poverty in palestine
For years, the conversation on Palestine and its territories has almost exclusively focused on the relationship between Palestine, Israel and Egypt. For the 1.1 million Palestinians that live in poverty as a result of high unemployment, lagging wages and harmful inflation rates, Israel’s recent military actions in the Gaza strip have hardly encapsulated the extent of Israel’s effect on Palestinians.

Official statistics from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics reveal the poverty rates to be 25.8 percent in the Palestinian
Territory, 17.8 percent in the West Bank and a staggering 38.8 percent in the Gaza Strip for 2011, the last year for which statistics are available.

While these rates sound high, there’s more to the story than the statistics suggest.

In a sobering July 2013 report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, it was reported that “the Palestinian Authority suffered its most serious fiscal crisis since 2006” because of less foreign aid and “Israel’s withholding of Palestinian revenue.” In 2012, Palestine’s growth was halved from the previous two years to just six percent due to structural barriers imposed by Israel and the international market.

Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinian goods, for example, meant less money returned to the pockets of Palestinians, severely reducing growth and worsening already high rates of poverty. Furthermore, the illegal expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank left Palestinians with fewer options to physically export their goods, and many were simply incapable of accessing the same productive resources because of aggressive Israeli settlement expansion.

In the Jordan Valley, Palestinian workers are forced to take longer roads and go through checkpoints. These actions imposed by Israeli officials increase costs and decrease Palestinian competitiveness in the international market, ultimately reducing employment opportunities and deepening levels of extreme poverty.

Of course, not all of Palestine’s economic woes can be ameliorated with less aggressive Israeli policies. Low labor productivity contributes to poor Palestinian economic performance and leaves less money in the coffers of government officials, who spend large portions of the government’s budget on social spending. Illegal smuggling of economic goods is also a major drain to the taxable actions of Palestinian officials.

Overall, those living in poverty in Palestine make up a significant portion of the population, which consists of about nine million citizens.

While no World Bank data exists to detail the number of individuals living on two dollars a day or less in Palestinian-controlled territories, the research conducted by the United Nations and the statistics compiled by the Palestinian government provide a distressing picture of the state of the poor in Palestine. These poor are large in number, and if international donors do not pledge aid to assist Palestinians or if Israel adopts less-aggressive economic policies in the West Bank, the number of impoverished living in Palestine will surely increase.

Joseph McAdams

Sources: UNCTAD, PCBS, Reuters
Photo: GIJN

unity government
After only a week of peace, Israel attacked the Gaza Strip via aircraft, injuring three and killing one. This is the first act of aggressive violence between the two nations since the Palestinian government developed the unity government plan. The aircraft attack was a response to the rocket fired into southern Israel earlier that day by Palestinian extremists.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas pledged to create peace with Israel and said this attack was nothing but a simple rebuttal. Israel blames the terrorist group Hamas for these actions.

Hamas senior leader, Moussa Abu Marzouk, when interviewed by the Associated Press, claimed that “The reconciliation is ahead of us and the split is behind us. We are heading this way because reconciliation is the choice of our people. We have taken real steps and will continue.” The flare ups, such as this interaction, will continue but will not impede the direction of progress they are heading in.

Since 2007, Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since taking it from President Abbas, creating high levels of tension on top of previous issues. Hamas is the de facto leader of Gaza, but Abbas is still considered the international representative.

One of the victims in Israel was identified as a militant, an active member of Hamas police, who was linked to a group inspired by al-Qaida. In response to this report, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that “our policy is clear. Kill those who rise up to kill us.” It is evident that both countries wish to get rid of groups such as Hamas and other known terrorist groups.

Israel is tentative to respond to peace offers from Palestine, citing to Reuters that the unity government merely serves as a protective shield, allowing the voices of Hamas to have their way, and suspending peace talks with Palestinians.

The unity government appeared to many as a sign of change, but it’s becoming evident the new government will have little impact on relations between Palestine and Israel. Even with the support of western countries and the United Nations, the unity government is receiving little positive feedback in terms of internal opinions.

Gaza is a hot bed for conflict between the two and it’s clear that this will not be the end of their violent interactions.

— Elena Lopez

Sources: Reuters, Chron
Photo: Epoch Times

kerry_peace_effort_middle_east_opt
Although the Oslo Accord was designed to facilitate the peace negotiations in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine under the supervision of the UN, some are starting to believe that the whole process will ultimately result in failure due to two decades of no deals being reached.

In an Al Jazeera article, Mairav Zonszein said that despite U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s goal to help both sides reach an agreement, Israel appears to be controlling the region anyway.

“Prospects for negotiating a two-state solution to conclude the Oslo peace process, launched in 1993, appear more remote than they were 21 years ago,” said Zonszein. “The difference, perhaps, may be in the balance of pressure operating on both sides then compared with now.”

According to Zonszein, Israel considers itself a sovereign nation and dominates the lives of all Palestinians who live under its occupation. In fact, Israel is so powerful that even Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Palestine, is required to seek permission to leave the West Bank.

While the Palestinians (and the international community, including the U.S.) demand that the boundaries drafted in 1967 should be considered by Israel to grant statehood to Palestine, Israel continues to expand settlements beyond those boundaries.

“The original premise of the Oslo Accord was that a decades-old conflict could be resolved through bilateral negotiations in a framework based on relevant UN resolutions, out of the understanding that is must be a win-win situation for both sides,” Zonszein argued.

However, the only winner in the region turned out to be Israel. After realizing that the talks between Israel and Palestine are going nowhere, Kerry proposed a new idea to resolve yet another of the many problems the two sides have with each other.

“In a last-ditch effort to stop Israel reneging on a promise to release a final batch of Palestinian prisoners, the U.S. briefly threw in possibly the biggest bargaining chip in its hand: the release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard,” said Jonathan Cook in a Counterpunch article.

Cook argues that both Israel and the U.S. have been involved in negotiations that did nothing but distract the true developments within the region.

Cook also references Richard Falk, professor emeritus in international law at Princeton University, who claims that the Israeli policies were created to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians from their own homeland.

This is the reason the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as an official Jewish state in the first place.

Thus, “if negotiations collapse, it should be clear that, while both sides were supposed to be talking, one side – Israel – was vigorously and unilaterally acting to further its goals,” Cook said.

At this point, only time will tell whether or not the Israelis and Palestinians will one day reach a deal that has already been delayed by two decades.

– Juan Campos

Sources: Al Jazeera, CounterPunch
Photo: Al Jazeera

heavy_metal_cultural_harmony
An Israeli heavy metal band by the name of Orphaned Land has generated a loyal fan base with their catchy lyrics and head-banging beats. Besides this accomplishment, however, this band has also transformed their artistic abilities into a political movement, as they convey the message of peace to their listeners. 

Orphaned Land has been on their ‘All Is One’ tour since the summer of 2013. The band toured in Europe, playing 18 shows in six countries, during the fall of 2013. For that leg of the tour, Orphaned Land invited the Palestinian heavy metal band, Khalas, to perform with them and share in the small confinements of their tour bus.

Other bands to join the tour were Klone, The Mars Chronicle and Bilocate. The latter two are bands from France, and the third is from Jordan. This added to the diversity of the tour, and consequently portrayed to the world that people can collaborate harmoniously despite their differences.

The decision for Orphaned Land and Khalas to play together specifically gained attention, as it is an unlikely occurrence for Palestinians and Israelis to work together. The two bands respected the cultural disparities between them, however, and even embraced these differences. This union exemplified the importance of focusing on what brings people together, rather than what drives them apart.

Orphaned Land’s lead singer, Kobi Farhi, highlighted the purpose of the tour, besides the obvious reason of expressing themselves through music, as he explained, “We can’t change the world, but we can give an example of how coexistence is possible… Sharing a stage and sharing a bus is stronger than a thousand words. We’ll show how two people from different backgrounds who live in a conflict zone can perform together.”

The conflict that Farhi mentioned refers to the fight over territory and disputes over ambiguous borders between Israel and Palestine, which arguably began in the late 19th century. Conversely, the war in 1947 was when the extreme violence amplified, which completely changed the map of the Middle East and the temperament of the neighboring states. The conflict and turmoil has persisted ever since, with constant cases of illegal settlements on each other’s land, and violent attacks occurring daily.

Despite this perpetual turmoil, these bands left the conflict behind them for the sake of their love for music. This is a political statement in and of itself, since they are epitomizing tolerance, which is a necessary virtue for the resolution of such a pressing issue.

“We’re living together, we’re playing together, and we’re pissing on all those politicians. It takes them ages to even come to the table or talk about something,” Farhi stated about the politics imbedded in the tour.

The lyrics in the songs composed by Orphaned Land are also focused on politics, as opposed to typical songs written about heartbreak. One of their most popular songs, Disciples of the Sacred Oath, contains the line, “Shall we see the end of war, blood brothers? Or shall we fill another grave, for ourselves we couldn’t save,” which is a direct reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Khala’s lead guitarist, Abed Hathut, claimed, “We are metal brothers before everything.” Khala as a group also holds the message of peace close to their hearts, as Hathut added, “There is no bigger message for peace than through this tour.”

The ‘All Is One’ tour certainly speaks volumes on the possibilities for the future of both Israel and Palestine. With younger generations creatively projecting peace through the arts, perhaps a wave of sensibility can overcome these two warring states.

The devastation and poverty caused by the constant conflict between Israel and Palestine cannot be resolved until both sides can shake hands across the table at peace talks. Until then, Orphaned Land and Khalas have left a positive example of cultural harmony, both through their music and their ability to focus on their similarities rather than their differences.

– Danielle Warren

Sources: The Guardian, Orphaned LandSBS
Photo:  StockFreeImages

Attacks_on_Palestinians
Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians continue as settlement laws are disregarded and violence intensifies. According to the United Nations, the number of attacks on Palestinians by Israelis has quadrupled in eight years.

As per figures recorded by the U.N., the drastic increase in number of attacks jumped from 115 in 2006 to 399  in 2013. Besides attacks on people, there has also been a significant increase in the number of defacing and/or demolishing of buildings. This epidemic seems to be unresolvable with police forces on both sides remaining more loyal to the advancement of their own people rather than the adherence to laws and protection of all from violence.

The settlement of Israelis in the West Bank is against international law, but 500,000 settlers remain there. More needs to be done in order to cease fighting, and while leaders denounce the violence, they tend to be lax on the issue of settlements. As Gadi Zohar, a former Israeli army commander, puts it, “There is not enough pressure from the prime minister, the defense minister, the interior minister to prevent this.”

The Israeli police force, or the IDF, has a duty to interfere and stop any attack by one person on another, regardless of nationality. With such strong negative sentiments toward each other from the Six-Day War in 1967 and conflicts ever since, the judgments of the IDF seem to be clouded as they lean towards protecting Israeli settlers on Palestinian territory.

One of the most recent acts of violence started with Palestinians beating and holding Israeli settlers in the village Qusra, located in the northern region of the West Bank. This provoked and led Israelis to defacing a mosque, writing, “Arabs Out” and “Revenge for blood spilled in Qusra” in Hebrew. The mosque was also set on fire, along with several olive trees and cars.

This violence has been rumored to be a part of what Palestinians call the “price tag” campaign. This name was coined to describe a string of violent actions committed by Israelis against Palestinians, which are carried out with the ultimate goal of seizing the West Bank. So far, the campaign has reportedly gotten half of the land back to Israeli villagers, as soldiers do not really try and stop attacks.

With both Israelis and Palestinians resorting to violence to try to gain control of or keep what land they believe to be their own, a resolution seems far-reaching until strict actions are taken in order to end violence and draw concrete borders. It is rumored that Israel plans to build 1,400 homes in the West Bank in 2014, but Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman states that Israel is ready to negotiate and “Israel is making great effort to allow the dialogue with the Palestinians to continue.”

– Danielle Warren

Sources: Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, RT News
Photo:
PressTV

us_voting_unesco
The U.S. relationship with UNESCO is taking a turn for the worse as the U.S. loses voting rights in the organization. UNESCO voted in Palestine as a member state in 2011 despite U.S. threats of halting funding to the UN organization.

The U.S. boycott resulted in inactivity for two years. As stated in UNESCO’s constitution, two years of member inactivity results in a loss of voting ability.

Formerly, the U.S. provided 22% of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s budget, approximately $80 million a year.  Under U.S. law, organizations that recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization as a member state will be denied financial support.

A two-thirds approval vote for membership resulted in 107 to 14 with 15 abstentions, effectively passing Palestine to be the 195th full member. This is differentiated from Palestine’s membership with the United Nations, a bid that Palestine failed to accomplish.

Previously in 2011, shortfall of the $65 million originally pledged by the U.S., UNESCO began emergency fundraising efforts for its 2012-2013 budget. As reported by CNN, UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova reevaluated every aspect of the organization from projects to contractual commitments. Currently, the 2014 budget is reduced by $150 million.

Bokova met with legislators in an attempt to change the language of U.S. law, to no avail. Bokova has stated that a second emergency fundraiser from contributing nations is not possible for the following year.

UNESCO establishes heritage sites and propels initiatives that push for education, culture and science worldwide. From education reform, particularly women’s education, to clean water access and tsunami research, UNESCO oversees a wide set of programs.

For its part, the U.S. not only loses soft-power influence through its relationship with UNESCO but misses an opportunity in creating two separate UNESCO sites in the U.S.: Spanish missions in San Antonio and an ancient civilization site in Poverty Point, Louisiana. The ensuing established heritage sites would have increased tourism and established jobs.

U.S. influence and interests are overlooked through inactivity in UNESCO. The U.S.’ relationship with UNESCO began in 1945 through support and funding. A boycott by the U.S. against UNESCO lasted between 1984 to 2003, the former disagreeing with the latter’s supposed anti-Western policies.  Since the U.S. readmission in 2003, the country pushed for greater Holocaust and genocide education.  A mission utilized in Africa to promote ethnic tolerance and educate about nondiscrimination and nonviolence.

In addition to the U.S., Israel has pulled its 3% contribution off the UNESCO budget and equally lost voting privilege. The U.S. criticizes Palestine’s bid for recognition via the UN as a chief hindrance for improving negotiations between Palestine and Israel.

As an organization known for spreading freedom of expression, among others, UNESCO loses a mutually-beneficial donor with its current relation with the U.S.

Miles Abadilla

Sources: CNN, NY Times, NY Times, Al Jazeera, Reuters