2004, 2011 and today

I first traveled to Gaza in 2004, and met an old Palestinian man in Rafah who changed the direction of my life.  I recalled that visit on this blog post.

rafah-sign My next trip to Gaza was in August 2011 when I had an invitation from officials in Gaza to visit.  Despite the official-looking invitation from the Islamic University of Gaza, the Egyptian border guards would not permit me to cross the Rafah border to Gaza.  I wrote about it here.

A freelance journalist sitting in the front seat of the taxi from Al-Arish to Rafah snorted when he heard that I didn’t have any security clearance from Egypt for entering Gaza.  I watched him sail right through the checkpoint, while I stood dumb-founded in front of the gate. I HAD NEVER BEEN DENIED ACCESS ANYWHERE!  HOW DARE THEY STOP ME!  On a personal level, that was my first serious lesson about the Israeli occupation and siege of Gaza.  My naivety and my glorified sense of personal privilege were profoundly embarrassing.

I didn’t give up.

I returned to Egypt in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2018 and today.  I learned the ropes and managed to navigate through the bureaucratic maze in Cairo to enter Gaza in 2012 and 2013, but I was prevented from traveling to Gaza the following years.

I could write a book about this saga but the bottom line is that the noose strangling the Gaza Strip has tightened considerably in recent years, both for visitors trying to enter Gaza and for Palestinians trying to leave.

When I learned about this opportunity to join a medical convoy to Gaza, I jumped at it.  The Miles of Smiles convoy has successfully delivered medical supplies to Gaza for many years. At the invitation of Viva Palestina Malaysia, an NGO in Kuala Lumpur that helps Palestinians in Gaza and around the world, my name was added to the list of travelers. We’ll be traveling to Gaza in the next few weeks. InshaAllah.

My GoFundMe fundraising campaign is being supported by many people, some of whom have contributed to Gaza in the past, and others who are supporting this effort for the very first time. Each contribution, large and small, gives me a tremendous sense of love and responsibility.

Love because I can feel the connection and solidarity between each donor and the unknown recipient of that donor’s compassion.  Whether it’s a kidney dialysis patient in Gaza who otherwise wouldn’t have the necessary filters for the dialysis machine, or a recent amputee who needs a new limb or wheelchair, or any number of other Palestinians who will benefit directly from this medical convoy, I’m confident that this direct aid will touch many lives and bring them hope.

Responsibility because I know that the donors have dug deep into their pockets to make each contribution.  One young man contributed $5 which means as much to me as the largest donations because I know how much he wants to bring aid and comfort to Palestinians in Gaza. I feel a great sense of responsibility for ensuring that these donations are used wisely and for the most good for the most number of Palestinians in need. The donors have placed their trust in me.

This medical convoy is also an opportunity to share with Americans about what is happening on the ground in Gaza. In the summer of 2012, the United Nations predicted that Gaza would be unlivable by 2020 Experts say that 97% of the water is unfit for human consumption. Unemployment in Gaza hit an all-time high of 52% in 2018. Suicides in Gaza, especially among the young, are increasing. Trump’s decision to cut all U.S. aid to UNRWA and US-AID, the agencies that provide a lifeline to many Palestinians living under Israel’s suffocating occupation, has only exacerbated the wretched living conditions.

The situation is dire, and the prediction made in 2012 will come to pass if Israel doesn’t lift the economic, cultural and political siege of Gaza.

Hopefully, I will see and hear what the reality is in Gaza, and as the only American on this medical convoy, maybe I can get the attention of some western media which hasn’t covered previous convoys to Gaza.

Donations to the medical convoy are still timely and gratefully accepted.  Please check out my GoFundMe campaign. Thank you!

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Fiduciary duty

I’ve arrived in Cairo to join up with the medical convoy to Gaza. Until we actually travel, I’m going to keep raising funds.  If you’d like to contribute, please check out my GoFundMe campaign.

wheelchair

Last night I learned that the convoy is purchasing an electric wheelchair to take to Gaza.  I’m told it costs $600 USD.

There are many, many physically disabled people in Gaza, even more so now that the Israeli military has been targeting protesters by shooting them in the legs.  The bullets explode inside the body and cause serious internal damage resulting in a high number of amputations.

I have no doubt that there is a high demand for wheelchairs. But can an electric wheelchair navigate the alleys of the refugee camps? Who will benefit from an electric wheelchair?  And would the money be better spent on purchasing more conventional wheel chairs?

I hope to meet up with the convoy organizer in Cairo soon, and I will have many questions to ask him.  I have a fiduciary duty to everyone who has contributed to this medical convoy to make sure every dollar is wisely spent.

I have a duty to the two + million Palestinians in Gaza to help as many as I possibly can with the resources available.  If you can help, here’s the link for online donations. Thank you!

 

6 Comments

Filed under Gaza, Peaceful, Uncategorized, Video

Medical Convoy to Gaza – Countdown

Dog in Murano 2Countdown has begun. A few days ago I learned from the organizer that the Medical Convoy has received permission to travel to Gaza on a specific date in the very near future. I’m not sharing that date for security reasons. The convoy will plan to remain in Gaza about 10 days.

 

Dog waiting for lunch

My TO DO list includes:

  • purchase Tarragon for a friend in Gaza
  • fly to Cairo to meet up with others in the Convoy
  • search for a specific medicinal cream for skin cancer that’s not available in Gaza and a friend there needs it
  • once I get to Cairo, purchase books requested for the library in Gaza
  • keep fundraising for the Medical Convoy so we can bring critical medicines and supplies to Gaza
  • write periodic updates to keep friends informed about the Convoy’s progress
  • contact friends in Gaza and let them know I might be visiting — alhamdulillah!
  • coordinate with Viva Palestinia Malaysia, the NGO under whose umbrella I’m traveling with the convoy
  • write a short piece for the local paper back in New Mexico

What’s the best way for me to document this journey with the Medical Convoy?  Facebook? Twitter? Blog? All ideas are welcomed —– and questions too.

dogs 2

Please take a look at my GoFundMe campaign and if you have a few dollars to spare, consider donating because every dollar will go directly to the purchase of critical medicines and supplies for Gaza!  A big THANK YOU to each of the 59 people who have already contributed.  Here’s the link for online donations.

I’m leaving Venice with a full heart. I’ve seen so much and met many cute dogs, and their humans.

dogs party

 

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under Gaza, Peaceful, Uncategorized

Naila and the Uprising

Naila and the uprising 3

The woman sitting at the front of the room facing the audience looked familiar, but I couldn’t place her and I certainly didn’t know anyone in Venice.

I’d taken a vaporetto (water bus), then switched to a regular bus, and then walked about ten minutes to the location advertised for the screening of Naila and the Uprising. Americans can watch it now on PBS or find a screening near you.

Julia Bacha’s militant documentary Naila and the Uprising is by turns startling and dismaying as it traces the central role Palestinian women played in the First Intifada of the late 1980s. Integrating animated scenes with interviews and archive footage, it paints an indelible picture of how, with many men deported or arrested, women stepped into the arena of political and social organizing, only to be told their role was over when Yasser Arafat returned from exile to form the Palestinian Authority in 1994 with a crew of all-male leaders.

I wasn’t concerned about watching the film in Italian because I’d originally seen it in Malaysia in October. I was more interested in seeing who attended, and how many? Does Venice have a strong Palestine solidarity network?

Naila and the uprisingThere were no signs to direct people to the screening once I found my way to the shopping center. My first attempt was unsuccessful when I asked at the shopping center’s information desk and was informed there was no screening planned that evening. Walking out dejected and a bit annoyed, I overheard “Palestina” from a woman walking past me. I stopped her, and asked “Palestina”? She nodded and I learned through hand signals that the screening was on the fourth floor. Alhamdulillah!

By the time the lights went out and the film started, nearly every seat was filled. I’m guessing 100-125 people attended. Sitting near the back, I watched the film with Italian subtitles (most of the speaking was either in Arabic or English).  The film grabbed me again — the power and determination of women. Not just Naila but so many Palestinian women who rose to lead the Intifada when Israel imprisoned or banished many of the men from the West Bank and Gaza, probably hoping to bring the uprising to its knees.

Hearing again about the PLO’s usurption of the role of the Palestinian women when they secretly negotiated with the Israelis in Oslo, Norway angered me. Is it just Arab men, or males worldwide who so often sabotage the progress made by women?  I wish the film had better documented the women’s reaction and response to the PLO.

Naila and the uprising 2When the lights were turned on and the Q & A began, I realized the woman I faintly recognized earlier was Naila herself. She and her husband were in Venice!

Concerned about making my way back to my hostel before dark, I left soon after the Q & A began. I noticed that Naila’s husband frequently interjected comments or interrupted her when she was responding to a question. Perhaps we were witnessing the male-female dynamic that may be pervasive in Palestine. It annoyed me and reminded me that I still have a lot to learn about Palestinians and the Arab culture.

If you haven’t seen Naila and the Uprising, I hope you will.  The message is clear — women are the leaders of the future.  Check this link for a short trailer.  https://www.imdb.com/videoembed/vi2743842841

 

 

 

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Gaza, Israel, nonviolent resistance, Occupation, People, Uncategorized, Video

Cognitive dissonance at the United Nations

Cognitive dissonance — “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change.”

Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. … For example, when people smoke (behavior) and they know that smoking causes cancer (cognition), they are in a state of cognitive dissonance.

I may have a couple of examples of cognitive dissonance from today’s (3/18/2019) UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva.

COI_Commissioners_HP

Legal experts and delegates from around the world all said in unison “Israel must be held accountable for its gross human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory” (behavior) but they know that Israel has never been held accountable in the past 51 years of occupation (cognition) despite annual demands for accountability. Furthermore, there are no discernible plans to hold Israel accountable at the international level.

Another example might be the Israeli supporters and cheerleaders demonstrating outside of the United Nations.

They condemned the United Nations Human Rights Council  for its criticism and “bias” against Israel while holding the State of Israel up as the paragon of virtue (behavior) although they must know that Israeli military sharpshooters have killed nearly 200 Palestinian protesters since the #GreatReturnMarch began in March 2018, and there’s a humanitarian crisis in Gaza that threatens the lives of 2,000,000 Palestinians (cognition).

Maybe the UN Human Rights Council really believes that the State of Israel can be held accountable, although there’s no objective evidence to support that belief.

Osmar_Schindler_David_und_Goliath

Osmar Schindler (1869-1927)

And maybe Israeli supporters really believe that Israel is a victim unfairly targeted by the rest of the world and the Palestinians threaten their existence — a true David and Goliath story — but there’s no objective evidence to support that belief either.

Israel is the occupier with a first-world military.  Palestinians have some rockets that might sputter over Tel Aviv until the Iron Dome intercepts them.

Israel has a first-rate economy, a technology giant, and is not hurting for job growth. Palestinians in Gaza are experiencing the highest unemployment in the world (54%) and high food insecurity (68%) due to Israel’s 12 year blockade.  The report released today by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry is a fact-filled compilation of the tragic events surrounding the #GreatReturnMarch protests, not speculation or conjecture.

Who is David and who is Goliath?

I suspect each side will continue this charade for years to come. Israel isn’t motivated to change the status quo (end the occupation) because it believes the benefits of the occupation accrue to Israel.

I’ll hazard a guess that the occupation will end when there’s a magical convergence of three elements:

The United Nations regains its credibility and steps in forcibly to take action to end the occupation (legal, economic, or maybe something else).

The Palestinians manage to change the dominant narrative that exists today (which is that Israel is a victim and the Palestinians are terrorists wanting to destroy Israel).

Advocates and activists on both sides are willing to sit down and listen to each other.

Selfie at the park

It happened to me tonight when a 24-year old man from Brussels came up to me at the hostel in Geneva and wanted to talk about the UN Watch protest he attended today in solidarity with Israel. He asked sincere questions because he overheard me talking about Gaza, and listened deeply to my responses. We didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything but we shared a common concern about climate change, and he now knows the environmental engineering students in Gaza are also concerned about climate change.

Dr. Tarek Loubani (a Canadian physician) spoke at the UN Human Rights Council’s 40th session today. Here’s what he said:

Thank you, Madam Vice President,

I am here with Dr. Mahmoud Matar on behalf of our colleagues from the hospitals of Gaza. I am an emergency physician in Canada and Gaza and associate professor of Medicine at Western University in Canada.tarek.loubani

On 14 May 2018, I was at the protests delivering trauma care on the field. I saw only peaceful protesters, and none posed any threat to the soldiers. When protestors were shot, me and my team of medics would treat and evacuate them. Due to the blockade I did not have the materials or medics to care for my patients.

I was one of the 19 medics shot that day. I wish I could tell you I was in the midst of some chaos when it happened. I was not. The skies were clear, with no gas and no burning tires. I was standing among a group of medical professionals away from the main protest area wearing full hospital green uniform.

We were not close to protesters and there was no Israeli gunfire at the time. I heard a loud bang, felt an incredible pain and found myself on the ground.

I was treated, stabilized and discharged within an hour. I sewed my own legs because of the number of wounded. Like hundreds of others that day, I did not receive the care I needed. Still, I was lucky.

When I was shot, paramedic Musa Abuhassanin treated me. He was my rescuer. About an hour after, he was shot in the chest during a rescue. Musa died. Medical teams are not political actors, but humanitarians. We simply want to ensure that if people get into trouble, we’re there to help them.

Some 600 health workers have now been wounded at the protests and three killed. Thirty-nine were killed between 2008 and 2014. We are still under fire. Four paramedics were wounded last week. International law is clear on the duty to protect health workers, and to facilitate our life-saving work.

When I return to my work in Gaza, I should not worry that next year I will have to speak to you again about what I saw. I should not worry that my name will be added to the list of dead health workers doing their jobs. When you here do not act meaningfully, it is more likely that injuries and deaths to medics occur – more likely that I will be injured or killed. Madam Vice President, I ask you and members of the council to do all you can to ensure we are protected in line with international law.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Gaza, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, People, Uncategorized, United Nations

Medical aid convoy to Gaza

Gaza boys flag beach

Friends and readers of this blog know that I’ve been searching for ways to return to Gaza since I left in 2013.

In the past 6 years, Israel has tightened the blockade, making it virtually impossible for anyone to pass through the Erez crossing in the north.

In the summer of 2014, the IDF launched Operation Protective Edge, a massively disproportionate military campaign against the civilian population trapped within the largest open air prison in the world.

In the summer of 2015, the Freedom Flotilla III carrying humanitarian supplies to Gaza was forcibly detained in international waters by Israel, the participants were jailed, and the supplies were confiscated.

Change ThingsI’ve been to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo several times in recent years asking for their help. In 2012, the Embassy provided me with the requisite paperwork to the satisfaction of Egyptian authorities but now my government refuses to assist Americans wishing to travel to Gaza.

If not by the Erez crossing in the north, or by sea to the west, the only other possibility is from the south, through the Rafah border between Gaza and Egypt.

Through Rafah it will be.

I’ve been invited to join a medical aid convoy bringing urgently needed medicines and medical supplies to Gaza. Alhamdulillah!

My contribution of $10,000 is critical to the success of the mission, and that’s why I’m turning to friends to crowdfund donations for this convoy.

Please read my GoFundMe campaign, contribute if you can, and most importantly, please share the campaign with your friends.  Here’s the link.

I’m financing my travel expenses myself. Every dime I raise in this campaign will be used to purchase medicines and medical supplies for Gaza.

THANK YOU!

 

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under Egypt, Gaza, Uncategorized

Demonstrators Shot in Violation of their Right to Life

29425644_419847478469077_7507957825339916288_n

On 7 January 2018, Ahmed Abu Artema, a 34-year-old Palestinian poet and journalist, posted on Facebook the idea of a non-violent march at the separation fence, to draw attention to General Assembly resolution 194 and to the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza. In the post, ending #GreatMarchofReturn, he wrote, “what if 200,000 demonstrators marched peacefully and broke through the fence east of Gaza and entered a few kilometres into the lands that are ours, holding the flags of Palestine and the keys to return, accompanied by international media, and then set up tents inside and established a city there.”  The idea evolved into a movement of Palestinians. Within weeks, Abu Artema, civil society activists and other stakeholders drew up a charter of 12 principles, envisaging a national march by Palestinians of all ages, genders, political and social groups. (para. 22 and 23)

I’ve been following the #GreatReturnMarch since the beginning, watching its preparations, and studying it from the perspective of my international human rights law course that was occurring at the same time.

23472746_1518214138214284_7274524142973981851_nAn Israeli woman shared her thoughts about the protests. The New York Times adopted the Israeli framing of the protests.  The protests continued.  With grim predictability, the killing of unarmed protesters continued too.

Ms Fatou Bensouda

Ms Fatou Bensouda – Prosecutor

Throughout the summer and fall of 2018 I followed the protests and took heart when the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court warned Israel that it might be subject to prosecution for its crimes committed against the protestors.

The United Nations appointed an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate.  Predictably, Israel refused to cooperate in the investigation, and Egypt wouldn’t let the commission enter Gaza because of security concerns in the Sinai. However, in this small and interconnected world we live in, with Skype and other technology, the commission interviewed many participants in the protests, as well as families of the victims, the medical personnel in Gaza, as well as viewed much of the video documentation from the protests. COI_Commissioners_HP

The three member commission released its report and findings on February 28, 2019. The Israeli government immediately condemned it, saying that the commission was blinded by hatred,  but everyone else I’ve read has received it favorably.

It’s a short (22 pages) read and I recommend it to everyone.

Some excerpts that added to my understanding of the #GreatReturnMarch —

Israel was prepared. The protesters were not trying to take anyone by surprise.

Prior to the first demonstration, Israeli forces reinforced their positions at the fence with additional troops, including more than 100 sharpshooters. They dropped leaflets in Gaza and contacted Palestinian bus companies to warn against participation. At the demonstration sites, they strengthened the separation fence and its underground barrier (to prevent and detect cross-border tunnels), installed kilometres of barbed wire coils on the Gazan side as additional barriers, cleared vegetation on both sides, dug deep trenches on the Israeli side and erected a battery of earth mounds or berms onto which snipers were positioned for better visibility and shooting accuracy.

When the rules of engagement were challenged, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favor of Israel.

Israeli and Palestinian non-governmental human rights organizations challenged the application of lethal force by Israeli forces at the fence in the Israel Supreme Court, contending that the rules of engagement violated international law because they were too permissive or were being applied permissively. The Court disagreed and approved the rules of engagement, holding that “the use of potentially lethal force for the sake of dispersing a mass riot – from which an actual and imminent danger is posed to life or bodily integrity – is, in principle, permitted, subject to proving necessity and proportionality.” The Court declined to examine how the rules were applied on the ground, deferring to the internal investigations of Israeli security forces.

Ten pages of this report describe the deaths and injuries during three specific days of protest (Sections V and VI — p. 7-16)

Was Israel testing new weapons on the civilian population?

According to an international doctor working at a Gaza hospital, interviewed by the commission, “It was striking the number of extremely similar injuries; massive open wounds in the legs, with skin and muscles ‘blown out’, bones smashed to pieces, and damage to blood vessels leading to vascular injury, putting the entire limb at risk.”

COGAT holds the power of life and death – no surprise here!

In early April, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories denied exit permits for wounded demonstrators, primarily on the basis of the policy of the Minister of Defense to deny passage to any person injured during the demonstrations.  Although the Supreme Court of Israel subsequently rejected the above-mentioned blanket policy, those injured in the demonstrations continued to face significant challenges in obtaining medical treatment outside Gaza, as illustrated by the case below:

 Zakaria Bishbish (14)
On 30 May, Israeli security forces shot Zakaria, from the Maghazi refugee camp, in the back at the demonstration site in El Bureij, while he was at least 100 m from the separation fence. The gunshot perforated Zakaria’s stomach and colon, splintered his vertebrae and damaged his kidney. His family sought a two-week exit permit to seek life-saving treatment at Saint Joseph Hospital in East Jerusalem, which had arranged a medical appointment for 4 June. The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, however, denied the request, giving no reasons. His family then attempted to secure appointments for him in Egypt and the West Bank; the Coordinator did not respond to their requests. On 18 June, Zakaria died
of sepsis.

Will the State of Israel and/or any individuals involved in these killings be held accountable?

2 Comments

Filed under Gaza, IDF, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, nonviolent resistance, Peaceful, People, Uncategorized, United Nations, Video