Archive for December 10, 2012


by Diana Atallah

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Khaled Jarrar performs art and activism from concrete pieces cut from Israel’s security barrier

In a small gallery in an ancient house in the village of Qalandiya, between Ramallah and Jerusalem, Khaled Jarrar stands alongside his latest art project placed on a podium: a small soccer ball made of cement. But not just any cement – this cement had been cut out of the barrier built by Israel separating the West Bank from Israel.

For the Palestinian artist, a 36-year-old father of two, the Israeli-built structure – known to Israel’s critics by the ten-per cent portion of the 435-mile structure where it manifests as a 26-foot tall concrete wall — is simply an act of oppression that he wants to resist through art.

As adults and children stare at and touch the ball in amazement, a film called “Concrete” rolls in the background of Jarrar’s corner at the Qalandiya International Art Festival, a two-week series of events held in several West Bank cities during November.

The film shows Jarrar – a tall man – chipping away at the wall on a hot day using simple tools, then collecting the pieces. Finally, it shows a photo of the finished project. Some congratulate the artist on his idea while others approach him with questions about how, where and why he carried out his project.

Jarrar explained that he cut the pieces of concrete from the wall one hot August day in Bir Nabalah, a West Bank town northeast of Jerusalem, from an area of the structure alongside a drawing of a heart and the name, “Thaer.” “I found the heart and the name, and they looked interesting to me,” he says.

Jarrar worked quickly and cautiously as he harvested the material would become his work of art. “I looked for a section of the wall that doesn’t have high security towers or cameras.”

In 20 minutes, he had removed the wall parts as his friends documented the process by video.

CONTROVERSIAL BARRIER

Ten years ago, Israel started building the barrier at the height of the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, for which the suicide bomber became the symbol following dozens of attacks carried out by Palestinians against Israeli targets.

Palestinians charge that the barrier has been used to annex Palestinian lands and isolate Palestinians from their relatives, neighbors and farm land. The route of the barrier holds mostly along the Green Line, the 1949 Armistice line that until the 1967 war marked the borders of Israeli and Arab lands. The Palestinians claim all of the land inside the pre-1967 borders and reject any alterations that confiscate chunks of territory east of the line. The Palestinians define their state-to-be as including the entire West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, which they insist will serve as the Palestinian capital.

Among Israelis, even those who opposed the barrier in principle agree it has prevented infiltration by terrorists, pointing to an overwhelming reduction in bombings since construction of the fence began.

The 480-mile long barrier is technically still under construction, although the construction has almost stopped on the ground with fewer attackers and several court-ordered building halts.

“Around 13% of the barrier is a 8-12-meter [26-foot] high grey cement wall with military watchtowers that are built in inhabited areas with sizeable populations or in close proximity, preventing them from overseeing the areas behind the wall,” said Issa Zboun, director of Geo-Informatics unit at Arij Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem.

Zboun told The Media Line that 90% of the barrier is a double-layered structure reinforced with barbed wire, trenches, military roads and a 4-5 meter [2-3 feet] high electrified metal fence equipped with security surveillance cameras. Zboun added that Palestinians are prohibited from building within 200 meters of the barrier on the Palestinian side, and that some communities are left isolated from the West Bank and do not have access to Israel.

“The Wall Must Fall” has become a common slogan in demonstrations in the West Bank. Some Palestinian villages such as Bil’in, Na’alin and Ma’sara arrange weekly demonstrations against the barrier where confrontations with the Israeli army regularly occur. In 2009, residents of the village of Budrus on the outskirts of Ramallah succeeded in altering the barrier’s route as the villagers participated in almost daily protests to prevent the Israeli authorities from building it through their lands.

ARTISTIC PROTEST

Jarrar suggests that his project is the first attempt by a Palestinian to recycle the wall. “It’s actually ‘up-cycling’ because you elevate it into something better,” he says.

The first soccer ball he made was sold at the FIAC contemporary art fair in Paris in October, which Jarrar credits with planting the seed of his creativity: an invitation to participate in FIAC’s object-themed event. Jarrar was at home when the idea hit him. “My son was playing with his small soccer ball, and I asked him to give it to me.” In his studio near his house, he made the pieces smaller, added new cement, and then opened the soccer ball and poured the mixture into it.

“I was very anxious that night and couldn’t wait for the mixture to dry. I thought I might not make it because I only had three days before the travel time. But when I peeled the covers from the ball I knew I had succeeded. I covered the ball with newspapers and put it in my luggage on my way out of the country through the Allenby crossing to Jordan.”

“A source of separation can become a source of unity,” he said in explanation of his concept. “I thought I need to cut parts off the wall because it is an influential object in our lives, but cutting pieces from the wall wasn’t creative enough,” Jarrar told The Media Line.

“Maybe it’s dangerous”, he said, hesitantly. “I don’t know – I think it’s ok to be afraid, but danger is not far from our lives here,” he added gloomily.

In 2004, two years after the barrier’s construction began, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that it was illegal under international law, concluding that Israel must dismantle it and pay compensation for the losses and damages it caused.

Several artists, including the famous British graffiti artist Banksy, have painted on the wall. One of Banksy’s drawings is of a girl holding balloons and flying over the wall.

During the Qalandiya International Festival, 25-year-old artist Majd Abdul Hamid also used parts of the wall in his project. He grounded pieces from the wall and used them in an hour-glass. Abdul Hamid, who graduated from the International Academy of Art: Palestine; and the Swedish Art Academy of Malmo; told The Media Line that he worked on his idea with a creative art director from Jaba’ village near Jerusalem who lives near the wall.

“Sometimes the sand takes 20 minutes to pass, and sometimes 17 minutes,” he says. “It is not constant. Who knows how long the wait is going to be?”

“The wall looks nicer from the Israeli side, but nevertheless I don’t want to draw on the wall from the Palestinian side because I am against beautifying an ugly side of the occupation,” said Jarrar.

Jarrar was raised in the northern West Bank city of Jenin. He began his career as a carpenter in the northern Israeli city of Nazareth, a craft he learned from his father and later received his formal art training at Palestinian institutions.

“I want to show the world that Palestinians can use occupation as an economic means,” he says. “We can sustain ourselves from the wall.”

Jarrar decided to open his first gallery near an Israeli checkpoint outside of Nablus. In 2007, he affixed his photos to a portable wall that he placed near the Hawara checkpoint and called the mobile exhibition, “At the Checkpoint.”

Jarrar has gained recognition among foreigners, many of whom know him as “the stamp granter,” asking visitors at the Jerusalem-Ramallah bus station if he could stamp their passports with a stamp of his design as they entered “Palestine.”

His documentary, four years in the making, will debut in December at the Dubai International Film Festival. Entitled, “Infiltrators,” the film depicts a woman’s journey from the West Bank to Jerusalem for prayer and work.

“I am close to the wall and know the problems people face because of it, and want to convey this message to the world,” he says.

However, cutting out concrete from the wall is illegal, and the video shot by his friends can potentially expose Jarrar to legal jeopardy and even danger as international requests for “wall art” continue to mount.

Jarrar rejects Israel’s justification of the barrier on security grounds. “I don’t think the wall was built for security but for racist separation,” he says.

But a spokesman for Israel’s Defense Ministry told The Media Line that, “During the Second Palestinian uprising, between the years of 2000 and 2005, Israel lost over 1,000 citizens in terror attacks, suicide bombings, shootings, stabbings and other forms of indiscriminate terror. Since the construction of the fence began, this number has dropped sharply. The fence is not impregnable. It is possible that some terrorists will manage to get past the barrier; nevertheless, the obstacle makes it far more difficult for incursions, and thereby minimizes the number of attacks.”  The spokesman emphasized the point with an illustration: “Before the construction of the fence, a suicide bomber could literally walk from Qalqilya [a Palestinian city] into Kfar Sava [in Israel], or drive for 20 minutes and be in the heart of Tel Aviv. For half a decade, buses and cafes were exploding on a regular basis; today that is not the case.”

Jarrar says that as an artist his message is to show the injustice through his art.

“The wall is a source of separation that I wish will fall down eventually, but the ball unites people.”

“I want to show how the wall is separating families, affecting the lives of Palestinians and harming the environment,” he says, adding that he hopes people will sell pieces of the wall one day, “just like the Germans did in Berlin.”

Copyright © 2012 The Media Line. All Rights Reserved.

by Linda Gradstein

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

New Tunnel Will to Ease Traffic Congestion

Anyone who has ever driven through Abu Dhabi at rush hour has wished that, like Batman, his car could sprout wings and fly over the traffic jam. That still hasn’t happened, but motorists now have the next best thing – a two-mile long tunnel, one of the longest in the Middle East.

“This is very good for Abu Dhabi,” Safar al-Mazrouei, a spokesman for the Abu Dhabi municipality told The Media Line. “We are very happy that the project is finally finished.”

The project cost $844 million and took more than five years to complete. It takes motorists from the entrance to the city to the cornice or the port in about 10 minutes.

“Before this tunnel the trip could take up to an hour during rush hour,” Dr. Theodore Karasik, director for research and development at The Institute for Near East Gulf  Military Analysis in Dubai told The Media Line. “This is going to make a tremendous difference.”

The tunnel has four lanes in each direction, and motorists can travel at 50 miles per hour. There is a video incident detection system that notifies a control room within 20 seconds if a car has stopped. An advanced system monitors changes in temperature in the tunnel.

If a fire increases the temperature suddenly, an alarm will sound. If the temperature continues to rise, an automatic system will spray mist until firefighters arrive. There are also nine generators in case of a power failure, and 99 fire hoses placed every 60 yards.

The tunnel is part of an extensive economic plan called Abu Dhabi 2030. “The government of Abu Dhabi published a long-term plan for the transformation of the Emirate’s economy, including a reduced reliance on the oil sector as a source of economic activity over time and a greater focus on knowledge-based industries in the future,” as described in the government’s website.

Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the second largest city after Dubai. There are an estimated 3.8 million foreign workers in the UAE, most of them in the oil industry. As the population of residents and workers has increased, the existing transportation infrastructure had grown increasingly strained.

Since Abu Dhabi is the capital of the Emirates, and the seat of government and business, many residents from outside Abu Dhabi enter each day. There is no public transportation system, and gasoline is subsidized. All of that adds up to heavy traffic.

Officials hope the new tunnel will give the new tunnel will give the UAE an economic boost as well.

“The story is more than the tunnel itself,” Karasik said. “It’s about Abu Dhabi growing as a major economic hub on the Arabian peninsula. The government is taking a series of security measures to make it a safe investment environment.”

Abu Dhabi holds nine percent of the world’s proven oil reserves and almost five percent of the world’s natural gas. In 2010 oil production was 2.3 million barrels per day. The average GDP per capita is almost $50,000, which makes it ninth in the world.

The country is also trying to develop its tourism sector, with plans for an expanded airport and a proposed rail link between Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

But for motorists, the most important thing is to avoid the crushing traffic. Majid Al Kthairy, the head of traffic services at the municipality, estimates that some 7,000 vehicles travel through the center of the city each day. Now many of them will go through the tunnel.

Copyright © 2012 The Media Line. All Rights Reserved.

December 08, 2012

LONDON (AP) — Pakistan’s president has visited a British hospital where a 15-year-old schoolgirl is being treated after being shot in the head by a Taliban gunman.

Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital says Asif Ali Zardari met with doctors treating Malala Yousafzai during a visit Saturday. It said that the leader was briefed about Malala’s medical progress, before having a private meeting with the girl’s father and brothers.

Malala was airlifted to the hospital after she was targeted on Oct. 9 by militants in the northwest Swat Valley. The Taliban targeted Malala for criticizing the militant group and promoting secular girls’ education, which is opposed by the Islamist extremists.

December 09, 2012

CAIRO (AP) — A national dialogue committee said a referendum on a disputed draft constitution will be held on schedule, but President Mohammed Morsi has agreed to rescind the near-absolute power he had granted himself.

The statement came after a meeting that was boycotted by the main opposition leaders who are calling for the Dec. 15 vote to be canceled. Morsi had called for the dialogue to try to defuse a spiraling crisis, but the decision appeared unlikely to appease the opposition since it recommends the referendum go ahead as scheduled. Morsi’s initial declaration was to be rendered ineffective anyway after the referendum.

Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer, said the recommendations to rescind some powers were a “play on words” since Morsi had already achieved the desired aim of finalizing the draft constitution and protecting it from a judicial challenge.

The charter, which would enshrine Islamic law and was drafted despite a boycott by secular and Christian members of the assembly, is at the heart of a political crisis that began Nov. 22 when Morsi granted himself authority without judicial oversight.

Opposition activists are camping outside the presidential palace and are calling for more protests on Sunday. Several rallies on both sides have drawn tens of thousands of people into the streets and sparked fierce bouts of street battles that have left at least six people dead. Several offices of the president’s Muslim Brotherhood also have been torched in the unrest.

Selim al-Awa, an Islamist at the meeting, said the committee found it would be a violation of earlier decisions to change the date of the referendum. However, the committee recommended removing articles that granted Morsi powers to declare emergency laws and shield him from judicial oversight.

Members of the committee said Morsi had agreed to the recommendations, but there was no confirmation from the Islamist leader. Bassem Sabry, a writer and activist, called the changes a “stunt” that would embarrass the opposition by making it look like Morsi was willing to compromise but not solve the problem.

“In the end, Morsi got everything he wanted,” he said, pointing out the referendum would be held without the consensus Morsi had promised to seek and without giving people sufficient time to study the document.

The majority of the 54 members of the committee were Islamists, as well as members of the constitutional panel that drafted the disputed charter. But the main opponents were not present at the meeting, which lasted over 10 hours.

The panel also said that if the constitution is rejected by voters, Morsi will call for the election of a new drafting committee within three months, a prospect that would prolong the transition. Opponents say the draft constitution disregards the rights of women and Christians.

The president has insisted his decrees were meant to protect the country’s transition to democracy from former regime figures trying to derail it. The deepening political rift in Egypt had triggered an earlier warning Saturday from the military of “disastrous consequences” if the constitutional crisis isn’t resolved through dialogue.

It was the first political statement by the military since the newly elected Morsi sidelined it from political life. Weeks after he was sworn in, Morsi ordered its two top generals to retire, and gave himself legislative powers that the military had assumed in the absence of parliament, which had been dissolved by the courts.

The military said serious dialogue is the “best and only” way to overcome the conflict, which has left the country deeply divided between Islamist supporters of the president and his mostly secular opponents.

“Anything other than (dialogue) will force us into a dark tunnel with disastrous consequences, something which we won’t allow,” the military said in a statement broadcast on state TV and attributed to an unnamed military official.

Heightening the tension, Hazem Abu Ismail, the leader of group of radical Islamists staging a sit-in outside a media complex on the outskirts of Cairo, gave a thinly veiled threat of more violence, saying the protest outside the presidential palace was an “affront” to the president and will not be tolerated.

Earlier this week, the area around the palace was the scene of the worst civilian clashes since Morsi came to power. In an attempt to calm the situation, Morsi called for Saturday’s dialogue. But the main opposition leaders refused to attend, saying it didn’t address their main demands and was being held under the threat of violence against protesters.

“No reasonable person would agree to be part of a dialogue held at the point of a sword,” the National Salvation Front said in a statement. The crisis began Nov. 22 when Morsi granted himself authority free of judicial oversight, mainly because he feared a looming court decision that was expected to declare the Islamist-led constitutional drafting assembly illegal and order it disbanded. The assembly then quickly adopted a draft constitution despite a walkout by Christian and secular members.

The moves touched off a new wave of opposition and unprecedented clashes between the president’s Islamist supporters, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, and protesters accusing him of becoming a new strongman.

With the specter of more fighting among Egyptians looming, the military sealed off the presidential palace plaza with tanks and barbed wire. State media also reported that the government was working on a new law to allow the military to arrest civilians, but there was no official word on that either.

The state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper quoted an unnamed military official as saying the move would be “preventive” if the situation worsened. The report could not be independently confirmed and the law would have to be signed by Morsi before it takes effect.

At the presidential palace sit-in on Saturday, TV footage showed the military setting up a new wall of cement blocks around the palace. Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan accused the opposition of seeking the military’s return to politics by “pushing matters to the brink.”

He said the military statement showed it agrees on the legitimacy of the elected president, the referendum plans and state institutions, and will protect them from any “attack.” The group’s top leader Mohammed Badie and his powerful deputy Khairat el-Shater, meanwhile, held news conferences alleging a conspiracy to topple Morsi, although they presented little proof.

Badie said the opposition, which has accused his group of violence, is responsible for attacks on Muslim Brotherhood offices. He also claimed that most of those killed in last week’s violence at the palace and other governorates were Brotherhood members.

“These are crimes, not opposition or disagreement in opinion,” he said. Meanwhile, the opposition accused gangs organized by the Brotherhood and other Islamists of attacking its protesters, calling on Morsi to disband them and open an investigation into the bloodshed.

Meanwhile, with dialogue boycotted by the main opposition players, members of a so-called Alliance of Islamists forces warned it will take all measures to protect “legitimacy” and the president — comments that signal further violence may lie ahead.

Mostafa el-Naggar, a former lawmaker and protest leader during the uprising that led to Mubarak’s ouster in February 2011, said the Brotherhood and military statements suggested the crisis was far from over.

“As it stands, Egypt is captive to internal decisions of the Brotherhood,” he said.

December 08, 2012

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas vowed to continue fighting Israel Saturday, as hundreds of thousands of flag-waving Gazans turned out to celebrate the organization’s 25th anniversary.

Khaled Mashaal’s visit to the Palestinian territory — a first in his lifetime of exile — underscores Hamas’ rising clout and regional acceptance since its eight-day conflict with Israel last month. At the main stage in Gaza City, a roaring crowd greeted Mashaal and Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who emerged from a door built into a large model of a rocket fired at Israeli cities during the recent fighting.

Hamas’ green dominated the gathering, where some children wore military uniforms and others carried guns. Masked gunmen holding automatic rifles flanked the podium where Mashaal gave a fiery speech. “We are not giving up any inch of Palestine. It will remain Islamic and Arab for us and nobody else. Jihad and armed resistance is the only way,” Mashaal said, referring to holy war. “We cannot recognize Israel’s legitimacy.”

Mashaal said he would continue to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails — referring to a swap last year where an abducted Israeli soldier was exchanged for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

The 56-year-old Mashaal, who left the West Bank as a child and now leads Hamas from the Gulf state of Qatar, entered Gaza on Friday via Egypt. Hamas has received a boost from the political ascension of its parent movement, the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, in the wake of last year’s Arab Spring revolts — especially in Egypt.

It has also upped its profile as master of the Gaza Strip, leading it through the bloodiest round of fighting with Israel in four years and coming to a cease-fire arrangement in talks brokered by Egypt.

Hamas claimed victory in the conflict after holding its own despite airstrikes and maintaining an almost constant barrage of rocket attacks on Israeli cities. The Nov. 21 cease-fire stipulated Israel would stop targeting militants. That, along with unprecedented support from Egypt, allowed Mashaal to make the visit without fear of Israeli assassination, which he has narrowly escaped in the past.

Israel, the U.S. and European Union list Hamas as a terrorist organization. Israel is now holding indirect talks with the group as a result of the cease-fire arrangement.