Palestinians debate value of Jerusalem vote boycott

Ramadan Dabash, a civil engineer from East Jerusalem who is running for a seat in city hall of Jerusalem in the upcoming municipal election, sits in his office in East Jerusalem, August 30, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 28 October 2018
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Palestinians debate value of Jerusalem vote boycott

  • Palestinian voter turnout was less than one percent in the last local vote in 2013
  • The vast majority of the disputed city’s roughly 300,000 Palestinians are expected to boycott the polls again

JERUSALEM: As Jerusalem voters go to the polls Tuesday for municipal elections, Palestinians are debating not which candidate to back — but whether to cast their ballots at all.
The vast majority of the disputed city’s roughly 300,000 Palestinians are expected to boycott the polls again, despite calls by a minority to use the elections to seize influence in a city under full Israeli control for decades.
Rami Nasrallah, director general of East Jerusalem’s International Peace and Cooperation Center think-tank, sees little to gain from voting.
“I’m not willing to recognize the political rules of the game and to recognize or legitimize the Israeli occupation,” he said.
Israel captured the city’s east and the surrounding West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War, later annexing East Jerusalem in a move never recognized by the international community.
Palestinians claim it as the capital of their future state.
Palestinian voter turnout was less than one percent in the last local vote in 2013, according to the Palestinian Academic Society for International affairs.
Municipalities and local councils across Israel will hold polls on Tuesday.
In Jerusalem a small number of Palestinian candidates are running for the council, but others have dropped out after criticism, intimidation and legal issues.
One of those who withdrew was Aziz Abu Sarah, who had even announced his intention to run for mayor.
He said it was time for Palestinians to “rethink” their boycott, pointing out that over 50 years Israel had moved around 200,000 settlers into east Jerusalem.
“We are losing Jerusalem every day,” he said during his campaign.
While he received support from both Palestinians and Israelis, he also faced a series of attacks and at one event was egged.
Like most Palestinian Jerusalemites, Abu Sarah has residency — not Israeli citizenship.
He was later told by Israeli authorities that his status as a Jerusalem resident was “being checked” due to his travel and work abroad, meaning he could be stripped of the right to stay in the city, he wrote on Facebook.
“Entrenched political interest groups on both sides hope to maintain the status quo, and will stop at nothing to prevent forward progress,” Abu Sarah said as he dropped out of the race.
Among the few Palestinians still in the race is Ramadan Dabash, who heads a list of six Arab candidates running for seats on the city council.
He has rare Israeli citizenship and is a former member of the right-wing Likud party run by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A lot of his votes could actually come from Jewish voters, rather than fellow Palestinians.
Dabash said he wanted to be on the council in order to protect Palestinians, and denied it amounted to recognizing Israel’s control of the city — which Israel considers its undivided capital.
Palestinians who have residency status rather than full Israeli citizenship can’t vote in general elections but can for the municipality, which is responsible for most Jerusalem schools as well as rubbish collection and other services.
“Palestinians pay more than 400 million shekels ($110 million) tax to the municipality,” Dabash told AFP. “They receive less than 10 percent of the services.”
Dabash said his mediation had helped prevent the demolition of dozens of homes in his neighborhood of Sur Baher in east Jerusalem.
But Palestinian involvement in the elections has been rejected by the Palestinian Authority, which has limited self-rule in the occupied West Bank.
“Any Palestinian should refuse to be a part of them. We will not accept Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat told AFP.
“What did the PA do for Jerusalemites?” Dabash shot back. “Did they build them hospitals?“
But in the streets of east Jerusalem there has been no sign of any election campaigning.
The four leading mayoral candidates all hold conservative views on issues regarding the area’s Palestinian residents.
Trader Abu Yasser, from Jerusalem’s Old City, summed up the views of many Palestinians, saying he wouldn’t vote as the elections wouldn’t change much.
“If the Palestinians in Jerusalem knew they would achieve something from these elections they would have gone against the PA’s wishes and voted to get municipal services,” he said.


Why the Armenian Genocide won’t be forgotten

Updated 24 April 2019
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Why the Armenian Genocide won’t be forgotten

  • Up to 1.5 million Armenians were wiped out by the Ottoman Empire beginning on April 24, 1915, a reality Turkey continues to deny
  • The day will be commemorated around the world today as a growing number of countries recognize the atrocity

DUBAI: More than 100 years on, Armenians and experts alike remember the brutal atrocities and forced exodus from what is now Turkey, which left up to 1.5 million Armenians dead.

April 24 marks the start, in 1915, of the Armenian Genocide. “Every Armenian is affected by the repeated massacres that occurred in the Ottoman Empire as family members perished,” said Joseph Kechichian, senior fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh.

“My own paternal grandmother was among the victims. Imagine how growing up without a grandmother — and in my orphaned father’s case, a mother — affects you,” he added.

“We never kissed her hand, not even once. She was always missed, and we spoke about her all the time. My late father had teary eyes each and every time he thought of his mother.”

Every Armenian family has similar stories, said Kechichian. “We pray for the souls of those lost, and we beseech the Almighty to grant them eternal rest,” he added.

“We also ask the Lord to forgive those who committed the atrocities and enlighten their successors so they too can find peace,” he said. “Denial is ugly and unbecoming, and it hurts survivors and their offspring, no matter the elapsed time.”

Donald Miller, professor of religion and sociology at the University of Southern California, said: “The ongoing denial of the genocide by the government of Turkey pours salt into the wound of the moral conscience of Armenians all over the world. On April 24, the genocide will be commemorated all over the world.”

On that day, the Ottoman government arrested and executed several hundred Armenian intellectuals.

Ordinary Armenians were then turned away from their homes and sent on death marches through the Mesopotamian desert without food or water.

Ottoman killing squads massacred Armenians, with only 388,000 left in the empire by 1922 when the genocide ended, from 2 million in 1914.

Many were deported to Syria and the Iraqi city of Mosul. Today they are scattered across the world, with large diasporas in Russia, the US, France, Argentina and Lebanon.

To date, only 28 countries have officially recognized the tragedy as a genocide. The only Arab country that has done so is Lebanon, although a bill is pending in Egypt’s Parliament to do so as well, while Muslim clerics in Iraq have called on Turkey to end the denial.

“The other significant consequence of the Armenian Genocide is the denial that successive Turkish governments have practiced, even though the last Ottoman rulers acknowledged it and actually tried a number of officials who were found guilty,” Kechichian said.

“Denial translates into a second genocide, albeit a psychological one. Eventually, righteous Turks — and there are a lot of them — will own up to this dark chapter of their history and come to terms with it, but it seems we’re not there yet.”

Opinion

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For some 3,000 years, Armenians had made their home in the Caucasus, with Christianity their official religion. During the 15th century it became a part of the Ottoman Empire, whose rulers were Muslim.

Soon enough, Armenians were viewed as “infidels,” having to pay higher taxes than Muslims and with very few political and legal rights.

Despite this the Armenian population thrived, causing great resentment among their Turkish neighbors.

And shortly after World War I began, atrocities against Armenians started taking place, with crucifixions, drownings, live burnings and mass murders.

Some children were kidnapped, converted to Islam and given to Turkish families. Meanwhile, women were raped and forced to join Turkish “harems” or work as slaves, and Armenian properties were seized.

“The Armenian Genocide was the first major calamity that hit an entire nation in the 20th century,” Kechichian said.

“Although the term genocide wasn’t in use at the time — it was coined by Raphael Lemkin in his 1944 book ‘Axis Rule in Occupied Europe’ — the Polish attorney applied it to the Armenian case.”  

Turkey still denies the persecution of Armenians after World War I. But Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and international scholar in Saudi Arabia, said: “We know that the genocide happened. The Ottoman Empire in that era conducted many massacres against many people, including Arabs and Armenians.”

He compared the situation to that of Turkey today, with its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “We still see that he wants to have his empire again,” Al-Shehri said. “He thinks he’s the sultan of that empire.”

Al-Shehri also drew a parallel with Iran and the Persian Empire. “They (Iran) want to control the whole region, so they’re living with that era in their mind and (trying) to apply it on the ground,” he said.

“This is the difference between us and them — they don’t want to leave countries alone, and this is what we’re facing with Iran.”

Dr. Theodore Karasik, senior advisor at Gulf State Analytics, said the Armenian Genocide remains a “contentious” issue because of “the acrimonious debate over how to define genocide, particularly from the Turkish point of view. Ankara doesn’t recognize genocide because of many reasons, all of them extremely poor.”