Latest report from Gaza on the continued closure of the Rafah crossing and its implication on life in the world’s largest open air prison

Gaza’s Ark: A bid to break Israel’s blockade… from within

GAZA CITY: Palestinian labourers and foreign activists are working tirelessly to transform a large fishing boat into “Gaza’s Ark” with the aim of exporting local produce in the latest bid to break Israel’s blockade on the coastal strip.

The Ark, which is being fitted out to carry goods and more than 100 passengers, is near completion and is expected to set sail for Europe in the latest high-profile attempt to challenge Israel’s maritime lockdown on the tiny Hamas-run territory.

If they are successful, this will be the first time goods from Gaza have been exported by sea since the signing of the 1994 Oslo Peace Accords.

Significantly, this attempt to alleviate the effects of the seven-year blockade comes from within Gaza, where locals refurbishing the 24-metre-long (78 feet) vessel want to take matters into their own hands, rather than waiting for help from the outside world.

“This will help fishermen, farmers and factory workers in Gaza to market their products,” said Abu Ammar Bakr, who was a fisherman for 40 years before turning his hand to repairing boats.

Mohammed Abu Salmi, who owns a furniture shop, was equally buoyed by the prospect of shipping products overseas.

“Export by sea will resuscitate farming and light industry in Gaza and will ease unemployment… and help to lift this oppressive blockade,” he told AFP.

“We have great experience and produce great furniture,” Abu Salmi boasted.

“We exported to Israel and from there to Europe before the blockade, and people abroad are asking for our products,” he said, pointing proudly at the dining tables and chairs fashioned in his workshop.

Among the items which are to be carried on board for export are fruit and farm produce, furniture, embroidery and other crafts, organisers say.

“The aim is not aid or humanitarian like the boats that were coming to Gaza, it’s a commercial venture to support the Palestinian economy and pave the way to exporting Palestinian products,” project manager Mahfouz Kabariti said.

But a sense of apprehension marks the preparations.

A plaque at the entrance to the quay on which the Ark is being built remembers the nine Turkish activists who were killed in May 2010 during an Israeli raid on a six-ship flotilla trying to reach Gaza in defiance of the blockade.

Although the international outcry which followed the deadly raid forced Israel to significantly ease the terms of its blockade on Gaza, which was first imposed in 2006, tight curbs remain in place on exports and travel.

Breaking the siege ‘from within’

Under the terms of the current restrictions, Gaza fishermen are not allowed to enter waters more than six nautical miles (11 kilometres) from the shore, with naval patrol boats known to fire on those who step out of line.

It is the prospect of a confrontation with Israeli forces that is worrying some of those planning to join the boat on its blockade-breaking mission, with Abu Salmi afraid the navy might “open fire and sink the Ark, or arrest those on board like they did in 2010 and seize the goods”.

Organisers of the project are unsure what action Israel might take.

“I hope Israel won’t stop the boat from sailing to European countries,” said Kabariti.

“It is natural that the Israeli authorities might not allow a boat to set sail from Gaza. But we want to send our message to the world, whether the occupation allows it to sail or not,” he said.

“We want to draw attention to the blockade which is preventing Palestinian products from being exported, and we have an ark that we can use to do it.”

Among those planning to join the Ark on its maiden voyage are a number of foreign activists, who include Swedish national Charlie Andreasson who also took part in the ill-fated Freedom Flotilla of 2010.

The aim, said Andreasson, is “to break the siege”.

“Why would they stop it?” he asked, somewhat naively.

“We’ve been sending ships to Gaza to try to break the siege, and this time we are turning it around and sending a ship from Gaza out to Europe with goods — so we’re trying to break the siege from within,” he told AFP.

Andreasson has been working on the project since early June, when activists managed to raise enough money from European donors to buy up the old fishing boat.

From its purchase to completion, including labour, Gaza’s Ark will have cost an estimated $150,000 (114,000 euros), with its website showing that so far, $110,000 has been raised.

Dozens of people are working to restore the Ark, with local fishermen receiving a salary for their labour and foreign activists volunteering.

The project’s mission statement, according to the website, is to “challenge the illegal and inhuman Israeli blockade”.

For fisherman Bakr, it would be a huge blow if the Ark — which will sail under the Palestinian flag as well as several international ones — never left port.

Fisherman and factory workers would have to watch their goods “festering in warehouses because they’re unable to export them”, he said.

This article first appeared here

Palestinian Singer Gives Rare Concert in Gaza

Posted on April 30.

“I’m even happier than I appear.” With these words, Palestinian artist Reem Talhami began the concert to launch her first album in Gaza City, a place where musical concerts have typically been banned since Hamas came to power. She received warm applause from the audience, which swayed in delight to the beat of two songs that she sang from the new album, “Carried by the Night.”

The album features 10 songs. The lyrics were written by Gazan poet Khaled Jumaa, and Saeed Murad composed the melodies. Talhami sang these songs, which primarily aim to describe Gaza, she told Al-Monitor, “as we see it and as we hope for it to be, far removed from the news reports that only contain killing and destruction in this ancient city.”

Talhami noted, “The words of these songs are far removed from killing, destruction, war and bombing. They take you to a wider horizon and another space, filled with love and hope, as seen by the writer and as we all wish to see.”

Talhami was born in the Arab Israeli city of Shefa-Amr. She studied singing at the Rubin Institute in Jerusalem, where she currently resides, for five years, graduating in 1996. She has participated in a number of local and international festivals, singing songs that primarily express Palestinian heritage and nationalism.

On why she selected Gaza City to launch her first album, Talhami said, “In recent years, I’ve noticed that, whether intentionally or not, Gaza and Gazan intellectuals have been marginalized in Arab and Palestinian cultural activities. Through my participation in these activities, I found that Gaza was absent. So, through this album, I wanted to express my absolute rejection of this marginalization of Gaza City, a city I love.”

Since the imposition of the Israeli blockade, the Gaza Strip has been characterized by a state of cultural stagnation. This is due to the difficulty artists and intellectuals have faced traveling between the West Bank and Gaza through the Rafah crossing since the first years of the blockade. This is compounded by the pressures resulting from the political divide between Fatah and Hamas.

Talhami explained, “It was a great honor for me to be a part of this artistic work, which was in preparation for two and half years before now being revealed to the public. I am very proud of it. Although I wanted to record the album in a studio in Gaza, circumstances prevented us from doing that.” She described as “shameful” the West BankGaza political divide and lamented the inability of the Palestinian people, “who have confronted various challenges,” to force politicians to reach a compromise to restore unity between the two parts of the nation.

Those attending the Gaza concert, mostly youths, of both genders, swayed to Talhami’s songs at times and applauded at others. The joy was apparent in their faces.

Ahmed Rizaq, 21, was one of those in attendance, listening intently to the words and music and applauding warmly. He said to Al-Monitor, “I’m here so that I can live in the Gaza I want and desire. We have been lacking these types of cultural and artistic activities. My presence here and listening to the lyrics of Talhami’s songs helps me to confront the difficulties we face in Gaza.”

Rahaf al-Batniji, 22, agreed with Rizaq, and offered that it was the first time she had attended a concert with singing of this kind. These songs left a notable impression on her psyche, which has endured political and psychological pressures in her daily life.

Reem Talhami sings “Gaza Bitghanni”

She told Al-Monitor, “What we see and hear today is an exception. This is not the reality we live. Every time I’ve left the country I’ve made an effort to attend a musical concert. I’m amazed today to see a small concert in Gaza City.”

Since taking power, the Hamas-led government in Gaza has typically banned all private music concerts. They justify the ban by arguing that the concerts do not reflect the “customs and traditions” of the Palestinian people.

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Talhami directed a message to the government in Gaza: “Everyone must realize that goal-oriented singing is a means of resistance. Our battle today with the Israeli occupation is a cultural battle, not another type of battle.”

Following the concert to launch her album, held in the courtyard of the French Cultural Center, she said, “I think that differences of opinion do not undermine the entire cause. The Palestinian people are simple. They love art and singing. I think that it’s an integral part of our culture, which reflects Palestinians and is a part of the primary struggle.”

Hazem Balousha is a Palestinian journalist based in Gaza City. He has worked as a news producer for BBC World Service, as well as contributed to Deutsche Welle, The Guardian, Al-Raya (Qatar) and other publications. Balousha covered Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008 and the conflict between Fatah and Hamas in 2007. He is also the founder of the Palestinian Institute for Communication and Development (PICD) and has a master’s degree in international relations and a BA in journalism. On Twitter: @iHaZeMi

This article appeared in Al-Monitor http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/04/palestinian-singer-gaza-concert.html#ixzz2Rzs9RiWT

 

Why song performed by Palestinian Arab Idol struck a chord with millions of viewers – English translation of lyrics included

In the song that qualified him for the Arab Idol competition, Palestinian singer Muhammad Assaf  from Gaza city sang ‘ya tair altayer’ flying bird.  This national song struck a chord with Palestinians and Arabs everywhere and the original video clip from the Arab Idol competition has gone viral with over a million viewers.  A new clip has just been posted on youtube with images of the Palestinian cities Assaf sang for (see new video below).  Assaf told reporters that he sees no line between his art and being patriotic.  He is right.  His song expresses a Palestinian wish for freedom and for the ability to see loved ones in other villages that are now no longer accessible.  It is a reminder that even though Palestinians are confined within their bantustans and behind Israel’s big walls and towers, they haven’t given up on the dream that one day they too will fly like a bird and see their homes,  villages and loved ones.

Oh flying bird

Going to my home

My eyes follow you

And God’s eyes protect you

Oh you traveller

I am so jealous

Palestine my homeland

She is beautiful praise be to God

Go by Safed

Go by Tabariyyah

Pass by Acre and Haifa

And say hello to the sea

Don’t forget Nazareth

This Arab fortress

And give Bisan the good news

Her people will return

My people on this land

Stood tall

History is proud of us

And history’s back was bent

From all the pain we suffered

But we are patient

Go to Gaza

And Kiss its soil

Her people are dignified

Her men are mighty

And go to Jerusalem

The capital

Al Aqsa its landmark

Inshallah God willing

We will gather there

Oh flying bird

Going to my home

My eyes follow you

And God’s eyes protect you

Oh you traveller

I am so jealous

Palestine my homeland

She is beautiful

Praise be to God

Ma’an: Palestinian Arab Idol finalist says Issawi an inspiration

Published today (updated) 22/04/2013 21:09
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Muhammad Assaf, a Palestinian finalist in the TV singing contest Arab Idol, says he is inspired by long-term hunger striker Samer Issawi and would trade winning the competition for the prisoner’s freedom.

“I am conveying Palestine’s message to the world, and if I had to choose between winning the Arab Idol title and the freedom of Samer Issawi, I would choose freedom for the Palestinian hero whose steadfastness is peerless and I can’t compare myself to it,” Assaf told Ma’an.

Speaking from Beirut, the singer from Gaza City said that he considers himself an “ambassador of Palestinian art,” who wants to convey a positive image of Palestinians, despite Israeli occupation and oppression.

Arab audiences are happy to see a Palestinian singing different genres of music rather than just patriotic songs, he said, adding that he has been receiving support from his fans in the Arab world.

Assaf says he has been moved by the plight of Palestinian prisoners, especially Samer Issawi who has been on hunger strike in Israeli detention for 265 days.

“Issawi has provided a model in the struggle which is too great to be imitated by artists, despite the fact that art has an element of resistance as it can deliver the message of a people under occupation to the whole world.”

“I can’t differentiate between my art and my patriotic attitude,” he added.

Assaf qualified on Friday for the final of MBC’s popular singing competition Arab Idol.

This article appeared in Ma’an News

Palestinian singer from Gaza qualifies for Arab Idol final

Palestinian singer from Gaza city Muhammad Assaf is one of 12 Arab singers who have made it into the final round of MBC’s popular singing competition Arab Idol performing the Palestinian song ‘Ya Teir el-Tayir’, ‘Oh Flying Bird’. Video of his performance  (below) has gone viral with over one million viewers.

What hope sounds like: a performance by Gaza’s children at the Gaza Music School

The children of the Gaza Music School performing to a French and Egyptian delegation early January 2013. The boys in this clip are around 9 years of age. According to Qattan Foundation’s website, the Gaza Music School (GMS) was established “in response to growing demand for music education voiced by children and parents who attend the Qattan Center for the Child (QCC) in Gaza City, one of the A. M. Qattan Foundation’s main projects.” The Gaza Music School was completely destroyed by Israel during its attack on Gaza in 2008 and was rebuilt since then. A testimony to the resilience of the Palestinian people. To find out more information about the school and Qattan Foundation visit the following linkhttp://www.qattanfoundation.org/subpage/en/gms.asp?sectionID=654