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Date posted: November 15, 2008
By MIFTAH

Palestinians commemorated the fourth anniversary of the death of former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, Abu Ammar, on November 11. Thousands gathered around the West Bank to remember him, while current President Mahmoud Abbas gave a speech in his honor, using the opportunity to stress the importance of national unity in the face of adversity. However, he did criticize Hamas for “thwarting” the Egyptian conciliation efforts, calling Hamas’s decision not to attend “unacceptable.” A Hamas spokesman labeled the comments an “attempt at incitement”. On the same day as the anniversary, President Arafat’s widow, Suha Arafat, gave an interview to the Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat, published on November 12 , in which she expressed a desire to return to Palestine because “life in the Diaspora has become unbearable”. She currently resides in Malta with her daughter Zahwa.

Meanwhile, President Abbas has been busy, travelling to Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt on November 9 to brief a meeting of the international Quartet members on the status of peace negotiations. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni also attended. According to a statement issued by the UN the next day, both pledged to continue the pursuit of intensive peace negotiations. The Quartet set a tentative date for additional talks in spring 2009 in Moscow. On November 10, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also reiterated that Israel would have to concede territory in peace talks with the Palestinians and Syria. Speaking at a memorial service for the assassinated Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin, he said, "I am not trying to retroactively justify the Oslo Accords, which I was against. But they defined a direction – and that direction is inevitable.”

Despite the talk of peace negotiations, the situation on the ground has not been peaceful by any means. On November 9, Israeli troops evicted the Palestinian Al-Kurd family from their home of 52 years in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem. The eviction, which took place at 4am, came despite international calls of protest, including from the US. Eight international solidarity activists from Canada, the US, Britain and Sweden were arrested for camping on the family’s property in protest of the eviction. Settler groups have been attempting to take over the Al-Kurd family home along with 26 other houses in the neighborhood in order to establish a new Jewish settlement in its place.

On November 10, the European Union issued a statement expressing much concern for the recent destruction of Palestinian houses in east Jerusalem, calling on Israel “to refrain from all unilateral measures that may prejudge the result of the final status negotiations, particularly in Jerusalem.” In addition to the Al-Kurd family eviction, the statement also referred to four Palestinian homes demolished in the Silwan and Shu’afat neighborhoods of Jerusalem during the previous week. Unfortunately, EU criticisms did not stop Israel from demolishing two houses in the West Bank village of Shaqba two days later on November 12. The homes housed a total of 18 people.

The week also witnessed the usual large number of arrests and raids. On November 9, Israeli forces seized six Palestinians during early morning raids in different villages around the West Bank, including Tulkarem, Al-Khadr, and Dar Salah. That same day, Israeli troops blocked Palestinian dignitaries attending Hebron’s week-long National Campaign for Life, a campaign to protest the Israeli imposed closure on Hebron’s Old City. Soldiers also detained three students who were planning to participate in protest marches.

On November 10, Israeli forces arrested 24 Palestinians across the West Bank: 1 from the Jenin area, 11 from the Ramallah area, and 12 from the Bethlehem area. They were all taken in for questioning. That same morning, three Palestinian workers on their way to work via the Ni’lin checkpoint were beaten with stones by Israeli soldiers. According to witnesses, the soldiers asked the workers to say “we are not men”. When the workers refused, the soldiers began beating them with their rifle butts and then stones. On November 11, Israeli forces detained nine Palestinians from the Hebron area. Undercover Israeli forces also went into Jenin on the same afternoon, seizing a Palestinian man from outside his home.

The situation in Gaza has continued to deteriorate since the killing last week of six Hamas members during an Israeli incursion into the Strip. Israel continues to maintain a closure on the borders, leaving Gazans to sink further and further into a humanitarian crisis. At the beginning of the week, Gaza ran out of fuel completely, and have only received intermittent emergency supplies since then. Because of this, blackouts are common. It came to light on November 11 that Israel, in addition to limiting food and fuel supplies into Gaza, has been preventing journalists from entering and leaving the area. Several journalists believe that Israel hopes to limit press coverage of the effects of its latest blockade.

On November 12, Israeli warplane missiles killed four more Hamas members in the Gaza Strip near the town of Al-Qarara. Earlier that day, Israeli tanks and armored bulldozers invaded the same town, sparking clashes with Palestinian fighters. In response to the killings, Palestinian groups unleashed a barrage of homemade rockets and mortar shells into Israel the next day. Nobody was injured. More homemade rockets were fired on November 14 and 15, though once again, nobody was injured. On November 14, Israel fired missiles into the Gaza strip, injuring 4 Palestinian fighters. The next day, two Palestinian fighters were killed in an explosion in the northern Gaza Strip. Witnesses say it was the result of another Israeli air strike.

Moving to Jerusalem, municipal elections were held on November 11, with the victor being a secular Israeli businessman called Nir Barkat. Very few Palestinian residents of Jerusalem voted in the elections, which they consider to be a farce. The boycott was a statement that Jerusalem is an occupied city, and as such, Palestinians reject Israeli authority in the sections of the city occupied by Israel since 1967.

Raids and arrests continued into the latter half of the week. On November 12, Israeli troops seized three Palestinians in Nablus during a dawn raid. Israeli forces also stormed a house in a village near Bethlehem at dawn, taking away a young Palestinian man. On the same day, an Israeli military court extended the detention of eight Palestinian students until December 14, citing a need for ‘further investigation.’ The students were taken from school and are accused of throwing stones at Israeli troops. On November 13, five Palestinians were taken in overnight raids in the cities of Ramallah, Nablus and Hebron. Israeli forces also seized a Palestinian university student in the village of Al-Ubeidiya near Bethlehem.

The Vice President of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees condemned an Israeli attack on one of their clinics in the village of Al-Mugher, near Ramallah on November 13. The troops broke through the entrance to the clinic, ransacking the facility and destroying equipment. It is not known why they raided the clinic.

Villagers from the Ramallah area participated in marches on November 14, protesting Israeli imposed road closures. There are currently 680 Israeli military checkpoints and blocked roads in Palestine. Four Palestinians were also injured that day in an anti-wall protest Nilin near Ramallah.

It was announced on November 15 Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet on November 17 in Jerusalem to discuss the peace process and the more immediate concern of ongoing clashes in the Gaza Strip and the possibility of a renewed ceasefire. Despite the clashes, both Hamas and Isarel have declared an interest in renewing it after it expires on January 19, 2009. A Hamas leader said on November 14 that, “The ball is now in Israel’s court, and Israelis should make it clear whether they want the ceasefire to continue or not.”

Finally, November 15 marked the 20th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence for the State of Palestine, which was signed in Algiers in 1988. More than 100 countries recognize the existence of a Palestinian state in exile, and host offices of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) acknowledged as Palestinian embassies.

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