Rep. McCollum is my super-heroine

Don’t let anyone tell you that one person can’t make a difference!  

Betty McCollum

Rep. Betty McCollum

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) is the embodiment of a one woman tidal wave washing over Congress.

For the past four years, she’s been raising the issue of the persistent and gross human rights violations perpetrated on Palestinian children by the Israeli military.

The arrest and detention of Palestinian children in Israeli jails has been well-documented by human rights organizations. Israel is the only country in the world that prosecutes children in military court, a stark example of its double standard and apartheid system of justice.

Children are taken from their beds and arrested in the middle of the night; they’re arrested on their way to school with their backpacks yanked from their shoulders; and they’re even pulled out of the arms of their teachers in classrooms. All of this has been documented and reported, thanks to Amnesty International and other Human Rights groups, but it hasn’t stopped Israel.  An estimated 500-700 children are arrested, detained and prosecuted in Israel’s military court system each year, according to Defense of Children International – Palestine.

UNICEF’s 2013 reportChildren in Israeli Military Detention, while somewhat dated still remains one of the most thorough reviews of the pattern and practice Israel employs against Palestinian children in detention.

No Way To Treat a Child — The No Way to Treat a Child campaign seeks to challenge and end Israel’s prolonged military occupation of Palestinians by exposing widespread and systematic ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system. It is a joint project of Defense for Children International – Palestine and American Friends Service Committee.

And we even have the personal interviews of 24 Palestinian child prisoners held in Israeli jails compiled in a 2016 book “Dreaming of Freedom“, edited by Norma Hashim and translated by Yousef Aljamal. I delivered a copy of the book to Rep. McCollum in January 2018 as a ‘thank you’ for her unwavering support and advocacy on behalf of Palestinian child prisoners. dreaming-of-freedom

The United States has a big stick it could use to bring pressure to bear on Israel —- it’s annual $3.8 billion appropriation to the Israeli military. Representative McCollum doesn’t believe that U.S. taxpayers want their dollars supporting gross human rights violations of children.

In 2015, she wrote a letter to then-Secretary of State John Kerry which 19 of her Democratic colleagues signed, asking him to make this issue a top priority.  But nothing came of it.

The following year she wrote a letter to President Obama which 20 of her colleagues signed, asking him to appoint a Special Envoy for Palestinian Youth to collect “vital information necessary to actively promote human rights.”  But again nothing happened.

So in 2017, she drafted a bill, H.R.4391, to prohibit any funds from being used by Israel to “support the military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children.” It also required the Department of State either to certify that funds were not used in this manner or report how Israel expended them to ill-treat Palestinian children.

In July 2018, Rep. McCollum explained why H.R. 4391 was necessary.

When it didn’t pass in the 2017-2018 session, Representative McCollum strengthened the bill and reintroduced it on April 30, 2019 where it was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Check out the committee membership here, and if your representative is listed, consider calling and writing and telling him/her why you think H.R. 2407 is important and should have a hearing.

On May 1, her office issued a press release explaining the bill.

The Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation ActH.R. 2407 — amends a provision of the Foreign Assistance Act known as the “Leahy Law” to prohibit funding for the military detention of children in any country, including Israel.

The bill also establishes the “Human Rights Monitoring and Palestinian Child Victims of Israeli Military Detention Fund,” authorizing $19 million annually for non-governmental organization (NGO) monitoring of human rights abuses associated with Israel’s military detention of children. The Fund also authorizes qualified NGOs to provide physical, psychological, and emotional treatment and support for Palestinian child victims of Israeli military detention, abuse, and torture.

The full text of the bill can be found here. Additional resources can be found here.

“Israel’s system of military juvenile detention is state-sponsored child abuse designed to intimidate and terrorize Palestinian children and their families,” Congresswoman McCollum said. “It must be condemned, but it is equally outrageous that U.S. tax dollars in the form of military aid to Israel are permitted to sustain what is clearly a gross human rights violation against children.”

More than 10,000 Palestinian children have been arrested, detained, abused, and prosecuted by Israeli security forces in the Israeli military court system since 2000. Independent monitors such as Human Rights Watch and Israel’s B’Tselem have repeatedly documented that children are subject to abuse and, in some cases, torture — specifically citing the use of chokeholds, beatings, and coercive interrogation. Just weeks ago, CNN broadcast video showing armed Israeli soldiers entering a primary school in Hebron to arrest a 9-year-old who was then “frog-marched away and taken to an army vehicle.”

“Peace can only be achieved by respecting human rights, especially the rights of children. Congress must not turn a blind eye to the unjust and ongoing mistreatment of Palestinian children living under Israeli occupation.

“I strongly believe there is a growing consensus among the American people that the Palestinian people deserve justice, equality, human rights, and the right to self-determination. It is time to stand with Palestinians, Americans, Israelis, and people around the world to reject the destructive, dehumanizing, and anti-peace policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump.”

McCollum is front in center on one of the most important human rights issues facing our country —- how we treat children. I’m going to have her back, and help her as much as I can.   Please write your member of Congress and ask him or her to cosponsor H.R. 2407.

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Filed under Israel, People, Politics, Uncategorized, US Policy, Video

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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Alhamdulillah!

PediaSure going to Gaza

Scurrying around downtown Cairo today, I was very anxious and full of doubts.

My goal was to purchase 500 cans of PediaSure, a nutritional supplement, for the medical convoy to Gaza.  Last week the organizer of the convoy received an urgent plea from Gaza for baby formula supplement.  His contact in Cairo was able to locate 400 cans of PediaSure, but could I find more?

I checked with the neighborhood pharmacist, a friend of a friend, and he said he would make some calls and try to find 500 cans. We negotiated a fair price and he started calling. Within an hour, he said he had located 375 cans of PediaSure.  “Would that be sufficient?” he asked. I jumped and said Alhamdulillah!

My “first world” assumption was that I would pay for the PediaSure with my credit card and reimburse my credit card from the funds donated by many generous Americans.  Earlier, the pharmacist said he could take a credit card. ==whew!== But then I learned the suppliers could not. Cash only!

Scratching my head, I knew I couldn’t access several thousand dollars in cash. The Egyptian bank wouldn’t let me withdraw those funds from my US bank. And I certainly couldn’t pull that much cash from the ubiquitous ATMs in downtown Cairo.

I returned to the pharmacist and told him I couldn’t collect that much cash, and he should cancel the order from the suppliers. I felt disheartened but saw no alternatives.

The pharmacist sat down, put his head in his hands, and then looked up. “Let me go talk to my bank and see if they will help.”

Thirty minutes later he returned and said his bank would give him a short-term loan to cover the purchase of the PediaSure so he could pay the suppliers. He swiped my credit card, and the sale was approved. Alhamdulillah!

While he coordinated the delivery of the PediaSure, I went out to a street stall and purchased a small bag to carry the books I had purchased for the library in Gaza.

Five hours later the pharmacist called me and said the PediaSure had arrived. I returned to the store and we hailed a taxi to deliver me and the boxes to the hotel where the medical convoy team was convening.

As I was leaving his store, the pharmacist asked “Who is paying for all of this PediaSure? The United Nations?”  

I told him “Nope!  Many Americans who care about the Palestinians in Gaza donated money to make this purchase.”  Then he said, “Alhamdulillah!”

Lora taxi boxes to convoy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Easter & Passover Travel

 

Ghetto Jewish store

Store window in the Venice Ghetto

Movement is on my mind.  Or the lack thereof.

A middle-aged American woman, married to a Palestinian from Bethlehem, was stopped at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport last week, interrogated for hours, and then put on a plane back to the United States. (The news is here.) The Israeli authorities denied her permission to enter Israel to reunite with her family in Bethlehem where she has lived and raised a family for over 30 years. Why this treatment?  She was told “because she married a Palestinian.”

A young Palestinian-American woman, originally from Gaza but now living in the United States with her husband and baby, was stopped at Istanbul’s new airport from boarding her connecting flight to Cairo where she planned to travel by bus to the Rafah crossing into Gaza. She and her young son were looking forward to spending Ramadan with her family but the airline authorities told her the Rafah border was closed, and she would not be allowed into Egypt to wait for the border to open.

Notre Dame interior 5

Notre Dame Cathedral

The news reports that Israel has imposed a week-long closure of the West Bank and Gaza ahead of Passover, and is preventing hundreds of Palestinian Christians from Gaza from traveling to Jerusalem or Bethlehem to partake in their Easter celebrations.

The irony certainly does not escape me.

Jews worldwide celebrate Passover to mark their exodus from slavery in Egypt. Their freedom of movement is called Passover because, as explained by the Chabad Jews:

They were also instructed to take the blood of the lamb and smear it on their doorposts, a sign to G‑d that this was an Israelite home, to be passed over, while death was visited upon the firstborns in all other homes. This is what gave the Passover sacrifice (and holiday) its name.

Their exodus so long ago saved them from suffering and bondage, but what lessons were learned? What are Jews celebrating in the Twenty-First century as the State of Israel keeps millions of Palestinians oppressed and under occupation, preventing them from moving freely?

For those who are awake, I suspect their discomfort is growing.

As Cohen writes in Patheos:

But for a growing number of Jews around the world our relationship to the Palestinian people has become the greatest challenge to our Jewish identity and values. How can we celebrate our ‘feast of freedom’ and tell the story of our Exodus from the ‘narrow place’ of ‘Mitzryim’ while we deny, or stay silent, about the oppression of Palestine? It’s a profound challenge to our faith and the understanding of our own history.

Attempting to uphold a Jewish ideal of justice and freedom is not easy when you’ve just read that Israel has detained, kidnapped or jailed 1,000,000 Palestinians since 1948.

For those Jews who are not awake or prefer not to see, I think their journey must also be difficult because it takes a good bit of energy and struggle within to ignore the suffering of others.

I remember the wise words of a young Palestinian exchange student from Gaza who I met in Albuquerque, New Mexico over a Passover Seder many years ago. Reading from the Haggadah, a Jewish woman said “I don’t believe Jews are the Chosen People,” obviously to ease the discomfort she thought this young Palestinian Muslim might be experiencing. His response was genuine and thoughtful: “I believe Jews are the Chosen People. I believe God chose the Jews to be the people to show mankind how to treat one’s neighbors.”  (I wrote about Sami from Gaza here.)

If Sami is correct, then clearly the Chosen People have a steep learning curve. Israel’s occupation and subjugation of millions of Palestinians for the past 70+ years is merely a tick in humanity’s clock but it’s unbearable for those waiting for their moment of liberation, for their exodus.

Cohen concludes by saying:

“Tonight, we’ll conclude our family meal with this passage written by Aurora Levins Morales, a poet and activist. I discovered her writing in the 2018 Jewish Voice for Peace Haggadah.

“This time we cannot cross until we carry each other. All of us refugees, all of us prophets. No more taking turns on history’s wheel, trying to collect old debts no one can pay. The sea will not open that way. This time that country is what we promise each other, our rage pressed cheek to cheek until tears flood the space between, until there are no enemies left, because this time no one will be left to drown and all of us must be chosen. This time it’s all of us or none.”

May minds and hearts be moved this Passover and Easter, so that next year everyone has freedom of movement, a life of dignity with compassion, and we treat our neighbors as we wish they would treat us.

 

 

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

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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!

 

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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

 

 

 

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