Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Back to Gaza

By Khaled Diab

Earlier this week, the BBC’s Panorama programme featured a depressing episode entitled Return to Gaza in which Jane Corbin bravely returned - six weeks after kidnapped BBC journalist Alan Johnston’s release - to that strip of land forsaken by the entire world .

In introducing the episode, Jeremy Vine observed that Gaza “could be a holiday destination like Turkey or Egypt”. And, in an ideal future world, it might become that. Now people are keener to flee it than flock to “what is basically now a huge prison”, as Corbin put it as she walked through the gates of the imposing Israeli wall surrounding the tiny slither of territory.

Watching the miserable situation on our TV drove home just how much the Palestinian people have been let down by the international community, Israel and their own leadership.

Already worn down by food shortages, rampant unemployment, an unending Israeli siege and weeks of near civil war, at about the same time Panorama aired, hundreds of thousands of Gaza residents had their bleak situation made blacker when the EU effectively switched off one of Gaza’s main power station because it feared that some of the revenue was being siphoned off by Hamas.

Corbin toured Gaza and saw the influence of its Hamasisation everywhere, including a gutted nightclub where the corrupt Fatah elite used to hangout. Despite the more restrictive Islamic influence, Hamas has also been providing Gazans with some entertainment by playing the popularity game. Corbin showed footage of bulldozers removing the barriers set up around exclusive Fatah beaches, declaring them open to all Gazans.

All my books were destroyed
One of the most touching parts of the documentary was when Amani al-Dramli, a bright and sensitive 21-year-old physiotherapy student, showed Corbin around her family’s destroyed apartment which had been hit by a rocket during the “battle of the rooftops” between Fatah and Hamas, as Corbin described it.

Calm until she entered her burnt-out study, she could barely suppress a tear when she told Corbin that all her books had been destroyed in the fire and she could no longer study without them. Her mother, unable to contain her anger, said that if Hamas and Fatah couldn’t agree among themselves, then: “We want neither of them!!!”

Articulating the 'flight' impulse many young Palestinians feel, including some I had met in the West Bank, al-Dramli said that she and her family were waiting for the border to re-open so that they could join other family members working in Saudi. “Life is easy and comfortable there,” she said sadly.

Katleen wondered how terrible it must be for all these highly educated Palestinians – still among the best-educated in the Arab world, despite all the Israeli closures and socio-economic problems they face – losing their youth in a straitjacket of unemployment, despair and destitution.

The main error Corbin made in her reportage was to claim that Hamas was unwilling to talk to Israel. In fact, considering its past, Hamas showed a great deal of pragmatism in the months following its electoral success. Faced with the reality of actual rule, it was seriously moderating its position vis-à-vis Israel, and said everything short of outright recognition of Israel – which for anyone who bothered to read between the lines meant that they were providing Israel with de facto recognition in a face-saving manner.

Rather than engage Hamas and woe it to further moderation, Israel brought down its iron fist and the international community followed suit. Does no one realise that strangling a people and robbing it of hope actually radicalises it more? Where is the humanity in all this? Does Israel really want an angrier neighbour? For how much longer will Israel continue actively to rear uglier monsters – after all, it once backed Hamas as a counterbalance against the then despised Fatah, today its doing the opposite, even though there are factions of Fatah, such as the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which may well use the weapons against Israel in the future – which it then turns around and tries to slay or starve?

I can understand what makes the Israeli public afraid but there are far more sensible ways of gaining security than this collective oppression.

Watch this episode of Panorama

Ramallah for real: a different generation

By Tom Kenis
I am horrible at time-keeping. It is eight o’clock, and I’m standing at the bar. Muhammad, the bartender, greets me with a smile. “Kif halak?”

“I’m fine,” I say, scanning the room. Ol’ Blue Eyes stares down at me from the wall, framed black and white. Welcome to Sinatra’s. On weekdays you can hear The Voice, crackling from a small array of speakers, while you check your Gmail over high-speed Wifi. At present, only a handful of people are present, including the two girls who’ll be stamping concert goers’ wrists shortly. They have yet to take up their position at the door.

It’s eight o’clock, and I’m standing at the bar, as I said, horrible at time-keeping. After two and a half years still a rookie. I cannot not be on time. Silly me. Frankie Boy shakes his head with the disapproving cool that only a twentieth century crooner-icon is able to muster. From the patio a murmur of sound-checks and last-minute cable-taping is carried in by a spiky draft. Summer evenings around these hills can be deceivingly chilly. Frank Sinatra doesn’t sing Stormy Weather. He merely tuts, and goes about his business hanging from a nail in twenty-first century Ramallah. I, the tutee, decide by taxi to quickly backtrack to my abode and pick up some textiles.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Friday, 10 August 2007

Ramallah for real: bigger than Jesus

By Tom Kenis

Are the Spice Girls in town?

No, not really.

Lebanese pop-singer Nancy Ajram, then? Or perhaps eighties one-hit-wonder Charles & Eddie? If no one else can help you, and if you can find them,… maybe Palestinians hired the A-Team? Quite unlikely.

And yet, the sulphuric tang of ignited powder abounds. There floats an excitement that is difficult to explain otherwise. Today, Ramallah is falling over itself, people dash about in thrilled flurries, and firecrackers litter the sound-spectrum. It’s the day of “tawjihi”, the proclamation of final-year high school student’s results, a local SAT or baccalaureate if you will.

Read on

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Ramallah for real: just a regular town

By Tom Kenis

I got the job. The phone interview with a crackly connection, one time zone away, had gone well. Belgian development money would pay for me to go and support a small organisation that’s active in the field of women’s rights, youth empowerment, and democracy.

As I was packing my bags, TV news blared out the increasingly alarming vital signs of Yasser Arafat. I had just about finished packing those bags when the curtain finally came down for the old man, and an era ended. It was November 2004.

Goodbye Belgium. My odyssey to the Palestinian territories had begun.

Photo courtesy of Tom Kenis. Tom's website is at

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Darfur: fighting fire with water

There is no military solution for the Darfur conflict - but peace may be achieved by better management of the region's dwindling natural resources.

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Faith and punishment

In Islam, apostasy and faithlessness are sins, but they are not worldly crimes. Those who claim otherwise are making a mistake.