South Americans of Palestinian descent tell of life in embattled Gaza, fears for safety in the West Bank

Special South Americans of Palestinian descent tell of life in embattled Gaza, fears for safety in the West Bank
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Demonstrators take part in a rally in support for the Palestinian people in front of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires on October 9, 2023. (AFP)
Special South Americans of Palestinian descent tell of life in embattled Gaza, fears for safety in the West Bank
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People take part in a demonstration in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on October 22, 2023, against Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip. (AFP)
Special South Americans of Palestinian descent tell of life in embattled Gaza, fears for safety in the West Bank
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People take part in a demonstration against Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on October 19, 2023. (AFP)
Special South Americans of Palestinian descent tell of life in embattled Gaza, fears for safety in the West Bank
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People take part in a demonstration in support of Palestine in Mexico City on October 22, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 30 October 2023
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South Americans of Palestinian descent tell of life in embattled Gaza, fears for safety in the West Bank

South Americans of Palestinian descent tell of life in embattled Gaza, fears for safety in the West Bank
  • Palestinian from Brazil says he and his young family are unable to leave the enclave amid heavy Israeli assault
  • Mexicans, Chileans and Colombians in Jerusalem and the West Bank talk about tensions and attacks by settlers

SAO PAULO: With large Palestinian communities and historical ties with the Levant, many Latin American countries have been following the Israel-Hamas war with close attention.

In nations like Brazil, with as many as 70,000 Palestinians and their descendants, and Chile, with more than 500,000 Palestinians, people have been receiving information about the conflict not only through the press, but also from Palestinian Latin Americans who live in Gaza and the West Bank.

One of them is Hasan Rabee, a 30-year-old shop owner who lives in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city. About a month ago, he traveled to Khan Younis in Gaza, along with his wife and two daughters, to visit his family.




Hasan Rabee, a 30-year-old shop owner in Sao Paulo, traveled with his wife and two daughters to Khan Younis in Gaza about a month ago to visit his family. Now they are trapped in the war. (Supplied)

Then the war broke out and they have not been able to leave the region since. Rabee has been posting videos and information on the Israeli strikes on social media every now and then. Some of them have been aired by Brazilian TV stations.

“As I talk to you, bombs are exploding, can you hear? It is especially strong during the night. My daughter runs to the window and shuts it down when she hears anything. She thinks we will be protected this way,” Rabee told Arab News.

FASTFACTS

Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay host a large Palestinian diaspora.

Brazilian nationals in Gaza are receiving aid from their embassy, but cannot leave.

Palestinian Latin Americans in the West Bank say they are determined to remain.

Rabee says the children are petrified and his wife has begun taking pills to help control her nerves. His mother meanwhile is suffering from spikes in her blood pressure. Many relatives have joined them in their small apartment. Nobody can sleep at night due to the bombs.

“The power was cut 20 days ago. At times, we go to a guy who owns solar panels and pay him to charge our batteries,” said Rabee. The water arrives at the building once a week without enough pressure, so they have to go down, fill some bottles, and take them upstairs.




Rescuers communicate with each other as they sift through the rubble of a collapsed building following an Israeli air strike on Rafah in southern Gaza Strip on October 26, 2023. (AFP)

Given that he is a Brazilian citizen, Rabee is receiving food from the Brazilian embassy in Palestine. The Brazilian government has established a plan to take a group of citizens from Khan Younis and Rafah through the border with Egypt.

“All we want is to leave for Brazil. But Israel does not open the border,” he said. Rabee wishes to take his mother with him to South America. He hopes the Brazilian government will allow him to do so.

In a number of interviews with Brazilian journalists, Rabee denounced the killing of civilians in Israeli strikes. “For me, that is a war against the children. Thousands of them have been killed. I cannot understand how something like that is happening,” he said.

While the West Bank is not being targeted by Israeli strikes, the number of attacks against Palestinians in the region has grown since the war broke out, according to Latin Americans who are in the region.




Palestinians search for survivors and the bodies of victims through the rubble of buildings destroyed during Israeli bombardment in Khan Yunis, Gaza Strip, on October 26, 2023. (AFP)

“With the strikes on Gaza and the international support that Israel is getting, the Israeli settlers in the West Bank have been feeling more empowered to act with violence against Palestinians,” Estefania Vega, a Mexican actress who is monitoring the human rights situation in the region of Hebron, told Arab News.

Vega obtained a scholarship from the Mexican government for a three-month internship with the Freedom Theatre, a community-based theater in Jenin. She arrived on October 2, but had to leave Jenin on October 8 for safety reasons.

Since then, she has been working with a human rights organization that accompanies Palestinian villagers who are at risk. The idea is to visit families who were harassed or attacked by settlers or the military, film every act of violence, and denounce it to the international community.




Estefania Vega, a Mexican actress who is monitoring the human rights situation in Hebron, West Bank, has a scholarship from the Mexican government for a three-month internship with the Freedom Theatre, a community-based theater in Jenin. (Supplied)

“Last week a settler got into a village and shot a young man in the stomach. He wanted to shoot everybody,” said Vega.

She has been monitoring the events in Wab Sik, a village in the region of Ramallah, and Tawani, near Hebron. In both of them, officers have been randomly attacking houses, breaking local infrastructure like solar panels, and threatening people.

Last week, Vega was inside a house that had been attacked, surrounded by toddlers and women, when nine officers stormed in. They heard that she and her Irish colleague had a camera and asked them to give it to them. But other activists had taken it to another village earlier that day.

“They grabbed and destroyed our phones and asked us why we were there. We told them that they were the ones who had no right to be in Palestinian territory. So, an officer answered to me that I should go back to my country now, otherwise I would go back in pieces,” she said.




Estefania Vega, a Mexican actress, says she had personally seen and experienced Israeli violence while observing the human rights situation in the occupied West Bank. (Supplied)

Vega intends to remain in the West Bank until January and then try to leave through Jordan. “Every foreigner is leaving. If they remain alone, nobody will tell their stories,” she said.

Many Latin Americans live in the West Bank, especially Palestinian Brazilians (estimated at 6,000 people) and citizens from Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and other nations.

Some of them have been trying to leave Palestine since the war broke out, including a Palestinian Chilean who tried to get a rescue flight to Santiago in Tel Aviv but was forbidden to do so by the Israeli government.

Most of the Palestinian Latin Americans, however, are attached to Palestine and do not want to leave.

That is the case with Ruayda, a Palestinian Brazilian who did not want to provide her surname owing to security concerns. She lives in the region of Ramallah, taking care of her great-grandfather’s land.

“I am not a foreigner. The Israelis are. I am not leaving by land,” she told Arab News.

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It is time for the olive harvest, Ruayda said, and whole families are involved in gathering the crop. The Israeli settlers know that and have been shooting people and cattle.

“In our city, a boy was shot right on the first day of harvest. He lost part of his liver and is in ICU,” she said. In Jenin, she says Palestinian Brazilians have also been shot. That is why she worries about her 14-year-old son.

“He is not going to school because it is closed. I would send him to Brazil if it was possible. We spend 24 hours a day with fear of being shot by one of those maniacs,” Ruayda said.

Palestinian Colombian Samia, who also preferred not to provide a surname, has lived near East Jerusalem since 1977. She said there is an atmosphere of anguish across the whole region.

“I wake up in the night with great anxiety and come to the living room to watch the news,” she told Arab News.




Colombian army soldiers load humanitarian aid at the Dorado International Airport in Bogota on October 25, 2023, for Palestinian people affected by the war between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)

Clashes between the youth — carrying rocks — and armed Israeli soldiers have been constant, Samia said. Some of her friends have lost relatives. She fears for her adult daughters, who live nearby.

“There is a cumulation of traumas among us. Unfortunately, there are not enough mental health centers here,” she said.

Samia considers Colombia to be her motherland, but she thinks she cannot leave Palestine. That is also the case with Brazilian Palestinian Ruayda.

“We fear they will launch another ethnic cleansing operation,” she said. “That is a new Nakba. We cannot leave Palestine.”

 

 


Indonesia, Malaysia call on international community to ensure Israel’s compliance with ICJ ruling

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi meets with Arab envoys in Indonesia on April 2, 2024 to discuss the situation in Gaza.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi meets with Arab envoys in Indonesia on April 2, 2024 to discuss the situation in Gaza.
Updated 26 May 2024
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Indonesia, Malaysia call on international community to ensure Israel’s compliance with ICJ ruling

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi meets with Arab envoys in Indonesia on April 2, 2024 to discuss the situation in Gaza.
  • Southeast Asian nations have been critical of Israel and vocal supporters of Palestine
  • ICJ also ordered Tel Aviv to allow clear access for investigations of genocide allegations

JAKARTA: Indonesia and Malaysia said on Sunday that the international community must ensure Israel’s compliance with an order by the UN’s top court to stop its military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. 

The International Court of Justice ruled on Friday that Israel must “immediately halt its military offensive and any other action in the Rafah Governorate.” Judges at the ICJ also said the humanitarian situation there was “disastrous” and called on Tel Aviv to allow unimpeded access to any mission investigating allegations of genocide. 

Indonesia and Malaysia, both of which have been critical of Israel and vocal supporters of Palestine, have welcomed the ICJ order. 

“Indonesia supports the ICJ’s ruling ordering Israel to immediately halt its military offensive in Rafah, and to ensure the unimpeded access to the Gaza Strip of any commission of inquiry, fact-finding mission or other investigative body to investigate the allegation of genocide,” the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

“Indonesia urges Israel to immediately comply with the measures ordered by the Court without reservation, and underlines the critical role of the Security Council in ensuring its implementation.”

Neighboring Malaysia is also calling on the international community to take action in ensuring Israel’s compliance.  

“Malaysia strongly urges the international community to intensify pressure on Israel to comply with the (ICJ ruling), as failing to do so will only make a mockery of the sanctity of international law,” the Malaysian Foreign Affairs Ministry said. 

Israeli airstrikes and ground offensives in Gaza have since October killed 36,000 Palestinians and wounded over 80,000 people, the vast majority children and women. 

The emergency ruling comes a week after it was requested by South Africa as part of a wider case accusing Israel of genocide. The decision marked the third time this year that the 15-judge panel has issued preliminary orders seeking to alleviate the death toll and humanitarian suffering in Gaza. 

Israel launched its assault on Rafah earlier this month, forcing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to flee a city that had become a refuge to around half of the region’s 2.3 million people.

Rafah, on Gaza’s southern edge, has also been the main entry route for aid, and international organizations have said the Israeli operation has cut off the enclave and raised the risk of famine.

While the ICJ is the highest UN body for hearing disputes between states and its rulings are final and binding, without enforcement powers, the court’s orders have been ignored in the past. 

Israel has repeatedly dismissed South Africa’s case accusing it of genocide as baseless, arguing in court that its operations in Gaza are self-defense and targeted at Hamas militants who attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

But the situation in the Palestinian enclave had deteriorated since the court last ordered Israel to take steps to improve it, and conditions had been met for a new emergency order.


Philippines boosts halal certification to cater to more Muslim tourists 

Exhibitors pose with a love sign at the Mindanao Tourism Expo in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines.
Exhibitors pose with a love sign at the Mindanao Tourism Expo in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines.
Updated 26 May 2024
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Philippines boosts halal certification to cater to more Muslim tourists 

Exhibitors pose with a love sign at the Mindanao Tourism Expo in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines.
  • Tourism is key sector for the Southeast Asian country, comprising 13 percent of GDP
  • Philippines wants to double its halal-certified products and services by 2028

MANILA: The Philippines is working to cater more to Muslim tourists, officials have said, with efforts underway to increase halal accreditation of hotels and restaurants in the country. 

Tourism is a key sector for the archipelago known for its white sandy beaches, diving spots and diverse culture, having contributed nearly 13 percent, or about $44 billion, to the Philippines’ gross domestic product in 2019. 

The Department of Tourism has lately been trying to attract more Muslim tourists from around the world, particularly by ensuring halal certification in restaurants.  

“All the regions (in the Philippines) are working … to be Muslim-friendly … Throughout the country, we are doing the same … We continue to encourage our restaurant-owners to be Muslim-friendly and eventually put up their own halal kitchen,” DOT Undersecretary Myra Paz Abubakar told Arab News over the weekend. 

The predominantly Catholic Philippines — where Muslims constitute about 10 percent of the nearly 120 million population — has also been working to develop its overall domestic halal industry by 2028, with plans to double the number of its halal-certified products and services. 

Earlier this month, the tourism department led a delegation to the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, where they promoted the country’s best tourism to the international market at a time when tourist arrivals have been increasing from the Middle East. 

The Philippines welcomed more than 2 million international travelers since the beginning of the year, according to official data, including a 10 percent increase in visitors arriving from Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which has been among the Philippine government’s key emerging-market targets.

But the Southeast Asian country is also eager to attract international Muslim visitors beyond the Gulf, Abubakar said. 

“DOT is not only targeting the Middle East market but our neighboring countries as well such as Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia,” she said, citing Muslim-majority countries in the region. 

The Philippines was recognized with the Emerging Muslim-friendly Destination of the Year award last year at the Halal in Travel Global Summit held in Singapore. 

Since then, the Muslim market has been a priority for the country’s tourism sector.  

“We’re preparing to certify Muslim-friendly hotels and restaurants … We’re trying to be ready especially with the food because we know that the food, the halal certification, is very important,” DOT regional director Marie Elaine Unchuan told Arab News. 

The Philippines, which has Southeast Asia’s third-largest Muslim population, is preparing itself to be as halal-friendly as possible, as during international tourism fairs Philippine officials often get asked about the country’s readiness to host Muslim travelers, she said.  

“That was one of the questions … Do we have halal-certified restaurants, and do we have Muslim-friendly hotels? So, we’re really working on it. We’d rather be very prepared so that we can market more.” 


Zelensky urges Biden, Xi to join peace summit

Zelensky urges Biden, Xi to join peace summit
Updated 26 May 2024
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Zelensky urges Biden, Xi to join peace summit

Zelensky urges Biden, Xi to join peace summit
  • Moscow’s forces have in recent weeks advanced on the battlefield and stepped up air strikes on cities
  • Kyiv hopes the June meeting in Switzerland will help pile international pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin

KYIV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed to US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Sunday to join an upcoming peace summit as his country struggles to stave off unrelenting attacks by Russia in its 27-month-old invasion.
Moscow’s forces have in recent weeks advanced on the battlefield and stepped up air strikes on cities, and Kyiv hopes the June meeting in Switzerland will help pile international pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In English-language video recorded inside the charred remains of a printing press destroyed on Thursday in a Russian air strike, Zelensky said the summit would “show who in the world really wants to end the war.”
“I am appealing to the leaders of the world who are still aside from the global efforts of the Global Peace Summit – to President Biden, the leader of the United States, and to President Xi, the leader of China,” he said.
“Please, show your leadership in advancing the peace – the real peace and not just a pause between the strikes.
Russia has said it sees no point in the conference to which Moscow is not currently invited.
Zelensky’s comments came two days after Russian sources told Reuters that Putin was ready to halt the war in Ukraine with a negotiated ceasefire that recognizes the current battlefield lines.
Zelensky and Ukraine’s supporters say a ceasefire will only help Russia rearm and regroup.
Russia has in recent months made slow but steady gains along several parts of the sprawling eastern front and is attempting to push deeper into the northeastern Kharkiv region after a ground incursion launched earlier this month.
In an interview with Reuters last week, Zelensky said it was crucial to get as many countries around the table at the peace talks as possible. Putin has said he believes the talks may convert Ukrainian demands for a Russian withdrawal into an ultimatum for Russia.


Taiwan’s president says open to working with China on ‘peace’

Taiwan’s president says open to working with China on ‘peace’
Updated 26 May 2024
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Taiwan’s president says open to working with China on ‘peace’

Taiwan’s president says open to working with China on ‘peace’
  • China launched military games around the island three day last week
  • President Lai Ching-te made overtures to Beijing before his inauguration to resume communications

TAIPEI: Taiwan’s president said Sunday he was still open to working with China on building “mutual understanding and reconciliation,” days after Beijing launched military drills around the self-ruled island in response to his inauguration speech.
President Lai Ching-te was sworn into office on Monday, and China — which claims democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and regards Lai as a “dangerous separatist” — launched military games around the island three days later.
Fighter jets, naval vessels and coast guard ships encircled Taiwan until Friday night, which Chinese military analysts said was to practice seizing it.
On Sunday, Lai said his May 20 inaugural speech highlighted that “peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait is a necessary element for global security and prosperity.”
“I also called on China to jointly shoulder the important responsibility of regional stability with Taiwan,” he said during an event with his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in southern Tainan.
“I also look forward to enhancing mutual understanding and reconciliation through exchanges and cooperation with China... and moving toward a position of peace and common prosperity.”
He added that “any country making waves in the Taiwan Strait and affecting regional stability will not be accepted by the international community.”
Lai made overtures to Beijing before his inauguration to resume communications — severed since 2016 after former president Tsai Ing-wen took office.
Like Lai, Tsai is also part of the DPP, which holds a stance of defending Taiwan’s sovereignty.
In response, Beijing has upped military and political pressures on Taiwan, and its naval vessels, drones and warplanes maintain a near-daily presence around the island.
On Sunday, two days after the drills ended, Taiwan’s defense ministry reported that seven Chinese aircraft, 14 naval vessels and four coast guard ships were “operating around” the island in a 24-hour period ending at 06:00 a.m. (2200 GMT Saturday).


Moldova turns to Russia to seek extradition of convicted politician

Moldova turns to Russia to seek extradition of convicted politician
Updated 26 May 2024
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Moldova turns to Russia to seek extradition of convicted politician

Moldova turns to Russia to seek extradition of convicted politician
  • The Victory bloc, made up of four parties, campaigns with the slogan “No to the EU” and calls for Moldova instead to join the Eurasian Economic Union — a Russian-led regional grouping

CHISINAU: Moldova is now seeking extradition from Russia of an opposition politician convicted of mass fraud after he moved there from exile in Israel, the country’s justice minister said on Saturday.
Ilan Shor, a pro-Russian business magnate, was sentenced last year in absentia to 15 years in prison in connection with the disappearance from the banking system of $1 billion in 2014, dubbed Moldova’s “theft of the century.”
Shor has organized noisy street demonstrations against pro-European President Maia Sandu and urged Moldovans to vote “no” in a referendum authorities have called for October on joining the European Union by 2030.
Justice Minister Veronica-Mihailov Moraru said Moldova would redirect its extradition appeals to Moscow after Shor said he had moved to Russia and announced he had been granted Russian citizenship.
“The justice ministry has not been informed of this by the Russian authorities,” she told TVR Moldova television.
“If we are advised officially that he holds Russian citizenship, we will analyze the circumstances and consider how to act in procedural terms.”
Moldova, an ex-Soviet state lying between Ukraine and Romania, had repeatedly sought Shor’s extradition from Israel.
After his conviction, a party bearing Shor’s name was banned by the Constitutional Court and a new party, called “Chance,” was formed in its place.
Shor is the driving force behind the “Victory” electoral bloc launched last month — in Moscow — to oppose the EU referendum and Sandu’s bid for re-election at a poll to be held on the same date.
He said last week he wanted to become prime minister if a president favorable to his views would nominate him.
Sandu denounces Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and describes Russia and corruption as the biggest threats to her country.
The Victory bloc, made up of four parties, campaigns with the slogan “No to the EU” and calls for Moldova instead to join the Eurasian Economic Union — a Russian-led regional grouping.
It has not yet decided on a candidate to run against Sandu. The opposition Socialists and Communists, also friendly to Moscow, oppose the pro-EU referendum but have shown little inclination to cooperate with Shor and the Victory bloc.