We are ONE! (an amazing performance)

I originally saw this performance on Upworthy, check it out here.

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NY Times should change its standards

Gaza superimposed on Manhattan, NY

Gaza superimposed on Manhattan, New York

April 14, 2014

To: Mr. Phillip Corbett, Editor, The New York Times

I wrote the Public Editor last month about my concerns regarding the New York Times’ decision to delete any reference to “occupation” or “occupied” in connection with the Gaza Strip.

I received the following response: “The term “occupied” has a specific resonance in the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and we have stopped referring to Gaza as occupied. This is not a new decision. We stopped when Israel ceased its formal occupation of the territory, and have since used other terms to describe Israeli pressure on Hamas and Gaza. “Occupied” is not among them.”

The Public Editor suggested that I contact the international desk at foreign@nytimes.com for further explanation. I followed up but never received a response and so I’m turning to you as the Editor in charge of standards.

The Gaza Strip and the 1.8 million Palestinians living there are physically, practically and legally occupied in every sense of the word, and I urge The New York Times to reconsider its decision.

1) PHYSICALLY — Although there are no Israeli settlers living in Gaza now, and the Israeli military has no boots on the ground (except for its many incursions with tanks and troops, such as Operation Cast Lead – Dec.’08 – Jan.’09), Israel maintains effective control over the borders. No one enters or leaves without Israel’s permission. I would argue that the Rafah border with Egypt is effectively controlled by Israel because there is close cooperation between Israeli and Egyptian authorities. The Gaza Strip has been called an ‘open air prison’ by U.N. officials, visiting diplomats and many journalists. Israeli drones fly in Gaza airspace. Israeli gunboats shoot and kill Palestinian fishermen in Gaza waters less than 3 miles from shore although international law permits fishing up to 12 miles. Israeli warships shoot and kill international passengers attempting to travel to Gaza by sea. Israeli snipers shoot and kill farmers working on their lands within the so-called “buffer zone” that Israel unilaterally designated inside the Gaza border. In addition to land, air and sea, Israel maintains effective control over Gaza’s telecommunications networks, electromagnetic sphere, tax revenue distribution, and population registry.

2) PRACTICALLY — The 1.8 million Palestinians living in Gaza must depend on Israel for much of their sustenance, and Israel’s long-term siege on Gaza (since June 2007) has deliberately destroyed the local economy. During Israel’s 23-day bombardment in ’08-’09, the Israeli military slaughtered thousands of chickens, uprooted hundreds of olive trees, demolished utilities and infrastructure, a sports stadium, a bank, Mosques, schools, and a university laboratory building. These actions, in addition to killing 1,400 men, women and children, were cynically designed to assert control over the population, destroy their ability to grow and flourish, and make life in the Gaza Strip a living hell. Today, Israel maintains effective control of the economy in Gaza, the movement of every Palestinian in and out of Gaza, and the natural resources that rightfully belong to the Palestinians (including pumping the lion’s share of the water from the aquifer below Gaza and exploiting the natural gas fields off the coast of Gaza).

3)  LEGALLY — The Gaza Strip is legally occupied, despite Israel’s attempts to erase that nomenclature. Israel has also made the argument that it does not occupy the West Bank because there was no State of Palestine in 1948 when it seized the land. Instead, Israel says it’s merely “administering the territories” despite the fact that the UN Security Council, the International Court of Justice, the UN General Assembly and the Israeli Supreme Court all reject that argument. If there is no occupation, then Israel has no legal obligation as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention, but if there is an occupation, her responsibilities to the Palestinians are greater and she cannot invoke the right to self-defense in the same way. Israel wants to avoid the term “occupation” because the permissible use of force under occupation is limited to law enforcement and policing. If Israel does not occupy Gaza, the permissible use of force is expansive. The principles of distinction and proportionality apply but Israel can probably use greater firepower than would be allowed under occupation. That is why it’s very important to understand why Israel is working so hard to control the messaging about the occupation.

Israel is trying to avoid the constraints of international humanitarian law when it invokes “self defense.”  Israel cites two UN Security Council Resolutions adopted in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks (Res. 1368 and Res. 1373) which give states the right to defend against terrorist attacks. Israel frames all acts of Palestinian violence as terrorism triggering these resolutions. Israel has rendered Gaza into a legal black hole where the only applicable law is its own. I encourage you to read It’s Not Wrong, It’s Illegal: Situating the Gaza Blockade Between International Law and the UN Response by Noura Erakat, UCLA Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law, Vol. 11, No. 37, 2011-2012 available online here.

The readers of The New York Times deserve the unadulterated facts about Israel’s occupation of the Gaza Strip. Deleting the term “occupation” from your standards when referencing the Gaza Strip is a cynical manipulation of the messaging which comports with Israel’s attempt to manipulate international law. The New York Times should not be in the business of obfuscation.

Sincerely, Lora Lucero

 

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The blame game

As the “peace talks” crumble in the Middle East == (big surprise!) == the blame game revs up into full gear.

Kerry blames Israel (April 8), then US clarifies that Kerry blames both Israel and Palestine (April 8), and in response Israel blames Palestine (April 9), and finally Israel blames Kerry (April 11).

Secretary of State John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry

Here’s how it apparently went down.

Israel refused to release some Palestinian prisoners as it had promised earlier in order to keep the negotiations moving along. Then Israel approved construction of 700 new housing units in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Palestinian President Abbas decided to carry out his threat if settlement construction continued by submitting 15 applications at the U.N. to join international conventions and treaties.

This is all so predictable, it’s laughable.

Benjamin Netanyahu (Israel)

Benjamin Netanyahu (Israel)

I’m not a clairvoyant, and by no means a foreign policy expert, but even I knew the peace talks were bound to fail when they first started. See what I wrote in August.

I have only one observation about the blame game which the mainstream media has failed to pick up.

Under international law, one side’s action is clearly illegal, while the actions of the other side are perfectly legal.

A little analogy might highlight the absurdity.

Let’s say my neighbor and I are having a dispute. We’re each fed up with the other. I know it will piss my neighbor off if I build a shed on his side of the fence without his approval and without any building permits. He knows it will piss me off if he files a complaint at city hall and attends the next planning commission meeting to air his grievances about my shed on his property.

One action is clearly illegal and must be condemned. The other action is a lawful exercise of civil rights.

Mahmoud Abbas (Palestinian Authority)

Mahmoud Abbas (Palestinian Authority)

Instead of casting blame back and forth as though each side is equally culpable and blameworthy, the media should be reporting that I violated the city’s zoning laws and my neighbor’s property rights. My neighbor took responsible, lawful steps to protect his rights.

There’s no equivalency in this blame game. The media shouldn’t make it seem as though they are equally to blame for the failure of the peace talks.

 

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IOF + APD = excessive force

There may be a connection between the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF), as I wrote about here.

APD at Occupy protest in 2011

APD at Occupy protest in 2011

The Law Enforcement Exchange Program (LEEP) brings them together for joint training programs and exercises.  The LEEP Handbook notes:

There are 700,000 law enforcement officers in the United States. If properly trained and informed, local law enforcement can serve as the “eyes and ears” of the nation to prevent and best respond to terrorist attacks.

The Law Enforcement Exchange Program (LEEP) was created
in cooperation with the Israel National Police, the Israel Ministry of Internal Security, and the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) to support and strengthen American law enforcement counter terrorism practices.

“Excessive force” is the common denominator.

Yesterday (4/10/14) the U.S. Department of Justice released its findings following a 16 month investigation of the Albuquerque Police Department.

The Albuquerque Police Department has engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force, including deadly force. The pattern and practice is the result of serious systemic deficiencies in policy, training, supervision and accountability. The police department’s failure to ensure that officers respect the Constitution undermines the public trust.

This was not news to the victims’ families who have been showing up at city council meetings for years alleging excessive force and demanding some accountability. In the past 4 years, Albuquerque police have killed 23 people and wounded 14 others.

APD at Occupy protest in 2011

APD at Occupy protest in 2011

The New York Times called the DOJ report “scathing” and the Albuquerque Journal’s headline affirmed that APD is violating citizens’ rights with excessive force.

The Department of Justice reviewed 20 fatal shootings by Albuquerque Police between 2009 and 2013 and found that in the majority of cases the level of force used was not justified because the person killed by police did not present a threat to police officers or the public. The DOJ also reviewed the use of nonlethal force involving significant harm or injury to people by APD officers and found a similar pattern of excessive force by officers against people who posed no threat and was not justified by the circumstances. 

Palestinians and activists know far too well about Israel’s use of excessive force. Amnesty International (AI) published an excellent report in February 2014 on the subject, available here. Among its findings, AI recommends that the USA and others:

Suspend transfers to Israel of munitions, weapons, and related equipment including crowd control weapons and devices, training and techniques until substantive steps have been taken by Israel to achieve accountability for previous violations and effective mechanisms are in place to ensure that items will not be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law.  … This recommendation is particular relevant to the USA, as the largest foreign source of supply of weapons, munitions, police equipment and military aid to Israel.

Weapons used by Israeli forces in the West Bank against peaceful protesters.

Weapons used by Israeli forces in the West Bank against peaceful protesters.

I attended the Albuquerque Police Oversight Commission meeting and asked if the APD was participating in joint training programs with Israeli law enforcement. I didn’t expect an answer, and didn’t get one. I’m going to have to follow-up with a Freedom of Information Request (FOIA).

We must demand that the civil rights of New Mexicans and Palestinians are respected and protected.

APD dressed in riot gear

APD dressed in riot gear

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Busboys and Poets and Palestinian writers

Troy Davis executed by the US government in September 2011

I knew Busboys & Poets in Washington DC must be a special place when I saw the Troy Davis drawing on the wall.  Justice and human rights were in the air and the vibes felt really cool.

Busboys & Poets in DC

Busboys & Poets in Washington, DC

This proved to be an excellent venue for the last DC stop on the Gaza Writes Back USA book tour.  The 30-40 people were a friendly crowd and, based on the questions they asked, they were obviously well-informed about Palestine.

Refaat Alareer, the book’s editor, shared how he tried to distract his young children during the 23 days of Operation Cast Lead (Dec. ’08 – Jan. ’09) when “there was no right place, no right time; anyone, anytime, anywhere could be killed in Gaza.”

He would tell them stories, and then he realized the power of stories for connecting the past, present and future. During the bombing, his 5-year-old daughter asked him, “Who created the Israelis?” He was stunned, and couldn’t find an answer to her profound question.

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After the death and destruction ended, Refaat returned to his university. The Israeli Occupation Forces had destroyed the large laboratory building on campus, in addition to schools, medical facilities, banks and Mosques throughout the Gaza Strip. He saw the pain and horror in the eyes of his students. No one escaped the trauma of Operation Cast Lead. Everyone had lost a family member, a friend, a neighbor or knew someone who had been seriously injured.

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Refaat, the teacher, wanted to help his students find a way to resist. Many of them had been writing on blogs, websites, and Facebook whenever the electricity was working, usually only a few hours each day. He challenged his students to write fiction as a way to release their anger and frustration in a creative way.

Some of their short stories, all written in English, are included in Gaza Writes Back responding to Israel’s attempts to erase Palestinian voices. The book is for his daughter, for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, for the Palestinians in the diaspora, and most importantly, for non-Palestinian audiences.

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Then Refaat diverted from previous presentations and read a poem he wrote in 2012,  “I Am You”.  When he finished reading, the woman sitting next to me whispered “Wow!” under her breath.

Two steps: one, two.
‏Look in the mirror:
‏The horror, the horror!
‏The butt of your M-16 on my cheekbone
‏The yellow patch it left
‏The bullet-shaped scar expanding
‏Like a swastika,
‏Snaking across my face,
‏The heartache flowing
‏Out of my eyes dripping
‏Out of my nostrils piercing
‏My ears flooding
‏The place.
‏Like it did to you
‏70 years ago
‏Or so.

‏I am just you.
‏I am your past haunting
‏Your present and your future.
‏I strive like you did.
‏I fight like you did.
‏I resist like you resisted
‏And for a moment,
‏I’d take your tenacity
‏As a model,
‏Were you not holding
‏The barrel of the gun
‏Between my bleeding
‏Eyes.

One. Two.
‏The very same gun
‏The very same bullet
‏That had killed your Mom
‏ And killed your Dad
‏Is being used,
‏Against me,
‏By you.

‏Mark this bullet and mark in your gun.
‏If you sniff it, it has your and my blood.
‏It has my present and your past.
‏It has my present.
‏It has your future.
‏That’s why we are twins,
‏Same life track
‏Same weapon
‏Same suffering
‏Same facial expressions drawn
‏On the face of the killer,
‏Same everything
‏Except that in your case
‏The victim has evolved, backward,
‏Into a victimizer.
‏I tell you.
‏I am you.
‏Except that I am not the you of now.

‏I do not hate you.
‏I want to help you stop hating
‏And killing me.
‏I tell you:
‏The noise of your machine gun
‏Renders you deaf
‏The smell of the powder
‏Beats that of my blood.
‏The sparks disfigure
‏My facial expressions.
‏Would you stop shooting?
‏For a moment?
‏Would you?

‏All you have to do
‏Is close your eyes
‏(Seeing these days
‏Blinds our hearts.)
‏Close your eyes, tightly
‏So that you can see
‏In your mind’s eye.
‏Then look into the mirror.
‏One. Two.
‏I am you.
‏I am your past.
‏And killing me,
‏You kill you.

Questions from the audience followed — “What is the ideal desired outcome of this conflict?”

Yousef responded — “The solution must include the land between the river and the sea. Equal rights for everyone, and the right of return for the refugees to present day Israel. Any other agreement would be a waste of time.”

2014-04-08 06.21.59

 

Refaat added — “We’ve given the so-called peace talks enough time. Israel’s working against any possibility of Palestinians having their own state. Israel is pushing Palestinians into a corner — towards violence. Since Israel’s founding, their leaders have used the same strategy of violence, dehumanization and destruction. Palestinians have been responding creatively, using different methods of resistance. Writing, in addition to acting and drama, is another way for Palestinians to express their pain creatively.”

2014-04-08 06.18.27

In response to a question about Palestinian stereotypes, Rawan noted — “Fiction erases boundaries and draws us back to our humanity. Our job is to go global, and show the world that we are normal, just like anyone else. The international community needs to be open and willing to learn and hear the Palestinian narrative.”

2014-04-08 07.01.39

 

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Writing is resistance

The Gaza Writes Back book tour began in Philadelphia but I caught up with them in New York City on Friday night, many miles ago. At each stop, the writers have shared their stories and answered good questions.

Rawan Yaghi and Refaat Alareer in Manhattan

Rawan Yaghi and Refaat Alareer in Manhattan

The book includes 23 short stories from young Palestinian writers responding to the 23 days of Israel’s bombardment on the civilians in the Gaza Strip in Dec.’08-Jan. ’09, called Operation Cast Lead. Israel killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, including many women and children. The most shocking and disturbing book I’ve ever read is the Goldstone Report from the U.N. fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict* and Operation Cast Lead.

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Gaza Writes Back should come with a warning message on the cover because it may be difficult for some to read as well.

Refaat Alareer, the Editor of the book, said he decided to ask his university students to try their hand at writing fiction because he knew the therapeutic value of writing. “Writing fiction transcends everything” and “brings us back to our humanity.” He also believes fiction is timeless — connecting the past, present and future.

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Rawan, Yousef, Helena, Refaat, Sarah

Refaat knew that his students could speak for themselves. So often the narratives we hear about Israel & Palestine in the mainstream media come from the colonizer’s perspective. It seems Americans can more easily identify with that perspective. Publishing his students’ stories would be a way for Palestinians to go global with their narrative about the horrific events of Operation Cast Lead.

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Rawan Yaghi, contributor “Gaza Writes Back”

Interestingly, 12 of the 15 contributors to the book are female, which demonstrates the importance of women and their voices in the culture. They wrote their short stories in English, not Arabic, to reach a larger audience and to educate people outside of Gaza.

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Refaat Alareer, Editor “Gaza Writes Back”

Ironically, or perhaps tragically, Gaza Writes Back is available all over the world, but not in Gaza. Refaat has received tweets from people who have read the book in Europe, South Africa, Uganda, Malaysia, Argentina, New Zealand, Jerusalem and the West Bank. Last month, Medea Benjamin (CodePink) was carrying 30 copies of Gaza Writes Back when she tried to reach Gaza, but Egyptian security officials detained her at the Cairo airport, broke her arm, and deported her the following day.

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Yousef Aljamal, contributor “Gaza Writes Back”

Despite what the foreign desk of the New York Times believes, the Gaza Strip is occupied 100% — by land, sea and air. Every Palestinian in Gaza has a family member, friend or colleague who was killed or injured during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead.

Refaat notes that the Israelis have been doing the same thing day-after-day, year-after-year, decade-after-decade …. killing, destroying and acts of humiliation targeting Palestinians, the young and old alike.

But Palestinians are very creative in ways of resistance. Writing is resistance. Sharing their narrative with audiences in the USA on this book tour is fighting back.

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Helena and Refaat on the road again

* How anyone can call the Israel-Palestine occupation, massacres and oppression — a “conflict” — is beyond me.  An employer & employee can have a conflict. A shopkeeper & customer can have a conflict. A parent & teenager can have a conflict. An oppressor & the oppressed do NOT have a conflict. They have a life of struggle and injustices.

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Where is Sarah Ali?

In January 2013, I shared a cab ride across the Sinai desert with a Palestinian professor. He taught English literature at the Islamic University of Gaza but was then working on his PhD at a university in Malaysia. We were headed from Cairo to the border crossing at Rafah, about 250 miles. It was a very long trip. He took a manuscript out of his briefcase and handed it to me.

Actually, this story begins in September 2012 when the publisher of Just World Books heard that I was traveling to Gaza. Helena Cobban contacted me and asked if I would carry some books that had been requested by friends into Gaza. I knew there was no FED EX or postal service into the Gaza Strip. Israel has essentially tightened the screws on 1.8 million people there, and the siege makes normal delivery impossible. So I agreed.

The professor’s manuscript turned out to be the first compilation of short stories written by his students at the Islamic University of Gaza. He was hoping to get them published and he was obviously very proud of his students and very excited about the project.

Low and behold, the publisher who brought his manuscript to life a year later was Helena Cobban of Just World Books. The title they chose was perfect — Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories by Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine.

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When I learned there was a book tour planned in the U.S.A. this Spring, I was very excited but also skeptical that the professor/editor or any of the contributors would be able to make it to America. Travel out of Gaza is nearly impossible for most Palestinians, and getting a U.S. Visa is an unfulfilled dream for many.

The publisher and the other sponsor of the book tour — the American Friends Service Committee — succeeded in helping Refaat Alareer (the professor/editor), Yousef Aljamal, Rawan Yaghi, and Sarah Ali (all contributors to the book) to obtain U.S. Visas for their travel. Alhamdulillah!

The logistics seemed to be working out. A month-long tour was planned from the East Coast to the West. Check it out here.

Gaza superimposed on Manhattan, NY

Gaza Strip superimposed on Manhattan, New York

Sadly, Israeli authorities screwed up the plans.

Sarah Ali received a permit from Israel to travel from Gaza to Jerusalem to apply and interview for her U.S. Visa. However, after she received her Visa, Israel would not allow her to travel out of Gaza to Jordan to join her colleagues on tour.

Refaat and Yousef were studying in Malaysia and had no trouble traveling. Rawan was studying in London at Oxford University. The Israeli authorities couldn’t stop her from traveling.

Sarah remains in Gaza, with only a cardboard cut out sitting on stage in her place.

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Israel did not allow Sarah Ali (far right) to join her colleagues on the book tour.

 

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