AxisMundi Jerusalem

Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories

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“Big Brother” bumbles into West Bank

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bb2_3112_live_boker5It’s a reality television show whose contestants are isolated from the outside world, but “Big Brother” in Israel has managed to set off yet another controversy over Palestine policies.

Cameras at the studio-cum-commune outside Jerusalem caught Edna Canetti, a 54-year-old liberal activist, telling fellow residents over the weekend she wanted to see a peaceful popular campaign against Israel’s West Bank occupation.

“It bothers me that you’re silent. What’s needed is a revolt,” she declared after refusing to play along with a challenge in which contestants were divided into two groups — “rich” versus “poor” — with a plexiglass barrier between them.

Shifting to Middle East politics, Canetti said Palestinians should similarly tell Israel: “Shove your laws … We’re not going through that checkpoint and we’re not showing you IDs … This is our land.”

It’s always sunny on West Bank’s Sesame Street

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Sesame Street/West Bank

It’s always a sunny day on Sesame Street in the West Bank, where the neighbors are friendly and the muppets never see an Israeli army checkpoint all day long.

Shara’a Simsim, the Palestinian version of the popular television program Sesame Street, will air its fourth season on Palestine TV in January 2010. Funded through a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the new edition aims to teach Palestinian children that they can achieve their dream of an independent Palestinian state through tolerance, education and national pride, as opposed to anti-Israel violence.

“Little Palestine”

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palestinianflagPalestinian reconciliation efforts suffered another setback when President Mahmoud Abbas issued a decree for presidential and parliamentary elections on Jan. 24, a move that was rejected by the Islamist group Hamas. Egypt has been mediating for over a year to heal the split between Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas but the two rivals have continuously failed to reach a unity agreement. (Read our Q&A to understand why the two Palestinian factions fail to reach an agreement on Cairo’s latest proposal.) Most Palestinians believe a unity deal is crucial to achieving Palestinian statehood but don’t think an agreement is likely. However, the rare case of successful Fatah-Hamas partnership in the West Bank village of Beita might convince them otherwise.

Elected leaders of this town come from different backgrounds and political affiliations but all serve on the same council, working in synergy to build a robust independently-funded infrastructure – a rarity in the Palestinian territories.

Tony Blair assailed at a Palestinian mosque

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tonyblairTony Blair, the Middle East envoy for the “Quartet” of powers – the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations, was assailed by a Palestinian man during a visit to a mosque in the West Bank city of Hebron on Tuesday.

“You are terrorism,” the man shouted as guards tried to cover his mouth. “He is not welcome in the land of Palestine.”

“An intifada of the wealthy”

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Living conditions seem to be improving in the West Bank. Thanks to a recently gained sense of security and availability of funding, Palestinian farmers are diversifying their crop portfolio away from staples like tomatoes, for a competitive edge. Palestinians have announced the launch of one of their most ambitious real estate projects to date in the central West Bank. Nablus, long the industrial hub of the West Bank, the city’s once ubiquitous soapmakers who have survived a sharp decline in sales are eyeing new markets abroad for their all-natural product. A recent International Monetary Fund report projects real GDP in the West Bank to rise by about 7 percent this year, provided that remaining Israeli military restrictions are lifted. This growth will mark “the first substantial increase in living standards since 2005″, the IMF says. Cafes in Ramallah are bustling with business, and unemployment is down.

Five years ago, such positive economic climate could not have been imagined. The West Bank’s economy had been weak and dwindling under checkpoints and roadblocks imposed by Israel following the Palestinian uprising of 2000. Things started changing this summer, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu easing travel within the West Bank as part of an “economic peace” that he described as a prelude to a fuller accord with the Palestinians. Consolidating that vision despite his own reservations about Israel’s long-term intentions, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad unveiled a 65-page plan for building the institutions and infrastructure of the future state of Palestine.

The Opportunity Cost

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(Read the English transcript of Shalit’s video message here.)

It’s been two days since the exchange of the captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit’s proof-of-life video for Israel’s release of 20 Palestinian female prisoners. The final prisoner of the 20 was freed today as the last step to the soldier-video swap.

After being made public, the video has been replayed nonstop on television, radio, and video web-hosting sites. As of Monday, the endless number of video uploads by individual users on Youtube had each been viewed over at least 40,000 times.

Peace Without Hamas?

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According to International Peace Institute’s (IPI) new poll conducted in both Hamas-ruled Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank administered by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement, Palestinians still offer substantial support for the Islamist Hamas group for being “the party of resistance”.

IPI said 55 percent of Palestinians favor a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, which shows a shift in Palestinian public opinion towards greater willingness to accept “the overall package and of provisions for Israeli withdrawal, Palestinian demilitarization, and mutual recognition.”

Meanwhile in the West Bank…

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While Israeli, Palestinian, and U.S. leaders debated the status of settlement expansion in New York, Palestinian workers carried on building the fenced-off red-roofed suburban enclaves in the West Bank.

With the settlement issue continuing to heat up the discussions, we sent our correspondents to a settlement construction site to see it for ourselves.

Dead Sea Wonder

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The Dead Sea is among 14 finalists in a global internet vote next year to choose the 7 wonders of the natural world, organisers said on Tuesday August 25, 2009.
The famously salty lake at the lowest point in the world is in the running for a place alongside spectacular natural phenomena such as the Amazon River, the Galapagos Islands, the Grand Canyon and the Great Barrier Reef.
The Dead Sea is shared by Israel, Jordan and the occupied West Bank. It was almost eliminated from the contest (www.new7wonders.com) earlier this year when Middle East politics blocked their required cooperation.
But a last-minute compromise allowed the candidacy to proceed to the next stage. Final results are due in 2011, by which time the organisers expect one billion people will have voted online.

Click below for a multi-media ’essay’ on the Dead Sea.

In Bilin…every Friday

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Click below for a multi-media ’essay’ on the weekly protests staged in the West Bank to protest the barrier Israel is building in and around the West Bank. Israel says the barrier prevents Palestinian attacks in its towns and cities. Palestinians say the barrier is a land grab as much of it is built on land they want for a future state.

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