TUESDAY 25 APRIL 2017,
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-
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
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.
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-
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
“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.
JERASH CAMP, Jordan —
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
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
“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,
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
UN officials say refugee sta-
tus is typically handed down
through the generations in pro-
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
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
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-
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.
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.
Gaza is gone. Palestine is gone. It’s over. For 50 years,
they are saying, peace, peace. We are tired of the
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-
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
It took us three months
and $21,000 (19,500
euros) to build the
vehicle, whose interior
with curtains was
completely conceived in