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Robin Yassin-Kassab

Archive for the ‘Palestine’ Category

Outposts

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avocadoes

Whatever the Western media calls them, the illegal Jewish settlements on the West Bank are very far from being outposts. They are connected to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv by fast, Jews-only motorways. Their villas have swimming pools and lawns (a settler is allocated eight times more water than a Palestinian). Even the most recent and farflung of settlements are tooled-up enough to intimidate the Arabs on whose land they encroach.

It’s the Palestinian villages which feel like outposts, although some have been settled for thousands of years. Even when they’re close to major cities they are vulnerable, intermittently cut-off, and surrounded by wolves (or boars).

An example is Iraq Burin, a mountain-top village just a kilometre from Nablus but one trapped behind a checkpoint. Not only are the villagers unable to access city shops and services, they face violent harrassment from soldiers and armed men from the nearby Bracha settlement.

There’s an unarmed ‘popular’ struggle against land confiscation being waged here. It involves weekly demonstrations which are met by tear gas and sometimes bullets (in March two teenagers were killed). Similar protests are held in villages all over the West Bank, most famously in Bil’in, Nil’in and Budrus.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

November 20, 2010 at 1:41 pm

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Mountain of Fire

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With different pictures, and very slightly edited, this was published at al-Jazeera’s website.

Nablus is built over deep wells on the narrow valley floor between Mount Jarizeem and Mount Aybaal. Its alleyways brim with ground coffee and spices, abrupt wafts of aniseed, plus honied tobacco bubbling from the argilehs, meat vaporising on the grills, traffic fumes, baking odours, pavement rubbish, and dust. By day there’s plenty of friendly Arab noise; by night barks and cock crows take over. Although this is a city of over 130,000 people, everybody seems to know everybody else. Deeper than that, there’s a connecting air of solidarity.

The intricate Old City, and the view of the ochre mountainside, reminded me of Damascus. In fact, Nablus used to be known as Little Damascus. Before Messrs. Sykes, Picot and Balfour chopped up the world, there was a trade route from Nablus (the West Bank) via Irbid (Jordan) to Damascus (Syria). Nabulsis and Damascenes intermarried. In Syria today the famous sweet knafeh is known simply as nabulsiyeh, the Nablus thing.

Nablus is also famed for its delicious olive oil soap. Although local bedazzlement by ‘modern’ products and (mainly) the obstructions of Israeli occupation have shrunk the industry, factories still operate in the Old City, sourcing their oil from the semi-besieged villages in the nearby hills.

These days life is a little easier than it has been. Palestinians can get to Ramallah fairly fast. They can’t get to Jerusalem (or Gaza, or Haifa) but they can benefit from some of the EU/ PA cash sloshing around if they’re lucky. They can even drive up to the Sama Nablus viewpoint and drink tea without being shot at from the military base above.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

November 16, 2010 at 1:24 pm

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Yom Kippur

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Summer Mist in Nablus

“Have you visited Afghanistan? Pakistan? Yemen? Do you have a weapon? Do you have a credit card? Give us your email address. Do you know anyone in Israel? Do you know anyone in Jordan? What is your novel about? What did you do yesterday?”

It only took an hour and a half to get through the border. They were closing early because it was Yom Kippur, yowm al-ghafran in Arabic, the Day of Atonement.

The driver who met me said he couldn’t go to Nablus, not now, it was getting too late, because the car had Israeli plates and settlers were throwing stones, he could take me to Ramallah instead, although it was further.

“Won’t we be alright with Israeli plates?”

“We need Palestinian plates. They’re throwing stones at Israeli cars because they don’t want Jews driving on the holiday.”

So we went to Ramallah, south through the West Bank. We drove down the confiscated Jordan valley. A couple of memorials to settlers shot here during the Second Intifada were set up at the roadside. To our east, closed military zones and then the hills of Jordan rising. To the west, ochre desert mountains and hardly any habitation.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

November 9, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Posted in Palestine

Letter to the Co-op

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I wrote to the Co-op to ask them to stop stocking Israeli goods. Their reply is below, followed by my reply to their reply. Readers, please feel free to adapt my letter, and send your own.

Thank you for your enquiry about the Co-operative’s stance on stocking products sourced from Israel.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

November 9, 2010 at 5:53 pm

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Sun Deprived in Palestine

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The PFLP's George Habash pulls an eyebrow

Balata Camp started as tents in the fifties, grew cement blocks in the sixties, installed sewage and water in the seventies, and has stretched ever upwards until now. The camp boasts the densest population in the West Bank: at least 25,000 people in a couple of square kilometres (the inhabitants claim up to 40,000). The buildings are so tightly packed that the kids forced out to play in the shadowed alleyways suffer from Vitamin D deficiency, sun deprivation. There are eight to ten people to a residential room. In school there are 50 children to a class. UNRWA schools and the graveyard take up most space. Most of the graves are those of people killed in the streets of the camp.

It’s a remarkably friendly place, but also discomfiting. Many of the young are prematurely aged and many of the old seem broken. There’s a higher proportion of wheelchairs than anywhere else I’ve been. In a comparatively wide street I found boys playing table football in front of a memorial to their murdered playmate. They laughed and screamed.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

October 28, 2010 at 5:15 pm

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An Apartheid Distinction

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I was at the border, a British national with an Arab name on my way into Palestine-Israel. The Jordanians were suspicious but not at all intimidating. It felt more like an unexpected cup of tea with an avuncular officer (which it was) than an interrogation. I learnt about Abu Tariq’s children and he learned about my reasons for crossing, my travels, and my career. He noted everything down before shaking my hand.

The bus through no-man’s land was full of Palestinian-Israelis, descendants of the remnant not driven out in 1948 – those the Israelis call ‘Arab-Israelis’, as if they were recent immigrants from Kuwait or Algeria. The sun bubbled the box of our bus. It was airless and sweaty inside.

Israeli border control is staffed by teenaged girls in low-slung military trousers backed up by men with sunglasses and enormous guns. The girls clocked my (Arabic) name, and my bags were searched. Then I was closely questioned. Then I had to wait. Fortunately it was Yom Kippur: they let me through an hour later when they closed up early.

Then by car through the the ethnically-cleansed city of Beesan (signposted in Arabic script with the Hebrew name – Beit She’an), and into the West Bank. The roadsigns here are very democratically scripted in Hebrew, English and Arabic, except for those in Hebrew only. But Palestinian towns and villages are never posted. A visitor travelling a Jews-only road wouldn’t realise that such places exist. Jerusalem is written in Arabic as “Urushaleem,” and then between brackets “al-Quds”, which is the actual, ancient and contemporary Arab name. In such ways the attempt is made to occupy the land’s abstract Arab qualities, to control history and memory, the past as well as the present and future.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

October 27, 2010 at 12:17 pm

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Things that Happened While I was There

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A large demonstration was held in central Nablus calling for the release of the thousands of prisoners held in the Israeli gulag.

Israeli forces shelled Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority arrested 53 men in overnight raids.

I passed a settlement built during Netanyahu’s ten-month settlement freeze.

Two settlers were shot in the legs by Palestinian fighters while driving near Hebron.

PA president Mahmoud Abbas let slip that he might not pull out of peace talks when the settlement freeze lapses.

The Palestinian Authority arrested 20 men in overnight raids.

Dana wrote a story about a girl raped by a relative.

Hamas forces closed down a Gaza restaurant because a woman had publicly smoked the argileh there.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

October 26, 2010 at 5:44 pm

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