Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories
The West is floundering in immorality and has no right to criticise the Islamist movement Hamas over the way it governs the Palestinian territory of Gaza, a veteran leader of the militant group said. Hamas strategist Mahmoud Al-Zahar told Reuters in an interview that Islamic traditions deserved respect and he accused Europe of promoting promiscuity and political hypocrisy. (Photo: Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip October 23, 2010/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)
"We have the right to control our life according to our religion, not according to your religion. You have no religion, You are secular," said Zahar, who is one of the group's most influential and respected voices.
"You do not live like human beings. You do not (even) live like animals. You accept homosexuality. And now you criticise us?" he said, speaking from his apartment building in the densely populated Mediterranean city.
Hamas, which is an acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement and means "zeal" in Arabic, won a fair, 2006 Palestinian parliamentary election and then seized control of Gaza in 2007 after routing rival forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas.
Eighteen months and 231 posts ago, we welcomed you to AxisMundi as the place to follow Reuters coverage from Jerusalem. We told you the city, and its stories, were at the centre of the world. From now on, you will find blogs and notes about current affairs in Israel and Palestinian territories at the heart of our Global News Journal, along with insight on other major issues of the day.
AxisMundi will continue to be an occasional posting point for additional material on stories from the Jerusalem, Ramallah, Gaza and Tel Aviv bureaux, but it will no longer be regularly updated. Thank you for interest. Please keep reading our file at this search site and checking our blogs at Global News Journal, FaithWorld and other Reuters sites.
The rare sense of space and calm that marks out the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City is both its blessing and its curse. The acquisition of the land, and construction of the beautiful St. James Cathedral at its heart, speaks volumes for the abilities of this small ethnic diaspora from the Caucasus to secure favour from the Ottoman sultans who partitioned the walled holy city in the hope of a bit of peace from religious rivalries.
But the limited, and shrinking population of the Armenians has made their Quarter an object of envy and desire for other groups, not least the fast-expanding Jewish Quarter next door, which has been massively rebuilt during 43 years of Israeli control after being ravaged during the period of Jordanian rule from 1948 to 1967.
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip may just feel a little less isolated today. Israel is bowing to international pressure and rejigging its embargo on the enclave in the wake of the bloodshed 3 weeks ago when it enforced a longstanding maritime blockade.
But earlier this month, taking my leave at the end of a 3-year assignment, I reflected while walking the half-mile (700-metre) cage (picture, right) that separates Gaza from Israel on how the barriers that surround and divide this region have, if anything, grown higher, deepening the isolation of the rival parties. That may make any kind of reconciliation more difficult as time goes on. I wrote about this earlier today.
Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested in Israel Thursday against a court order to desegregate a religious school and force Jewish girls of European and Middle Eastern descent to study together.
Demonstrations were held in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, a Tel Aviv suburb with a large population of religious Jews, before some 80 Ashkenazi parents, Jews of European origin, were to report to jail for defying the Supreme Court ruling.
“You’re so beautiful!” a middle-aged American woman in a modern Orthodox Jewish headscarf called out across the street to a complete stranger as I was walking through the northern Israeli town of Safed the other day. Anywhere but Safed – also known as Tzfat – and I might have been more startled. But in this mountain-top retreat for Jewish mystics, both of an Orthodox and of less conventional persuasion, the public outburst of peace, love and understanding seemed entirely natural.
Depending on your national cultural references, it’s hard to capture the spirit of Safed precisely – it is part hippie-haven, part devotional centre for hordes of black-clad Hassidic Jews; part Taos, New Mexico, part Crown Heights, Brooklyn. I have tried to sum it up in a story today. While the Orthodox who flock there in the hundreds of thousands every spring to pray at the graves of the founders of Kabbalah mysticism would doubtless take exception to the idea, for an international audience it is probably Madonna who has done most to put Safed on the map lately. The Queen of Pop, whose interest in Kabbalah has drawn many other non-Jewish celebrity emulators, paid a brief visit last year, while on tour in Israel.
To spend the past few days in the crowded, narrow streets of Jerusalem’s Old City, among the multilingual throngs marking Passover or Easter, was to get an unforgettable sense of the power this place has over the minds of millions. It also gives an insight into some of the ways Jerusalem, and control of access to its holy sites, plays into global power politics.
For the majority of Palestinians who are Muslim, as well as for the Islamic world beyond, the Jewish state of Israel’s hold on the city since its capture from Jordan in the 1967 war is a deep grievance. Sporadic violence around the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque has flared again this year.
Next week is the time of year when millions of people around the world look to Jerusalem as the source of inspiration for the Christian festival of Easter and Jewish Passover celebrations. But this week the city is also the recurrent focus of bitter dispute. The United States has directed rare strong criticism at Israel over its plans to expand Jewish settlements there, saying the building undermines U.S. efforts to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Want to know more? Following are links to a sampling of recent Reuters stories about Jerusalem and a Reuters graphic on new Israeli construction in East Jerusalems:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confronted a new emergency just as he made amends with Washington over a plan for more Jewish settler housing in occupied land.
The new crisis was over an issue regarding which there is even less consensus in Israel than on how to resolve the conflict with Palestinians — an ever-widening social divide between Israel’s ultra-Orthodox and its secular Jewish citizens.
It’s been a tough week for Joe Biden in the Middle East. Our former colleague in Jerusalem Adam Entous, now based in Washington, travelled with the US vice president and filed these reflections on the mixed messages and omens, some ominous, some perhaps less so, that accompanied President Barack Obama’s emissary to this most symbolic of cities.
“First Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak cancelled talks in Cairo and flew to hospital for gallbladder surgery. Then came an Israeli gift of broken glass and an eerie power outage in the “Hall of Remembrance” for the Holocaust. By the time the lights flickered back on, Biden’s Middle East fortunes were sealed with an Israeli announcement that it would build 1,600 new homes for Jewish settlers, ignoring U.S. and Palestinian objections. It was an embarrassing setback that put a spotlight on the challenge the U.S. administration faces getting Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.”