Category Archives: Gaza

“Gaza Strip is not occupied,” says Israel’s Supreme Court, as Gaza is thrown into darkness

I just read the Ahmed decision by the Supreme Court of Israel. This case involves a petition filed in 2007 by the Palestinians against the State of Israel regarding the reduction of fuel supplies and electricity to the Gaza Strip.  Recently, the American Friends Service Committee prepared a short description of the problem here.

In 2005, Israel removed its settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip. The Supreme Court concluded that “Israel no longer has effective control over what happens in the Gaza Strip” and so “Israel does not have a general duty to ensure the welfare of the residents of the Gaza Strip or to maintain public order in the Gaza Strip according to the laws of belligerent occupation in international law.”

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Israel, in part because

(1) Israel asserts it is monitoring the fuel supplies and electricity delivery to the Gaza Strip to meet the humanitarian needs of the people in Gaza;

(2) Israel says that the Palestinian officials have the capability to manage the load reduction;

(3) it’s better that the parties negotiate between themselves regarding the issue of fuel delivery and electricity; and

(4) there is a big distinction between the parties — one is fighting in the name of the law (Israel) and the other is fighting against the law (terrorists = Hamas).

Quick Facts • Less than half–only 45 percent—of Gaza’s power needs are now being met. Rolling blackouts leave residents with only six to eight hours of power each day. • Since 2013, the Gaza power plant has operated at less than half capacity. The plant regularly has to shut down, due to fuel shortages caused by Israeli restrictions on importing fuel. • Since 2010, at least 29 people—24 of them children— have died in Gaza from fires or suffocation directly linked to power outages. • Over 70 percent of Gaza households have access to piped water for only six to eight hours once every two to four days, because of the limited power supply.

I find the Ahmed decision troubling for several reasons:

(1) The Supreme Court’s rather cursory conclusion that Israel does not occupy the Gaza Strip. No occupation = no duty under the international laws of belligerent occupation. This conclusion appears to have been reached without arguments proffered by the parties on this very important issue, and almost as a side note to the court’s decision.

(2) The Supreme Court’s characterization of the parties in the case — one is law-abiding and fighting to preserve the law, while the other is a terrorist organization fighting against the law — demonstrates the inherent bias and lack of judicial neutrality that permeates the decision. The Supreme Court also demonstrates its lack of objectivity when it cites with approval Israel’s statement that the Palestinians are capable of managing the load reduction so as not to harm hospitals, etc., while dismissing without discussion the contrary arguments made by the Palestinians.

(3) While the Supreme Court acknowledges that Israel has a responsibility to meet the “essential humanitarian needs of the civilian population” in Gaza, it doesn’t provide any guidance about what constitutes “essential humanitarian needs” and appears to defer to Israel’s assertion that the State recognizes its responsibility and will monitor the delivery of electricity and fuel so as to meet its responsibility. (That must be cold comfort to the civilians sitting in the dark on a cold winter night in Gaza, or to the children who have died in house fires due to the candles.)

(4) The issue of the nexus between Israel’s rationale for reducing the electricity and fuel to Gaza seems to be accepted carte blanche by the Court without any critical examination. Israel says its “decision to limit the supply of fuel and electricity to the Gaza Strip was made in the framework of the State’s operations against the ongoing terrorism.” Doesn’t Israel have a duty to show the Court a nexus —- that the reduction of electricity and fuel has some measurable impact on reducing the terrorism (rockets)? If there is no nexus, then isn’t it fair to say that Israel’s actions, in fact, constitute collective punishment against the civilian population?

• Hospitals provide only limited services because they rely on generators, which produce insufficient and unstable electrical supplies that can damage sensitive equipment. • Up to 90 million liters of untreated sewage are discharged into the Mediterranean Sea each day in part due to electrical and fuel shortages. • Schools often function without electricity, leaving students in the dark, making many educational activities impossible, and negatively affecting students’ learning environments. • Businesses and industry can’t function without reliable electrical supplies, increasing unemployment and further destabilizing the Gaza economy.

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Filed under Gaza, Hamas, Israel, Occupation, Uncategorized, Video

Choosing Violence

Sometimes, the best laid plans get side-tracked when something more pressing comes along. That happened today when a friend shared an article with me from the Boston Review.  Choosing Violence by Oded Na’aman (August 15, 2016). I dropped everything, read it from beginning to end, more than once, and then printed several copies to send to friends and to my members of Congress.

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Oded Na’aman

The author, Oded Na’aman, is a Jewish Israeli who grew up in Israel and served in the Israeli Defense Forces in the early 2000s. My hunch is that his insights are shared by many more veterans, certainly by the Israeli soldiers in Breaking the Silence.

As the title suggests, Mr. Na’aman believes that Israel chooses violence, rather than the common ethos that violence chooses Israel. He writes:

I believe that we, Israelis, did and do have choices. But how might a whole society be mistaken about such a fundamental aspect of its existence? Conversely how can individual members of society, such as me, come to doubt widespread, deeply seated belief? Sometimes actions most see as entirely reasonable are, in fact, abhorrent. At times, imperatives to which whole societies subscribe amount to mere prejudice; communities commit grave injustices while fully believing they are in the right.

These questions, perhaps not stated quite so clearly, have been rummaging around in my head ever since I returned from Gaza in May 2013.

How could my previous assumptions and understanding about the “conflict” between Israel and Palestine be so wrong? How did I come to doubt the “truth” that my country’s leaders, my family and many colleagues, and most everyone in the U.S., have absorbed as easily as the sun’s rays on a beautiful afternoon?

Am I a kook? ———- Seriously, I have wondered sometimes.  Oded Na’aman writes:

How, then, could men and women who face moral isolation tell whether they are, to use [Bernard] Williams‘s phrase, solitary bearers of true justice or, instead, deluded cranks? Put another way, how might such persons be not only just but sane, not only moral but reasonable?

He doesn’t actually answer his question —- my question —- but I’m rejoicing that someone has so eloquently given voice to my fear.  And I know I’m not a kook.

Please read his article.

Consider Israel’s ongoing campaign in Gaza, which continue to escalate in spite of obvious errors. Any reasonable review of these engagements reveals a consistent, perhaps obsessive, repetition of mistaken estimates, failures of foresight, unjustified use of force, and lack of clear objectives. If anything, strategic mistakes and moral failures have worsened with every campaign. The number of casualties illustrates this most poignantly. In the Gaza War (December 2008 – January 2009), more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed. During the last campaign, the 2014 Israel-Gaza Conflict (July – August 2014), more than 2,200 Palestinians and 72 Israelis were killed. A comparison helps to clarify just how disproportionate Israeli actions were: in the first three weeks of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the American military destroyed 1,600 armored vehicles; in Gaza in 2014, Hamas had no armored vehicles, yet, on average, an Israeli tank fired seven times more shells per day than did an American tank in the invasion of Iraq. Israeli helicopters loosed twiced as many Hellfire missiles as American helicopters did in those three weeks of 2003. Yet no one in Israel doubts that another war in Gaza, probably harsher than the last, is in the offing.

I read those words and my heart rate jumps, I feel a silent scream rising inside, and I want to shake everyone out of their complacency.

Indifference to pain and loss — one’s own and others’ — is a prerequisite to war. Entire societies must grow numb to suffering.   … [War] punishes sanity and rewards insanity.

In the second half of his article, Mr. Na’aman writes about conviction, and maybe that IS the answer I’m looking for.

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a-Shuhada Street in Hebron, also called Apartheid Street.

He shares a true story of an incident when he and two of his friends were walking late at night up a-Shuhada Street in Hebron towards the home of a Palestinian friend. They passed a group of Jewish teens who asked them where they were going. They replied “Tel Rumeida” – the Jewish neighborhood next to their friend’s home – and walked on. One of them yelled, “Are you crazy? What are you doing walking here, in Hebron, in the middle of the night, without any protection? The Arabs will kill you! You will be slaughtered!”

They were not worried and continued walking. Observing the reaction, the kid turned to his friends and exclaimed victoriously, “I told you they are leftists!”

You see, as young as he was, the boy understood that, within Israeli society, only settlers and activists know Hebron for what it really is. Neither group subscribes to the Israeli ethos of necessary violence. The settlers condone violence and choose violence in the service of religious and ethnic causes; the activists condemn and reject it for moral and religious reasons. But both settlers and activists act from conviction rather than fear. For only conviction—the inward and full persuasion of the mind—can withstand the capriciousness of politics.

I must find a way to give voice to my conviction that the violence we see in the Middle East — Israel and Palestine — in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere — is and has always been a violence of choice. And we can choose another path. I’m convinced.

 

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Filed under Gaza, IDF, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, People, Settlers, Uncategorized

Lawfare – Using Law as a Weapon of War

Professor Orde F. Kittrie (Professor of Law at Arizona State University) has made a strong contribution to the field of international law with his new book “Lawfare – Law as a Weapon of War” published by Oxford University Press (2016).  Order information available here.

Lawfare is “the strategy of using—or misusing—law as a substitute for traditional military means to achieve a warfighting objective.” — Maj. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap, Jr., USAF (ret.)

Everyone can agree that fighting our battles in the courtrooms, boardrooms, and national & state legislatures is far preferable than on the kinetic battlefield.

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The author asserts that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is foreshadowing lawfare strategies and tactics that will soon be replicated in other conflicts.

As a relatively new legal strategy —(I don’t recall “lawfare” even being mentioned in my international law class 30 years ago)— and also because Israel and Palestine appear to be leading the way in developing lawfare strategies —(four of the nine chapters of this book are focused on the Israel/Palestine conflict)— this book caught and held my attention from cover to cover. I highly recommend the book to both lawyers and lay people interested in this new arena where the Israel-Palestine conflict is being fought. It should definitely be on the shelf of every law school library.

With that said, the book has a gaping hole. The author never explicitly asks “why are the two sides engaged in lawfare?”  Very subtly, the western U.S./Israeli narrative surfaces.

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Palestinian Bar Association – new offices in May 2013

I would never expect an academic book, such as this, to advocate for one side or the other, and Professor Kittrie very carefully presents these various lawfare strategies from both sides, Israel and Palestine. He also describes the strengths and weaknesses of each side. However, the context within which these lawfare strategies are deployed is a valid inquiry which he apparently has chosen to avoid.

Correction: Nearly avoid.  On page 275, the author lets slip that he believes Hamas is using lawfare to “promote the destruction of Israel.”  On another page, he writes about the “armies of terror” in reference to the Palestinians. He has adopted the “terrorists” lens through which the U.S. government and others from the West view the conflict. There’s no mention of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip; nor the economic, political and travel siege on Gaza which might provide the context in which Hamas, the PA and the Palestinian NGOs are waging a lawfare battle.

Our Western colonialist narrative of the Israel/Palestine conflict is so deeply ingrained in our psyche that most of us can’t step out of it, be apart from it, and actually acknowledge it. In all fairness, however, the author was an attorney in the U.S. Department of State for over a decade and so was likely steeped in the “terrorism” perspective of the Israel/Palestine conflict from his earlier career.

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Legal aid office in Gaza.

Would I have a bias, in reverse, if I wrote a book about lawfare strategies in the Israel/Palestine conflict? Yes, probably I would. Hopefully, my colleagues would gently point out my bias. Is it possible to step away from the conflict and write completely objectively? Maybe not, because we go in search of information that confirms our bias. Suspending our disbelief is hard to do.

However, in the study and practice of law, it’s doubly important that we challenge ourselves and each other about our blind spots. For what’s even more important than being right or wrong is the ability to learn to think like a lawyer.

Thinking like a lawyer is thinking like a human being, a human being who is tolerant, sophisticated, pragmatic, critical, and engaged. It means combining passion and principle, reason and judgment.   “On Thinking Like A Lawyer” Anne-Marie Slaughter,  Harvard Law Today, May, 2002.

So if I had the chance to sit with Professor Kittrie and talk about the gaping hole in his book, I would ask him to suspend his disbelief and consider the following questions:

  1. Does the offer of an extended ceasefire (hudna) as proposed by Hamas and the other Arab nations contradict your conclusion that Hamas wants to destroy Israel?
  2. Is there any evidence, aside from what the New York Times and the State of Israel report, that Hamas actually advises Palestinians to martyr themselves by staying in homes that Israel has threatened with demolition?  I lived in Gaza during Israel’s attack in November 2012, and never heard any such declarations by Hamas. Based on the members of Hamas that I know personally, I can’t fathom them asking anyone to risk their lives or the lives of their children. But I’ll suspend my disbelief if there’s any factual basis other than the New York Times or the State of Israel.
  3. If Hamas issued a five-minute warning to the people living in Siderot about their plans to launch a rocket, would that exonerate Hamas as the knock-knock attempts to exonerate the IDF?
  4. Is your comparison of Israel’s fight against Hamas with the U.S. fight against the Taliban and ISIS an accurate comparison?
  5. Your description of Hamas’ deployment of “compliance-leverage disparity lawfare on the kinetic battlefield” is based on your stated assumption that Israel is the more law-sensitive adversary of the two, but couldn’t the Palestinians make an argument in reverse that the State of Israel has little regard for international law?  Collective punishment, which is prohibited under international law, is ongoing. Noura Erakat’s law review article is another example.
  6. You write that there are many shades or interpretations of international humanitarian law, and that Israel is trying to build support for its interpretation of international law. Is it beyond the realm of imagination to factor in the occupation into the equation and consider how the battlefield (both lawfare and kinetic) would be changed if Israel ended the occupation of the Palestinian territories? That’s the elephant in the living room that warrants serious discussion by the politicians, as well as by the lawyers advising them.

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The book’s take-away message for me:  Governments and NGOs can use lawfare strategies both offensively and defensively to accomplish goals that might otherwise be played out tragically in the battlefield. So far, lawfare tactics used against Israel have been damaging but not disastrous, according to the author. Lawfare appears to hold the potential to become significantly more damaging. (p.279)

 

 

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Filed under Book Review, Gaza, Hamas, Israel, Occupation, People, Uncategorized

Forensic journalism – a new tool in the battle for truth?

fo·ren·sic
fəˈrenzik,fəˈrensik/
adjective
  1. 1.
    of, relating to, or denoting the application of scientific methods and techniques to the investigation of crime.
    “forensic evidence”
noun
  1. 2.
    scientific tests or techniques used in connection with the detection of crime.

We’ve all heard of forensic medicine.  Patricia Cornwell’s crime series about the forensic pathologist and Medical Examiner from Richmond, Virginia is one of my favorite chill-out books. She knows how to weave a tale applying medical knowledge to the investigation of a crime, particularly in establishing the cause of some gruesome and mysterious death.

Of course, forensic medicine is not just the stuff of fiction, but a recognized science accepted in many courtrooms as evidence to establish or disprove a crime.

I’ve learned about forensic architecture in recent years, after viewing a video of the digital re-creation of Israel’s bombardment of Rafah in 2014 — known as Black Friday because of its ferocity and lethal consequences in the very dense urban community in the southern Gaza Strip.

Now that we’ve entered a new era of killing (forget your outdated notions of the infantry in WWII) with drones, and hi-tech “smart” bombs, and the theatre of combat has shifted to neighborhoods, schools, hospitals and mosques, I suspect the need for forensic architecture is going to grow rapidly.

Forensic Architecture is a research agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London.  It includes a team of architects, scholars, filmmakers, designers, lawyers and scientists to undertake research that gathers and presents spatial analysis in legal and political forums.

We provide evidence for international prosecution teams, political organisations, NGOs, and the United Nations in various processes worldwide.  Additionally, the agency undertakes historical and theoretical examinations of the history and present status of forensic practices in articulating notions of public truth.

Well, I have an idea.

Maybe we need forensic journalism to use scientific methods to analyze the media (in all venues – print, video, TV, radio, including social media) leading up to military operations.

Forensic journalists would catalogue how the major actors and events leading up to the military assault were portrayed in the media (or more accurately how the media was used and manipulated) to create the conditions necessary to justify the initiation of military operations. Leaders can’t go to war without convincing their people of the righteousness of their decision to put their young men and women in harms’ way. The media is their unwitting accomplices. And the digital tracks remain for all to see and analyze months and years afterwards. The evidence doesn’t disintegrate like it probably does in forensic medicine/pathology.

Think of President George W. Bush and the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq.

Now think of Prime Minister Netanyahu and the weeks leading up to Operation Protective Edge in 2014 when Israel slaughtered (yes, “slaughter” is the correct term when the vast majority of the victims are unarmed civilians taking shelter in hospitals, schools, homes and UN facilities) — 2,256 Palestinians in 51 days in Gaza.

Forensic journalists would probably begin their examination with the abduction of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank. Netanyahu immediately blamed Hamas without providing any evidence but the media didn’t mind. Then he launched an extensive search and crackdown in the West Bank, ostensibly looking for the three teens. Remember the #BringBackOurBoys campaign on social media? I think I recall that the mothers of the three teenagers even went to the United Nations looking for help in finding their sons.

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There would be alot of evidence for the forensic journalists to sift through because the local and international media covered these events daily for weeks.  Few in the West know about Israel’s gag law that prevents journalists from disclosing information that the government tells them they can’t.

Sadly, Netanyahu and his military chiefs knew from the first day that these boys were very likely dead because one teen had managed to dial for help on his cellphone when the gunshots rang out. But the media played along with Netanyahu’s pretext, whipping up public furor against Hamas and in favor of launching a military operation in Gaza.

Weeks later, the truth would come out. Even the New York Times (which rarely deviates from Israel’s party line) had to admit that the evidence didn’t support Netanyahu’s assertions. That was OK, Netanyahu must have been thinking, because by that time Operation Protective Edge was well underway and public opinion supported the government use of force.

Journalists on both sides of the Atlantic played into Netanyahu’s carefully crafted messaging, however faulty and distorted it might be.

In hindsight, can forensic journalists now map the digital path that led up to the horrors perpetrated on thousands of innocent men, women and children in Gaza that summer?

More importantly, can a pattern and practice of media manipulation be documented in order to identify future transgressions before they happen?

Shouldn’t the unsubstantiated “news” stories flying around the planet at break-neck speed this past week about the alleged Hamas use of humanitarian donations from World Vision, UNDP and others be a signal that Netanyahu may be laying the groundwork to justify another military operation in Gaza? Nearly every major media outlet is accepting Netanyahu’s assertions without question. At least the Seattle Times included a voice of reason in their version of the story.

“I think the world should be very skeptical about his (el-Halabi’s) arrest and suspect of Israel claims,” said John McKay, a former U.S. attorney for Western Washington who spent two years in the West Bank while serving in a U.S.-sponsored rule-of-law program.   McKay said the Israeli government has  sometimes denied legal rights to detained Palestinians, with charges not always supported by evidence. He  also said there has long been friction between the Israeli government and international aid agencies that seek to act  independently in Gaza.

And what should we make of Netanyahu’s attempt to rebrand himself as the loving father-figure for the Palestinians?  Is this relevant information in a forensic examination?

Until we have a better grasp of how journalists are strategically manipulated by the government in a very deliberate fashion to support the use of military force, we’ll have no chance of calling their bluff when they try to do it to us again … and again … and again.

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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.

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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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The Virtual Iftar Project

The most insightful and meaningful conversations I’ve had with strangers have usually occurred over a meal. Some of the most memorable include:

  • The Russians I met in the Trans-Siberian Railway’s dining car.
  • The Cubans I met in a restaurant in Pinar del Rio.
  • The Israelis I met in the Kibbutz’s dining hall.
  • The Palestinians I met in their homes who always treated me to a delicious meal.
  • The Germans I shared a “second breakfast” with on the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain.
  • The Egyptians in Cairo with whom I shared my Thanksgiving tradition last November.

The list is endless, but what stands out in my memory are the conversations we had on each occasion. While breaking bread together, we shared, we listened, and we learned from each other.

In this cynical and highly polarized world, I believe there’s a critical need for people-to-people communication and understanding. Eric Maddox, an American I first met in 2012 over a meal at Cafe Riche in downtown Cairo has set the gold standard for how to make this happen with his Virtual Dinner Guest Project.

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Palestinians in Gaza share a meal and conversation with Native Americans in Oakland in 2013.

In 2013, I watched Eric connect Palestinians in Gaza with Native Americans in Oakland by using 21st century technology to recreate an ancient tradition of sharing a meal and conversation with members of our tribe. Now we can share with the “other” on the other side of the planet. Not just a Skype chat but a structured conversation over a meal with the goal of learning about each other directly, not through the mainstream media or social media that often do a better job of playing to our fears and superstition about the “other.” Imagine the possibilities!

Eric explains his latest project.

The Virtual Iftar Project Episode 4: Gaza-Amsterdam

In our final episode we connected youth in Amsterdam and the Gaza Strip for an online dialogue over Iftar (July, 2015) and a collaborative film project between their two communities.

Each vox pop film address a question that each side asked of the other. For the Amsterdam film, our Dutch team seeks an answer to Gaza’s question: “What would you do if you found your community under military occupation?” While the Palestinian side posed the following question to the people of Gaza: “How can the international community best support the people of Gaza?”

The views expressed in each film represent the unfiltered opinions from the streets of each community, and do not necessarily represent the views of our producers. We are a nonpartisan and nonsectarian initiative focussed on breaking facile media and political narratives with truly grassroots collaborative media projects.

The Virtual Iftar Project Gaza-Amsterdam is the last of 4 episodes documenting our road trip across the Balkan Routes and central Europe during Ramadan 2015. Filmmaker Katie Cook, and Producer and project founder Eric Maddox, embarked up this #RamadanRoadtrip, just as the EU refugee crisis was beginning in early summer in order to connect Europeans with young people in Muslim-majority countries for focussed online discussions and collaborative film projects. The aim of the project is to demystify the distorted or sensationalized image of “other” that is so often presented in media narratives and political rhetoric around the world.

Participants on both sides connected for a videoconference call, a discussion of thematic topics, and then parted with one final question posed to each side. And that’s where these films begin.

Watch our previous videos featuring Kosovo, Palestine (Gaza), Germany, and Pakistan on our Facebook page, and please share and support our community-funded project today!

facebook.com/virtualiftarproject/

Please watch, listen, and feel the message that young people from Gaza and Amsterdam are sharing with each other and with us. THIS GIVES ME HOPE! And after watching, if you believe this project can make a global shift in how we view the “other” and want to become involved, check it out here.

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