Yalla Peace: Who supports ‘Palestinian development’?

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Yalla Peace: Who supports ‘Palestinian development’?

For five years I have tried my best to gain control of my family’s land near what is now Gilo. All I’ve been getting is the runaround. Silvan Shalom is the vice prime minister of Israel and minister for regional development. He wrote a column last week that appeared in a local paper in Chicago titled “Israel, striving to be a good neighbor.” It was an upbeat column, intended, I think, more for American consumption than to reinforce confidence among the Palestinians. But I did read it. And I was inspired by his words and his promised goal to “support Palestinian development.”

Maybe I am a sucker for politicians who have a habit of saying inspiring and great things, but doing something different. I’ve been a journalist for 35 years, so that makes me very cynical. Then again, maybe I always just want to believe that there is something far better behind the ugly headlines of conflict and continued turmoil that plagues Palestinian-Israeli relations.

There are things about Shalom that make me, at least as an Arab, believe he is genuine. He is a Jewish Arab born in Tunisia who immigrated to Israel as a one year old in 1959. About that time, my dad was able to get his brothers and sisters out of a refugee camp in Jordan and resettled in Chicago near by. I was seven at the time.

But Shalom is also a journalist, and despite what I know is a deep-seated bias in the mainstream media against Arabs, I think sometimes Israeli journalists are more open to see the “other side.”

So, maybe Shalom does “care” about us Palestinians.

AND IT is in that spirit that I am asking Minister Shalom to step in to my life and into the issue of my family’s land. It is located right in the middle of that spirit of cooperation that Shalom spoke about in his column, about how he and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu were working hard to improve relations with the Palestinians and the neighboring Arab countries by “increasing the level of economic cooperation.”

It would go a long way, Minister Shalom, if you would insure that no one messes with my family’s land, which has been handed down to me as the official representative of the “Hanania Palestinian people.”

My mother’s cousins on my grandmother’s side purchased about 34 dunams of land that sits in one of the valleys in Gilo that face Malha and the stadium. The land belongs to my cousins, the Tarud family. It is right around the mountain bend from a little Muslim village called Sharafat. It’s not too far away from the land owned by the Darweesh family.

For years, one of the family members at Sharafat watched over our land, harvesting the olives and other vegetables and fruits as a trade-off for his service. Three generations have passed. The caretaker lived in a small home that was on the side of the land, but that was torn down by Israeli soldiers sometime in the 1970s. They sealed the water well that was nearby, too. (It wasn’t a great gesture of wanting to work together, by the way. But, I guess, stuff happens.) The land has more than 100 olive trees and Zarzour berries. I’ve been to it several times in the past few years, as my cousins have passed away, leaving the land’s ownership in the hands of one last cousin, who placed the power of attorney in my hands.

For five years I have tried my best to gain control of my family’s land. I have all of the original papers and even the sales document stamped by the Ottoman government, and registered in Bethlehem, where my mother’s family is from.

And for five years, all I have been given is the runaround. “We don’t ‘steal’ anyone’s land,” I have been told by countless Israeli officials who defend the expansion of settlements like Gilo, which was once a security settlement and is a prestigious and “old” neighborhood these days.

PALESTINIANS HAVE not been that helpful, either. They keep threatening me that I “must not sell the land to the Jews.” And everyone wants a piece of it to help me protect it.

I brought it to an Israeli realtor to put it on the market to see what I can get from Palestinians or Israelis. They found one potential buyer, “Yossi,” who offered a paltry $600,000 through a prominent law firm on King George Avenue.

But Yossi never followed through. The deal was never consummated. I don’t trust too many people anymore. I ignore the threats from Palestinians and the hypocritical advice I get from other Arabs who tell me, “Don’t do anything. We’ll get it all back one day.”

The biggest problem, though, is the Israelis, Every trip to an Israeli office has ended in a bad experience. Why should they help me when maybe, if they wait long enough, they can just take it from me. Who am I to complain?

But that would contradict the spirit of what Minister Silvan Shalom wrote about in his glowing column on how much Israel’s government wants to help Palestinians through cooperative development.

Okay, Minister Shalom. Here’s my deal: You develop the land for me. I want to create a peace oasis where Palestinians and Israelis can come together to learn about cooperation. Maybe they can build a business there run by both sides. Maybe we can build a theater there where Israelis and Palestinians can creatively work out their conflicting narratives through writing, comedy, stage plays and sometimes just sharing a cup of coffee.

Yea, that’s it. Maybe we build a big coffee shop that caters to both sides so that Palestinians and Israelis can come together. Or, maybe it’s all just a bunch of baloney – kosher or halal, who cares.

And it’s all just talk. I’d like to believe there are some good Israelis out there who really do care about “Palestinian development,” and maybe even do the right thing.

Imagine, Palestinians and Israelis sharing a table in a disputed region not too far from Jerusalem to the north. Sharing a finjan kahwah and even having their futures read from the grinds at the bottom of the porcelain cup.

My mother, bless her heart, read my fortune once when I was young. And she said to me, “One day, you’ll be at the forefront of peace.” I’m here. Just sometimes, it feels a little lonely.

Named Best Ethnic Columnist in America by New America Media, the writer is a Palestinian-American columnist and peace activist. He can be reached at www.YallaPeace.com.

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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and Columnist who began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He covered Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992 (Mayor Daley to Mayor Daley) and has expanded to writing for newspapers around the world focussed on Middle East and American politics.

Hanania loves to write about American Arabs in politics, and focuses on Arab life in America.

Currently, he writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com. He writes on American politics for the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News newspaper and the Reporter Newspapers. He also writes for the online websites TheArabDailyNews.com and NewsAmericaNetwork.com (Illinois News Network at IllinoisNewsNetwork.com).

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hanania began in journalism as an activist publishing Chicago’s first English-language American Arab Newspaper “The Middle Eastern Voice” from 1975 through 1977. In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions. In 2004, he published “The National Arab American Times” monthly newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East ethnic food stores in 48 American States.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. Formerly syndicated by Creators Syndicate, Hanania also has written news, features and Opinion Columns for Al Jazeera English, the Jerusalem Post, YNetNews.com, Arab News, Saudi Gazette, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star, the News of the World, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and Aramco Magazine. His political columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald and Des Plaines Valley News, Regional News and Palos Reporter newspapers in Chicagoland. Hanania is the President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.

Hanania is Palestinian Christian from prominent Bethlehem and Jerusalem families. His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.

His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania

Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com