Category Archives: Egypt

My First Ramadan

Ramadan is the most holiest of holy times for Muslims because it’s the time that the angel Gabriel gave the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad.  It’s one of the Five Pillars of Islam.  Devout Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset every day during the month of Ramadan. (I knew this from earlier visits to the Middle East.)

This year, Ramadan began May 6th when I found myself in Cairo preparing to join a medical convoy to Gaza, and was scheduled to end June 4th (or maybe June 5th depending on the country). Most of my Egyptian family at Pension Roma, my home when I’m in Egypt, are Muslim. They were looking forward to Ramadan.

On the spur of the moment, without much thought or preparation, I decided to join them in their daily fasting. Of course, fasting is only one part of Ramadan; reading the Quran and praying every day is also very important to Muslims during this time. I didn’t plan to read or pray.

ramadan lanterns

So why did I fast?

  • To respect my friends. It felt disrespectful to eat or drink when they couldn’t.
  • To experience the feeling of emptiness and fasting for myself.
  • To challenge myself. Could I abstain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset for an entire month? (I like challenges.)

What did I learn?

  • For a newbie, fasting is not easy, especially during the first week or two. I experienced headaches, fatigue and very low energy at the beginning. Instead of working on a writing project every afternoon, I napped.
  • Surprisingly, the empty feeling in my stomach felt good. By nature, I’m not a foodie who looks forward to cooking or eating. It’s just another bodily function which I must attend to in order to keep my body healthy. My doctor routinely chides me for my bad diet. During Ramadan, I had a good reason for not eating.
  • Giving up water in the hot Mediterranean climate is something else. I found it very difficult not to drink water when I was thirsty. By mid-afternoon, my mouth and throat felt like cotton. Yech!
  • Appreciating how my internal clock could adjust to the early morning (3 AM) knock on my door to join Yousef and the rest of my Egyptian family for a meal before sunrise. I’ll remember that time together with a special fondness.
  • The best part of Ramadan for me was sharing the pre-dawn meal and later breaking the fast with the Iftar meal at sunset with friends and community.

Iftar gathering in downtown Cairo 2

Every afternoon just before sunset, I walked the streets in my Cairo neighborhood and watched people preparing for their Iftar meal. The fast-food guys rushed by on their scooters delivering orders to shopkeepers. Many people took seats on the sidewalk, patiently waiting for the signal from the Mosque that the official time of sunset had arrived and people could eat.

In a restaurant where I frequently ate, everyone was seated and chatting well before the appointed hour. Suddenly, the entire place would fall silent as everyone started eating in unison. Food takes on a new meaning when you’ve been fasting the entire day.  The Iftar ritual always began the same way — eating a date or two, and drinking water and juice (mango or date juice). Delicious!

Breaking the fast with friends (new and old) reminded me how lucky we are to have the gift of food, and also that millions of children and families around the world are starving because of war and ungodly sanctions that prevent food delivery.  [How can Saudi Arabia hold itself up as a good Muslim country when its actions are directly causing so much death, destruction and starvation to millions of Muslims in Yemen? If I was a practicing Muslim, I would boycott Hajj and Umrah in Mecca until the monarchy in Saudi Arabia aligns its actions with the teachings of the Quran.]

I experienced many, many examples of love and kindness during my first Ramadan. The Cairo shopkeeper (the man in the middle) always asked about my bum leg because he noticed I was limping. Each day he told me he would pray for me, and he encouraged me to pray as well. Then there was the date seller from Aswan (right photo) who introduced me to the most delicious dates I’ve ever tasted. He waved to catch my attention each time I passed, even if I was on the other side of the busy street.

I had the wonderful opportunity to reconnect with very good friends from Gaza now living in the United Arab Emirates, so I decided to spend the last two weeks of Ramadan in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.  

On my arrival we headed straight to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi because the sunset was nearly upon us.  The Mosque prepares Iftar meals for 30,000 people every day during Ramadan. The Mosque and its beautiful surroundings were only surpassed by the superb organizational efforts to provide a feast on such a grand scale. I was speechless.  

Iftar in Abu Dhabi 3

Another day we drove out to the sand dunes where we watched the sun slowly sink in the west and ate our Iftar meal on a blanket under the stars.  Despite the alarm I felt driving out in the middle of nowhere without another soul in sight and no markings or signs anywhere, the serenity and peaceful surroundings was a heavenly experience beyond anything I’ve known in my 65 years.

Iftar in the Sand DunesEid al-Fitr marks the end of the month of Ramadan. It feels like every joyous holiday in the world wrapped up into a single day. We woke before dawn and went over to the small neighborhood mosque in Sharjah where everyone was gathering to say their morning prayers. I stood back and watched.

Eid al-Fitr in Sharjah women praying

Children in their new clothes reminded me of the excitement and anticipation I experienced every Christmas morning as a child. I learned about the Eid tradition in many families of giving their children a little money to spend on sweets and toys. [And I was reminded that many children in Gaza are going without even this little pleasure because life in Gaza is practically unlivable.]

Fasting this Ramadan gave me time to meditate and think. For me, Ramadan is about sharing love with each other and there’s an abundance of love to go around (more than enough for every man, woman and child on this Planet).

Love is love, whether a Muslim, Jew or Christian shares it.  Our world needs much more of it but there are so many examples of people withholding love for the “other”. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Allah – Yahweh – God never intended for any of us to be miserly with our love.

I felt well-loved and cared for during Ramadan. I will always remember my blessings.

 

 

 

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Filed under Egypt, Peaceful, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized

Deflated but not defeated

I learned Wednesday evening that the Egyptian authorities have not approved my travel with the medical convoy to Gaza tomorrow. No reason given.

When I heard the news about 12 hours before our expected departure, I felt like a deflated balloon.  All the air and energy left me and I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I asked the convoy organizer if the other member of the VPM delegation (Viva Palestinia Malaysia) with whom I’m traveling was approved.

He was. That was good news.

And I knew my 375 cans of PediaSure, the bag of books for the library in Gaza, and the bag of vitamins for a sick doctor, would all make it to Gaza without me. InshaAllah.

PediaSure going to Gaza

But I was angry, depressed, and wanted to engage in combat with someone, anyone, everyone!

I returned to my room and the first post I saw on Facebook was by Stephen Zunes.  He wrote:

Hanan Ashrawi is a Quaker-educated Palestinian Christian who holds a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Virginia. She served as the Palestine Authority’s minister of education and is the founder of MIFTA, a Palestinian NGO working to build a democratic society, and the Independent Commission for Human Rights. An anti-corruption and human rights campaigner and a feminist, she has long advocated for nonviolence and a two-state solution. She was scheduled to give a talk at the University of Massachusetts this week, but the U.S. government denied her a visa.”

This news puts my disappointment into perspective.

Then I read Vanunu Mordechai‘s post. He’s the Israeli whistleblower who many years ago leaked to the world that Israel has nuclear weapons, a fact that Israel still refuses to acknowledge to this day.  Since 1986, Mordechai has been under constant surveillance by the Israeli government, and under a court order not to leave Israel nor speak with any foreigners who visit Israel. His legal team is still trying to get his forced internal exile reversed.

And then I read that Israel turned down all 181 applications of Palestinians invited by the organizers of a joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony in Tel Aviv this week. “Sources told Haaretz that the order banning the Palestinians came from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also serves as defense minister. Netanyahu’s bureau declined to comment.”

This morning the convoy left Cairo bright and early. They are making very good progress today, crossing the Suez Canal and heading to Al-Arish.  I wish them safe travels and many rewarding encounters when they arrive in Gaza.

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Filed under Egypt, Gaza, Peaceful, People, Uncategorized

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!

 

 

 

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Iftar in Baltimore

I will never forget walking down that Cairo street one very hot day in August 2011 and passing a cool alleyway with long tables and benches set up in preparation for Iftar.

Ramadan in Cairo

I turned and snapped a picture quickly, a bit embarrassed because I wasn’t really sure whether it was appropriate or not.  I walked back after sundown and saw the benches full of men and boys eating their Iftar meal to break their daily fast during Ramadan.

Street scene during Ramadan

Cairo was absolutely electric in 2011, just months after Mubarak had been ousted.

There was a lot of excitement and hope in the air. Even a non-Arabic speaker like me could feel it and understand.

So today when I think of Ramadan, as a non-Muslim, I think of hope. Ramadan and hope go together.

ramadan lanterns

Despite the hardships and tremendous daily challenges in Gaza, Ramadan is a very special time for many.

The Gaza Strip has been under an illegal blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt for a decade, and unemployment and poverty levels are at record highs. Nearly one million of the 1.3 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza are relying on UNRWA food assistance to meet their basic daily needs.

I’m joining others around the U.S. to show solidarity with my friends in Gaza, and to raise funds to help assist food insecure families in the Gaza Strip.  With $140 UNRWA-USA can provide enough staples to assist a family for 3 months. My goal is to help ten families or $1,400. 

Unfortunately, my Iftar plans in the Baltimore Inner Harbor have changed due to a family crisis that requires my travel out of Maryland.

I’m hoping friends and “friends of friends” will contribute to my fundraising UNRWA-USA page here because the crisis in Gaza is real and deadly serious. Please read Sara Roy’s description of Gaza from her recent trip a few weeks ago here.

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Lora with orphans in Gaza in 2012.

كل عام وأنت بخير

رمضان كريم

 

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Filed under Egypt, Gaza, Peaceful, Spiritual - Religion

Having a meltdown!

I’m sitting in Cairo in the midst of a meltdown. Yes! It’s damn hot and humid, but the bigger issue seems to be the political meltdown at home in the USA, across the Mediterranean in Turkey and Greece, and on the other side of the planet in Venezuela.

The whole world seems to be falling apart; instability is wrecking the lives of millions.

Maybe the heat is effecting my brain and I can’t think straight. Things used to be so much simpler, so much clearer, so black and white.

Now I really don’t know what to make of it all.

  • The U.S. election in November appears to be shaping up as a contest between an egomaniac, fascist, misogynist dolt on the one hand, and a smart cookie beholden to the corporatocracy and Wall Street interests (aka the 1%), and the military industrial complex that has brought ruin to every corner of the planet. What appears clear is that voters in the U.S. have been shoehorned into making a decision in November which won’t turn this ship of state around. No real democracy there.
  • The failed coup attempt in Turkey this week has generated so many conspiracy theories that my head is spinning. Did Erdogan stage the coup? Did the US/Israel/Saudi have a hand in fomenting the coup? Did a Muslim cleric residing in the U.S. orchestrate the coup? Or did the military simply say “enough is enough” and take things into their own hands, albeit rather clumsily? Social media is abuzz with innuendo supporting all of the above. What appears clear is Erdogan is now taking advantage of the failed coup to round up (execute?) thousands of his opponents. No real democracy there.
  • Venezuelans are running to the border with Colombia to buy food!  No food or medicines on the shelves in Caracas, no money in the state treasury, oil prices plummeting. It appears clear that the bus driver turned President Maduro has no support and no options for turning his failed state around. No real democracy there.
  • The refugees I met in Greece are stuck in limbo, a world not of their making or desire, but trapped nevertheless because life in a wretched camp is preferable over death at home. What appears clear is that their future depends on the generosity and empathy of nations willing to accept the refugees, but now the borders seem to be closing. No democracy there.
  • Egypt. Well all of my notions about democracy flew out the window in July 2013 when the military coup ousted President Morsi. Some Egyptians try to justify the coup by pointing to Morsi’s mistakes. No doubt, he made many, but in a true democracy, the voters can oust the fools from office at the ballotbox, not with guns on the streets. What appears clear is that thousands of Egyptians are “disappearing” into the prisons and cemeteries while the streets remain calm. No democracy there.
  • The hopes and dreams == the very lives == of many friends in Gaza are being squeezed out of them, day after day, by the deliberate actions of Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the U.S.  A friend in Gaza told me “I want a new world, a new life.” I’m ashamed of my country. I’m ashamed of the apparent Democratic nominee for President and her “democratic values”, and I’m ashamed of our complicity in all of these wretched meltdowns. What appears clear is democracy is a term of art with no substance.

WeAreOne-Med

Democracy has about as much meaning as the term “terrorist” — overused to the point of nonsense. Truly Orwellian.

FUCK Democracy!  The experiment failed. Time to admit it and create something new. Seriously!

 

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Filed under Egypt, Gaza, Israel, Politics, Uncategorized, US Policy

Knowledge is power!

Following in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, I traveled from Greece to Egypt this month (July 2016) and visited the magnificent library in Alexandria, the city which he founded.  More than 2300 years ago, the ancient library on this site was the world’s largest repository of ancient knowledge. By 400 A.D. the library had vanished. The new library opened in 2002.

The idea of a universal library, like that of Alexandria, arose only after the Greek mind had begun to envisage and encompass a larger worldview. The Greeks were impressed by the achievements of their neighbours, and many Greek intellectuals sought to explore the resources of “Oriental” knowledge.

The cruise ships have stopped coming to Alexandria, citing concerns about violence, and so I suspect that this port city is suffering under the same economic woes as Cairo and the Red Sea resorts from the lack of tourism. There were many Egyptians visiting the library on the day I was there, but I saw only a handful of foreigners.

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Egyptians taking their selfies in front of the Library of Alexandria

Knowledge is power; making knowledge univerally accessible to anyone with a computer is a powerful act of generosity and love.

I learned from our tour guide that the Library of Alexandria is part of the World Digital Library started by the US Library of Congress. The library has a very active project to digitize resources from many countries, and our guide asked us which country we would like to search in the library’s database as an example. I said “Palestine.” She smiled and typed in Palestine, and up came the list of books and manuscripts that have been digitized to date.

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Permanent art exhibits at the Library of Alexandria

Libraries and librarians have always been special in my heart, and that might explain why I think the CPDS Library in Gaza is so extraordinarily important. Israel can stop the flow of people, concrete and sugar, but it can’t stop the flow of information. Israel’s 20th century strategies — occupation, siege, blockade and humiliation — will backfire in the 21st century.  Now anyone in Gaza connected to the Internet will be able to access:

The Digital Assets Repository, the Wellcome Arabic Manuscripts Online, the Institut du Monde Arabe Book Collection, the Digital Library of Inscriptions and Calligraphies, the President Mohamed Naguib Digital Archives, the President Gamal Abdel Nasser Digital Archives, the Science Supercourse Project, the Encyclopedia of Life, the Universal Networking Language Project (my favorite), and much more.

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World’s largest public reading room.

I can imagine space aliens from the future uncovering this library in Alexandria one day, very much as we’ve uncovered the archaeological treasures from the past, and thinking “a society that valued books and knowledge must have been very enlightened.”

Unfortunately, Israel’s occupation and siege of the Gaza Strip prove otherwise. An enlightened society does not treat Palestinians as inhumanely as Israel does. Israel is building a legacy of a very different sort.

I bought a postcard at the library’s gift store, addressed it to the orphanage in Gaza, and then stepped outside into the blazing heat of the afternoon sun to mail it. Maybe Israel will allow my postcard to enter Gaza, maybe not, but that won’t stop the Postcard Brigade.

 

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Egyptian postal service doesn’t serve Palestine

“We don’t have any service to Gaza or Ramallah,” two different government clerks told me today at the main post office in Cairo. “Remove Palestine from the mailing label and replace it with Israel.”

Egyptian policy has changed since the first time I mailed a box from Cairo to Gaza in 2011.

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Walking to the main post office in Cairo

As the crow flies, Gaza is only 346.29 km (215.17 miles) from Cairo, but they are the longest miles I’ve ever traveled. I haven’t succeeded in crossing that distance in the past six months I’ve been in the Middle East.

Politics.  Just stupid politics, and the Israeli-Egyptian-U.S. blockade of Gaza.

In 2011, I sent a similar box of books and small gifts to Gaza from the very same post office a few blocks from my hotel in Cairo. I couldn’t have managed that transaction without the capable assistance of Eid who navigated us from one part of the complex to another, up staircases, through noisy lines, and finally to the clerk who dutifully inspected everything in the box and then processed the delivery instructions to Gaza, Palestine.  No questions asked.

Five years later, Eid helped me again.  In 2016, the first postal clerk told us that there are no post offices in Gaza. No postal service in either direction — from Cairo to Gaza or from Gaza to Cairo, he said.

We walked across the street to another office within the same complex.

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A section of the Main Post Office in Cairo

The second clerk we spoke with was sitting beneath a sign that read “Customs Office” in English and Arabic.  He looked inside the box, asked if there was any medicine inside, seemed satisfied with the contents, and directed us to tape up the box. Al-hamdulillah! We were making progress.

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Taping up the box following inspection

Then we proceeded to another line and waited to complete the shipment with the third clerk. He looked at the label, saw “Gaza, Palestine” and directed us to cross out Palestine, and insert Israel. Eid and the clerk exchanged a few words, but it didn’t seem that the clerk would budge.

Eid asked me if I had a pen.  “None of my pens will erase Palestine,” I told him.  He replied, “We’re not going to be able to send the box unless we write Israel.”

So we left and Eid was kind enough to carry the box back to the hotel. Maybe there’s another way to skin this cat.

Shame on Egypt for collaborating with Israel on this economic, social and political siege of Gaza.  Shame on you President El-Sisi.

El Sisi

President El-Sisi

March 20, 2016 UPDATE

I returned to the main post office in Cairo today with a smaller package addressed to my friend in Jericho, Palestine.  I capitulated and wrote “Israel” on the label.  The address was written in Arabic on one side and in English on the other.  Small, innocuous, and clearly labelled. There should have been no problems.

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Inside the main post office in downtown Cairo

Again, the postal clerk told me he would not accept my package for Jericho. He spoke good English and I showed him where I printed “Israel” on the label, but he said there is no service to Palestine. Instead, the package would go to Tel Aviv and sit there for 3 weeks, he thought, and then the Israeli officials would return the package to Egypt. I asked him how I could send anything to friends in Palestine and he just shrugged and threw up his arms. My gut told me he was as frustrated with the stupid politics as I was —- and that he wished he could have helped me.

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Lora in front of the main post office in Cairo on March 20, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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#GoingtoGaza – June 2015

Keeping a daily journal of my efforts to return to Gaza helps me retrace my steps. This pilgrimage certainly isn’t easy and my gut tells me the path is just as important as the destination.  For previous months, check out my blog posts: September 2014, October 2014, November 2014, December 2014, January 2015, February 2015, March 2015, April 2015 and May 2015.  What follows are entries for the month of June 2015.

Day #273 – Communicating about hot button issues (religion, politics, Israel-Palestine) is so challenging.  Rethinking my whole approach (especially after reading “The Righteous Mind” by Haidt). Going to write a book review today. Take away message—-we try to convince the “other” person with our rational arguments but the “other” person can’t hear or appreciate rational arguments when his/her opinions originate from intuition. Likewise, our opinions very likely originate from intuition, followed by strategic reasoning. Haidt says that conservatives understand this, but liberals typically don’t. #GoingtoGaza

Ballot-Box

Day #274 – Thinking electoral politics is for the birds!

Fact No. 1 – Palestinians haven’t had an election in 9 years and the old farts in office don’t seem eager to hold another.

Fact No. 2 – Israeli P.M. Netanyahu wins his election by warning Israelis that the “Arabs are coming to the polls in droves” thus proving Israel is a racist state.

Fact No. 3 – Millions of Palestinians living under occupation can’t vote in Israeli elections despite the fact that Israel has so much control over their lives.

Fact No. 4 – Elections in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County, NM, USA run like clockwork but the elected officeholders prove like clockwork that they are corruptible or corrupted.

Fact No. 5 – My generation has screwed things up so royally that future generations will feel the full blunt force trauma of our actions, despite having no voice and no voting power.

I agree with Tracy Chapman — We’re Talking About a Revolution. #GoingtoGaza

Day #275 – News from Gaza. Some militants in Gaza fired something (rockets?) into southern Israel today. No fatalities or damage reported. ISIS claimed responsibility. Hamas has been battling ISIS operatives in Gaza. Tonight Israel’s jets scrambled; lots of noise and several air strikes were reported. No fatalities. I’m thinking of the young children who survived last summer’s assault on Gaza that lasted 51 days. While Bruce Jenner commands too many soundbites and photo spreads documenting his “freedom to be himself/herself” — these Palestinian children have no freedoms and can’t just be innocent kids. What a screwed up universe. #GoingtoGaza

Day #274 – Watching “activists” on FB and Twitter, I’m struck with our ineffectual communication skills. (I include myself.)

1) Some activists refuse to have an exchange with anyone who disagrees with them. “Unfriend” option is so childish.

2) Some activists prefer to lecture or “educate” but are clueless about what others think.

3) Some activists really believe that meaningful change can occur via social media alone, and it sounds like they are stuck on their divans.

Here’s a book I hope activists will pick up. If we want to change the status quo, which I presume we all do, we have to understand the other side. The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt (2012)  #GoingtoGaza

Day #275 – On this day in 1967, Israel launched an attack against Egypt, known today as the Six Day War but to the Palestinians as the Naksah. I wonder how many of my American friends know about the attack on the USS Liberty on June 8, 1967. #GoingtoGaza

Day #276 – Here is a good account of the difficulties traveling across the Rafah Border from Egypt to Gaza, written in 3 parts. Part 1  –  Part 2  –  Part 3  Very discouraging!  #GoingtoGaza

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Days #277 – 278 – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Zivotofsky family and said they will not get “Israel” marked as the place of birth on their son’s passport. Kennedy’s opinion said that the President has the sole responsibility for recognizing a sovereign nation. Time for Obama to recognize the State of Palestine. #GoingtoGaza

Day #279 – “Confirmation bias” … a new phrase that a psychologist-friend recently taught me. Confirmation bias is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions. I clearly see it among pro-Israeli activists, pro-Palestinian activists, and with greater scrutiny, I can now see it with myself. We want to find the “facts” to support our world view, and we disregard facts that may negate our world view.  This is very interesting stuff….   #GoingtoGaza

Day #280 – Feeling very pleased that over 600 letters have been sent to members of Congress asking them to invite former President Carter to speak about his recent visit to Israel & Palestine.  I’m planning to visit Capitol Hill with these signatures once we reach 1000+ letters.  Check out the petition here. Add your signature!  #GoingtoGaza

Carter in DC

Day #281 – Netanyahu and his cabinet are doing everyone a favor by using blunt and vulgar language concerning their real intentions towards the Palestinians. Nothing new, of course, except that they aren’t pretending to hide behind a veneer of reasonableness any longer. Obama is going to find it increasingly difficult to side with the Israelis or pretend to be a peace broker. #GoingtoGaza

Day #282 – Palestinians in Gaza may be blockaded and under Israel’s lethal siege, but they are CONNECTED to the world.  Case in point. Today the U.S. House of Representatives voted on the “Fast Track” bill which many Americans opposed. I waited for news about the vote. I sat in Baltimore about an hour from the Capitol listening to public radio and watching news sites for the results. Finally, my friend in Gaza half way around the world posted a message on Facebook with the good news! The Fast Track bill was defeated! Thank you Internet. Thank you social media! Thank you friends!

Day #283 – As much as I want to return to Gaza, this weekend I’m praying that my young friend in Gaza will exit the Rafah gates when they open for 3 days. He was accepted abroad to pursue graduate studies but Israel has treated him like a prisoner all of his life in Gaza. May Allah protect him in his travels! #GoingtoGaza

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Day #284 – Al-hamdulillah! My young friend made it out of Gaza through the Rafah border crossing. He said there were many military checkpoints through the Sinai, and the place looked like a military zone with all of the tanks, etc. But his bus made it to the Cairo Airport. Now I’m saying prayers that he makes it on to a plane. I can’t imagine what his family back home must be feeling. #GoingtoGaza

Day #285 – Lots happening this week. Yesterday Israel released its 250-page report about its investigation of Operation Protective Edge last summer … as a preemptive move against the pending release of the UN Human Rights Council investigative report. This week marks the 8th anniversary of Israel’s siege on Gaza. Ramadan begins Sundown on Wednesday, I think. Denny Cormier and my young Palestinian friend both left Gaza. #GoingtoGaza

Day #286 – What is the difference between me wearing my “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt and Rachel Dolezal changing her hair, eye color and skin pigment to look like she is African American? Answer: I’m not trying to be someone I’m not. I’m standing in solidarity with African Americans. I’m acknowledging the injustices. But I’m not pretending to step into their shoes and understand their life experience, their reality, their oppression. Same goes for the Palestinians. I won’t pretend to stand in their shoes, but I wonder if some zealous activists have tried to cross that line. #GoingtoGaza

Day #287 – First day of Ramadan. I de-activated my Facebook page. Started listening to the audiobook The Haj by Leon Uris. #GoingtoGaza

Days #288-289 – Going cold turkey from Facebook might not be as hard as I thought.  I’m checking Twitter more often and don’t really miss the FB clutter. Today I submitted application for UN Human Rights Officer in Gaza.  I really, really, really hope I’m selected. #GoingtoGaza

Day #290 – The closer one is to realizing his Personal Legend, the more the Personal Legend becomes his true reason for being. There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: fear of failure. The Alchemist #GoingtoGaza

Day #291 – Felt very good today to talk with Basya and, later, Jeremy.  Connecting with family is the glue that keeps us all together! #GoingtoGaza

Day #292 – Spent the day reading the UN Human Rights Investigation into the war in Gaza last summer. Utterly devastating to read. I can’t begin to imagine what it must have felt to live through it. #GoingtoGaza

Days #293-294 – Taking a month off of Facebook is a good thing. But I may have substituted one addiction for another. Now I find myself checking Twitter every few minutes. Uh-oh! Finished reading the UN’s report on the Gaza 2014 war. Devastating words! #GoingtoGaza

Days #295 – 298 – Disconnected from Facebook is a really good thing.  But it also feels good when friends from Gaza and NM reach out to me to find out if I’m OK because they’re worried that I’m not on FB.  #GoingtoGaza

 

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Filed under Book Review, Egypt, Gaza, Israel, Peaceful, People, Politics, Uncategorized, Video

#GoingtoGaza – March 2015

My previous posts in this series are Sept. 2014, Oct. 2014, Nov. 2014, Dec. 2014, Jan. 2015, and Feb. 2015.

Day #181 – Karen Armstrong writes that war is a psychosis caused by the inability to see relationships. Seems to me that Israel is trying its best to keep its citizens blind to what’s going on the occupied Palestinian Territories. Building a separation wall. Forbidding Israeli citizens from visiting the oPT.  Deleting the history of the Palestinians from Israeli textbooks. Is it official Zionist policy to nurture this psychosis?

#GoingtoGaza

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Karen Armstrong

Day #182 – Never before have I had any interest in Israeli elections. That’s changed. With the election about 3 weeks off, I’m pleased to see that Netanyahu’s polling numbers are dropping. A 4th term would be appalling. Netanyahu prides himself as the guardian of Israel’s security. He needs another assault on Gaza to help his polling.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #183 – Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu disagrees with Obama’s negotiations with Iran. So Netanyahu will try to persuade Congress tomorrow. So imagine President Obama stopping by the Knesset tomorrow and sharing his two cents about the illegal settlements.  No disrespect intended.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #184 – Watched Netanyahu’s campaign speech to Congress this morning. My thoughts:

1) too bad members of Congress can’t vote in Israel – I lost count of the # of standing ovations.

2) Bibi must think Obama, Kerry, and most Americans are stupid. He recycled his previous scare threats from 2002 onward about the evil monsters devouring Israel. Looked like members of Congress proved Bibi right — they ARE gullible.

3) The lightbulb turned on for me when Bibi mentioned Moses and other religious passages. We have 2 leaders in the Middle East threatening an apocalyptic vision.  One has nukes and the other has global recruits. #Bibi #Isis

4) Pleased to see that the Editors of The New York Times and The Washington Post and others have panned Bibi’s speech.

#GoingtoGaza

Benjamin_Netanyahu_portrait

Day #185 – Watching members of Congress yesterday genuflect . . . er give standing ovations . . . to the Israeli Emperor . . . er Prime Minister, I was struck with how WHITE, MALE, and OLD our leaders in DC are. They were fawning all over the old, white, male lecturing them from the podium. Heaven help us!

#GoingtoGaza

Day #186 – After reviewing these graphs and charts about exports/imports and the movement of people and goods into / out of Gaza, how can the Editors at The New York Times claim with a straight face that “Israel doesn’t occupy Gaza”? If they are that myopic about Israel/Palestine, in what other ways is the NYT warping reality for its readers?

#GoingtoGaza

Day #187 – Thinking about the women in my life and that I’m a very lucky gal.  So many have had such a profound impact on the path I’ve journeyed. Especially thinking about Kay who turns 80 next week. She came into my life about 30 years ago and opened the entire spiritual universe to me through Beyond War. The key that unlocked the door.

Thinking about Luria who died in December. She came into my life about 20 years ago and shared with me her gift of listening without judgment, the first time I’ve experienced that. I hope I can model that with my friends and family. Thinking about Pam. She came into my life last year. She has shown me how the spark of an idea coupled with a ton of good will can make a big difference.  I’m looking forward to learning more from Pam.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #188 – News posted today that the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza will be open for two days in both directions. And an American friend reported that the Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza is now open, at least for people trying to exit Gaza. Are things improving?

#GoingtoGaza

IsraelMidEastPrint

Middle East

Day #189 – Feeling the weight and burden of all of the mistakes I’ve made and — having reached 61 years — there are many, many mistakes to remember. I wonder if the State of Israel was a sentient being, would she be feeling the burden of her mistakes? 66 years old — she has made many. She acts like a teenager telling the world she knows everything and refuses to listen to anyone. Hopefully, I’m a bit wiser and have learned from my mistakes.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #190 – I really, really, REALLY want to meet Raja Shehadeh from Ramallah. Palestinian Walks – Notes on a Vanishing Landscape | لماذا غزة؟ Why Gaza?

#GoingtoGaza

Palestinian Walks

Day #191 – A felony, charge these 47 Senators with treason.  We clearly have at least 47 members of Congress who are aligning themselves with the extremists in both Iran and Israel — they are threatening the security of the U.S. Their letter to Iran is a violation of the Logan Act. How should Obama respond?

1) ignore them and hope that the public’s condemnation will bring them to their senses.

2) publicly rebuke them and hope that is enough to bring them to their senses.

3) direct Attorney General Holder to investigate and bring charges if he deems appropriate.

I’ve never been so embarrassed to be an American.

#GoingtoGaza   #GettingthefuckoutoftheUSA

Day #192 – A friend shared a thought-provoking article that points out the danger that many social activists on the left succumb to – a sense of self-righteousness! I’m going to keep it and mull over it because there are valuable tidbits to digest.

I’ve been surprised and shocked by the attitude of some activists working on peace & justice issues in the Middle East. Never thought of it in terms of “self-righteousness” but it fits. Now I’m worried if I exhibit some of the same behavior and attitudes.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #193 – There are international travelers getting across the Rafah border into Gaza. I wish I knew how they did it. I can’t think of another international border that is as difficult to cross. The border between Mongolia & China requires the train car be lifted by a crane and different gauge wheels be installed. But the government bureaucracy is a piece of cake compared to the two crossings into Gaza.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #194 – #AskHamas is Hamas’ attempt to use social media to answer questions from the civilized world. Uncivil Zionists are spewing venom and hatred on Twitter, exposing their deep ignorance about Hamas, Palestinians and the Occupation. People don’t realize the power their own words have in creating their reality.  I feel great pity and sadness for those Zionists.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #195 – Walked only 4 miles today. Planned to walk 8 miles but forgot to bring water and it was a hot 82 F. Also need to remember to wear sunglasses because the sun is bright. Maybe tomorrow.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #196 — About to board a plane. Leaving California with mixed feelings. The last 18 months have been some of the hardest, yet most fulfilling. I couldn’t have done it without the lessons I learned in Gaza. #Samud thank you!

#GoingtoGaza

Day #197 – I’m a Pilgrim in my hometown and it feels a bit strange. Good friends have taken me in and I accomplished some important tasks today. Felt very honored when one friend asked me if I was interested in putting my name in the hat to fill the vacancy left by Senator Griego’s resignation. The only vacancy I’m interested in filling is the one in my heart left when I departed Gaza in May 2013.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #198 – Election Day in Israel and I’m watching it closely this year. The exit polls say it’s very close. Commentators on public radio say it may be weeks before we know who the next Prime Minister is. But Netanyahu has already declared victory. Just like his delusional rants about the Hamas “terrorists” … he believes if he says it often enough, it will be the truth. On another note, a Hamas official has provided answers to questions about the #AskHamas Twitter campaign that Hamas launched 5 days ago.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #199 – Netanyahu has won either by the skin of his teeth or by fraud. Was anyone monitoring this election?

1) Bibi drove the nail in the coffin of the two-state solution

2) A single, bi-national state is the future for the Holy Land.

3) The only question remains: by violence or peaceful means? Given Bibi’s leadership—I predict the former.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #199 (again) – Couldn’t sleep last night because my mind won’t turn away from the Israeli elections. WAR CRIMES and WAR CRIMINALS get elected.  The institutions that I once had faith in bringing peace & justice to the Middle East (UN, ICC, EU, U.S. Congress) are incapable or uninterested.

#GoingtoGaza

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Day #200 – I must be back-tracking just like Netanyahu. The day before the election he said unequivocally that there will be no State of Palestine while he is Prime Minister. Two days after his election, he says he still supports the 2-state solution.

Likewise, before the election, I said it would be unbelievably horrible if Netanyahu won reelection. Two days after the election, I’m convinced his re-election was the best thing that could have happened for the prospects of long-term peace & justice in the region. Netanyahu has been unmasked. Alhamdulillah!

#GoingtoGaza

Day #201 – A good Arab-American friend and I were talking this morning about the Israeli election. Although she is very curious about my travel to Gaza and learning more about the occupation and the plight of the Palestinians, she admits she is not particularly political. But she says she now feels it’s time to go into the streets and protest. Bibi’s racist comment about “those Arabs coming by droves to vote” was the RED LINE for my friend.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #202 – Is there a “right” way and a “wrong” way to open one’s heart and mind to the injustices in Palestine? Are some pro-Palestine activists more worthy than others?  I’ve observed Palestinians condemning international activists. I’ve heard American activists criticizing their fellow activists and newbies. Seems to me, we need to treat each other the way we wish to be treated, and recognize that everyone has compassion in their hearts even if we don’t see eye-to-eye with them.

#Respect #GoingtoGaza

Day #203 – Friends today suggested I take a job teaching in Cairo so that I could be closer to lobby the Egyptian authorities for permission to enter Gaza. They also suggested I try to join an NGO like Doctors Without Borders who might be traveling to Gaza. Have you ever heard of anywhere else on the planet where visitors had to make such convoluted plans just to enter?

#GoingtoGaza

Day #204 – Smoking was considered acceptable in public at one time not so long ago. I recall sitting in the back row of an airplane with 3 middle seats for me and my two young children. On either side of us were men smoking! It was perfectly acceptable to smoke on planes and I couldn’t ask them to stop.  Same with Zionism I hope.

Today it is perfectly acceptable for people to proudly announce they are Zionists, and the community accepts it (even applauds them in some circles).  I hope in the not-too-distant future, Zionism will be a stigma and no one will make a public announcement even if they continue to believe such things privately at home.

#GoingtoGaza

sumud_logo_summer_2010

Days #205-206: As a wandering nomad / pilgrim, my friends and family may find it challenging to keep track of me. We want to tie people to a place — and that is one reason “place” is so important.  Today, Bernalillo County Commissioners will consider a proposal which I believe will irretrievably ruin this place in central New Mexico.  I hope they deny Santolina Master Plan.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #207 – Feeling very frustrated. ABQ-Bernalillo County screwed up and commingled “planning” and “zoning” many years ago. We’re all paying the price today. This #Santolina master planning process is so screwed up. And those who should know better (the public planners) are clueless because they grew up with this dysfunctional system. Years ago, I tried to educate key players. Now, I just want to throw up my hands.

Thankful I’m #GoingtoGaza

Day #208 – The colonoscopy went well. Same doctor who performed it 10 years ago was my doc today. He told me he’s grown older. I told him I have too. Lolol Glad I’m in good health for my pilgrimage to Gaza.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #209 – Sometimes I feel sorry for myself when I tell people how difficult it is to get into Gaza. Then I think about Palestinians in Gaza who have been unable to leave, and I feel ashamed for my own troubles.  Middle East Children’s Alliance is arranging a U.S. speaking tour for Dr. Mona, including Albuquerque and Santa Fe, but she may not be allowed to leave Gaza. This situation is so diabolical. I want to scream.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #210 – I must be very, very careful (and probably a lot more circumspect) about jumping to conclusions when I read the “news” from Palestine/Israel.

Case in point: several different sources are reporting that an aide to President Abbas announced that Arab countries should attack Gaza. The “aide to Abbas” is a Muslim cleric using his bully pulpit to rouse antipathy towards Hamas. Yikes!

When I was in Gaza (2012-2013) I remember hearing about the political sermons coming from the Mosques every Friday. Since nearly every male goes to listen to these Friday sermons, I wonder how much influence/power/authority these clerics have over the population.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #211 – When I decided to become a pilgrim months ago, I thought my travels required that I leave behind many of my passions and interests. I realized this week that that’s not true. I don’t have to physically be in ABQ to remain actively engaged in some of the issues I’m concerned about, like the Santolina master plan. It’s much easier to be a pilgrim in the 21st century than it must have been in the 18th or 19th centuries.  Al-hamdulillah!

#GoingtoGaza

Day #212 – I’m hearing reports that a third flotilla will be sailing to Gaza during the first half of 2015.  I wonder if I could join it.

#GoingtoGaza

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

People speak out – “Open Access to Gaza”

I have a meeting scheduled at the U.S. Embassy on Tuesday. Going to hand-deliver my petition and try to speak with Deputy Chief of Mission Goldberger about my request to travel across the Rafah border.

January 12, 2016

Deputy Chief of Mission Thomas Goldberger

Embassy of the United States of America

5 Tawfik Diab Street

Garden City, Cairo

Egypt

Dear DCM Goldberger,

I’m an American citizen, currently in Cairo, attempting to return to Gaza to teach.

As you know, the U.S. Embassy in past years provided a notarized release of liability and responsibility to Americans wishing to travel to Gaza. This year, your office has refused to assist me or even meet with me to discuss this matter.

Your experience on the Israel/Palestine desk at the U.S. State Department in DC as well as your years of service as Deputy Chief of Mission in Tel Aviv would certainly provide me with very valuable insights. Perhaps you could give me some guidance about how to get permission from Israel to cross the Erez Checkpoint into Gaza.

As of Monday, January 11, 2016, 972 people have signed a petition urging the U.S. Embassy not to block Americans from traveling to Gaza.  The comments are very informative about how Americans feel about the 10 year siege on Gaza.  A sample of the 291 comments are reprinted below. http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/Americans-travel-gaza

“Freedom to travel is, or should be, a right of all Americans.”

“Dear Ambassador Beecroft and Deputy Chief Goldberger:

I am a Jewish American who is very concerned about the state of affairs in Gaza and the Middle East generally. While we can never abandon our commitment to the State of Israel, we need to adopt a more even handed policy that will truly promote peace and not just enable extreme elements in Israel if we want to stem the tide of violent Islamists. Citizens like Lora Lucero help to promote good will, inform the American public, and create pressure for a resolution of the Palestinian dispute, which has gone on for far, far too long. Please resume issuing waivers to American citizens like Ms. Lucero who wish to travel to Gaza.”

“Don’t prevent anybody form going in and out from Gaza. Stop the inhumane treatment of Gazans. They are pushing Gaza to more violence and bloodshed.”

“It’s so important to have an international presence in Gaza. Please provide documents for those Americans wanting to travel there.”

“I am appalled that Lora Lucero cannot travel to the Gaza strip BECAUSE, as I understand it, the US Embassy in Cairo refuses to grant the necessary documentation.”

“We as Americans want to be able to cross the borders, to bring aid, and let the world know what the Palestinian plight is about.”

“U.S. citizens should not be blocked by the U.S. OR Israel from traveling to the Palestinian Occupied Territories and Gaza. Our work and witness in extremely important to Palestinians living under occupation.”

“Please assist Lora Lucero and other Americans who want to in going to Gaza and showing that Americans can help those in need. If Americans are to be truly safe and true to our professed values, we need to help make the world a better place instead of approaching everything as a military issue.”

“In November 2012, I traveled to Gaza from Egypt, and I received the written waiver from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Also, the Egyptian Press Office at that time provided press credentials to travel to Gaza, which I also received. It was so important that we (a delegation organised by Code Pink and Free Gaza) were able to witness and to share what we experienced. It is frightening to think that U.S. citizens will be denied the ability to show support and report on the situation in Gaza. The current U.S. policy is an outrage and only serves to further isolate the people of Gaza.”

“Stop supporting the blockade of Gaza Strip. Lora Lucero is a most peaceful person and she and others should be allowed entrance.”

“Palestine/Gaza is occupied territory and is being isolated by Israel. There is no valid excuse for this. Allowing teachers to help out is the least that can be done.”

“Whatever can be done to help support people in Gaza must be done – they are in an open air prison. The world needs witnesses and the US must change its , or the US will be considered a terrorist.”

“I’m ashamed of the US government’s discrimination against Palestinians and the activists who want to help those in need.”

“If an American University teacher teaches in Gaza, this is effective personal Peace work. The US Consulate in Cairo should do everything helping her to finish her job!”

“The consulate’s refusal to provide support to Lora Lucero’s decision to travel to work with the people of Gaza, who are suffering from bombs and other munitions supplied by the U.S. is an unacceptable infringement on her rights as an American and a shocking failure of our government to stand for freedom and compassion.”

“All Israelis should be banned from entering the USA until this illegal siege is ended!”

“Urge you to do all within your power to end Israeli boycott of Gaza — please.”

“Humane and productive policies should define our country. Isolating, blockading, and punishing the people of Gaza is neither. Act like an American and allow volunteers to help with the humanitarian crisis there. It’s truly the least we can do.”

“I’ve been to Gaza — perhaps the most important travel of my life.”

“As an American Jew I find your blocking people from entering Gaza abhorrent. It is reminiscent of Hitler’s behavior toward Jews.”

“Our American passport says: the cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, it is the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.”

“Lora Lucero and many other Americans are doing great humanitarian work by bearing witness to the reality of life in Gaza. Preventing them from travelling looks bad.”

“The U.S. Embassy in Cairo should at the very least meet with American citizens wishing to travel to Gaza, and resume the issuance of waivers to travel there.”

“Give people what they need to enter Gaza!”

“Ridiculous that I have to sign this (PETITION). Shame on you.”

“For how long are you planning to keep this inhuman practice?”

“These people have been collectively punished continuously for over a decade. Unbelievable.”

“It’s so sad that Egypt complies and buckles to Israeli pressure. Please allow those willing to dedicate their time helping humanity to enter Gaza. God bless.”

“By preventing people from going to Gaza, you’re showing the world that you condone all the hardships that the Gazans go through everyday of their lives. As long as some American citizens want to go for humanitarian purposes, I don’t think it’s wise to prevent them.”

“The U.S. Embassy in Cairo is totally neglecting their responsibility to an American citizen.”

“Do let people in to areas they wish to travel. It is their life and choice. If they do not intend any illegal activities toward other human beings, let them be.”

“It is good that persons with big Heart as Lora go to Gaza, it will help people in their “open jail”!

Sincerely,

Lora A. Lucero

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Filed under Egypt, Gaza, People, Politics, Uncategorized, US Policy