A suicide in Gaza

The long read: How the death of a talented young Palestinian writer brought to illuminated a sharp rise in suicides

When Mohanned Younis, a 22 -year-old student, returned to his home in a relatively prosperous part of Gaza City one night last August, he was in an agitated country. He had been depressed, his mother, Asma, recollected. But she was not too worried where reference is locked himself in his room.

A talented writer whose short stories, many posted on his Facebook page, had won a wide audience, Mohanned was about to graduate in pharmacy, expecting excellent grades.In his writing, he gave voice to the grief and despair of his generation. Merely volumes devoted him some escape. He often shut himself away to read and write, or to work out with his punch bag.

The next morning, Mohanned didn’t stir. When Asma, helped by her brother Assad, transgressed into his room, they found him dead. He had asphyxiated himself.

Such was Mohanned’s social media following that news of his death echoed across Gaza and beyond with a flood of shock, sadness and appreciation.” He was a fighter who are had his sad narratives to fight with ,” are members of many comments positioned on Facebook. But the very public mourn for the death of a talented young novelist meant that Mohanned’s suicide was not just one more tragedy in a territory where thousands of young lives are cut short. Now it was impossible to deny what many had been whispering: the suffering of the siege and desperation for the future, especially among the most talented young Gazans, was leading to a disturbing upsurge in suicides.

Horrifying events in the Gaza buffer zone over the past week have focused world attention on the agony and desperation of Gaza’s Palestinians, as tens of thousands have risked their lives to protest against their imprisonment behind Gaza’s fences and walls. Since the start of the Great March of Return, a series of protests that began at the end of March, more than 100 people have been killed, largely by Israeli snipers ranged behind the perimeter fence.

Often it has seemed as if these protesters were literally throwing themselves in front of Israeli bullets. In the early days of the protests, I spoke to young people on the buffer zone who said they didn’t care if they died.” We are succumbing in Gaza anyway. We might as well die being shot ,” said a teen, stands at the border near the city of Khan Younis. He was with friends who felt the same, including one who had already been shot in the leg, and was in a wheelchair.

If the world’s cameras were to move a little deeper into Gaza, into the streets and behind the doors of people’s homes, they would watch the desperation in almost every home. After 10 years of siege, the 2 million people of Gaza, living packed on a tiny strip, find themselves without run, their economy killed off, without the bare essentials for decent life- electricity or running water- and without any hope of freedom, or any sign that their situation will change. The siege is fracturing minds, pushing the most vulnerable to suicide in numbers never seen before.

Until lately, suicide has been rare here, partly due to Palestinian resilience, acquired over 70 years of conflict, and strong clan networks, but mostly because killing oneself is forbidden in traditional Muslim societies. Only when suicide is an act of jihad are the dead considered martyrs who go to heaven; others go to hell.

In nearly three decades of reporting from Gaza, I almost never heard stories of suicide before 2016. At the start of that year, nine years into the full-blown siege, a British orthopaedic surgeon volunteering in Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital told me that she and her colleagues were considering a number of unexplained injuries- which they believed had been caused by falling, or jumping, from tall buildings.

By the end of 2016, suicides were happening so often that the phenomenon had started to become public knowledge. Figures quoted by local journalists indicated the number of suicides in 2016 was at least three times the number in 2015. But according to Gaza’s health professionals, while figures cited in the media do indicate a substantial rise, they vastly underestimate the true rate. Suicides are “disguised” as autumns or other collisions, and misreporting and censorship are common because of the stigma against suicide.

However, since 2016, there have also been a spate of self-immolations across Gaza, in which men set themselves alight for all to see.

” We didn’t have these catastrophic events 10 years ago ,” said Dr Youssef Awadallah, a psychiatrist in Rafah, a city on Gaza’s border with Egypt. Mental health professionals and relatives of the deceased blamed the effects of the siege, which they say is far more damaging to the wellbeing- mental and physical- of the population than successive wars have been. Doctors in Gaza are warning that the prolonged siege of the territory has caused a mental health “epidemic” of which the growing number of suicides is only one portion- quoting increases in schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress ailment, drug addiction and depression. For the first time, UNRWA, the United Nations agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, has started screening all primary healthcare patients for possible suicidal tendencies following what they describe as the “unprecedented increase” in deaths.

Men and women of all age groups, from all social backgrounds, are vulnerable to suicidal impulses, say physicians in Gaza. On a single day in March, a girl of 15 and a son of 16 both hanged themselves. Among the dead are men who hopelessnes because they can’t support their families; women and children who are victims of abuse, often in situations of severe poverty and overcrowding; and even pregnant women, who say they don’t want to bring children into a life in Gaza. In April, a woman who was seven months pregnant slit her wrists.

Among the most vulnerable of all are Gaza’s brightest students, some of whom have killed themselves just before or after graduating. In March, while interviewing a bankrupt tycoon in his home, I assured a photograph of a smart, bespectacled young man, prominently displayed- in such a way that I assumed he had been a “martyr”, someone killed in the conflict. But his portrait displayed none of the iconography associated with the martyr posters that are visible all over Gaza. I had a translator with me, and he recognised the picture: the businessman’s son had been one of his cleverest friends at university.” He hanged himself ,” said the businessman.” He assured no future in Gaza .”

Months before the astounding scenes of carnage accompanying the Great March of Return, the story of Mohanned Younis had drawn particular attention. This was not only because his writing, with its imaginative depictions of Gaza’s half-life, was admired- but because after his death, some began to describe him as martyr. His mother told me:” He is more than a martyr .”

Friends said he had fought the adversary with his pen, and had died a victim of the siege. On his death Mohanned also won warm kudo for his courage and his writing from many of his social media fans, and even, in a eulogy, from the Palestinian ministers responsible for culture, Dr Ihab Bseiso. Bseiso, a is part of the secular Palestinian Authority that holds power in the West Bank, appeared to connote he considered Mohanned a martyr, saying he had” no need to apologise for his early departure “. His tales would never be forgotten, he added:” You will remain one of the giants of our time, Mohanned “.

But this discussion of Mohanned’s ” martyrdom” has spread dread in Gaza, especially among parents who worry that their own children might do the same if they thought they could avoid hell. One parent of two graduates told me:” We assure our children through school and university, and they have worked hard and are eager to enter the world and get jobs and be normal- then nothing. If suicide is to be considered a’ noble’ demise, more might choice that route. It is very dangerous .”

Palestinian protesters run from teargas fired by Israeli security forces on the Gaza border, May 2018. Photograph: Mohammed Abed/ AFP/ Getty Images

Mohanned himself may have wondered if he might be viewed as a martyr. In The Unknown Martyr, a tale published posthumously in a collection called Autumn Leaves, he describes how an unidentified body is brought to the al-Shifa hospital, where families try to identify it.” Will they recognise me ?” asks the narrator.

One of Mohanned’s favourite writing places was the garden coffeehouse at the Marna House hotel, in a quiet corner of Gaza’s leafy Remal district. The Marna has long been a favourite with foreign visitors who often donate books to the hotel library- another attraction for Mohanned who, in besieged Gaza, struggled to find books to feed his voracious reading habit.

During his time as a student at the nearby al-Azhar University, Mohanned would be seen, tall and skinny, among the concourse of those individuals who came pouring out into the streets of Gaza City after lecturings. Dodging cars, ponies and carts, he would peel off from the crowd- sometimes to the pharmacy where he worked part-time, or to a coffeehouse, often the Marna. Ordering a coffee, he would take a seat in a quiet corner, light up a cigarette, plug in to charge his phone and start composing stories.

With two hours’ energy a day, plugging in is a luxury in Gaza. But the Marna has a generator, like most places with a professional clientele. Physicians, journalists and educators come here to mingle, puff on a hookah pipe or watch Barcelona on the big-screen TV.

Few students could afford the Marna; as an only child, Mohanned was ” spoilt” by his mother, his friends pestered. But friends, both teachers and customers in the pharmacy all knew him as” a good guy, different kinds guy” and as” a sad guy “. Some watched the scars on his wrists as well- signs of earlier suicide endeavors. His stories presented he was just like every other young person in Gaza, because he so eloquently described their own impressions. In one tale he wrote:” When you live in a house you love and don’t leave it you won’t have a problem, but if you’re locked inside the house against your will you sense paralysis and desperation .”

He wrote of his personal sadness. His mothers divorced when he was a child, and Mohanned felt rejected by his father. His readers could relate to this ache too, because every family in Gaza is broken: most have had members killed in the conflict, and many have also been separated by years of exile, or torn apart by imprisonment. Thousands of Palestinians are today locked up in Israeli jails.

He had a large female readership: females were drawn to his particular melancholy.” He could write about the absurdity of all our lives- the dishonour, as well as the misfortune. He knew this was a fake place ,” said one young woman I know, who had escaped through the passageways into Egypt in order to take up her American scholarship. “It’s normal,” she laughed.

“It’s like this,” told Mustafa AlAssar, a 17 -year-old Gazan who wants to study international law but can’t, as there is no such course in Gaza, and he cannot leave.” You abruptly realise you can’t be the person or persons you want to be in Gaza. And you can’t prove anyone outside who you are, because you can’t get out. So you can’t be the person you want to be .”

Mohanned didn’t get angry, but instead fell into the common country of desperation. He would never hurl a stone, and nor would most of his contemporaries.” For what ?” they would ask.” To get shot? Who would care ?”

Mohanned’s hero was Bassel al-Araj, a youth movement leader in the West Bank who advocated peaceful protest, leading his adherents on tours of Palestinian resistance landmarks and speaking to them on resistance history. Al-Araj, like Mohanned, was a novelist and a pharmacist.” He was crazy about al-Araj ,” one of Mohanned’s friends told me.

Before heading home, Mohanned might check out new donations to the Marna’s eclectic library, perhaps dipping into Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom or a well-thumbed Agatha Christie.

Nestled among the crime fiction titles were a few less literary volumes: dusty back copies of UN reports on Gaza. If Mohanned had picked one up, he might have insured an analysis, dating back to 2002, of a wave of suicide bombings during the course of its bloodiest months of the second intifada. According to Eyad Sarraj, a charismatic Gaza psychiatrist, who in 1990 founded the Gaza Community Mental Health programme, suicide attacks were proliferating because of a sense that hopelessness maintained getting worse, which produced” a hopelessnes where living becomes no different from succumbing “.

” As a little son, he loved be interested to hear narratives ,” told Mohanned’s mother, Asma, sitting in the living room of the family home. A triangle of sea was only visible between the houses at the bottom of the road. His grandparents told the best narratives, about Jura, once a prosperous fishing village, where the family had lived for centuries.

During the Arab-Israel war of 1948, which brought about the creation of the state of Israel, Mohanned’s family, along with more than 750,000 other Palestinians, were driven out of their homes, and have never been allowed to return. The village of Jura, long since destroyed by Israel , now lies under the huge port of Ashkelon, visible from the beach below Mohanned’s house.

” I told him tales of our orange orchards, our celebration, how I operate around and swam into the waves ,” said Modalala, his 88 -year-old grandmother, who was wearing a bright yellow scarf. Sitting next to her was Asma, in black. Mohanned’s grandfather would tell him about his own father, who was raised when Palestine was still part of the Ottoman empire- how trained he was, how he worked in the sultan’s tribunal and travelled overseas.” He told Mohanned he wanted to go home to his village before he died ,” said Modalala,” but he died in Gaza, and Mohanned was very sad .” Later Mohanned would write about Jura, and about” a golden-haired boy who would leap so he could reaching the window and see the sea “.

” I suppose listening to narratives, and later writing them, was his style of dealing with sadness ,” said his mother. Assad, his uncle, who helped create him, said he was also good at maths.” He loved to resolve the problems. He always wanted to do things himself- to experiment .”

Balloons with Palestinian flags released by protesters in Ramallah, May 2018. Photograph: Alaa Badarneh/ EPA

During Mohanned’s earliest years, Palestine was undergoing an experiment. He was born in 1994, when the first fruit of the Oslo peace accords appeared. The deal, signed to great fanfare in 1993, was intended to bringing a gradual objective to Israel’s occupation of the lands it had conquered in 1967- Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem- on which the Palestinians were supposed to construct something like a state.

But Oslo failed to address the injustices of 1948. This was one of the reasons the bargain was not universally greeted, particularly in Gaza, which has the highest concentration of 1948 refugees. Almost all of them were farmers whose land and houses were seized by Israel during or immediately after the war, and their harvests and other possessions looted. The Arab villages were filled by Jewish immigrants or destroyed. Of the 2 million Palestinians in Gaza today, 1.3 million are refugees or descendants of those who fled here in 1948, whose right to return home are set forth in UN resolution 194.

Despite its failings, Oslo offered some hope of peace. Largely for the sake of the next generation, it was seized upon, even in Gaza, where doves appeared on walls instead of portraits of martyrs. In Rafah, in the south, where Mohanned’s family then lived, a golden-domed airport was opened in 1998, a wonder in the eyes of a small boy. But within three years the domes lay in rubble, destroyed by Israeli bombs. By the time Mohanned was five, the Oslo experiment was collapsing, as few of the promised changes materialised. Betrayal fuelled support for the Islamic militant organisation Hamas, challengers of the secular movement, Fatah, which had supported Oslo.

Walking to school, Mohanned would pass posters of a new generation of “martyrs”. They were suicide bombers, many recruited in Rafah, on orders of the Hamas founder and ideologue Ahmed Yassin, who- like Mohanned’s grandparents- was bear in Jura. Yassin told the suicide bombers they would go to heaven. But as Israel took retaliation, most areas of Rafah were razed to the ground.

I asked Mohanned’s mother how she explained Gaza to a child. She said there was nothing to explain.” Children see for themselves. The checkpoints, bombings, house raids- they learn it’s the same for all of us .”

By the time he was 10 years old, in 2004, many of the post-Oslo generation were again hurling stones, like their parents had. But Mohanned opted his studies to the street. In 2005, with Hamas’ militancy increasing, Israel receded its military and Israeli settlers from Gaza, and repositioned its forces at the border, where a barrier wall was being built so the foe became harder to see. There were drones in the air above and gunboats offshore.

In 2006, as hopes of peace receded further, Hamas won legislative elections for a limited self-government in both the West Bank and Gaza. Its adversaries in Fatah refused to accept Hamas’s victory, leading to a Hamas-Fatah civil war in which hundreds of Palestinians were killed. When Hamas eventually confiscated power inside Gaza in June 2007- with Fatah remaining in control in the West Bank- Israel declared Gaza” a terror entity “. In the following months it enforced a siege that devastated the already weak Gazan economy. The US and European union backed Israel with a political boycott of Hamas.

Gaza was now choked off from the outside world, as Israel blocked movement across its borders for people, gasoline and food- everything except minimal humanitarian aid. The southern crossing into Egypt at Rafah was also closed as Egyptian chairwoman Hosni Mubarak, also eager to contain Islamist revolutionaries, colluded with Israel. It was in this chokehold that Mohanned Younis, still merely a teenager, discovered his voice- telling the world what it was to live behind the ever higher prison walls.

Mohanned was 13 when the siege began. His household had moved from Rafah, on Gaza’s exposed southern perimeter, to Gaza City, which his mother hoped would be safer and offered more choice of schools for Mohanned, who was writing and reading more and more. His talents were first spotted at a children’s charity in Gaza City called the Qattan Centre, where he won first prize in a story-writing competition.

Many of his early tales are tales about a strange and sinister place, which he rarely names, but that we know is Gaza. In a tale called Geography, his narrator sets out like a caged animal to” comb Gaza’s borders inch by inch “. Ghosts sometimes seem, and he wonders if death has defined them free or if” death has shackled them too “.

Mohanned’s narrators are aware that they are jailed not only by walls, but by surveillance. In one story, Israeli snoops with cover names like” Abu Saleh” call up and persuade adolescents to betray people, who are then killed.” Do you want me to inform on my brother ?” a son narrator asks an Israeli agent who has called on his mobile.” The telephone rings again, its screen doesn’t stop flashing. You want to throw it into the tree so it slivers into a thousand pieces, but you can’t help picking it up .”

Another narrator goes to a checkpoint where” guillotines rain down from the sky”- an image invoking Israeli shells during the military assault of 2008-9 in which 1,400 Palestinians were killed. It was probably soon after this assault that Hamas leaders in the local mosque asked Mohanned to join a workshop. Hamas had always gained popular support from its charity run, helping the needy and through social programmes, and setting up colleges and workshops.

” As a adolescent, Mohanned wasn’t especially religion ,” said his mother,” but he believed in God, and always wanting to know more about what it all meant- about life after death .” A boy with such a bright, wondering intellect must have seemed like an ideal recruit, and his family was known to Hamas leaders. Not only was the founder, Sheikh Yassin, from Jura, but so was the family of Hamas’s political leader, Ismail Haniyeh. The main reason these activists wanted Mohanned to join them was because he was ” smart and curious”, said a friend.” They wanted him as one of them- one of their heroes, stimulating weapons like Yahya Ayyash “. Ayyash was a bomb-maker for Hamas, known as” the Engineer”, who was assassinated by Israel in 1996.

” Mohanned is coming with a beard one day and told:’ I’m Hamas ‘,” said his uncle, Assad.” But another day he’d say:’ I’m Islamic Jihad ‘. He was just experimenting again. He’d make up his own intellect, then give it up .”

Many in Gaza who had voted for Hamas in 2006 would soon start to give up on them. The Islamists’ rocket attacks on Israel still gained widespread approval in Gaza, as did the network of tunnels they had built under the southern perimeter into Egypt, which enabled clandestine trade to ease the worst effects of the blockade.

Nevertheless, a few years on, it was becoming clear to many that the abhorrent suicide bombings carried out during the second intifada, between 2000 and 2005, had injury the Palestinian cause. And under Hamas, life in Gaza was fast returning to the cultural darknes ages. Strict Islamic codes were imposed, including the closure of theaters and cinema, the outlawing of hard-won liberties for women- veils were now nearly obligatory- and other repressive social strictures. To some, Hamas rule began to seem like a siege within a siege.

Mohanned Younis

As Mohanned prepared for university, he found his own liberty through writing and read. He taught himself English, hoping to study English literature, and although his mother persuaded him instead to survey pharmacy, as the job prospects were better, literature remained his first love.

Finding volumes was difficult; often the best way was to get them smuggled through the tunnels.” He was very secretive about his volumes and maintained them in his room ,” said Asma, offering to show us the room where Mohanned spent his time, and where he died.

” Nothing has changed since his death ,” told Asma, opening the door on to a small room with a bed and a desk displaying trophies he had won for his writing. There were teddies on a chair, a boxing glove. From the wardrobe Asma took a graduation gown; she attended Mohanned’s graduation ceremony in his place two months after his death.

We opened a cupboard and out spilled a cloudburst of volumes. There were novels- Dostoevsky, Dickens- and doctrine- Wittgenstein for Beginners, Hegel, Richard Dawkins’s The Magic of Reality. Among the dramatists were Euripides, Eugene Ionesco, Terence Rattigan and Arthur Miller. Here was A History of Zionism, stacked above runs by Che Guevara and Charles Darwin. Most were Arabic translations, some were in English. Perhaps Mohanned read each page of this vast collect, or perhaps he just liked to possess them, it’s hard to know. But sitting here inside these four walls, accompanied by George Bernard Shaw, Sophocles and Mahmoud Darwish, he was able to break out of Gaza’s walls and connect with a wider world.

As his grandmother, Modalala, came into the room, we started looking at books on the next shelf, including Dostoevsky’s Humiliated and Insulted. Modalala picked up a photograph of her grandson.

We returned to the sunny living room facing down to the sea, and Asma went to pray. I asked Modalala why she thought Mohanned killed himself.” There’s no explain ,” she said.” I had told him:’ I’m going to die soon ,’ and he said:’ No, don’t do that .’ He said there was a girl he wanted to marry and I knew he was in love with her. He was good and beautiful that day. I devoted him food as his mum was fasting. I constructed him a coffee, one for me, one for him, put honey in his and took it to him in his room. He felt safe in there .”

Viewed from here, the Gaza shore seems safe, too: a place to picnic, or hold a wedding party in a beach shanty decked out in bright colours and decorations. But Israeli gunboats loiter offshore, and Gaza’s sand are soaked with the blood of the Younis family.

” My grandmother was killed right there, on a donkey ,” told Modalala, pointing towards the beach, where, as small children, she and her family were hit by Israeli bombs as they fled south from Jura in 1948. In the 2014 war, four Gaza children were killed playing on the sand nearby.

The war of 2014 was the most destructive of three Israeli onslaughts Mohanned lived through. More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed, including at least 500 children. Now he was writing more and more about the dead, sometimes perceiving security in demise, and he wrote of” feelings of loss and of security, or running away and seeking refuge of drowning and survival, feelings of simple suicide “. But like many others, in the shock that followed the bombardment, he saw cause for hope.

Such was the demolition in 2014 that the world started to pay attention. There was hope among Palestinian human rights lawyers that they could bring a war-crimes example against Israel. The then UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, declared that the siege must come to an end and that the world should pay for Gaza’s homes, reservoirs and factories to be rebuilt. The people had already started: I saw young men clambering over tottering concrete, filling a donkey cart with stones. They were clearing their orchard to plant clementine saplings, and rebuilding their bombed juice factory.

In the glare of global media attention, thousands of would-be the reporters in Gaza confiscated their chance to livestream their own narrative from the rubble to the outside world. Students who had been awarded scholarships to foreign universities stood on street corners hoping to catch term that crossings were opening so they could rush out to take up their places. Mohanned enrolled at the French cultural centre, hoping to study literature in Paris.

But a year later, the clementines were dead, and the juice factory owned sat beside a UN food box. More than 80% of people were now dependent on food aid.

Behind closed doors, especially where bombing had been heavy in 2014, I assured blighted lives. A young mother opened a toy closet that had been hit by a shell. She looked at me as shattered pieces spilled out. A young man sit staring at a blank screen in the long hours when there was no energy. And the world had turned its back again.

For the first time in all the years I have been reporting from Gaza, I encountered infants imploring, hear talk of prostitution, and assured evidence of widespread drug addiction and domestic abuse, often in homes where as many as 10 people lived in a single room. They had not been rehoused since the 2014 bombardment. In this devastation, there was evidence that Islamic State was gaining supporting. A group of Islamist militants threw an explosive device at the French culture centre where Mohanned was studying.

Palestinians on a damaged build at the Rafah border traverse in southern Gaza, 2017. Photograph: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/ Reuters

The international media had lost interest, apart from occasionally predicting a new intifada. When I asked young men in Jabaliya refugee camp- where the first intifada started- if this were possible, they giggled loudly, saying the wall was higher and was being sink underground to stop the passageways. Nobody could resist any more. I asked if a new Mandela was likely to appear in Palestine.” If he did, the Israelis would shoot him ,” said one.

In March 2017, Mohanned’s hero, Bassel al-Araj, the writer and one-time proponent of nonviolent resistance, was shot dead by Israeli troops. He was hailed as” the trained martyr “.

The failure of Hamas’s and Fatah’s leaders to promote the Palestinian cause, or even to improve ordinary Palestinians’ lives- they were too busy squabbling among themselves as Israel’s siege stiffened- disgusted many. Of the Israelis, Mohanned wrote:” At least they respect their own people, whereas we crush ours. But they drove us from our land !” In one story, a son” proudly hurls a stone at a checkpoint” but gives up, returning home” to seek his eternal curse here “. Like young Germans who died traversing the Berlin Wall, young Palestinians who died trying to escape by barge” were trying to reach cities where liberty is a selection , not a gift or a gift “.

During the springtime and summertime of 2017, I heard more reports from physicians about suicides that were meant to look like collisions. Not only were people jumping off buildings, but physicians were ensure victims of what appeared to be deliberate automobile accidents, and drownings that may not have been accidental. Patients would say their knife traumata were the outcomes of “a fight”. I heard from witness about desperate people who had strolled into the buffer zone, hoping to be shooting. A young woman I knew told me she had taken an overdose because she didn’t want to marry or raise children in Gaza.

The toughest spirits were violating.” People of Gaza want to live but cannot ,” said Dr Ghada al-Jadba, director of medical services for UNRWA, the Palestinian refugee agency. Youssef Awadallah, the director of the Rafah mental health centre, threw back his head, feigning a choke.” It’s suffocation. In fact, we are in a trap , not a siege ,” he said, and clapped his hands together.” Like Tom and Jerry .”

The rise in suicides is part of a much wider crisis of mental health in Gaza, he said. Almost 400,000 infants are said by Unicef to be traumatised and in need of psychosocial supporting. Drug addiction, mostly to powerful analgesics, is rife.” The Israelis know this ,” told Awadallah.” So the war being waged now is designed to break our resilience- not our resistance .”

Gaza’s mental health facilities, always rudimentary, have been crippled by the siege.” A man killed his mother the other day because he guessed she was spying on him ,” said Awadallah.” Another said the Israelis had put a surveillance device inside his head. But what can we do? We have no medications and hardly any beds or psychiatrists .” He told me about another case in which a human stabbed his children before defining himself on fire:” When a man cannot supporting his family, he suffers. If he reaches the phase of burning himself, he is suffering so much it no longer matters to him if he goes to hell .”

Spreading his hands broad, Awadallah explained why the young and very clever are among those most likely to kill themselves.” The gap between what they aspire to and what is possible is bigger than for most ordinary people, and waiting for the future they have prepared for, but cannot have, becomes impossible to bear .”

Over the summer of 2017, everyone in Gaza seemed to be waiting for something. Cancer patients waited to hear if they could leave for emergency surgery “outside”. The brightly decorated seaside wedding locations waited for couples to have money to wed. Everyone “ve been waiting” electricity.

Raji Sourani, head of the Palestinian Human Rights Centre, waited to hear if war-crimes charges would be heard, but was losing hope that it would happen.” Nobody speaks about the occupation. Nobody speaks about the victims living under occupation – it’s Israel who are supposed to be the victims, and they have to be protected from us. It’s Kafka ,” he told at the time.

In his room, Mohanned was waiting for new books. On his listing was Kafka’s The Trial, and Hamlet.

Mohanned “was talkin about a” suicide. Yet he clearly still had hope, because he also talked about getting engaged. Engagement and suicide sometimes seemed to go together: the bankrupt textile producer whose son had hanged himself told me his son was to have been married the following week. And Mohanned was surely in love, said his mother:” We could see he was .” He wrote about a wedding in Jura, the prose imbued with a sense of loss both for his old village and for his future wedding, perhaps because he could no longer defy the pain of” the multitude of contradictions explosion in my head “.

In his last pennings, Mohanned is drawn to other people’s ache, receiving it where it is most acute or most concealed. He writes of a father whose daughter is succumbing somewhere far away. The parent says:” The impressions of helplessness kill me every day now .”

He also dwells on the degradation of checkpoints where a traveller is taken to” a secret room like a prison cell, without any form of life … where travellers are imprisoned only because they are Palestinian. Why are capital cities and airports denied to Palestinians ?”

One of Mohanned’s last pieces of writing was a play called Escape. Shortly before he died, he had made a final effort to escape. His mother said he had applied to Israel’s prestigious Hebrew University in Jerusalem to study literature, and had been accepted. But he was unable to take up the offer, because Israeli security rejected him permission to leave Gaza.

Still, Mohanned was opposing off desperation, and” looking for beauty”, though he told adherents he was listening to Bach’s Come Sweet Death, Come Blest Rest. Even as Mohanned entered his room that last evening and locked the door, he may not have been sure he would go through with it. From the position of his body, it seemed to Assad, his uncle, that Mohanned had changed his intellect at the last moment, but too late.

In the weeks and months before Mohanned’s death, his hopelessnes was apparently deepened by the realisation that his writing could never make a difference; as he saw it, the Palestinian narrative was controlled under foreigners. His suicide came not long before Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and questioned the rights of Palestinian refugees to return home.

One of Mohanned’s last narratives was called ” The whale who locked my door with a tail “. The narrator has a recurring dream in which small whales visit him and try to kill themselves. He wakes up and wonders why whales decide to die, telling:” It is said that whales take their own lives when they lose their sense of direction, when they no longer know where to go .”

I asked Awadallah if he considered Mohanned a martyr. He thought a few moments and smiled, saying that Mohanned’s despair had caused a serious mental illness, and it was as a result of this illness that he killed himself. In position of this, Awadallah hoped that Allah would look kindly on Mohanned and permit him to go to heaven , not to hell.

What could have been done to prevent Mohanned’s suicide, I asked?

“Nothing,” he said.” Merely being born somewhere that was not Gaza .”

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo @samaritans. org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org

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Tarek Loubani said he was wearing a green surgeons outfit treating injured Palestinians when he was shot in both legs

Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, has deplored the shooting of a Canadian doctor by an Israeli sniper on the Gaza perimeter and added his voice to calls for an independent investigation into Israeli fire that killed 60 Palestinians and injured thousands of others during mass border protests.

The violence erupted during demonstrations at the Gaza border fence on Monday,coinciding with a ceremony to mark the transfer of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Most of the Gazans who died were shot by Israeli snipers, according to Gaza’s health ministry . They included eight children under the age of 16, it added. At least 2,700 people were wounded.

Trudeau described the reported utilize of excessive force-out and live ammunition as “inexcusable” in a statement .

” Canada deplores and is gravely concerned by the violence in the Gaza strip that has led to a tragic loss of life and injured countless people ,” he told.” We are appalled that Dr Tarek Loubani, a Canadian citizen, is among the wounded- along with so many unarmed people, including civilians, members of the media, first responders, and children .”

Loubani, who works as situations of emergency physician in southern Ontario, said he was treating injured Palestinians on the Gaza Strip when he was shot in both legs on Monday. He was in Gaza as part of a medical squad that is field testing 3D-printed medical tourniquets.

The shooting happened during a pause in the protests, said Loubani. He was wearing a green surgeon’s attire and was standing with orange-vested paramedics about 25 metres from the protesters. There were no flames or smoking and he was within clear lines of sight to three fortified sniper posts.

” It’s very hard to believe I wasn’t specifically targeted, considering that there was a pause in activity, considering the fact that I was so clearly marked ,” he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation earlier this week as he recovered from the shooting.

Another 16 paramedics were injured. The doctor who rescued Loubani, Musa Abuhassanin, was afterward killed as he was trying to reach another patient.

Trudeau said his government is working with Israeli officials in an attempt to determine how Loubani was injured. While Trudeau’s statement ranked as his government’s strongest criticism of Israel to date, it did not mention Israel by name.

The prime minister told Canada will work closely with international partners and institutions to address the situation.” It is imperative we establish the particular circumstances of what is happening in Gaza ,” told Trudeau.” Canada calls for an immediate independent investigation to thoroughly examine the facts on the ground- including any provocation, violence, and the excessive use of force .”

The killings have inspired international disapproval with Theresa May, the British “ministers “, and the United Nations secretary general, Antonio Guterres, among those calling for an independent investigation.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, joined the US in blaming Hamas for the deaths. Netanyahu defended his country’s use of force, saying:” Every country has the obligation to defend its borders .”

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Al Walaja: the Palestinian village being slowly squeezed off the map

As the 70 th anniversary of Nakba approaches when 700,000 Palestinians lost their homes in the wake of the creation of Israel farming families on the West Bank recount their struggle to survive

In the middle part of the last century the inhabitants of the village of Al Walaja , not far from Jerusalem, considered themselves very lucky.

Fertile hills, terraced for growing veggies and fruit, led down to a valley where an Ottoman-era railway line connected Jerusalem with the Mediterranean port of Jaffa. Close to a station, Al Walaja’s farmers always had buyers for their lentils, peppers, and cucumbers. Mohammed Salim, who calculates he is approaching 80 as he was born” sometime in the 40 s”, recollects vast fields owned by Al Walaja households.” There was nothing else here .”

Today, Salim lives in what has fast become an enclave. In 2018, Al Walaja sits on a tiny cusp of the land it commanded when he was a child. During his lifetime, two wars have displaced all of the village’s residents and swallowed most of its land. More was subsequently confiscated for Jewish settlements. And in the past two decades a towering concrete wall and barbed wire have divided what remains of the community as Israel claims more territory.

Every year on 15 May, Palestinians mark the anniversary of the Nakba, or “catastrophe”, when hundreds of thousands were forced out of their homes or fled amid the fighting that accompanied the creation in 1948 of the state of Israel after the end of the British Mandate. For the residents of Al Walaja, the Nakba was the beginning of a seven-decade struggle to survive.

The barbed wire fence, several metres in height, separating the total population of Al Walaja from their agricultural lands. Photograph: Anne Paq/ Activestills.org

Salim and his cousin, Umm-Mohammed, remember it was dusk when the fighting flared in 1948. A civil war between Jewish forces and Arab militia raged as the British sought to withdraw, with surrounding countries joining the fight. Residents had heard rumours of a murder of hundreds of Arab villagers in Deir Yassin at the hands of Zionist paramilitaries. Determined not to suffer the same fate, they fled in October when they heard gunfire.

” As small children, the shells looked to me like watermelons flying through the sky ,” told Umm-Mohammed. Her father, she remembers, held her in one limb and her brother in the other as they headed across the develop tracks and up the hill on the other side.

” We constructed wooden houses there ,” told Umm-Mohammed, who can see the crumbled homes of the village from her balcony.” We thought we would return after the fighting stopped .”

According to the UNRWA, the United Nations body responsible for Palestinian refugees, about 70% of Al Walaja’s land was lost after Israel and Arab states drew demarcation lines in 1949. Of the original 1,600 people from Al Walaja, most fled to neighboring countries. About 100, like Umm-Mohammed, settled.

After the six-day war in 1967, when the young Israeli state captured the West Bank from Jordan, Al Walaja detected itself occupied. Salim remembers a message that filtered through the village, purportedly from an Israeli commander.” He said,’ Be aware, and don’t defy .'”

Israel afterward annexed east Jerusalem, expanding the city’s boundary and essentially cutting the village in two. Israeli statutes, including strict house limiteds, were imposed, although a few people in Al Walaja were given residency rights.

The entryway to the Jewish settlement Har Gilo, built on Al Walaja’s land. Photograph: Anne Paq/ Activestills.org

At the top of the new village was an Ottoman base, subsequently taken over by the British, Jordanians and eventually the Israeli military. During the 1970 s the site was transformed into a Jewish settlement named Har Gilo, considered illegal under international law, which with another settlement blocks Al Walaja on two sides. Israeli flags fluttering from the balconies.

Salim says the communities rarely talk.” So far, they are nice people ,” he said, appearing up at the fortified wall that surrounds the settlement.

In the early 2000 s, Israel began building of a roadblock in response to violence across the country, including suicide bombings. Al Walaja was squeezed again, discovering itself further isolated by the concrete wall. The original route of the barrier would have divided the existing village in two, but Israel’s high court granted it a remain. The wall now surrounds Al Walaja on three sides and isolates about 30% of its remaining land.

” It has become a siege around the village ,” said Khader Al Araj, 47, president of the village council. He scrambled in a metal filing cabinet full of annotated maps.” All our land has been taken .”

Now comprising 2,600 people, Al Walaja still exists but its future is, to say the least, precarious. In the past decade, Israeli police have placed a checkpoint in the valley that most residents cannot pass. Isolated fields remain uncultivated, while the Jerusalem municipality has bulldozed dozens of homes. Many more have pending demolition orders. Once famous for its springtimes, Al Walaja is losing them, too. A wire fence surrounds the largest one at the lower end of the hill. Farmers’ goats can no longer drink there.

On Land Day 2018, a villager from Al Walaja seems out over the countryside. Photo: Anne Paq/ Activestills.org

The latest menace is ostensibly benign- an Israeli national park in the valley. The EU says national parks in the occupied territories are used to prevent Palestinians from constructing. The parks authority says it supports agricultural purposes but will not allow” illegal building “. Over the past year, the barrier has been added to, with a four-metre high fencing covered in barbed wire. A police checkpoint will be erected further into Al Walaja’s province, cutting residents off from the rest of their land. Legal challenges have stalled Israeli schemes, but ultimately most have gone through.

Yet Al Walaja looks like one of the Holy Land’s most charming villages. Apricot trees and flowers line its meandering roads, planted out of pride, residents say, for the smaller spot of land they still have. A emblem of the destruction of Palestinian life, Al Walaja has attracted fund from foreign states sympathetic to what it represents. Its streets are covered in plaques, thanking various governments for freshly paved walkways and new roads.

Al Araj appears depleted but believes that self-respect is part of the combat:” We try very hard to keep the village beautiful .”

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Israel rejects UN and EU calls for inquiry into Gaza bloodshed

Defence minister says soldiers did what had to be done after protests turned violent

Israel’s defence minister has rejected United Nations and European Union calls for an investigation into the killing of more than a dozen Palestinians by the military during demonstrations on the Gaza frontier.

Gaza’s coastal enclave has been shaken by the bloodiest episode in years after protests advertised as peaceful sit-ins turned violent, with Israeli troops firing rounds of live ammo at mob of stone-throwers.

Hospitals in Gaza have recorded hundreds of emergency admissions from the protest, and doctors have said most were for gunshot wounds.

The UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, and the EU’s top envoy, Federica Mogherini, called for independent investigations into the bloodshed, which left 16 people dead.

But the Israeli defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, told Israel’s public radio on Sunday that there will not be an inquiry.” From the standpoint of the[ Israeli Defence Force] soldiers, they did what had to be done ,” he told.” I think that all of our troops deserve a commendation .”

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What is the history of the Palestinian reconciliation efforts?

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The two main Palestinian parties- the Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and the Islamist militant group Hamas- have operated separate governments in the West Bank and Gaza respectively since 2007.

The situation emerged after Hamas defeated Fatah in parliamentary elections in 2006. Fatah refused to recognise the result, leading to a near-civil war that watched Hamas push Fatah out of Gaza.

Numerous attempts at reconciliation have ensued but the latest effort seems “the worlds largest” yet. The issue of who controls the borders and operates government ministries is a key exam , not least in loosening the Israeli blockade on Gaza, imposed after Hamas took control.

Responsibility for land border crossings- in a coastal strip without a commercial ocean port or airport- is crucial, as Palestinians and goods can only cross by these checkpoints. Both Egypt and Israel will want to ensure that no limbs reach Hamas and other groups.

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Israel has accused Gaza’s rulers, Hamas, of using” violent riots to camouflage terror “. It also pointed to an attempted gun attack on Friday against soldiers along the border.

Israeli army spokespeople have said claims by the Gaza health ministry that more than 750 people were wounded by live fire are exaggerated.

At the Gaza Strip’s main Shifa hospital, the digital registry of A& E admissions on Friday, assured by the Guardian, showed that from 8.45 am until the end of the working day, 275 people from the protest arrived. It did not specify injuries, but doctors said most had gunshot wounds to the legs.

A clerk told a further eight patients were transferred from surrounding clinics to Shifa’s operating theatres. Surgeons said many patients had big exit wounds.

On Sunday a 23 -year-old man, Adam Abu Ghanima, said he had just driven to the hospital from a demo, which was smaller than Friday’s. His kneecap had been pierced and blood soaked the sheets of the bed where he lay.

He said he had planned to place a Palestinian flag near the frontier.” I was right next to the Israeli soldiers. Before they shot me, they fired alerting shootings in the air ,” he told. But he kept going, he added,” to bring Jerusalem back “.

Another man said he had been shot trying to lift a Palestinian flag that had fallen over on the Gazan side.

Doctors said the majority of members of those acknowledged since Friday had been discharged, but some awaiting surgery lay in beds surrounded by friends and families.

Ibrahim Fathi Hasna, 22, said he and another man who had wire cutters and a Molotov cocktail had managed to cut through a fence at a protest on Saturday to breach an Israeli-controlled area. They were both shot.

Hasna said he crawled back, eyes filled with teargas, until he was hoisted into an ambulance. The other man was reach in the back, he told, and he was unsure of his condition. Asked why he had wanted to cross the fence, he replied:” I just wanted to be there .”

The Great March of Return is a schemed six-week demonstration calling for refugees and their descendants to be allowed back to their family homes in Israel. Backed by Hamas and other activist and political Palestinian factions, larger meets are expected every Friday, the holy day for Muslims.

Israel did not specify exact orders to troops, but a spokesperson said anyone approaching the” hostile perimeter” was a potential threat.” People coming towards the fence, attempting to penetrate and break into the fence, damaging the infrastructure or using that area as a staging ground could potentially be shot ,” said Lt Col Peter Lerner, of the Israel Defense Forces.

On Sunday Turkey’s chairman, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, a “terrorist”. Netanyahu tweeted that the Israeli army” will not be lectured by those who have indiscriminately bombed civilian populations for years”, referring to Turkey.

Gaza has been blockaded for a decade by Israel and Egypt, which tightly control goods and people entering the 140 sq mile area.

The demoes in Gaza appeared to be split in two, with women and children staying hundreds of metres from the perimeter fence, protesting in a festival-like atmosphere. Groups of largely young men headed closer to hurl boulders and light bottles of petrol. There have been no the reporting of Israeli casualties.

Israel told 10 of the dead is accountable to Hamas. Hamas said five members of its armed wing who participated in the protest were killed.

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Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi’s trial begins behind closed doors

Judge outlaws media from Israeli military court as trial of teen filmed slapping and kicking soldiers starts

Israel using tourism to legitimise settlements, says EU report

Exclusive: European Union Heads of Mission warn touristic settlements are being used as a political tool

Death toll rises to 12 in violence after Trump’s Jerusalem recognition

Palestinian health ministry in Gaza reports two demises over the weekend from meanders sustained in clashes with Israeli troops

The Palestinian health ministry in the Gaza Strip has said two men have died from meanders sustained in earlier conflicts with Israeli troops along the border with Israel.

It identified them as Mohammed Dahdouh, 20, who died on Sunday, and Sharif Shalash, 28, who died on Saturday.

Their demises create to 12 the number of Palestinians killed in violence in Gaza and the West Bank since Donald Trump announced the unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on 6 December.

Most of the deaths have occurred in Gaza, where protesters have been clashing with Israeli forces-out along the border fencing. Forces have use teargas and live flame to scatter the crowds.

Among the dead were two Hamas militants killed in an Israeli airstrike that was carried out in response to rocket fire from Gaza.

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Why is recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital so contentious?

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Of all the issues at the heart of the enduring conflict between Israel and the Palestinians , none is as sensitive as the status of Jerusalem. The holy city has been at the centre of peace-making efforts for decades.

Seventy years ago, when the UN voted to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, Jerusalem was defined as a separate entity under international supervising. In the war of 1948 it was divided, like Berlin in the cold war, into western and eastern sectors under Israeli and Jordanian control respectively. Nineteen years later, in June 1967, Israel captured the eastern side, expanded the city’s bounds and annexed it- an act that was never recognised internationally.

Israel routinely describes the city, with its Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy place, as its” united and eternal” capital. For their part, the Palestinians say East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future independent Palestinian country. The unequivocal international position, accepted by all previous US administrations, is that the city’s status must be addressed in peace negotiations.

Recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital sets the US out of step with the rest of the world, and legitimises Israeli settlement-building in the east- considered illegal under international law.

Photograph: Thomas Coex/ AFP

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Donald Trump threatens to cut aid to countries over UN Jerusalem vote

General assembly to vote on rejecting US recognition of city as Israeli capital with Trump warning: Were not going to be taken advantage of any longer

Donald Trump has threatened to withhold “billions” of dollars of US aid from countries which vote in favour of a United Nations resolving rejecting the US president’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

His comments came after the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, wrote to about 180 of 193 member states warns that she will be ” taking names” of countries that vote for a general assembly resolution on Thursday critical of the announcement which overturned decades of US foreign policy.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Trump amplified Haley’s threat.

” Let them vote against us ,” he said.

” We’ll save a lot. We don’t care. But this isn’t like it used to be where they could vote against you and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars ,” he said.” We’re not going to be taken advantage of any longer .”

The warning appeared aimed largely at UN members in Africa, Asia and Latin America who are regarded as more vulnerable to US pressure.

Egypt, which drafted Monday’s UN security council resolution which the US vetoed, is particularly vulnerable, receiving $1.2 bn in US aid last year.

But Trump’s comments may also resonate elsewhere- including in the UK, which is hoping to negotiate a quick post-Brexit trade deal with Washington.

The emergency UN general assembly session was called for Thursday to protest against the US veto at Monday’s security council meeting on a resolution the Jerusalem issue- which was supported by all other 14 members.

The security council resolution demanded that all countries comply with pre-existing UN security council resolutions on Jerusalem, dating back to 1967, including requirements that the city’s final status be decided in direct the talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Key US allies Britain, France, Italy, Japan and Ukraine were among the 14 countries in the 15 -member council that voted in favour on Monday, and were expected to do the same at the general assembly on Thursday.

Diplomats expect strong support for the resolution, which is non-binding, despite the US pressure to either abstain or vote against it. However, a council envoy said Canada, Hungary and the Czech Republic might bow to US pressure and not support the draft resolution.

Critics point out the the Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem- as well as the US veto- are both in opposition to numerous security council resolutions.

Trump’s extraordinary intervention marked the most recent escalation of diplomatic tensions over a decision that has watched the US widely criticised and isolated. It came after a day of high drama.

In a letter to UN ambassadors, Haley told countries- including European delegations- that she will report back to the US president with their lists of those who support a draft resolution rejecting the US move at the UN general assembly on Thursday, adding that Trump took the questions personally.

The new draft resolution for Thursday’s general assembly is very similar to Monday’s defeated security council resolution. Unlike the security council, however, where permanent members can wield the right of veto, there are no veto rights in the general assembly.

The resolution reaffirms 10 resolutions of the security council on Jerusalem, dating back to 1967, including requirements that the city’s final status must be decided in direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

It” asserts that any decisions and actions which purport to have altered, the character, status or demographic composition of the holy city of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be repealed “.

The draft resolution” demands that all states comply with Security Council resolvings regarding the holy city of Jerusalem, and not to recognize any actions or measures contrary to those resolutions “.

Referring to Haley’s letter, which was disclosed by the Guardian and other media organisations on Wednesday morning, Trump said:” I like the message that Nikki sent yesterday at the United Nations.

” Our great citizens who love this country are tired of this country being taken advantage of- we’re not going to be taken advantage of any longer .”

In her letter, Haley wrote:” As you hold your referendum, I promote you to know the president and the US take this referendum personally.

” The president will be watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on the individuals who voted against us ,” she continued.

Haley followed the letter by tweeting:” At the UN we’re always is necessary to do more& dedicate more. So, when we make a decision, at the will of the American ppl, abt where to locate OUR embassy, we don’t expect those we’ve helped to target us. On Thurs there’ll be a vote criticizing our selection. The US will be taking names .”

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Who is on the United Nation security council?

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The council is composed of 15 members. There are five permanent members 😛 TAGEND

* China
* France
* Russia
* United Kingdom
* United States

There are also 10 non-permanent members elected for two-year words by the UN general assembly. The current non-permanent members are listed below( aim of word date in brackets ):

* Bolivia( 2018)
* Egypt( 2017)
* Ethiopia( 2018)
* Italy( 2017)
* Japan( 2017)
* Kazakhstan( 2018)
* Senegal( 2017)
* Sweden( 2018)
* Ukraine( 2017)
* Uruguay( 2017)

Photograph: Xinhua/ Barcroft Images/ Barcroft Media

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Responding to the US threats, the Palestinian foreign minister, Riyad al-Maliki, and the foreign minister of Turkey- a co-sponsor of the UN vote- Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport that they believed UN member countries will ignore “pressure” from Haley.

” No honest nation would bow to such pressure ,” Cavusoglu said.

” The world has changed. The belief that’ I am strong therefore I am right’ has changed. The world today is revolting against injustices .”

A senior diplomat from a Muslim country said of Haley’s letter:” Countries resort to such blatant bully only when they know they do not have a moral or legal debate to persuade others .”

A senior western diplomat, described it as” poor tactics” at the United Nation” but pretty good for Haley 2020 or Haley 2024″, referring to speculation that Haley might run for higher office.

” She’s not going to win any elections in the general assembly or the security council, but she is going to win some elections in the US population ,” the western diplomat said.

A senior European envoy agreed Haley was unlikely to sway many UN states.

” We are missing some leadership here from the US and this type of letter is definitely not helping to establish US leadership in the Middle East peace process ,” the diplomat said.

The tabling of the resolution followed a weekend of negotiations aimed at securing the widest consensus possible on the issue. The vote has underlined is again the widespread international opposition to the US move, even among some of its closest allies.

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Turkey hopes to open embassy in East Jerusalem, says Erdoan

Turkish president announces intention days after leading calls for region to be recognised as capital of a Palestinian state

Turkey intends to open an embassy in East Jerusalem, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said, days after resulting bellows at a summit of Muslim leaders for the world to recognise it as the capital of a Palestinian nation.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation summit was a response to the US president, Donald Trump’s decision earlier this month to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. His move transgressed with decades of US policy and international consensus that the city’s status must be left to Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

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Why is recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital so contentious?

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Of all the issues at the heart of the enduring conflict between Israel and the Palestinians , none is as sensitive as the situation of women Jerusalem. The holy city has been at the centre of peace-making efforts for decades.

Seventy years ago, when the UN voted to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab nations, Jerusalem was defined as an independent entity under international supervision. In the war of 1948 it was divided, like Berlin in the cold war, into western and eastern sectors under Israeli and Jordanian control respectively. Nineteen years later, in June 1967, Israel captured the eastern side, expanded the city’s borders and annexed it- an act that was never recognised internationally.

Israel routinely describes the city, with its Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy places, as its” united and eternal” capital. For their portion, the Palestinians say East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future independent Palestinian state. The unequivocal international position, agreed to by all previous US administrations, is that the city’s status must be addressed in peace negotiations.

Recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital puts the US out of step with the rest of the world, and legitimises Israeli settlement-building in the east- deemed illegal under international law.

Photograph: Thomas Coex/ AFP

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Erdogan said in a speech to members of his AK party in Turkey’s southern province of Karaman that the country’s consulate general in Jerusalem was already represented by an ambassador.

” God willing, the working day is shut when officially, with God’s permission, we will open our embassy there ,” Erdogan said.

It was not clear how he would carry out the move, as Israel controls all of Jerusalem and calls the city its indivisible capital. Palestinians want the capital of a future state they seek to be in East Jerusalem, which Israel took in a 1967 war and later annexed in a move not recognised internationally.

Jerusalem, idolized by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, is home to Islam’s third holiest shrine as well as Judaism’s Western Wall- both in the eastern sector- and has been at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades.

Foreign embassies in Israel, including Turkey’s, are located in Tel Aviv, reflecting Jerusalem’s unresolved status.

A communique issued after Wednesday’s summit of more than 50 Muslim countries, including US allies, said they held Trump’s move to be a declaration that Washington was withdrawing from its role” as sponsor of peace” in the Middle East.

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