Thinking about you!

I’m thinking of so many people I met in Gaza (9/12 – 5/13) and wondering how they are managing in the aftermath of the horrific massacres and devastation this summer. The LameStream media has left Gaza, and the donors will be circling in Cairo soon but no one from Gaza will be there, and Israel is violating the ceasefire with impunity. Where is the justice?

Palestinians are now facing a winter without shelter, and dirty, unsafe water. Medical supplies are nearly non-existent, and electricity is considered a luxury.  A LUXURY!

Unseen, however, is the trauma from Israel’s 51 days of shelling. My heart aches for the fear and numbness many of these children must have felt, and will feel, for the foreseeable future.

Americans can help make a little dent in the healing process by participating in the UNRWA-USA Gaza Solidarity 5K run/walk in San Francisco on October 18 or Los Angeles/Orange County on October 25.

By participating, you will directly support UNRWA’s psycho-social support program to provide these children with critically needed counseling services, offering them a safe space to express their emotions and fears, and the opportunity to work with trained counselors to learn valuable coping skills.

If you can’t join the festivities, you can participate by supporting one of the teams running.  Check out this link to choose a team and make your online donation. And here’s the team I’m supporting.

We are running and donating in the name of our beloved cousin Mohammad Abu Khdeir, a 16 yr old boy who was brutally taken from us by Israeli settlers on July 2, 2014 and for all Palestinian children who will never get to grow up, and the ones who were forced to grow up too soon. #FreePalestine #FreeGaza #Justice4Mohammad

PLEASE!  Open your pocketbook and support these young people in Gaza.

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There are many, many, many others I’m thinking of and praying that they’re OK!

 

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Filed under Gaza, People, Uncategorized

A bank for the people – an idea whose time has come!

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Should the City of Santa Fe establish a public bank? The State of New Mexico? Maybe a Bank of Gaza?

Not a very sexy topic, but I’m convinced it’s a red hot, super-charged, high-explosive subject that deserves a lot more attention here in New Mexico and around the rest of the country. Maybe even Gaza.

Approximately 300-350 people attended the Banking on New Mexico Symposium sponsored by the Public Banking Institute and We Are People Here! in Santa Fe (Sept. 27, 2014) but there should have been two or three times that many. The event’s livestream is archived here and here.

In a nutshell, a public bank is controlled by a state or the public under state control. It reinvests the public’s money in the community to meet public goals, rather than sending our money to Dubai in search of the greatest return for the shareholders. Think Main Street, not Wall Street. A public bank shifts the control of our wealth from the few to the many, challenging the concentration of power, and reinvigorates our democracy. (A good description is here.)

“I care not what puppet is placed upon the throne of England to rule the Empire on which the sun never sets. The man that controls Britain’s money supply controls the British Empire, and I control the British money supply.” Baron Nathan Mayer de Rothschild, 1840-1915

I first heard about North Dakota’s State Bank (the only one in the country) in my New Economy Book Club a few years ago.  All of the assets of the state of North Dakota are assets of its state bank which reinvests those assets back into the state. Is it a mere coincidence that North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the country? . . . the lowest foreclosure rate? . . . and the only state with a budget that has remained in the black since the financial crisis of 2008?

Interesting factoid – 40% of the world’s banks are publicly-owned, and most of them are in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China).

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Ellen Brown

Ellen Brown, author of The Web of Debt and The Public Bank Solution, says there are two reasons to create a public bank. (1) Public deposits are at risk. The 2010 Dodd-Frank bill prevents future federal bail-outs. (2) The Federal Reserve just passed new rules that require banks to hold one month’s worth of high quality liquid assets. State & local bonds don’t qualify so banks will start dumping them and we may see more municipal bankruptcies.  Read Ellen Brown’s blog here.

Since 2010, 20 states have introduced bills re. state banks but none have passed . . . yet. City of Santa Fe has issued an RFQ to conduct a feasibility study of creating a city bank which will hold city assets and reinvest in city projects to meet public goals.

Mike Krauss is second from right

Mike Krauss is second from right

Why is a public bank important?  Mike Krauss says that “political power flows from wealth; wealth will seek to create more wealth with no thought of the public good.” A public bank breaks up this concentration of wealth and political power while encouraging stewardship for the public good.

Access to local capital is a big hurdle to opening new small businesses. 90% of all jobs come from small businesses. When people don’t have access to capital, predatory lending fills the gap with 700% … 1000% and higher interest rates, continuing the cycle of poverty. Check out the website of the Bank of North Dakota here and see what it’s doing for small businesses. Lending $25,000 with no collateral! Seriously!

Stephen Fischmann at the mic in the audience

Stephen Fischmann at the mic in the audience

Stephen Fischmann (former NM State Senator) is working to stop the exorbitant interest rates charged by payday loan companies. Santa Fe has just joined Dona Ana County, Las Cruces, Alamogordo, Mesilla, and The New Mexico Municipal League in passing a unanimous resolution asking the state to enact interest rate caps of 36% or less. Albuquerque City Councilors Diane Gibson and Ike Benton have a similar resolution which rumor has it will be on the October 6 agenda.

ABQ Councilor Ike Benton on left and Eric Griego (one of the symposium organizers) on the right. Whose the clown in the middle?

ABQ Councilor Ike Benton on left and Eric Griego (one of the symposium organizers) on the right. Whose the clown in the middle?

The Public Banking Institute is the place to go to learn more about setting up a state bank. Mike Krauss shares some key points:

  1. be clear about the mission of the public bank (community development finance institution; banking services for the Un/Underbanked; economic development partnership bank; student loan facilitator; internal infrastructure lending; lender of last resort for housing; or the North Dakota model)
  2. public banks drive down the costs of debt service
  3. public banks can be more aggressive in lending (for example, public banks in Germany lend 25% of their deposits to renewable energy projects and have taken nuclear projects out of the mix altogether)
  4. public banks can facilitate student loan consolidation and/or forgiveness. Two months ago, the Bank of North Dakota announced that all North Dakota students could bring any of their student loans to the bank and consolidate them into a single loan at 1.37% variable interest rate or 3.6% fixed. A public bank might offset student loans for students who go into public service.
Professor Richard D. Wolff

Professor Richard D. Wolff

Professor Richard D. Wolff has a “deep and abiding respect for the monster banks on Wall Street that shape our reality.” They have recovered but their exposure in this crisis has led many to ask some tough questions. These monster banks have admitted and paid large fines for (1) money-laundering, for (2) the LIBOR scandal (setting the world’s interest rates so banks could benefit), for (3) illegal fees and charges, and for (4) the mortgage fiasco created by the credit default swaps.

Wolff reminds us that banks are social institutions and make decisions about how to spend our money and we must live with their decisions. Private banks want to maximize profits. Public banks want to further public goals.

“Capitalism hit the fan in 2008. . . . Every bank in the U.S. was bankrupt” until the federal bail-out. This crisis resulted from actions of both political parties. Don’t forget that President Clinton signed the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act.

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I encourage you to watch these two short (12 minutes each) videos.

How does this all connect with Gaza? The conversations about a public bank and capitalism give me a few ideas:

  1. The American taxpayer is now fueling Israel’s occupation of Palestine and paying for much of the bloodshed in the Middle East. If capitalism collapses, or sinks into a serious recession/depression, maybe our unholy exploits in Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere will come to an end.
  2. Israel controls the money supply in Gaza, just as Rothschild controlled the money supply of the British Empire. Israel collects taxes from the Palestinians and then turns around and returns a portion of it to the Palestinians, if Israeli leaders are in the mood. Israel also keeps the people in Gaza a captive market for goods and services provided by Israel. Would a state bank (lets call it the Bank of Gaza) be able to break this deadly grip, at least a bit?
  3. Maybe Western countries should look at Islamic banking for examples of ethical investing and banking.  See here.
  4. At a minimum, Palestinians need to explore opportunities presented in a New Economy where there is greater local control.

Resources:

The Key to Sustainable Cities – Gwendolyn Hallsmith

Creating Wealth – Gwendolyn Hallsmith

Occupy the Economy – Richard D. Wolff

Democracy at Work – Richard D. Wolff

Capitalism Hits the Fan – Richard D. Wolff

Web of Debt – Ellen Brown

The Public Bank Solution – Ellen Brown

Rules of Thumb – Alan Webber

Life Reimagined – Alan Webber

Democracy at the Crossroads – Craig Barnes

In Search of the Lost Feminine – Craig Barnes

Capital – Thomas Piketty

 

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Filed under Economic Development, Gaza, People, Uncategorized, Video

Message from Gaza: Israeli Policies & Climate Change, Pushing Gaza into the Grave

By: Ahmad Abu Safieh, Gaza, Palestine. 18th September 2014.

This message is from the city of Gaza where the annual population growth rate is 2.91% (2014 est.), the 13th highest in the world. Due to the severe damage from the recent 50 day conflict, there is a limited capability to construct new homes and facilities for this growth. The territory is 41 kilometers (25 mi) long, and from 6 to 12 kilometers (3.7 to 7.5 mi) wide, with a total area of 365 square kilometers (141 sq mi). As of 2014, Palestinians of the Gaza Strip numbered around 1.8 million people. The large Palestinian refugee population makes it among the most densely populated parts of the world with 4822 (individual/Km2). [1]

Gaza has limited available natural resources to restore and sustain infrastructure and facilities, and as a result, Gaza will be increasingly unable to meet the growing demands of the people who live there. The Gaza Strip relies on a water supply from an underlying aquifer that has been over pumped for decades. By 2020 at the latest, Gaza will effectively be without water. Already most of Gaza’s households have little or no water supply, and the water that is available is seriously contaminated and unfit for human consumption. [2]

Photo 1: Water crisis in Gaza Strip, Palestinian Childs packaged drinking water from a UNRWA school due to the interruption of water from their homes during the recent war in July-August 2014.

Photo 1: Water crisis in Gaza Strip, Palestinian Childs packaged drinking water from a UNRWA school due to the interruption of water from their homes during the recent war in July-August 2014.

The economic situation in the Gaza Strip is problematic to say the least. There is a lot of poverty and unemployment figures are very high. Because of restrictions fishing vessels are not allowed to operate beyond a certain fishing zone and farming grounds cannot be reached because of military actions by Israel. Free transportation of people and goods is prohibited, and the airport was destroyed years ago by bombardments.

The Occupation of the Gaza Strip refers to a land, air, and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip by Israel from 2007 to present. Gaza is facing a power crisis as a result of a shortage of fuel, with blackouts lasting 12-16 hours and sometimes reaches to 20 hours a day. The electricity problem in Gaza is severe, and pump stations have become inoperative, factories have been forced to cut production, leading to layoffs, and hospitals are running on emergency reserves.

“Once more, Gaza is quickly becoming uninhabitable,” said Filippo Grandi, the UNRWA’s commissioner-general. “Perhaps strengthening the human security of the people of Gaza is a better avenue to ensuring regional stability than physical closures, political isolation and military action.”

Figure 1: Gaza Strip blockade. Source: UN OCHA

Figure 1: Gaza Strip blockade. Source: UN OCHA

The Gaza Strip has been one of the successive conflict areas in the world for decades and over time a significant environmental problem has developed in the region. Israel has contributed extensively to the worsening climate crisis through war crimes against humanity in Gaza. During the most recent fighting – from 8 July to 26 August 2014 – Israeli Forces conducted a military operation that specifically targeted Gaza. This devastating operation included bombardment by land, sea and air, with numerous incursions into the Gaza Strip by Israeli forces. The environmental situation in this area was already quite serious prior to these recent events, exacerbated by a lack of ability to invest in recovery systems, and a lack of prioritization towards environmental projects.

Figure 2: United Nations OCHA occupied Palestinian territory, Gaza Humanitarian Dashboard September 2014

Figure 2: United Nations OCHA occupied Palestinian territory, Gaza Humanitarian Dashboard September 2014

The most recent conflict has caused extensive damage and increased pressure on already deeply stressed environmental facilities and institutions. The most prominent examples are immediately apparent – the large volume of rubble and the significant damage to sewage and wastewater systems. Water supplies have also been critically affected by the destruction of water wells and drinking water pipes. Other adverse environmental effects include the widespread destruction of agricultural areas, severe damage to smaller industrial enterprises, and an alarming increase in toxic pollutants being discharged into the Mediterranean and the local groundwater.

Photo 3: Palestinian man, standing in front of the flames rising from the only electricity station in the Gaza Strip, after an Israeli raid, July 29, 2014 (Mahmoud Hommos / AFP)

Photo 3: Palestinian man, standing in front of the flames rising from the only electricity station in the Gaza Strip, after an Israeli raid, July 29, 2014 (Mahmoud Hommos / AFP)

The direct damage resulting from these military raids and explosions is immediately evident in the visible destruction of buildings and infrastructure. But there is a much more harmful and debilitating indirect damage that is difficult to calculate since it is long term, and appears gradually over time. An immediate example would be the fires resulting from the bombing, and the remnants of explosive materials and gases which spread and remain stuck in the air, and thus constitute a major threat to life and the environment, and greatly increase the chances of contamination of water, air and soil.

The air pollutant of greatest concern to human health is particulate matter in the form of aerosols, which include haze, dust, particulate air pollutants and smoke. The off-gassing and contaminants from this lead to health damage such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Children, older adults, and those with heart or lung disease are most likely to be affected by this type of air pollution, but for those with heart or lung diseases, premature death can occur as well.

As winter approaches, the air contaminated with these pollutants will turn into rain that will fall on the ground causing more pollution and the destruction of agricultural lands and crops and the spread of diseases. As these toxic substances deposited in the soil reach groundwater and seep into the sea, they will also create an environmental crisis for the wealth of fish that constitute an essential source of food in Gaza. Such damage would not be limited to the inhabitants of Gaza but could also reach to other parts of the world. As a result of ocean currents and weather patterns these contaminants could easily travel to other countries, causing a host of international health and environmental problems.

In addition, on April 2014, the third Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in the fifth installment of their Assessment Report (AR5), determined that climate change, and the resultant increases in temperature, sea levels, and precipitation, has now become the greatest threat to human life on the planet. The eastern side of the Mediterranean, where Gaza is located, faces serious climate related challenges that will require entirely new policies and environmental strategies in order to successfully cope.

Forecasted climate changes for the eastern Mediterranean mainly affect the start and duration of the different seasons, and the quantity of rainfall. This has two anticipated effects: first, periods of heavier rainfall will be concentrated in a shorter time, with consequent increased run-off and erosion and decreased absorption capacities of the soil. Less retained water will result in lower pasture production, forcing herders to purchase (more) fodder. Second, however, reduced rainfall will result in a lower quantity of water harvested and stored in cisterns, forcing herders to purchase (more) tankered water. [3]

The IPCC predicts that, for the southern and eastern Mediterranean, warming over the 21st century will be larger than global annual mean warming – between 2.2-5.1C◦ according to a realistic emissions scenario (Scenario A1B). Annual precipitation rates are deemed likely to fall – decreasing 10% by 2020 and 20% by 2050 – with an increased risk of summer drought. [4]

Photo 4: The destructive impacts of Storm "Alexa"in the Gaza Strip, following 36-hours of heavy precipitation on 10-14 December 2013.

Photo 4: The destructive impacts of Storm “Alexa”in the Gaza Strip, following 36-hours of heavy precipitation on 10-14 December 2013.

Through the crucial issue of increasing the atmospheric temperature due to  greenhouse gas emissions, their impacts are fraught with consequences in the 21st century for health and human activities, in particular agriculture, fishery, tourism, infrastructures, urbanised coastal areas, water resources and natural areas. In order to minimize as much as possible the economic losses and damages, several adaptation options must be thought out and implemented.

Finally, it is not a game; it’s an open invitation to all; UN, world leaders, international institutions, activists, experts and youth all over the world to act and show their interest through joint action and supportive decision-making positions to save Gaza from the grave. As a citizens of Gaza, there is an urgent need for hard-working, effective techniques and global support to help in these efforts to not only rebuild Gaza decimated infrastructure, but also to prepare it to withstand the increasing environmental challenges that will be faced by many countries all over the world.

Together we should try to build Gaza future in which humans live in harmony with nature. We don’t want only to protect the Gaza environment; we want to create a place where the environment doesn’t need protecting.

———–

Ahmad Abu Safieh is a 24-year-old Palestinian living in Gaza. He holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the College of Engineering at the Islamic University of Gaza (January 2013) and volunteers with the Arab Youth Climate Movement (AYCM). He may be reached at civil.abusafieh@gmail.com.

References:

  • Mid 2014, Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS).
  • August 2012, “Gaza in 2020 A liveable place?” A report by the United Nations Country Team in the occupied Palestinian territory.
  • April 2013, Climate Change Adaptation Strategy and Programme of Action for the Palestinian Authority.
  • April 2014, the third Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in the fifth instalment of their Assessment Report (AR5).

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Filed under Environment, Gaza, Israel, Occupation, People, Uncategorized, United Nations

Letter to Congress from an American in Gaza

This morning I had the opportunity to join a group who met with Representative Michelle Lujan-Grisham (D-NM) in Albuquerque.  She’s a first-term member of Congress who admits her strength is social services and health policies, not foreign policy.

She acknowledges having a high learning curve when it comes to the Middle East, but says she tries to attend every Congressional briefing on foreign policy. She has noticed over the past 6 months that there’s a shift among her colleagues in Congress, they have “a new level of concern” and “want more balanced and clear recommendations.” She leaves these classified meetings now “feeling unsettled.”

When I learned that this meeting in Albuquerque had been organized, I turned to my American friend in Gaza for permission to share some of his photos of the horrific destruction in Gaza.  I gave 22 photos to Rep. Lujan-Grisham, along with a copy of the letter my friend wrote. I hope she reads it and takes it to heart. (The letter is reprinted below.)

Refaat Alareer and Rawan Yaghi meet with Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham (D-NM)

Refaat Alareer and Rawan Yaghi meet with Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham (D-NM)

I also shared a photo of a meeting in her DC office this past April with Refaat Alareer and Rawan Yaghi. Refaat is a Professor of English Literature at the Islamic University of Gaza and the Editor of Gaza Writes Back. Rawan is one of his students and contributed a short story to the book.

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None of us knew when we met in her DC office in April that Israel would launch Operation Protective Edge a few weeks later, killing over 2000 Palestinians in Gaza. When she saw the photo this morning, Rep. Lujan-Grisham asked if Refaat was OK. I told her that Refaat’s brother was killed this summer and his home was destroyed. She was speechless.

Meeting with Representative Michelle Lujan-Grisham (center front)

Meeting with Representative Michelle Lujan-Grisham

Even for a strong, articulate politician, there are no words. I hope the news gave her pause to think more deeply about U.S. policy in the Middle East.  I hope she takes the time to read Denny Cormier’s letter.

September 22, 2014

Dear Representative Grisham:

We need your support in Gaza.

My name is Denny Cormier.  I am 68 and am currently retired.

I have lived in Santa Fe for the last 15 years but I am currently volunteering in Gaza as a human rights activist and a citizen journalist reporting on what I am discovering here.

I have been living here in Gaza City for six months now (since March 2014), and I also traveled here in June of 2013 as a citizen journalist.

What I knew about Gaza and the Palestinian issue before coming here was limited to reports that I received from the Western media, and the distance between Santa Fe and Gaza might as well have been a million miles.

But based on many conversations with young Palestinians and university students in Gaza over 2 years, I decided to travel to Gaza myself in 2013 and to investigate personally the differences between my own discoveries and what I read (or saw) in the media.  My personal discoveries and the media narrative were so totally different – in fact, they were totally at odds.  And I had to know.

Frankly, my first visit to Gaza was an eye-opener.  In fact, it was a life changing experience to put it mildly.

I was immediately welcomed as a United States citizen… the people in Gaza love Americans… they welcome me warmly wherever I have traveled in Gaza.   People greet you in the streets with the warmest of welcomes – when they discover I am an American, it immediately brings smiles to the faces of adults and children alike.  The immediate reaction is – We Love You.   I have made many lasting and strong friendships in Gaza.   And I fell in love with the Palestinians and with Gaza.   I received a similar welcome from university students and business owners and from people who welcomed me on behalf of the government.

This was not a place of terrorists.  This was a place of a warm, friendly people – people of great faith – people of generosity that is unparalleled in my experience.

I could not wait to return to Gaza, and did so earlier this year in March.

And I am glad that I did.

This recent 6 month visit has increased my understanding of the issues here, and I have seen how the issues of siege and of economic devastation have brought great suffering to these people, many of whom I know personally.

Although I had the opportunity to leave Gaza before Operation Protective Edge with the assistance of the U.S. State Department and the government here in Gaza, I chose to stay on during the 51 day attack and to be a witness.

What I saw and experienced can only be characterized as horrific.  The attacks on the border cities of Gaza were particularly barbaric.   I reported to representatives of the U.S. State Department that I was a witness to war crimes, and the effects of the war crimes continue even if the attacks have stopped.

Although I live in an area of Gaza where other internationals live and in a place that is normally considered a safe haven for them, I began to feel strongly that my life was in serious danger – that there was no safe place in Gaza during those 51 days.

Gratefully I survived the bombings in my own neighborhood, but not so others in Gaza City and in cities throughout the Gaza Strip.  Many hundreds died in these attacks… many thousands more were seriously injured… thousands of homes have been flattened by the weaponry that Israel used during the attacks and are now sitting in piles of rubble.

I have visited and documented the destruction in three Gaza cities – Khuzaa, in Shujaya and in Beit Hanoun (and of course, in Gaza City).   If you had been able to accompany me on these visits after the war, you would have wept… I did.

What I saw was nothing short of total devastation of civilian homes.  I would be happy to send you photographic documentation if you wish…. But what I saw and witnessed would make you shudder…

I have heard hundreds of stories of people of all ages who ran from  their homes in the middle of the night as shells fell on their homes without warning….others were given just a few minutes to evacuate their homes before rockets or bombs wiped them out…. My dearest friends ran from their homes in bare feet and lost everything they owned and treasured.

Some homes were bombed while the families were sleeping.  They received no warning from Israel.  Entire families were wiped out

Children shuddered in their homes and it has been reported that 90% of the children in Gaza now suffer from PTSD.

Children were particularly targeted in these attacks.

Four young boys from the Bakr family were killed by shells from Israeli gunboats just off shore…. They were killed on the beach when they were playing football very close to my home…  I met the only survivor of the attack on the same Bakr family home just days later.

I spent most of two months during the war acting as a human shield at Al Shifa Hospital, the major health facility in Gaza.  There I met hundreds of refugees and interviewed the injured.  I saw the dead being brought to the hospital, many of them children… what I saw is the stuff of nightmares.   On one of the days there, hundreds of ambulances arrived over several hours delivering the dead and the injured….. The doctors I spoke to have told me that the injuries to their patients were worse than any war injuries that they have witnessed here and in other war zones.

I have seen many destroyed or severely damaged civilian facilities, including schools, mosques, hospitals, police stations – in some cases entire cities.

Before the war I was also witness to the devastation to the economy and to the infrastructure of Gaza – and the destruction of the human spirit during this too long siege.  I learned to live with 8 hours of electricity a day (now 6 hours a day)… I learned to live with the water that comes from the taps that cannot be used for anything safely… I learned to live with miles of beaches that have been destroyed because of the need to dump raw sewage into the sea.  I learned to live with stories of suffering that are caused by a huge unemployment situation in Gaza…

I cannot tell you all that I have discovered first hand during this current visit to Gaza, but it could fill books, and one day it probably will.

I can tell you that what I witnessed are gross breaches of international law and gross breaches of agreements relating to collective punishment of a civilian population.

I can tell you that I will encourage the Palestinians to bring charges against Israel to the International Criminal Court.

I can tell you that it is my honest opinion that the suffering of the people of Gaza are a direct result of an illegal siege and blockade and a de facto Occupation…. The Israelis left Gaza some years ago but they have an immense and negative impact on the lives of ordinary citizens in Gaza long after they left this area and surrounded it with fencing and military outposts.

I can tell you that I was personally shot at when visiting the city of Shujaya.  As I explored the damage and was hundreds of meters from the Israeli border and the buffer zone that they have set up, bullets were fired above me and on both sides of me by the Israelis….. Warning shots perhaps…. But I was nowhere near the area where people are regularly killed and injured along the Israeli border…. My only weapon was a digital camera.   I had to back up several hundred more feet before the shooting stopped.   Children who were in the same area were also fired at as was my guide.

I can tell you many things based on first hand witness and observation,  but I must  please ask you to reconsider anything you ever learned from the media or from the  State Department  or White House regarding  Gaza – in fact, question everything you have been told.

What you have been told… what we Americans have been told…. Is a lie.

I would be happy to meet with you when I return to the United States, but I must warn you now that the ongoing support of the State of Israel in its attacks on the Palestinians, especially on those living in Gaza is a great shame on the American people. The financial support offered to Israel without proper concern and restrictions based on human rights is a great shame for the American people.

As a representative of the good people of the United States, I urge you to look very closely at the good people of Gaza and to reconsider what we have done to them in the name of Israeli security.

In fact, I would be pleased to personally be your guide should you elect to visit the Gaza Strip and should the Israeli government allow you entry for a firsthand experience of what I have witnessed and experienced.

The people of Gaza need your support.

Respectfully,

Dennis Cormier

Santa Fe, New Mexico

(currently Gaza City in the Gaza Strip)

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Filed under Gaza, Israel, People, Politics, US Policy

The Choir Cheers

Josh Ruebner ended his talk Wednesday with a standing ovation from the 50-75 members of the choir who showed up at the Mennonite Church in Albuquerque.

Josh Ruebner

Josh Ruebner

He was in town to promote his new book — Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace (Verso Books 2013). He certainly has the cred to speak and write about this topic. He’s the National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and before that was an Analyst in the Middle East Affairs at the Congressional Research Service. And former President Jimmy Carter attended Josh’s High School graduation! (Carter’s grandson was a classmate.)

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By the nods throughout the room, Ruebner clearly had a friendly audience. They were probably well-informed about the atrocities that Israel perpetrated in Gaza this summer. No need to recite the facts, although Ruebner shared many.

Did you know that Israel killed 500 children in just 51 days in Gaza — more than the # of all Israelis killed by Palestinians in the past 10 years?

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Israel demolished more than 18,000 houses in Gaza this summer, leaving about 6% of the population homeless. By way of comparison, if the City of Albuquerque was occupied and the occupier made 6% of us homeless, approximately 33,000 of my neighbors would be on the streets.

The Israel Defense Forces (more appropriately the Israel Offense Forces or Israel Occupation Forces) knocked out the sole power plant in the Gaza Strip; with no power there is no sewage treatment plant and more than 15,000 tons of raw sewage was flowing onto the streets in Gaza. Some estimate it will take $7.8 Billion to rebuild Gaza, less than 3 years of U.S. military aid to Israel. Ruebner believes Americans owe Palestinians compensation because our active support of Israel enables these atrocities to occur. I agree.

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What was the U.S. response to Israel’s acts of aggression (aka massacres) in Gaza this summer? President Obama called it “self-defense” but what about Palestinians’ right to self-defense? When a reporter posed that same question to a State Department spokeswoman, she said the “idea was offensive.” Secretary Kerry labeled Israel’s actions “appropriate” and “legitimate” . . . this from the man who was trying to be an honest broker between the parties in the peace negotiations last year! And members of Congress passed resolutions cheering Israel’s attacks and condemning Hamas and its use of human shields. Obviously, Congress was a bit misinformed. There’s no evidence that Hamas or anyone else on that side used human shields, but there’s clear evidence that the IDF used a Palestinian teenager as a human shield for 5 days to search for tunnels.

Obama can’t say he’s concerned about civilian casualties and then turn around and re-arm the aggressor (Israel) when its stockpile of weapons runs low.

Ruebner has been criticized for picking on Obama, but he says Obama has perpetuated the failed policies of past Presidents and is fair game.

The type of brutality the world saw in Gaza this past summer is not new. We’ve seen it before — in 1948, 1982 and 2008-2009. Israeli politicians are demanding Netanyahu finish what was begun in 1948 with the ethnic cleansing and destruction  of 531 Palestinian towns and villages.

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Why did Kerry’s “so-called” peace negotiations fail? We must buy Ruebner’s book to get that scoop, but he pointed to this article in the New Republic, an expose about why the negotiations fell apart. Palestinians understand the big picture, Ruebner said, and they know they’ll never get a fair shake. What Israel and the U.S. are trying to do is impose “bantustans” South Africa-style on the Palestinians. Why are Israel and the U.S. surprised when the Palestinians reject this idea?

Ruebner says we’re seeing the end of this paradigm of imposing bantustans in Palestine. Israel can go down 1 of 2 paths in the next few years. The first, with a Knesset member calling this summer for the genocide of the Palestinians, what we witnessed in July/August could be the prelude to something much worse.

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However, there’s a more hopeful path — ending Apartheid and recognizing Palestinian human rights. Ruebner says the time has come for getting into the faces of our politicians. We must make them understand these two paths. At this point, Ruebner circulated a petition around the room calling on Obama to hold Israel accountable. The BDS movement (economic, cultural and academic) must be our rallying cry because Palestinians say they want our help to “lift the boot of oppression from their necks.”  The occupation and system of oppression could “topple in a blink of an eye.”

He finished to a rousing standing ovation and then took questions. The audience was engaged and wanted to know more. Questions about the Palestinians going to the ICC and how the military industrial complex in the U.S. and Israel are intermeshed (check this out). Ruebner said that the only demographic in the United States that supported Israel’s assault on Gaza this summer were the older, white, male, Republicans.

Watching the Presbyterians debate BDS this summer was amazing. While the vote passed by only a slim margin, no one stood up to support Israel’s actions in Gaza. Instead, they argued the efficacy of the BDS movement.

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Another bit of good news. The Jewish Voices for Peace email list jumped to more than 200,000 this summer. Every time Israel attacks Gaza and the Palestinians, Israel loses American support.

Ruebner concluded with an observation. Both Israel and the U.S. are immature states that haven’t been able to own up to their enslavement and killing of the indigenous people. When are we going to own up to our responsibility to do restorative justice, here and in Israel?

As the crowd moved to the back of the room to buy copies of Ruebner’s book, my “non-political, Jewish” friend and I left. She had come to this event at my invitation even though she worried it was going to be outside of her comfort zone. And it was.

Not the content — she seemed to agree with most everything Ruebner said, and didn’t doubt that Israel was responsible for many injustices against the Palestinians, including the atrocities this past summer. However, she felt like an outsider, not part of the choir, and decided she won’t engage further in this issue.

I’ve been mulling over her comments, thankful that she came and also thankful that she felt she could honestly share her reactions.

We need people, like my friend, to engage if we’re going to turn this ship-of-state (Congress) around and correct the injustices that our government has enabled and encouraged Israel to commit against the Palestinians. The choir, alone, can’t do it.

How could we bring people like my friend into the choir? I’m not sure. The venue for this event was safe and welcoming. The organizers were friendly. The speaker was knowledgeable and well-versed.

Speaking to a supportive choir, however, takes on a different tone than talking to a room full of neutrals or skeptics. The art of persuasion is different. The assumptions are different. Even the body language, I think, might be different.

The very first thing I might try, if I have the opportunity to speak to an audience about Gaza, is to acknowledge that some in the room might be on the fence or unsure about how they feel about this issue. Then I might tell them that I value their opinion and thank them for taking the chance to push through the zone of discomfort to attend. Of course, I wouldn’t single anyone out.

Finally, I would invite members of the audience to write questions or comments on 3 x 5 cards in order to maintain some of that anonymity that newcomers usually seek. And I would tell the audience — “If you are on the fence or inclined to walk away after I’ve finished my presentation, then I’ve failed. Please help me understand how I could be more persuasive next time because there are lives in Gaza depending on it.”

Shujaya family

Shujaya 9

 

 

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Photos for my Congresswoman

I’ve spent the past 3 hours reviewing Denny’s photos of Gaza. I’m feeling overwhelmed and couldn’t keep my tears back.

Denny is an American from Santa Fe, New Mexico who is currently living in Gaza. He witnessed Israel’s massive assault on Gaza this summer, and when the ceasefire was announced after 51 days of shelling and more than 2,000 dead, Denny ventured out with his camera to document some of what he saw.

He posted hundreds of photos on Facebook. I’m going to make copies of some to share with my Congresswoman on Monday.

Haven’t decided exactly which yet, but here are the “finalists”.  If any speak especially to you, please let me know.

Child in Shujaya

child

children in Shujaya

Chilren in Shujaya 2

Gaza destruction 2

Gaza destruction 3

Gaza destruction 4

Gaza destruction 5

Gaza destruction 6

Gaza destruction 7

Gaza destruction 8

Gaza destruction

getting water in Shujaya 2

getting water in Shujaya

Ministry of Finance

shujaya 1

shujaya 2

shujaya 3

Shujaya 4

Shujaya 5

Shujaya 6

Shujaya 7

Shujaya 8

Shujaya 9

Shujaya 10

Shujaya 11

Shujaya family

UN school

weapons

 

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Crisis Response and Management in Gaza

A perfect storm is hitting the Gaza Strip.

Before Israel’s military assault this past July and August, the 1.8 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip were living under a suffocating economic, cultural and political siege that made life unbearable.

In 2012, the United Nations even warned that the Gaza Strip might be unlivable by 2020. In May 2013, UNRWA issued a response — Gaza in 2020 — to highlight the challenges UNRWA would face, the programmatic response required and estimate the resources required to meet those challenges.

No one could have anticipated Israel’s barbarism over 51 days, killing more than 2,000 Palestinians and destroying homes, businesses, hospitals, utilities and infrastructure.

The New York Times reported that “the fighting has displaced about a fourth of Gaza’s population. Nearly 60,000 people have lost their homes, and the number of people taking shelter in UNRWA schools is nearly five times as many as in 2009. The cost to Gaza’s already fragile economy will be significant: the 2009 conflict caused losses estimated at $4 billion — almost three times the size of Gaza’s annual gross domestic product.

This interactive map prepared by the New York Times  shows the location of the destruction in Gaza.

Today I received a request from a friend in Gaza for information and resources … “something that can assist in preparing materials for emergency conditions and crisis management training…even some people to communicate with in this regard in the USA or around the world”.

Where to begin? The UNDP has experience working with the Arab States in Crisis Prevention and Recovery, see here.

In the United States, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has many resources for communities preparing for disasters as well as recovering from disasters.

Certainly, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies disaster and crisis management program is worth checking out.

The American Planning Association has a Hazards Planning Research Center and in 1998 published the “Planning for Post-Disaster Recovery and Reconstruction” (PAS Report No. 484/484, December 1998).

Disaster Recovery Journal includes many links to sample plans, outlines and other resources.

Crisis Management in Government – list of books and articles

Many cities have disaster management programs, such as the City of Albuquerque.

Crisis Response Team Training is part of the National Organization for Victim Assistance

Georgetown University has a continuing education program called the Executive Master of Professional Studies in Emergency and Disaster Management, see here.

The Johns Hopkins Preparedness and Emergency Response Learning Center has online training modules.

I’m going to reach out to professionals in the morning and add to this list as I learn more. I have a hunch that the disaster we see unfolding in Gaza is of such a magnitude that even the professionals will be dumbfounded.

In addition to the emergency and disaster managers, the people in Gaza need our prayers.

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