Tag Archives: Arab

What’s wrong with the Hamas Charter? Part 1

The US government officially designates Hamas a terrorist organization.  The Hamas Charter is usually cited as one of the main reasons.  So I’ve been very curious to learn more about this Charter, available here.  It is long and, frankly, poorly drafted because it rambles on and on and on.  I still haven’t finished it.  

Azzam Tamimi, author of Hamas Unwritten Chapters, says “the current Charter is written in a language that no longer appeals to well-educated Muslims.”   A balanced critique of the book is available here.

The Charter was first published on August 18, 1988 and has been frequently cited by Hamas critics as proof of its anti-Semitism and inflexibility.  Until the late 1990s, Tamimi says this criticism didn’t concern Hamas leaders much. They were more concerned about addressing Arabs and Muslims inside and out of Palestine, and not worried about what others thought.

Tamimi writes:

Many Hamas leaders now recognize that the fundamental and essential positions expressed in the Charter could be expressed in more universal language, that could appeal to both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.  Instead of justifying its statements in religious terms, which may mean little to those who do not share the same faith or the same vision, a new Charter should refer to the historical basis of the Palestinian cause.

In Tamimi’s opinion:

The biggest problem arising from the Charter lies in its treatment of the Jews. Part of the difficulty here is that of the language employed. The average Palestinian refers to Israelis as yahud, which is simply the Arabic word for Jews. Terms such as Zionist or Israeli figure mostly in the writings and conversations of an elite which has received secular education. They are not current in the vocabulary of the common man, and have until recently also been absent from Islamic discourse. When Arabic texts referring to the Israelis as yahud are translated into European languages, they may indeed sound anti-Semitic.


Khalid Mish’al told a Canadian TV journalist that the liberation of Palestine “does not mean that either the Palestinian people, or we in Hamas, want to kill the Jews or want to throw them into the sea as Israel claims.”  He expressed his determination  to continue the struggle to liberate Palestine and regain the rights of the Palestinians, but denied categorically that there was a war against the Jews.  “No, we do not fight the Jews because they are Jews. We fight them because they stole our land and displaced our people; they carried out an aggression.  We resist this Zionist project which is hostile.”  As for those Jews who do not fight the Palestinians, he said: “I have no problem with them, just as I have no problem with peaceful Christians or peaceful Muslims.” He went on to explain that “if a Muslim were to attack me and steal my land, I have every right to fight back. This applies to all others irrespective of their race, identity or religion. This is our philosophy.”

I have met members of Hamas in Gaza and, just like Democrats and Republicans, I know I can’t judge the “party” by the opinions of a few.  But I’m convinced of one thing.  The current US policy in the Middle East, and the State Department’s designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization, are counter-productive. 

Hamas won a legitimate election in January 2006.  And if there was an election today, recent polling indicates Hamas would win big again.   So Obama, and Clinton, and all the foreign policy wonks in Washington . . . come out of your offices and see the world as it exists, not as you wish it existed.

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Filed under Elections, Hamas, Islam, Israel, Politics, US Policy

“Read me, please!”

Are western audiences different from Arab audiences?  Of course.

Palestinians who want to get their voices heard in the West must understand those differences and tailor their message accordingly.

Today a UK journalist visiting Gaza discussed how to write more effectively for the western audience.  Mohammed Ahmed opened my eyes to some of the challenges that Palestinian writers have . . . things I’ve taken for granted as a native English speaker.

Mohammed Ahmed at the Centre for Political and Development Studies

Not only must a Palestinian master the English language, but she must also tailor her message so that a Westerner will be receptive to it —- reading or listening to the message without dismissing it outright.

Mr. Ahmed asked the class today whether any of them read or listen to the Western press (BBC for example).   Several said they did, but most don’t and one admitted it made him angry to watch BBC because the reporting is so slanted against the Palestinians.  “You must turn that anger into energy,” Ahmed said and spend time watching the Western media to develop a sense of how the messaging is different from the Arab messaging.

One of the major differences, he pointed out, is Western audiences like facts developed in the story more than Arab audiences, who appreciate the emotive nature of story-telling.

26 people attended the presentation

Now that I think about it, when I hear the Arabic radio announcer on the local station in Gaza (I have no clue what he’s saying), his tone and style seem very sharp and abrasive to me, as though he is shouting even though a microphone must be only inches away.   I wonder how his messaging might strike me, if only I could understand it.

Israeli writers and journalists can more easily connect with Americans and Western audiences in general because they come from the some cultural background.

Ahmed feels that the Palestinian voice on the international platform was very strong during this last “war” because of the tremendous grassroots response from young Palestinians using Twitter and Facebook throughout the 8 days to share what was going on in real time.    He urged everyone to keep it up, and to build on the momentum.

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Filed under Gaza, Israel, Media, nonviolent resistance, People

Connecting the dots around the world

I’m headed to Cairo tomorrow with a mixture of excitement, anticipation and concern.  I’ve been preparing for this day for at least a year now, when I was turned away from the gate at Rafah (the border between Egypt and Gaza).   In July-August 2011, I spent 3 weeks in Cairo waiting to receive approval from the Egyptian authorities.  It finally arrived . . . on the day before my scheduled departure back to the US.

Sign at the border between Egypt and Gaza. I took the picture in July 2011. Now I can read and understand the Arabic!

I’ve spent the past year studying the Arabic language and culture, reading more about the history and current events in the Middle East, and preparing myself, my home and my family for an extended visit to Gaza.   It wasn’t easy.   It feels as if I’ve juggled three balls simultaneously.   (1)  Raising funds to bring medical supplies to Gaza, and make other arrangements for my journey.  (2)  Finding someone I could trust to care for my old home during my absence, and preparing the house for a new occupant.   (3)  Cutting my ties and responsibilities to groups and activities in the US in which I’ve been so darn busy.

Now I’m ready to go.    Or am I?

I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit that I have concerns and some doubts about the wisdom of an American traveling to the Middle East at this time.   The riots and protests sparked by that outrageous anti-Islam video clip seem to be growing in size and intensity.   The killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Libya, along with 3 other diplomatic staff, and the deaths of others in the wake of the violent protests, gives me pause.

There is a great deal of chaos and confusion in the Middle East now — with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu threatening a preemptive strike on Iran; with Egyptian President Morsi balancing the demands of the Salafists, Muslim Brotherhood, and revolutionaries who toppled Mubarak; with the killing of Ambassador Stevens in Libya; and with many people in Gaza taking to the streets to denounce Americans and Israel.

Here’s what the President of Libya’s General National Congress, Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf, said on Face the Nation Sunday:

He accused “foreigners” of planning the attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi.  “They entered Libya from different directions,” he said, specifically identifying Mali and Algeria. “It was—definitely—it was planned by foreigners.” El-Magariaf added that the violent uprisings in Libya do not reflect the general sentiment of Libyans toward Americans: “These ugly deeds, criminal deeds that were directed against the late Ambassador Chris Stevens and his colleagues do not resemble [in] any way, in any sense, the aspirations, the feelings of Libyans toward the United States and its citizens.”

Despite what UN Ambassador Susan Rice may say — that the protests in the Middle East, Africa, Germany, Australia, and elsewhere are linked to that outrageous video clip — the world is actually much more complicated.

Americans must learn to connect the dots.   Every time Ambassador Rice vetoes a resolution at the United Nations over the objections of the vast majority of member nations condemning Israel’s violations of international law, she reinforces the widely-held sentiment among Arabs that the US government is in Israel’s pocket and will never be an honest peace-broker in the region.

Every time President Obama, as Commander-in-Chief, orders another drone strike in Pakistan, Afghanistan, or elsewhere which ends up killing a mother and her 10-year old daughter and many other innocents, he reinforces the belief among many Arabs that there are two types of justice — one for Westerners, and another for everyone else.

I’m not going to be reckless and I’m going to heed the advice of friends in Cairo who are better informed about the situation.  If I must sit in Cairo for days or weeks before venturing across the northern Sinai to Gaza, I will.

But I hope Americans, and President Obama, will begin to connect the dots.

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Filed under Egypt, Gaza, Islam, Israel, United Nations, US Policy, Video

من هو اسحق شامير؟

I confess my ignorance.

I really didn’t know much about Yitzhak Shamir beyond his title as former Israeli prime minister.  The majority of Americans probably share my ignorance.  He died Saturday at the age of 96 in a nursing home, a victim of Alzheimer’s disease.

I decided to check out what world leaders, journalists and others were saying about him this week in his obits.   He was lionized as a hero for his “deep loyalty to Israel”  by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  Israel’s President Shimon Peres hailed him as “a brave warrior….a great patriot and lover of Israel who served his country with integrity.”

J Street — the “political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans” — “honored the contributions the indomitable Shamir made to the cause of Jewish independence.”

Yitzhak Shamir اسحق شامير

President Obama stated: “Yitzhak Shamir dedicated his life to the State of Israel. From his days working for Israel’s independence to his service as Prime Minister, he strengthened Israel’s security and advanced the partnership between the United States and Israel.  Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and the people of Israel.”

Fox News highlighted his service in the “Mossad as an intelligence agent who hunted Nazis, before entering politics.”

The BBC News reported that while in office, Shamir gained a reputation as an uncompromising opponent of Palestinian statehood, and “persistently advocated the creation of a Greater Israel encompassing all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river.”

Aljazeera  noted that “Shamir never saw territorial pullout as a way to resolve the Middle East conflict, and was one of the few deputies to abstain during the 1978 vote to ratify Israel’s historic peace agreement with Egypt. … Shamir always believed the Jewish state should stretch from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.”   (Many Jews, of course, fear that Palestinians have the same belief …. in reverse.)  

The British Financial Times obit said Shamir is “most likely to be remembered as a terrorist against British rule in Palestine during the 1940s and as a man whose aggressive Jewish settlement policy on Arab lands may have stymied Middle East peace for a generation.”

Joel Brinkley’s piece in the New York Times provided the most comprehensive background about the personal and political life of this enigmatic man.  You can read it here.

Many of his friends and colleagues ascribed his character to his years in the underground in the 1940s, when he sent Jewish fighters out to kill British officers whom he saw as occupiers. He was a wanted man then; to the British rulers of the Palestine mandate he was a terrorist, an assassin. He appeared in public only at night, disguised as a Hasidic rabbi. But Mr. Shamir said he considered those “the best years of my life.”

To the Jewish public, and even to the other Jewish underground groups, Mr. Shamir’s gang was “lacking even a spark of humanity and Jewish conscience,” Israel Rokach, the mayor of Tel Aviv, said in 1944 after Stern Gang gunmen shot three British police officers on the streets in his city.

Years later, however, Mr. Shamir contended that it had been more humane to assassinate specific military or political figures than to attack military installations and possibly kill innocent people, as the other underground groups did. Besides, he once said, “a man who goes forth to take the life of another whom he does not know must believe only one thing: that by his act he will change the course of history.”

اسحق شامير was a complicated man.   He walked in the halls of world power and hid disguised in the alleys at night; he spent time in prison for his role as an assassin and ended his days in a nursing home with no memories of his actions; he was loved by many and reviled by many.   He certainly put his stamp on history, and probably condemned his children, grandchildren and the state of Israel to decades of bloodshed by his uncompromising stance with the Palestinians.

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Filed under Israel, People