Tag Archives: blockade

#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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Filed under Gaza, Peaceful, People, Politics, Uncategorized, US Policy, Video

Egyptian postal service doesn’t serve Palestine

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

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

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Walking to the main post office in Cairo

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

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

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

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

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

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A section of the Main Post Office in Cairo

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

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Taping up the box following inspection

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

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

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

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

El Sisi

President El-Sisi

March 20, 2016 UPDATE

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

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Inside the main post office in downtown Cairo

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Travails Crossing the Rafah Border

Lora's passport stamp from Palestinian Authority.

Lora’s passport stamp from Palestinian Authority.

Travel to Gaza has never been easy.

In 2004, my friend and I made it through the Erez Checkpoint between Israel and Gaza only after answering a ton of questions at Ben Gurion airport. Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj, a world-renowned Palestinian psychologist in Gaza, was not so fortunate. Israel wouldn’t allow him to travel abroad to accept an international award from his peers, so we journeyed to Gaza to bring the award to him.

My next attempt to visit Gaza came in July 2011. I had an invitation to meet with colleagues at the university and planned to stay only a few days. I wanted to see how Israel’s Operation Cast Lead (08-09) had impacted the Gaza Strip. I thought I was prepared. I’d done my homework and read the entire Goldstone Report. My reading list was growing.

I suspected it might be dangerous. Hamas was now in control of the Gaza Strip. Vittorio Arrigoni, an Italian journalist and ISM volunteer, had been abducted and killed a few months earlier. But I wasn’t deterred.

I took the bus from Cairo to El-Arish in the northern Sinai. The 4-5 hour trip passed quickly without interruption. Hopping into a taxi for the final 50 km. to the Rafah border, I found myself sitting next to a journalist, a friend of Vittorio Arrigoni. I offered my condolences. When he heard about my plans to cross the Rafah border, he laughed at my naivety. No security clearance? No official paperwork giving me permission to cross the border? Good luck!

I recall thinking:

“I have permission from the Gaza side to enter, why would Egypt have any control on who LEAVES Egypt?”

Sign at the border between Egypt and Gaza.  I took the picture in July 2011.  Now I can read and understand the Arabic!

Sign at the border between Egypt and Gaza. I took the picture in July 2011. Now I can read and understand the Arabic

I was turned away.  لا لا لا  No – No – No! The Egyptian border agents spoke very little English but it was clear they didn’t see my name on their list and so I was not going to enter. I could stamp my feet and shake my head all I wanted, it made no difference. So I returned to Cairo and started knocking on government doors. It took about a month, but I finally received the approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a day before my flight was scheduled back to the United States. I was teaching and expected to be in my classroom the following week. So with my “approval” in hand, I returned home, deflated but not defeated.

I signed up for an Arabic Language class at my university and continued with my “homework” to learn as much as I could about the Israel-Palestine conflict. And I made plans to return to Gaza.

In the Spring of 2012, I contacted the Egyptian Embassy in Houston. I sent them my invitation from Gaza to teach a climate change seminar, along with my passport and the fees for a Visa. Several phone calls to follow-up, and I finally received my passport with the Visa and an official-looking paper giving me permission to cross the Rafah border. I flew to Cairo in September 2012 and made an uneventful crossing at Rafah.

Rafah border gate between Egypt and Gaza in the summer of 2011.

Rafah border gate between Egypt and Gaza

The next three months in Gaza were an amazing education for me. I can’t begin to summarize it here but take a look at my blog. I wrote alot about my experience. I was the student, my students were my teachers. In November 2012, Israel launched another military assault on Gaza which I’ve dubbed the Polite War. See here, and here, and here. The active shelling lasted 8 days and nights but the human trauma and scars will last another generation.

Silly me. I decided I needed a break and would spend the New Year holiday in Cairo before returning to Gaza. I left Gaza the day after attending a beautiful Christmas Eve mass in the Holy Family Church in the Old Town in Gaza City. Two weeks later, in early January 2013, I shared a taxi with a Palestinian friend who was returning to Gaza from his studies in Malaysia. On the ride across the northern Sinai, my friend showed me his manuscript that he wanted to get published. When we got to Rafah, I watched him skate through the checkpoint with no problem, while I was told لا لا لا again. No – No – No!

“Wait!  You let me cross 4 months ago and I have all the same paperwork. You’re mistaken. I must return to Gaza.”

Nothing I said made a difference. I returned to Cairo and spent the next 4+ weeks knocking on official doors, meeting and having my picture taken with the Egyptian Minister of Interior, the Egyptan Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Palestinian Ambassador to Egypt. Finally, I received a phone call about 10 PM one night in mid-February 2013 from the assistant to the Palestinian Ambassador. She told me that my name was on “the list” and I had permission to cross the Rafah border on Sunday.

Al-hamdulillah!

I returned to Gaza and solidified friendships, continued to learn more about the reality of Israel’s occupation and siege, and decided I wanted to make a difference … but how? In May 2013, I left Gaza determined to return. I wasn’t sure when or what I might be doing when I got back, but I left my heart in Gaza.

Ahmad and me at the Rafah border crossing on Gaza side.

Ahmad and me at the Rafah border crossing on Gaza side.

Fast forward to November 2015. I’m back in Cairo trying to return to Gaza.

I’ve packed up my house, put my things into storage and hired a property manager to take care of my home in the U.S. I’ve been a nomad or pilgrim for the past year, living with friends, waiting for the Egyptian Embassy in the U.S. to process my application to return to Gaza. For many, many months, the Egyptian Embassy wouldn’t even accept my application. “No one is allowed to cross the Sinai,” they told me. “It’s too dangerous.” I waited patiently.

In August, I called again. This time they said they would accept my application but didn’t make any promises about whether it would be approved. I submitted all of the paperwork to the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, DC and held my breath.

Al-hamdulillah! The Egyptian Embassy in DC notified me that my Visa application had been approved with the security clearance to cross the Rafah border. I picked it up on September 11 and left the U.S. on October 14 fully expecting that I would walk across the Rafah border without a hitch. My biggest concern was the weight of my luggage. I’m carrying a ton of books to the library and to friends in Gaza. I had to ditch most of my clothes and personal things to stay within the airline’s weight limit. [Side note: Israel must consider books a threat because these are one of the many prohibited items that Israeli officials will not allow into Gaza.]

When I arrived in Cairo, I learned that the security clearance marked in my Visa was probably not sufficient to get me across the Rafah border. Given the increased tension and violence in the northern Sinai, I don’t want to make an aborted trip and be turned away. I’ve had too much experience with that scenario.

Today I had a long phone conversation with an official in the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He received my fax (Visa with security clearance) and confirmed that it doesn’t give me permission to cross the Rafah border. It only gives me permission to enter Egypt.

I complained and told him the Egyptian Embassy in DC said I had permission to cross the Rafah border. I told him I don’t need security clearance to enter Egypt. I can just fly to Cairo and purchase a Visa at the airport.

He said there are new rules since the war in Gaza in the summer of 2014, the one Israel dubbed Operation Protective Shield. The U.S. Embassy in Cairo must fax a letter with my documentation to the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

I told him I would not have left the U.S. and traveled to Cairo unless I was told I had permission to cross the Rafah border.

He repeated that I need to talk with the U.S. Embassy in Cairo about faxing my papers to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  He said he would expedite my request as soon as he receives the fax from the U.S. Embassy.

Last Thursday I sent an email to the U.S. Embassy requesting a meeting. Today I’m going to send a message to my U.S. Senator asking for his help to arrange the meeting.

I’m also going to try to contact the Palestinian Ambassador in Cairo.

The reality of Rafah: this border was open 264 days in 2013 when I last crossed.  It was open 124 days in 2014. It’s only been open 19 days in 2015. Lora Lucero has options. I can sit and wait in Cairo. I can return to the U.S. I can hike the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. But the Palestinians in Gaza have no options. They can’t travel abroad for work, for higher education, for medical treatment or for pleasure, which is the basic right of any human being.

Americans – Ask yourselves if this seige on Gaza (going on 8 years now) is something you want your government and your tax dollars supporting.

Outside of the Rafah border crossing gate on the Egyptian side.

Outside of the Rafah border crossing gate on the Egyptian side.

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Filed under Egypt, Gaza, Israel

“Why can’t the Palestinian leaders build a state like the Zionists did after the Holocaust?”

“Why aren’t the Palestinian leaders building a country like my parents, survivors of the Holocaust and millions like them, did with Israel, instead of building tunnels, shooting missiles and subjecting their people to untold horrors?”

I gasped when I read this question sent to me by a well-educated, university professor in Israel. It was a serious question, deserving a serious response.

Where to begin?

To dissuade my friend of any notion that Palestinians might be incapable of building a country, I’ll remind him of the cities, industry, agriculture, schools and civic life that flourished in Palestine before my friend’s parents and other Zionists arrived. Please watch this 10 minute video.

When I returned from Gaza two years ago, I wrote my layman’s version of the history of Palestine here and here. Israel’s 67 years of dispossession, ethnic cleansing, and occupation of Palestine — as well as current events, including the Palestinian resistance and Israel’s successive military operations in the West Bank and Gaza — can only be understood in the context of the Nakba. I believe my Israeli friend’s question is sincere because either he doesn’t know about the Nakba (past and present) نكبة or he has decided to ignore and minimize the ongoing impacts of the Nakba.

I credit Ilan Pappe and Noam Chomsky for opening my eyes about the Nakba.

In the late 1980s, a group of Israeli historians, including Ilan Pappe and Benny Morris, began to challenge the commonly accepted version of Israeli history based on newly declassified Israeli government documents. Morris called them the New Historians. They went head-to-head with the traditional historians who cast Israel as the peace-seeking victim in a hostile Arab world, the David-and-Goliath narrative. The New Historians shared a more nuanced history of the exodus of the Palestinians and the reasons for the persistent political deadlock with the Arab states in the region.

Professor Ilan Pappe’s book “Ethnic Cleansing” was my education about the Nakba. I hope my friend will read it. In this video, Pappe describes in great detail about the Zionists who committed the Nakba crimes. He urges us to know the names of the perpetrators, the victims, the places and events of the Nakba. Pappe also speaks about the “conspiracy of silence” by the international community in 1948. Please watch.

So . . . . . why can’t the Palestinian leaders do what the Zionists have done (are still doing) in creating the State of Israel?

  • If my friend’s parents and other Zionists had decided to live peacefully side-by-side with the indigenous population when they arrived in Palestine, as Jews, Christians and Muslims had lived for many years, we would certainly be watching very different events unfold in the Middle East today.  The footage in this short clip shows a time when Palestinians of all faiths lived and worked side by side in harmony.
  • If the Zionists believed in a democracy that values plurality rather than an apartheid regime that values Jews over non-Jews, we would certainly be watching very different events unfold in the Middle East today. Saree Makdisi explains apartheid very well here and in his book “Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation.”

“Apartheid” isn’t just a term of insult; it’s a word with a very specific legal meaning, as defined by the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1973 and ratified by most United Nations member states (Israel and the United States are exceptions, to their shame).

apartheid wall

  • If Israel had not waged three military campaigns in Gaza over the past six years, Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009), Operation Pillar of Defense (2012) which I witnessed first hand from the ground in Gaza, and the most recent Operation Protective Edge (2014), and if Israel lifted the multi-year siege and blockade of Gaza, and if Israel allowed Palestinians in Gaza to travel freely to pursue educational opportunities, visit family, accept jobs, seek medical attention, etc., — if none of these inhumane actions had occurred and were still occurring — we certainly would be witnessing a vibrant economy in Gaza with the next generation of Palestinians living in hope, not despair. Instead, the U.N. is predicting that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020. Some of my blog posts from Operation Pillar of Defense are here, here and here.

I can hear your retort now, my friend.  It sounds something like this.  (I hope you are not offended, but I’ve heard the same words spoken seriously by many, many Jews.)

albert_einstein_quotes2

So long as the Zionists maintain the brutal occupation and dehumanization of the Palestinians, as they have for decades, resistance will continue.  Resistance in the form of political resistance at the United Nations, resistance at the International Criminal Court, cultural resistance such as teaching the next generation the Palestinian traditions, economic resistance, non-violent resistance in Budrus, resistance with the pen, and violent resistance.

I’ll conclude with Noura Erakat’s well-reasoned explanation of why Israel’s occupation is illegal. As an attorney yourself, I hope you will give Ms. Erakat the time and respect she deserves by reading her paper.

I appreciate your question which initiated this blog post, and I hope we will continue this discussion. Even more, I hope the occupation and dispossession of Palestinians from their land, which your parents and other Zionists started so many years ago, will come to an end very soon.

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Filed under Gaza, Hamas, IDF, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, Nakba, nonviolent resistance, Occupation, Peaceful, People, Politics, Settlers, United Nations, US Policy, Video

Day #4 – July 10, 2014 – Nowhere to go

The first ten days of Israel’s ‘Operation Protective Edge’ were conducted from the ‘safety’ of distance utilizing Israel’s superior air power against the tiny enclave of the Gaza Strip.

Just how large is Gaza? Some comparisons may help put things into perspective.

The Gaza Strip is only 139 square miles,  about the same size as Detroit (138.8 square miles), Philadelphia (134.1), Las Vegas (135.8), or Portland, Oregon (133.4).  With its population at approximately 1.82 million people,  Gaza has a population density of 13,064 people per square mile. That’s about half the density of New York City (27,778 people per square mile) and about equal with Boston (13,321 people per square mile).

The Gaza Strip outlined in green.

The Gaza Strip outlined in green. Egypt to the left (south) and Israel on the north and east. The Mediterranean on the west.

Thanks to this website, we can make some comparisons with other cities.

New York City - population 8.405 million (2013)

New York City – population 8.405 million (2013)

Melbourne - population 4.077 Million (2010)

Melbourne – population 4.077 million (2010)

Los Angeles - population 3.858 million

Los Angeles – population 3.858 million

London, population 8.308 million (2013)

London – population 8.308 million (2013)

Berlin - population 3.502 million (2012)

Berlin – population 3.502 million (2012)

Tokyo - population 13.35 million (2014)

Tokyo – population 13.35 million (2014)

More comparison maps are available here. And check out the Washington Post’s density comparisons here.

The biggest difference between the Gaza Strip and Los Angeles, Berlin, New York or any other large city is that if missiles are striking from above, people in those other cities can leave, run for dear life to a shelter somewhere away from the battle zone. But no one can leave Gaza. Israel has closed the borders of Gaza, effectively imprisoning 1.8 million men, women and children who have nowhere to flee. In fact, Israel has blockaded Gaza for the past 8 years.

Israeli military commanders often boast about their precision weapons, claiming they minimize civilian casualties and “collateral damage.”  The reality is that the men, women and children in the Gaza Strip are guinea pigs in this obscene war game scenario.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF)  supplied 5,000 tons of munitions to its troops to use in this campaign last summer, more than a 533% increase over the amount of munitions the IDF used in Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09. (UN Report #408)  They carried out more than 6,000 airstrikes in Gaza in July–August 2014.  As a result, 142 Palestinian families had three or more members killed in the same incident owing to the destruction of residential buildings, for a total of 742 fatalities. An even higher figure is reported by some non-governmental organizations, which speak of 1,066 people, including 370 children and 241 women, killed inside their homes. (UN Report #111)

IMAGINE LIVING IN NEW YORK CITY, BOSTON,

OR LOS ANGELES AND RUNNING FOR COVER!

Israel is imposing collective punishment against all Gazans, attacking hospitals, schools, and power stations. (Photo: Imgur) http://fpif.org/violating-international-law-gaza/

Israel is imposing collective punishment against all Gazans, attacking hospitals, schools, and power stations. (Photo: Imgur) http://fpif.org/violating-international-law-gaza/

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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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Filed under Gaza, Hamas, Israel, People

My plan to break the siege on Gaza

Sitting at lunch yesterday with friends, someone challenged me to think of a plausible scenario that might break the suffocating siege on Gaza.

Many around the world are commiserating with the Palestinians stuck behind closed borders. Students can’t travel to universities to continue their studies and risk losing their scholarships. Patients can’t travel abroad for life-saving medical procedures. I can’t even mail a box of books to the university in Gaza.

Egypt has closed its only border with Gaza at Rafah and has destroyed most of the tunnels which were the illicit, yet vital, lifeline between Gaza and the rest of the world.

Many Palestinians have never been able to travel outside of Gaza.

Many Palestinians have never been able to travel outside of Gaza.

Israel has 4 crossings with Gaza but only one of them is for PEOPLE. Another crossing is ostensibly for commercial cargo trucks to bring in supplies for 1.7 million people in Gaza. I wonder about the other 2 crossings.

In July 2013, a UN human rights official urged the end of the blockade. The UN issued a report that estimated that Gaza has had a total economic loss of over $76 million since the blockade began.

The UN report also included an assessment which indicates that 57% of people in Gaza do not have money to buy sufficient food and 80% of families receive some form of international aid.

So here’s my idea for ending the blockade.

  • Forget changing the hearts and minds of the Israelis, Egyptians or Americans (whom I believe enable and encourage the blockade to continue.) Of course, I’m not talking about average citizens but their governments who enforce policies to maintain the blockade.
  • Forget any airlifts into Gaza like the Berlin airlifts in 1948-1949. Israel maintains tight control over Gaza’s airspace and destroyed Gaza’s runway years ago.
  • I think the United Nations (or some international group of nations and organizations) should plan to launch a flotilla to the Gaza seaport to bring in vital medical supplies and books, and then ferry passengers from Gaza to Cyprus or Crete where they can catch flights to other destinations. A permanent ferry system should be established, ideally with daily trips in each direction. The U.N. could address Israel’s “security” concerns by taking responsibility for the immigration and emigration documents, at least until Palestine is declared a state on its own. The U.N. could address travelers’ concerns about a potential repeat of the Mavi Marmara massacre by deploying U.N. observers on ships to accompany the ferries, at least for the first few months until the ferry service had safely been established. And some of the $$millions that Qatar generously donated to Gaza could be redirected to restoring a fully functioning seaport that can accommodate large ferries and eventually cargo ships and cruise liners.

There. That’s my solution to the blockade. Please tell me what you think.

mediterranean-sea

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Filed under Economic Development, Egypt, Gaza, Israel, United Nations, US Policy

Coming and going

Imagine this!

You live in Manhattan. Your family has lived there for 60+ years, not by choice but forced to flee to Manhattan as refugees from Brooklyn where generations of your family — as far back as anyone can remember — lived. You still have the key to the family house in Brooklyn but haven’t been able to return for a visit.

Gaza Strip superimposed on New York

Gaza Strip superimposed on New York, USA

You dream of returning to Brooklyn one day, some day. The dream doesn’t fade with time.

The new inhabitants started coming by boat and plane from across the ocean, just a trickle at first. After WWI, the trickle turned into a stream, and after WWII, the stream turned into a flood. People all over the world continue to immigrate to Brooklyn even today, but you’re not allowed to even visit.

In 1948, these strangers pronounced Brooklyn as their own. The audacity of it all is still perplexing to many.  Some New York historians write that your grandparents left Brooklyn peacefully and voluntarily settled in Manhattan. You know differently.

Fast forward to the present.

Unemployment in Manhattan today is over 50% for youth under the age of 25; and naturally, many of them want to travel out of Manhattan in search of jobs. Others have received scholarships to study abroad.  There are many who need medical treatment in facilities outside of Manhattan.

Seems reasonable, doesn’t it?  But here’s the scoop.

There are only 5 crossings from Manhattan to the outside world.  You can’t fly out because the government in Brooklyn destroyed the airport; the train that ran between Manhattan and New Jersey in the 1970s hasn’t run for many, many years; and no boats are allowed to dock in Manhattan.  [In 2010, the people in Brooklyn shot and killed nine passengers on a boat trying to reach Manhattan.]  Fair warning!  If you are a fisherman, don’t go too far from shore because those folks in Brooklyn have been known to shoot and kill fishermen from Manhattan.

Those same people in Brooklyn strictly guard 4 of the 5 crossings, allowing people to travel only through one crossing on the north side if they’ve received a permit from Brooklyn. Three crossings are designated solely for commercial trucks to bring supplies in for the 1.7 million people stuck in Manhattan.  Nothing gets out because Brooklyn won’t allow exports from Manhattan.

The 5th crossing is a passenger checkpoint ostensibly guarded by the people in New Jersey but everyone winks and nods because they know that the powers-to-be in New Jersey and Brooklyn are collaborating to enforce travel restrictions on everyone in Manhattan and on foreigners wanting to visit Manhattan.  Even the U.S. government is in on the deal.

This whole situation seems pretty fantastical but the people of the world just put their heads in the sand and pretend not to notice this open air prison in which you live.

head-in-sand

Why are you imprisoned?  The government in Brooklyn says these travel restrictions are needed for “security”. The noose has grown even tighter since the elections in Manhattan in 2006 when the results surprised Brooklyn and others.

You are just SOL !

Fidaa Abuassi shares this atrocity much better than I in her piece called The Epic Struggle of a Trapped Student.

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Jus in Bello and Jus ad Bellum – The Laws of War

It’s Not Wrong, It’s Illegal: Situating the Gaza Blockade Between International Law and the UN Response – Noura Erakat

11 UCLA J. Islamic & Near E. L. 37 (available online for free download).

Living in Gaza for 8 months and sitting helplessly while Israeli bombs were falling all around us for 8 days in November 2012, I had a unique opportunity to experience “war” close-up and personal in a way that most Americans will never understand.

The experience stunned me and filled me with questions.

How could anyone call this a “war”?  It certainly was not a war of equals.  Has the definition of “war” been so obscured (war on drugs, war on terrorism) that any act of aggression might constitute an act of war?

Listening to President Obama on the radio say that “Israel has a right to defend herself” made me yell “Don’t the Palestinians in Gaza have the right of self-defense too?”

Why wasn’t anyone talking about the OCCUPATION when they reported about Hamas and others firing rockets into Israel, the growing death toll in Gaza, and the ceasefire negotiated with the help of Egypt’s new President Morsi?  All of the news reports from the West that I saw online conveniently omitted the OCCUPATION. Why?

israel_palestine-map-edit-1353601538.24

It seemed like I was living in an alternate universe while I was in Gaza, and I was very confused.  Now, however, Noura Erakat’s law review article has cleared up a lot of my confusion.  Thank goodness, there’s no alternate universe, just an impotent United Nations and a deliberate, ongoing campaign by Israel and the United States to blur the distinction between jus ad bellum and jus in bello.

War is governed by two different branches of international law.  As an attorney, you would think I should have known this, but I didn’t.  So it’s reasonable to assume that most journalists don’t know it either, but Obama and Netanyahu should.

Jus ad bellum is the branch of law that defines the legitimate reasons a state may engage in war and focuses on certain criteria that render a war just. The principal modern legal source of jus ad bellum derives from the Charter of the United Nations, which declares in Article 2: “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations”; and in Article 51: “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations.”

Jus in bello, by contrast, is the set of laws that come into effect once a war has begun. Its purpose is to regulate how wars are fought, without prejudice to the reasons of how or why they had begun. So a party engaged in a war that could easily be defined as unjust (for example, Iraq’s aggressive invasion of Kuwait in 1990) would still have to adhere to certain rules during the prosecution of the war, as would the side committed to righting the initial injustice. This branch of law relies on customary law, based on recognized practices of war, as well as treaty laws (such as the Hague Regulations of 1899 and 1907), which set out the rules for conduct of hostilities.

The easy way to remember the difference between the two is to remember that jus ad bellum refers to the laws governing when a state may START a war, and jus in bello refers to the laws governing how a state must CONDUCT the war.

Erakat says that  Israel is trying deliberately to change the law, blurring the distinction between the two and challenging the existing legal order: (a) by changing what is the permissible use of force that is allowed during an occupation, and (b) by changing the legal definition of “self-defense”.

My confusion has cleared considerably after reading Erakat’s article.  I encourage everyone (lawyers and non-lawyers alike) to read it, available here.

Much of her argument hinges on whether Israel occupies the Gaza Strip.  Israel says it evacuated the Gaza Strip in 2005 when it removed its settlements and soldiers, but Erakat notes that Israel maintains “effective control” over Gaza’s air space, seaports, telecommunications networks, electromagnetic sphere, tax revenue distribution, and population registry.  Israel maintains control over movement across 5 border crossings, and I will add that Egypt appears to be doing Israel’s bidding as far as controlling the Rafah border crossing.

Israel has also made the argument that there is no OCCUPATION in the West Bank because there was no State of Palestine in 1948 when it seized the land. Instead, Israel says it’s merely “administering the territories” despite the fact that the UN Security Council, the International Court of Justice, the UN General Assembly and the Israeli Supreme Court all reject that argument.

If there is no OCCUPATION, then Israel has no legal obligation as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention, but if there is an OCCUPATION, her responsibilities to the Palestinians are greater and she cannot invoke the right to self-defense in the same way.  The permissible use of force and the right to self-defense are treated differently under jus in bello and jus ad bellum. 

Under jus in bello, the permissible use of force is expansive. The principles of distinction and proportionality apply but Israel can probably use greater firepower than would be allowed under OCCUPATION, where the permissible use of force is limited to law enforcement and policing. That is why it’s very important to understand the distinction between the two and why Israel is working so hard to control the messaging about the OCCUPATION.

Israel is trying to avoid the constraints of international humanitarian law when it invokes “self defense.”  The right of self defense, Noura Erakat writes, has been under debate since the US attacked Iraq in the early 1990s. Should the legal definition be subject to the broad framework of customary international law? Or considered within the narrow constraints of the UN Charter? Can self-defense be invoked against non-state actors?

Israel cites two UN Security Council Resolutions adopted in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks (Res. 1368 and Res. 1373) which give states the right to defend against terrorist attacks.  Israel frames all acts of Palestinian violence as terrorism triggering these resolutions.  It appears Obama has adopted that same strategy, but Erakat makes a good argument that these resolutions do not apply to the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

Israel has rendered Gaza into a legal black hole where the only applicable law is its own.

Security Council Considers Middle East Situation, Including Palestinian Question, May 22, 2013

Security Council Considers Middle East Situation, Including Palestinian Question, May 22, 2013

Noura Erakat has some strong words about the U.N. Security Council’s failure to uphold the rule of law, in the way it has handled Israel’s actions vis a vis Palestinians.

The blockade on Gaza imposed in June 2007 and ongoing to this day, Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009), the assault against the Mavi Marmara in international waters in 2010, and the most recent assault last November which I witnessed in Gaza, are examples of the Security Council’s failure to hold Israel accountable under international law, failed to explicitly condemn the illegal blockade, and politicized international humanitarian law.

The United States has been complicit in this failure. Between 1972-1997, the US used its veto power on the UN Security Council 32 times to shield Israel from rebuke, nearly 1/2 of its vetoes since the founding of the United Nations.  (That fact alone bolsters my belief that nothing will change in Israel and Palestine until Americans change our government’s subservience to Israel. We must educate our Congress and President.)

Noura Erakat ends her law review article with some very clear recommendations for the United Nations, including reforming how the veto process works on the Security Council.  I wonder if anyone at the UN has read her piece.  They should.

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Mavi Marmara three years later

Istanbul has a very large waterfront, perhaps the city with the largest waterfront in the world.  (I don’t know, but I can’t think of another one.)

The city sits on both sides of the Bosphorus Strait connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara.

This waterfront is both a blessing and a curse.

Historically it opened up the city to foreign trade and commerce.  As a result, Istanbul is truly a bustling, cosmopolitan city today.  Prime Minister Erdogan and President Obama mentioned last week in the press conference at the White House that they want to increase trade between our two countries.

Istanbul waterfront

Istanbul waterfront

But this waterfront also left the city vulnerable. Many battles were waged to gain control over this strategic spot highlighting the city’s violent history.  The great forts and thick walls are still visible today.

2013-05-20 17.14.50

A battle of another sort occurred three years ago (May 31, 2010) onboard a Turkish ship called the Mavi Marmara.  Along with 5 other ships, the passengers on the Mavi Marmara attempted to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza to bring humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.

The Mavi Marmara

The Mavi Marmara

Nine Turkish citizens (one with dual US citizenship) were killed that night by Israeli commandos who boarded the Mavi Marmara in international waters to prevent the ship from reaching Gaza.  [Under any other circumstances, their actions would have been considered an act of piracy!]

Midnight on the Mavi Marmara” edited by Moustafa Bayoumi, is a good resource for those interested in learning more.   And this video (one hour) is also a good resource.  The Israeli commandos board the ship about 35-40 minutes into the video.

Understandably, there was international outrage over Israel’s actions on the Mavi Marmara.  Turkey threatened to break off diplomatic relations with Israel and demanded an apology.

Three years later, after Secretary of State John Kerry expressed sympathy for the families of the victims of the Mavi Marmara, comparing the violence on the Mavi Marmara with the violence at the Boston Marathon, he was criticized by Israeli politicians.

Asked about the recent thawing of relations between Israel and Turkey, Kerry said of the Mavi Marmara incident in May 2010, “I know it’s an emotional issue with some people. I particularly say to the families of people who were lost in the incident, we understand these tragedies completely and we sympathize with them. And nobody — I mean, I have just been through the week of Boston and I have deep feelings for what happens when you have violence and something happens and you lose people that are near and dear to you. It affects a community, it affects a country. We’re very sensitive to that.”

On May 17th, Kerry met with Ahmet Doğan, whose son Furkan Doğan was one of the Mavi Marmara victims.  Reportedly, he handed a note to Kerry for President Obama.

I have no idea what this father might have written but I hope he asked Obama to do everything in his power to hold Israel accountable for the death of his son. So long as the Israeli Occupation Forces can act with impunity, no one is safe.

Furkan Doğan, Turkish-American citizen, was the youngest victim on the Mavi Marmara (May 31, 2010)

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