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Palestinians – For some Palestinians, peace is a day at the beach

MIDEAST ISRAEL PALESTINIANS BEACH DAY

Palestinians – For some Palestinians, peace is a day at the beach

Palestinians, Giggling children built castles, drew pictures in the sand and splashed water on each other in a refreshing first for Palestinian youngsters from the landlocked West Bank: a day at the beach.

While Israelis and Palestinians are increasingly kept apart by distrust and a separation barrier, grass-roots organizations have been trying to bring them together like this, maintaining that peace is built one personal encounter at a time.

Two such groups, Combatants for Peace and Machsom Watch, have been arranging trips to Israeli beaches for Palestinian children and their parents. On Monday, about 75 Palestinians drove by bus from the West Bank’s Hebron area to a beach south of Tel Aviv, after crossing an Israeli checkpoint on foot. For many of the Palestinians, it was their first glimpse of the sea — and a moment of hope.

“We feel we have to live in peace and create an atmosphere for our kids to live a better life than the life we lived,” said Ziad Sabatein, a 37-year-old father of five. “We lived through the (Palestinian) uprising and the attacks on each other, we experienced these things together (with the Israelis). Why not experience this way of life?”

Palestinians have largely been barred from Israel since 2000, when they launched an uprising against Israeli occupation and bloody fighting erupted. Gaza, now ruled by Hamas, remains sealed off, and West Bank residents need to apply for special permits to enter Israel.

Peace talks remain frozen, in part because Palestinians refuse to negotiate until Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu halts construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. But the hawkish Israeli leader has lifted some West Bank checkpoints and pledged to boost the Palestinian economy.

With calm largely restored in the West Bank, Israel has relaxed some restrictions on movement and has made it somewhat easier for some West Bank Palestinians to obtain entry permits to Israel. The permits for the beach trips are arranged through the organizers, but some requests are turned down by the Israeli authorities on security grounds.

On Monday morning, the Palestinians from Hebron set out for the beach, holding their first permits in years. It took them about an hour to cross a checkpoint in the separation barrier that Israel is building in the West Bank. Israel says the barrier is to keep out militants, while Palestinians see it as an attempt to grab land.

After emerging from the checkpoint, the group boarded buses and cars. “We’re going to the sea,” some children happily cheered. Upon arrival in Bat Yam, just south of Tel Aviv, some of the younger girls were so excited they parted with their long robes and headscarves and leaped into the water wearing cotton shirts and pants.

Their mothers, equally thrilled, kept their veils in place while sitting on plastic chairs at the edge of the shore and dipping their toes in the water.

One of the women, Fahima Nabil, 45, had never been to the beach before. Her husband is barred from Israel on security grounds, and as a traditional housewife, she wasn’t allowed to make the trip alone.

The Israeli organizers made sure to remind the Palestinian women to rub sun block on those parts of their skin still exposed to the sun and gave floaties to the kids, who frolicked for hours in the water.

They also handed out bread with chocolate spread and slices of watermelon. Later, everyone boarded a boat for a 40-minute boat cruise along the coast. Tzvia Shappira, an Israeli peace activist, has been organizing outings like this for three years. She said the goal is to introduce Palestinians to a kinder Israel.

“These people now know that there are different Israelis because what they see in their villages are soldiers and guns and the checkpoints,” she said. “And now the children and women see that we are simple women and men of Israel who are not soldiers who are not with guns.”

“And they had a good time, which is also important,” she added. But not everyone was pleased with the festive atmosphere. Ahmad Salameen stayed out of the water and wasn’t happy about his daughters sharing the beach with Israeli girls in skimpy attire.

“If I knew this is how it was going to be, I wouldn’t have joined. Look at these views,” he said, pointing to girls in bikinis. “As a Muslim, I shouldn’t see this.”


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Palestinians say Israel kills two in Gaza

Palestinians say Israel kills two in Gaza

GAZA (Reuters) – An Israeli missile strike killed two Hamas gunmen in the northern Gaza Strip on Monday, Palestinian hospital officials said, but Israel denied mounting any military action in the area.

Hamas, the ruling Palestinian Islamist faction, said three of its gunmen died in the explosion near the town of Beit Hanoun, and blamed an Israeli attack. But hospital officials said one of the casualties was severely hurt rather than killed.

An Israeli military spokesman said: “There were no actions by our forces in the area.”

The last week has seen a flare-up of violence in Gaza, where Israel waged a three-week war a year ago. Israel said Palestinian militants other than Hamas were responsible for the recent rash of cross-border rocket and mortar attacks, and urged Hamas to rein them in.

An Israeli security source said Israel was aware that a blast had taken place near Beit Hanoun.

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Israel, Palestinians hold ‘positive’ talks

AMMAN: Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held a “positive” first face-to-face meeting in more than 15 months on Tuesday, saying they remain committed to a two-state solution but that full-blown talks are still some way off.

“The talks and atmosphere were positive,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told reporters after the talks in Amman between Israel’s chief negotiator Yitzhak Molcho, his Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erakat and Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Shtayyeh.

Washington too welcomed what it described as a “positive development” after months of deadlock in peace talks over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal in 2010 to renew a freeze on most settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.

Judeh, who hosted the meeting in the Jordanian capital, voiced cautious optimism. “The two sides expressed their commitment to a two-state solution. We do not want to raise the level of expectations, but at the same time we do not want to minimise the importance of this meeting,” he said.

“The Palestinians submitted a paper on borders and security. The Israeli side received it, promising to study it and respond,” he said.

The minister said Jordan, which has a 1994 peace treaty with Israel, will host further talks between the two sides.

“Any announcement about the meetings will be made by Jordan. You might hear about the meetings and you might not,” he said, expecting “progress and things to be positive by the end of this month.”
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said on Tuesday the outcome of the meeting would soon be clear.

“We will know today or in the coming two days,” he said, indicating that they were looking to find “the right foundation” to resume talks with Israel.
“This is a good thing and we hope Jordanian efforts work,” he was quoted as saying by Jordan’s state-run Petra news agency.
Earlier this week, Israeli cabinet minister Dan Meridor said the fact that a meeting was taking place was “a positive development” but that it did not in itself constitute a return to direct talks.Erakat made the same point in an interview with Voice of Palestine radio.
“This meeting will be devoted to discussing the possibility of making a breakthrough that could lead to the resumption of negotiations. Therefore, it will not mark the resumption of negotiations,” he said on Monday.

Direct talks ground to a halt in September 2010, when an Israeli freeze on new West Bank settlement construction expired and Netanyahu declined to renew it.

“We will see what the quartet’s position will be in this meeting and if it is willing to seriously address the obstacles to the peace process and negotiations put by Israel,” PLO secretary general Yasser Abed Rabbo told Voice of Palestine.

Abbas met with US envoy David Hale in Ramallah late on Monday and told him there would be no resumption of talks unless Israel froze settlement construction and accepted the 1967 borders as the basis for peace talks, a Palestinian official told AFP.

The Quartet, which comprises the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States, has been trying to draw the two sides back to the negotiating table, asking them for comprehensive proposals on territory and security.

White House spokesman Jay Carney acknowledged the difficulties President Barack Obama faced in getting a resumption of talks.

“He is doing everything he can to bring them together at the table,” Carney said.

“And this is obviously a challenging issue — it has been so for a long time. But the president’s very focused on doing what he can to make it happen.”

Abed Rabbo said Washington wanted the talks to restart “without any preconditions or promises on settlement expansion.
“This does not fulfil the conditions for a resumption of negotiations nor does it enable any negotiations to succeed,” he said.
The meeting sparked an angry reaction from the Hamas movement which has controlled the Gaza Strip since ousting Abbas’s forces in 2007.
“Going to such a meeting is only betting on failure,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP on Monday.
The leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine also criticised the meeting, calling it a “fatal error” which would force the Palestinians back into another pointless waiting game. (AFP)

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