In 2013, 26 women were killed in the West Bank and Gaza by their relatives. This number is double the number of Palestinian women killed in 2012. These so-called ‘honor killings’ are perpetrated by male family members who kill a female family member who is suspected of shaming the family. Human rights activists are calling for a change in the law saying that killing for family honor is just a socially acceptable form of violence against women.

The rise in the killings is attributed to tough economic times and a historical leniency when facing punishment for these crimes. Poverty in Palestine has also been on the rise in the last few years. Pressure has been put on Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to repeal sections of laws on the books that allow for short sentences for the perpetrators of honor killings. Many times, perpetrators only face a couple of years at maximum.

Reasons for honor killings vary. One woman was killed by her father for allegedly using a cell phone to talk to a man. Another woman was killed by her brother while praying who later claimed that he acted to preserve the honor of his family. People who claim that they killed to preserve honor are almost always treated less harshly than they would be otherwise.

Former legislator Hanan Ashrawi has repeated called on Abbas to repeal sections of laws that discriminate against women but hasn’t gained much ground. She placed blame on male politicians who put women’s issues on the back burner in favor of other issues they deem more pressing, such as establishing the state of Palestine and ending the Israeli occupation. “We are fighting for freedom and human dignity,” she said. “How can you deprive women of all these things?”

– Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: The Washington Post, Haaretz
Photo: Forqudsday

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

The World Food Program announced that over the next year, nearly a million people in the Gaza Strip will require food aid. The U.N. agency is requesting $95 million from donors to assist those in need.

Due to the projected increase in those who will need international aid, more countries will have to donate to effectively assist those who are food insecure.

According to the executive director of the agency, Ertharin Cousin, the rise in those who are hungry and requiring aid has risen 7 percent since last year and this has largely been exacerbated by Israel’s occupation of Palestine, the Palestinian Authority’s financial crisis and high unemployment rates.

The conflict has destabilized the entire region, and competing interests for resources from states and corporate interests have left those most vulnerable without basic security and trapped in poverty.

Another reason for the most recent increase in families needing aid was the recent closure by the Egyptian government of smuggling tunnels. The tunnels that ran under the border to impoverished Palestinian enclaves provided access to jobs and construction projects, including a clandestine route for militant groups and weapons trafficking.

Currently, about 813,000 Palestinian refugees are receiving food aid from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). The organization expects a 10-20 percent rise in demand in 2014 as the conflict continues to destabilize the region, displaces more people, and keeps the cycle of poverty continuing.

Food security is a major issue for those living in the Gaza Strip. A majority of households are food insecure. In 2012, some 71 percent of impoverished households in Gaza are either food insecure or vulnerable to food insecurity. Without assistance these food insecurity levels are surely to continue to rise.

Compounding the lack of food is unemployment. Maher al-Tabbaa’, an economist from the West Bank,  recently told Reuters he expected the coastal territory’s unemployment rate for 2013 to rise to nearly 38 percent.

With less job security comes more hungry families needing more aid from the global community. Without funding from donor countries the food crisis will only continue and will also serve to further the conflict and the ongoing violence that has already cost too much.

Nina Verfaillie
Feature Writer

Sources: Forward, Sydney Morning Herald

As the President of the Palestinian National Authority, Yasser Arafat dedicated his life to combating Israel for the sake of his nation’s right to self-determination. After decades of activism and leadership, Arafat’s life came to an end on November 11, 2004 after having suffered from a mysterious month-long illness. More puzzling than the onset of Arafat’s undetermined illness was his unexpected death.

Since Arafat had died while undergoing treatment in a French military hospital, no autopsy had been carried out immediately after his death. Under French law only his wife, Shuha, had the legal authority to request an autopsy at that time. Due to the absence of an autopsy, in the years since Arafat’s passing, a spectrum of rumors ranging from HIV to poisoning have been circulated. However, after years of speculation, Arafat’s body was exhumed for an autopsy in 2012.

To the dismay of many, even the autopsy of Arafat yielded inconclusive results. After separate laboratory testing conducted by Al Jareeza, France, and Russia, each result yielded inconsistent findings. According to Russia, an insufficient amount of polonium-210 was found in the remains of Arafat in order to conclusively declare poisoning as the cause of death. However, Al Jareeza ardently maintains the conviction that Arafat had indeed succumbed to poisoning by polonium-210. On the other hand, France stands a slightly neutral stance by concluding that while unusually high levels of polonium had been discovered in Arafat’s system, the cause of death was most likely natural causes in conjunction with a generalized infection.

Although the results and interpretation of Arafat’s autopsy are inconclusive, the staggering price of his exhumation is less bewildering. No official statements regarding the cost of the former Palestinian leader’s exhumation has been issued yet. However, according to The Guardian, a typical exhumation in the UK is priced at approximately £5,000 or $6, 867.

Under the assumption that a family of four needs $146 per week to purchase adequate and healthy groceries, the cost of exhuming Arafat could have bought a family of four living in the United States groceries for 46 weeks. Furthermore, since 50 percent of the world’s population subsides on less than $2.50 a day, Arafat’s exhumation could have also enabled an individual living in a non-industrialized nation to secure shelter, food, and clothing for almost 2,747 days, or roughly 7.5 years.

Although uncovering the truth behind Yasser Arafat’s death holds momentous political implications for Palestine and its international relations, the cost of the exhumation also has enormous political merit- we live in an age in which digging up the past is given more  care than shaping the immediate future. The cost of a single exhumation could also have been utilized to allow an impoverished child to see his or her 7th birthday.

Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: The Spectator, The Guardian 1, 2, USA Today, World Bank
Photo: The Times

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

The status of Jerusalem is the most contentious issue in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which has led to an alarming rate of poverty among Jerusalem’s Palestinian population.  According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, 86% of Jerusalem’s Palestinian children are below the poverty line.

As a whole, 77% of Palestinian Jerusalemite households faced poverty in 2010, compared to only 25% of Israeli households.

Prior to the 1967 war, East Jerusalem was the hub of urban and commercial life for Palestinians.  After the war, Israel annexed East Jerusalem. Palestinian Jerusalemites were given a separate legal status as merely ‘permanent residents,’ restricting “access to housing, employment, education, health services and representation in the city.”  Since then, Palestinian Jerusalemites have faced a policy of neglect and have become virtually isolated from the rest of the West Bank with the construction of the Israeli separation barrier in 2003.

The East Jerusalem economy accounted for 15% of the Palestinian economy prior to the 1993 Oslo Accords.  In recent years, however, the economy has shrunk by half.  It is estimated that the separation barrier has led to over $1 billion in direct losses to the East Jerusalem economy.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) lists key factors contributing to poverty in East Jerusalem as:  (1) the separation barrier and isolation from the West Bank; (2) a weakened job market; (3) the neglected school system and obstacles in higher education and professional training; (4) difficulties integrating women into the job market; (5) employment in West Jerusalem; and (6) revocation of residency and the provision of temporary status.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) echoes these factors, maintaining that Jerusalem’s increasing economic isolation, “including the building of Israeli separation barrier,” left it “integrated neither into the Palestinian economy nor into the Israeli economy.”

Politics aside, ACRI contends that a crucial way of overcoming Palestinian poverty is to address employment and fair labor conditions.  Due to its isolation from the West Bank, East Jerusalem’s economy is dependent on the Israeli market, which serves as a source of employment and trade.  ACRI stresses a key point for policy change should be Israeli government investment in employment services.  “While Palestinians constitute a third of the municipal population, only three welfare offices operate in East Jerusalem, in contrast to the 18 in the western part of Jerusalem serving Israelis.” ACRI believes that an expansion of employment services is one way to offer the necessary tools for Palestinian residents to find jobs that offer financial stability and professional development.

– Rifk Ebeid

Sources: Al Jazeera News, Haaretz, UNCTAD, ACRI


Every day an entire town’s worth of people is rendered homeless.

23,000 persons per day are forced to flee their homes, according to a United Nations report. By the numbers, this is akin to the evacuation of entire American towns. Due to conflict or persecution, these persons must rely on aid provided by various domestic and international organizations, placing strain on already weakened local economies and food supplies. The vast majority of these persons – over 80% – are hosted by developing nations.

Not only are local economies suffering as a result of displacement, the burden is also felt by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which logged some 35.8 million persons of concern in 2012. As a reference point, the population of California, the largest state in the U.S, is approximately 38.1 million people. In Pakistan, the number of refugees in relation to economic capacity is 552 persons to every $1 of GDP per capita, an astonishing statistic by our measurements.

In response to displacement concerns in Syria, a state in which 70% Palestinian refugees are displaced by conflict in addition to the Syrians themselves, the Obama administration has authorized an additional $300 million in humanitarian relief funds. This brings the total amount of aid given to Syria to nearly $815 million, making the U.S. the single-largest contributor of humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people.

These contributions will be used “to help feed, shelter, and provide medical care for children, women, and men affected by the ongoing conflict in Syria,” according to a recent press release from the White House. The move is especially significant for efforts to increase global poverty relief and awareness in U.S. foreign affairs as it represents a clear recognition of an American responsibility to protect people worldwide.

In spite these commendable contributions, there remains a wide discrepancy between the number of refugees being hosted by developing countries and nations more capable of hosting displaced persons. To wit, UNHCR’s recent report  shows that more than half of the refugees under UNHCR’s mandate resided in countries where the GDP per capita was below $5,000 in 2012. Pakistan and Iran hosted the largest number of refugees. Clearly, there is a great need for the U.S. and other developed countries to support refugees and the countries that host them.

– Herman Watson

Source: New York Times, UN Refugee Agency, Huffington Post, NBC News, The White House
Photo: NBC News

On May 22nd, a conference for the Arab International Women’s Forum titled “Young Arab Women Leaders — The Voice of the Future” was held at Birzeit University, the first university to be established in Palestine. The Forum was a particularly momentous occasion because it marked the first time the annual forum had taken place in Palestine in the organization’s 11-year history.

In an opening address, the Forum’s founder Haifa Al Kaylani, discussed the opportunity that this year’s forum had to empower women and youth in Palestine to ensure sustainable development in the region.

The Forum, which began as an idea in London, has flourished throughout the world. Its Board of Directors is composed of names representing companies such as PepsiCo, PriceWaterhouseCooper, and the Arab British Chamber of Commerce.

Addressing these influential people, Al Kaylani noted the wealth of Palestinian expertise and talent at the conference, citing again that the education and training of the youth is a necessary investment. She also commented that such important leaderships ethics would help women “take roles as leaders and job creators working towards the social and economic recovery in their communities and the region.”

Recently, AIWF made strides to expand digitally with the launch of its online forum, co-sponsored by PepsiCo. The topic of the most recent online forum was: “What impact has the rapid growth of technology in the last decade made on gender boundaries – societally, in the home and in the workplace?” Interested parties were allowed to enter the debate from the convenience of their laptops.

– Samantha Mauney

Sources: Wafa, Birzeit
Photo: AIWF


Caroline Anstey, from the Global Arab Network at the World Bank, identified how development is extremely challenging to achieve in places where conflict, war, or any kind of political instability is present. In particular, she shed light on Palestinian development. She expressed how there were little improvements, which marked the light at the end of the tunnel, such as students learning animation skills at an institute, roads being paved to facilitate transportation, and access to health and education. However, despite those, the 50% unemployment rate marks a hopeless and almost helpless Palestinian economy.

There has been some success, according to Anstey.  “Since 2004, 11 countries have graduated from fragile status.” However, she emphasizes that it takes a certain sustainable commitment to end cycles of violence and develop a country, a commitment that remains “long after the cameras leave.” Each country is different, and so it might take different approaches to fulfill each country’s needs. In the Palestinian case, development work and projects can meet immediate needs and offer short-term solutions to help better prepare for the future. On a different note, it is crucial to recognize that no real substantial long-term development can happen in Palestine without a political solution.

On the bright side, Palestine is one of the countries that met the U.N. Millennium Goals because they halved the number of people living on less than almost 1 dollar a day. According to Anstey, the World Bank has worked directly with the Palestinian Authority on “social safety net reform[s]” where they reached out to the poorest Palestinians and offered them cash transfers. Just as well, social safety nets in Palestine have not been costly in relation to GDP and have been successful in reaching out to the poorest Palestinians, those who truly needed help and qualified.

Anstey realizes that in order to achieve tangible development results, solutions must be crafted specifically to meet each distinct circumstance, for again, not all countries have the same needs.

– Leen Abdallah
Source: Global Arab Network

World Water Day: Palestine Edition

In honor of the World Water Day, March 22nd, the Thirsting for Justice Campaign has called for solidarity with the Palestinian people and children who lack sufficient clean and safe water. The campaign suggests to all supporters to organize “community teach-ins” to gain factual insight and spread awareness regarding the Palestinians’ challenges under Israeli occupation, specifically their challenges when trying to access clean water since water supply is controlled by the Israeli army. The teach-ins would also push for discussion on the courses of action that must be taken to achieve Palestinian water rights.

As a Thirsting for Justice initiative, along with the Jenin Freedom Theater, “hundreds of Palestinians and internationals in the West Bank” occupied the Jordan Valley and walked leaving their footmarks on this global Water Day; the West Bank demands to be heard and is taking action through its people’s “walk for water justice.”

To join the teach-in action, check out Thirsting For Justice

Leen Abdallah

Source: Thirsting for Justice
Photo: Thirsting for Justice: Visualizing Palestine