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Gaza Facts vs. Propaganda – Shame on the Washington Post

Mike Merryman-Lotze is the Middle East Program Director at the American Friends Service Committee.  When the Washington Post published an opinion piece (7/19/2018) about Gaza which begged for some facts and objectivity, Mike responded.  His response is reprinted below with permission. Mike headshot

The Washington Post has given Jason Greenblatt, Jared Kushner, and David Friedman room to write about Gaza. What they have written has to be one of the most dishonest and transparently propagandistic pieces I’ve read on Gaza.

I’ve therefore taken a few minutes to add my own quick comments into the text of the article:

WP Article: At the end of a productive six-day trip to the region recently, one reality was painfully clear: The nightmare of Hamas’s leadership is continuing and needlessly prolonging the suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza.

WP Article: Despite the billions of dollars invested for the benefit of Palestinians in Gaza over the past 70 years, 53 percent of the people there live below the poverty level , and the unemployment rate is a crippling 49 percent. The Palestinians of Gaza are stuck in a vicious cycle where corrupt and hateful leadership has provoked conflicts leading to reduced opportunities and the poverty and hopelessness that follow.

Mike’s Comment: Most of the investment in Gaza is reconstruction money given to rebuild infrastructure and homes destroyed by Israeli bombings. The economy has been devastated by the blockade. If you want to deal with employment the issue is the blockage of imports, exports, and goods needs to produce economic output. There has been a conscious decades long policy of dedevelopment implemented by Israel in Gaza. The unemployment and poverty rates in Gaza are not linked to the Palestinian leadership but to Israeli policies. If you are concerned about this push for an end to the blockade.

WP Article: International donors are conflicted: Should they try to help the people directly, at the certain risk of enriching terrorists, or withhold funding to Hamas and watch the people it is supposed to govern suffer? In the past, investments in badly needed infrastructure have been diverted for weapons and other malign uses, and even the projects that are built are often destroyed as a consequence of Hamas’s aggression.

Mike’s Comment: The vetting procedures for foreign aid going into Gaza are more restrictive than in any other place in the world. There is no money going from foreign governments to Hamas. Foreign aid goes to help people. If you consider rebuilding electrical infrastructure and water systems assistance to Hamas and not repair of basic infrastructure that people need then there is something wrong. No money for basic infrastructure is diverted for weapons. While Hamas does spend a portion of its money on weapons, even Israeli government sources report that it spends 80% or more of its funds in Gaza on governance. Even if it moved the $100 million it spends on weapons towards infrastructure it could not meet needs, and it also could not get the supplies needed to repair infrastructure with that money because of the blockade and international sanctions. The issue again is not Hamas but the blockade and Israeli and international policies that deny Gaza access to the world.

WP Article: Until governance changes or Hamas recognizes the state of Israel, abides by previous diplomatic agreements and renounces violence, there is no good option.

Mike’s Comment: Hamas has repeatedly indicated that it is willing to consider a state in the areas occupied in 1967 and that it will talk with Israel. This has been the case for years. At the same time, the Likud Party platform formally rejects two states and nearly every other party in the ruling Israeli coalition formally rejects two states. Israeli actions also move to materially change the situation so that two states are not possible. The Nation State Law passed this week furthers the settlement enterprise and violates previous diplomatic agreements. Israeli has not rejected violence.

Further, if we really want to get technical it should be pointed out that according to the Israeli Defense Ministry, in 2015 a total of 21 rockets were fired from Gaza. In 2016 a total of 15 rockets were fired from Gaza. In 2017 a total of 35 rockets were fired from Gaza. Between January 1 and May 29 of 2018 only 10 rockets were fired from Gaza, with none fired during March, April, and the first weeks of May. At the same time, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in 2015, 2016, and 2017, Israel killed 64 Palestinians in Gaza, injured over 2,700, and carried out attacks on Gaza nearly every day. Also, between January 1, 2018 and March 26, 2018 the Israeli military entered the Gaza buffer zone nine times to destroy property and clear land. During the same period, the Israeli military opened fire in the Gaza buffer zone 181 times, killing 2 people and injuring 13. These actions occurred before the start of the Great Return March. So where should we look if we are concerned about violence?

WP Article: Seventy years after the founding of Israel, it would be wise for Hamas to acknowledge that the existence of Israel is a permanent reality. Almost all in the Middle East have come to accept this fact, and many even embrace it. At the expense of the Palestinian people, Hamas is fighting a morally bankrupt, decades-old war that has long been lost.

Mike’s Comment: Equally, it might be important for the Israeli government to recognize the rights of Palestinians to a state. As noted above, no party in the ruling Israeli coalition supports two states. The Israeli government is taking action to make two states impossible, and the Israeli government just passed a law declaring that Palestinians have no right to self-determination.

WP Article: Peace will provide opportunity to break this stalemate, and peace will be achieved only by embracing reality and dismissing a flawed ideology. Life could significantly improve in short order for the Palestinian people if Hamas allowed it. There are engaged, interested parties with resources who are ready to get to work. Yet without real change accompanied by reliable security, progress is impossible. If Hamas demonstrates clear, peaceful intentions — not just by word but, more importantly, by deed — then all manner of new opportunities becomes possible.

Mike’s Comment: If you want change from Hamas engage with Hamas. Don’t write a mendacious article in the Post full of lies that the editors seem unable to fact check. Stop the blockade, end sanctions, allow Hamas to engage with the PA without that triggering new sanctions that would collapse the PA. All of this is meaningless if what is really demanded is one-sided capitulation and surrender.

WP Article: There is no reason the Palestinians (in both the West Bank and Gaza) can’t enjoy economic success and integrate into a thriving regional economy — if they let us help. As President Trump has said so many times, economic security is national security. By encouraging economic recovery in the region, we can enhance our efforts to increase stability as well.

Mike’s Comment: Economic prosperity under occupation is not possible, economic growth without rights and self-determination is meaningless. The issue isn’t economics, it is freedom.

WP Article: Hamas must immediately cease provoking or coordinating attacks on Israelis and Egyptians, and on infrastructure projects sponsored by donor nations and organizations. Rather than looking for opportunities to weaponize everything from kites to mirrors in order to attack Israel, Hamas should focus its ingenuity on improving the Gazan economy.

Mike’s Comment: What attacks on Egyptians and donor projects? These types of attacks simply haven’t occurred. Where are our fact checkers? What is the context of actions against Israel? Are those actions proactive or reactive? What is Israel’s role in all of this? Where do Israeli attacks on Gaza fit in and should they also stop? What about the blockade and the systematic denial of Palestinian rights? What about the continued loss of Palestinian life in Gaza? Is any of that a concern?

WP Article: Rather than cynically attempting to exploit its barbaric holding of Israeli soldiers and citizens, Hamas must return them to their families.

Mike’s Comment: Hamas holds a couple of Israeli soldiers captured while in Gaza and a few bodies of soldiers killed while fighting in Gaza. I agree with the idea that they should be returned home. However, also note that Israel holds literally thousands of Palestinian prisoners and hundreds (if not more) bodies of Palestinians it has killed. Israel has set up whole graveyards to hold the bodies of Palestinians that it refuses to return to families. The holding of bodies is a policy that Israel developed. All bodies should be returned.

WP Article: Instead of exploiting crossings such as Rafah and Salah al-Din to smuggle weapons and siphon off tax revenue for illicit purposes and personal enrichment, Hamas must hand those functions over in their entirety to the Palestinian Authority so that badly needed materials can get through to the people of Gaza. The international community stands ready to work with the Palestinian Authority on this vital effort.

Mike’s Comment: This is simply misinformation. Weapons have never been smuggled through formal crossings. While Hamas may have limited control of one side of the crossing, Egypt and Israel control the other sides of the crossings. This means that weapons must be smuggled through Israel and Egypt and it is those states that control what goes into Gaza. The PA does control crossings in Gaza and the US knows this. The PA is the force in Gaza that coordinates with Israel at crossings and Hamas has allowed that control. The issue is not changing who controls borders, it is the Israeli enforced blockade.

WP Article: The cycle is clear: Rockets, mortars, terror tunnels, kite bombs and other weapons of aggression lead only to stricter constraints on the people of Gaza. Hamas’s acts of aggression have only produced misery for the people of Gaza. The true victims of this terrible situation are the many Palestinians who are not rioting but whose futures are dimmed by Hamas’s radical approach.

Mike’s Comments: Again, according to the Israeli Defense Ministry, in 2015 a total of 21 rockets were fired from Gaza. In 2016 a total of 15 rockets were fired from Gaza. In 2017 a total of 35 rockets were fired from Gaza. Between January 1 and May 29 of 2018 only 10 rockets were fired from Gaza, with none fired during March, April, and the first weeks of May. Tunnels may exist but simply haven’t been used to attack Israel. Burning kites didn’t start flying until long into the Gaza Return March and after more than 50 Palestinians had been killed and thousands injured.

If, over a period of three and a half years you have, on average, two to three rockets fired towards Israel each month and they don’t cause significant damage and at the same time you have daily attacks by Israel on Gaza and the maintenance of a brutal blockade, it seems clear that the cycle is not starting with rocket fire.

WP Article: It is evident that the leaders in this region are tired of being on this hopeless treadmill and are hungry for real change. There is a clear divide between the bad actors looking to cause destruction, violence and human misery, and the responsible leaders trying to create a better and sustainable future for their citizens. The world is moving forward, but bad choices are causing Palestinians to fall further and further behind.

Mike’s Comment: So the link included here in the original article notes that the world is moving beyond two states. I’m perfectly OK with that, but let’s be clear that closure of the two state possibility is only due to Israel actions. Palestinians can be intransigent and can say no, but they can’t change the situation on the ground in any material way that changes what a possible solution will look like.

What has changed the situation? Settlements, and the authors should know this since Greenblatt served as a guard on a settlement and both Friedman and Kushner were major donors to settlements. Hey wait a minute, isn’t that relevant information that the editors should consider?

WP Article: The international community also bears some blame. More countries want to simply talk and condemn than are willing to confront reality, propose realistic solutions and write meaningful checks. The United States has invested more money in helping the Palestinian people than has any other country in the world.

Mike’s Comments: Damn right the international community bears much of the blame. Countries want to simply talk, condemn, not confront reality, and not propose realistic solutions? Really? Here is a mirror.

WP Article: For far too long, Gaza has lurched from crisis to crisis, sustained by emergency appeals and one-time caravans of aid, without dealing with the root cause: Hamas leadership is holding the Palestinians of Gaza captive. This problem must be recognized and resolved or we will witness yet another disastrous cycle.

Mike’s Comment: We can agree, Gaza has existed in crisis for far too long. And the authors are a major reason why that crisis continues. To give them a platform to put forward such garbage is indefensible. To simply let them write without any editorial oversight is wrong. The Post should be ashamed for publishing such transparent propaganda, although the post editorial page itself is pretty atrocious on this issue.

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#GazaUnlocked #HeartlandtoGaza

The American Friends Service Committee organized an expert panel of witnesses to provide testimony about the current situation in Gaza as part of its Gaza Unlocked campaign. Check out the campaign here.

The expert testimony was held in Indianapolis, Indiana on Saturday, April 21, 2018 in the format similar to a formal hearing in Congress. The delegation from Indiana was invited to attend, including Vice President Pence, but they didn’t show up. Representative Andre Carson was unable to attend, but one of his staff members was able to attend in his place and he sent his regrets.

I showed up and watched the livestream testimony and Q &A that followed from my perch in the library at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.

Gaza Unlocked

Jehad Abu Salim

The three experts were certainly very well qualified to speak about Gaza. Jehad Abu Salim is from Gaza and currently studying for his PhD at NYU.  Laila El-Haddad has lived in Gaza and written extensively about Gaza. She’s the author of Gaza Kitchen. Dr. Sara Roy is a senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies specializing in the Palestinian economy, Palestinian Islamism, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

They each spoke about the current conditions in Gaza as well as the political dynamics of Israel’s siege and long-term blockade on the Gaza Strip. The take-away message for me was that we must educate ourselves, our family, friends and communities, and especially our members of Congress.

Social media armchair activists are not making a difference if they stay within their bubbles and comfort zones behind the computer screens. We must get out into our communities and wake Americans up to the realities of the Israeli occupation. I hope a condensed and edited version of this testimony will be made available to help us educate others.

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#ValentinetoGaza

Today (Feb. 13, 2018) I learned that Israel’s travel restrictions in and out of Gaza through the Erez Border Crossing are well-documented policy, not just my imagination.

The Israeli border agency (COGAT) gloats that hundreds of Gazans enter Israel every day through Erez, but it won’t advertise that in the past year, it squeezed the number of exits by Palestinians down 51% compared to the number who crossed Erez in 2016.

GISHA, the legal center for the freedom of movement, issued a factsheet in January summarizing Israel’s travel restrictions. The entire factsheet makes my blood boil, but the following restriction elicited a silent scream.

MAKING GAZA RESIDENTS TRAVELLING ABROAD SIGN A COMMITMENT NOT TO RETURN FOR A YEAR: In February 2016, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) added a new criterion to the Status of Authorizations, a document which defines the categories of people in Gaza eligible to apply for exit permits. The criteria says that residents of Gaza can travel abroad via Erez and Allenby Bridge crossings on the condition that they sign a waiver stating that they will not request to re-enter Gaza for one year via Israel. In 2017, the practice became all the more absurd as Gaza residents whose exit from Gaza had already been approved for other reasons began to be detained at Erez Crossing until they signed the waiver. The authorities are thus essentially conditioning exit on signing the waiver. Our casework reveals that residents are being made to sign even when they do not intend to stay away one year nor have paperwork to allow them to reside in third countries and that minors were made to sign without guardians’ consent. The practice is a violation of one of the most fundamental rights – to leave and enter one’s place of residence.

Yep, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

Article 13. — (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

But when did any international declaration impact Israel’s decision-making? Answer: Never.

In an act of love and solidarity, the American Friends Service Committee launched #ValentinetoGaza this year, asking friends to post photos of themselves with a Valentine poster for our friends in Gaza.

There are so many friends in Gaza I’m thinking of today, wishing I could knock down every barrier, and share a Valentine with you directly. You’re in my heart!

(Lora in Gaza in 2013 – floral arrangements are ubiquitous in Gaza

for weddings, birthdays, celebrations and Valentines Day!)

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Words matter! S.Res.176

Dear Senators Udall and Heinrich,

Disappointment and frustration.

A half-century after the Six-Day War which culminated in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, it is extremely disappointing that the U.S. Senate continues to succumb to Israel’s revisionist history (propaganda).

Your support for S.Res.176, A Resolution Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Reunification of Jerusalem, along with your colleagues, is further evidence that the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) may achieve by unilateral and incremental steps, what Israel failed to do in 1967-1968.

The Palestinians consider East Jerusalem the capital of their future state. The United Nations, the vast majority of countries, and international law, support this interpretation of history. Your resolution does violence to the truth and to international law.

Israel never “reunified” Jerusalem, as your resolution proclaims, but occupied East Jerusalem and then began drawing municipal borders to strengthen Israel’s sovereignty over the city by creating a Jewish majority. The legal status of the City of Jerusalem is clear. Under international law, Israel occupies East Jerusalem.

S.Res.176 fails to mention the occupation and the Palestinians living in East Jerusalem who are not even granted citizenship in Israel but rather permanent resident status. In a precedent-setting case, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled earlier this year that the permanent residents of East Jerusalem deserve better.

Last year I visited East Jerusalem. It’s like night and day between the Jewish settlements and the Palestinian neighborhoods. One has green lawns and swimming pools while the other struggles to live on about half the amount of water recommended by the World Health Organization.  One has new schools and playgrounds with equipment for their children, while the other hasn’t had any new classrooms built in many years. Mothers are now holding classes in their homes.

In 2011, the High Court of Justice ruled that over the next five years, the Education Ministry and municipality must build enough classrooms in the public school system for all East Jerusalem students.  … Yet the latest report by the Ir Amim organization says the problem has only gotten worse: East Jerusalem currently lacks 2,247 classrooms, compared to about 1,500 when the High Court petition was filed in 2007. Over the past five years, only some 35 classrooms a year have been built – less than the number needed to accommodate the population’s natural growth.”

The State of Israel has been creating its “facts on the ground,” moving Jewish settlers into East Jerusalem and forcibly displacing Palestinian families out of East Jerusalem.

I encourage you and your staff to watch these two short amateur videos about life in East Jerusalem. In the first, an Israeli activist talks about why she supports the Palestinians in East Jerusalem. In the second, children show how settlers have taken over the front part of their home, and the family continues to live in the back.  Other families were thrown out into the street. Israeli, international and Palestinian activists, Sara Benninga among them, have started a growing solidarity movement and demonstrate there weekly to oppose the injustice of Israel accepting pre-1948 ownership claims by Jews, but not by Palestinians.

S.Res.176 reaffirms that it is the longstanding, bipartisan policy of the United States Government that the permanent status of Jerusalem remains a matter to be decided between the parties through final status negotiations towards a two-state solution; and yet the very title and preamble clauses state unambiguously that Jerusalem is undivided and belongs to Israel, with no mention of Palestinians and their aspirations for East Jerusalem.

Words matter!  Even nonbinding resolutions matter!  Please take note of that fact and don’t add your name to such propaganda in the future.

Sincerely,

Lora Lucero

P.S. This Thursday, June 8, you have an opportunity to hear from experts at a briefing on Capitol Hill sponsored by Defense for Children International – Palestine & American Friends Service Committee. Congressional Briefing: 50 Years of Israeli Military Occupation & Life for Palestinian Children. Please plan to attend or send a staff person.

Thursday June 8, 2017
9:30AM – 11:00AM EST

Cannon House Office Building, Rm 122
27 Independence Ave, SE,
Washington, DC 20003

UPDATE – June 9, 2017 – Response received from Senator Tom Udall. I wonder if writing to our elected officials in DC makes any difference.

Dear Ms. Lucero,

Thank you for your comments regarding S. Res. 176, a resolution commemorating the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.

On May 24, 2017, Senators Mitch McConnell (KY) and Charles Schumer (NY) introduced S. Res. 176. Upon introduction the bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. On May 25, 2017, the resolution was passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders. On June 5, 2017, the resolution was passed in the Senate by a vote of 90 to Zero, with my vote in favor. I value receiving feedback from my constituents, and I appreciate your taking the time to keep me informed. Your help allows me to more effectively represent you in the U.S. Senate.

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts with me.  Please feel free to contact me with your concerns regarding any federal issue by visiting my website at www.tomudall.senate.gov.  For more information, you may also visit my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/senatortomudall and receive up to the minute updates through my Twitter page at http://twitter.com/senatortomudall.

Very truly yours,
Signature
Tom Udall
United States Senator

 

 

 

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“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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Living Resistance from the U.S. to Palestine

no-child-behind-bars-living-resistance-flier-400x209

Wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into the Oak Hill Community Center (a very cool place) in Baltimore. There were only a handful of people, and I feared the worst. It always seems to be a battle to fill a room when “Palestine” is on the agenda, especially in Maryland where the Zionists have the ear of Senator Cardin in DC, and Legislators in Annapolis are pushing an anti-BDS bill again.

I decided to attend to show my support for the organizers, not expecting to learn anything new. Wow!  Was I wrong . . . on both counts.

The space quickly filled up to standing room only, perhaps 50-60 people. And the speakers were extraordinary, both in passion and information.Palestinian children locked up in Israeli jails is a horrible reality. The school-to-prison pipeline in the U.S. (ensnaring predominantly brown and black children) is a reality too. Thanks to Norma Hashim, Yousef Aljamal and others, Palestinians are finally being heard in The Prisoners’ Diaries and Dreaming of Freedom.

Thanks to the sponsors of the multi-city tour for No Child Behind Bars, the connection between the Palestinian injustices and the US juvenile criminal system is also being heard. See list of the cities and the sponsors here.

There are clearly parallels between the two criminal justice systems for juveniles in Israel/Palestine and the U.S. but I learned at this presentation that they are far more insidious than I imagined, and far more interconnected.

Thanks to Ahed Tamimi from Nabi Saleh in the Occupied West Bank, and Amanda Weatherspoon & Nadya Tannous from California, we learned facts that stirred many in the audience to engage in a robust Q & A after the presentation.

Ahed Tamimi (15 yrs old) was not given a Visa to travel to the U.S. (highlighting the travel restrictions that nearly all Palestinians face). The organizers creatively resisted by sending a videographer to record Ahed in her community.

The evening began with a short video of Ahed speaking in January 2017. Here’s another short video clip of Ahed speaking a year ago.

 

Some facts I learned!

Did you know that Israel is the only country in the world that has a juvenile military court?

A Palestinian child and an Israeli settler child who live merely feet from each other in the West Bank will face very different criminal justice systems and laws for the very same offense (throwing rocks for example).

Did you know that the tear gas used in the City of Ferguson was likely field tested in the occupied West Bank and Gaza? People in Ferguson quickly learned that water doesn’t ease the pain of the tear gas, it exacerbates the pain. On social media, they posted a question “What’s this new type of tear gas?” Palestinians knew immediately and advised them to use milk and coca cola as an antidote for the tear gas.

Do you know which cities have the highest number of drone-testing? Gaza is #1.The Lakota Nation in the US is #2.

Amanda, a Unitarian Universalist minister, shared a helpful framework to think about the entrenched violence and imprisonment of our children in Palestine and the U.S.brick-wallConsider 3 bricks in that wall of violence.

Brick #1 – The foundation of the wall is built on structural racism, such as redlining in our communities which established borders to provide opportunities for building for some people and restricted opportunities to build or buy homes to other people. There are many other examples.

Brick #2State violence is obvious and clearly in the public discourse now. Think about the examples of police brutality, and the school to prison pipeline. We all know that the U.S. has the highest incarceration rates in the world. Did you know that 2.3 million Americans were imprisoned in 2009, and the highest % of them were women of color?school-to-prison-pipelineBrick #3Profit is the third brick. Profit provides the motive, and our private prisons need prisoners to make a profit.  See the ABA publication Prisons for Profit: Incarceration for Sale.  Israel and the U.S. are marching in lockstep together creating this wall with these 3 bricks.

Towards the end of the evening, Amanda asked a provocative question. What race are we? she asked. The answer — we’re the human race. This construct about “race” was created specifically for profit. Think about it. She’s right.

I left with my head buzzing, thinking about these 3 bricks and how the injustices perpetrated on Palestinian children and American children are so interconnected. We can’t fight one without acknowledging and fighting against both.

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Mike Merryman-Lotze speaks out about Israel’s punishing blockade of Gaza

I’m publishing a post from Mike Merryman-Lotze that I found especially insightful and informative.  He provides a cogent response to those who support Israel’s 8-year siege and blockade of Gaza.

Mike is in a position to know of what he writes.  He first traveled to Palestine and Israel in 1996 as a student. He returned in early 2000 and worked with the Palestinian human rights organization as a researcher through the second Intifada. He also lived and worked in Palestine from 2007 to 2010 while working on children rights issues. Since 2010, he has worked with the American Friends Service Committee as their Palestine-Israel Program Director. (The Quakers were the first group of people to help Palestinian refugees following their expulsion from their homes in 1947.)

In addition to Mike’s experience in Palestine, he has worked in Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon, and on programs in Iraq, Syria, and the broader Middle East. He’s also on the steering committee for the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.  Mike has been traveling in and out of Gaza regularly since 2007 and has managed projects there throughout that time. He is familiar with the donor regulations and impact of the blockade. He was last in Gaza in December 2014.

The opinions in this piece are his own and written in a private capacity.  Thank you Mike.

“Every time something is posted about the Gaza blockade people write that the blockade is in place to stop arms shipments and because cement and other materials are being used in tunnels and to create weapons. But let’s be clear, weapons smuggled into Gaza have never legally come through the closed borders. They were always smuggled through tunnels and via the sea. The blockade has not stopped this illegal trade. Rather it caused it to increase. Likewise, the cement used in tunnels and by Hamas on other military infrastructure is not the cement that comes through border crossings but cement smuggled through tunnels.

The reality is that international aid in Palestine is more heavily regulated than in any other place in the world. Building supplies coming into Gaza through Erez are tracked and monitored and are not going to Hamas. Money given by the international community is not going to Hamas but is being used to provide basic need for Palestinians who are unable to provide for themselves due to the blockade. The impact of the blockade is not only a stoppage of imports for the local market but also a stoppage of exports which kills the Gaza economy and creates unemployment and poverty. The siege hurts average people who are left unemployed and who cannot buy reconstruction materials or other goods – either because they have no income or because the goods are banned from Gaza.

Hamas is not hurt significantly by the blockade. Rather, for years the blockade provided Hamas with a steady source of funds as it could control the tunnel trade and illegal smuggling. It could tax goods coming through the tunnels. It could smuggle in cement and other goods that people say shouldn’t come through the closed and controlled borders. The draconian impact of the blockade is not primarily felt by Hamas.

The idea that Hamas abuses “aid” meant for the Gaza population is also bogus. Hamas does not get aid from donors. Even a conversation with Hamas can result in charges of material support for terrorism. Funding from international donors and agencies therefore does not go to Hamas. There are exceedingly stringent financial controls in place to make sure that funds are tracked. Hamas does use a portion of its own funds which are received through its own channels for weapons and military infrastructure (around 14% by Shin Bet estimations), however, proportionally it spends less on its armed wing than either Israel or the US spend on their militaries. I do not support violence but those criticizing Hamas’ use of funds for military purposes must recognize that what they are asking for is one sided disarmament which will not happen in a situation of ongoing siege and occupation.

But what about those terrorist tunnels? Didn’t Hamas try to attack kindergartens and civilians? The answer is the tunnels into Israel didn’t go anywhere near kindergartens (unless you count 2.5 km close), didn’t come up under civilian communities, and were only used to attack military targets. This has been repeatedly reported on by the Israeli press. This doesn’t mean I support the military use of tunnels, but tunnels for smuggling and military purposes must be understood within the context of siege, occupation, and violence against Palestinians. If you want to make them disappear end the siege and occupation.

What about the thousands of rockets? From the end of the 2012 attack on Gaza by Israel until Israel attacked Gaza last summer no rockets were fired from Gaza by Hamas (as confirmed by the Israeli military). A few rockets were fired by other groups but there were also daily attacks on Gaza by Israel (see the Gaza NGO Security Office briefs). Since the end of the conflict this summer Hamas has also refrained from rocket fire although a few rockets have been fired by other groups. Again, Israel has fired into and attacked Gaza nearly every day while maintaining the blockade in violation of the terms it agreed to in the ceasefire. The reality is that since 2009 Hamas has controlled and stopped most rocket fire. There have not been thousands of rockets fired into Israel since 2009. This has not changed Israeli policy.

Finally, what about Egypt? Isn’t it responsible and what about its destruction of property in Rafah? First, the destruction of property in Rafah is appalling and many of us who have engaged in the struggle for rights in the Middle East are speaking about this. But the people holding up Egyptian violence and destruction in Rafah and using it to criticize those of us critical of the Israel and the blockade are not showing actual solidarity or concern for the citizens of Rafah. They are cynically using the suffering in Rafah to deflect attention for other rights violations. This is all around abusive. Regarding Egyptian responsibility, it is limited. Egypt is not a good actor in this situation and has contributed heavily to Palestinian suffering. However, its actual treaty obligations along the border are with Israel. Those saying that Egypt should provide aid are not actually saying that Egypt should freely open its border to Gaza and allow for free movement of people and goods as that would completely undermine the blockade that these same people support.

Israel as the recognized occupying power in Gaza (recognized as such even by the US). As the power that controls the Gazan borders, water supply, electricity, tax revenue, money supply, the flow of goods and people, the airspace, waterways, electromagnetic spectrum, and populations registry (for a partial list) it is the party responsible for Gaza, the party that is violating the law, and the party most responsible for violence and human suffering.”

Thank you Mike!

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