Christmas in Bethlehem

In a Christmas card designed by Banksy, an England-based graffiti artist and political activist, the holy family (Joseph and Mary) head towards Bethlehem only to find Israel's Separation Barrier, aka "the Apartheid Wall" on their way. With Christmas approaching and the political overtones of Banksy's work, the card spread like wildfire.

In a Christmas card designed by Banksy, a UK-based artist and political activist, the Holy Family — Joseph and Mary — head towards Bethlehem only to find Israel’s ‘Separation Barrier,’ preventing their way.
This Christmas, the card, with all of its implications for humanity’s universal rights — as well as for Christianity’s heritage — has spread like wildfire.  Picture Credit:  Al-Ahram.

A biblical theme, set in the contemporary reality that is Bethlehem, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as Gaza.  Conflict, destruction, separation, oppression.

Let’s hope that 2015 will bring a real prospect of peace, with justice, further forward, not to mention a minimum of prosperity for all.

— From Pam and all our contributors,

Wishing you the Best of Greetings for this Festive Season.

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Gaza: Historic Gateway’s Huge Potential as a Mediterranean Trading Hub

To most people around the world, the word ‘Gaza’ conjures up images of rockets and bombs, wars, poverty and invasion, never mind the appalling conditions in which many of its residents live as a result of the ongoing Israeli blockade and, most recently, the massive Israeli attack on the enclave — its third in the past six years. But, while one international commentator wrote recently, “It’s not too fanciful to see it in the future as the ‘Dubai’ of the Eastern Mediterranean,” Gaza has much more to offer given its 3,000 years of culture and its history as a prosperous trading hub connecting Africa and Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Gaza, by David Roberts. Photo Reproduction, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

Gaza, by David Roberts. Photo Reproduction, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

(Click on the photo to enlarge.)

In the 19th Century, Gaza’s renowned soap factories, like those in Nablus, produced luxury goods that were exported around the world. It’s premium cotton crop, fruits, vegetables and spices were in great demand. Gaza’s merchants catered to a vast array of travelers: European visitors to the Holy Land, caravans from Egypt and North Africa, pilgrims from the Arabian Peninsula and Asia. Its bazaars were regarded as even better than those in Jerusalem.

Founded in the 14th Century, Khan Younis in southern Gaza served as a centre of the caravan trade between Asia and  Africa.  Photo:  Marka, Wikipedia.org

Founded in the 14th Century, Khan Younis in southern Gaza served as a centre of the caravan trade between Asia and Africa. Photo: Marka, Wikipedia.org

Before the latest invasion, the Washington-based International Monetary Fund estimated that Gaza’s GDP would rise by 7 per cent in 2013 and 6.5 per cent this year, figures that any European country would envy. But the destruction by Egypt, as well as Israel, of the underground tunnels, which allowed much needed supplies to be brought in despite the blockade, has ended any hopes that Gaza can survive on its own, never mind grow.

Earlier this year, it was expected that increases in international aid, especially from the European Union and the UN following Israel’s onslaught in November, 2012, would counter some of the setbacks. The rise in development funds, from both government and private sources in the Gulf states – including Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia – was also contributing to a new era of hope and confidence in Gaza. Qatar’s building projects, covering everything from schools, roads and hospitals to new housing and infrastructure projects alone were expected to create some 10,000 jobs by next year.

The University College of Applied Sciences in Gaza.  Many more schools and higher education facilities are needed.  Photo:  Ahmed Fuad.

The University College of Applied Sciences in Gaza. Many more schools and higher education facilities are needed. Photo: Ahmed Fuad.

Surprisingly, until the latest assault, the growing international awareness and support for Gaza’s people had also led to a boom in tourism in the enclaves’ new hotels, restaurants and shopping malls. International solidarity activists, NGO staff and aid officials were helping to boost capacity and business to levels not seen since the Israeli bombardment of late 2008.

Gaza's first five-star luxury hotel, the Al-Mashtal.  Photo:  ArcMed

Gaza’s first five-star luxury hotel, the Al-Mashtal. Photo: ArcMed

The desire of Gaza’s newly rich elite to live in up-to-date, spacious accommodation, combined with the eagerness of its private investors to seek out alternatives to the tunnel trade, helped to fuel a boom in real estate, retail and leisure services, as well as increased demand for international luxury brands.

Meanwhile, a host of recent studies, from the World Bank, Israeli academics and the Gaza-based PalThink research centre have pointed out that concrete measures will also be needed to be introduced by Hamas if Gaza’s huge economic potential is to be realized, even if the Israeli siege is lifted, or substantially eased.

In particular, they cite the need for more institutional support for the private sector, an overhaul of the tax regime, and measures to boost agricultural and industrial productivity, as well as export capacity.

Gaza could produce a huge array of fruits, vegetables, nuts, dates, olive oils and spices for export, if the seige were lifted.  Photo:  The Gaza Kitchen, Just World Books, 2013

Gaza could produce a huge array of fruits, vegetables, nuts, dates, olive oils and spices for export, if the seige were lifted. Photo: The Gaza Kitchen, Just World Books, 2013

Gaza's fishermen used to supply Egypt, Israel and neighbouring Arab states, but Israeli restrictions mean the fishermen cannot even supply domestic demand. Photo:  The Gaza Kitchen, Just World Books, 2013

Gaza’s fishermen used to supply Egypt, Israel and neighbouring Arab states, but Israeli restrictions mean the fishermen cannot even supply domestic demand. Photo: The Gaza Kitchen, Just World Books, 2013

Special attention, they add, should be given to those sectors, such as manufacturing, construction and tourism, which would provide the most jobs. Vocational training projects, as well as a re-vamp of the entire educational system, plus incentives for the ICT and telecoms sector, they say, are urgently needed to help Gaza realize its opportunities in a globalized marketplace.

While the Bank of Palestine and other financial institutions have continued to provide, often under the most difficult circumstances, access to cash and funds in Gaza, Hamas will also need to ensure that any lifting of the Israeli siege, both for business people and cargoes, is accompanied by closer co-ordination of trade and regulations with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Gaza’s dependence on the use of the Israeli shekel (NIS) as its main currency, together with its heavy reliance on money-lenders rather than on banks which can gather deposits and direct them to profitable development projects, could hold up progress in the future as more aid and investment pours in, and as reconstruction begins, once again, in earnest, the reports note.

If Gaza City is to thrive again, Hamas will need to introduce economic and financial reforms, as well as seeking to end the Israeli blockade.  Photo: Al Jazeera English

If Gaza City is to thrive again, Hamas will need to introduce economic and financial reforms, as well as seeking to end the Israeli blockade. Photo: Al Jazeera English

Arab and Islamic tourism to Gaza, as well as to Jerusalem and the West Bank, could also be greatly increased by agreements with Egypt on developing the Sinai Peninsula and the border areas with Gaza, Oman Shaban, the founder and director of the Gaza-based think tank, PalThink, argues. “Tourism in the Sinai Peninsula [which would also benefit Egypt directly] represents a golden opportunity for tens of thousands of Palestinian families in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Jerusalem due to visitor appeal and modest costs,” he maintains.

Dating back to the 13th Century, the Pasha's Palace has been occupied by various rulers of Gaza, from the Mamlukes and Ottomans to Napolean and the British.  The UN is now helping to restore it as a major tourist site.  Photo: UNDP

Dating back to the 13th Century, the Pasha’s Palace has been occupied by various rulers of Gaza, from the Mamlukes and Ottomans to Napolean and the British. The UN is now helping to restore it as a major tourist site. Photo: UNDP

Talks between the PA and Israel that were underway to begin exploiting the rich reserves of natural gas, and possibly oil as well, lying just off Gaza’s shores in the Mediterranean, have also been put on hold. Valued at some $7 billion, they could help to end Gaza’s critical shortage of fuel and electricity as well as providing substantial revenues to build new schools, hospitals, roads, ports and even an airport, as well as vitally needed new water and wastewater facilities. Gas exports either through Egypt or Turkey, could boost the PA’s coffers for years to come, and help to reduce both Gaza and the West Bank’s huge dependence on international aid, speeding up the day when Palestine can become self-sufficient.

Gas reserves valued at $7 billion lying off the coast of Gaza could greatly reduce Palestine's dependence on foreign aid.  Photo:  Michel Chossudovsky

Gas reserves valued at $7 billion lying off the coast of Gaza could greatly reduce Palestine’s dependence on foreign aid. Photo: Michel Chossudovsky

Hamas’s newfound unity with the PA in Ramallah and the solidarity for Gaza shown by Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as by people around the world, bodes well for bringing Gaza into a regional network that could benefit Israel as well as Palestine. But for that to happen, more pragmatic heads will need to surface in Tel Aviv and Cairo, as well as in Gaza City.

© Pamela Ann Smith

This is a publication of investpalestine.wordpress.com and is protected by international copyright laws. This article is for the reader’s personal use only, but may be re-distributed electronically with a credit to investpalestine.com.

An earlier version of this article appeared in the July, 2013 issue of The Middle East magazine.

Gaza Meets Jericho

The new unity agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas looks, at long last, to be going ahead. And lots of Palestinians, on both sides of the divide, are delighted that the divisions have finally been resolved, or at least, negotiated.

Many Palestinians are celebrating, whatever the fears of the US, the EU and others about Hamas. Not least because it could lead to a lot of family re-unions across the borders, after decades of separation.

Once again, a time to celebrate?

Once again, a time to celebrate?


That could mean, too, real links between Gaza and the rich fertile fields of the Jordan Valley in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Although many of these areas are currently off limits, being in Area C and under total Israeli control, the city of Jericho, the oldest inhabited city in the world, is free for tourists to visit.
Lying below sea level, it is the centre of one of the richest agricultural areas in the world.

Lying below sea level, Jericho is in the centre of one of the richest agricultural areas in the world, as well as a mecca for tourists.

While East Jerusalem and the West Bank attract some 1.5 million tourists each year, mainly from Europe and the US, as well as Israel and the neighbouring countries, the new unity agreement could also mean that many more Arabs, including members of the Palestinian diaspora living in the Arab Gulf states and Egypt, seek to visit Palestine … something that the Palestinian authorities are eager to encourage. For this, Bethlehem’s historic, landmark Jacir Palace Intercontinental is in a luxury class of its own.
The Jacir Palace Intercontinental in Bethlehem.

The Jacir Palace Intercontinental in Bethlehem.

More later on some of the thorny political issues, and surprisingly positive prospects, for investment and trade in Palestine in the near future.

Much depends, of course, on whether Netanyahu will side with the hawks, or liberals, in his Cabinet.

But, to get the flavour of the moment, here’s a bit about music and food.

 Daniel Barenboim, co-founder of the East-West Divan Orchestra (along with Edward Said), visits Gaza to encourage young musicians.

Daniel Barenboim, founder of the East-West Divan Orchestra (along with Edward Said), visits Gaza to encourage young musicians.

Mana’eesh, seafood specialities, roasted garlic and dill, buttery rice cooked in a clay pot. ... and more

Mana’eesh, seafood specialities, roasted garlic and dill, buttery rice cooked in a clay pot. … and more, all recommended by no-less than Anthony Bourdain.

Enjoy!

As always, thanks for reading, and viewing.

Pam

© Pamela Ann Smith

This is a publication of investpalestine.wordpress.com and is protected by international copyright laws. This article is for the reader’s personal use only, but may be re-distributed electronically with a credit to investpalestine.com.

(For picture credits, see the archives in the sidebar.)

A Very Merry Christmas and Prosperous New Year

…With Peace and Justice for All.

  (A wall painting in Gaza, photographed in 2009.  Credit:  Eva Bartlett www.ingaza.wordpress.com.)


(A wall drawing in Gaza by Ibrahim Abu ‘Awyali, photographed in 2009. Credit: Eva Bartlett http://www.ingaza.wordpress.com.)

(click on the picture to enlarge it.)

From all of us here at PASCOM Associates.

We’ll be back in the New Year, after a long hiatus, to bring you up-to-date on the huge potential of the Palestinian economy and its people…both those living in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, as well as elsewhere in the Middle East, Europe and the Americas.

In January, we’ll be highlighting the forthcoming investment roadshow in London by PalTrade and the Palestine Securities Exchange.

In 2014, the propects for Palestinian trade…imports and exports…as well as for the impressive dividends paid out to those who have invested in the companies listed on its stock exchange, promise to be even brighter, despite all the restrictions. (See the stories below and in the links to the left.)

So, too, does the international interest in realising the critical revenues that could come from exploiting Palestine’s wealth of oil and gas in Gaza and the West Bank.

Fighting back, with fun, in East Jerusalem, December, 2013.  Credit:  (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images) Fighting back, with fun, in East Jerusalem, December, 2013. Credit: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images.

We’ll be reporting on all this, as well as on the growing response of the Palestinian and Arab diaspora to investment opportunities in Palestine, as well as on the other investments…social, cultural, aesthetic and environmental…that so many people of good will have made to Palestinian projects everywhere.

Thanks for reading…and for your patience these past few months, while I have been updating my book, Palestine and the Palestinians 1876 – 1983.

— Pam

Changing Fortunes for Palestine’s Economy?

InvestPalestine.com was busy in June preparing a Special Report which has now appeared in the July issue of the London-based, pan-Arab monthly, The Middle East.TME Cover July '13

Here’s a preview:

Critical Times for Palestine’s Economy

The hopes and aspirations of millions of young Palestinians, both in the occupied territories and in the refugee camps of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and elsewhere, as well as those of their older relatives and families both at home and in the Diaspora, could well be at stake in the coming weeks as US Secretary of State John Kerry seeks to convince Israel, as well as the Palestinian Authority, to return to the negotiating table and finally agree to accept the need for a sovereign Palestinian state.

Will there be peace for the next generation? Photo:  Eva Bartlett, http://ingaza.wordpress.com.

Will there be peace for the next generation? Photo: Eva Bartlett, http://ingaza.wordpress.com.

While many in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, as elsewhere, are justifiably extremely skeptical about Kerry’s plans to restart the moribund “peace talks,” Palestine’s business leaders, along with some of Israel’s most progressive entrepreneurs, have welcomed his initiative, as have future leaders like the imprisoned Marwan Barghouthi, seeing it as the only way to end the decades-old conflict and ensure a viable future for the next generation.

Gaza: Dubai on the Mediterranean?

To most people around the world, the word ‘Gaza’ conjures up images of rockets and bombs, wars, poverty and invasion, never mind the appalling conditions in which many of its residents live as a result of the ongoing Israeli blockade. But, as one international commentator suggested recently, it’s not, actually, too fanciful to see it in the future as the Mediterranean’s “Dubai.” While of course that assumes that peace prevails and that the Israeli siege ends, it also recalls Gaza’s historic role as a prosperous gateway between Africa and Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

 Gaza's five-star Al Mashtal Hotel on the beach front shows the potential for luxury tourism to appeal to visitors from Europe, Asia and Africa.  Photo:  Christopher Furlong, AFP/Getty.

Gaza's five-star Al Mashtal Hotel on the beach front shows the potential for luxury tourism to appeal to visitors from Europe, Asia and Africa. Photo: Christopher Furlong, AFP/Getty.

Developing East Jerusalem?

Efforts to help the beleaguered 375,000 inhabitants of Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem – which Palestinians see as the future capital of their state – are intensifying because of renewed efforts by Palestinian businessmen and promises of some $1 billion in aid from the Arab League, of which $250 million has already been pledged by Qatar. The plans include the construction of a new airport in the city, a project which was first mooted in 2009 by the former Palestinian Prime Minister, Salah Fayyad, as well as incentives to both local and foreign investors in the fields of finance, trade, transport, tourism, real estate and housing, private education and information communications and technology (ICT).

The articles will be published in full here at the end of July.

Meanwhile, check out http://www.themiddleastmagazine.com, or get the printed edition at your local news agent or newstand.

As always, thanks for reading!

Pam

The Nakba, and the Future

Today, as we mark the 65th anniversary of the Nakba (i.e. the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homeland, villages, towns and cities in 1948), it’s important to remember, too, that one of the greatest achievements of Palestinians, wherever they are, is their resilience. It’s an inspiration to us all, especially in these times of austerity, war and oppression, not to mention climate change.
Palestine & the Palestinians, Full A Palestinian refugee in Jordan, after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, 1967. Photo: UNRWA.

In the case of Palestine’s economic achievements, this involves yet more hundreds of thousands of younger generations of professionals, writers, business entrepreneurs, academics, journalists, artists and filmakers who have thrived in the diaspora these past decades, often despite great disadvantage, i.e. in the US, Europe, Latin America and the Arab world, and who are now giving us the benefit of their talents.

So, too, the indomitable spirit of those who keep steadfast in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, as well as in the Galilee. Which is why, as this website is often pointing out, Palestine is a such a great place to invest…financially, culturally, socially, artistically.

A culinary journal through Gaza's rich heritage.  Photo:  Just World Books

A culinary journal through Palestine’s rich heritage. Photo: Just World Books.

Whether it’s the extremely attractive valuations (and high dividends) many of the 48 companies listed on the Palestine Securities Exchange currently provide; the impressive growth of the Palestinian economy (5.9 per cent in 2012); the arrival of international brands in sparkling new shopping centres; the increasing spread of pro-Palestinian campus dissent in the US (which is objecting to the activities of their institutions and global corporations which support the Israeli occupation as well as encouraging them to invest, instead, in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem); the amazing turnout for the Palestine Film Festival here in London these past two weeks, or the great reception for the new book, The Gaza Kitchen, there’s lots to look forward to.

Thanks for reading,

Pam

CONGRATULATIONS! … But, A Missed Opportunity?

 The President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas (centre), celebrates with members of his delegation and other supporters after the U.N. General Assembly's historic vote to recognise Palestine as its 194th state, New York, 29 November, 2012. Photo:  thestar.com

The President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas (centre), celebrates with members of his delegation and other supporters after the U.N. General Assembly’s historic vote to recognise Palestine as its 194th state, New York, 29 November, 2012. Photo: thestar.com

(Click on the image to enlarge it.)

A time to celebrate, yes, even though most Palestinians know it will change little on the ground, and, as we’ve already seen, has led to yet more Israeli retaliation.

This is just one of the pictures that went around the world on Thursday, the 29th of November. It shows President Abbas’ delegation to the UN and his advisors.

But …

Twenty black suits & white shirts?

No beards, no kaffiyehs, no colourful headscarves. No sun-dried, wizened farmers (or their wives), no students, no children, no fishermen, no taxi drivers. Just two women.

Where is the PA’s sense of PR?

In front of a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ international audience.

Alas, Palestine’s rich, human diversity wasn’t on view.

What a missed opportunity!

… Pam

P.S. Here’s one example of a picture, taken on the 30th of November in Ramallah, that inspired millions of Palestine’s supporters around the world. With it’s newfound international status, will the PA do more to see that these images reach the widest audiences, as well as including, in its own institutions, a fairer representation of Palestine’s talented population…young and old, women and men, traditional and secular?

The day after…. Palestinians, in all their diversity, celebrate. Photo: Agencies.

(Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Thanks for reading.

Pam

Palestine’s Paralympics II

Here’s some pictures from the reception held yesterday evening in Parliament Square, Westminster, London, for the Paralympian team, their coaches, officials and supporters. (See Britain Opens its Doors...3 September, below.)

Fannouna, Zakout, the Palestinian Ambassador, and the Palestinian Paralympic Chairman, along with Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, listening to a tribute from the Liberal Democrat’s Deputy Leader, Simon Hughes.

It was sponsored by Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn and the Palestinian Ambassador, Manuel Hassassian, and addressed by Murad Qureshi, a member of the London Assembly (see Palestine’s Olympic Triumph II, 30 July, below), who described the tribulations of trying to enter Gaza on his first-ever trip to Palestine, as well as the hassles he encountered at the airport in Cairo! Continue reading

Britain Opens its Doors…and Hearts…to Palestine’s Paralympians

Half-way through the Paralympic 2012 Games in London, Palestine’s two participants, 47-year-old Khamis Zaqout and 32-year-old Muhammed Fannouna, are being feted and celebrated by the great and the good, as well as the huge, enthusiastic audiences who are turning out to watch them compete in the shotput, discus, javelin, long-jump, 100- and 200-metre athletics events. While Zaqout fell just 4 centimeters (!!!) short of taking a bronze medal in the shotput last Friday, team officials remain confident that there will be a Palestinian on the podium by the end of the Games on 9 September.

The athletes, their coaches, and the Chairman of the Palestinian Paralympic
Committee, Akram Okkeh, toured the British Parliament on Thursday, 30 August.
Photo: UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Tonight, a special, high-level reception is being held for the team at London’s Portcullis House in Westminster, across from the Houses of Parliament and “Big Ben.” Politicians, diplomats, officials, journalists, activists, supporters and members of the public have been invited by MP Jeremy Corbyn and the Palestinian Ambassador, Professor Manuel Hassassian, to cheer them on, and to help put Palestine “on the map” at a time when the world’s eyes are once again on London. (Corbyn hosted another reception in July at the London Assembly for the Palestinian Olympic team. See “Palestine’s Olympic Triumph II”, 30 July, below.) Continue reading