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Gaza City, Palestine —


Gazan firm has found a way to

add style to weddings in the Pal-

estinian enclave despite being

unable to import a limousine:

make one with parts from five


Wedding planner Salama Al-

Odi sought to import a limousine

as part of the various offerings

to young Gazans by the firm he

heads, Farha, but said he was un-

able to.

The Gaza Strip has been un-

der an Israeli blockade for 10

years, with the entry and exit of

goods and people tightly con-

trolled by Israel.

Its sole crossing with Egypt

has also remained largely closed

in recent years.

Israeli officials say the block-

ade is necessary to prevent the

importation of weapons and

materials that could be used to

make them, but UN officials have

called for it to be lifted, citing de-

teriorating conditions in the en-

clave of two million people.

With poverty widespread

and unemployment at nearly

45 percent, Gazans have had to

show creativity — and Odi has

responded to the challenge.

In his small mechanic shop,

a group of men were busy taking

parts from five different cars and

adding them to a white Mercedes.

Some 30 people weighed in

on the design and drew up plans

Tehran —

Election season

is under way in Iran and the

rumor mill is in overdrive as

the public tries to divine the

backroom machinations that

have thrown up major sur-

prises in the past.

“I looked back at the ca-

bles our embassy was send-

ing out just a few weeks be-

fore the last election,” said a

Western diplomat in Tehran.

“None of them were pre-

dicting (Hassan) Rohani would

win,” she laughed, referring to

the current president.

Rohani, a moderate cleric

with a long history in Iran’s

security apparatus, won

the 2013 vote after the only

other pro-reform candidate

dropped out to boost his


Having overseen a slight

easing in social restrictions

and rebuilt relations with the

West through the 2015 nucle-

ar deal, Rohani seemed like a

shoo-in to win a second term

at next month’s election.

But he faces a tougher-

than-expected fight as the

conservative opposition rallies

around two hardliners — cler-

ic and judge EbrahimRaisi and

Tehran mayor Mohammad

Bagher Ghalibaf -- leaving

Iranians wondering whether

another shock is on the cards.

Many surprises

Iran’s past elections have

rarely been predictable.

The establishment was

rocked by the landslide win

of relative reformist Moham-

mad Khatami in 1997 that led

to a flowering of civil society,

at least for a while.

“Iranian politicians don’t

always assess public opinion

all that well and get caught

off-guard,” said British histo-

rian Michael Axworthy, au-

thor of several books on Iran.

In 2005, it was the turn

of middle-class urbanites to

be shocked: few predicted

the success of rabble-rousing

populist Mahmoud Ahma-

dinejad, who now seems like

an Iranian forerunner to Don-

ald Trump.

They were even more

shocked by his re-election in

2009 when all the momentum

seemed to be with the re-

formists — a result that trig-

gered claims of vote-rigging

and months of protest.

Although many Iranians

are cynical about politics

— seeing it as stitched up

behind the scenes — these

surprises have shifted Iran’s


Rohani won by a wafer-

thin margin — 51 percent —

and without him Iran may

never have concluded its

nuclear deal.

“The rest of the system

trundles along in a fairly

predictable and controlled

way most of the time, and

then you have this outburst

of near-democracy that has

the potential to overturn the

apple cart once every four

years,” said Axworthy.

A lack of polling makes it

hard to follow public opinion.

“Outside observers go

with what they hear from

north Tehran, and can’t al-

ways gauge what’s going on

in the rest of the country,”

said Axworthy, referring to

the wealthy, cosmopolitan

part of the capital.

So is an upset possible

this time? There is plenty of

speculation in the media.

Some say Raisi is being

lined up as the next supreme

leader, so everything will be

done to ensure he is not em-

barrassed in the election.

Or maybe he will drop

out at the last minute to spare

his blushes, giving a decisive

boost to the other hardliner


Another theory claims the

establishment wants Rohani to

continue and is only putting

forward hardliners to scare

reformists into voting because

they worry a low turnout

would look bad for the regime.

For now, it is all specu-

lation, although the smart

money is still on Rohani, not

least because every president

since the early 1980s has been

given a second term.




a boy, Palestinian Abdullah Abu

Massoud fled the war over the

birth of Israel in 1948 and sought

refuge in the nearby Gaza Strip.

As an adult, Abu Massoud

was displaced again when Israeli

forces captured Gaza, along with

the West Bank and east Jerusa-

lem, in 1967. He escaped to Jor-

dan, where he has been living in

a refugee camp for 50 years.

Now 77, Abu Massoud is the

white-haired patriarch of a refu-

gee family spanning five gen-

erations, including a great-great-

granddaughter. The future looks


“Fifty years have passed

without a step forward,” said

Abu Massoud. “We don’t belong


The plight of Palestinians

uprooted by Israeli-Arab wars is

one of the world’s longest-run-

ning refugee crises, and a solu-

tion would likely require setting

up a state of Palestine that would

take in large numbers of them.

Such a solution appears distant,

even as President Donald Trump

says he wants to try to broker an

Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

Meanwhile, hundreds of

thousands of Palestinians are be-

ing displaced again by regional

conflicts, including civil war in

Syria. The head of the UN Relief

and Works Agency (UNRWA)

which helps displaced Palestin-

ians said they are no longer the

world’s focus.

“We are dealing here with a

community that has essentially

reached a crisis of existential na-

ture,” said Pierre Kraehenbuehl.

Abdullah Abu Massoud was

born in a Bedouin encampment

in what is now Israel. His fam-

ily fled Israeli forces during the

war over Israel’s creation, walk-

ing to Egyptian-run Gaza. More

than 700,000 Palestinians were

uprooted at the time.

In his 20s, Abu Massoud mar-

ried Bassama, an Egyptian, and

settled in Gaza.

Bassama, 72, said that after

Israel’s capture of the territory in

1967, Gaza residents began talk-

ing of leaving, fearful of what Is-

raeli rule might bring. Israel was

offering transportation to Jordan,

Bassama said.

In April 1968, the Abu Mas-

souds and other displaced Pal-

estinians from Gaza boarded a

truck to Jordan’s border. From

there, they took buses to an area

near the town of Jerash where

UNRWA was setting up a tent

camp. Bassama remembers her

feet sticking out of the tiny tent

while she slept.

Under US proposals in pre-

vious Israeli-Palestinian talks,

a Palestinian state created from

lands Israel captured in 1967

would welcome families like the

Abu Massouds. In addition, an

agreed upon number of refugees

would be allowed to return to Is-

rael and others could opt to stay

in their host countries.

But disagreements remained,

and talks failed. Palestinians

wanted Israel to accept moral re-

sponsibility for the plight of refu-

gees. Israel feared this would lead

to a large-scale return to Israel

and dilute its Jewish majority.

There have been no serious

negotiations since gaps widened

with the 2009 election of Benja-

min Netanyahu as Israel’s prime

minister. Continued Israeli set-

tlement expansion made a parti-

tion deal more difficult.

Today, 5.3 million Palestinians

and their descendants are reg-

istered with UNRWA in Jordan,

Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank

and Gaza Strip, making them

eligible for health and education

services. Some in Netanyahu’s

government allege UNRWA and

others perpetuate the refugee

problem artificially.

UN officials say refugee sta-

tus is typically handed down

through the generations in pro-

tracted conflicts.

A 29-year-old grandson of

Bassama and Abdullah, Alaa Abu

Awad, has never set foot in his-

toric Palestine, the land between

the Mediterranean and the Jordan

River. But he clings to an ideal-

ized image of Gaza to help him

deal with his statelessness. He has

tacked a Palestinian flag to the

wall of his shop in Jerash camp.

“It’s the flag of my home-

land,” said Abu Awad.

Most Palestinians in Jordan

received citizenship as descen-

dants of refugees from the neigh-

boring West Bank, which was

under Jordanian control for two

decades, until 1967. The offspring

of those who arrived from Gaza

— more than 150,000 — are still

temporary residents. They can’t

own property and are barred

from government jobs.

This has curtailed opportuni-

ties. Alaa Abu Awad dropped out

of school because there was no

payoff for an education. As a tai-

lor, he struggles to feed his fam-

ily. Business has slowed because

of rising prices and unemploy-

ment. He fears he’ll spend his life

in the camp.

Circumstances vary for dis-

placed Palestinians like the Abu


Fewer than 30 percent live in

UN camps. Many are poor. Oth-

ers became successful; Pales-

tinians helped drive economies

in Jordan and elsewhere in the

Middle East.

In Lebanon, refugees cannot

access public health or schools

and are barred from most skilled


In once welcoming Syria,

about 400,000 of the nation’s

560,000 Palestinians were dis-

placed in the civil war.

Most of the 2.2 million

UNRWA-registered Palestinians

in Jordan have citizenship, argu-

ably ending their refugee status.

Others say Jordan did this as a

temporary protection measure.

In Palestinian-run areas of

the West Bank and Gaza, descen-

dants of refugees have the same

rights as others. Pinned down by

poverty, many remain in camps,

which have been hotbeds of un-

rest against Israel and resent-

ment against the Palestinian rul-

ing elite.

Life in Jerash has changed the


Unlike Bassama’s genera-

tion, the younger women wear

face veils. The women say being

covered head to toe also offers

protection in the crowded camp.

— AP

Plight of Palestinian refugees

now spans 5 generations

In this photo taken on Feb. 18, 2017, five generations of a Palestinian refugee family, the Abu Massouds, pose for a portrait. From left to right (standing):

Bassama Abu Massoud, 72; her daughter Hanaa, 50; Hanaa’s daughter, Abir, 33; Abir’s daughter, Ala, 18. Patriarch Abdullah Abu Massoud, 77, sits in a

chair, holding his 9-month-old great-great-granddaughter, Tuqaa, in his lap.

— AP

Gaza is gone. Palestine is gone. It’s over. For 50 years,

they are saying, peace, peace. We are tired of the


Bassama, 72

Iran elections

have history

of dark horses

An Iranian woman in Tehran walks past election posters of

President Hassan Rohani, who is running for the presidential



Gaza mechanics add

style to wedding

for the improvised limousine.

“It took us three months and

$21,000 (19,500 euros) to build

the vehicle, whose interior with

curtains was completely con-

ceived in Gaza,” Odi said.

The result looks something

like a cross between a car and a

spaceship, with a rounded roof

extending upward from what

would have been the original top.

Hand-painted designs adorn

the sides of the vehicle.

Final touches are being

put on the “limo” and the first

bride and groom should be

able to climb aboard as soon as


Odi says he will offer it at an

affordable rate for young people

in Gaza, where marriages have

been delayed due to a lack of fi-

nancial resources.

For him, seeing the home-

made vehicle roll through the

streets of the Gaza Strip will also

be a message to Gazans to “not

give in to the restrictions” im-

posed by Israel.

“You have to answer by in-

venting and embarking on an ad-

venture,” he said.


A Palestinian mechanic works on his “Cinderella”

vehicle at his workshop in Gaza City. Made up of

five different cars, it will be rented out for use at

marriage ceremonies.


It took us three months

and $21,000 (19,500

euros) to build the

vehicle, whose interior

with curtains was

completely conceived in


Salama Al-Odi

Wedding planner