UN agency says 52,000 displaced in Gaza, Amnesty wants war crimes investigation

UN agency says 52,000 displaced in Gaza, Amnesty wants war crimes investigation
Palestinians sit on a couch as they return to the remains of their house, which witnesses said was destroyed in an Israeli offensive, in the east of Gaza City August 27, 2014. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 May 2021

UN agency says 52,000 displaced in Gaza, Amnesty wants war crimes investigation

UN agency says 52,000 displaced in Gaza, Amnesty wants war crimes investigation

GENEVA: More than 52,000 Palestinians have been displaced by Israeli air strikes that have destroyed or badly damaged nearly 450 buildings in the Gaza Strip, the UN aid agency said on Tuesday.
In a separate statement on the conflict, rights group Amnesty International said Israel air strikes on residential buildings might amount to war crimes. Israel says it hits only legitimate military targets and that it does all it can to avoid civilian casualties.
About 47,000 of the displaced people have sought shelter in 58 UN-run schools in Gaza, Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Geneva, told reporters.
Laerke said 132 buildings had been destroyed and 316 had been severely damaged, including six hospitals and nine primary health care centers as well a desalination plant, affecting access to drinking water for about 250,000 people.
The UN agency welcomed the fact that Israel had opened a border crossing for humanitarian supplies but called for another crossing to also be opened.
The UN and its humanitarian partners are providing food and other assistance to displaced families when the security situation allows, Laerke said.

(AFP video)

There is a severe shortage of medical supplies, a risk of water-borne diseases and the spread of COVID-19 because of displaced people crowding into schools, said Margaret Harris, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization.
London-based Amnesty International called for an investigation into air strikes on residential buildings in Gaza.
“Israeli forces have displayed a shocking disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians by carrying out a number of airstrikes targeting residential buildings in some cases killing entire families — including children — and causing wanton destruction to civilian property, in attacks that may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity,” Amnesty said.
Israel says it strikes only sites it deems military targets used by militants and that it regularly issues prior warnings to evacuate buildings it sees as legitimate targets as part of wider efforts to avoid civilian casualties.
Amnesty, which urged both sides last week not to violate humanitarian law, said it had documented four deadly attacks by Israel launched on residential homes without prior warning and called on the International Criminal Court to investigate.
It said Israeli strikes on May 11 destroyed two residential buildings belonging to the Abu Al-Ouf and Al-Kolaq families, killing 30 people, 11 of them children. A mother and three children were killed on May 14 when the Al-Atar family’s three-story building was hit, it said.
It said the home of Nader Mahmoud Mohammed Al-Thom, where he lives with eight others, was attacked without warning on May 15.
Israel did not immediately comment on the specific cases.

Saudi Arabia joins global community to celebrate World Sign Day

Saudi Arabia joins global community to celebrate World Sign Day
Updated 4 min 42 sec ago

Saudi Arabia joins global community to celebrate World Sign Day

Saudi Arabia joins global community to celebrate World Sign Day

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia joined the international community by participating in World Sign Day, celebrated on Sept. 23.

The Ministry of Health implemented the “We Are with You” initiative to support deaf people, raising staff awareness about the deaf community. The MOH trained its staff to work with individuals who are deaf, teaching them sign language rules and basics, and helping them find ways to support deaf patients overcome challenges.

Sign language includes 35 manual symbols, each representing a letter of the alphabet, and five other symbols representing diacritics.

The Arabic language also includes numbers in its sign language system; Arabic sign language includes 53 manual symbols representing number, in single or multiple digits.

The MOH also launched the Awlawiya (Priority) Card, one of the Patient Experience Center’s initiatives to facilitate and accelerate procedures and services provided to some groups (including the deaf) inside health facilities.



Other electronic services include the Queries on Treatment Abroad Orders Service and the Mawid (Appointment) Service.

Moreover, it launched the Online Registration initiative for people with disabilities, including the deaf, through its E-Health system. The platform enables MOH officials to follow up on registration and classification electronically, as well as oversee the issuance of Transportation Discount Cards and Traffic Facilitation Cards.

The MOH linked the E-Health platform with other authorities, such as the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development and the Ministry of Education, by automating all procedures to ensure speed and uniformity of service provision. Furthermore, the ministry launched the Eshara app, which provides direct services to the deaf and hearing-impaired, and which allows them to benefit from the services offered by the 937 Service Center.

The app allows visual communication between deaf people and the remote sign interpretation communication center; the interpreter translates the signs as a third party through the digital platform by converting the sign language to spoken Arabic (and vice versa), serving as a mediator between the employee and the deaf person.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development launched a series of training programs about sign language basics in its branches in the Kingdom, trained its members and employees in all sectors to understand sign language, and raised their awareness on how to communicate with deaf people to ensure access of all services with ease.


'We Are with You' campaign

It is the Saudi Ministry of Health initiative to support deaf people, raising staff awareness about the deaf community, teaching them sign language rules and basics, and helping them find ways to support deaf patients overcome challenges.

ThePlace: Dawqara, in KSA’s Northern Borders region, yield signs of early civilization

ThePlace: Dawqara, in KSA’s Northern Borders region, yield signs of early civilization
Updated 25 September 2021

ThePlace: Dawqara, in KSA’s Northern Borders region, yield signs of early civilization

ThePlace: Dawqara, in KSA’s Northern Borders region, yield signs of early civilization

ThePlace: Dawqara,  in KSA's Northern Borders region, shows signs of civilization during late late Roman period 

Dawqara is located 40 kilometers west of At-Turaif, near a mountain known as Aqrun or Dawqara. The site is registered in a comprehensive archeological survey program.

Rainwater accumulates on the northern side of the site and forms a large lake. The southern side is made up of volcanic rocks with many stone circles. Some stone tools have also been found.

One of the site’s most important artifacts is a square palace that was built from large volcanic stones. Its construction takes into consideration the straightness and solidity of pillars, linked by clay.

The palace’s door is located in the middle of the eastern wall and is 2.85 meters long. The palace comprises two parts. The first is a yard that constitutes the largest part of the building. The second has seven rooms on the western wall, each 4.5 meters wide.

The history of the palace is not clear, as an archeological excavation is required to extract, study and compare artifacts. 

But, according to preliminary studies, the palace was built in the pre-Islamic era and there is other evidence indicating that it was used until the Umayyad era. 

US, EU voice frustration at Iran’s dithering on nuclear deal

US, EU voice frustration at Iran’s dithering on nuclear deal
Updated 25 September 2021

US, EU voice frustration at Iran’s dithering on nuclear deal

US, EU voice frustration at Iran’s dithering on nuclear deal
  • Window of opportunity won’t be open forever, Tehran regime told

JEDDAH: The US and EU have voiced frustration at the UN over the slow pace with Iran, saying its new government showed no indication it was ready to revive a nuclear accord.
“The window of opportunity is open and won’t be open forever,” a senior US official said after days of consultations with allies at the UN General Assembly.
Iran’s new President, Ebrahim Raisi, indicated he backed a return to compliance with the 2015 accord as a way to lift sweeping sanctions imposed by former US President Donald Trump when he withdrew the US. But European nations said they heard nothing concrete as they met with Iran’s new Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who came to New York for the annual General Assembly.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and a senior administration official said that US patience is wearing thin and that further delays while Iran continues to expand its atomic capabilities could lead Washington and its partners to conclude a return to the deal is no longer worthwhile.
“We don’t have yet an agreement by Iran to return to the talks in Vienna,” Blinken said. “We are very much prepared to return to Vienna and continue the talks. The question is whether, and if so when, Iran is prepared to do that.”
If the talks don’t resume, the officials said the US would at some point determine that Iran was no longer interested in the benefits that the accord offered or that its recent technological advances could not be undone by the limits it imposed.
“The possibility of getting back to mutual compliance is not indefinite,” Blinken said.
“And the challenge right now is that with every passing day, as Iran continues to take actions that are not in compliance with the agreement ... we will get to a point at some point in the future at which simply returning to mutual compliance with the JCPOA will not recapture the benefits.”
The UN’s atomic watchdog has said Iran is increasingly in violation of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned: “The clock is ticking. We’re not going to wait two or three months for the Iranian delegation to come back to the table in Vienna,” Maas said.
“It has to happen more quickly,” he said.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that Amir-Abdollahian told him that Iran was ready to restart talks “at an early date” but gave no more precise time.
Barbara Slavin, an expert on Iran at the Atlantic Council, said that Tehran ultimately had an interest in returning to talks for the sake of the relief of sanctions which have taken a heavy economic toll.
“They’re taking their sweet time,” Slavin said. “I still think they have to come back to the talks. I think they need it,” she added.

The Comedy Club in Jeddah is back in business 

The Comedy Club in Jeddah is back in business 
Updated 25 September 2021

The Comedy Club in Jeddah is back in business 

The Comedy Club in Jeddah is back in business 
  • For almost 500 days, the club was left empty because of government regulations to fight COVID-19

JEDDAH: After a prolonged interruption due to the ongoing coronavirus disease pandemic, The Comedy Club in Jeddah is back in business, and fans are flocking to it for some comic relief.
For almost 500 days, the club was left empty because of the pandemic and government regulations to fight COVID-19, preventing all live shows and mass gatherings that could put people at risk. But with restrictions easing, more people are aware of the rules and regulations and the decline in daily cases, and the club is back in full swing.
“The General Entertainment Authority reached out to us to return comedy shows, and we are one of the activities of the summer season festival in Jeddah,” Majed Al-Amoudi, comedian and content manager at The Comedy Club, told Arab News. “We perform live shows four days a week now: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.”
Al-Amoudi explained that because the shows are primarily theatrical, the pandemic significantly affected the ability to operate, and everything was put on indefinite hold. However, as with everything going digital nowadays, he said the club managed to provide entertaining content on its YouTube channel.

“The Comedy Club channel (has) a lot of programs like ‘Althalothiyat’ where we host famous people or influencers, but now, we are back to theater and going live.”
He said the club is planning for future events after the summer season is finished on Sept. 25. “We will return to our regular programing and we have major projects in the works with different parties, both in the government and private sectors, but can’t reveal at the moment.”
Mohammed Saleh, a 40-year-old private sector worker, said: “It feels good to be back in the theater. The comedians are brilliant and every month I would look forward to attending a show. 
“Watching shows on YouTube can only provide some relief; the live atmosphere is something else. The night is filled with laughter to almost tears, and that’s what you want in a comedy show, belly laughs and tears,” he added.

With plans for bigger and better shows in the works, Al-Amoudi highlighted that the club was sponsored by the GEA and received special attention from its governor, Turki Al-Sheikh, for three years, with the GEA the primary sponsor of the club during the Jeddah and Sharqiya seasons in 2019.
Founded in 2012, it was initially called the Jeddah Comedy Club. Located in Al-Shallal Theme Park, it hosts theatrical shows, stand-up comedy, improvisation, and musical nights. “We also perform theatricals and sketches, we write, edit, act it, and perform it all,” Al-Amoudi said.
He revealed that he is also on the hunt for female comics as part of the club’s future expansion. “We are always looking for female comedians, or even girls who want to be professional stand-up comedians, so that we can give them courses and prepare them for the entertainment world. We are talent hunting throughout the Kingdom for sure.
“Vision 2030 supports all arts in various fields and supports the development of the youth of the country. Of course, all our goals are in line with Vision 2030, and it is great supporter for us,” he added.

A Palestinian wedding in Israel stirs memories of 1948 expulsion of Arab inhabitants of Biram and Iqrit

A Palestinian wedding in Israel stirs memories of 1948 expulsion of Arab inhabitants of Biram and Iqrit
Updated 25 September 2021

A Palestinian wedding in Israel stirs memories of 1948 expulsion of Arab inhabitants of Biram and Iqrit

A Palestinian wedding in Israel stirs memories of 1948 expulsion of Arab inhabitants of Biram and Iqrit
  • Descendants of inhabitants of the two villages view ceremonies in local churches as acts of remembrance
  • George Ghantous and Lauren Donahue recently tied the knot in an abandoned Maronite church in Biram

AMMAN/NAZARETH: When George Ghantous, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, and Lauren Donahue, his American fiancee, were planning their wedding, there were lots of details that needed to be agreed upon. But the couple settled on one important decision from the outset: The wedding would take place in an abandoned church in the village of Biram, George’s ancestral home.

In 1948, during the war that resulted in the creation of the state of Israel, the people of Biram — a mainly Christian village high in the mountains of Galilee above Safed, not far from the Lebanese border — found themselves caught up in the fighting.

It was occupied by Israeli forces who, seven months later in a well-documented incident, expelled the residents of Biram and of Iqrit, a village about 21 kilometers away.

Caught in the crossfire of a conflict between the Israeli army and Arab guerrillas operating from bases in Lebanon, the inhabitants of the two villages, who mostly made a living from cultivating fruit trees, were ordered to leave their homes for two weeks until the situation stabilized.

Seventy-three years later, the villagers and their descendants — now citizens of Israel, whose properties are supposed to be protected by Israeli law — still have not been allowed to return.

The couple seal their marriage vows with a kiss. (Supplied)

Worse still, despite an Israeli High Court decision in the 1950s upholding the villagers’ property rights, the Israeli army demolished, presumably as a deterrent to any future return, all the buildings in both villages except for a Melkite church in Iqrit and a Maronite church in Biram.

Maronites, who now live mostly in Lebanon, are a branch of the Syriac Church, which split from the Greek Orthodox faith in the seventh century. Melkites are another Syriac branch who adhere to old Byzantine rites.

In addition to having their wedding service at the church in Biram, Ghantous and Donahue visited the ruins of the house in the village where the groom’s grandparents once lived. There, they performed a traditional ritual that normally takes place at the home of the newlyweds.

The bride, dressed in white, and the groom, in black, stuck unbaked bread dough, decorated with flowers and coins as symbols of prosperity and happiness, to a lintel above the main entrance to what remains of the building.

“If, God forbid, the dough does not stick, then a shout of dismay is heard by the guests as this is bad luck and the marriage may be doomed,” Michael Oun, an authority on Middle East history and a relative of the groom, told Arab News. “When they make the dough, the groom’s family takes good care to make sure that it really sticks.”

Fortunately for the happy couple, the dough did stick. But in addition to marking the start of their married life together, the ritual also served as a political statement making it clear that even members of this third generation of Palestinian Christians have not forgotten the villages their families were forced to leave, and to which they one day hope to return.

The abandoned Maronite church in Biram, George Ghantous’s ancestral home. (Supplied)

Ghantous said that he was made aware of his grandparents’ original home from an early age and has visited it on many occasions, at Christmas and Easter and to attend baptisms and weddings.

“We were raised in this beautiful place, under its sky and among the trees and the refreshing breeze,” he told Arab News. “Our spirit and our parents’ and grandparents’ spirits are here among the houses and among ourselves. It is natural that this would be the place where our joy is realized.”

Over the years, Israeli leaders of all parties have promised to help the villagers of Biram and Iqrit to return to their homes, only for the promises to be broken amid fears that it might encourage other Palestinians to demand the return of their ancestral lands and homes.

Rejecting the demand, Lior Haiat, spokesperson of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Arab News that the official position on the issue remains unchanged.

Ayman Odeh, a member of Knesset and head of the Joint List, the main Arab bloc in the parliament, accuses Israeli authorities of paying lip service to the demands of the people from the villages, instead of taking corrective steps.

“Not only do they not have the will but they are unable to go beyond the security blockade,” he told Arab News.

Odeh claimed Reuven Rivlin, who served seven years in the mainly ceremonial role of president of Israel, once made a promise that he would not allow his term in office to end without the people of Biram and Iqrit being allowed to return.

“Rivlin’s term ended (in July this year) and his promise has not materialized, even though he was the highest authority in Israel, albeit a symbolic one,” Odeh said. “He clearly couldn’t bypass the instructions of the security agencies that form the deep state.”

Odeh said he also received assurances from Yitzhak Herzog, Rivlin’s successor as president, but these have yet to translate into action.

“I asked him to send a letter of support to the people of these two villages and he did,” Odeh said. “Now he is president and his first visit was to a Jewish settlement in the occupied territories.”

Ibrahim Issa was 14 years old when Biram was occupied and destroyed. He is now 87. When Arab News spoke to him on Sept. 10, he had just left church after the regular morning mass for older former residents of the village. He said he visits the village with his wife at least twice a week.

“I was raised in Biram and have eaten its figs and grapes, and played in its roads,” he said. “That is why I love it and cling to the hope of returning some time. I have been coming to Biram and stayed in the area after its demolition, even during military rule. I have followed the whole struggle for 73 years.”

Bishop Elias Chacour of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. (Supplied)

Bishop Elias Chacour of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, perhaps the most famous former resident of Biram, is the author of “Blood Brothers,” a best-selling memoir of life as an Arab citizen of Israel.

Now retired, he was eight when the village was taken over by the military. He lobbied Shimon Peres, the Israeli former president and prime minister, to allow the residents to return.

“I told him: ‘I come to you as a son of Biram. Biramites are still alive,’” Chacour told Arab News. “Peres replied: ‘That was a long time ago.’ I told him: ‘You kept remembering Palestine for 2,000 years and then you traveled to Palestine and caused us damage and you want us Biram people to forget?’”

Chacour sees little hope of progress under the new Israeli government, but considers Mansour Abbas, an Arab citizen of Israel who leads the United Arab List in the Knesset, as the only politician capable of moving things forward. Still, he thinks Biram will endure.

“As long as the people of Biram and their descendants live and remember the village,” Chacour told Arab News, “Biram will not die.”

Iqrit and Biram: A history of expulsions

As fighting raged between Arabs and Jews in 1948, Israeli troops occupied Iqrit, a village of 616 residents. The leaders of the village signed a surrender document. The local priest reportedly even greeted the troops with a Bible in his hand while chanting in Hebrew, “Welcome, Oh children of Israel.”

A week later, the commander of the Israeli troops ordered the inhabitants of Iqrit to leave and travel southeast to the Arab village of Rameh “for two weeks until the security situation will allow them to return,” according to historical records. The villagers did as they were told, leaving most of their belongings behind.

The same fate befell Biram, a village with a population of 1,050. Its people also were ordered to leave for two weeks and given a promise that they would be allowed to return soon. They went to the nearby village of Jish, about 5 kilometers to the east, and moved into the homes of Muslims who had fled the fighting during the war.

An old picture of the village of Biram before it was destroyed by Israeli forces. (Supplied)

The ruins of both villages are located a few miles from the border with Lebanon. Iqrit is about 21 kilometers to the west of Biram. The residents of the former were Melkite Greek Catholics and the latter were mostly members of the Maronite church. Both are eastern sects of the Catholic church.

When the residents of Iqrit failed in their efforts to ensure the authorities would keep their promise and allow them to return to their homes, they appealed to the Supreme Court of Israel. In July 1951, the court ruled that they should be allowed to return. The Israeli army ignored the decision and demolished the village on Christmas Eve, 1951, leaving only the church standing.

Biram fared no better. Its appeal to the High Court failed on a technicality and Israeli fighter jets demolished the village in July 1953. Former residents watched its destruction from a place that later became known as “Wailing Hill.” Again, only its church was spared.

Soon after, large sections of land near Biram were designated public parks. Other areas were incorporated into new Jewish settlements. In 1968, with the end of military rule in Israel, former residents and their families were granted the right to be buried or get married in Biram.


Daoud Kuttab in Amman and Botrus Mansour in Nazareth