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Today, I join Khader Adnan's hunger strike - will you?

As Khader Adnan enters his 65th day of hunger strike, he is receiving increasing and substantial support among the Palestinian communities in Palestine and abroad. The Palestinian factions have called for a general strike in solidarity with Adnan on Tuesday. Despite initial frustrations of the delayed attention where rallies on Adnan’s behalf a few weeks ago had low attendance, it seems Adnan has become a symbol and leader of the Palestinian resistance movement.

Even politicians couldn’t ignore his existence anymore. President Abbas was reportedly making calls on behalf of Adnan to Russia, China, Britain and the European Union. Hamas Prime Minster Ismail Haniyeh led a massive protest in Gaza and made calls to the Egyptian government asking it to intervene on behalf of Adnan.

Adnan has the potential to inspire the masses and breathe life into the indifferent majority. After all, it was one man called Bouazizi who inspired thousands in Tunisia and caused a regime change. The struggle of Adnan according to what he told his lawyer is not about himself but as he told his lawyer, he wants his hunger strike to generate an awakening for the Palestinian people and specifically Palestinian prisoners. He doesn’t consider his hunger strike a tool to save himself but rather an example to inspire a nation that has been under military occupation for decades.

However, half way through writing my post, I realized I was missing the point of Adnan’s hunger strike. I asked myself, will writing another article make my conscience clear? Have I done everything to help Adnan and the Palestinian prisoners? Forty percent of Palestinian men have been in prison at one point in their lives. Adnan’s story is the story of all Palestinians and the struggle of Adnan is the struggle of all Palestinians. So, what should I do?

I remembered that two weeks ago, after I published an article about Khader Adnan, someone from Tel Aviv emailed me and asked  about suggestions of what she should do to help Adnan.

Quickly I responded. I told her that emails, faxes and statements would make no difference. I suggested that Israelis who want to help should join Adnan’s hunger strike. Israelis might not care about a Palestinian doing hunger strike, but if Israelis join him, that will bring much more attention to his cause. After all, I believe that the best way for Israelis to help...

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Hunger strike highlights forgotten tragedy of Palestinian prisoners

Khader Adnan’s hunger strike reached its 52nd day with little international attention. Some might think this is due to his association with the Islamic Jihad. However, the Israeli military has not presented any formal charges against him. Adnan is one Palestinian prisoner among thousands, about whom little is known.

In Israel, many simply brush away the issue of Palestinian prisoners by declaring them all to be terrorists. However, they may be surprised to learn that Khader Adnan has not been charged in court, but rather is presently in administrative detention.

There are some 300 Palestinians in Israeli jails under administrative arrest. This form of arrest can last for years without trial. The prisoners do not know what are they suspected of. While holding prisoners indefinitely contravenes the 4th Geneva Convention, you won’t find international leaders calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners, as they called to free Gilad Schalit from the hands of the Hamas government in Gaza.

But even those who do end up in front of a judge find themselves in military courts where the judge, the prison guard and the prosecutor wear the same uniform. They quickly learn there is no hope for justice.

The story of Khader Adnan, who launched his hunger strike in prison 52 days ago, is not unique. A hunger strike is one of the few tools that Palestinian prisoners can use against the injustice they face in Israel’s penal system. Last October, 2,000 Palestinians launched a hunger strike against prison conditions. Khader Adnan, however, has become the face of the Palestinian prisoners’ dignity. Posters of his likeness have become common, with statements like, “My dignity is more important than food,” or ” For every gram you lose from your weight, we gain a thousand grams in our dignity.” Khader Adnan has become a Palestinian symbol against administrative arrest and against the norm of humiliating Palestinian prisoners.

However the price for resisting the prison administration is high. Many times those who engage in hunger strikes are punished with solitary confinement, through other physical means, or they are simply ignored.

What Khader Adnan is protesting brings painful memories to me. I remember Israeli soldiers breaking into my home to arrest my older brother Tayseer (18 years old at the time) on suspicion of throwing stones. He was also held for interrogation without anyone knowing his whereabouts until the Red Cross informed us...

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IDF, Palestinians clash in East Jerusalem; one critically wounded

A Palestinian resident has been critically injured by live IDF fire in Issawiya, East Jerusalem, according to Palestinian sources, among them my family members who live there.

Clashes erupted late Tuesday when the Israeli army entered the town in order to arrest a resident on charges of throwing stones. The arrest caused heightened tensions in the town and dozens of young residents gathered to confront the soldiers.

The clashes between the soldiers and the residents concentrated in Hai Abeid, which is downtown Issawiya, and continued until the early hours of the morning. According to witnesses, over a dozen Palestinians were injured. One of the wounded residents was hit with a rubber-coated bullet in his head and is currently in critical situation.

The Israeli border guard reported two injuries of Israeli soldiers who were taken to Hadassah hospital.

The army has deployed more soldiers to the area and the current situation is still tense.

Confrontations between the Israeli army and residents of Issawiya are very common, especially when the army enters the town. In the past two years dozens of residents have been injured and arrested and one child was killed from inhaling tear gas.

Read also:

Palestinians reopen East Jerusalem road to protest land-grab
‘National Parks’ in East Jerusalem: New tool in occupation toolkit
Issawiya, a Jerusalem neighborhood behind concrete barricades

 



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Equality in action: A conversation at the checkpoint

After we finished our visit to the tense West Bank city of Hebron, we made our way to Sderot, an Israeli town on the Gaza border. With me was Shira Nesher, an Israeli peace activist who used to be a guide in the Israeli IDF, during her military service. Both of us were leading a group of 36 American students and professors. The group was here to study conflict and religion and decided to do it through the dual narrative approach, which I developed with my colleagues.

Approaching the checkpoint of Tarqumia, we didn’t expect any special incidents. Our group has passed through multiple checkpoints and being an American tour group, we had no problems. Except at Tarqumia, the checkpoint that serves as the main passage for products from Israel to the West Bank.

Our bus driver, a Jerusalemite Palestinian, was asked to park the bus and get off for extra checks. The extra checks were similar to an airport security check, which tour bus drivers don’t normally undergo. Soon after, as the only other Palestinian on the bus, I was asked to join the bus driver.

Shira, our Israeli guide, asked the soldiers about the details and reasoning behind this selective treatment. The following conversation then took place between the checkpoint head of security and Shira Nesher:

Security: We need to check Aziz and the driver. Both of you, take off  your shoes, jackets, belts, bring your bags…etc

Shira: Fine. Starts taking off her shoes and belt

Security: What do you think you are doing?

Shira: I am going through the same security checks they are going through. Is there a problem with that?

Security: What reality are you living in? You wouldn’t have done this if you were in a New York airport and the security pulled a Muslim guy in front of you for extra checking, would you?

Shira: My reality is different than your reality. These are not strangers in the airport. They are my coworkers. I didn’t ask you not to check them; I will not interfere with your work.  However, you should check me too. I don’t accept you racially profiling my colleagues. We are one team, we spend 15 hours together every day, we work together, eat together and at checkpoints we should be treated similarly. We are equal in everything we do, why not here?

Shira then underwent the same security checks that me...

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What is normal about normalization?

The anti-normalization movement plays into the hands of the state of Israel’s policy of separation. By refusing to engage and even on some level cooperate with Israelis, Palestinian anti-normalizers accept this policy.

Anti-normalization is one of the hottest topics in the Palestinian community, although very few people can define exactly what it should mean. It is a term that gained strength in the 1980s against accepting the status quo of the occupation. Those who supported anti-normalization then were concerned about the occupation becoming a secondary issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A growing number of Palestinians working for Israeli businesses, a lack of political vision or a strategy for ending the occupation and the absence of the Palestinian case from the international discourse were alarming trends for Palestinian activists.

However, since the Oslo Accords “normalization” has become an out-moded term, a catch-all argument against Israeli-Arab cooperative efforts and a cover for character assassination in Palestinian politics.

When it comes to Arab countries and Israel, normalization is commonly understood as any relationship or ties between an Arab country with the state of Israel. However, some would accuse an Arab who visits Jerusalem of normalization, even if he did not meet any Israelis on his trip. That also means that visiting occupied East Jerusalem could be considered normalization. The same goes for meeting with Israelis for any reason, anywhere in the world, which can result in an Arab being labeled as a normalizer.

In Palestine, there are many definitions for normalization – it seems there are as many definitions as there are Palestinians themselves.  Some Palestinians would define normalization as any contact whatsoever with Israelis or even Jews, regardless of their political stances. They would describe joint protests in the West Bank against the separation wall or settlements as normalization, and refuse to take part in them.

Others define it as contact with the official institutions in Israel, or any cooperation with people who work in these institutions. Joint work or attendance at events featuring Israeli academics who have been outspoken against the occupation could also result in accusations of normalization.

Perhaps the most confusing definition of normalization is any contact with Israelis who do not recognize the occupation, and are not actively working for the freedom of Palestinians. But this definition is problematic because the interpretation of it has led to different conclusions.

As an intellectual exercise, consider a Palestinian activist who...

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Ch. 2 accuses Fatah leader of extremism by misquoting him

Yesterday, I reported on Fatah’s Christmas celebration in Bethlehem.  Dr. Mohammad Shtayyeh, a Fatah Central Committee member, spoke about his concern regarding the growth of settlements in the West Bank. He specifically referred to the Har Homa settlement, which is encroaching on the land of the town of Beit Sahour, east of Bethlehem.

Israeli Channel 2 reported the event, but distorted Dr. Shtayyeh’s comments, in an article published in Hebrew, titled “Fatah leader: No difference between Ramallah and Jaffa,” which claimed that Shtayyeh proclaimed, “There is no reason to distinguish between Ramallah and Jaffa,” meaning – the two cities belong to the same entity.

It is a sexy title, and I thought that the full quote would be reported in the actual article. I was wrong. The article restates the same quote from the title, enforcing Israeli government propaganda that insists that Palestinian leaders are unwilling to pursue a two-state solution. The article accuses Palestinian leaders of taking an extreme line against Israel and uses Shtayyeh’s comments as an example of Palestinian extremism.

Shtayyeh’s quote was taken completely out of context. His actual quote was (Arabic), “IF Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t recognize the difference between Abu Ghoneim [the site of a Jewish settlement north of Beith Sahour] and Tel Aviv, then the Palestinians will not recognize the difference between Ramallah and Jaffa.”

I am not seeking a discussion on the content of Shtayyeh’s original comments, but rather to draw attention to the distortion carried out by major media outlet, in order to fit a political agenda.

The inflammatory reporting by Channel 2 on this issue is not just a sloppy journalism, but an act of deception committed against the Israeli people. It is this kind of  journalism that adds fuel to the fire and ensures that people do not see a peaceful partner on the other side.

I hope that Channel 2 will admit its mistake and apologize for this deception – but I have little faith.

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Fatah leader appeals to Palestinian Christians: Don't emigrate

In Christmas celebration hosted by the Fatah movement, Mohammad Shtayyeh, a Fatah central committee member, appealed to Christian Palestinians to remain in their land, and to call on their sons and daughters who have emigrated to return to Palestine. Shtayyeh quoted Jesus’ words from the Gospel of Matthew, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?”.According to a Maan News Agency report (Arabic),  Shtayyeh told the Christian attendees that no one is more worthy of this land than the Christian Palestinians.

Christian emigration from Palestinian cities has been a source of concern about the future presence of Christians in the Holy Land.

According to Maan News, Shtayyeh also expressed concern about land confiscation in Beit Sahour, a Christian town near Bethlehem. He sent a warning message to Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu that if he doesn’t recognize the difference between Abu Ghoneim (the site of a Jewish settlement north of Beith Sahour) and Tel Aviv, then the Palestinians will not recognize the difference between Ramallah and Jaffa.

Shtayyeh had been one of the most outspoken Palestinian leaders about the possibility of strategy shift in the Palestinian leadership’s approach to the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Last November Shtayyeh warned that the Palestinian leadership is considering downgrading the Palestinian Authority if no progress is made on establishing the Palestinian state.

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Anti-normalization shuts down Israeli-Palestinian event

Last week, I received an invitation from the Palestine-Israel Journal (PIJ) to attend an event on the impact of the Arab Spring on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. However, a couple of days later I was notified that the event was canceled due to threats by anti-normalization activists against the hotel hosting the event. Below is an letter of explanation I received from the co-editors of PIJ, Ziad Abu Zayyad and Hillel Schenker:

We regret being unable to convene the Meeting which was planned for today, December 20, 2011, focusing on the Impact of the Arab Spring on the Palestinian Israeli Conflict. We invested a tremendous effort in preparations, to guarantee appropriate speakers and audience, and to promote the new issue of the Palestine Israel Journal (PIJ) devoted to The Arab Spring.

Many of you wrote to us, or called asking what happened. And we believe that we owe you an explanation.

On the evening of Dec. 18 someone called Ziad AbuZayyad and drew his attention to a campaign on the Facebook against the meeting accusing it of being part of normalization with the occupation. Ziad spent more than five hours on the Facebook sending messages and posts and responding to what was written or posted and trying to explain the nature and importance of the event.

On Dec. 19 we were called by the Legacy Hotel and informed by its Manager that he decided to cancel our reservation and they will not host the Conference. Later we received a fax from the Hotel confirming the decision of its administration. At the same time Ziad checked with the Hotel why they canceled the meeting and urged them to change their decision but they said that they were threatened by telephone calls and asked not to host the meeting. The owner said that he cares about his business and does not want any political involvement.

Ziad met with some of those who were campaigning against the meeting but others refused to come and meet him and continued inciting against the meeting. The message was clear that they are willing to continue their protest and will come to the Hotel to prevent the convening of the meeting.

From my contacts and conversations with the protesters I can say that the protest is not specifically against the PIJ but stems from the overall situation in the city. There are a number of burning spots in the city as a result of continued settlements activities and attacks by settlers...

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Israelis welcomed in Doha Forum in Qatar

The last thing I would have expected in Qatar was to hear Hebrew as I walked through the corridors of the Doha Convention Center. The next scene was no less bizarre, in a country where few Israelis and Jews visit: Rabbis with kippahs on their heads. The Israeli and Jewish presence seemed acceptable and even natural at the Doha Forum, which is organized by the United Nations Alliance for Civilizations.

Israelis are not only attending the conference, but also speaking. Israeli representatives from academia, civil society, human rights organizations and religious groups were all among those speaking at the conference.

I find it significant that Israelis were fully welcomed at the conference. Israel has the potential to be a natural part of the Middle East. It is not as hated as some Israelis believe. I saw Arab participants intrigued by the Jewish and Israeli presence, and curious to ask questions and learn about Judaism and Israel.

Such a relationship is important step toward an alliance of civilizations. These encounters create an opportunity for people to overcome the stereotypes.

The extreme right in Israel is so fixed in its ideology that Arabs will never accept Israel, that it fails to see that many Arabs are willing to do so. It is the occupation that they refuse to accept. Many right-wing academics absurdly claim that the occupation has nothing to do with Arab anger against Israel, and instead label any opposition to the occupation as anti-Semitism.

At the Alliance of Civilization conference in Doha, I saw what the future of the Middle East could look like: The desire to build a better future for our people can overcome the desire to dominate one another.

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LISTEN: Do Muslim leaders speak out against violence?

When I speak in Europe or America, there is one question I always know is coming: Why don’t Muslim religious leaders condemn violence? I try to explain that even though the western media doesn’t report on them, they do exist. There are many Muslim leaders who speak regularly against violence and present Islam as a religion that supports peace and coexistence.

Last week, I co-organized a weekend in Istanbul with 120 of these Muslim leaders, with a focus on the future of Afghanistan. They tackled hot issues like violence, peace, the misinterpretation of Islamic texts and the role of Muslim religious leaders in promoting peace. Click here to listen to a radio interview about the event. Below is a press release I wrote along with my George Mason University colleagues ahead of the conference.

ISTANBUL, Nov. 30, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — From every province of Afghanistan, Imams and civil society leaders will meet together today with Islamic scholars for the first time during the Islamic Cooperation for a Peaceful Future in Afghanistan conference, an unprecedented gathering that opens today in Istanbul, Turkey. More than 80 Afghan scholars will meet with over 20 of the world’s most prestigious Muftis and Islamic scholars, with millions of followers across the world, from Pakistan to Indonesia.

The conference participants consider this gathering, discussion and commitment for peace and non-violence as the establishment of a historically significant point of reference for Islamic teachings of moderation, tolerance, peace and cooperation.

The conference is an academic forum created by the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution (CRDC) at George Mason University, together with a highly distinguished Afghanistan advisory board, Marmara University in Turkey, and the Grand Mufti of Istanbul. The conference is designed to foster and provide a safe venue for intensive conversations on peace, Islam and the future of Afghanistan. The conference opening will be observed by senior Turkish officials, senior diplomats from the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), including U.S. President Barack Obama’s Special Envoy and the United Kingdom’s Ambassador to Turkey.

The goal of the conference is to empower Afghan religious leaders who are committed to peace and cooperation, and help them create a tolerant civic space wherein the Afghan people and their leaders can jointly move toward stability, peace and prosperity.

Aziz Abu Sarah, Co-director of CRDC commented, “There are deep concerns about the use of religious...

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Israel drops democracy for membership in elite Mideast club

There’s an upside to the story: Israel’s move away from democracy means a move toward the non-democratic regimes of the Middle East, and thus toward peace.

The Israeli Knesset is in the midst of approving a number of controversial legislative initiatives. Some of the these aim to subject the Supreme Court to right-wing ideology; others aim at limiting the influence of civil rights and human rights organizations. The Knesset session that approved the first readings of these bill proposals included a hot and raging debate about them. The opposition accused the current government of waging a war against democracy in Israel. But is that the whole story?

The current rightist government has been accused of many things since its inception. It has been labeled anti-peace, anti-welfare, anti-healthcare and now – anti-democratic.

However, these accusations don’t add up. What the critics of the current government don’t understand is the complexity of the state of Israel’s geopolitical situation. This current Israeli government has actually taken what I would call the largest of steps toward peace. Israel is seeking membership to the exclusive elite club of Middle Eastern anti-democracies. The prime minister’s latest bill proposal to limit funding to leftist organizations is proof of Israel’s willingness to pay the highest price for peace, democracy, civil rights and human rights.

Since its creation, Israel’s leaders have spoken repeatedly about their desire to become a natural part of the Middle East. They badly wanted to be accepted and welcomed to the exclusive Middle Eastern club. However, against its will, Israel found itself in the lower league, associated with European countries.

By limiting its democratic values, Israel’s leaders are taking a step forward, toward the undemocratic governments in the Middle East. This bold step is especially important, as some Arab countries are moving slowly toward democracy. Israeli leaders are willing to walk away from democracy so as to meet Arab leaders in the middle of the road.

In the past two years, Israel passed what some categorize as anti-democratic laws. The peak was the legislation banning any calls for boycott, in effect censoring the press. The new law that would ban organizations in Israel from receiving money from the UN, EU or other foreign countries is the latest effort to seal the deal, and prove Israel’s commitment to the Middle East.

Israel is showing its utmost commitment to peace by...

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WATCH: Aziz Abu Sarah, 'From Revenge to Reconciliation'

The murder of Aziz Abu Sarah’s brother had an enormous impact on him, and set him on a long political and personal journey from revenge to reconciliation. Watch him tell his story at a National Geographic Symposium.

I was ten years old when my brother Tayseer was tortured to death in an Israeli prison in 1990. Tayseer, 19 years old, was arrested from our  bedroom a year earlier on suspicion of throwing stones at Israeli cars. He refused to confess, and was therefore beaten repeatedly until he signed a confession. By then it was too late.

Tayseer’s murder was one of the most influential events in my life. He had been my closest friend and confidant, and for long time I lived refusing to accept his death. I grew up bitter and angry at those who killed him. I joined the Fatah youth movement and was extremely active as a writer and organizer in my teens. I wrote extensively against peace, negotiations and the Israelis in general. To me, Israel was represented by the soldiers who killed Tayseer, and those who stopped me every morning on my way to school. I believed I was pursuing justice, but in reality I was seeking revenge.

It was only when I decided to learn Hebrew in an Ulpan that my views changed. Though I was 18 years old, it was the first time I had sat in a room with Jewish Israelis who were not soldiers or settlers. I was able to meet Israelis invisible to average Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Israelis who didn’t carry guns. Israelis who believed in the Palestinian right to self determination and freedom from occupation.

Since then, I have changed directions. I have decided to work for justice, peace and reconciliation. I have decided that it is not Israelis or Jews who I should be fighting, but rather hatred, fear, arrogance and ignorance. This didn’t mean that I compromised on seeking freedom for myself or my people. My dedication to ending the occupation has not changed. But I did change the tools that I use. I have become active in conflict resolution through education, business and nonviolence as alternatives to violence.

The restoration of hope and morality in a place savaged by conflict, oppression and injustice is a difficult mission and requires intensive work and perseverance of heart and mind. However, the alternative is bleak....

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WATCH: CNN interview on prisoner exchange

CNN interviewed me again, this time with Israeli Nir Weintraub, in order to hear our opinions on yesterday’s prisoner exchange. Watch the interview here:

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