka Mohammed typed 140 characters and clicked "tweet." She scrolled through the most recent tweets, then went to her blog where she reviewed a post she is working on before moving on to her Facebook page, checking recent comments from her more than 5,000 followers. The 22-year-old recent English literature graduate is one of Gaza’s most prominent online activists.

"I started with Facebook, because there is no house here without Facebook. Then, a teacher told me I should start a blog because I’m a good writer. I now have thousands of readers,” Mohammed told Al-Monitor at her home in Al-Shejaia in Gaza. "Whenever I write, reply or share I always think of the result and effect. The Palestinian issue is important. When you write something as a Palestinian, the entire world will think of you as representing Palestinian women."

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Gaza Rappers Persevere Despite Hamas Ban

May 20, 2013 | Al-Monitor

The Gazan hip-hop group Palestinian Unit has been traveling across Europe, performing for a growing fan base. Although their popularity is on the rise in Spain, France and Denmark, in Gaza they are banned. According to one of the group’s members, rapper Ayman Jamal Mghames, the official excuse of the Hamas-led government is that hip-hop is too “Western.” He has no doubt, however, that it is the messages in the group's songs that the authorities find problematic.

“We are political rappers. We talk about our daily life, and since we live a daily political life, political issues are part of our music,” Mghames told Al-Monitor in Gaza City. “We criticize the government’s actions, whether here or in the West Bank. We disagree with most of the politicians’ actions, not forgetting to mention the Israeli occupation.”

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Gaza As Seen Through the Lenses Of Gaza's Cameras

May 3, 2013 | Al Monitor

The Palestine Photo-Marathon gives Gaza photographers "a chance to show how they see Palestine

Thousands of journalists and photographers from all over the world have tried to capture Gaza over the years — often showing images of war such as militants, rockets and injured or dead people. But on Wednesday, May 1, the people of Gaza got a chance to portray what Gaza looks like through their own eyes.

Around 50 Gaza men and women — mainly youths — participated in the Palestine Photo-Marathon, a photo competition arranged by Danish House in Palestine.

Looking through the lens of her digital single-lens reflex camera, 16-year-old Asmaa Alkhaldi saw birds in cages, piles of coal, shops abounding with fruits and vegetables and a horse pulling a carriage. She was standing at the entrance to the old market in Gaza City trying to capture a good scene. Alkhaldi was the first of 150 people who had signed up for the competition, which also took place in Ramallah and Nablus in the West Bank as well as in Jerusalem.

“I love to compete with others and I want to win,” she confidently told Al-Monitor, explaining that she uses photography as a way of expressing her feelings and particularly likes taking pictures of everyday street life.

But though the noisy street market could have been a typical scene from any Middle Eastern souk, Gaza is nowhere close to being a normal place. Spread around the city are huge piles of rubble from buildings bombed by Israeli rockets in November. There are bullet holes in buildings from “Operation Cast Lead” and posters of “martyrs” — people killed in the conflict with Israel — hanging everywhere. These were among the images Alkhaldi and her peers saw through the lenses of their cameras. These are images that also need to be captured, she said.

“Sometimes the conditions force you toward the subject. If you are in a war, you have to show the war: The conflict, the injured, and the dead people — it’s a part of Gaza. But on a sunny day, a normal day, I like to shoot pictures of kids and nature,” she said.

And since it was a sunny day and also a public holiday, families were flocking to the beach where women sat in groups talking while children played in the water. But being also the day after the targeted assassination of Haitham Al-Mishal, a part of this “normal” day was also seeing the Israeli navy patrolling a few miles from shore and the occasional sounds of drones and sonic booms.

At a beach cafeteria, the professional Palestinian press photographer, Mohammed Baba, was enjoying the weather with his family. He said young photographers have been reflecting the day-to-day reality of the ongoing conflict with Israel.

“Can you imagine how it affects a child who sees dead people, funerals, and their family crying? Or see a targeted assassination from the window of their school bus?” he asked. Baba said the sadness seen by Gaza youth is reflected in the pictures they take and share on social media, which are often militant or gory. He said he therefore tries to encourage young journalists to also focus their cameras on other aspects of daily activity, such as culture, the environment and social life.

Baba said young photographers also face other restrictions. The political divide between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank often leads to problems if they take pictures that shed a critical light on the Hamas government. And for female photographers, the conservative norms of society mean that they will typically not be allowed to walk around alone after dark or be in places that have many men.

Alkhaldi agreed that being both a young and female photographer in Gaza is not easy. She said she has been harassed by police and usually prefers to have her father by her side. But on this day she decided to go only with her 13-year-old brother and a girlfriend; both also took part in the competition. Alkhaldi said she didn’t face any problems that day, but others were not as lucky.

A group of men and women were stopped by authorities who took a camera memory card away from one of them, Karen Nordemann of Danish House in Palestine told Al-Monitor. She spoke at the French Institute, which was headquarters for the event in Gaza. Nordemann said that despite that incident, the day had gone well. She added that people had been genuinely enthusiastic and happy and that the event seemed to have fulfilled its purpose.

“There are so many pictures taken of Palestine — mainly by people who are not from Palestine — and they often focus on violence and conflict. With this Photo-Marathon we wanted to give Palestinians a chance to show how they see Palestine,” she said.

The event was launched last year in Jerusalem and  Ramallah. Due to its popularity, the Ramallah-based organization decided to double the number of cities, which also led to there being twice as many participants. According to Nordemann, almost an equal amount of men and women registered; they ranged from age 8 to 76. After receiving a list of either six or 12 themes, such as “noise,” “decay” and “yesterday,” they had the equivalent number of hours to capture images representing their interpretation.

Nordemann emphasized the importance of including Gaza, explaining that it is often overlooked for such events due to the difficulties in getting there. But not least for Gaza residents is that the image they have of themselves and of Palestine is quite different than that presented by the international media. Nordemann explained that she was surprised to see how small a role war seemed to play.

In the coming days, a jury of professional Danish and Palestinian photographers will select the best pictures from the Photo-Marathon. The winners will be announced May 19. Until then, Alkhaldi must wait patiently and keep her fingers crossed, hoping that her pictures will stand out

For the original article see Al Monitor

Arab Youths Find Their Voices in International Debate Program

Apr. 11, 2013 | Al-Monitor

As young people in the Middle East learn to enjoy the newfound freedom to express themselves, a project called Young Arab Voices is training youths to articulate their opinions and debate on a competitive level.

After the fall of regimes that for decades had cracked down on anyone who dared speak out against them, citizens of countries such as Tunisia, Libya and Egypt found themselves suddenly free to speak their minds. But especially for the youth who had grown up without a memory of a time before Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Moammar Gadhafi or Hosni Mubarak, it turned out not to be easy to figure out what to say.

“We had no right to think, to talk, to do what you wanted,” 23-year-old Tunisian Asma Hriz told Al-Monitor. “Even when talking in your home, your mom would say; ‘hush, they will hear us.’ And if you talked to close friends, there was the fear that he or she would talk to the regime and your whole family would be in danger.”

But now, Hriz explained, Tunisians are talking about politics, the economic situation and religion everywhere. But as the freedom to express oneself is a new thing, it also causes frustration about what to actually say and how.

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EU Trade with Settlements Undermines Palestinian Economy

April 2, 2013 | Al-Monitor

NGOs are calling on the EU to stop trade relations with Israeli settlements, which undermined Palestinians' ability to create a viable economy.

Newly planted date trees, only a meter high, are lined up in close rows in the hot desert outskirts of the ancient city of Jericho. They surround the offices of Nakheel Palestine, an agricultural company exporting Medjool dates from the West Bank's Jordan Valley. Like its trees, the company is still young and struggling to survive in a hot and hostile environment.

“In regards to farming, the main challenge is securing the land and finding the water to keep the trees alive and producing,” Maisa Manasrah, sales manager at Nakheel Palestine told Al-Monitor while walking in the fields of small date trees. She added that demolition orders on water wells and houses used by their farmers, threats of confiscation of land, lack of access to harbors and airports and reliance on Israel for importing fertilizer and chemicals make it difficult to establish a competitive business.

By contrast, the conditions for their competitors in Israeli settlements also located in the Jordan Valley are quite different.

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Palestinians Prepare to Capture Obama's Attention

Mar. 19, 2013 | Al-Monitor

Some Palestinians are planning creative protests for President Barack Obama's visit to the West Bank.

Along the road to Ramallah from the Qalandia checkpoint separating the West Bank from east Jerusalem hang posters with the American stars and stripes and the iconic red-and-blue picture of President Barack Obama.

“President Obama, don’t bring your smart phone to Ramallah. You won’t have mobile access to Internet — we have no 3G in Palestine!” Another sign gives the message: “President Obama, come early to your meeting in Ramallah. It may take you two hours to cross Qalandia checkpoint.”

The posters are designed by young Palestinian web consultant Mahir Alawneh, who decided along with a couple of friends to send a different kind of message to the American president.

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World Bank: Israel Hurting Palestine Economy Long Term

March 15, 2013 | Al Monitor

A World Bank report released Tuesday, March 12 warns that the Palestinian economy is now suffering so much from the political stalemate and Israeli restrictions that it is losing its “long-term competitiveness.” This sends a signal to donors to Palestine that without political action, they are pouring their money down the drain, according to Palestinian businessman Sam Bahour.

Checkpoints and military searches, fees and hold-ups on goods going in or out through Israeli ports and restrictions in movement and access to basic necessities such as water and land are just some of the obstacles faced by the Palestinian private sector, leading to a downward-spiraling economy.

A statement issued by the World Bank noted that the “Israeli-imposed economic restrictions continue to constrain [Palestinian] sustainable economic growth,” which is “unlikely to change as long as political progress remains absent.” While this message is similar to that of the World Bank’s report from September 2012, the new report includes an analysis of the impact of the deteriorating fiscal situation and concludes that it is bound to cause long-term structural damage.

Bahour explained that this is the first time the World Bank has looked at long-term effects and boldly called on donor countries to put political action behind their money.

“The report is saying that as long as you are investing in status quo, you are allowing Israel to cause permanent structural damage to the Palestinian economy,” said Bahour. “That’s a message to third states to get off their asses and do something,” he added.

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Bahrain Marks Anniversary of Uprising With Dialogue, Deadlock

Feb. 14, 2013 | Al-Monitor

MANAMA - In the countless huge malls in the Bahraini capital of Manama, families drink Starbucks coffee and peruse Western designer brands. At outdoor cafes and parks, women — some in long black abayas others in jeans and T-shirts — enjoy the early spring weather while chatting and watching their kids play.

On the surface there seems to be little concern over the ongoing uprising which erupted almost two years ago. But as people return home in big shining convertibles and SUVs on one of Manama’s main highways, burning tires disrupt the rush-hour traffic and show that below the shiny surface, political tensions and ongoing unrest still simmer in the small kingdom.

As the situation seemed stagnant, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa called for dialogue meetings, which were launched Sunday, Feb. 10, and continued Wednesday. Representatives from opposition groups, pro-government parties and the national assembly attended these meetings, the first in 18 months.

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PA Seeks UNESCO Protection for Threatened Village

Jan. 25, 2013 | Al-Monitor

Battir, a small Palestinian village unique for its ancient stone terraces, springs and irrigation systems, is under threat as Israel plans to expand the separation barrier through the landscape.

BATTIR, WEST BANK - The village is located on the so-called Green Line from the armistice agreement after the war in 1948, and over half of the Battiri people’s fields are located on the Israeli side. The villagers argue that the barrier will damage the area and cut them off from their fields and sources of income. Now the Palestinian Authority is preparing an application to UNESCO, hoping to get the area added to its World Heritage list and thereby save the historical landscape.

“Battir was a Roman city. Before that, the Canaanites used to settle here,” said Hassan Muamer from the Battir Eco-Museum, talking to Al-Monitor in Battir, surrounded by lettuce and squash plants and avocado trees.

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Head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad Praises Relationship with Iran

Nov. 30, 2012 | Al-Monitor

In an exclusive Al-Monitor interview by Lena Odgaard, Ramadan Shallah, the head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, discusses Israel's Gaza operation and his own relationship with Iran.

Head of Islamic Jihad, Ramadan Shallah ©Lena Odgaard

Head of Islamic Jihad, Ramadan Shallah ©Lena Odgaard

CAIRO — Resistance, not politics, remains the main road to achieve Palestinian independence and rights, said the head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Ramadan Shallah, in an exclusive interview to Al-Monitor. Though stating that he would respect the recent cease-fire deal with Israel, he predicted another intifada, or uprising, in response to the deadlocked peace talks.

“In Palestinian history, resistance was always a source of inspiration for our people to continue the struggle in order to get back our rights and homeland, Palestine,” Ramadan Shallah said in his suite at an elegant, five-star hotel in Cairo.

Though the final details of the Israel-Gaza cease-fire, including in particular the issue of border crossings, are still being discussed through Egyptian mediators, both parties have claimed victory. While Netanyahu said Hamas and other militant groups suffered a severe military blow, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the main political Gazaan factions, celebrated the cease-fire agreement, pointing to achievements such as stopping Israeli incursions and the so-called “targeted killings” of hardline militants. According to Shallah, his party — known for its radical-militant tactics and hence labelled a terrorist organization by most Western countries — will respect the new cease-fire but not rule out another round of fighting.

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Palestinian Village Faces Demolition for Third Time

Nov. 15, 2012 | Al-Monitor

As the conflict escalates in Gaza, a dispute rages over Susiya, a small Palestinian village and herding community in the Hebron hills of the West Bank. 

SUSIYA, WEST BANK - In June 2012, Palestinian residents received more than 50 demolition orders from the Israeli Civil Administration, Israel’s governing body in the West Bank.

The Israeli human rights organization Rabbis for Human Rights appealed the order on behalf of the villagers. But if the demolitions are carried out, it will be the third time that the residents have been expelled and seen their homes destroyed.

Since the early 1980s Susiya residents and Jewish settlers have been locked in a legal battle over the land. Three years after Jewish settlers began inhabiting the land in 1983 — also calling their new settlement "Susiya" after an old Judean village — Israel declared the area an archaeological site and ordered the evacuation of the Palestinian village to make room for a national park.

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For Palestinian Kids in Hebron, Little Joy on Back-to-School Day

Sept. 9, 2012 | Al-Monitor

HEBRON — Catching up with friends, showing off new clothes and getting new books — for most kids, the first day of school is exciting. But for Palestinian children who live in or go to school in the Old City of Hebron, the day is nothing to look forward to. Here, crossing checkpoints manned by heavily armed Israeli soldiers and dodging barbs and attacks from Israeli settlers are unfortunate parts of an ordinary school day.

On Sunday morning (Sept. 2) little girls sporting new dresses, shiny shoes and braided hair, boys in blue shirts, and teenage girls in blue and white school uniforms flocked to the otherwise usually quiet and empty Shuhada street in H2. Israel’s military closed all the shops and sealed off the Old City’s main artery to Palestinian traffic after the 2000 Intifada to avoid recurring clashes between Palestinians and Jewish settlers — between 600 and 800 live in the midst of 35,000 Palestinians. Only settler vehicles can use that street.

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Palestinian Street Artists Take to Walls With New Zeal

Aug. 27, 2012 | Al-Monitor

RAMALLAH — The streets of Ramallah, on the West Bank, have seen a significant increase in graffiti over the past year, including drawings of Palestinians in Israeli jails, social media-inspired tags such as #OccupyWallStNotPalestine and religious symbols. While Palestinian graffiti had always been political and reflected the Palestinian struggle against Israel’s occupation, street art now puts a greater emphasis on aesthetics and originality, said Palestinian artist Majd Abdel Hamid. He attributes this recent development to what he describes as an "art explosion" following a wave of popular uprisings that swept through the Arab world, though not in the Palestinian territories.

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