Israel's Culture Ministry and Civil Administration are financing the construction of an "archaeological park" on the ancient site of Tel Rumeida, near the Jewish settlement in the divided West Bank city Hebron, Israeli media revealed this week. Critics on left are assailing the project as cover for expansion of the city's Jewish settlement. Settlers who petitioned for state support of the project say they believe the site to be the location of biblical Hebron. Archaeologists from Ariel University and the Israel Antiquities Authority began excavations at the site Jan. 5. The new archaeological park and anticipated tourist attraction are slated to open by year's end. While the Tel Rumeida site is officially Jewish-owned, a Palestinian family lived on the site and worked the land as protected tenants until the Second Intifada of 2000, when they were evicted.
Palestinians from Qusra village near Nablus on Jan. 7 apprehended at least 18 settlers and held them captive after they raided Qusra lands, attacked a youth, and attempted to uproot olive trees. Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinan Authority official who monitors settlement activity in the northern West Bank, told Ma'an News Agency that the settlers came from the "illegal" outpost of Yesh Kodesh, and that a similar clash took place at the nearby village of Jalud. The settlers were held for several hours before being turned over to the IDF following mediation by Palestinian liaison officials. Some were beaten while being held by the villagers. The settlers apparently undertook the raid as a "price tag" attack after the IDF destroyed vineyards which had been illegally planted on Palestinian lands. MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud-Beytenu) blasted Defense Secretary Moshe Ya'alon, saying he was "to blame" for the violence. (Ma'an, Arutz Sheva, YNet, Jan. 7)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reacted Dec. 31 to Israel's announced initiative to formally annex the Jordan Valley. "If they do that, which we will not allow, we will see what future holds," Abbas said. "This land is ours and will remain Palestinian land, and everybody should know that this is a red line that can’t be crossed." Also that day, the Palestinian Authority cabinet convened its weekly meeting in the Jordan Valley to symbolically protest the annexation plan. From the village of Ein al-Beida, the ministers issued a statement asserting that not a "single span of the hand of this area is for rent or swap."
The UN Palestine refugee agency on Dec. 26 condemned Israel's latest demolitions of Bedouin homes in the West Bank. The new demolitions, "the most recent of which occurred on Christmas Eve," have "severely threatened" the livelihoods of the families that lost their homes, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunnes said in a statement. According to UNRWA, the demolitions at Ein Ayoub near Ramallah and Fasayil al-Wusta near Jericho displaced 68 in total, most of whom were refugees, and 32 of whom were children, "including a five year old girl who is paralyzed from the waist down." Added UNRWA: "Tents have been distributed by the Palestinian Red Crescent in coordination with the ICRC but this is hardly adequate considering night-time temperatures plunge to around zero. In addition, some 750 head of sheep and goats are without shelter at this crucial lambing season."
The Israeli prison service released prominent Palestinian prisoner Samer Issawi on the evening of Dec. 23, freeing him to return to his East Jerusalem home. Local sources told Ma'an News Agency that Issawi was set free from Shatta prison in northern Israel, and subsequently headed to East Jerusalem. His release comes after Israeli forces raided his family home twice in the last days. On the morning Dec. 22, Israeli forces handed notices to his brother and father demanding they meet with Israeli intelligence forces. The next morning, Israeli forces raided his home again and threatened his family that they would not allow any celebration of his release to take place in the neighborhood.
The United Nations' Palestine refugee agency UNRWA warned Dec. 20 that the lives of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk camp in Damascus are at risk due to the ongoing siege of the camp by Syrian regime forces. Commissioner general of UNRWA Filippo Grandi said that "humanitarian conditions in the besieged refugee camp of Yarmouk are worsening dramatically and that we are currently unable to help those trapped inside." He stressed that if the situation is not addressed soon, "it may be too late to save the lives of thousands of people including children."
In the most dramatic demonstration ever staged by African refugees in Israel, some 150 Sudanese men who have been detained for months at the sprawling Saharonim prison camp in the desert south marched cross-country on Jerusalem, and on Dec. 18 protested outside the government compound there. In the three-day march through snow-covered country, the migrants took shelter in bus stations at night. They had last week been transfered from Saharonim to an "open" facility at Holot—which authorities maintain is not a prison, despite the fact that the migrants must report back there each night or be in violaiton of the law. Upon the transfer, they quickly abandoned the facilty and began their cross-country trek. At the Jerusalem rally, which was itself an act of civil disobedience against their legal detention, the migrants chanted: "No more prison!" and "Refugees' rights right now!"
Isn't it utterly absurd that there are some aghast at the suffering of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and utterly unconcerned with that in Yarmouk, the Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus now besieged by forces loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad... and vice versa...? A brutal winter storm in the region has exacerbated the suffering in both blockaded enclaves, and most Palestinians assuredly grasp the obvious symmetry. In some quarters, however, a sort of ideological blindness seems to prevail: Assad's apologists are of course outraged at the agony in Gaza, but find that in Yarmouk invisible. The US State Department, in turn, exploits Yarmouk for propaganda against Assad, while displaying no such concern for Gaza...