news on the middle east


Monday, March 16, 2015

Peace Process Amid Elections in Israel

In December 2014, the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for new elections two years ahead of schedule as tensions over the “Jewish state” bill proposing to declare Israel as "the nation state of the Jewish people" threatened to undermine his leadership. Netanyahu and his right wing, hawkish Likud Party does now fight to be re-elected. His biggest opponent is the Zionist Union, a centre-left alliance between Issac Herzog’s Labour Party and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah, a part founded in 2012 to present an alternative to voters frustrated by the stalemate in peacemaking.

Prospects of Land-for-Peace

While many international observers and politicians view the peace process as Israel’s most prevalent political issue, there seems to be little demand amongst the Israeli population for peace with the Palestinians and the outcome of the election will thus rather depend on the parties’ economic policies. BBC’s Middle East correspondent, Kevin Connolly, writes that ‘the moribund state of the vexed peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has never felt like a major campaign issue’. However minor in the run-up to the elections, the prospects for a re-instigation of the haltered peace process will depend heavily on the outcome of the election as Netanyahu and his party moves further and further away from traditional peace proposals.

Israel’s current Prime Minister, who six years ago still embraced the concept of the ‘Two-State Solution’, recently used the unstable situation in the Middle East with ISIS continuing to fight in Iraq, Syria and Libya to explain that for his government the idea of a Palestinian state has lost its viability. He argued that a newly founded state would be vulnerable to be taken over and used as a battleground by militant extremists. The New York Times published an article today, March 16th, stating that Netanyahu authorized the construction and extension of the heavily criticised settlement Har Homa in one of the southern neighbourhoods of Jerusalem. It was part of campaign launched to rally support amongst right-wing voters, who oppose a Palestinian state and hence any negotiations aiming at establishing a Palestinian state in exchange for peace. Both settlements and the ownership of Jerusalem remain two of the main obstacles for peace between Israel and its occupied territories.

While the future of the peace process remains unclear independent of the outcome of tomorrow’s election, recent events and developments indicate that in case of a Likud success the prospects for peace look dire.

Arab Israeli Vote

While Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank do not have the right to vote, the Arab population in Israel, the descendants of those who in 1948-49 remained on the territory, which became Israel, makes up 15% of the electorate and will thus influence the outcome of the election. Traditionally, most of the Arab population’s votes were divided amongst three Arab parties. For this election, however, the Arab parties joined forces with its leader Ayman Odeh stating that their number one objective is to end the current premiership of Netanyahu. If the Arab list is successful – recent polls indicated that they are able to win between 13 and 15 seats in the Knesset – the prospects to revive the peace process are likely to increase as they promised to emphasize the issue and aim to enshrine it again on Israel’s national agenda.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Mona Al-Ghussein talks Gaza

Here's Mona Ghussein on the English Hour. I was fairly pleased with the broadcast when I did it, though you may think differently. Let me know:

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Frustration in Gaza

On the 26th of August last year, Israel and Gaza agreed to a ceasefire deal, with the help of Egypt’s President al-Sisi, that would see fishing restrictions gradually lifted and an end of the blockade of border crossings into Gaza. The deal saw the end to 50 days of fighting that claimed the lives of well over 2000 people, the vast majority of which were Palestinians. For the optimists it appeared, given the concessions made by Israel, to provide the stepping stone towards a potential peace deal. Yet frustration seems to be growing in Gaza and there are signs that the ceasefire deal is at real risk.

There have been strains on the ceasefire deal since its inception in late August: in September Gaza fishermen were reportedly fired on by the Israeli navy despite claiming to have been within the allotted 6 mile fishing limit and in December rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza, to which Israel responded with airstrikes. Perhaps most importantly though, in Gaza the conditions of the deal are not perceived to have been upheld by Israel. The opening of border crossings was a necessity to obtain the materials needed to reconstruct the many homes in Gaza destroyed during the conflict. Whilst Israel has provided building materials through the border – around 400 trucks a day pass through for this purpose - the borders are heavily monitored. The view from Palestine is epitomised by Palestinian journalist Hai al-Masri, who writes that “the siege and closure of the crossings have become worse than at any other time”. With thousands of people in Gaza still homeless and living in tents, tensions are simmering as a result.

The division between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority is also playing a part in this. Last month, for example, Hamas set up a makeshift outpost and patrolled at the Palestinian Authority’s checkpoint; Israel responded by only allowing Gazans with humanitarian emergencies through the border. The strain in Gaza certainly seems to be increasing. Militants have reportedly conducted several attacks against Hamas, including blowing up the car of a Hamas security official on January 20th. So, although Hamas themselves seem inclined to honour the ceasefire for the moment – they have been attempting to prevent the rocket fire into Israel in December, the pressure on them and Gazan people is mounting. Ceasefires between the two sides have been historically precarious and have been consistently broken. This factor, along with the internal disputes in Gaza and the fact that the borders are seemingly no more open than before, mean the threat to this current deal is rising.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Disparity between health levels in Palestine and Israel

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Prevalence of disease

According to the Global Burden of Disease study carried out between 1990 and 2013 there exist gross disparities between the health of Palestinians and Israelis (Humanosphere August 2014). The biggest discrepancies found were in cardio and circulatory disease prevalence and neonatal issues - five times as much in Palestine and diabetes and endocrine diseases which are twice as prevalent amongst Palestinians as Israelis. Although the disparity between child deaths among the two populations has been diminishing over time, the rate among Palestinian children is still 5 times as much as among Israeli children in 2013 with maternal mortality double the rate in Palestine.  There is also a significant difference between the numbers of mental health suffers in Palestinian territories versus in Israel – figures that Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) associates with a high prevalence of anxiety among Palestinians under the continuous mistreatment by IDF forces.

There were found to be many poverty-related and conflict-related afflictions with diarrhoea and infectious diseases much higher (up to 5 times) among the Palestinians as well as low rates of nutrition (5 times as much among Palestinians) which along-side poor housing and low incomes exacerbate the rate of avoidable illnesses. This has contributed to a greater scale of early death with general life expectancy (outside of conflict) around 5 years less among Palestinians that Israelis, 75 to 81, respectively – and an over 65 population of 3.2% in Palestine and 10.5 in Israel (World fact book). 

Further details and a breakdown can be found at

Health provision and access

The general health level among Israelis is on average more comparable to Europe, currently higher than in Italy or Spain (Humanopsphere, August 2014), with health spending currently at USD$ 2,071 per capita  or 7.7% of GDP similar to that of Luxembourg (World fact book) with universal health care in place since 1995. Conversely Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are provided health care through UN agencies, specifically UNWRA and humanitarian organisations such as MSF and the ICRC – but these can cost and do have some notable conditions.  The WHO estimated that 58% of the health sector in Gaza was damaged during Operation Protective Edge with specific medical concerns arising such as the increase of water-borne diseases as a result of over-crowding in shelters; complications for casualty patients including through lack of water and electricity and a decline of physical and mental health from the extended emergency period without improvements to access to health or the overall living conditions in Gaza (WHO 21st August 2014).

Health facilities and provision in Israel do not seem to be greatly affected, if at all, by hostilities and conflict while facilities in Palestine are currently also suffering from shortages in drugs – 28% of essential medicines were at zero stock and 16% at very low with anaesthesia and sutures at only 54% of that required – according to the Pharmacy director general in Gaza (WHO, 2014). The medical journal The Lancet found that poor families in Palestine had little access to medical treatment in Israel – made worse by the barrier erected by Israel within the West Bank and with Gaza – and that a fifth of access requests were either denied or delayed by the Israeli authorities.  Within Israel too, Israeli Arabs were found to experience health services differently.  Here economic factors were found to play less of a role than exclusionary policies towards non-Jews were found to be the cause with lower rates of insurance cover for Arabs (Chernichovsky and Anson, 2005) and subsequent fewer referrals to consultants for non-Hebrew speakers. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Imad Karam from Gaza

This interview was recorded before the Gaza War. However, it is still relevant. It is with filmmaker Dr Imad Karam of Initiatives for Change:

To support our Gaza appeal for families that have lost their breadwinner click on the button below:

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Friday, August 15, 2014

In Memoriam - Ali Abu Afash

It is with the deepest, profoundest sadness that The Next Century Foundation has to report the death yesterday of Ali Abu Afash, a close friend and NCF member and volunteer.

Ali passed away on Wednesday 13th of August in an explosion in Beit Lahiya, north of Gaza. The cause of the explosion, a piece of ordinance from the recent fighting that detonated. AP Journalist Simone Camilli, three others were also killed in the blast. Another four were injured.

Ali Abu Afash was a core member of the Gaza Centre for Media Freedom, an organisation that contributes to the development of Palestinian journalists in Gaza through training and development and the provision of financial and logistical aid.

A huge personality, Ali touched all of those that he met. Ali spent his time training young journalists and campaigning on the plight of journalists in Gaza. During the recent bombardment of Gaza he worked tirelessly assisting journalists in their coverage of the conflict.

Always happy, welcoming and optimistic, whatever the situation, the tight-knit journalistic community in Gaza will be mourning a huge loss.

Ali 36, is survived by his wife and two daughters, ages 5 and 6.

Loved by all, Ali Abu Afash, one of the world's most wonderful and gentle men, will be sorely missed.

This dear man, Ali Abu Afash, was the fifteenth journalist to be killed in the current round of fighting. God grant that there will be no more.
The Next Century Foundation has been raising money for Gaza Centre for Media Freedom and the families of journalists killed. If you would like to contribute please donate here

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Gaza Report 9

This report is the ninth in a series on the current confrontation between Gaza and Israel.

ISRAEL: The following is the perspective of David Sasson, one of Israel’s veteran peacemakers and senior member of the NCF. David is of Iraqi Jewish heritage (as usual, quoted verbatim as of this morning):

I am very sad about both Gaza and Iraq. I don’t know what the US is going to do. They make a lot of mistakes. Look at the plight of the Christians of Mosul. Nobody says anything about that.

Gaza is very very bad. This is a big mistake I think. This creates terror in the Middle East – even in Europe. The West must open its eyes. We don’t have the right sort of politicians now in the world. We cannot do anything. The politicians must find a solution and that involves sitting together. The same rules apply in Syria and in Iraq and in Gaza.

In Gaza, if they destroy Hamas, ISIS will come. Al Qaidah will be there. I feel very sad and believe me: they must wake up in the West. Al Qaidah is at the doors of Europe. Europe and America must wake up.

In the end they are going to sit together. Better to sit today not tomorrow.

I am very very sad to see what happened in this world.

GAZA: The following comment comes from Adel Zaanoon, the NCF’s senior member in Gaza. Again the words are quoted verbatim (as at 5:30 pm GMT this afternoon).

There are more and more efforts for a humanitarian truce. They have failed because Israel rejected that truce. But at the same time today morning it was quiet, no shelling from Israel or Hamas.

This afternoon there were several air strikes on Shifa hospital and on the refugee camp. 10 Palestinians were killed and 55 injured. Meanwhile throughout all Gaza there was tank shelling. All areas repeated tank shelling.

In Khoza today, the village East of Khan Younis, the Red Cross found 12 bodies from four or five days ago.

Still there are efforts from all for peace.

Meanwhile Hamas and Islamic Jihad confirmed their conditions for a cease fire: the lifting of the siege and the reopening of all crossings including Rafa. But Israel does not want to end the siege.

Maybe there will be more and more escalation if we do not arrive at a truce. Escalation from both Israel and Palestine. A lot maybe.

Meanwhile today on the ground there were several clashes. The Qassam said 9 Israelis were killed today, whilst Israel said 4 Israelis dead in Ashkol North East of Gaza this afternoon by Palestinian rocket.

It’s terrible. Still very bad. There is no solution. No vision to solve this problem. Maybe there will be a humanitarian truce. I hope so. For 24 hours. We hope so because the people of Gaza are tired. There is so much suffering in Gaza, it’s crazy.

This current cease fire proposal comes from the UN. Hamas and Israel are both discussing this proposal. The Palestinian people hope there will be agreement from Hamas and Israel because they are more and more tired and more and more are being killed.

There were 10 Palestinian children killed and 50 injured in that one strike in Shata refugee camp. About 40% of the dead in Gaza these days are children and 20% are women. Since this began 1,100 have been killed.


COMMENT: Today's comment is in the shape of two broadcasts, both actually recorded before the current outbreak of hostilities, but possibly even more pertinent now.

The first is with Orthodox Rabbi Herschel Gluck. Click Here

The second is with Gazan film maker Dr Imad Karam. Click Here


Also – we were sent the following comment from a Syrian, Abdulazim Saffaf

Thank you very much for asking me for my opinion on whether I can see some light at the end of the darkest tunnel in history; the Middle East conflict.
The survival nature and resilience of the people involved in the conflict both Jewish and Palestinian throughout history justify my hope.
There is no alternative to direct negotiation. This direct negotiation should be between true representatives of both sides including the Israeli far right and Hamas. Without involving them the chance is everything will collapse.
Negotiation and not bargaining or haggling, negotiation that is dynamic and goes beyond mere conferring with view to compromise. It is about making and seeking concessions.
The hope is there if we adhere to self-evident principles:
1.      Hate breeds only hate and violence, love breeds love and peace.
2.      To read history to learn valuable lessons to enhance co-existence, and to stop reading history to live in it.
3.      Injustice is the source of all evils.
4.      All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights (Article1, Universal declaration of human rights UDHR).
5.      Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person (Article3, UDHR)
6.      Everyone has the right to a nationality (Article 15.1 UDHR)
7.      No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality (Article 15.2 UDHR).
8.      Both Arabs and Jews deserve not just a break but a lasting solution.
9.      Hostilities must stop immediately to allow for proper negotiation of lasting peace.
Hope can also be sought from the good example of the harmonious co-existence between Jews and Arabs as those in the past in Baghdad, Andalusia or the current good example in Safed under the Jewish Mayor Ilan Shochat.
In addition to the above principles, there are the following facts that we should draw our attention to:
1.      The word Palestine has always had positive connotation among Jews. Most of the Jewish writers prior to 1948 spoke of their love to and of their dreams about the Holy Land called Palestine.

2.      The word Israel has always had positive connotation among Arabs prior to 1948 because of the high place Prophet Jacob (Israel) the father of Prophet Joseph both have in the heart of Muslim and Christian Arabs.

I HAVE A DREAM! That one day to see Palestine as one country and to see Jews and Arabs living side by as equal citizens of that country. With the potential of both its peoples and its world religions and heritage, there shall be no limits to the advancement and prosperity of this country. Jerusalem shall regain its long held name: The City of Peace.

When Jerusalem is peaceful, the whole world will be peaceful.
 Abdulazim Saffaf

Gaza Report 8

This report is the eighth in a series on the current confrontation between Gaza and Israel.

ISRAEL: The following is the perspective of Danny Rubenstein, one of Israel’s greatest award winning journalists and a close friend of the NCF:

It’s a window of opportunity now because the Hamas regime is isolated and broken both militarily and financially.

Now is the first time Egypt and Abu Mazin and Israel have truly cooperated. This is a good chance to bring Gaza to life. There are a lot of possibilities. For instance the gas reservoirs (Gaza has vast offshore gas reserves). The only reason they are not developed is the need to find a customer. You cannot develop these reserves without a customer. Gaza itself is not enough as a customer. The only relevant customer is Israel.

Developing the Gaza reserves through Egypt is a disaster because the terrorists would attack the pipeline in Sinai. If Israel buys this then there could also be a pipeline to Jordan. This would bring millions of dollars to Gaza. You could run desalination plants for Gaza with the cheap energy.

For 15 years nothing has been done with this gas. And this is only one example of how Gaza could be developed.

If you listen to Netanyahu, he doesn’t say anything about getting rid of Hamas. I am afraid he wants a weak Hamas to stay and Abu Mazin to remain a weak partner for peace. It would be much much better if Abu Mazin were strong and would take over Gaza.

Of course Abu Mazin getting with the support of Israeli tanks would be a disaster. But now if we had a cease fire and moved on from there, Hamas is popular but very weak because it is isolated by the entire world. That’s why it is a good time to start this dialogue.

GAZA: The following comment comes from the NCF office in Gaza. 

The situation is the same. The situation is still very bad today. Violence. Tank shells. Especially on the East of Gaza, North and South. Everywhere. Today so far 32 have been killed and more than 100 injured. In total thus far we have 832 dead, more than 5,200 injured, 17,000 houses damaged, 1,800 completely destroyed.

Hamas fighters and the Israeli Army are still fighting. Hamas killed three Israeli soldiers today but we hear nothing of that from the Israelis.

On the political effort there is nothing new. We will support any new idea, believe this. But compromise is difficult because Hamas must completely end the siege. But Israel just wants quiet on the basis of calm = calm. This is completely impossible for us because we would just be in the same miserable situation we were in before all this began which means nothing.

The Egyptian side do not support Hamas demands to end the siege.

We want to rebuild the airport and seaport but Israel is not ready to give Palestine this point.

For Al Eid there will be a truce for a few days maybe.

The obstacle is Egypt and maybe Saudi Arabia.

It’s really terrible.


COMMENT: Today's comment is from UK Task Force, an organisation that highlights issues in regard to Israel’s Arabs, and they have highlighted and submitted this article from the Economist.

Also – Geoffrey Whitfield of Sports for Peace sent us this more subjective comment piece from Uri Avnery of Peace Now. Thank You