Tuesday, May 24, 2005

"Sentinels of the causes" undermine Palestinian freedom, May 24, 2005

"Sentinels of the causes" undermine Palestinian freedom
May 24, 2005, Arab American Media Services
Permission Granted to Reprint
By Ray Hanania

Irrational rejectionism is a disease in the Arab and Islamic Worlds that stands in the way of Palestinian freedom and promotes intolerance. It broadens Israel’s occupation to create a self-occupation mentality.

It must be stopped.

Suffering under years of Israel’s oppressive occupation and by the suppression of Democracy and freedom in the Arab World, too many Palestinians find all they have left is to criticize and reject.

When it comes to Israel, there is a lot to criticize. But when it comes to preserve the Palestinian nation by achieving peace, rejection must give way to compromise.

Palestinians are burdened by self-appointed "sentinels of the causes" who claim to protect many of the sacred cows of the Palestinian national tragedy such as the Right of Return.

But instead of protecting these causes, these "sentinels of the causes" create a destructive environment that encourages extreme acts of violence. That violence goes far beyond the rights of resistance and instead include the immoral acts of suicide bombings and the murder of Israeli civilians or other Palestinians.

Recently, the "sentinels of the causes" turned their ugliness on Sari Nusseibeh, the president of al-Quds University. Nusseibeh is a leading moderate and co-signer of the Geneva Accords which defines a vision of a two-state solution for Palestinians and Israelis.

Nusseibeh dares to prompt Palestinians to find ways out of the conflict through non-violence, using free speech to define a new public dialogue.

This week, Nusseibeh weighed in on the emotional debate over whether or not Israel’s Bar Illan University should affiliate with a college in Ariel, a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank.
The move by Bar Illan University prompted a boycott by the British Association of University Teachers. Boycotts are common weapons not just by pro-Palestinian groups but by pro-Israeli groups, too.

The issues of Ariel extend beyond simple matters of academic freedom. Ariel is an illegal settlement allegedly created to provide "security." Israel said Ariel was temporary, as it violated international laws regarding the confiscation of occupied lands.

As time has passed with no solution, partly because of the rejectionists themselves, Ariel turned into what Israel calls a permanent city.

But Nusseibeh wasn’t addressing the issue of illegal settlements, something that must be decided in negotiations. He simply described the BAUT action as "wrong and unjustified," arguing that this and other issues must be settled at the negotiating table.

The Palestinian Union of University Teachers and Employees quickly condemned Nusseibeh saying his comments constituted a "normalization" with Israel and it’s rightwing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

They called for Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to fire Nusseibeh as al-Quds president and "to put an end to this behavior."

Palestinians are living under difficult times. The Israeli occupation, despite all the talk of peace, continues to be oppressive and claims innocent lives on both sides.

But maybe the PUUTE hasn’t read the news lately. President Abbas is engaged in "normalization" with Israel. The late President Yasser Arafat, a Palestinian hero, was engaged in "normalization" with Israel. Palestinians who elected Abbas embraced the concept of normalization, an end to the violence and peace based on compromise

Abbas is seeking to negotiate an end to the conflict and it is the PUUTE that must accept some facts. Compromise is unavoidable. The belief that Israel can be destroyed is a pipe dream. More importantly, uncompromising extremist positions continue to condemn Palestinians to a life of bitter oppression and unending suffering.

Yes, Israel is the occupier. But the "sentinels of the causes" who easily turn public reason into fierce and vicious mob-like hatred, are the occupiers’ greatest weapon.

In these times of increased individual freedoms, Palestinians and many Arabs find themselves burdened by restrictions on free speech making it nearly impossible to achieve an end to the bitter Palestine-Israel conflict.

Ironically, these "sentinels of causes" fail to achieve any of their goals such as restoring the legitimate rights of the refugees, destroying Israel and re-establishing "1947 Palestine," or undermining the oppressive rule of Arab and Islamic World dictatorships.

Incapable of achieving, their only power is in their ability to block, prevent, stop or destroy.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning syndicated columnist. He can be reached at www.hanania.com.)


Friday, May 20, 2005

Qur'an desecration creates Amazon jungle of issues, May 20, 2005

Qur’an desecration creates Amazon jungle of issues
May 20, 2005
Arab American Media Services
Permission Granted to republish
By Ray Hanania

Many things are not surprising about reports of the desecration of an Islamic Holy Book, the Koran (Qur’an), including that many Americans don’t see what the problem is.

In today’s post-Sept. 11 American world of growing anti-Arab and anti-Muslim animosity, no reason to hate a Muslim or Arab is a bad reason, including desecrating a book that is the Muslim equivalent of the Bible and Jewish Torah.

But fueled by hatred, this story has grown to be so much more.Here are so of the issues that I have seen.First is the role of Newsweek, which published the item reporting that an interrogator at an American prison for Islamic and Arab prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba ripped up pages of the Koran and flushed them down a toilet to further agonize the Muslim prisoners.

It wasn’t really a news story, but was a “news item” carried in a front section of the weekly news magazine where other “light” and unusual items are placed called “Periscope.” It’s basically an “afterthought” section for news that isn’t quite news.Newsweek’s first problem is its professional journalism failure to recognize the item for the larger news story that it really is.

Desecrating a Koran may not sound like news to American journalists, but in the Muslim World it is huge. You would only know that if you cared enough about that audience to recognize what is and what is not news.

The report outraged the Muslim World and provoked anti-American street protests throughout. In situations like this, Western media have one characteristic trait. On stories that they really care about and consider important, the editors always stand by their story and the reporters who wrote it.

Not Newsweek. They immediately apologized and confessed in a candor uncharacteristic of American journalism that their reporters failed to get a proper confirmation for the report. The report, by the way, was old news, reported previously by many other sources such as Amnesty International and the Red Cross. But in a reflection of the American media’s typical poor journalism, it was ignored by the mainstream American media.

This week, an Indonesian Muslim in Los Angeles, Azza Basarudin, said she had ordered a copy of a Koran from Amazon.com, the behemoth online bookseller. Ironically, most Arabs and Muslims in American order all their books online because many American book store retailers don’t carry the books of most interest to them.

When she received the book, Basarudin opened it and found a profanity scribbled on one of its pages along with “Death to all Muslims.”Basarudin brought her experience to one of the only American organizations that cares about racism and bigotry against Muslims in this country, the Muslim Public Affairs Council based in her hometown of Los Angeles. MPAC immediately denounced the act and demanded the Amazon.com explain the incident, apologize and take action against those that might be responsible.

At first, Amazon apologized for the distress caused to Basarudin, but MPAC pressed for more action, including “zero tolerance” for that kind of racist act. It is the same demand made often by Jewish and Christian organizations responding to acts of anti-Semitism or racism against their own.

Basarudin’s book actually came from Bellwether Books, which distributes through Amazon. Pressed by MPAC, Amazon suspended Bellwether from selling copies of the Quran through Amazon.It all seems reasonable.

In Bellwether’s defense, it’s owner said that the book Basarudin had purchased was a “used” copy. He said that if he could determine an employee of his company had been involved in desecrating the book or had written the obscenity, that employee or employees would be fired.

Immediately, notorious anti-Arab and anti-Muslim Internet hate sites challenged the incident suggesting the timing of the racism coming on the heels of the Guantanamo Bay controversy may have been contrived by Basarudin.

Of course, these same critics never suggest that the acts in and of themselves are wrong, but always place the burden of the crime on the victims.

Clearly, these events show two very disturbing trends. The first is the steady increase in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab racist acts committed by Americans.

But more troubling, the failure of the American media to treat anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hate with the same ferocity that they treat anti-Semitism against Jews or racism against other minorities.

In that environment, the only thing surprising is that these incidents of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hatred don’t occur often.

Of course, maybe they do, but the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim media just doesn’t seem too concerned about reporting them.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning syndicated columnist, humorist and author based in Chicago. A former national president of the Palestinian American Congress, Hanania’s columns are archived at http://www.hanania.com/.)

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Defiling Koran exposes myth of American Morality/Democracy, May 15, 2005

Koran story exposes myth of American Democracy and morality
May 15, 2005 Arab American Media Services
Permission granted to republish
By Ray Hanania

In a way, you have to blame Americans like former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and media bigots like Sean Hannity and Daniel Pipes for the moral corruption that drives many of the abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With their help, most Americans easily made the jump from not only hating the hijackers responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but also all Arabs and Muslims.

Few Americans questioned their nation’s decision to expand the war on terrorism from Afghanistan, where the al-Qaeda terrorists were based, to Iraq, a secular Arab dictatorship equally threatened by al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

Even fewer Americans believe that their soldiers who have engaged in murder, torture, physical abuses and acts of religious desecration such as the flushing of a copy of the Koran down a toilet at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, are guilty and should be punished.

Why should they have when their government leaders had waived all of the civilized guidelines of military conduct, declaring, for example, that Arab and Muslim prisoners would not be protected by the protections of the Geneva Conventions, used to protect the prisoners of all civilized countries in wars going back to World War II.

In reality, most countries like Nazi Germany, the Empire of Japan, Stalinist Russia and the Vietcong, violated those protections as often as we did. But at least, none were arrogant to openly declare their intent to violate those rights.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq represented a new evolution in American racial patriotism and "Christian pride."

Americans rushed to fight in both Afghanistan and Iraq, not just to avenge those responsible or not responsible for Sept. 11. They went there to act out generations of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim animosity fanned by Hollywood movies, the mainstream media, our educational system and their elected government leaders.

Claiming to be a Democracy seeking to avenge an injustice, the United States acted more like a mob gone wild willing to string up any Arab they crossed, in much the same way they tolerated the lynching of Blacks falsely accused of having looked at White women with envy.

I don’t know if the Newsweek story that an American interrogator did or did not flush a copy of the Koran down a toilet at the Guantanamo Bay prison. It doesn’t matter. American soldiers have done worse to the Arab and Muslim prisoners, many of whom have been detained without any civil rights protections for more than two years.

Even a serial killer or mass murderer – historically all in the United States have been Christians and White – are accorded legal protections to have representation, to have the charges against them reviewed for truth, and to be able to fight the charges not only in court but in the public forum.

Not so for the thousands of Arabs and Muslims held at numerous American prisons. The conditions under which most are being kept would never have withstood the scrutiny given the prison conditions of prior wars.

And even as the evidence of American abuses mounts, rather than admit to the behavior as criminal, many Americans and media pundits continue to brush the abuses aside as "justified."

In other words, immoral behavior is justified when it is us against "them." Slaughtering innocent people and "suicide bombings" are immoral if the bombers are Muslim and the targets are American, but are justified when the victims are American.

We saw examples of how Americans historically crossed the line of moral behavior in numerous Hollywood movies including "The Patriot" starring Mel Gibson, and "Pearl Harbor" with Alec Baldwin playing the legendary avenger Col. Jimmy Doolittle. Doolittle (Baldwin) vowed that if he could not return from his mission over Tokyo, he would crash his plane into any Japanese building in a justified act of suicide that brought cheers from teary-eyed American audiences in movie theaters across the country.

Of course, while the populations of many Arab and Muslim countries are protesting the defiling of the Koran, most of their governments remain silent and afraid to challenge the American racial imperialism.

That should be as troubling to the Arabs and Muslims of the world as much as the act of an American defiling their holiest religious icon.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning nationally syndicated columnist and managing editor of www.TheArabStreet.com. He can be reached at rayhanania@aol.com.)

Friday, May 13, 2005

The dangers of the so-called bi-national state, May 13, 2005

The dangers of the so-called "bi-national" state
May 13, 2005
By Ray Hanania

As the Palestinian leaderships’ failures in achieving peace become more and more evident, some are hoping to distract their despondent people by defining a new and more troubling "solution" to the conflict with Israel.

It’s called the "bi-national" state. In theory it sounds great. In reality, it is a formula for permanent conflict.

The advocates of the bi-national state include those Palestinians who once advocated Israel’s total destruction through conflict. But, the fact that they have been complete and utter failures at leading that "conflict" doesn’t seem to trouble them.

The other advocates are those whose patience have been wasted by poor leadership and who believing the two-state solution has not worked, will hope and dream for any other alternative.

The bi-national state concept essentially espouses that Israel will absorb the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and maybe even the Gaza Strip, putting millions of Palestinians under Israeli control.

Proponents of the bi-national option argue that eventually, the Palestinian population in this new scenario will surpass Israel’s Jewish population resulting in a "de facto" Palestinian state.

Eventually, they surmise, the bi-national scenario will undermine the Jewish character of Israel and create a Democracy where Christians, Muslims and Jews can live together in societal bliss.

Of course, that idea of a secular Democratic Palestine where Jews, Christians and Muslims can live together is a fallacy promoted for PR purposes. The fact is, Christian and Muslim Palestinians can’t live together at all. Well, they can live together if Christian Palestinians accept a status as "second class citizens" in a Muslim society.

But sometimes the lie always sounds better than the truth.

The two-state solution is a proposal where Israel withdraws from most or all of the territories it occupied in 1967. That’s when the incompetent Arab World governments threatened to "drive Israel into the sea." Instead, Israel defeated all their combined Arab armies in less than six days in one of World history’s most humiliating fiascos.

Assuming this two-state plan can be achieved through negotiations, Israel would remain a Jewish State and a second state would be recognized called Palestine and which would serve as the home for Palestinian Christians and Muslims.

Most extremists reject the two-state solution, and prefer to destroy Israel outright. But since they can’t do it through conflict – they can send young people to blow themselves up in suicide attacks but can’t seem to muster a true military insurgency against Israel’s military occupation – they instead support the lazy approach to their goals.

Let the high Arab birthrate overcome Israel’s birthrate and make Israel a Muslim dominated country where Jews would be a minority and Christians would be practically non-existent.

Some normally intelligent thinking moderates, frustrated with the failure of the peace process, actually believe the bi-national state concept may be a good alternative.

But it’s not. It will result in disaster. Not just for Israel but for Palestinians, too.

This bi-national state will become a nation where the Muslim and Christian Palestinian majority will be subjugated by a Jewish Israeli minority, pretty much what we have today.

I mean, the Israeli occupation is basically a portend of what is in store for Palestinians and Israelis in a bi-national state. Israel will never give Muslim and Christian Palestinians equal status in a bi-national state. They don’t do it now under occupation, and many Palestinians who are citizens of Israel argue that even as citizens of Israel they lack the same rights as Jews in Israel.

The only solution is a two-state solution. Compromise is the only road to achieving that goal.
Israelis must be ready to accept the reality of giving Palestinians sovereignty not just in the West Bank and Gaza Strip but also in parts of Jerusalem.

And Palestinians must accept the fact that Israel exists, it cannot be wiped out.

Palestinians should focus on reigning in their own growing extremists and fanatics who use violence and insist on Israel’s destruction. That goal only spells more doom for the Palestinians as a people and delays the inevitability of a two-state solution.

It’s going to happen. Both side should recognize that and spend their energies preventing more of their people from being killed as that certainty is delayed.


Thursday, May 12, 2005

Al-Arian prosecution symbolizes American Gulag, May 12, 2005

Arab American prosecutions symbolize the new American Gulag
May 12, 2005, Arab American Media Syndicate
Permission granted to republish
By Ray Hanania

If anyone in the Arab World has any doubts about the bankruptcy of the American pledge to bring Democracy and freedom to their country, all they need do is examine the case of Sami Al-Arian.

Al-Arian is one of four political prisoners being prosecuted for criticizing Israel, supporting the liberation of Palestine and opposing the Soviet war against Muslims, issues shared by nearly every citizen of the Arab World.

Next week, American prosecutors will pick a jury to hear charges that Al-Arian, 47, a former University at South Florida professor, raised money to support Palestinian and Islamic causes, and gave speeches denouncing Israel at rallies and conferences.

His co-defendants include: Sameeh Hammoudeh, 44, a former instructor and student at USF and an administrator at the Islamic Academy of Florida; Ghassan Zayed Ballut, 43, a small business owner who lived in Tinley Park, Ill.; and Hatem Naji Fariz, 32, who was manager of a medical clinic in Spring Hill, Florida.

Both Ballut and Fariz are also Arab American journalists who I know. While they are devout Muslims with strong political views critical of Israel, they have never engaged in anti-American activities or promoted violence.

None of the four defendants danced around handing out cookies on Sept. 11 after Al-Qaeda terrorists and followers of Osama Bin Laden crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon or try to hit the White House.

Yet that is exactly why they can’t get a fair trial in America. They have been targeted unfairly as a part of the emotional wave of post-Sept. 11 anti-Arab hate that is sweeping this nation.

American prosecutors charge the four Arab Americans with supporting Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian militant group that hasn’t targeted Americans nor advocates any anti-American policies. The group is blamed, however, in more than 100 deaths in Israel.

None of the four defendants are accused of being directly involved in any of those attacks.

To make matters worse, the American judge overseeing the case has ruled that none of the four Arab Americans have the right to bring into their defense any aspects of the Palestine-Israel conflict or issues involving their Muslim beliefs.

None of the defendants are anti-American. None were engaged in any terrorist activities against the United States or American citizens. More importantly, none were involved in Sept. 11.

What it really all comes down to is that Al-Arian, Ballut, Fariz and Hammoudeh are American political prisoners being punished for criticizing Israel. In today’s America, that is the "new terrorism." That is the new crime.

To further underscore the political nature of this case, Judge James Moody Jr., has ruled that the defendants cannot discuss the political or religious aspects of the Middle East conflict,

In effect, Judge Moody has condemned every Arab American to the same eventual fate. Even though we are patriotic Americans who have defended this country against foreign threats, denounced terrorism, shared in the suffering of Sept. 11, we can all be prosecuted for the same crimes as the "Al-Arian Four."

America today is a nation of growing human and civil rights abuses. At any time, any Arab American can be harassed, victimized and even jailed with no legal recourse under the US Patriot Act, a law adopted to prosecute Arab and Muslim Americans.

This attitude of hatred has been carried into battle by some American soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. There seems to be no end to incidents where American Marines sent to liberate Arabs have instead engaged in the torture and murder of Arabs instead.

At one time, America stood against the oppression of political dissidents, especially in the Soviet Union, where individuals where convicted in similar trials and imprisoned for years.

One of the most famous dissidents is Alexander Solzhenitsyn whose writings describe in brutal detail the horrors of the Gulag Archipelago, the prison system where political dissidents were thrown after being denied their civil and human rights and railroaded through kangaroo courts.

Sami Al-Arian, Ghassan Zayed Ballut, Hatem Naji Fariz and Sameeh Hammoudeh are all modernday Solzhenitsyns.

Prosecuted on trumped up, phony charges, brought before politically motivated kangaroo courts where they are being denied the right to a defense, all four face the same fate as Solzhenitsyn in what surely is the beginning of the new American Gulag.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning syndicated columnist and former national president of the Palestinian American Congress. He is the managing editor of www.TheArabStreet.com.)


Monday, May 09, 2005

Palestinians must confront their own demons to achieve justice, May 9, 2005

Palestinians undermine credibility with silence
May 9, 2005 Arab American Media Syndicate
Permission granted to reprint
By Ray Hanania

Palestinians are notorious for screaming about Israeli extremism while responding to their own extremism with silence.

It’s not that the majority of Palestinians don’t want to speak out against the extremists in their midst, but they are easily intimidated into silence by libelous and unchecked attacks from their community fanatics.

Ironically, these verbal terrorists who seem to dominate the Internet find it easier to attack their own moderates because they are impotent in confronting pro-Israeli activists.

It’s easier for Palestinian extremists to attack their own, in part because Palestinians as a whole – extremist and moderate – are marginalized in the mainstream media. Moderates, especially, are shunned by supporters of Israel, those who would be natural allies who also seek a fair and just peace.

But Palestinians cannot denounce Israeli acts with moral strength if they avoid speaking out against the same alleged grievances against Palestinians. In other words, you can’t say that Israeli actions are wrong if you remain silent on the very same actions of your own people.

The Internet has spawned a cottage industry of extremist Palestinian sentinels who easily undermine Palestinian moderates within their own community circles.

The attacks are vicious and constant, and border on hate, but fall outside of the radar screen of mainstream and pro-Israeli audiences.

As long as Palestinians denounce Israel, they are hailed and embraced, as I was for many years.

The Palestinian sentinels tolerate some moderate voices as long as they stop short of serious issues, such as in addressing the Palestinian right of return or the issue of Palestinian extremism.

Once you cross that line, they target you more ferociously than they even target Israelis. It’s easy to attack a Palestinian, while it takes much more talent and effort to confront the Israelis, moderates and extremists alike.

I believe that line must be crossed more now than ever if we hope to strengthen the growth of a peace movement in Palestine and strengthen the hand of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas against the growing influence of Hamas and their secular allies on the extreme left.

I believe Palestinian refugees have a legal and moral right of return. It is undeniable, regardless of whether you blame their flight on Israeli military actions during the 1947-48 conflict (as Arabs often do), or if you blame their flight on the Arab countries who urged them to leave, vowing to push the "Jews into the sea" (as Israelis and Jews often argue.)

Somewhere in-between is the truth, but extremists on both sides work hard at keeping anyone from seeing that middle ground, which gathers dust and little public acknowledgment.

As a Palestinian moderate, I must criticize actions that I view are wrong, regardless of whether they are the result of Palestinian or Israeli actions. That includes criticizing the political policies of Israeli leaders like Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

But I also have a greater obligation to fight harder to expose the threatening presence of extremists in my own community who find cover by wrapping themselves in the suffering of the Palestinians under occupation, in the Diaspora and especially in the refugee camps.

Palestinians must accept the fact that the refugees will not return. They can believe firmly that they have a legal right to return, as detailed in the Fourth Geneva Conventions and international law. But in the course of seeking to achieve a compromise with Israel, Palestinians must accept the fact that the refugees cannot return to their original homes and lands in areas that are now a part of Israel.

Palestinian extremists also have a tendency to excuse away their own violence, while exaggerating the violence of the Israelis. Similarly, Israelis often excuse or ignore the violence of their own while constantly blaming all violence on the Palestinians.

It is wrong to claim that you support compromise and peace if you cannot stand up with moral courage and denounce suicide bombings. Suicide bombings are not justified and are immoral. Pushing individuals to serve as suicide bombers is even more morally reprehensible.

Peace is possible, but only if Israelis and their supporters, especially in the American Jewish community, recognize the need to define the line between right and wrong.

It is also only possible if, at the same time, Palestinians are willing to define a moderate voice based on reason, rather than on extremist rhetoric and hateful anti-Semitism, both of which are far too common in Palestinian discussion groups on the Internet.

It will take courage to stand up to these bullies. But it takes even more courage to stand up to the verbal terrorists when they are members of your own community.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning syndicated columnist and former National President of the Palestinian American Congress. His web page is www.hanania.com.)

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Analyzing the Hamas-Fatah elections May 7, 2005

The challenge of navigating Palestinian politics
May 8, 2005, Arab American Media Syndicate
Permission granted to reprint
By Ray Hanania

The existence and growth of the Hamas movement is directly linked to the brutality of Israel’s policies against the Palestinians.

That was demonstrated in recent municipal election contests between the two largest rival Palestinian factions, Fatah founded by Yasser Arafat and Hamas founded by Sheik Ahmed Yassin.

Although Yassin was murdered by Israeli assassins, the growth of his movement ends the Israeli myth that the personality-driven policies of the occupied Palestinians can be controlled by killing the leader.

Fatah and Hamas are strikingly different. Fatah is a secular ideological movement capable of making political compromises with Israel. Hamas is a religious political movement driven by faith and incapable of compromise.

For Palestinian voters, the choice is simple, continue to believe Fatah and its leader Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can deliver an independent state through compromise, or that Israel can be eventually defeated by the promise of more Hamas militancy.

A third movement marginalized by the Hamas-Fatah rivalry also exists, but its influence is among Diaspora Palestinians and led by the disciples of the more violent and uncompromising secular movement, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, founded by George Habash’s and commonly called the "Jabha."

Jabha activists in the United States and Europe have been forced into a marriage of convenience with Hamas movement. They dominate most of the NGOs based outside of occupied Palestine including the powerful international al-Awda movement, which defines the rights of Palestinian refugees but fails to offer a strategy to implement those rights. And the Jabha rejects compromise with Israel.

Like many Palestinians, the Jabha activists see that one day Hamas will dominate all Palestinian politics.

Hamas got its start by accident when Likud leaders in the 1970s sought to "create" a rival to Arafat by shoring up the disorganized religious factions under Sheik Yassin in the Gaza Strip.

Yassin accepted Israeli help in raising funds and in building hospitals, schools and social centers that later became a political base. During the first Intifada, Yassin used that strength to launch Hamas, something the Israeli plotters never envisioned. Ironically, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who played a direct role in shoring up Yassin’s strength, ordered his murder last year.

Although Hamas is denounced as a terrorist organization, it’s main attraction is the very network of social, health and public services, an area where other groups like Fatah have failed.

In fact, during the recent municipal elections, Hamas candidates countered their open rejection of compromise with Israel by promising more increased social and health services.
Support for that message grows.

Fatah won 56 percent of the overall vote compared to 33 percent for Hamas. Early returns show Fatah won in 45 of 84 communities while Hamas won 23 including in the three biggest towns up for grabs.

When you examine past election returns, Fatah dominates areas where the occupation and the deterioration of public services are less severe. Hamas dominates areas of heightened conflict and oppression.

Qalqaliya, where Israel has imposed the harshest of conditions on its residents, has become a Hamas stronghold. The Apartheid Wall encircles divides the city into zones, separating farmers from their land. The Apartheid Wall doesn’t protect Israelis from Palestinian attacks, but allows Israel to confiscate more land and define new political borders.

The Apartheid Wall is built inside occupied Palestinian territory, not on the 1967 "Green Line." The path of the Apartheid Wall places important land assets such as farms and water wells on Israel’s side while imprisoning the bulk of Palestinian population on the other.

This has created an enormous hardship on the residents worse than most other occupied cities, feeding a growing political discontent and undermining confidence in Abbas.

Hamas has found footholds outside of the Gaza Strip in West Bank towns like Qalqaliya where it staged a massive post-election victory rally.

Hamas reinforced power in Gaza towns and refugee camps like Rafah and al-Bureij, one of the poorest camps. Hamas strength continues to grow in the West Bank in direct proportion to growing discontent with the secular policies of the government.

Although Fatah has managed to remain in control and dominate the government, Hamas knows that its influence will continue to grow.

Parliamentary elections will be held in July. There, Palestinian representation in local municipalities will be reflected on a national decision-making level.

While it is too early to predict the results, Abbas and the Fatah movement surely will cling to an eroding lead.

Eventually, though, it is not unreasonable to predict that Hamas will soon take over the government as the promises of independent statehood remain elusive and unachievable.

Once in control, Hamas ideology will prevent any movement towards negotiated peace and will lead only to more conflict and violence.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning syndicated columnist and former national president of the Palestinian American Congress. He is managing editor of www.TheArabStreet.com.)

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The issue oif al-Awda MUST be discussed fully and more, May 5, 2005

Understanding the emotional issues surrounding al-Awda
May 5, 2005 Arab American Media Syndication
Permission Granted to republish
By Ray Hanania

No other issues evokes more emotion from Palestinians than the issue of "The Return," in Arabic, al-Awda.

It is a difficult and painful issue to address, as I and others have discovered in recent weeks when I began exploring ways to approach a peaceful compromise for Palestinians in Israelis. It involves real lives, real suffering and the hopes and dreams of millions.

Critics on both sides, Palestinians and Israelis, have weighed in on the issue, some attacking me personally. I understand it. But there are even more who responded with reason, understanding what I wrote and who agree we must explore the difficulty of navigating this issue if we intend to achieve a peace based on a two-state solution.

And I even understand the emotion from some activists and members of discussion lists who I believe have ignored the issues. That’s a topic for a future column, why we Palestinians sometimes prefer to burn down our own rather than understand the complexities of emotional issues that overwhelm us and that sometimes hold us hostage to a life of continued despair. It's something that plagues all communities.

I intend to move beyond that and explore the al-Awda issue in greater detail. We must all do it.

Even though I reiterated my belief that the Palestinian refugees who were expelled from their homes by Israel in 1948 have a legal, moral and ethical right to return that is solid and uncompromising, some who read the columns failed to understand that meaning. Maybe I didn't explain it properly.

The right of the refugees to return is a law. It is founded on a legal premise of human rights that is so great that no individual can erase and yet so hopeless fragile that it is the only thing from which Palestinian refugees have managed to preserve their very existence.

In the context of achieving two-states and resolving the Palestine-Israel conflict peacefully, how do we resolve the issue of al-Awda?

Regardless of the answer, the fact is that the Palestinian right to return is undeniable and solid. It doesn’t mean it will happen. It doesn’t mean that in a two-state solution, refugees can expect to return to their lands. It does mean the law is on their side.

Who knows what might happen in the future? Individuals cannot change laws, deny rights or compromise on fundamental justice.

In achieving a compromise, there is also the view that while that legal and moral and ethical right exists, it may never be implemented.

And that is my challenge to my critics – the harsh critics and the sound ones who have offered intelligent responses. How do you organize a movement to achieve that right, as opposed to creating a movement that celebrates that right?

In other words, if it is a right, why haven’t Palestinians succeeded in implementing their legal, moral and ethical right to return to their rightful lands and homes?

Whose fault is that failure to achieve that goal, and how do we go about making it a reality?

Of course, some Palestinians have pointed out issues extraneous to the discussion, which they often refuse to debate. I am a Christian. I am married to a Jew. I oppose all violence and I support compromise. I believe that we should work toward ending the suffering of the Palestinian refugees, not cling to their suffering as an excuse to agitate.

Is the point of our existence to hold meetings and conferences and stand around nodding our heads in agreement that an injustice has been done? Or, should we demand more from our leaders and hold them accountable?

Should we not demand that those who claim to champion the al-Awda movement – and there are many great members of al-Awda who have been outside of this debate – must be accountable and responsible for what has happened and what has not happened?

Leaders are judged not on their personalities or the popularity of the issues they champion. Leaders are judged by results.

In responding to my columns, some have not been leaders. They typify the stereotype of the over-burdened Palestinian fraught with suffering and a life of despair who cannot get past their emotions. They find it easier to attack those among our community who seek to have an open and free discussion, rather than channel that energy into a positive movement that shows results.

I believe we can have better leaders. I also believe al-Awda deserves more public discussion than one or two columns. For the sake of the refugees. We may discuss and debate the issue but the refugees live the tragedy.

I believe it deserves further understanding on all sides, my side included. I will explore the reality of the return against the reality of compromise. There is the challenge to define how we embrace al-Awda if we achieve a two-state solution where Palestinians have real sovereignty over only part of the land.

It may not mean that refugees will be going back to their homes. But it also does not mean that they must be forced to give up their legal and moral and ethical right in a compromise.

That’s a challenge Israelis will have to confront and Palestinians must better understand.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning syndicated columnist and writer based in Chicago. He is the former national president of the Palestinian American Congress. He can be reached at rayhanania@aol.com)

Monday, May 02, 2005

Palestinian President must strengthen his public relations to Americans May 5, 2005

Palestinian President Abbas lacks clear media strategy
May 05, 2005/Arab American Media Syndicate
Permission granted to reprint
By Ray Hanania

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has taken significant steps to distinguish himself from his predecessor, the late President Yasser Arafat who was reviled by Israel’s rightwing government and by President Bush as an obstacle to peace.

Just over 100 days in office, Abbas has responded mainly to the concerns of the Bush administration, gaining some praise and empowering the United States to take tougher stands against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government on issues of land confiscation and settlements.

But the steps Abbas has taken are not enough and lack the one thing that more than anything undermined the movement for peace that began in 1998 when Arafat initiated contact with Israel and declared the Palestinian willingness to recognize Israel’s right to exist within the pre-1967 borders.

Arafat lacked a strategic public relations campaign that exposed him to the whims of the Israelis whose public relations efforts are notorious for their ability to oftentimes spin public opinion against facts.

When the peace process collapsed, the Israeli PR machine went into full gear, convincing the public that the peace process collapsed because of Arafat’s inability to make peace rather than Israel’s unwillingness to dismantle settlements or return occupied lands captured in 1967.

Without a clear media strategy, Abbas will find himself susceptible to the same Israeli whims despite reforming the Palestinian government, replacing intransigent cabinet foes of peace with Israel and reigning in Hamas.

Yet an effective media strategy can produce more results in winning support among Americans than all of the likely concessions Abbas will make to Israel.

Israel has and continues to employ an army of media strategists and public relations firms, investing millions in a highly effective campaign that has one clear objective: reinforce American public perception that the Palestinians, not Israelis, are the obstacles to peace, are engaged in violence and seek unrealistic demands that Israel cannot make.

Yet with a modest investment and a clearly defined public relations strategy, Abbas could not only reverse much of the American public’s attitudes toward the Palestinians but even cast Israel as the aggressor.

The fact that President Bush has praised Abbas publicly gives him the ability to bring his message personally to the American people, who continue to view Palestinians as news stories and statistics rather than as a people.

Abbas could implement an immediate plan to visit major cities in the American heartland and avoiding the cities where Israel’s media machinery remains concentrated.

Cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Orlando and Boston where large Arab and Palestinian audiences can offer friendly forums.

The tours would have to also be coordinated outside of the controls of Arab American organizations based in Washington D.C. that lack national grassroot constituencies and have a tendency to promote themselves, or their leadership personalities, over and above the broader needs of the Palestinian agenda.

An American tour coordinated with local rather than national Arab American organizations could also result in the placement of friendlier news coverage in regional newspapers based in those cities.

Abbas would easily attract coverage from the international news media and the international desks of the American media. But what he really needs is to sidestep the international beat reporters and editors and instead connect with regional editors not entrenched in pro-Israel political narratives.

Media specialists would help Abbas craft his messages so they address issues pertinent to American audience concerns. It is a tactical procedure employed by Israel.

Once you understand the nuances of American attitudes, you can undermine inaccurate stereotypes and promote a message that will be accepted.

Abbas also has the benefit of the "political honeymoon." In office under 120 days, the American public will be more receptive to Abbas and listen to his messages. It’s the American way.

His visit could be followed up by the implementation of satellite representative advocates – rather than formal PNA offices – in each of the cities his visits to help reinforce his messages when he returns to Palestine and the negotiating table.

When peace process again collapses when Israel refuses to dismantle the settlements in the West Bank and around Jerusalem, or dismantle the Apartheid Wall, Abbas will be in a stronger position to respond to the expected Israeli media onslaught.

(Ray Hanania is the former national president of the Palestinian American Congress, an award winning syndicated columnist and author. He is managing editor of TheArabStreet.com.)

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Palestinians must battle their own extremists to achieve peace May 5, 2005

Palestinians must battle their extremists to achieve peace
May 5, 2005/Arab America Media Syndicate
Permission granted to republish
By Ray Hanania

Palestinian and Israeli peace is threatened by a growing movement of uncompromising rejectionists nourished by the ongoing conflict.

Extremists can’t afford to let the conflict end.

Many Israelis are thwarted by an inability to distinguish between the criticism of Palestinians moderates and the criticism of extremists.

Palestinians suffer under two occupations, the occupation by Israel and the occupation of Palestinian extremists who believe that continued suffering is a better alternative to compromise.

Palestinian moderates face dual obstacles, not the least of which are Israel’s sentinels. Conditioned to defend Israel at all cost, they fail to distinguish between Palestinian moderation and extremism focusing instead on issues of differences that results in a destructive debate.

But the greater threat to peace is the challenge facing Palestinian moderates from within their own confused and battered community.

Palestinians are too defensive and consumed with their suffering and anger. The hatred sometimes produced prevents them from seeing past these emotions. Yet they must see beyond.

In recent months, leaders of the American based al-Awda movement, the organization advocating for the return of all Palestinian refugees to Israel, have unleashed a campaign of hate against moderates seeking to compromise with Israel. Targeted are Palestinians who dare to speak out against unreasonable policies of rejectionism.

There is a conspiracy of doctrine that unites the extremists. They attack those who question the faults of their policies and those who speak out against violence, denounce terrorist organizations like Hamas and denounce suicide bombings as immoral.

As Palestinians strive to define the moderate voice and speaking out against anti-Semitism, extremists are responding with stronger and more forceful campaigns to discredit them.

The most difficult hurdles facing the creation of two states are the sharing Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugee problem. In addressing the refugee problem, Palestinian moderates are seeking to end the suffering of the refugees and their disenfranchised descendents.

To salvage Palestinian rights and to achieve statehood, Palestinians must find the courage to speak to these difficult issues and to prevail over the uncompromising ideologues.

The al-Awda extremists are exploiting not fighting to end Palestinian suffering. They need that suffering to continue, just as all extremists need the conflict to rage on endlessly.

These rejectionists have a direct stake in the conflict. If it ends, they end, too. They have created an industry of exploitation that thrives on the suffering. They have jobs, salaries, lives and a soapbox from which they can continue to preach uncompromising hatred to their choir of disillusioned, disheartened and lost.

For more than half century, this unholy brotherhood has imprisoned the Palestinian refugees in their camps. To prevent peace, they will use any tool including violence that goes far beyond the boundaries of legitimate resistance.

They have duped many well-intentioned supporters of human rights who want to help the Palestinians, but who have no other voices to support.

The average Palestinian is living in a Diaspora of emotion and injured national pride that cannot easily be overcome to see the truth. Rather than challenge the extremists, most Palestinians remain silent, empowering the extremists. It’s a cycle of viciousness that must be broken.

Rather than receiving full support from moderate Israelis and Jews, they are being challenged, not on issues of larger substance but on smaller issues of vanity.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has generated two separate historical narratives that will never meet, not even after a peace accord is achieved. The solution, though, is to recognize that while we cannot agree on details of history, we can agree on the details of a future based on mutual respect, security and sovereignty.

Peace does not mean we cannot criticize each other. We can and we should. But we can criticize policies, not people. Events, not emotions.

Instead of looking back at history to find reasons why we cannot come together, Palestinians and Israelis must turn away and look toward a future, and work together to overcome all extremists working together.

Before this can happen, though, Palestinians must find their true independence. They have to break free from the choke hold of fanaticism that is eroding their future. They must find the courage to face the unreasonable stridency that smothers Palestinians under a more vicious occupation.

Supporters of Israel can either standup and support this effort, or they can continue to remain silent wrongly believing that this debate undermines the strength of the Palestinian cause.

At some point, Israelis and Jews must also standup to the extremists who also exist in their community.

Then and only then can the future be free of violence and Palestinians and Israelis can live in peace and dignity in two states.

(Ray Hanania is the former national president of the Palestinian American Congress. An award winning journalist and author, Hanania can be reached at rayhanania@aol.com)