Under blockade and political rift, crimes soar in Gaza

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This article is also published at The New Arab

“Her graduation ceremony was going to be after one month only. He killed her, and he orphaned my kids,” came the heartfelt cry of Nisreen Sultan’s husband.

In a robbery gone wrong, a thief stormed into the 33-year-olds house situated in Gaza’s Nosairat on Saturday when she was alone. Cutting off her ears to steal her earrings, when Nisreen saw the thief and recognised him, he killed her by hitting her head with a gas jar.

Nisreen’s murder is not the crime that has taken place in the besieged Strip during the last week. Three days after Nisreen’s brutal death, a husband killed his wife in Rafah, days after she had given birth. In Tal el-Hawa, attackers robbed a 70-year-old man and killed him, throwing him through his house’s window.

Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights condemned these crimes, urging the Palestinian government in the Strip to respond quickly before it becomes a phenomenon.

The question every Gazan is asking however is why are people committing these crimes and whose responsibility is it. Research suggests depression is a strong factor in the manifestation of violent crime, caused by poverty, which currently affects more than three quarters of the population.

Commenting on Gaza’s recent crimes, Aymen Batniji, Gaza’s spokesperson for the police force, said around 88% of these crimes are due to addiction to drugs like Tramadol.

“The drugs today are different from anything Gaza had before. They cause hallucinations to those addicted to them.”

It is not unreasonable to extrapolate that that some people are at greater risk of becoming offenders due to the circumstances they are born into. While not removing their agency, poverty, parental neglect, low self-esteem, alcohol and drug abuse are all factors as this elementary BBC bitesize article explains.

The coastal Gaza Strip has been under the Israeli siege for over a decade, affecting every aspect of their lives. With the political divisions between Fatah and Hamas, poverty rate rose to over 65% and unemployment to 43%, increasing to 64% among the youth.

72% of Gaza families suffer from food insecurity, while at least 4600 families are homeless and 5000 are living in tents after their homes were destroyed during Israel’s offensive against the Strip in 2014.

I tried to work, but I found no jobs. I tried to leave Gaza to work, but I couldn’t due to the closure of the crossings. What shall I do? Shall I kill myself?”

The UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, expressed his deep concerns over the “growing tensions” in Gaza.

MP Jamal el-Khodary, head of the Popular Committee against the Siege, said on Sunday that a million and a half of Palestinians living in Gaza are stuck below the poverty threshold.

“We urge the international community to end the Gaza siege since it affects everything, increasing poverty and unemployment,” added the council member.

Derdah el-Shaer, Doctor of Psychology at al-Aqsa university, said that lastest statistics show that about 55% of Gazans suffer from depression due to the bad economic situations affecting the Strip.

“Instead of developing, we are going the opposite way as though we are in the Middle Ages, unlike others living in the twenty-first century.”

Dr. Ziyad Abdulaziz, a Palestinian psychologist, said that he always receives dozens of people suffering psychiatric disorders, especially among the youth.

“Every day I treat more than one suffering depression and other mental health issues where they find themselves in a position where they have no hope in life.”

Like many others at his age, 25-year-old Mahmoud abu Namous, explained his situation by saying that he suffers from lack of vision as well as a sense of constant depression and ennui.

“I no longer know what to do in Gaza. I tried to work, but I found no jobs. I tried to adapt myself to Gaza life, but I couldn’t because I am a human who wants to live at least a normal life. I tried to leave Gaza to work, but I couldn’t due to the closure of the crossings. What shall I do? Shall I kill myself?”

>> Read more: We need to talk about Gaza’s suicide epidemic

Hanadi Saman, an unemployed graduate added that she would rather travel than remain in Gaza since “animals can’t live our lives.”

“Look around you, crime is everywhere. People started to hate their wives so they kill them,” she added referring to the crime on Saturday.

The impossible has become possible in the besieged enclave, and many Gazans believe that the situation will get worse if nothing happens to change their reality. Murder, suicide and drugs have never been part of Gaza, but the political rifts and occupation have made even nightmares come true.

 

Mohammed Arafat

27-04-2017

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Are Gaza Crises Beginning of the Solution?

 

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Widened, deepened and worsened the Gaza residents’ pain has been. From unemployment to blackout, and from poverty and siege, Gazans don’t know where to start to solve their crises.

During the previous months, Gaza has suffered from endless problems that affected every side of its people’s lives, one of which when the Palestinian Authority imposed 30% cuts on its employees in the coastal enclave, which ignited their anger to pour out to the streets.

PA’s 70,000 employees started Hamas-backed protests, urging the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, to step down immediately despite the fact that he was paying them since 2007 when Hamas took over Gaza from Fatah. Likewise, other political parties in the Strip, like Islamic Jihad and some PLO parties, sit in marches against the decision, calling it abusive and irresponsible. Meanwhile, dozens of leaders from Fatah submitted their resignation, blaming Ramallah’s government of igniting the crisis.

Politicians from Fatah, Hamas and other Palestinian parties traded the claims and the blames putting the Strip on verge of explosion.

Yousif al-Mahmoud, a spokesman for the PA, has accused Hamas of being a part of the crisis saying that it collects government revenues without sending it to the Palestinian Authority’s treasury, while Fawzi Barhoum, Hamas’ spokesman, has accused Fatah of discriminating between Palestinians in the Strip and the West Bank.

Besides, Hamas also accused the PA and its PM, Rami Hamdallah, of “creating this conspiracy upon direct orders from President Abbas.”

As a remonstrance for the ongoing crisis of the salaries’ cuts, the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company cut the power to the entire of the Gaza Strip, saying that the power plant will be completely shut down on Sunday due to lack of funds needed to buy fuel to produce electricity.

On its website, the Energy Authority in the enclave said that fuel taxes have not been canceled by the PA government, “so the power plant will stop working on Sunday. The power plant is prepared to purchase tax-free fuel to guarantee its operation.”

PA spokesman, Tarik Rishmawi, on the other hand, said that Gaza’s electrical problems are a result of Hamas’ control of the Strip, adding that Hamas has also failed to transfer fees and taxes on the electricity that it owes the PA.

“The Palestinian Authority will do everything in its power to resolve Gaza power crisis.” Rishmawi said.

However, most of Palestinians living in Gaza believe that these are just procedures from the Palestinian president to end the political division between Fatah and Hamas. Abbas, who said he will take crucial steps towards Gaza in the coming days, will send a delegation from the PA to Gaza during the next weeks to meet with Hamas to try to resolve the crises.

Member of Fatah’s Central Committee, Jamal Muheisin, said that the delegation would appeal to Hamas officials to uphold to the terms set out in the 2012 Cairo agreement, accusing Hamas of taking steps that violated past agreements made toward reconciliation.

Meanwhile, Palestinian resources from Ramallah stated that President Abbas has a roadmap consisting of five measures to be taken, which are: disbanding Hamas’ administrative committee in Gaza; transferring authority over crossings and ministries in Gaza Strip to the PA; committing to forming a national unity government; conducting legislative and presidential elections in three months; and canceling all decisions unilaterally taken by Hamas in Gaza.

As a result of the political battles between Hamas and Fatah that hit the besieged Strip, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, has expressed his deep concerns over the “growing tensions” in Gaza.

Foreign countries have been attempting to persuade Fatah and Hamas to reconcile, while the Gazans have been waiting for good news that can fill their dark empty homes with lights. Despite the failed attempts to achieve the reconciliation and the traded claims and accusations between both parties, Gaza residents still have hopes that can end the decade-long siege.

Mohammed Arafat

22-04-2017

 

 

World without borders: Would it be a Solution?

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I, as most of the residents of this earth, have always believed that the “political” borders between countries are a must, and that the world without borders can be a mess, which would put it on verge of international endless chaos! Hence, if we read back the history carefully, we can see the world had no borders, and that nothing did control people’s mobility, while there had been no poverty and chaos like nowadays.

The Ancient Near East, the Indian sub-continent, China, the Americas, Europe – all had constant influxes of migrants who did not come to ruin these areas, but to bring new ideas and changes, adding to these regions wealth, contributing to taxes and serving in local armies.  During the Ancient Greece civilization moreover, the Delphic priests regarded the right of unfettered movement as one of four freedoms distinguishing liberty from slavery since they know how migrants can make a big change and development.

Nowadays’ political borders made the world upside down, leading every country to take care ONLY of itself and its people, which affects other countries who cannot live without those developed countries.

We all understand that borders can keep the country safe from crimes and violence of strangers, but what if every one of those strangers or terrorists was well satisfied financially and emotionally? Wouldn’t they focus on their careers and leave the craziness they do?

For instance, Schengen Area Countries have never had borders, and they used to live in safe and sound. There were no terrorist attacks like what is going today even though these countries have always had refugees coming from all over the world. Once the refugee crisis started in 2011, Schengen countries started closing borders, which drove some of the extremists who lost hopes in life to commit terrorist attacks.

I merely believe that the main reason why terrorist and violent people become who and how they are is lacking of finance, or being psychiatrically ill, which is mostly caused by poverty.

Vipul Naik, a Ph.D. economist candidate in mathematics at the University of Chicago, believes that borders restrictions are reasons of poverty. He says that increased mobility of people is the biggest missed opportunity in development of the world.

In 2012, he along with his two co-writers launched their site “Open Borders: The Case,” dedicated to the idea they are striving for “a world where there is a strong presumption in favor of allowing people to migrate and where this presumption can be overridden or curtailed only under exceptional circumstances.”

Visiting Naik’s website, we can find answers of claims by those “restrictionists”, who call for restrictions and those who argue against open borders. The theory they espouse is that border restrictions are wrong, and that they are antithetical to the fundamental human right of self-determination.

To understand Naik and his friends’ point, imagine a Palestinian living in the besieged Gaza Strip, which is full of endless crises including poverty and blackouts, was being told that he can’t go to the West Bank, Jordan or Egypt to work and help his dying family. In this situation, his family would die, he would commit suicide, or maybe he would think of committing a crime.

However, what if this Palestinian was not denied access? Wouldn’t his family live happily? Wouldn’t he marry and teach his children the good manners? Wouldn’t he develop the area he was trying to visit In order to work? Wouldn’t he strengthen relations between countries?

Bryan Caplan, a professor of economics at George Mason University, said that he would pull the trigger immediately on open borders if given the chance. “If people are so afraid of what might happen with open borders, then we should just implement it gradually.” says Caplan.

“But it’s very easy for you to say that when you’re in the first world living a comfortable life. If you are living in abject poverty in Haiti, on the other hand, this go-slow attitude seems rather callous.” He added.

In a post he wrote in 2011, economist Caplan said that the upside of open borders would be the rapid elimination of absolute poverty on earth whatever downsides there may be.

In his article at the Huffington post, Prof. Dr. Klaus F. Zimmermann, said that Economists estimate that world GDP could be increased substantially — possibly even doubled — this way. The effect would be much greater than any gains from the free movement of goods and capital.

“Poverty could be combated on a truly global level for the first time. That would be a bold program for social equity.” Added Zimmermann.

Some people might think open borders might have effects on the populations or the cultural identities of the target countries, but if we imagine this. Immigrants have been reaching the develop countries since centuries, have the populations been increased? Has the culture been changed? Moreover, a lot of resources state that about 97 percent of the world’s people live in the country where they were born. This 97 percent ratio is the same as it was back in the year 1900 —over a century ago!

To sum up, mobility without borders is already not impossible. It’s already a reality though; the European Union being a prime example despite the new procedures it’s talking since the appearance of the refugees’ crisis.

 

Mohammed Arafat

21-04-2017

 

Gaza’s forgotten misery: Trapped between Israel and Egypt

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This article is also published at The New Arab

The world’s largest open-air prison will not open soon to release its prisoners to the outside world.

The decade-long Israeli blockade has subjected Gaza’s two million residents to an unprecedented level of suffering.

Gaza, under siege since 2006, finds difficulty after difficulty thrown at it, offering no sense of stability to the Palestinians living there. Electricity outage, polluted water, unemployment among youth and graduates, poverty and salary cuts are some of the many problems the coastal enclave faced recently.

A new suffering that is almost unmentioned in the news is the Rafah crossing closure. Rafah is the only port between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Due to the sea and air closures, and the travel ban imposed by Israel on Palestinians, the Rafah crossing has become the main lifeline for Gazans to the outside world.

On November 15, 2005, just after Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, Israel and the Palestinian National Authority implemented the Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) that aimed to improve freedom of movement and economic activity within the Palestinian territories, and to open the Rafah crossing.

Since the agreement, there were approximately 40,000 travelers a month. This number dropped dramatically to 10,000 when Hamas captured the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

After Hamas seized power in the Strip from the PA in 2007, the crossing was closed for the majority of the time, opening for limited humanitarian cases and certain criteria. The criteria included students, patients, dual citizenship Palestinians and individuals who have foreign residency status or foreign visas.

Palestinians in the Strip dug underground tunnels to smuggle goods and to help some cross the Egyptian border between 2007 and 2013.

While the crossing was operational between 2011 and 2013, with thousands of Palestinians travelling through it every month, violence in the second half of 2013 and through 2014 led to the Egyptian government blaming attacks on militants with alleged connections to Gaza, and closing the crossing completely.

In 2014 the crossing was opened only 156 days.
In 2015, 21 days.
In 2016, 44 days.

At the time of writing this article, four months into 2017, the Rafah crossing has only been open 11 days.

The last time Egypt opened the crossing was at the start of March, when only a few hundred could leave the Strip towards Egypt and towards Cairo International Airport. Hundreds were also allowed entry into the Gaza Strip.

Thousands of lives are affected, and as tension continues in the political sphere between Palestinian parties on one hand, Palestinians and Israelis on the other and as Sinai’s internal violence continues to implode, no one knows when this problem will end.

Pregnant, abu-Hasna found herself stuck in Gaza when she came 7 months ago to visit her sick mother.

Hisham Odwan, the manager of the Rafah crossing from the Palestinian side, urged the Egyptian authorities to open the crossing permanently or at least periodically.

“There is no information that the crossing will open, but we will officially let the Palestinian travellers know if there is any.”

Gazan travellers waiting for the crossing to open now exceed 16,000, most of whom are patients and students, according to the Palestinian Interior Ministry.

One of those suffering travellers is Maher Hajj Ahmed, who is in urgent need of heart surgery in Egypt. He has been waiting to travel for four months.

The 65-year-old, whose papers are complete, was unable to travel in March, the last time the crossing was opened, due to the tremendous number of travellers.

“I was ready to travel the last time, but I could not. They promised to allow me the next time, and until now, the crossing is not open… I am dying,” Ahmed explained.

Huda Abu el-Ain’s story is not that different from Ahmed’s. Her 16-year-old son has a problem in his right eye that makes him in urgent need of an operation in Egypt after Israel refused to let him through the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel.

“I have got my son’s papers ready last month, and we are ready to travel once the crossing is open.”

Abu el-Ain son’s condition will get worse if he does not get treatment as soon as possible.


Palestinians wait at Rafah Crossing [Arafat]

Reham abu-Hasna, has been trying to travel back to Dubai to her husband. Pregnant, abu-Hasna found herself stuck in Gaza when she came 7 months ago to visit her sick mother.

“I can’t give birth while being far away from my husband. He is the father of my son, and he has to see him.”

Students too are suffering from the closure of the crossing. Mohammed Kamel, a 25-year-old student, has been waiting for a year, scared that his second visa will expire soon.

“I was granted two scholarships to pursue my masters in the U.K, and Spain, but sadly I lost them since I could not travel on time. Now I got this one to Malaysia, and I hope I can travel soon before my visa expires,” Kamel added.

Gazans do not know who holds responsibility over the crossing’s closure, whether Israel, Egypt or the Palestinian parties. They do however know one thing: their future is in danger and something must be done soon.

 

Mohammed Arafat

20-04-2017

Haifa in my Heart

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This poem is also published at We Are Not Numbers

I lived happily with my lovely family,
Life was fine and full.
I had a small swing,
And I slept under the olive tree,
beside our home in Haifa.
My father was a simple villager.
He loved his trees and plants;
His smile never left his face,
Especially when my mother prepared breakfast-,
with white cheese from our cow,
thyme from the shrub under the willows,
olive oil from the Suri tree,
hot bread made from brown wheat flour.
We ate under the shadow of that tree.
I remember each bite,
I remember asking for more.

Then I screamed, watching the grass turn red.
I cried…
and cried…
and cried.

I was five years old.
I saw her blood… his blood… some of my blood.
The trees, the oil, our cow,
the thyme, the willows, the wheat-flour bread,
and our small farm
became a field of mines.

I was forced to leave my happy days,
my moments,
my memories,
my mother in the morning sun.
I was alone,
I grew up alone.
I wanted to cry and moan,
but didn’t want my mother to hear from her tomb.
I didn’t want my dad to think I was still a child,
so I did not shed a tear.

I lived in a refugee camp outside Palestinefor years, long years…
the longest years,the darkest years.
They promised I could to go back to my land,
to my mother`s tomb,
to the shadow of the willows,
to the olive tree.
They promised I could smell the same hot bread,
eat fresh thyme from under the window,
breathe the breeze of Haifa,
but…
but… that was a false promise.
They cheated me off my land.
They went to the United Nations,
They had another plan.
It was a plan against me,
against my land,
against my father’s farm and his trees,
against Palestine.

I am still living in this camp,
waiting.
I turned 75 and am still waiting,
I am still living with the key of our old home,
and will die holding it.
But before I die, remember,
that I want to be buried
under that olive tree,
beside the swing on my old farm,
in Haifa,
in Palestine.

Author’s note: My family is originally from Gaza, but I am like all Palestinians and feel a longing for all of my homeland. And whenever I see pictures of Haifa, I feel a special affinity for some reason. Tears come to my eyes and my heart aches. It is my dream to visit.

April 19, 2017

Mohammed Arafat

Israel killed my three daughters, I just want peace

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This article is also published at The New Arab

Over eight years ago during the Israeli offensive on Gaza ‘Operation Cast Lead’, Toronto University professor Izzeldin Abuelaish lost three of his daughters and niece.

Aya, Mayar and Bessan, 13, 15 and 21 respectively, as well as their 14-year-old cousin Nour, were killed as an Israeli tank fired at their home in the Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli army justified the act, saying they believed there were Hamas supporters near the family house, hence why they chose to target it. Israel has refused to apologise, calling the killing of his three daughters and niece “an operation of war.”

“Despite the severe outcome, from a legal standpoint our stance is that the operation during which Dr. Abuelaish’s family members were hurt was an operation of war,” Attorney Ahaz Ben-Ari stated.

The Israeli army’s explanation did not satisfy Dr. Abuelaish, and he launched a lawsuit against the Israeli government in 2010 asking the Israeli government for a formal apology and for financial compensation, adding that money could never compensate his daughters’ lives.

After nearly six years of haggling, Dr. Abuelish’s testimony was scheduled to be heard in a court in Beer Sheva on March 15, and a concluding session due to take place on April 19.

When asked about his feelings towards the legal procedures, Dr. Abuelaish told The New Arab that he has the determination to continue and advocate for justice for his daughters, and to bring hope to innocent Palestinians and others.

“I came to the courts to advocate, not to defend,” the doctor added.

Choosing this legal battle for Dr. Abuelaish was not only for his daughters, but for the innocent people “who pay the biggest price during the wars.”

In memory of Bessan, Mayar and Aya, Abuelaish established Daughters For Life Foundation that aims to empower girls in the Middle East through educational scholarships and awards

The celebrated peace advocate tried to resolve the issue outside the court system, but Israel’s refusal forced him to pursue the case legally and to demand for an official apology.

“After going to court, they now regret not settling the case peacefully,” Abuelaish explained.

The Gazan doctor, who had previously worked in Israeli hospitals before losing his daughters, said that Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, wants to settle the case.

“The Israeli president wants to settle the case. There is no way, they have to admit it and apologise, and I am hopeful it happens soon.”

Dr. Abuelaish has received fourteen honourary degrees, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by a Belgian state secretary.

Abuelaish explains that numerous Israeli parties and Israelis, including the Future Party, have asked the government to apologise and to solve the case the right way.

The heartbreaking tragedy occurred minutes before Dr. Abuelaish spoke live on an Israeli TV programme. Israeli journalist, Shlomi Eldar, who allowed him to grieve on air, will be returning to Israel from the US in order to be a witness in court.

In memory of Bessan, Mayar and Aya, Abuelaish established Daughters For Life Foundation that aims to empower girls in the Middle East through educational scholarships and awards.

The heartbreaking tragedy occurred minutes before Dr. Abuelaish spoke live on an Israeli TV programme

Through his charity, Abuelaish said that any compensation  awarded from the case would be used to establish schools. His charity offers scholarships to young women in the Middle East regardless of nationality or religion.

He also has written and published I Shall Not Hate, a book that carries a human universal story of hope and peace.

“In my book, which I hope can be included in the Palestinian curriculum, I show the world the steadfast Palestinian person who has dreams, while he misses his freedom and the independent state.”

In his book, which was translated into 23 languages, and reviewed by many officials including Obama and Carter, Abuelaish considered hatred a poison which destroys human potential, and that he does not “want to be a victim of hatred.”

When asked about his message to the world and to the Palestinians, the Palestinian doctor said that Palestinians have to be united and they must be proud to be Palestinians since Palestine gives them honour, pride and courage.

“We must be responsible and keep our country high. We must give Palestine what it gives us.”

He added, “I want to tell the world that the lifeless, hapless and helpless Palestinian deserves the best.”

Abuelaish and his surviving children moved to Canada in 2009, shortly after the tragedy. He now works as an associate professor in the Department of Public Health at the University of Toronto. In late 2015, all of his family members were granted Canadian citizenship.

 

Mohammed Arafat

12-04-2017

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Over their kids, mothers wept and cried,

There is no safety inside or outside,

 

So cheap human’s soul became,

Players play it as an interesting game,

 

Oppression filled this scary life,

Which is a hardship and a strife,

 

In every corner fear is spread,

Though, peace is no longer said,

 

Their hate has no borders,

From greedy founders they get orders,

 

To kill every innocent woman and child,

Making the world strange and really wild,

 

Shedding blood is a duty they have,

Into two parts, the world, they want to halve,

 

Whether it’s against Christianity or Islam,

The goal is the terrorism, and never calm,

 

Earth became a ball full of fire,

Humans’ blood and flesh became a desire,

 

From the far West to the East,

Everyone is hit, sheikh or a priest,

 

Violence is their singing anthem,

Their beliefs are unreligious and extreme,

 

Mohammed Arafat

10-04-2017