Israel & Italy block travel for Palestinians

I’m making plans to visit Italy in mid- June to attend the International Making Cities Livable Conference in Rome.  I’m excited.  I’ve never been to Italy.

Two colleagues from Gaza, an engineer and an architect, worked with me earlier this year to research and write a paper for the conference.  We submitted it, and we’re very pleased that it was accepted. We’ve been invited to present our paper to this group of academics, planners, urbanists and architects.

As an American, I can travel to Italy without first securing a Visa, so I’m busy looking for the cheap flights, cheap accommodations in Rome, and a cheap rail pass while traveling in Italy. There are many bargains.

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My colleagues from Gaza must apply for a Visa from the Italian officials, and for permission to exit the Gaza Strip from the Israeli officials. A double whammy. Here’s what Italy wants:

  • Entry visa application form
  •  recent passport-size photograph
  •  valid travel document whose expiry date is three months longer than that of the visa requested
  •  return ticket (or booking) or evidence that the applicant has their own means of transport
  •  proof that the applicant has sufficient means of subsistence as required by the Directive of the Ministry of the Interior dated 1st March 2000
  •  supporting documentation in relation to the applicant’s social and professional status
  •  health insurance covering a minimum of €30,000 for emergency hospitalisation and repatriation expenses, valid throughout the Schengen area
  •  proof of accommodation (hotel booking, Declaration of hospitality, declaration whereby accommodation costs shall be borne by the person inviting)

My colleagues have complied with these onerous requirements. One was rejected by Israel, the other was rejected by Italy.

I’m traveling to Italy with a heavy heart, angry that this bureaucratic red-tape and BULLSHIT are preventing my colleagues from joining me. This presentation will not be the same without them.

I’m trying to think of ways to use my privileged status as an American to highlight this unfairness and injustice.  Any ideas?

 

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Filed under Gaza, Israel, Occupation, Politics, Uncategorized

#Gaza5K rain or shine in DC

IMG_4417Saturday, May 21, proved to be a real soaker and not the best conditions at Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC for a 5K.  That didn’t stop hundreds from showing up bright and early (7 AM) to run or walk in solidarity with the children in Gaza.

IMG_4411The successful fundraiser supports UNRWA’s psycho-social programs for children suffering from PTSD. Tragically, more than 50% of the children in Gaza suffer from PTSD.

IMG_4423This was my second #Gaza5K. Thanks to generous donors, I exceeded my $2,000 goal. I’m waiting to hear the final stats from UNRWA-USA but I heard they exceeded their goal too. Yeah!

Honestly, I thought about not rolling out of bed at 5 AM to drive to DC to walk in the rain, but I’m glad I did it ….. for me, for the people who donated to my campaign, and for the children in Gaza.

I met some really cool new friends, and received some great advice about my personal journey to return to Gaza.  I’m contacting the National Lawyers Guild this week.

Thank you to the UNRWA-USA staff who inspired all of us to do our best for the children in Gaza.  You are truly making a difference!

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CROSSING THE FINISH LINE

 

 

 

 

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Fairness and Justice

Rabbi Baltimore

Rabbi Oberstein in the middle. Credit: Baltimore Jewish Life

Rabbi Oberstein in Baltimore wrote a letter to the Baltimore Sun (5/19/2016) to point out that “the onus [to make peace] is too much on Israel and not a little bit on the Palestinians. That is not fair or just.”

The Rabbi failed to mention these tangible signs of how Israel is treated so unfairly:

  1. Total U.S. aid to Israel is approximately one-third of the American foreign-aid budget, even though Israel comprises just .001 percent of the world’s population and already has one of the world’s higher per capita incomes. See here.
  2. The Congressional Research Service writes: “Since the establishment of limited Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the mid-1990s, the U.S. government has committed more than $5 billion in bilateral economic and non-lethal security assistance to the Palestinians, who are among the world’s largest per capita recipients of international foreign aid.”  Lora adds: compare this to the $3+ billion that U.S. gives to Israel annually.  A conservative estimate is that the U.S. has given more than $130 Billion in direct aid to Israel.
  3. Israel has access to some of the most advanced weaponry and defense systems in the world, including the Iron Dome and nuclear weapons.

    After five decades of pretending otherwise, the Pentagon has reluctantly confirmed that Israel does indeed possess nuclear bombs, as well as awesome weapons technology similar to America’s.

    While the BBC notes the assymetrical firepower between Israel and Palestine.  Palestinian militants have “Grad and Qassam rockets with ranges of up to 48km (30 miles) and 17km respectively.  … They also have the longer range Fajr-5, sometimes also designated the M75. It can reach up to 75km, threatening major population centres like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.”

    Iron dome

    Israel’s iron dome missile defense system. Credit: abcnews.go.com

    We might also mention the unfairness of Israel’s economy versus Palestine’s economy; the unfairness of Israel’s freedom of movement versus Israel’s control of movement of every Palestinian; the number of civilian deaths in Israel due to violence between the two sides versus the number of civilian deaths in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The story of the injustices and unfairness goes on and on, but then most everyone knows the difference between an occupying power and the people who are occupied.  Except Rabbi Oberstein.

 

 

 

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Filed under IDF, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, Occupation, People, Uncategorized, US Policy

نكبة in 2016

Israel has not succeeded in burying the Nakba of 1948 (the “catastrophe” – the forcible expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes, businesses and villages in what is known as the State of Israel today).  The Nakba is in every Palestinian’s memory because the tragedy has been passed on from one generation to another.

The Zionists have perpetuated the tragedy every . single . day . since . 1948 through violence, through overt policies of discrimination and expulsion, and through their dehumanizing treatment of Palestinians (let me count the ways).

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Israeli soldier taking a selfie in Jerusalem – February 2016

This week alone, I’ve learned about two examples of the Nakba. In 2016. Nearly 70 years after the forcible expulsions that turned hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into refugees.

First case. A young Palestinian refugee in Gaza, a professional engineer in his 20s, collaborated with me on researching and writing a paper about Gaza. We’ve been invited to present our paper at an international conference in Rome in June. My colleague has tried to get permission from Israel to travel abroad but Israel has rejected his requests.  He is essentially imprisoned in Gaza, unable to travel. As is the case with most Palestinian refugees in Gaza, he’s even unable to visit family in the West Bank or to travel a few miles to Jerusalem to pray at Al Aqsa Mosque.  THIS IS THE NAKBA IN 2016.

Second case. An older Palestinian refugee from Gaza, also a professional engineer who recently obtained his American citizenship and U.S. passport, was informed by Israeli border control agents this week that he can’t return to Gaza.  His aging mother is in Gaza. Other family members are in Gaza. He was turned away at the border with Jordan and now sits in limbo waiting for Israeli officials to reconsider their decision.  THIS IS THE NAKBA IN 2016.

I have no words for the disgust I feel today.

apartheid wall

Israel’s separation wall 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Step-by-step شوية شوية

Camino map

Before the magic wears off, I must share “my Camino” experience in northern Spain.

I’ve been identifying myself as a pilgrim for the past couple of years on my quest for answers in the Middle East, but Israel, Egypt and the USA have denied me permission to return to the Gaza Strip so I decided to follow the path that thousands, maybe millions, of pilgrims have followed since the Middle Ages to St. James’ burial place in Santiago — looking for answers.

The most popular route is over 700 km long, but I didn’t have 4-5 weeks to walk it and probably didn’t have the stamina either, so I chose to begin my Camino at Leon. I walked six days to Pontferrada and then hopped the bus to Sarria, where I walked another 7 days to Santiago.  Step-by-step  شوية شوية.  In total, my feet carried me just over 200 km (about 125 miles) during the first two weeks in April. Believe me, I now have a heightened appreciation for my feet.

I averaged 18 km each day (about 11-12 miles) while most everyone else passed me going much faster and further, reminding me of the Aesop fable, the Tortoise and the Hare. I kept plodding along worried that I wouldn’t keep up. A few days into the walk, my concerns about the pace and whether I could finish the pilgrimage vanished when I realized — “This is MY Camino, not anyone else’s” — and dropping my competitive nature is part of the lesson I was meant to learn. This insight freed up my anxiety and I was able to appreciate just being on the Camino.

The numbers of pilgrims walking the Camino have skyrocketed in recent years, a local business owner in Leon told me. Good for the local economy, not so good for quiet introspection. They are coming from all over the world. I met pilgrims from Germany, France, Holland, the UK, Lithuania, Denmark, Japan, Korea, Brazil, Argentina, Spain (of course) and yes! — a pilgrim from Hebron, Al-Khalil, Palestine.

Early April turned out to be a very good time for my Camino. Although it seems like pilgrims are nearly tripping over each other during the summer months, competing for a bunkbed in the albergue (Camino hostels) in the next village, more often than not I found myself alone on the path — following the yellow arrow and the boot tracks in front of me — with plenty of time to observe and think. Step-by-step  شوية شوية.

“Why are you walking the Camino?”  – the most frequent ice-breaker when pilgrims stopped for a meal, drink or a bed. Santiago is an important Christian pilgrimage destination, along with Rome and Jerusalem. (I actually met a young man on the path returning from Santiago and now walking to Rome and Jerusalem.) My sense, however, is that many of the pilgrims are not Christians or walking for a religious reason. Instead, they often cite a desire to “get away from real life” to think and find answers, or to challenge themselves physically, or to cross an item off their bucket list.

My American accent gave me away as soon as I opened my mouth, and the conversation inevitably turned to the U.S. elections and Donald Trump. I wasn’t surprised that foreigners are so well-informed about politics and the candidates in the United States, but time and again they shared their fears with me if Trump is elected. America’s power and influence worldwide has probably now exceeded our collective IQ. Several pilgrims — only half jesting — offered me a place to live overseas if I felt the need to emigrate.

I started thinking about walking the Camino after I saw Walking the Camino at The Guild in Albuquerque a few years ago. My interest increased after viewing Martin Sheen in The Way and reading about Ernest Hemingway’s connection to the Camino and his first novel The Sun Also Rises. Friends in Albuquerque who’ve walked the Camino were also very encouraging. Step-by-step  شوية شوية.

After waiting unsuccessfully in Egypt and Jordan for months (October 2015 – March 2016) for access to the Gaza Strip, and feeling angry, bitter and unsure about my next steps, I thought I might find my answers about Gaza on the Camino de Santiago.

I didn’t.

At least I didn’t find the answers I was searching for. How do I return to Gaza? Why is Gaza the faultline in the Middle East? What should I be doing personally to educate myself and other Americans about Gaza?

Instead, I found a beautiful landscape (walking is the best way to learn about a place). I met amazing people (gaining new insight about Yahweh, God, Allah in the process). And I found peace when I was able to say “goodbye” to loved ones who have died.

Landscape:  The photos don’t capture the beauty of sunrises, the ringing church bells, the treacherous descents, and the sound of running water everywhere. Nearly every house has a vegetable garden and small acequia, and every village has a church with above-ground burial crypts or nichos. The juxtaposition of the very old stone pathways with the ultra-modern windmills on the hilltops showed that Spain is adapting and transitioning into the future with a deep respect for its past.

People:  Before I left Cairo on April 1, a devout Muslim friend urged me to continue reading about the Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an. While I was on the Camino in northern Spain, a devout Christian missionary from Canada asked if she could pray for me. Holding me, she asked Jesus to provide the answers I was seeking.

While I was walking, I thought alot about the people I’ve met in recent years who possess such certainty about their faith and their deity, Yahweh for the Jews, God for the Christians and Allah for the Muslims. Religion binds people into groups, or as Jonathan Haidt writes (The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion – 2012): ‘Whatever its origins, the psychology of sacredness helps bind individuals into moral communities.’ I respect their certainty and their devotion but I question whether Yahweh, God or Allah would approve of the divisions that have evolved – “Us and Them” or put another way, the people like us and the people not like us. Does the dehumanization of the “other” — which we find so much evidence of in the world today from believers of all three faiths — really win the blessing from Yahweh, God and Allah?

Certainly not.

During my solitude, walking the Camino, I found the profound spirit of the diety in the people I met. This was truly a personal revelation — that the diety is not outside of us, not sitting on a throne or in a Mosque or in heaven. Yahweh, God, Allah is not apart from us, but inside each living creature, including me.

This insight gives new relevancy to the rule I try to follow — the Golden Rule — to treat others as I wish they would treat me, because when the spirit of the diety is in each person, I must treat each person with respect, honor and love to manifest my respect, honor and love for Yahweh, God, Allah.

Easier said than done. Can I really respect, honor and love the fat man waddling down the village lane? or the young boy who wears his pants below his buttocks? or the wino sleeping on the park bench?  The faithful might find it easier to rock and pray at the Wailing Wall while wearing their tefillin, or prostrate themselves in the direction of Mecca, or kneel in church with hands clasped in prayer, but I believe that Yahweh/God/Allah is sprawled on that park bench. Step-by-step  شوية شوية

Goodbye:  My Camino was an unexpected place for me to say “goodbye” to loved ones who have died. Some were family members I never got the chance to see when they passed. Others were special people whom I’ve carried with me for many years with great sorrow. On my Camino, I thought about each.  Step-by-step  شوية شوية

At some point along the way I realized that each spirit is with me, and will always be with me. I was able to say “goodbye” and ended my Camino on Sunday, April 17th in Santiago with greater peace. Watching the botafumeiro swinging in the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral was very special. The following day, I returned to the Cathedral and joined a mass honoring new Spanish Naval graduates.

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I’m not pro-Palestinian

“I’m not pro-Palestinian.”

I uttered those words a few nights ago in response to a very good friend from Gaza who was sharing his thoughts about the characteristics of the activists who are “pro-Palestinian.”

I realized right away how provocative my words sounded, and how they might be misunderstood.  I also knew why my friend from Gaza labeled me “pro-Palestinian.” He’s like a son to me.  If I could shield him from the atrocities he and his family have experienced at the hands of the Israelis, and particularly the Israeli military, I would.

But my love, concern and compassion for my Palestinian friend, and many other Palestinians, doesn’t make me “pro-Palestinian.”  The label doesn’t fit me because being “pro” anything often implies one is also against something, in this case Israel and Israelis.  The world is not black/white, good/evil, wrong/right.  It’s so much more complex than that.

Being “pro-Palestinian” might imply I’ve selected a tribe to cheer for — the Palestinians — and rejected the other tribe.  In fact, I reject tribal allegiances altogether.

Being “pro-Palestinian” often raises issues of “loyalty” and “deference” and “submission” to the Palestinians and to whatever framing of the “conflict” they’ve chosen.  I’ve learned this by watching and listening to self-identified “pro-Palestinian” activists over the years.  My loyalty is not to Palestinians or to any of their many factions. I will learn from them, but I won’t defer or submit to their framing of the “conflict.”

On the other side ….

Friends, family and colleagues who self-identify themselves as Zionists or “pro-Israel” are hurt and angry that I’m not in their camp. I don’t accept their framing of the “conflict” and I reject their tribal loyalties. If I’m not with them, I must be against them, is the subtle message they often share with me.

One Jewish “pro-Israel” American rationalizes my odd opinions about Israel-Palestine by telling me — “You’re not Jewish, you’re not Palestinian, so of course you can’t understand what’s really going on over there.” — That compartmentalizing might comfort her unease but it only demonstrates how people need to understand the world by putting people in boxes.  I refuse to do that.

Instead, I seek to understand the complexities and the gray shadows cast in the region.  I try to shine a light on the things I learn, and on the things that the mainstream media callously and deliberately ignores.

I try to understand the “other” — both Israelis and Palestinians. I try to learn empathy.

This 28 minute NPR broadcast (March 22, 2016) “What happens when you empathize with the enemy?” is powerful. My Palestinian friends who reject “normalization” may reject the ideas shared by the Israeli soldier and the Palestinian professor regarding empathy but for everyone else, I think there is alot of wisdom here for open minds on both sides.

http://www.npr.org/player/embed/471283599/471350322

This week on Hidden Brain we ask, what happens when you empathize with your enemy? Why does reaching out to another tribe make our tribe so angry? We talk to Avner Gvaryahu, a former paratrooper in the Israeli army, who angered his fellow Israelis for talking about his work as a soldier. And we talk with Mohammed Dajani, a Palestinian professor who now lives in the United States out of fear for his life. His crime? He led a group of Palestinian students to Auschwitz to try to help them understand the Holocaust. We also share an excerpt of a one-man play about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from Aaron Davidman.

 

Thanks to Libby and Len Traubman from Palo Alto, California for alerting me to this NPR broadcast.

 

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Gideon Levy: Americans “Are Supporting the First Signs of Fascism in Israel”

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Filed under Israel, Media, Occupation, People, Settlers, Uncategorized, US Policy, Video