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Olive Harvest in Palestine: Could Oil Become Tears?

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by Yousef Aljamal

This following piece, by Palestinian rights activist, author and translator Yousef Aljamal is crossposted from Politics Today.

Olive trees and harvests have an exceptionally important place in Palestinian culture, especially in villages where farming is the main source of income for Palestinian families. Palestinians and especially farmers have always looked at olive trees as a national symbol that should be kept and protected as it speaks of the thousands of years of their history in Palestine. This special importance has been expressed in the Palestinian culture, through oral history, songs, and poetry.

Late iconic Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish famously spoke of the relationship that connects Palestinians and Israeli soldiers with olive trees.

These soldiers, these modern soldiers

Besiege her with bulldozers and uproot her from her lineage

of earth.

They vanquished our grandmother who foundered,

Her branches on the ground, her roots in the sky.

She did not weep or cry out. But one of her grandsons

Who witnessed the execution threw a stone

At a soldier, and he was martyred with her.

Olive harvest in Palestine sees the gathering of families where all members for days participate in picking the olives. The olive harvest in Palestine starts after it rains for the first time in autumn – an indication that olives are ripe and ready to be picked. This usually happens every year in early October and lasts for a couple of weeks. In the Gaza Strip, some people use the expression “The cross has materialized,” to declare the start of the olive harvest season. The expression has its roots in the city’s oral history which saw conversions to Christianity following the worship of stars and fire in the past.

According to legend, a priest came to Gaza asking people to convert to Christianity after all Palestinian cities had converted except for Gaza. He told the locals that they would be saved from drought and that it would rain if they did so. The people of Gaza, being rebellious throughout history, refused to convert unless the priest prayed to God and caused it rained. According to the story, the priest prayed, and it rained, and as a result, the people converted and used the expression “the cross had materialized” to express the fact that the priest’s promise had come true.

During the olive harvest in Palestine, families come together to eat meals prepared quickly such as tomatoes and potatoes baked over a fire as everyone is busy collecting and pressing olives. While men and women engage in picking olives, children gather to help as well – taking part in the harvest gives them a sense of identity and responsibility. As the olives are being picked, Palestinians sing traditional songs that they have heard their parents and grandparents sing, generation after generation.

One of these traditional songs tells the story of an exchange between a Palestinian father and son. Using rhyme and rhythm, the song goes,

You can get what you want from me (O olive tree), really our heart has been connected to the olive tree since we were young

My heart is connected to her [the olive tree], don’t talk like Al-Farazdaq [famous Arab poet], I am flying in the sky as if I am a pilot.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that olive trees are like children to Palestinians. When my family wanted to tear down our house to build a new one, my aunt resisted the idea because we had to cut down two olive trees my grandfather planted some 35 years ago. My aunt cried when they cut the trees, and all our attempts to save them by planting them elsewhere didn’t succeed. Although we planted new olive trees later, my aunt would always speak of the two olive trees her father had planted, alongside which she grew up in our Gaza refugee camp.

Palestinian author Sarah Ali once wrote, “If a Palestinian bulldozer were ever invented (Haha, I know) and I were given the chance to be in an orchard in Haifa for instance, I would never uproot a tree an Israeli planted. No Palestinian would. To Palestinians, the tree is sacred, and so is the land clasping it.”

Today, the scene of olive harvest in Palestine is not only about family gatherings, traditional songs, and family bonds. The olive harvest in Palestine is about proving a connection to the land, a battle to maintain existence on the land as Israeli settlers – day and night – burn hundreds of olive trees as part of their ongoing attacks against Palestinians. Attacks that include stoning Palestinian cars, and burning Palestinian houses (with families inside), mosques, and churches.

These very Israeli settlers also move the olive trees they uproot to decorate the entrance of settlements built on Palestinian lands in order to prove their claimed connection to the land. The image of Palestinian Mahfoza Oude hugging an olive tree as a group of Israeli soldiers attempted to uproot it speaks of the Palestinians’ relationship with olive trees and the land.

Most of the olive trees the settlers uproot are older than the state of Israel, which was only declared in 1948 on the ruins of Palestinian cities and villages. These olive trees stand as a striking reminder to settlers of the history of Palestine, which has always been a land of peaceful religious co-existence, where a person like my mother, who was born in Bethlehem, the city where Jesus was born, still says “The cross has materialized” to mark the start of the olive harvest, without even realizing its meaning.

Although the situation for Palestinians is very grim on the ground, the increasing international solidarity for the Palestinian people – and their olive trees which attest to their history on this land – will continue to preserve this existence and culture.

Palestinian poet Tamim al-Barghouti said in one of his poems that a state that was built on enmity towards olive trees would not survive in the Levant. It is true. Darwish said, “If the olive tree knew [what was happening to] its planter, its oil would become tears.” The ongoing Palestinian commitment to the land, represented by planting more olive trees as Israeli settlers uproot hundreds of them, is telling that a future solution that ignores Palestinians and their connection and claim to the land is unlikely to see the light.

The future must unequivocally include the Palestinians. All Palestinian refugees and their descendants should be able to have breakfast on their lands which always has abundant olive oil. No more olive trees should ever be uprooted just because some Israeli settlers have decided to rewrite history.

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What I Saw on Election Day in Nicaragua

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by Rick Sterling

We are delighted to crosspost this article authored by JWE Board Member Rick Sterling, which was originally featured on LA Progressive.

US media and politicians have condemned the November 7 Nicaragua election as a “fraud” and “sham”. On the day of the election, the White House issued a statement saying Nicaragua held a “pantomime election that was neither free nor fair, and most certainly not democratic.”

But are these accusations true?

Along with other international volunteers, I was an eye-witness to the election last Sunday. Previously I have been an observer in elections in neighboring Honduras. Here is a snapshot of what I saw:

Our group of 6 people (two from Canada and four from US) visited three voting centers and twenty voting stations in the small city of Juigalpa in Chontales province.

At 7 am Sunday morning, there were long lines of voters. Hours later, there was still a steady of stream of voters. Election staff said the turnout seemed higher than the last election.

Voters were all ages. Nicaraguans can vote starting at age 16. There were lots of families coming to vote together. There were kids playing on swings while their parents voted. There were very old or disabled peopled voting. Family members were allowed to help them if needed. Otherwise election staff helped them.

One elderly woman got dizzy and almost collapsed as she was to enter the voting station. She was adamant that she wanted to vote before taken away. The ambulance arrived in about five minutes and she was taken to hospital despite her protestations that she wanted to vote first.

The process was well organized and efficient. At the entrance there were staff with computers. They scanned the citizen’s ID card, confirmed the identity and that he or she was registered for this voting center. Then they explained which voting station to go to. The voting station assignments were also printed and taped to walls at the entrance.

There were 3,100 voting centers with 13,459 voting stations throughout the country. These are mostly in educational institutions (schools or colleges). Each voting station serves about 400 voters. In urban areas, there are 10 or 20 voting stations in one voting center (school).

A huge number of people staffed the election process. At each voting station, there were about ten people performing various tasks: two “electoral policia” for sanitary spraying the hands of each voter and to resolve any issues; three people verifying voter ID, recording the signature, and passing out the ballot; two or more “fiscal” from different parties who monitored the process. At each voting center, there were two co-coordinators. At all positions there were equal numbers of men and women.

All election staff wore vests or t-shirts with their official role as part of the Supreme Electoral Council. In Nicaragua this organization is independent of the government and responsible for organizing the election nationwide.

All voters wore masks and proceeded without difficulty, one person at a time. The process was clear: show your identity card and confirm that you are registered to vote in this station; receive an official ballot; mark your choices on the ballot (secretly); deposit your ballot in the ballot box; receive your identity card back; have your finger painted to indicate you have voted and to prevent double – voting.

The paper ballots were counted at the voting station and verified by all the party representatives. The results were then transmitted electronically to the Supreme Electoral Council headquarters for tabulation of the final results.

Media accusations that FSLN leader Daniel Ortega was running unopposed are blatantly false. The voting ballot was clear and showed six competing parties. Media reports that the population is fearful of President Daniel Ortega are laughably false and disproven by the large turnout. The final results show a turnout of 65% of registered voters with about 75% of those voting for FSLN.

We asked “fiscal” monitors representing both the Sandinista Front and opposition parties if there had been any problems. Each time they said the process was proceeding calmly -“Todo tranquilo”. One would-be voter said he had moved and not been able to register his new location because he was too busy working. The voting staff calmly said, “Sorry, you had months to register your new location. You will have to vote at your old residence voting station.”

We asked numerous voters why they were voting. The answers were that the country’s leadership matters, the constitution requires it, and to protect Nicaraguan sovereignty. “Sovereignty” and “peace” were the most common responses.

It is ironic and hypocritical that US media and politicians, who reject any question regarding the integrity of the US election, smear the Nicaraguan election based on false information. Biased media and information censorship are a major cause of the lack of knowledge and ability of major news outlets to repeat nonsense without correction. An example: While we were in Nicaragua, one of our team members, Dr. Tim Bood from Halifax Canada, was banned from Facebook just for posting a message regarding US interference in Nicaragua.

Washington politicians carry on the long tradition of US interference and aggression against Nicaragua. A few days before the election, the US Senate passed the RENACER Act imposing more sanctions based on false information about the election process in Nicaragua.

The high turnout and vote for the FSLN in the Nicaraguan election shows that the Nicaraguan people are not intimidated by Washington’s bullying and threats.

The post What I Saw on Election Day in Nicaragua appeared first on Just World Educational.

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After the U.S. War in Afghanistan: Our 10/31 Program With Friends Meeting of Washington

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Just World Ed is pleased to be co-sponsoring with the Friends Meeting of Washington a hybrid (in-person + Zoom) event on Sunday, October 31 at 12:15 pm ET, on the topic: “After the U.S. war in Afghanistan: Priorities for the Peace Movement.”

If you’re in Washington DC, come join the program in person at FMW’s complex at 2111 Decatur Place NW, near Dupont Circle Metro station. (Masking is required by DC in all indoor spaces and FMW also lovingly expects vaccination for visitors.) If you’d like to take part by Zoom, pre-registration is required: do it at this link.

In this program, Just World Ed President Helena Cobban will be in conversation with two people with unique experiences of Afghanistan and of the United States’ deep engagement with the country over the last 20 years- or 42 years! They are:

** Dr. Zaher Wahab, who was born in Afghanistan, earned a B.A. from the American University of Beirut and a Ph.D. from Stanford University. Dr. Zaher served 40 years as Professor of Education at Lewis and Clark University in Portland, OR, making frequent professional visits back to Afghanistan, where he served as a senior advisor to the Minister of Higher Education, 2002-07. He later led the graduate Education Department at the American University of Afghanistan. Dr. Zaher’s bio is here. And here, you can see an excellent CODEPINK webinar from August 16 in which he spoke.

** Graham Fuller is a retired intelligence officer, a specialist on political Islam, and writer. He served as CIA station chief in Kabul, Afghanistan, in the 1970s and in the early 2000s was vice-chair of the National Intelligence Council. Fuller’s recent commentaries, available here, have included critiques of U.S. attempts to retain “primacy” and of “imperial strategic groupthink” in Washington, as well as analyses of the U.S. departure from Afghanistan. In a 2015 novel, Breaking Faith, he explored some of the moral dilemmas of U.S. “intervention” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. His personal website is here. Fuller now lives in British Columbia.

JWE President Helena Cobban, who is a Quaker who worships with FMW, noted the timeliness of this program, given that the large-scale military campaign the United States has pursued in Afghanistan since late 2001 came to an abrupt end in August when the government it had sustained in Kabul ignominiously collapsed.

Part of Oct. 10 snapshot of crises in Afghanistan, from UN-OCHA

Most Americans agree that there are many reasons for concern about the nature of Taliban and their rule, including their treatment of women and of ethno/religious minorities.

But Ms. Cobban also noted that many Afghans have expressed relief at the end of the hostilities and of the brutal, often clumsy U.S. military presence in their country- and also, that the Taliban are now the effective ruling force in Afghanistan, whether Americans like that fact, or not. Meanwhile, right now, the country’s 39 million people face multiple dire humanitarian and internal-governance crises.

This situation presents the U.S. peace movement with some very tough dilemmas that Ms. Cobban will be exploring in her 10/31 conversation with Graham Fuller and Dr. Zaher Wahab. The conversation will be followed by a Q&A session that invites questions from members of both the live and the virtual audiences.

Ms. Cobban told Just World Ed that many of her life experiences made this a crucial topic for her to explore. Those include the six years she spent living, working, and starting to raise a family in a country torn by civil war (Lebanon, in the late 1970s), the research she’s conducted on the harsh dilemmas faced by societies struggling to emerge from deep civil conflict, and her bedrock commitment to women’s equality and women’s rights. (You can read more about her life here.)

She has also helped Just World Ed to prepare an online portal that presents background material relevant to these tough dilemmas.

The post After the U.S. war in Afghanistan: Our 10/31 program with Friends Meeting of Washington appeared first on Just World Educational.

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Family Unification Law: How an Israeli Law Divides Palestinian Families

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by Yousef Aljamal

This following piece, by Palestinian rights activist, author and translator Yousef Aljamal is crossposted from Politics Today

In June of this year, the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, failed to pass a law extending a ban on family unifications for Palestinian families, both those living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and those holding Israeli passports. The discriminatory law could not pass due to domestic competition and political differences among Israeli political parties following the formation of a government led by Naftali Bennet, a right-wing politician who replaced Benjamin Netanyahu, who is now haunted by charges of corruption while in office.

The Family Unification Law, designed to separate Palestinian families, came into effect in 2000, with the Israeli authorities claiming security concerns behind not giving residency and citizenship to Palestinians (or Arabs) marrying either Palestinians who hold Palestinian passports or Palestinians who hold Israeli passports. Here is the story of how some 22,000 Palestinians, according to the “Family Unification Is My Right” campaign, have ended up stateless under this law.

In 1967, Israel conducted a population registry. At the time, it excluded some 270,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip who happened to be outside of the Palestinian territories or were forced to leave the area when Israel occupied it. These Palestinians and their children became stateless and were unable to return back to the Gaza Strip or the West Bank.

Israel also applied the same regulations to Palestinians living in Israel and holding Israeli citizenship, where family unifications were banned under security concerns. This family unification ban targeted Palestinians who married Arabs, mostly from countries such as Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, and other countries which Israel categorizes as “enemies.”

Since 2000, when the Second Palestinian Intifada broke out, Israel has used family unifications as a bargaining chip against Palestinians, whereby it has granted only a few thousand Palestinians residence permits in return for political gains from the Palestinian Authority in 2008 and 2021.

Recently, and following the Israeli parliament’s failure to extend the family unification law, Israel announced its plan to grant 5,000 Palestinians the right to reside in Gaza and the West Bank, claiming that it will lift the extra restrictions on them.

The family unification ban includes Palestinians who returned to Palestine on “tourist visas” and “overstayed.” Depriving these Palestinians of national ID cards has meant that they suffer immensely. Palestinians who have no IDs – which are issued and approved by Israel – have difficulty accessing healthcare, education, and, most importantly, travel. They are trapped in the Palestinian territories, and they are afraid that if they leave, they will not be allowed to return. Many of them have been denied their right to travel for the past 20 years.

Najah Aby Khadra, 65, is a Palestinian who currently lives in Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. In 1967, she was forced to leave Gaza and flee to Jordan. When she came to visit her family in the Gaza Strip in 2000, she decided to stay as some of her children still live there. Three of her children were granted family unification while in Gaza, but their mother was denied this right causing her a series of challenges such as not being able to open a bank account, purchase real estate, or work in a trade.

“I have first degree relatives who passed away in Jordan, and my daughters there got really sick, but I was not able to travel and see them for the past 20 years. I was not able to perform Haj, my religious duty,” she told Politics Today. “I call on concerned parties to grant me a full citizenship and my right to travel,” she added.

Palestinians who have no national ID number can get a Palestinian Authority passport, but their return to Palestine is not guaranteed as they don’t hold ID numbers. Palestine’s neighboring countries also allow only Palestinians with a national ID number to enter and exit.

Recently a video has emerged of a Palestinian woman standing at the Palestinian-Jordanian borders (controlled by Israel) while greeting her family with teary eyes from the West Bank and her family on the other bank of the Jordan River looking at her without being able to meet her in person. Sana Muhammad stated that she is willing to take the risk of standing at the border without an ID – which comes with the risk of deportation – in return for seeing her family after 24 years. “All I ask for is an ID. My parents, may God’s mercy be upon them, have passed away without me being able to pay them a final farewell,” she says.

The Israeli family unification law, which keeps Palestinian families apart, also applies to Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship. Dozens of Palestinians live illegally and in secret with their families in Israel because the Israeli authorities refuse to issue them residence permits even though many of them have children and have been living with their families for years – and in some cases even decades.

The Israeli family unification law exposes a hypocritical and racist view of Palestinians. The law does not apply to Jewish Israelis who can be united with their families and even granted citizenship in many cases before even arriving in Israel. If such a racist law were in existence anywhere else in the world, calls to terminate it would be loud and clear.

With the exception of a number of human rights organizations such as Adalah, the world has chosen to turn a blind eye to this racist law, whose existence is designed solely to reduce the number of Palestinians in Israel and the Palestinian territories, viewed by Israel as a demographic threat. Israel’s Jewish Nation-State Law, which came into effect in 2018, is only a further manifestation of the ongoing bigoted Israeli policy against the Palestinians – those with Israeli and those with Palestinian passports.

Granting some 5,000 Palestinians family unifications reminds one of a famous quote by Palestinian intellectual and author Ghassan Kanafani, who was assassinated by Israel in 1972. He said, “They steal your bread, then give you a crumb from it… Then, they demand you to thank them for their generosity… Oh, their audacity!”

Israel’s lifting the ban on family unifications and granting 5,000 Palestinians the right to stay in Palestine is the perfect example of such audacity.

The post Family Unification Law: How an Israeli Law Divides Palestinian Families appeared first on Just World Educational.

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