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Daily summary - Tuesday, July 2, 2013
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‘Al-Diyar’: the army prevents Morsi of departure and holds the presidential plane
‘Al-Diyar’ Lebanese daily quoted security sources in Cairo saying that the armed forces sent a letter to Cairo International Airport authorities to hold the presidential plane and allow it to move only with the permission of the armed forces. The sources said that the travel of any government official will not be allowed during the next 48 hours until reaching a solution to the political crisis in the country, including not allowing any aircraft to take off without authorization from the armed forces. (http://www.arabs48.com/?mod=articles&ID=100789)


Egyptian Army threatens to interfere to end the crisis; 16 dead and hundreds injured; burning “Islamic Brotherhood” headquarters continues
The current events in Egypt lead to a political crisis that closed the door for any solution that might bring back calm to the Egyptian streets that are full of demonstrators against Morsi confronting demonstrators supporting him. This lead to the Egyptian army to issue a statement yesterday, warning the two sides that in case they don’t solve this crisis in 48 hours, the army will interfere and take control over the country, and set a future plan for Egypt. The opposition welcomed this statement by the army while Moris’s supporters condemned it and promised they will confront interference by the army.
Al-Azhar institution expressed its deep concern of using weapons in these demonstrations by some protestors, Al-Azhar said in a statement: “Al-Azhar views observes the current event with deep concern, especially the fact that it resulted in a number of victims, due to the usage of weapons by some protestors.” The official Facebook page of the Egyptian president Morsi said that he met with The Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian armed forces, Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi, and with Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, without adding any information about the meeting. (Al-Quds)
Amr Moussa said that the deadline for politicians to respond to the demands of the people is a historic opportunity that must not be wasted. While the Pentagon said it is studying the Army statement but it can’t predict what will happen in the next 48 hours. (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida)


Judaization project on the roofs of the old city of Jerusalem markets
Al-Aqsa foundation for Waqf and Heritage warned yesterday from the dangers of the so-called “Company for the development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old city of Jerusalem” to establish “the Market roof park, a park and tourists path for settlers and tourists on the roofs of two markets in the old city, “Souk Al-Lahamein” and “Souk Al-Atareen. The foundation said that the project aims at Judaizing the old city, and falls under a series of Judaization plans and projects of the occupation municipality of Jerusalem and other Israeli institutions. The foundation stressed that in case of implementing the project; it will lead to tightening the siege over the old city, and will be considered as another settlement outpost in the heart of the old city and very close to Al-Aqsa. (http://safa.ps/details/news/106777/%D9%85%D8%B4%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B9-%D8%AA%D9%87%D9%88%D9%8A%D8%AF%D9%8A-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%A3%D8%B3%D8%B7%D8%AD-%D8%A3%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%82-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A8%D9%84%D8%AF%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D8%AF%D9%8A%D9%85%D8%A9-%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D8%AF%D8%B3.html)
A group of 60 female Israeli soldiers raided Al-Aqsa yesterday in their military uniform under strict protection of police, border guards’ forces and police Special Forces. Al-Aqsa foundation for Waqf and Heritage said in a statement that these raids are part of an Israeli plan to increase break-ins into Al-Aqsa. (Al-Quds)


Palestinian died after being run over by an Israeli military vehicle in Dura
A young Palestinian died today morning after being run over by an Israeli military vehicle in Dura, south of Hebron in the West Bank. Medical sources and eyewitnesses said that the man, Moataz Idris Sharawneh, 19 years old, died after being run over by an Israeli military vehicle during clashes between Palestinian youths and the occupation forces. The sources said that ambulance crews of the Palestine Red Crescent Society arrived with difficulty to the martyr Sharawneh, and that his body was transported to the governmental hospital in Hebron, the sources added that the martyr is a student of the Security Academy in Jericho. (http://www.qudsnet.com/arabic/news.php?maa=View&id=248139)

The President chaired a meeting of security services and receives Senator Chris Coons
President Mahmoud Abbas chaired a meeting of security services at the presidential headquarters in Ramallah yesterday night. Abbas instructed security leaders to maintain the Palestinian citizens’ secretary, and to take all measures to prevent the spreading chaos, arms and drug, in addition to attacks on citizens. The meeting was attended by Prime Minister Rami Al-Hamdallah, Presidency Secretary General Tayeb Abdul Rahim, the Interior Minister Saed Abu Ali, Deputy Supreme Commander of the Palestinian Security Forces, General Hajj Ismail Jabr and head of the Presidential Office Hussein Al-Araj.
The President had met earlier with U.S. Democrat Senator Chris Coons and briefed him on the latest developments of the political process and of Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to revive the peace process. The President also briefed him on the Palestinian and regional situation, stressing the need to provide all possible support to the success of the peace process. (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida)

Received by the President and grant the title of Palestinian Goodwill Ambassador; Mohammed Assaf performs in front of tens of thousands in Ramallah
President Mahmoud Abbas granted Palestinian artist winner of "Arab Idol" Mohammed Assaf the title of Goodwill Ambassador of the State of Palestine, In recognition of his talent, creativity and commitment to the cause of his homeland and people. Assaf thanked President Abbas and the Palestinian people for the great support that brought him to be the Arab Idol. Assaf said: "without the great support of our President and national companies that embraced my talent I wouldn’t have succeeded to reach this title.
Assaf performed live last night in front of tens of thousands of fans, this concert is the first out of three concerts to be held in the West Bank free of charge. (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida)

Livni warns of European economic "boycott" for Israel if peace talks not resumed
Israel's Justice Minister, Tzipi Livni, warned yesterday that Israel could face a European economic "boycott" if it failed to push the peace talks with the Palestinians. Livni said at a Conference of Accountants in Eilat: "we cannot deal with economic issues and ignore the political issue and the importance of a two-state solution." Livni noted that "Europe boycotts goods. It is true that it started with the settlements but their problem is with Israel, which they consider a settlement state so the boycott will reach all of Israel." Livni was referring to the European Union plans to use a label of commercial products of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem instead of the label "made in Israel" that is currently being used. And since all Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and in east Jerusalem, that is annexed by Israel, are illegal under international law, the goods are not supposed to benefit from the preferential tariff granted by the European Union. (Al-Ayyam)

Kerry’s advisors hold separate talks with the two sides in preparation for a new visit
Secretary of State, John Kerry’s advisors initiated intensive talks with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in an effort to reduce the gaps between the two sides hoping to reach a progress within a week to 10 days before Kerry returns to the region if the a progress is made. Diplomatic sources said that separate talks are being held with Dr. Saeb Erekat, Member of the Executive Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and with Tzipi Livni, the Israeli Justice Minister, and Yitzhak molkho, Israeli Prime Minister Advisor, focusing on trying to find a middle ground for the resumption of negotiations. It is anticipated that Kerry will decide in a week if progress allows him to return to the region to launch the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. (Al-Ayyam)

Police arrested a Jew from ‘Bnie Brak’ for sabotaging a Christian Monastery in the West Bank; Israel decides to take stern action against “Price Tag” terrorists
Israel launched a campaign yesterday which included tough measures against Jewish extremists who vandalize Palestinian property, saying they are terrorists and that their attacks may fuel sectarian violence. The move came after the arrest of a 22-year-old Israeli citizen who lives in a town inhibited by Jewish militants near Tel Aviv, for sabotaging a Christian Monastery in the West Bank last year. The attack was carried out in solidarity with the settlers. Israeli Defense Minister, Moshi Ya’alon, said suspects of “Price Tag” acts will undergo procedures like prolonged detention and denial of access to lawyers during the investigations, and procedures similar to those used by Israeli security forces in dealing with Palestinian militants.
The Israeli army said in a statement that "the behavior of the “Price Tag” acts perpetrators is identical to the behavior of modern terrorist groups including the ideological inspiration and secret work". "The main purpose (behavior) is to prevent the legitimate Israeli government from taking certain steps — whether it is considered with the state or law enforcement - and create fear among state leaders to make decisions of one sort or another." (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida)

Netanyahu: I did not and will never make concessions in order to resume negotiations
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied submitting or agreeing to make any concessions to the Palestinian side in order to encourage them to return to the negotiating table. Netanyahu added while responding to a question from Deputy Minister Tsipi Hotobili during a meeting yesterday on rumors that he agreed to make concessions, “the negotiations tent is still empty, and we realize that we are heading towards harsh and difficult negotiations, so it is not logical to declare any concessions in advance. And I do not believe in negotiating myself, and I’m not planning to do so.” Netanyahu added that U.S. efforts to revive the stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians needs ‘steady and continuous’ support by the Europeans." (Al-Ayyam)

Incursions and arrests South of Jenin
Israeli occupying forces raided today the village of Arrabeh South of Jenin in northern West Bank, arrested a citizen and took him to an unknown destination, while raiding the towns of Kafr Ra'I and Fahma at the same time. Local sources said that six military vehicles entered Arrabeh at 2:00 am, and arrested Fawzi Abdallah Abu-Salah, 22 years old, after raiding his house and searching his family. The sources added that the Israeli occupation forces confiscated three computers form the house without providing any explanations, in addition to confiscating mobile Fawzi’s mobile phones. (http://safa.ps/details/news/106806/

3341 new housing units last month
The information center of the wall and settlement in the occupied West Bank monitored the construction of 3341 new settlement units last month, while documenting about 100 attacks by settlers on Palestinian citizens and their property. The center’s monthly report highlighted the demolition cases during the month that reached 23 cases, mostly in the Jordan Valley in addition to Jenin district. The report also mentioned that the occupation authorities continued to Judaize the city of Jerusalem through the ratification constructing a huge building in Wadi Hilwi, known as "Giva’ati parking". On the other hand, the report documented settlers attacking 14 citizens, puncturing and burning more than 30 cars, and an attempt to burn a stone saw in Howara, in addition to an attempt to steal antiquities in Wadi Rahhal in Bethlehem. (http://www.qudsnet.com/arabic/news.php?maa=View&id=248146)
Occupation arrests three young Palestinians from Al-Jalazoun refugee camp
Israeli forces arrested today morning, three young Palestinians from Al-Jalazoun refugee camp, North of Ramallah.  According to eyewitnesses a large force of Israeli occupation forces entered the camp and began shooting and using stun grenades.  Witnesses said that Israeli soldiers detained three young Palestinians, Abd Al-Rahim Ghannam (26 years old), Ziad Shehadeh Dar Khalil (23 years) and Talha Mustapha, a 26-year-old who got married only 10 days ago. (http://www.wafa.ps/arabic/index.php?action=detail&id=156452)

The occupation convicts a Jerusalemite and extends the detention of three others
The Israeli Central Court in Jerusalem convicted today morning the young Palestinian Ayman Nasser Da'ajna's (18 years old), residents of Shufat refugee camp, and sentenced him for 30 months in prison and another suspended three years. Da'ajna's was arrested with another eight young Palestinians from the camp on the 25th of  October 2012, accused of burning a control  room at the camp’s crossing, and he is currently spending time in ”Nafha” prison. His elder brother Mahmoud, a 20-year-old, is imprisoned in “Gilboa” prison, and spent 8 months out of three years. In the same context, the Israeli magistrate's Court extended today the detention of three young Palestinians from Al-Sawana neighborhood. According to Wadi Hilwi information center, the young Palestinians are Iyad Al-Shalabi (22 years old), Amir Al-Qadamani (18 years old) and Ahmed Al-Alami(22 years old). The young Palestinians are charged with attacking a settler. (http://safa.ps/details/news/106811/


Headlines
** Egyptian Interior Ministry: we identify with the army statement and will not disappoint the people (Al-Ayyam)
** Joy in the streets of Cairo following a statement by the army (Al-Ayyam)
** Salafist “Al-Nour” party fears the return of the Army (Al-Ayyam)
** Ahmed Shafik: Islamic Brotherhood regime will end within a week (Al-Ayyam)
** Occupation arrested 4 Palestinians in West Bank (Al-Ayyam)
** The occupation municipality approves the construction of 900 housing units in Jabal Abu Ghniem (al-Ayyam)
** The EU grants Jerusalem hospitals with 13 million Euros (Al-Ayyam)
** Resignations in the Egyptian government; presidency will respond today to the army statement (Al-Hayat Al-Jadidia)
** Signing the second phase of the municipal development program worth 100 million Euros (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida)
** The release of Muhammad Saba’neh (cartoonist) (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida)
** The 19th anniversary of the return of Yasser Arafat to the homeland (Al-Quds)
**Israeli authorities ask for the postponement of evacuating “Migron” outpost (Al-Quds)
** American statement on Jabal Abu Ghniem construction: “we will not accept settlements expansion; Palestine should be able to live” (al-Quds)
**An Israeli military committee supports settlers’ takeover of Abu Rajab house in Hebron (al-Quds)
Front Page Photos
Al-Quds:   1) Ramallah: Muhammad Assaf with President Mahmoud Abbas at the Presidency headquarters. 2) A picture of Yasser Arafat.
Al-Ayyam:  1) Tahrir Square full of demonstrators, 2) Tens of thousands at Assaf’s concert in Ramallah.
Al-Hayat Jadidah:  1) Hundreds of thousands Egyptians celebrate the army statement at Tahrir Square, 2) Abbas awards Assaf with the Palestinian Diplomatic passport, 3) Cartoonist Muhammad Saba’neh with his mother after his release for Israeli prison.
Voice of Palestine Interviews
**Kamel Hmeid, governor of Hebron, on the martyrdom of a young Palestinian
Q: Could you tell us how Mutaz Sharawneh was killed?
Sharawneh is the sixth martyr in the district this year and this area in particular has been hit very hard from Israeli measures. Last night, Israel’s raid on Dura was one of 200 raids in the past six months. The fact is, Israeli forces are carrying out these measures with no reason at all. The only reason is so that they can provoke the people and cause tension in the area along with undermining the PA’s services. Last night’s raid was at 4:00 a.m. Shawarneh tried to raise the Palestinian flag so the Israeli army ran him over, purposely wanting to kill him.
Q: How is the situation in Dura now?
Very tense. He was a 19-year old man who was completely faultless in his death. That is why we hold the Israeli occupation completely responsible for what happened and what may happen.

**Adnan Abu Hasna, UNRWA spokesperson, on its vision for confronting the problems in the Gaza Strip, based on the UN report about Gaza’s viability by 2020
Q: Why will Gaza not be viable for living? How will you face the problems in the Strip?
This report was issued several months ago and addressed the situation in Gaza over the past three years, especially the water and living situation. Yesterday, UNRWA proposed ways of responding to this report. We were part of drafting the report but yesterday we gave ways of responding to the problems. Will the international community remain silent? The UNRWA explored what it can do so that we don’t get to the point where Gaza become unviable.
Q: So what are the most significant points you made to deal with this situation?
For example, we addressed the electricity problems in Gaza; UNRWA is discussing with Japanese parties on ways to install alternative power systems for UNRWA institutions, which are considerable. This will save a lot of energy. UNRWA will also train teams on who to take advantage of solar energy and use it for electricity. Also, we discussed desalination of water sources in Gaza, since this is a major problem in Gaza. By 2016 there will not be one drop of drinkable water. Now, 90% of the water in Gaza is either salty or polluted. UNRWA is trying to worth with others to set up small desalination plants in various areas of Gaza. The report also addressed the educational needs of Gaza; UNRWA is now building 35 schools. By 2015, it would have built around 100 schools. There are also proposals for the health and social sectors. UNRWA will also play a big role in information technology and developing it. Let me say though that we will work as much as we can and with other UN and international agencies, but the main problem is the Israeli siege on the Strip. If the situation continues like this, where export is prohibited from Gaza (only 1% is allowed), this means a complete destruction of economy.  

**Mohammed Saba’neh, the Hayat Jadida caricaturist who was just released from Israeli prison
In short, I can say that there is no real Israeli justice system or even credible courts. I don’t even like to mention the charges brought against me because this would be a recognition of their laws and allegations. I was in jail for five months. As a journalist I now believe we need to work more to convey the hardships inside the prisons and tell the world.

**Amin Maqbul, secretary of the Fatah revolutionary council, on Kerry’s peace efforts
Q: What is the next step in terms of Kerry’s efforts and Fatah’s upcoming meeting to discuss them?
First let me say we appreciate John Kerry’s efforts. We can also say that there is progress in some issues, but the fact remains that the issue of settlements has not changed. Now, Kerry’s aides are trying to make some progress.
Q: When you say there has been progress in some issues, what do you mean?
Kerry confirmed the US’s commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state on the ’67 borders; he has made it clear that his is US policy. Also in terms of the release of prisoners, there is talk about negotiations over this issue and it seems there is progress there. Settlements remain the main obstacle to a resumption of negotiations. The Israeli government remains intransigent on this subject. But Abu Mazen has told everyone, including the Americans that they would not return to negotiations without clear references, which are all now known: borders, prisoners and a halt to settlements. However, things need more efforts by the Americans, who need to put pressure on Netanyahu’s government.
Q: Is there a timetable for announcing whether these efforts have succeeded or failed?
For our part, yes. We want to specify a time limit for these efforts, which have already been postponed. We would like to know if the efforts fail so we can devise a strategy in their place.
Arab Press
Whitewashing apartheid with Israel's dirty water

By Belen Fernandez

Last week, on June 23, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel attended a ceremony in Jerusalem in honour of a new joint initiative between Israel's Ben-Gurion University and the University of Chicago.

Hailing the Peres-Emanuel presence as an instance of "rare political star power", the Chicago Tribune explains:

"The two schools soon will begin funding a series of research projects aimed at creating nanotechnologies that address water shortages in arid climates. The project's goal is to find new materials and processes for making clean, fresh drinking water more plentiful and less expensive by 2020."

Among Israel's qualifications in the business of dealing with water shortages is, of course, its legendary success in "making the desert bloom" via the removal of Palestinians that began in the 1940s.

Indeed, Peres himself wrote in his 1970 book David's Sling: The Arming of Israel:  

"The country was mostly an empty desert, with only a few islands of Arab settlement, and Israel's cultivable land today was indeed redeemed from swamp and wilderness."

The expulsion of more than 750,000 Palestinians during the creation of the state of Israel no doubt assisted somewhat with the cultivation of the "empty desert" myth. Blooming projects have presumably also benefited from Israel's diversion of various regional bodies of water.

Water apartheid

A 1993 article in The New York Times outlines two competing visions of Israeli water policy:

"What Arabs depict as Israel's disproportionate use - even theft - of water, Israelis portray as the result of foresight, technological advances like computerised irrigation and good management in securing and exploiting supplies."

Of course, "theft" would appear to be an accurate description of Israeli practices such as usurping Palestinian springs for the benefit of illegal settlers in the West Bank.

As for managerial deftness in the exploitation of supplies, consider this Reuters report from 2009: "Amnesty says Israel curbing water to Palestinians." Citing Amnesty International's calculation that per capita water consumption in Israel was four times higher than in the Palestinian territories, Reuters quotes an Amnesty official's concern:


"Water is a basic need and a right, but for many Palestinians obtaining even poor-quality, subsistence-level quantities of water has become a luxury that they can barely afford."

For one thing, the glaring discrepancy in water allocation from West Bank supplies leaves Palestinian residents of the territory reliant on water from tankers that are "forced to take long detours to avoid Israeli military checkpoints and roads off-limits to Palestinians".

According to a 2012 Oxfam briefing paper, tankered water is up to five times more costly, "further erod[ing] Palestinian farmers' and herders' profits, and reduc[ing] their ability to pay for essentials such as food, health care, and education for their children".

Other scenarios also underscore the irony of Israel's position at the forefront of the global battle against water scarcity. The Oxfam paper notes:


"Restrictions on granting permits mean that water cisterns used by Palestinian farmers to collect rainwater are frequently demolished by the Israeli authorities."

A 2013 report by the human rights organisation Al-Haq determined that West Bank settlers currently consume six times more water than their Palestinian neighbours.

Palestinians 'blame', Israelis 'innovate'

In a 2012 dispatch for the ultra-right wing FrontPage Magazine, Jack Schwartzwald, clinical assistant professor of medicine at Brown University, offers a thorough distortion of reality, insisting that "Palestinians steal Israeli water… while Israel exports volumes to the West Bank greatly in excess of what is mandated by the Oslo Accords".

Schwartzwald glorifies Israel's technological prowess in the water industry, citing "SmarTap" faucets and drones that detect water pipe leaks, and maintains that, while the Palestinians waste their time "blam[ing] Israel, Israelis work on innovative solutions" to the region's water crisis.

The problem, of course, is that Israel's "innovative solutions" are so often dependent on the exploitation of Palestinians. In a 2009 Guardian piece lambasted by Schwartzwald, the paper's former associate foreign editor Victoria Brittain discusses the lack of uncontaminated water and the unprecedented rate of nitrate poisoning in besieged Gaza, where "sewage and wastewater flows into public spaces and the aquifer".

According to a 2009 report by the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, meanwhile, 90-95 percent of Palestinian wastewater in the West Bank is not treated at all, along with a substantial portion of wastewater from the settlements.

In an email to me, West Bank-based environmental expert Alice Gray described Israel's policy of "'environmental unilateralism' - preventing Palestinians from building sewage treatment plants themselves, and then prosecuting them under international law for cross-border pollution".

The process, it seems, works like a charm:


"Palestinians then have to pay for the construction of sewage treatment plants in Israel. Israel then treats the water to a much higher standard than is actually required under international law (at the expense of the Palestinians) and uses the effluent for agriculture. In the meantime, they create the erroneous impression that the Palestinians lack the organisation, the institutions, the technical expertise and the will to manage their environmental impacts and [that] they need modern, advanced, environmentally responsible Israel to do it for them. This is a camouflage and a greenwash for systematic theft of resources and obstruction of development that is actually destroying the land."

Manufacturing crisis

Schwartzwald's enthusiastic greenwashing of "Israel's life-sustaining desalination plants" and its Desalination Master Plan - the goal of which is to drastically increase the production of potable water via reverse osmosis - conveniently ignores desalination's role in the discharge of chemicals and resultant disappearance of marine species off the Israeli coast.

Desalination is one of the areas in which Ben-Gurion University and the University of Chicago will collaborate in their apparent quest to combat water shortages. Interestingly enough, however, Alice Gray points out that "[t]he Palestinian water crisis is manufactured - man-made" and that "[t]here is enough water in the region for everybody to have the World Health Organisation's recommended minimum of 100 litres per person per day without even using up 25 percent of available supplies".

Of course, this is before factoring in the precedence that Israeli agriculture takes over Palestinian lives.

As a Jerusalem-based water policy consultant commented to me, Israel has in fact made useful contributions in water conservation technologies such as drip irrigation, but "the development of all these 'technological innovations' (which are… nothing more than a big business) tends to go hand in hand - in Israel's case - with unsustainable water practices for the past 60 years… and (ethnic) discrimination regarding water access/rights".

Regarding the blooming of the desert, she stressed that, paradoxically, the pursuit of "the Zionist dream went hand in hand with serious environmental degradation" in the form of over-pumping of the Coastal Aquifer and other projects.

It remains to be seen what sort of innovative degradation may be achieved by the UChicago-Ben-Gurion alliance. But the attendance by neoliberal privatisation addict Rahm Emanuel at the inaugural ceremony in Jerusalem serves as a reminder of the potential profitability of policies of resource denial vis-à-vis inferior populations. For further reading on Emanuel's ideology, check out the recent Huffington Post article: "Chicago Schools May Be Forced To Choose Between Toilet Paper, Teachers Due to Budget Cuts".

In the meantime, leave it to the Israelis to whitewash apartheid with dirty water. (http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/06/201362661634861807.html)


Arab Idol: Mohammad Assaf mania hits Dubai

By Manal Alafrangi, Opinion Editor

Dubai: Koufiyyas everywhere. Palestinian women decked out in their traditional thoubs (dresses) in a mark of celebration. While such festivity is synonymous with national days or weddings, it was rolled out in Dubai to welcome the newly-crowned Arab Idol, Mohammad Assaf.

The singer made a quick appearance in town over the weekend to record a song and meet with his record label, Platinum Records. That’s the effect Assaf has: excitement and love and pride and joy that can hardly be contained.

And boy did he rise to the occasion. Despite being overwhelmed and looking fatigued, Assaf gave a rendition of his own song Alli Il Koufiye, in the sweltering heat outside the Dubai office of Arabic channel MBC.

He then followed it with a meet and greet with fans and an expanded roundtable with the media. His demeanour was that of a star — confident yet humble, welcoming yet shy.

The young Palestinian managed to attract thousands of fans in Dubai — at such short notice — who wanted to catch a glimpse of the singer and thank him for his memorable performances and win.

Young men, children and women of all ages could hardly contain their happiness at seeing Assaf. Some elderly women lay on the grass as the summer heat got to them. Young Palestinian men were congratulating each other and boasted that they’d done their part by showing up and letting Assaf know they support him.

Having spent some one-on-one time with him, I can say Assaf is a well-rounded young guy. He is well spoken, especially when it comes to presenting the Palestinian cause to his audience.

On less serious topics, such as Gaza’s best foods, Assaf is witty and warm. Upon asking about life in Gaza he told me there’s room for all kinds of lifestyles in Gaza, from strict to liberal, which perhaps the media doesn’t portray so readily.

His knowledge about Palestinian families is good enough for him to have recognised the two I asked him about (including my husband’s and giving me a quick roundup of what they’re known for.)

Assaf also told me his mother was quite sad to see him leave on this trip as she had not had a chance to sit down with him following his win. Despite the commotion surrounding Assaf at the media event, which included a dinner, he was able to make each fan feel special as he made an effort to talk to them.

In the time I was with him, he was handed phones several times to speak to fans who wanted to congratulate him from different parts of the world (Switzerland and the US to name a few). And what impressed most is that he didn’t turn down any request.

Assaf’s pre-Idol life was indeed very simple. A regular guy, doing a degree in journalism, he spent his days in Gaza going to university and hanging out with friends, who he said were mostly academics and intellectuals.

He said he constantly tried to do something with his voice — through national events — like singing for Palestinian prisoner’s cause (many Palestinians are imprisoned by Israel under very ambiguous circumstances with no proper legal framework offered to them). Assaf said most of his singing work was nationalistic in nature prior to this experience.

His participation in Arab Idol elevated his modest fan base (having recorded a song prior to the competition) by miles and miles. Assaf hoped that he’d left a mark by being on the show. That he did indeed.

The young talent has a lot riding on his shoulders. Being instantly made both an UNRWA ambassador and the first Palestinian youth ambassador upon winning, a lot is expected of him but he says he is up for the task.

Here's a Q&A with Assaf:

How do you plan to make a difference with your fame?

“I never expected these things to happen to me. My tough upbringing will make me work harder and I will never sleep on my achievements. I am born with sufferings and I’ve worked hard. I also plan to do what I can for the Palestinian people. I like traditional art and I want to do work that I am convinced with. Currently, the Palestinian songs are overlooked and I hope to be able to share it with the Arab world and beyond.

What about Palestinian youth?
I am aware that Palestinian youth are creative not just in the arts and I will do my best to expose their talents. I will also search for talent and help my countrymen. I am the only Palestinian to have shared Palestinian songs with the region and this is something I must continue.

What about Palestinian [political] differences?

I am happy to unite people in Palestine. I wish for unity. I also don’t belong to a group. I wish we can fold the page of division and move forward. This experience comes with responsibility and I will speak to [Palestinian] President Mahmoud Abbas when I meet him in the West Bank.

Have you already been approached to be the face of any product?

So far no. Just Platinum Records.

How do you deal with rumours? For example, there was a rumour that you couldn’t go to Gaza initially?

That was just a rumour and I went to Gaza straight after my victory.

You stayed at a hotel in Gaza during your visit there?

Tens of thousands of fans waited for me when I landed [there] and police couldn’t figure out a way to get me through. At some point, I felt like they were going to break into the car and grab me. Unfortunately, there was no order or planning and I had to ‘surrender’ myself to the police at the closest police station. They then took me to a hotel. The son of Hamas leader Esmail Hanniya visited me at the hotel to congratulate me.

If you didn’t participate in this year’s Arab Idol, who would you have voted for?

Farah [the Syrian finalist] who’s got a great voice.

Any setbacks to instant fame?

My health and working under pressure. Since the beginning of my Idol experience, I’ve lost 12 kilos. (http://gulfnews.com/arts-entertainment/celebrity/arab-idol-mohammad-assaf-mania-hits-dubai-1.1203643)

Opinions
The Strip is suffering from thirst
Al Khaleej Editorial
The Gaza Strip has been under siege for the past six years, encircled by land, sea and air, all by the Zionist occupation, which imposes the harshest of sanctions, measures which contradict with all international and humanitarian laws and covenants. Now, the Strip is facing another challenge, just to add insult to injury, a humanitarian disaster in every meaning of the word
A report issued by the United Nations a few days ago warned of a water crisis that could render the Gaza Strip land unfit for habitation within a few short years. The report indicated that 90%-95% of the ground water in the Strip was polluted with sewage water, chemicals and seawater.
The report also pointed to the fact that the storage of ground water in Gaza could become unfit for consumption by 2016, just three short years away. This would mean that more than 1.5 million people will be facing thirst because there is no water fit for drinking. This is over and above the negative impact this will have on agriculture because waster is such a basic need, not only to humans but to trees and harvests.
How can anyone imagine a land without water? Can the people of the Gaza Strip withstand life without water for themselves and their land, especially since the international report indicated that only 5%-10% of the Strip’s ground water is fit for consumption? Neither are there desalination plants that would provide ample amounts of water, which compounds the problem even more.
Hence, there is a need for an urgent plan to save the people of the Gaza Strip, perhaps through an Arab project that could provide water to the Strip from the Nile. There is enough time to think and plan but this issue needs immediate action.  
Israel, through its occupation of the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula and then after the Camp David Accords, have always tried to take advantage of the Nile River but have failed.
Gaza, on the other hand, deserves water and must be saved. There is an Arab responsibility towards this people who are being besieged and thirsted out. (http://www.alkhaleej.ae/portal/39f4bb08-094e-4875-9e08-85c2631a457a.aspx)

The 10 crucial years between when Arafat returned until he died
Al Quds Editorial
On July 1, 1994, historical leader Yasser Arafat returned to the homeland and was given a hero’s welcome in Gaza. All of the Palestinians stood with him in heart and soul in that historical moment, which we all had hoped would be the starting point for a Palestinian state after the long years of struggle, fighting, sacrifices, suffering and exile.
Abu Ammar had signed the Oslo Accords and agreed to mutual recognition between Israel and the Palestinian state, represented through the PLO for the first time in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Hopes were high but the sacrifice was big as well because this recognition entailed agreeing to establishing a state on the 1967 borders only and recognizing Israel inside the Green Line. Discussion of some of the fundamental issues, Jerusalem particularly, was postponed, which is still a point of controversy among many Palestinians.
The belief was that politics had begun to win and that negotiations would lead to a solution for all the problems and issues still unresolved, eventually leading to the establishment of a state. The Gaza/Jericho First agreement was believed to be just a starting point. Abu Ammar, meanwhile, was willing to do anything to reach this goal. He didn’t hesitate to change the constitution based on American and Israeli demands under President Clinton. He even won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Over time, things became clearer – that Israel was not serious in achieving peace. The beginning was marked by the assassination of then-Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin. This was followed by more developments, with Israel not honoring any agreements but instead pushing forward with more settlements, land confiscation and displacement of the people. Abu Ammar still maintained his adherence to national rights, which raised the ire of the Israelis, culminating in the second Intifada and the siege of Arafat in the presidential headquarters and ending in his death on November 11, 2004 in Paris in mysterious circumstances and strong suspicions that Israel had engineered his poisoning.
These 10 years since Abu Ammar’s return in 1994 and his death in 2004 were a turning point in the history of cause with their ramifications still felt to this day. Settlements have increased, the Judiazation process has accelerated, land confiscation and expulsion of the people have continued to push forward. Also the extremist-drenched political tone of Israeli parties and forces has reached the point where they say publicly that the two-state solution is a rejected solution, that the West Bank is Israeli territory and that we are strangers on it, with the belief that one day they would be rid of all the Palestinians.
It seems that this extremist ideology is expressive of the reality in the West Bank, which has been torn up by settlements and severed so severely the two –state solution really is almost impossible if not completely. The settlements, which Abu Ammar had banked on, have come to a standstill and we are all in this vicious cycle off efforts and unending political contacts all while the land is slipping away with each passing day. (http://www.alquds.com/news/article/view/id/447660)
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