Media Roundup: Present Absentee Water, NBA Loves Israel, & Holy Clash

Jerusalem Old City - Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount. © palestinephotobank.com.

Holy Clash

“Dozens of Palestinians clash with Israel Police at Temple Mount,” by Nir Hasson, Ha’aretz – 26 July. 

Tensions escalated on the Noble Sanctuary (for Muslims) or the Temple Mount (for Jews) as Palestinian youth clashed with Israeli police on the Jewish holy day of  Tisha B’Av (which marks the destruction of the First and Second Temple). Although official and traditional Jewish-Israeli Rabbinical orders rule out building a Third Temple on what is now the third holiest Islamic site – the Dome of the Rock and the al Aqsa Mosque – Jewish fundamentalists have grown more and more vocal and daring about subverting Islamic custodianship as part of a Messianic vision of restoring the rituals of the ancient Jewish kingdoms. Fearing loss of their holy site (akin to losing ground at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem), Palestinians regard any display of Jewish religious activity as foreshadowing an encroachment that will culminate in the quintessential Palestinian experience under Israeli occupation: dispossession and displacement at the hands of Israeli Jews. Under a 1967 agreement concluded by then Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and the Islamic waqf after Israel occupied the Old City, the Sanctuary/Mount is open to all visitors but prayer is reserved for Muslims. This status quo is increasingly challenged by said fundamentalists and their political backers although Israeli police still remove openly praying Jewish visitors (see video):

After a few months of relative calm at the Temple Mount compound, violence was reported at the Jerusalem site Sunday morning, with dozens of Palestinians youths barricading themselves at the Al Aqsa Mosque and clashing with Israel Police forces sent to the scene.

During the altercation, police eventually stormed the mosque itself. An unknown number of officers were wounded, and three East Jerusalem residents were arrested for allegedly throwing rocks at Border Police.

Jerusalem police said they received information about Arab youths barricading themselves within the mosque overnight Saturday to confront police and prevent visits to the holy site on Tisha B’Av – the Jewish day of remembrance for the destruction of the First and Second Temples.

According to the police, the youths – a number of whom where masked – collected stones, wooden planks, fireworks and firebombs, and even set up makeshift barricades to prevent the mosque’s doors from being shut and to allow them to confront the police.

[…] 

In a different incident reported Sunday morning at the Temple Mount, a Jewish youth was arrested for refusing a police demand to undergo a search at the site. The police said that the youth was first asked to remove his tefillin, but he kept moving towards the Temple Mount. Afterwards, a number of police officers approached him and requested he return to the security stand at the entrance where police were conducting body searches, but he refused, even biting one of the officers. He was taken in for questioning by the police.

Are You Jewish or Arab?

Visualizing Palestine

The Holy Land summer can be quiet hot and it’s nice to cool off. But getting to the sea can be difficult if you’re a Palestinian:

go-to-sea-972

Water Everywhere And Few Drops To Drink Or: Present Absentee Water 

“How Israel Uses Water to Control Palestinian Life,” by Charlotte Silver, The Nation – 24 July

A short while back, PBS aired a glowing report (see video) on the admittedly innovative approach Israel has adopted toward collecting water in an otherwise arid land. For all of Israel’s resource advancements, the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation are hardly a beneficiary, The report was conspicuously silent about the systematic water discrimination toward Palestinians, who are denied the right to build their own infrastructure and must depend on Israel’s:

Today, Israel offers the products associated with its so-called water triumphs to the world, promising to liberate other regions from the threats of drought and scarcity. At home, it uses water to control Palestinians.

[…] 

In fact, the relentless scarcity of water in Shuafat Ridge is integral to Israel’s larger strategy for East Jerusalem. In the mid-1970s, the director of policy planning for the Jerusalem municipality, Yisrael Kimhi, explained that “one of the cornerstones in the planning of Jerusalem is the demographic question.” The “demographic balance,” as it’s more frequently known, refers to the conclusions of the Gafni Committee, which was established in 1972 to determine development in the city. Adapting the committee’s recommendations, the government eventually decided to maintain a 70-to-30 ratio of Jews to Arabs in Greater Jerusalem. Throughout the tenure of Teddy Kollek, who served as Jerusalem’s mayor from 1965 to 1993, the government adopted a policy of neglect toward East Jerusalem to meet those recommendations—an approach acknowledged by Kollek himself as well as former city employees who served under him.

[…] 

Abu Adam lived in Shuafat refugee camp until he bought some land and built a house for his family in one of the neighborhoods in Shuafat Ridge. Like tens of thousands of other residents who have built homes across this valley, he knew there was no point in waiting for Israel to issue him a permit, so he built his house without one.

And like nearly everyone else, Abu Adam’s water connection is considered illegal. It’s hooked up through an improvised system designed by resourceful residents: From the 200 meters that are connected to the central water supply, a spidery network of skinny plastic tubes stretches toward the surrounding apartment buildings. Small motors propelling the water are scattered throughout the neighborhood. But even with this impressive home-grown system, the three kilometers of pipes at the bottom of the valley are not sufficient for the whole camp. People who live at the higher elevations are the last to fill their tanks with water—if there’s any left.

“People get insane,” a passing man tells me, when he realizes that Abu Adam is talking to me about water. Pointing to the top of the valley, he added, “People up there cry from lack of water.”

water
While illegal Israeli settlers often dig wells, Palestinians are prohibited from tapping water on their own lands.

© palestinephotobank.com 

Almost none of the 80,000 residents pay a water bill. The meters that are legally connected to the central supply measure not just the consumption of the homes directly connected to them but hundreds of others tapping illegally into them, thus making payment impossible. The residents say they would be far happier to pay and be connected, but they’ve run into endless government roadblocks.

At the height of last year’s critical shortage, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel petitioned the Supreme Court to find a durable solution. Arguing that all people have a right to water, ACRI called upon the state to connect residents to an official source. About two weeks later, water flowed back into the pipes as before. “But since the humanitarian crisis ended, no real solution has been reached,” says Anne Suciu, one of ACRI’s lawyers working on the case.

[…] 

Whether in the West Bank or Jerusalem, Palestinians’ right to water has been reduced to a “right” to purchase water from Israel—which not only maintains control over all natural resources in the region but refuses to allow Palestinians the water connections that are routinely granted not only to Israelis inside Israel but to illegal settlements as well. For Palestinians in Shuafat Ridge, even this right is compromised by Israel’s goal of demographic dominance.

Back to Gaza?

“Most Israeli Jews favour return of Gaza settlements: poll,” AFP – 20 July

Most Israeli Jews favour the reconstruction of a block of settlements in the Gaza Strip, a decade after Israel withdrew from the Palestinian territory, a poll published on Monday showed. Some 51 percent of Israeli Jews said they were in favour of rebuilding the Gush Katif group of settlements, located in southern Gaza and where more than 8,000 Israelis lived prior to the 2005 withdrawal. The poll published on the NRG news website of 587 people did not include members of the Arab minority, who represent nearly 20 percent of Israel’s population. Israel evacuated Gush Katif and other Gaza settlements in 2005 under a plan launched by then prime minister Ariel Sharon. Israeli authorities have since prevented its citizens from traveling to Gaza. 

Racial Profiling Home Kit

“El Al excluding Arab citizens from new at-home check-in service, NGO charges,” by  Zohar Blumenkrantz, Ha’aretz – 24 July 

El Al is excluding Israeli Arabs from its new at-home check-in service, which includes at-home security inspections, according to the civil rights organization Yedid.

Yedid’s deputy director general, Ran Melamed, told Haaretz on Thursday that he asked El Al for information as to “whether the new security check and check-in service was available in Arab communities, such as Kafr Qasem, Abu Ghosh and Jaljulya, and whether the service was available in other languages, for example, Arabic.”

Melamed said the answer he received was that all details on the subject of pre-flight service, including the geographical range for provision of the service, are in the new link to the service. However, Melamed said that this link stated as of Wednesday, “In this preliminary period the service will be given between Hadera in the north, Gedera in the south and Jerusalem in the east.”

Melamed said, “As I suspected, this is a bluff by the Israeli airline. A real answer would have been an answer that directly presents the names of the communities mentioned in my question. A real answer would have simply been to say yes. I have no doubt that the company does not intend to provide the service to Arab communities within the area it defined in its answer.”

According to Melamed, “This is clearly racism and I expect El Al’s CEO to give a real and precise response. If the airline does not intend to provide the service to all communities, Jewish and Arab, I call on the tourism minister and the chairman of the Knesset Economic Committee to summon El Al’s management for an emergency discussion.” Melamed added that if, after such a discussion, proper answers are not given, it should be heavily fined and the state should consider not allowing it to offer the service.

Susya 

Photo Credit: Keren Manor/Activestills.org.
Photo Credit: Keren Manor/Activestills.org.

“Hundreds protest forced transfer, destruction of Palestinian village Susya,” by Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man, +972mag – 24 July 

In the past few weeks, we have been following developments in the West Bank village of Susya, which is under imminent threat of being demolished by Israeli forces:

Over 500 Palestinian, Israeli and international activists descended on the tiny Palestinian tent-village of Susya on Friday to protest its imminent demolition and the forced transfer of its residents.

The activists marched through the village, stopping at various homes along their way to hear the stories of families facing eviction and transfer.

At the end of the demonstration activists hung a massive banner in view of passing settlers, declaring that Susya is here to stay.

[…] 

Susya has been the recipient of seemingly unprecedented international diplomatic and media attention in recent weeks and months. European foreign ministers, the U.S. State Department, and activists around the world are all demanding that Israel refrain from destroying the village and to legalize its status.

The Israeli army first demolished the village of Khirbet Susya, deep in the desolate south Hebron Hills, three decades ago, on the grounds that it was located on an archeological site. Susya’s residents, many of whom lived in caves on the site for generations, packed up and moved a few hundred meters away, onto their adjacent agricultural lands.

The IDF, which as the occupying power controls nearly every aspect of Palestinians’ lives in the West Bank, never recognized the validity of the move. To this day, the village has no connections to electricity or running water, and its access roads are not paved.

On the other hand, when it comes to unauthorized Jewish settlements, all of which squat on Palestinian land, Israeli authorities supply electricity, water, security and more. The terms “double standard” or “discrimination” don’t even begin to describe the dual realities in that part the West Bank.

The Israeli army has issued repeated demolition orders against the village on the grounds that none of its tents and tin shacks were erected with the proper permits. The army’s Civil Administration, however, rejects 90 percent of Palestinian planning requests.

The army has made no attempt to find a legal solution that would allow Susya’s residents to stay on their land. It intends to transfer them to the nearby city of Yatta, which is in Area A – under Palestinian Authority rule. Susya is in Area C.

Bethlehem, Palestine.
Bethlehem, Palestine. © palestinephotobank.com

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions 

NBA Meets BDS 

“NBA players on anti-BDS propaganda tour to Israel,” by Nora Barrows-Friedman, Electronic Intifada – 27 July 

Back in 2009, Omri Casspi became the first Israeli to play in the NBA after signing with the Sacramento Kings. Still a ‘Kingsman,’ Casspi may see himself as a sort of unofficial ambassador for Israel.

During last summer’s Gaza war, Casspi rebuked fellow teammate Dwight Howard after the latter Tweeted #FreePalestine

twetter

Howard subsequently deleted and apologized for his Tweet: “previous tweet was a mistake. I have never commented on international politics and never will” and added “I apologize if I offended anyone with my previous tweet, it was a mistake!”

It may have been Casspi’s Tweet – “600 missiles been fired from GAZA by Hamas in the last 4 days. NUMBERS DONT LIE. STOP LYING.” – that promoted Howard’s apology in an effort to avoid tension with his teammate.

But Casspi has felt no need to avoid political Tweets in the spirit of team harmony. Beyond the above Tweet inexplicably accusing Howard of lying when the latter posted nothing more than #FreePalestine, Casspi also Tweeted a video of far-right activist Brigitte Gabriel – labeled a “radical Islamophobe” by the New York Times – where she argues that “moderate Muslims” are irrelevant and Muslims should be held collectively responsible for the crimes of violent extremists, and shouts down a Muslim-American audience member for daring to suggest otherwise. Gabriel’s anti-Islam and anti-Muslim (not to say anti-fundamentalist since she clearly is opposed to Islam in toto) polemics are easily evident from a quick Google search (one choice quote from the Lebanese-born Christian: “[The Arabs] have no soul.”) and she is a figure mostly known within the more militant right-wing echo chamber.

Omri_Casspi_Islamophobia

 

Needless to say, if any NBA player ever Tweeted a video of an outspoken anti-Semite blaming Judaism for crimes under Israeli occupation and saying that all Jews everywhere should be condemned for the actions of the State of Israel, he would not have been met with the silence that greeted Casspi. Instead Casspi get to pose as the righteous defender of the “truth” while Howard is intimated into silence. No surprise. When it comes to Palestine, as activist and author Nora Barrows-Friedman, double-standards are the norm:

On Monday, award-winning political sportswriter, author and broadcaster Dave Zirin wrote an open letter in The Nation to NBA players who are on a propaganda tour in Israel this week.

In an interview with The Electronic Intifada today, Zirin said that the point of the basketball players’ tour “is very explicit” – to fight the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. (Listen to the interview with Dave Zirin via the media player above.)

The tour was organized in part by Israeli NBA player Omri Casspi, who has started a foundation intended not to bolster youth programs in the US, as other athletes might do, but rather to fight BDS and promote Israel’s image.

Anti-Palestinian extremist and major Republican Party bankroller Sheldon Adelson flew the group out on his private jumbo jet.

Zirin’s letter raises questions about players’ alliances with Adelson and Israel’s regime that many characterize as apartheid, while support grows inside the organization for the Black Lives Matter movement, which intersects with Palestine solidarity activism in the US.

“This epidemic of killings [by US police] has been aggravated by the influence of Israeli police practices on US policing,” writes Zirin. “Since 9/11, police chiefs and high-ranking officers from across the US — from Ferguson to New York City — have traveled to Israel for training in the arts of suppression.”

The tour “is a series of set pieces aimed at buttressing the aims of Sheldon Adelson and the foundation of Omri Casspi — and I think NBA players can do a whole lot better than the tour that they’re on,” Zirin told The Electronic Intifada.

Casspi “whipped up hatred,” Zirin noted, against fellow NBA star Dwight Howard last year during Israel’s 51-day attack against Gaza, after Howard tweeted “Free Palestine.” (Howard deleted the tweet soon after.)

Israeli separation barrier.
Israeli separation barrier. © palestinephotobank.com.

El Duce Douche 

“Italian prime minister lashes out in Jerusalem at “stupid and futile” BDS,” by Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada – 23 July 

Activists in Italy are hitting back at Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who declared during a visit to the Israeli parliament this week that “Italy will always be in the front line against all forms of boycott, which are futile and stupid.”

The center-left leader’s attack on the boycott movement, which received wide coverage in Italian media, comes as several European governments are deepening their ties with Israel.

[…]

BDS Italia, a coalition of dozens of groups, said that Renzi’s statement “demonstrates his utter lack of knowledge of the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) launched in July 2005 by a broad coalition of Palestinian civil society as a necessary and moral response to the failure of international institutions to halt Israel’s continuing violations of international law.”

Throwing the prime minister’s words back at him, BDS Italia said that “it is ‘futile and stupid’ to continue to ignore Israeli violations instead of taking concrete measures to ensure respect for human rights, international humanitarian law and UN resolutions and support the Palestinian call for freedom, justice and equality.”
In a speech to the Israeli parliament, Renzi also emphatically endorsed Israel’s claim to be the “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” a sectarian formula Palestinians regard as negating their most fundamental rights.

The Italian leader made only a fleeting reference to Gaza and utterly failed to call for accountability for the Israeli assault on the territory that killed more than 2,200 people last summer, more than 500 of them children according to a recent independent UN inquiry.

[…]

Renzi’s speech would appear to be the first time an Italian leader has directly attacked BDS, but there have been other initiatives afoot in Italy to counter the Palestine solidarity movement.

In Milan in mid-June, Fondazione Corriere della Sera, a think tank tied to Italy’s leading newspaper, co-sponsored an anti-BDS workshop with the Italian Zionist Federation, the Italy-Israel Association and the Jewish Community of Milan.

Italy – like other European countries – appears to be embracing Israel more tightly, the more extreme Israel’s government becomes.

In April, just weeks after elections returned the most right-wing and racist Israeli government in history, Italian air force personnel participated in drone training exercises in Israel.

[…]

The European Council on Foreign Relations, which frequently informs EU policy, argued in a paper that “the EU is in breach of its own laws” due to its failure to “distinguish its dealings with Israel from Israel’s activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which it has occupied since 1967.”

[…]

But EU officials moved quickly to reassure the Israeli institutions that the Union would continue to ensure the banks’ impunity and freedom to profit from illegal colonization.

[…]

All of this underscores BDS Italia’s insistence, in its rejoinder to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, that “BDS serves to break the status quo in which Israel continues to violate rights with impunity, thanks to the inaction of states and institutions.”

Zionist Privilege

A common complaint among pro-Israel students on campuses is that criticism of the Jewish state makes them “feel” uncomfortable. This is a not-too-subtle attempt to argue that critical voices of Israel practically constitute Antisemitism in their effect if not intent toward pro-Zionist Jewish students. This argument is marshaled in the absence of an effective counter-rebuttal by pro-Zionist campus organizations to the growing Palestine solidarity activism at U.S. colleges and universities. When New York University’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter slipped mock eviction notices underneath dorm rooms in an effort to raise awareness about Israel’s demolition of thousands of Palestinian homes, the head of the pro-Israel group alleged that the two dorms singled out for the activist action have a reputation for housing Jewish students: Thus it was an anti-Jewish attack. NYU’s administration repudiated the claim that the dorms have any reputation for being “Jewish.” The claim was all the more absurd given that several Jewish students belong to SJP and have served as presidents of the group.

No one wants to be an advocate for home demolitions, occupation, checkpoints and systemic racism, so it is much easier to try to silence your opponents in the name of Antisemitism or “campus civility.”

One such complaint argued that a mock Israeli checkpoint on a campus yard was traumatizing for pro-Israel students. Apparently it did not occur to these students to imagine what a real checkpoint for Palestinians must be, who do not have the privilege to…walk around it and get to class. But apparently these students think that Palestinians (and those who recognize their humanity) should suffer their indignities and oppression without protest so as not to bother the sensibilities of American college students. Call it Zionist Privilege and Palestinian-American poet, writer and activist Remi Kanazi has made the perfect video deconstructing the feigned trauma:

The Jewish Quarter

“Egyptian show that’s flattering to Jews is a surprise hit among Palestinians,” by William Booth and Sufian Taha, Washington Post – 17 July

The group settled down, sipped fresh lemonade, nibbled sweets, sucked on water pipes and then cranked up the volume for the opening credits of “Haret al-Yahud,” or “The Jewish Quarter.”

The steamy Egyptian soap tells a Romeo and Juliet tale of a beautiful daughter of a well-to-do Jewish merchant and a dashing Muslim army commander falling in and out and in love again in old Cairo during the earth-shaking 1948 Arab-Israeli war and its aftermath.

The show’s vibe is a mash of “Casablanca” with a little “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Lawrence of Arabia.”

“I never in my life imagined that I would be seeing this,” said Mahmoud Dadoh, a chicken farmer who had become a fan.

He was not amazed to see Jews in Arab media. Not at all.

Israelis and Jews, often presented as interchangeable, are a reliable staple on TV dramas produced in the Arab world, cast as greedy, villainous, hook-nosed stereotypes — or as evil occupiers of Palestine.

What Israeli media watchdogs often call “incitement,” the Arab world considers “television.”

No, what stunned the chicken farmer and his pals was that “The Jewish Quarter” is aired on Palestinian public television, with the implied consent of the Palestinian Authority, and it shows Jews in a positive light — as ordinary, even extraordinary, human beings.

“This is very new for us,” Dadoh said, pointing to the big-screen television during a scene where the Jewish patriarch counsels patience. “Look at them. Look at their dignity!”

The other men nodded.

“It is amazing,” said Midhat Abu Nigmeh, a construction foreman. He added, in a contemplative mode: “It is as if we are one house.”

Meaning: On the show, the Jews speak perfect Arabic, drink endless cups of strong coffee and talk endlessly about business, family and politics — just like Muslims.

A Tear Drop 

Many people who have seen the West Bank town of Qalqilya from above have likened it to a tear drop in reference to the Israeli wall that surrounds it. Qalqilya is separated from its hinterlands and serves as an example of Gaza’s own walled-off isolation on the West Bank. The situation of Qalqilya is less sever, but it does offer an illustration of the open-air prison model that Israel is capable of imposing on Palestinian population centers in the occupied territory.

The following post and image by Palestinian-American novelist Susan Abulhawa on the Facebook page of the Palestine Festival of Literature.

Susan Abulhawa: An aerial picture of Israel ‪#‎Apartheid‬: Qalqilya, a Palestinian village encircled by 8 meter concrete wall. Villagers have no access to their own farmlands and orchards. The view from their windows are concrete racism. There’s no easy route to hospitals, neighbors, cemeteries, or the world in general outside this little circle.

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Gaza: One Year Later

“Gaza’s dark night,” by Francesca Borri, Open Democracy –  27 July

This is devastating on-the-ground essay is one of the most poignant things to be written about Gaza a year after Operation Protective Edge:

No use telling him I’m not Muslim. I’m not even Palestinian. And that I’ve got thyphoid fever again anyway, I am sick, and so the Qur’an says I am allowed to break the Ramadan fast. And it’s no use, actually, telling him anything, because the Hamas policeman I am stopped by for three hours, charged with carrying a bottle of water in my bag, wears neither a uniform nor a badge.

I realise he is a member of Hamas only because I am in Gaza, and it’s no use trying to talk to him, to explain my reasons: he doesn’t talk. He dictates. And in the end, he pockets a hundred dollars and forgives my sins.

This is Hamas today. They run checkpoints just to shine a flashlight in your face and make sure the man driving is your father or your husband. They go on patrol to verify that you don’t light up a cigarette, don’t drink a beer while watching football on TV. They keep an eye on what you write.

In the meantime, all around, a year after the last war, it’s hunger and despair. Out of 146,000 destroyed or damaged homes, not a single one has been rebuilt. There are still 100,000 displaced. At this pace, the UN estimates that it will take thirty years for Gaza to be as it was before. That is, for seventy percent of its population to be under the breadline once again.

Over 51 days, Israel dropped an amount of explosive equivalent to the Hiroshima atomic bomb on the Gaza Strip, 141 square miles each containing about 5,000 people, with an average age of fifteen. The remains of Shejaiya, the most heavily targeted area, are patched up with rags, metal sheets, cardboard. Jute. Wood planks. Or with nothing.

Palestinians continue to live in these homes broken up by artillery fire. You walk, and instead of windows, of doors, you see tables, couches, fridges: you see the inside of flats, the families with glasses of tea. They live like that, on these sloping floors, the cracked pillars, amid rubble mixed with unexploded devices and slivers of asbestos, under these ceilings that are about to collapse over their heads.

Abu Nidal, like countless others, sits on a carpet laid out on sand and dust, barefoot, his shoes tidily lined up next to the missing door, and looks out of a mortar hole, at a kid who is striving to no avail to turn a piece of paper into a kite. Abu Mohamed lived here with his wife and sons—ten people in all—and after paying 2,000 dollars to rent a new house for one year, he’s now broke. He doesn’t have a single penny, and lives on handouts, “not on solidarity,” he specifies, “I’ve met more journalists than NGOs.”

His sons are mechanics. Their workshop was on the ground floor, and its leftovers hang from the trees, a mudguard, two tires. A battery stuck in the branches. He sits here all day, next to this flight of stairs that goes nowhere. “Should the UN come and find nobody.”

And yet you walk, and some of the buildings’ plaster looks instead freshly painted. Because the only vibrant sector of the economy here is the black market in cement. Palestinians are entitled to one tonne each, for 20 shekels, or 5 euros. But it’s not enough for fixing it all up, and it gets quickly sold on, for about 50 euros, depending on quality.

Just over one million tonnes entered from Israel, but most valued are the 8,000 tonnes that entered from Egypt, because they are good for tunnels. There are no tunnels anymore, though. They have been destroyed mostly by Egypt, not by Israel, by General Sisi, a staunch enemy of Islamists, before the war. Ninety percent of the tunnels.

And now Hamas is in trouble: smuggling was its main source of revenue. It’s somehow unfair to call it ‘smuggling’. It was regulated by a supervision commission, with a complex system of fees and hundreds of tunnels, sometimes run directly by Hamas, sometimes by contractors. Each of them was worth an average of 100,000 euros per month.

Smuggling covered seventy percent of the budget of Gaza. And now Hamas has also lost many of its generous friends in the Gulf, all focused on other hot spots. On Syria, Iraq. And it has tense relations with Iran, its major backer, because of its cautious stance on Bashar al-Assad. And so it is scraping together whatever it can by imposing taxes. Because Gaza, truthfully, is now under siege only on paper. If we speak of goods movement, nearly everything is available. Even Nutella. And everything enters from Israel.

This means, however, that not only is everything purchased at high prices—at Israel’s prices, rather than Turkey’s, or India’s—but also that everything is subject to a triple layer of taxes: Israel, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority. Since last year, in theory there has been only one government here, but, as usual, Hamas rules Gaza and Fatah the West Bank. But Hamas couldn’t pay its 40,000 civil servants any longer. The result is that prices are on the rise. Hamas charges about ten percent on food, 25 percent on cars, 100 percent on cigarettes. In the end a Fiat Panda in Gaza costs almost 20,000 euros.

Even though unemployment peaked at 43 percent, and the average salary is 300 euros, even though two thirds of Palestinians live on humanitarian aid. There are jeeps with tinted windows here, or donkeys.

The true strength of Hamas has always been the weakness of Fatah. Since the West Bank opted for the UN, for negotiations with Israel, Hamas, with its rockets, turned into the hallmark of resistance. Of dignity. But it has achieved nothing but death and rubble. And three wars later, nobody here has any doubt any more: Hamas is Israel’s best ally. It plays into its hands.

Aya works as field researcher for a leading human rights organization. She says,

“Hamas doesn’t govern. It’s neither Islamic nor anything. If you are found drinking wine, you end up in jail for one month, or maybe six: there’s no certainty, because there isn’t the Shari’a law here, there’s no law whatsoever, there’s only the will of Hamas. There is only a gang that makes money with the siege—yesterday with tunnels, today with trade. Hamas claims to be broke, without a penny for its civil servants. For reconstruction. But it’s no secret: the only reconstruction it cares about is that of tunnels. And of its arsenal. And for Israel this is perfect. One, two years, and it will bomb it all again. It will destroy it all again,”
“And it will all start again,” she says. The last war ended with the same agreement of the previous war.

Because in the end, while the world’s attention is on Gaza, Israel’s attention seems to be elsewhere. “Israel aims at the land of the West Bank, not of Gaza. Quite the opposite. By getting rid of Gaza, it would get rid of 1.8 million Arabs. And it could annex the West Bank without endangering its Jewish majority. In time, we, the Palestinians, will be the settlers of an Israeli West Bank,” says one of the top negotiators.

In the last years, however, Mustafa Barghouti hasn’t been busy with Israel. His main task has been to mediate between Hamas and Fatah. The Legislative Council hasn’t convened since 2007 and Mahmoud Abbas governs basically alone from his presidential palace. His mandate expired in 2010. And everybody agrees: only new elections can overcome this standstill.

But everybody is afraid, afraid of civil strife between Hamas and Fatah. While this is the only topic of discussion, while Fatah rounds up Hamas militants, and Hamas rounds up Fatah militants, the former security chief of the Palestinian Authority, Mohammed Dahlan, now a businessman with an estimated net worth of 120 million dollars, hands out rolls of bills. Gulf-based charities he is close to gift 5,000 dollars to newly married couples, 5,000 dollars to the war victims’ families. Whoever you are, whatever you need—5,000 dollars.

And in some way, it’s true, Mohammed Dahlan is new compared to Hamas and Fatah: he is the first Palestinian leader with his own militia. “Nobody here supports Hamas. But there is no political activism anymore,” says M. M., one of the masterminds of the March 15 movement, that in 2011, in the footsteps of Tunisia and Egypt, filled the streets of Palestine asking for democracy. And that in a rare instance of national unity, was swept away by Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in Ramallah.

“All our energy is dried up by survival. Also because any struggle is doomed to fail without the West Bank. And from the West Bank the only show of solidarity, during the war, was a donation of coffins.”

You won’t read all this in newspapers, though. And not only because Hamas follows journalists’ every step. Prevents us from moving freely, talking freely.

“You all write about the same things. The parkour kids, the surf school. Those who painted their homes with bright colours, those who carved a swimming pool out of the rubble. The best coffee of Gaza. Bullshit. You sell this idea that to exist is to resist. But it’s not, at all,” says Ahmed, 28, documentary maker.

“An entire generation now doesn’t know anything but Gaza, but these four streets. Violence, destitution. Kids who say: I am five years and three wars old. How will they face Israel, its sophisticated means of domination?” he says. “They will fry falafel all their life, nothing more.”

One of those typical stories we love is for example Tamara Abu Ramadan. She is 19, and she is studying violin via youtube tutorials. The little Paganini of Gaza, bypassing the siege. Yet she is the first to admit bluntly, “On youtube you don’t really understand anything.” Her story is not one of resilience. It is a story of misery.

“You come here just once, but we know each other, and we know how deeply we have changed. How we have given up. Because we see no future whatsoever. You spend your nights in the four cafés on the beach and you write that Gaza is vibrant and full of life. Here there’s no life. We are empty shells. Your readers don’t like sad stories, but not to ruin your readers’ dinner, you keep silent, while we starve.”

Palestinians want to leave. Nothing else. All Palestinians. Because there is not even drinking water anymore in Gaza, only salt water, sea water, you feel sticky all day, every days—for years. Sometimes, in reply to a rocket, Israel bombs. But amid the blood of Syria, of Yemen, it makes no headlines. It makes nothing, just a couple of tweets.

Even the Hamas guys who are in charge just want to leave. They beg for a visa to Italy. And in the evening, to forget, they get a pill of Tramadol, a painkiller for dogs used as a sort of ecstasy. And that is officially prohibited. They would arrest you.

Karim is 36 and has four children. He once owned a small auto parts retail. But he was subject to extortions of all sorts, because he’s close to Fatah. He’s been jailed three times. Three times he’s tried to reach Europe with a fake visa, and he’s been exposed and sent back. Even though the main obstacle for Palestinians is not the visa. It’s Egypt, reaching Cairo airport. In 2015, the Rafah border opened for twelve days total. There is a waiting list: the sick go first (30 percent of essential drugs in Gaza are out of stock), and so only 3,000 Palestinians out of 15,000 could cross. The solution is to pay. 3,000 euro, and a policeman calls you by name.

I ask Karim what he dreams of Europe, he says: taking a shower.

Palestine's heritage.
Palestine’s heritage. © palestinephotobank.com.

Media Roundup is a weekly feature of Palestine Square.