Another futile report on Israel’s wild adventure in Gaza

Gideon Levy writes: The United Nations Human Rights Council’s report did not tell us anything new. We did not need to wait a year to know that Israel (and Hamas) committed war crimes; there was no need to impanel a committee to know that Israel went wild in Gaza; there was no need to bother judge Mary McGowan Davis in order for her to tell us that it is unacceptable to drop a one-ton bomb in the middle of a neighborhood. We have known that for a long time.

The UN report also did not tell us anything new about Israel’s response. There was no need to publish it to know the scope of unreceptiveness and denial within Israeli society, the low level to which the Israeli media stooped in finally allowing itself to become an agent of propaganda, and the lack of interest that all this killing and destruction in Gaza arouse in Israel. We have known all that for a long time.

The world knows the fundamental truths, and every commission repeats them like a parrot, and nothing changes: Israel ignores international law. It is convinced that it applies to all countries, except for itself. According to its combat theory, when the life of one Israeli soldier is at stake it is alright to wreak havoc with everything, and when Israel says everything it means everything. There is no chance Israel will change its doctrine of death and destruction, unless it is punished severely. Therefore this report, like all its predecessors, has no value at all.

If the Goldstone Report, which described in harsher colors a less brutal attack, did not prevent Operation Protective Edge, then why do we need all these reports? If the international community, which knew in real time what the Israel Defense Forces was doing in Gaza, did not respond immediately with actions that would stop it, then there is no reason for these commissions of inquiry after the fact.

If in the wake of this commission, too, the international community does not take practical steps against war criminals, then there is no further reason for commissions. [Continue reading…]

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Palestinians giving up on statehood, Israeli ex-security chief says

The Times of Israel reports: The death of the two-state solution among the Palestinians is no secret to the Israelis, nor is it mourned by government officials. To the political echelon, the threat of a binational state is not sufficiently tangible, and the possibility that radical Islam will take over the West Bank if there should be a peace agreement seems more real.

But things sound different in the defense establishment, and particularly among those who have left it. Quite a few former generals, Shin Bet directors and Mossad chiefs have warned any number of times that maintaining the status quo in the territories, which has become a kind of strategy in Netanyahu’s era, could change the face of the State of Israel.

“I’m hearing from various Palestinian officials with whom I am in contact that they have given up on the two-state solution as an option for resolving the conflict,” says former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, 59, who now owns a hi-tech firm in Herzliya. [Continue reading…]

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Palestinian split widens as unity government quits

AFP reports: The Palestinian unity government formed last year in a bid to heal rifts between Hamas and president Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party resigned on Wednesday, an official said.

An aide to president Mahmoud Abbas said that prime minister Rami Hamdallah “handed his resignation to Abbas and Abbas ordered him to form a new government.”

Discussions to form a new government would include consultations with the various Palestinian factions, including Hamas, he said.

Abbas’ spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh, however, told the official PA news agency WAFA that Hamdallah had not handed in his resignation.

Officials have said the planned dissolution of the government, made up of technocrats, had been under discussion for several months because of the cabinet’s inability to operate in the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip.

Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have condemned the unilateral dissolution of the government, a decision they say they were not consulted over. [Continue reading…]

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Jen Marlowe: ‘They demolish and we rebuild”

There’s an ugliness to war beyond the ugly things war does. There are scars beyond the rough, imperfectly mended flesh of the gunshot wound, beyond the flashback, the startle reflex, the nightmare. War finds peculiar and heinous ways to distort lives, and when children are involved, it can mean a lifetime spent trying to recapture what was, to rebuild what never can be.

I’ve met these former child victims again and again. I think of the man whose features seemed to be perpetually sliding off his face because a grotesque incendiary weapon landed near him when he was just a boy. I think of the woman who, as a pre-teen, watched as her grandmother and neighbor were gunned down right in front of her. I think of the little boy who, after fleeing from a town in the midst of a rebel assault, hadn’t seen his father in over a year. I think of the tiny girl who sang a song about orphans for me just months after her mother, father, and brother were killed by an old artillery shell. The boys who, on the cusp of their teens, had assault rifles thrust into their hands and were sent off to battle. 

Those whom I met in adulthood were still suffering the after-effects, decades later, of adult wars that intruded on their young lives. Those I met as children were already thoroughly marked and, I have no doubt, will join the ranks of this enormous legion of the damaged. And they in turn will find company among the countless child victims in present-day Iraq and Syria, Yemen and Libya, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Ukraine, not to mention Palestine.

After last summer’s 50-day war between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas government, hopes were high for the reconstruction of battered Gaza City. Instead, all these months later, rubble remains ubiquitous, the economy is in shambles, and living standards are deteriorating as the enclave struggles to stay afloat. “A lot of factors pile on top of each other: unemployment remains [at] 40 percent, youth unemployment is more than 60 percent,” says Robert Turner, the director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. 

The Gaza War and its aftermath have scarred yet another generation of Palestinian children, but Gaza has no monopoly on hardship. Suffering can be found even in the smallest of villages on the West Bank, too. In her latest report from the front lines of trauma, TomDispatch regular Jen Marlowe focuses on one family of war victims: a father scarred in his youth by war and occupation whose young son seems about to follow in his footsteps — to follow, that is, a path to displacement and despair so common to so many Palestinians.

What does it mean for a family to be made refugees again and again, generation after generation?  What does it mean for the children of yesterday, today, and tomorrow to be made homeless in a way that transcends the loss of a house? What does it mean for them to have lost their place, quite literally, in the world? Just what does that pain do to children?  Where does it take them as adults? Let Jen Marlowe lead the way in answering these questions. Nick Turse

Expelled for life
A Palestinian family’s struggle to stay on their land
By Jen Marlowe

Nasser Nawaj’ah held Laith’s hand as, beside me, they walked down the dirt and pebble path of Old Susya. Nasser is 33 years old, his son six. Nasser’s jaw was set and every few moments he glanced over his shoulder to see if anyone was approaching. Until Laith piped up with his question, the only sounds were our footsteps and the wind, against which Nasser was wearing a wool hat and a pleated brown jacket.

“Why did they take our home?” the little boy asked.

[Read more…]

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Palestinian men face Israeli prison sentences for Facebook posts

Aziza Nofal reports: The Jerusalemite family of Omar al-Shalabi did not expect the status updates he posted on his Facebook page to lead to his arrest by Israeli authorities. Up until the Jerusalem magistrate’s court announced its verdict, the family also believed he would be released and allowed to return home. On May 12, Shalabi was sentenced to nine months in prison.

Shalabi’s brother Mohammed, who is following up on his sibling’s case with a lawyer, told Al-Monitor that the ruling was unexpected given the apparent trivialness of the acts leading to the charges against him. The family had in addition expected Shalabi to be released on bail awaiting trial. He had been arrested Dec. 14 and charged with incitement based on postings to his Facebook page. The posts followed the kidnapping and murder of a young Palestinian man, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, by extremist settlers. Israeli authorities thus feared possible retaliatory attacks against settlers.

Mohammed Shalabi said his brother’s postings leading up to his arrest were no different from what he had been posting for quite some time. “The occupation authorities retained Omar’s posts as a pretext to arrest him, because he was an activist in the Fatah movement in Jerusalem,” claimed Mohammed Shalabi. [Continue reading…]

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Israel, Republicans push Palestinians into corner

Akiva Eldar writes: The plight of the Palestinians is similar to that of a cat chased into a dead end. It looks for a way out, meows plaintively, tries to make friends, but after nonviolent resistance fails, it does not surrender. In desperation, the cat bares its claws, pounces on the target and sinks its teeth into the large-bodied enemy. At the start of the occupation in 1967, the Palestinians tried being nice to the Israelis who took over their lands. They tried to befriend the new landlord, helped him build settlements and cultivated the home gardens of their privileged Jewish neighbors.

After baring their claws in the first intifada that broke out in late 1987, the Palestinians recognized Israel within the 1967 borders and pledged to stop their armed struggle. In September 1993, they signed an agreement at the White House that to their understanding was supposed to set them free. Instead, the agreement pushed them into the cages of Areas A and B, and deepened Israel’s hold over 60% of the West Bank.

In the second intifada, which broke out following the failure of the Camp David talks in the summer of 2000, the Palestinians started biting, but the Israelis broke their teeth. Ever since President Mahmoud Abbas replaced late Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat more than 10 years ago, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has aspired to exchange violence for diplomacy. Since then we’ve had the 2003 Road Map, the 2007 Annapolis talks, negotiations in Amman and eventually the 2014 Kerry initiative. What they all have in common is zero progress toward ending the occupation and hundreds of new housing units in the West Bank and Jerusalem. [Continue reading…]

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Israel’s charade of democracy

Hagai El-Ad writes: Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories is nearing the half-century mark, and Israel’s new right-wing government offers little hope of ending it. Nevertheless, the new government promises something else of value: clarity. And with that clarity, the opportunity to challenge the prolonged lie of the occupation’s “temporary” status. For if the occupation has become permanent in all but its name, what about the voting rights of Palestinians?

Two months ago, on election day in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel’s Arab citizens were flocking to the polls “in droves”— a clear effort to cast the voting of one-fifth of Israel’s citizens as a danger to be counteracted. That undermined basic democratic principles, but it paled in contrast to the status of the Palestinian population living next door in territories under direct or indirect Israeli rule. They have no say at all in choosing the government of the occupying power that is in ultimate command of their fate.

If you look at all the land Israel controls between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, that area contains some 8.3 million Israelis and Palestinians of voting age. Roughly 30 percent — about 2.5 million — are Palestinians living outside Israel under varying degrees of Israeli control — in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They have some ability to elect Palestinian bodies with limited functions. But they are powerless to choose Israeli officials, who make the weightiest decisions affecting them. [Continue reading…]

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Why won’t Israeli peace groups talk about the Nakba?

Tom Mehager writes: Israeli non-profit organizations that strive for a society based on coexistence most often focus on the most pressing issues vis-a-vis Jewish-Arab relations: educating toward democratic values, mutual recognition and teaching the Arabic language; equal allocation of resources and land; integration into the workforce and strengthening economic investment in Arab towns and villages; proper representation in decision-making processes; legitimacy for Arabic in the public sphere; changing state symbols, and more. In this respect, these organizations are making important conversations.

But what those same organizations, which demand equality between Jews and Arabs, do not speak about or deal with is the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their homeland. 1948 is the elephant standing in the center of the room. Many of our Palestinian colleagues in these organizations come from families who were uprooted from their homeland, with much of their nation still living in the diaspora.

I do not want to speak in the name of Palestinians and claim that they want to open up a conversation with us, Jewish Israelis, about the right of return. But I do want to ask why it is that we never raise questions about 1948 when speaking of a life of coexistence or about our vision of equality.

Jews realized and continue to realize their right of return in the wake of several historic events: most of us are here after 2,000 years of exile, as per the Zionist movement’s definition, due to the Law of Return, which allows the Jews of the world to receive Israeli citizenship. Moreover, many young Israelis who are the grandchildren of the victims of World War II have obtained citizenship in their grandparents’ countries of origin in Europe. And let’s not forget that the government of Spain has announced that it will allow the descendants of the victims of the expulsions in the 15th century to apply for Spanish citizenship. Thus, if we believe in true equality between Jews and Arabs, we must support the right of return for Palestinians to their homeland. [Continue reading…]

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Gaza Strip economy on ‘verge of collapse,’ World Bank says

The New York Times reports: Gaza’s war-battered economy is on the “verge of collapse,” dragged down by soaring unemployment rates that followed last summer’s war with Israel, border restrictions and government dysfunction, the World Bank says in a new report.

Infighting between Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, the report said, is delaying reconstruction of the tiny territory, which suffered widespread damage during the war.

The report, issued late Thursday, said Gaza’s unemployment rate now stood at 44 percent, 11 points higher than before the war — and the world’s highest level. The youth unemployment rate, at 60 percent, is the highest in the Middle East, the report noted.

The report said that 40 percent of Gaza’s nearly 1.8 million Palestinians lived in poverty, even though around 80 percent received some sort of aid. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli scheme to ban Palestinians from buses tantamount to apartheid

The Guardian reports: Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has cancelled a pilot scheme banning Palestinian workers from Israeli buses in the occupied territories – denounced as tantamount to apartheid – only hours after it was announced.

The plan had been approved by Netanyahu’s defence minister, Moshe Yaalon, but was cancelled amid fierce criticism from Israeli opposition figures, human rights groups and a former minister in Netanyahu’s own party, who said it was a “stain on the face Israel” that would damage its international image.

The move had been enthusiastically welcomed by settler groups and pro-settlement MPs who had long been lobbying for the ban.

The three month pilot scheme – which had been due to come into force on Wednesday – would have imposed strict new controls on thousands of Palestinians with permits to work in Israel, insisting they travel home through certain designated checkpoints and banning them from using Israeli run buses in the occupied West Bank.

The timing of the scheme’s launch – during visits by world football head Sepp Blatter and the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini – had seemed bizarre. Blatter is seeking to defuse moves to have a vote on Israel’s suspension from Fifa for alleged discrimination against Palestinians. [Continue reading…]

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In sign of Palestinians’ mood, Hamas wins vote at a West Bank university

The New York Times reports: Lina Halsa certainly made a splash at the student rally for the Islamist Hamas movement here at Birzeit University last month. Wearing a sleeveless top, tight jeans, and with her hair in a ponytail, Ms. Halsa’s attire was revealing even by the standards of this liberal, secular campus. But it was downright scandalous according to Hamas norms.

Yet, Ms. Halsa was the very image of Hamas success on the campus, where the Islamist party beat out the more moderate Fatah faction in student elections. A photograph of her waving the faction’s signature green banner rocketed around social media, followed by a video in which she explained that she voted Hamas in part because her clothing “shows how much they are able to embrace other people.”

A headline in the Pan-Arab daily Al Hayat trumpeted: “A Blonde Turns Birzeit Green.”

The April 22 election was about far more than clothing, of course. Student elections are seen as an important benchmark of the Palestinian political mood, particularly since there has been no national balloting since Hamas won the legislative contests in 2006, and president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is starting the 11th year of what was to be a five-year term. The nod to Hamas was broadly interpreted as another indication of just how unpopular President Abbas and his government have become. [Continue reading…]

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In Gaza, rubble lies on top of rubble

Matthew Duss writes: Two weeks ago saw the latest blow to the on-again-but-mostly-off-again reconciliation between the two leading Palestinian political factions, Hamas and Fatah. A Fatah delegation from the West Bank entered Gaza for what was planned as a weeklong visit to address the sticky issue of payment to some 40,000 Hamas government employees, which was one of the main drivers of Hamas’ decision to accept a reconciliation agreement in April 2014, largely on Fatah’s terms. Instead, the Fatah delegation stayed only one day, departing after claiming that Hamas had prohibited it from traveling from their beachfront hotel to their offices. Hamas, for its part, responded that the makeup of the delegation had not been appropriately cleared in advance.

A few days later, as Israelis celebrated their Independence Day, the first rocket was fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip in four months. An Israeli tank barrage into Gaza followed shortly after.

It was not the first rocket launched since the August cease-fire that ended Operation Protective Edge, the summer of 2014’s hugely destructive Israeli assault on Gaza that lasted 52 days. Back in February, Hamas lobbed two rockets into the Mediterranean, ostensibly to test their launch system and intimidate Israel. Omar Shaban, a Palestinian analyst who runs the small think tank, PalThink, in Gaza, had a different interpretation. “They’re sending you a message,” he told me. “You should be wise enough to hear it.”

The message is that Gaza is creeping toward another explosion. It’s a depressingly similar pattern. Just like after previous conflicts, Israel’s cease-fire demands have been met. Hamas has prevented rocket fire, while the group’s demand for an end to the blockade that has suffocated Gaza for nearly a decade has not. Last month I visited the coastal strip to view the damage from the summer’s war, assess the state of reconstruction, and explore the possibilities of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.

I’d last been to Gaza in February 2012. There have been two wars since then, in addition to a number of smaller incursions and exchanges of fire. In February 2012, much of Gaza City remained in rubble from December 2008-January 2009’s Operation Cast Lead. This time, there was rubble lying atop the rubble.

Shaban pulled up next to a huge pile of broken cinder block and twisted metal. “Here’s the Finance Ministry.”

Despite Hamas’ role in the escalation that led to the war, however, polls have shown that the group retains a significant measure of public support. One poll taken immediately after Operation Protective Edge found, for the first time since 2006, Hamas would best its rival Fatah in both presidential and parliamentary elections. Part of this has to do with Hamas being seen, unlike Fatah, as a party willing to fight the status quo. Part of it has to do with Hamas’ strategic distribution of resources to activists and supporters. But it’s also related to the fact that their civil servants are actually respected for the work that they continue to do in hugely difficult circumstances. [Continue reading…]

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Ex-U.N. official John Dugard: Israel’s crimes are ‘infinitely worse’ than in apartheid South Africa

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3,500 Palestinian children stranded in Yarmouk, Damascus

Anadolu Agency: Over 3,500 Palestinian children are stranded in Syria’s flashpoint Yarmouk camp for Palestinian refugees, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has said.

“There are some 3,500 children stranded in the camp, while the sick and the elderly continue to die from lack of medical care,” UNRWA spokesman Sami Mshasha said during a Sunday press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Mshasha said that some 90 percent of Yarmouk’s 180,000 Palestinian residents have fled the camp – which continues to see violent clashes between Daesh militants and Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis militant group for over a month.

Moreover, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime forces routinely drop barrel bombs on the beleaguered camp, according to the UNRWA.

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Banksy finds a canvas and a new fan base in Gaza’s ruins

The New York Times: Very little of Abu Shadi Shenbari’s family home remains in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip. Only a concrete bathroom wall was left standing when Israeli forces flattened the neighborhood near the border with Israel during the war with Hamas last summer.

Though Mr. Shenbari had all but abandoned that last panel of erect concrete, in recent days he began building a wood and wire-mesh fort with a flimsy nylon roof to protect the bombed-out bathroom wall, which is now home to a 10-foot-tall depiction of a kitten.

The spray-painted mural was created by the elusive British graffiti artist Banksy, who slipped in and out of Gaza in February, leaving his mark on three slabs of rubble left from Israel’s 50-day fight with Hamas, the Islamic group that controls Gaza.

Gaza residents, largely preoccupied with the slow pace of reconstruction after a cold and wet winter in this impoverished and isolated Palestinian coastal strip, have been waking up to the value of the Banksy artworks that appeared amid the ruins.

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The United States and Palestine

Rashid Khalidi writes: As with many other unresolved issues in the modern Middle East, it was Great Britain rather than the United States that initially created the problem of Palestine. But in Palestine, as elsewhere, it has been the lot of the United States, Britain’s successor as undisputed hegemon over the region, to contend with the complications engendered by British policy. And as elsewhere in the Middle East, in the end the United States significantly exacerbated the conflict over Palestine that it inherited from Britain. The outlines of the problem can be simply stated: with the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, Great Britain threw the weight of the greatest power of the age, one which was at that moment in the process of conquering Palestine, behind the creation of a Jewish state in what was then an overwhelmingly Arab country, against the wishes of its inhabitants. Everything that has followed until this day in that conflict-riven land has flowed inevitably from this basic decision.

Woodrow Wilson was the first American president to support Zionism publicly, and his backing was crucial to the awarding of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine to Britain. This in turn led to the inclusion of the text of the Balfour Declaration in the terms of the Mandate, committing the entire international community of that era to the establishment of a “Jewish national home.” Wilson extended the United States’ support to Zionism in spite of the results of the American King-Crane Commission, which discovered the majority Arab population of Palestine to be overwhelmingly opposed to the establishment of a Jewish national home — which they rightly feared would inexorably develop into an exclusively Jewish state in their homeland and at their expense.

Although the United States withdrew from active involvement in the League of Nations and from many other aspects of international politics soon afterwards, the impact on Palestine of these key post-World War I decisions in which the United States played a crucial role was to be lasting. Under the protection of the British Mandate, and with its invaluable support, and with financing which largely came from contributions raised from American donors, by 1939 the Zionist movement had created the nucleus of a viable, independent Jewish state. This American financing, from private and later governmental sources in the form of economic and military assistance, has been crucial to the success of the Zionist project and the state of Israel from the very beginnings and until the present day. [Continue reading…]

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Inside Yarmouk refugee camp

The Daily Beast reports: Bombs and shells from all sides continue to rain down on Yarmouk, the Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus, as residents say the so-called Islamic States is taking ever-greater control. The jihadist assault that started April 1 has left residents trapped amid the rubble without medical aid or food while street fighting and heavy shelling by ISIS has overwhelmed Palestinian and Free Syrian Army forces trying to protect the camp. And to make matters works, the Syrian regime has been dropping barrel bombs and intensifying its own artillery barrages, raising fears it will invade with ground forces.

“It’s an absolute horror and I’m terrified,” says 27-year-old Tarek over Skype from near ISIS’s front lines. He is a longtime camp resident who became an activist in 2011 with the anti-regime protest movement. A human-rights organization put The Daily Beast in contact with him and he asked to be quoted only by a pseudonym for obvious security reasons.

Tarek worries that a regime ground invasion could trigger wide-scale massacres committed by the troops of President Bashar al Assad along with jihadist reprisal killings. He describes a situation of chaos in a camp — really a densely populated urban neighborhood — that has been increasingly crippled by the regime’s siege and bombardment since Free Syrian Army forces and Palestinian rebels rose up in December 2012.

“The streets are abandoned and filled with rubble as people hide in their homes,” Tarek says. Many residents have run out of food and water. There are desperate scenes as some of those come out to scour the area under sniper fire and shelling and look for wells. [Continue reading…]

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Playing for Palestine

Ismail Khalidi writes: As you enter through its main gate under a pair of fluttering Palestinian flags, the Cisterna municipal stadium looks like any run-down soccer field in the West Bank or the Jordan Valley. The parking lot is unpaved and the cars entering for the afternoon game send up yellow clouds of dust. The stadium itself is simple and small, an outdated concrete bowl that officially holds 12,000 people (though, according to statistics, rarely more than a few thousand), most of whom sit on concrete bleachers that encircle the pitch. The concentric rows of stone bleachers even seem to conjure the ancient terraced slopes of Palestine, where for millennia farmers have sculpted the hillsides to cultivate olive trees and other sturdy crops in the dry Mediterranean climate. Here and there sprigs of grass inch through cracks in the dilapidated concrete and stone as a couple hundred of us settle in to brave two hours of scorching heat for the afternoon match.

The team that calls Cisterna home takes the field in uniforms adorned with the Palestinian flag (and its colors of red, black, green and white) and a prominent gold map of historic Palestine emblazoned across the front of their jerseys. The players, for their part, look like your average Palestinians, as do the fans, some of whom are already taunting the opposing team’s players with witty asides and double entendres before the opening whistle. Cigarette smoke, a given at any Palestinian gathering, lingers over certain sections as vendors walk back and forth hawking Palestine-themed paraphernalia. Meanwhile, a group of five young kids plays soccer along the aisles, using an empty plastic bottle as their ball. At half-time Arabic music blares through a tinny PA system. Taking it all in, one could perhaps take comfort in the fact that, despite the hardships of living under military occupation, it’s apparently still possible for Palestinians to find a modicum of normality, if only for 90 minutes of soccer.

But Cisterna municipal stadium is not in Nablus, Gaza, Jericho or Jerusalem, but in Santiago de Chile, roughly 8,000 miles away from Palestine/Israel. And the home team, Club Deportivo Palestino, is in the Chilean premiere league. The opposing team on this day, Huachipato, hails from the Southern Coastal city of Talcahuano. [Continue reading…]

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