Archive for March, 2010

Why does everyone in Gaza love Barcelona?

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Fatah, Gaza, Hamas, Siege with tags , , , , , on 31/03/2010 by 3071km

Written by Barnaby Phillips

Published 29th March 2010

Source: The Middle East Blog, Al Jazeera English

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Gazans are huge fans of Barcelona Football Club and the reason could be anything from lack of domestic action to Catalan nationalism.

Why are the people of Gaza apparently nuts about Barcelona Football Club?
The question arose when I asked where I might be able to watch the big champions league match between Barcelona and Arsenal.
First, dear reader, a confession. I am an Arsenal fan, and this is an important game. When I explained this to a colleague in the Al Jazeera Gaza office, he looked concerned. “You must be very careful, it could be dangerous to watch that game,” he said.
It’s true, I had heard that Gaza could be dangerous, in various ways, but had not anticipated that watching a football match on TV, or my allegiance for Arsenal, would be a flash-point. “Everyone in Gaza is crazy about Barcelona, so you might want to keep a low profile,” he warned.
After a week of driving round this crowded, impoverished and fascinating place, I can confirm that there are an awful lot of Barcelona replica kits being worn in Gaza, many of them bearing the name of the Argentinean superstar, Lionel Messi.
A friend of mine says that people in Gaza support Barcelona, because they share a passion for the welfare of children, (Barcelona, atypically in the world of football, has rejected lucrative shirt sponsorship deals from major companies, and instead chooses to wear the logo of the UN’s children’s fund, UNICEF, for free).
No prizes for guessing that my friend works for UNICEF. Nice theory, but I suspect the truth is more obvious; people in Gaza support Barcelona because they appreciate great football.
Not only that, but Barcelona are winners, and people here don’t have too much to smile about.  (Another intriguing theory I’ve heard is that the Palestinians of Gaza, proud of an identity forged under such difficult conditions, admire Barcelona because of its ties to Catalan nationalism,  which has thrived despite disapproval from Madrid).
Of course, the passion for a foreign football team may also be a reflection of how the people of Gaza are starved of any domestic action.
Due to political tensions between Hamas and Fatah, all high level cup and league games have been suspended in Gaza since 2007.
But this week, there was good news. Football administrators here have overcome their differences, and just announced the resumption of competitive matches; the first game takes place later this week. (Watch out for a TV report on this in the next few days on Al Jazeera English from my colleague Casey Kauffman).
So, will the resumption of  live football in Gaza weaken the hold of Barcelona on people’s imagination?  Somehow, I doubt it.  Gaza might have to come up with its own Lionel Messi first.

Thirsty for justice

Posted in Everyday life in Gaza, Gaza reconstruction, International community, Israeli occupation, Operation Cast Lead, Palestine, Pictures, Siege with tags , , , , , , , , , on 25/03/2010 by 3071km

Written by Mona El-Farra

Published on Electronic Intifada

Date published: 25/03/2010

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Mona El-Farra writing from occupied Gaza Strip, Live from Palestine, 25 March 2010

Palestinian children wait to fill up water in the Gaza Strip. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)

Toni Morrison once wrote “All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.” I feel it is the same for Palestinian refugees, who have struggled for decades for their right to return home. I thought of this connection between water and refugees during a recent meeting about the Middle East Children’s Alliance’s (MECA) Maia Project with Aidan O’Leary, Deputy Director of the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) Operations in Gaza.

UNRWA provides assistance, protection and advocacy for 4.7 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. We are working with UNRWA to install locally-made water purification and desalination units in their schools. Mr. O’Leary expressed his total appreciation for the Maia Project and stressed that providing clean drinking water to children is among the highest priorities and needs for Gaza schools. Mr. John Ging, UNRWA’s Director of Operations in Gaza, also expressed his admiration for the Maia Project.

The situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate under Israeli military occupation and siege. The refugees are often the hardest hit by rising unemployment and poverty. Access to clean water is one of the many basic needs that UNRWA is no longer able to meet. A recent UNRWA report states that the most common infectious diseases affecting Palestinian refugees in Gaza — who make up more than three-quarters of the population — are directly related to inadequate supplies of safe water and poor sanitation: diarrhea, acute bloody diarrhea and viral hepatitis.

Creating a positive impact on children’s health is the main goal of the Maia Project, and working on water access when you live in Gaza is self-explanatory. The reality is that tap water in Gaza is undrinkable due to its bad quality and contamination. At best, when you have access to a running tap, the water is not clean and is very salty. Our daily water consumption averages around 78 liters a day per person, while Israelis average over 300 liters each, more than four times as much. Israel is under increasing scrutiny by international organizations including Amnesty International for “denying Palestinians the right to access adequate water by maintaining total control over the shared water resources and pursuing discriminatory policies.”

We move to help the children as quickly as we can. Children in Gaza will have the chance to drink clean and soft water, but only at the rate in which we can implement the Maia Project. And we race against time. The UN estimates that Gaza will have no drinking water in the next 15 years.

Water is life, but here in Gaza it can also bring death. Numerous military attacks on the Gaza Strip have devastated Gaza’s water infrastructure. Israel’s twenty-two day assault last winter destroyed or rendered unusable an estimated 800 of Gaza’s 2,000 wells, and caused $5.97 million in damage to our water and wastewater treatment facilities. Since January 2009, the Gaza Health Ministry and the World Health Organization have issued drinking, seafood and swimming advisories.

We yearn for our water and our freedoms to return to us. We roll up our sleeves and hope for rain, the kind of rain that floods the hearts and minds of those who hunger and thirst for justice.

Here in Gaza, we are still thirsty.

Mona El-Farra is a physician by training and a human rights and women’s rights activist in practice in the occupied Gaza Strip. Her blog is From Gaza, with Love.

Palestinian seek to impose settlement boycott

Posted in Palestine on 18/03/2010 by 3071km

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source: Palestine Telegrap

Date Published: March 18, 2010

Palestinian customs agents are hanging banners, setting up checkpoints and raiding shops across the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank in a campaign to rid the territory of products made illegally in Israeli settlements.

But the difficulty in detecting illegal Jewish settlement products threatens the process.

In a storage area next to his office, Palestinian customs officer Fadi Abu al-Qurn shows off crates of wine, olive oil and food confiscated by his forces, all illegal settler-made goods bound for Palestinian markets.

“We are carrying out our duty to monitor and seize any goods originating in the settlements in accordance with the cabinet decision,” he says, referring to the order from prime minister Salam Fayyad’s government.

“This work is certainly draining the settlements, because so far we have confiscated hundreds of tonnes of goods,” he adds.

The Palestinian Authority has hung banners at the entrances to Ramallah reading: “Don’t destroy the refugee camps to build the settlements.” It has also launched a website in Arabic and English with descriptions of banned products.

Dozens of Palestinian-run shops that sell such goods have been raided.

Abu al-Qurn says the traders initially resisted his forces, “but after a while they came to understand why the goods are being targeted.”

All Jewish settlements are illegal under international law because they are built on Arab land (mainly Palestinian), illegally occupied by Israel since 1967.

Around 200,000 illegal Jewish settlers are estimated to have moved into the dozen or so Israeli settlements in Palestinian East Jerusalem.

There are about 300,000 more illegal Jewish settlers currently living in settlements the Palestinian West Bank.

The settlers adhere to radical ideologies and are extremely violent to almost-defenceless Palestinians.

The Palestinians also fear the illegal Jewish settlements will make it impossible to establish an independent state – outside Israeli military control – in the occupied territories and have refused to relaunch US-led direct negotiations with Israel without a complete settlement freeze.

Fayyad launched the campaign as part of a larger project to build the institutions of a Palestinian state by mid-2011 and in January participated in the burning of settlement products in the West Bank town of Salfit.

‘I’m happy about what they’re doing’

But it’s unclear what impact if any the boycott is having on the settlements, which mostly market their products in Israel and abroad.

The European Union excludes settlement goods from its free trade agreement with Israel but customs authorities have said it is virtually impossible to distinguish them from goods made inside the country.

Anwar Ali Ramal, the Druze owner of a furniture factory in the Barkan industrial zone, a settlement near Salfit, said the boycott mainly affected his Palestinian distributor.

The Israeli occupation made Palestinians at the mercy of their occupiers economically.

Thousands of Palestinians work on the settlements, mostly in construction and industry, to survive the economic hardships resulting from living under Israeli occupation and control.

In the meantime, Abu al-Qurn’s men continue to halt trucks at the main entrances to Ramallah, sometimes surprising drivers who were previously only stopped at Israeli army checkpoints.

One day, customs agents stopped a truck carrying several crates of Finlandia vodka and Carlsberg beer. The driver, Sobhi Saafan, looked on as agents searched through the back of the truck.

“I’m happy about what they are doing,” he said, adding that all of his products originated abroad, not in illegal Israeli settelmets.

After thoroughly checking the vehicle, the agents went to another part of town, keeping the checkpoint mobile in their bid to foil smugglers.

There they stopped Fadi Abu al-Zalf, who was on his way to the West Bank town of Qalqiliya with a shipment of food for a supermarket.

“It’s good what they are doing, especially because they are seizing goods that are corrupt,” he said. “I think they should ban all Israeli goods and not just those that originate in the settlements.”

Sourc: Middle East Online