Rima Merriman

Israel's image problem

Palestinians must surely feel heartened by the news that, despite all the support that Israel gets from its allies at the political level, public opinion in European and North American countries is decidedly against it. It appears that Israel needs every bit of the free-of-charge services Saatchi and Saatchi (a multinational advertising agency) is reportedly offering it. Israel is launching a branding campaign to portray itself as a place that “preserves democratic ideals while struggling to exist.” According to the Anholt Nation Brands Index report, Israel’s international image is the pits. 

The Ugly Israeli

The phrase “Ugly America” which epitomized American arrogance, corruption and tragic blunders in South East Asia in the early sixties is no longer in vogue in that region. But “Ugly Israeli” is alive and well in the Middle East, wherever there is an agreement of any kind between Israel and an Arab partner. There are two essential rules to follow for anyone attempting in good faith to “normalize” relations with Israel: Avoid ambiguity in any transaction and make sure that working procedures as well as processes of arbitration and enforcement are firmly in place. 

Happy Independence Day

The rate of unemployment in the occupied Palestinian territories has reached through the roof - 31.1% in the first quarter of 2006. Palestinian academics are concerned, even as they quibble over methodologies and exact figures. The Palestinian Economic Policy Research Institute (MAS) held its annual conference on the 13th of November at Birzeit University to discuss this problem. Unfortunately, very little by way of original ideas came out of this conference. What is sorely needed is consensus over a bold governmental policy that deals squarely with the current major cause of unemployment - Israel’s closing of its labor market, which at one time absorbed as many as 200,000 Palestinian workers. 

Photostory: Palestinian Youth at Yasser Arafat's Memorial

National unity was a theme of the commemoration of Yaser Arafat’s death on November 11, 2006. Many people came from various parts of the occupied Palestinian territories for the commemoration, those who were able to get past the checkpoints. Predictably, there were bottlenecks at Huwwara (Nablus) and Qalandiya (Jerusalem). Nevertheless, busloads of school children were ferried in and several scout groups had prepared to march. The main ceremony took place in Al Muqata’a, close to where Arafat is buried. The photographs in this photostory illustrate the commemoration and youth at the site in the days following. 

Pummeling the victim

The terrible imbalance of power between the Israelis and Palestinians makes it impossible for Israel, regardless of which government is in power, to deal with the Palestinians in any way except through a lens of assumed moral, cultural, and racial superiority, as though military prowess equates with civilization and home-made rockets equate with savagery and a sub-human status. The savagery, though, belongs to Israel and to anyone who has the power to stop a bully in his bloody pummeling of a much weaker opponent but instead stands aside, watching under the cover of the manufactured excuse that the bully is defending himself against his hapless victim. 

Palestinian Brain Drain

Since Oslo, the Palestinians have been trying to establish and build sustainable institutions that would form the basis of an independent state. This necessitates investment by Palestinians in the diaspora both in terms of money and skills. Such a vital objective for Palestinians is now being severely undermined by the insistence of Israel and western countries on isolating and starving the Hamas-led Palestinian government that came into power in January 2006 after fair and democratic elections. Israel is currently withholding from the Palestinian Authority millions in Palestinian funds it has collected in the form of taxes and custom duties. 

Keepers of the Peace

A few days ago on the first day of the holiday Eid al Fiter, a mother with children in tow, all in their Eid best, gave the border a try against all odds, hesitantly showing her West Bank ID to the Israeli police squinting behind his bullet-proof glass window, only to be promptly turned back. That she should even be trying at this point is in itself incredible. In her mind, the reality of this pop-up border is so unfair, so grossly callous, it is simply hard to accept. Or perhaps, she thought, innocently, that the Israeli border police would let her in just this once. After all, it was Eid al Fiter, wasn’t it? This is how little she understood the political dynamic all around her. 

Photostory: Ramadan in Ramallah

With the coming of Eid al Fiter and in spite of the depressed economy and Israel’s chokehold on Palestinian revenues and customs, traders and vendors in Ramallah are hoping to make some money. Some of them are children, since government schools have yet to open in the West Bank because of the strike by government employees. The vendors’ merchandise is all cheap, but it is colorful and maybe affordable. Popular items appear to be plastic weapons — plastic guns and swords. To Palestinian children, the scene in downtown Ramallah is as exciting as any Christmas season is in downtown New York to American children. 

Denial of Entry: Rice's Probe and the Israeli Administration

The good news that Condoleezza Rice “wants the Israeli government to explain restrictions on Palestinian-Americans traveling on U.S. passports in Israel and the Palestinian territories” spread like wildfire in the occupied Palestinian territories. Rice has apparently listened to something from the Palestinian side! Maybe she saw the ads that the Palestinian grassroots Campaign for the Right of Entry/Re-Entry into the oPt had placed in all the local papers during her most recent visit - a photograph of her and Abbas with the caption “Wish we could be there to help you!”, meaning that Americans, and Palestinian-Americans especially, are being denied entry to the oPt, and so are also denied the opportunity to play a role in the peacemaking she was seeking. 

The King of the Jungle

When it comes to imposing law and order on the Palestinians, what applies is not international humanitarian law, but the law of the jungle. And, of course, it is quite clear who the king of the jungle is. The Palestinian Israeli conflict is about survival, about the right of one strong party backed by a superpower to “exist” as a Jewish state at the expense of the indigenous non-Jewish population of historic Palestine and their descendants who are not allowed to “exist” in a separate but unequal state of their own. It is about the right of the weak party to negotiate for its own autonomous survival on bits and pieces of leftover “territories”, but only if it first concedes its dispossession, if it ensures the security of the strong party and remains its “client”.