Tag Archives: Gaza siege

Shooting fish in a barrel

Life is unbearable in Gaza. It’s been unlivable for years for the 2+ million Palestinians trapped there, but now it’s at the breaking point. Many (most?) feel there’s nothing to lose by going to the eastern border and facing down the Israeli marksmen who are shooting them like fish in a barrel. Today 55+ Palestinians have been killed (including a journalist, a medic and a Palestinian with no legs) and hundreds wounded for demanding their rights enshrined in United Nations Resolution 194.

Less than 100 miles away in Jerusalem, Netanyahu and others are in a celebratory mood as the U.S. flag is raised over the new U.S. Embassy. They don’t even acknowledge the slaughter occurring in Gaza.

Gaza slaughter

I’ve called my two U.S. Senators (Udall and Heinrich) and Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham, demanding that they condemn the slaughter of innocent, unarmed Palestinians. I want them to join the other members of Congress who have spoken out against the killing and maiming of unarmed protesters, including: Senators Feinstein, Warren, Leahy and Sanders; as well as the following House members:

Barbara Lee (CA 13)
Alan Lowenthal (CA 47)
Lloyd Doggett (TX 35)
Hank Johnson (GA 04)
Danny Davis (IL 07)
Jan Schakowsky (IL 09)
John Yarmuth (KY 03)
Jamie Raskin (MD 08)
Keith Ellison (MN 05)
Betty McCollum (MN 04)
David Price (NC 04)
Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ 12)
Earl Blumenauer (OR 03)
Steve Cohen (TN 09)
Gerry Connolly (VA 11)
Peter Welch (VT 1)
Mark Pocan (WI 02)
Pramila Jayapal (WA 07).

My eyes are now focused on Udall, Heinrich and Lujan-Grisham.  I’m going to hound them until they come clean with a statement condemning Israel’s slaughter of innocents.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/269659083″>Voices of the Siege</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user3079357″>The Palestine Chronicles</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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Filed under Gaza, IDF, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, nonviolent resistance, People, Uncategorized, United Nations, US Policy, Video

#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

Israeli/Palestinian Conflict 2005 – 2017

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A well-informed friend (neither Palestinian nor Israeli) recently prepared this timeline of key events during the past 12 years with a particular focus on Gaza. He wishes to remain anonymous at this time, but I am very grateful for his time and effort in pulling this timeline together.  Its value is not only the timeline’s comprehensive treatment but also its impartiality.

2005

 

Government of Israel (GOI) starts implementation of the so-called “Disengagement Plan”, which consists of the voluntary and unilateral withdrawal from all military bases and soldiers from the Gaza Strip, as well as the dismantling of the 21 Jewish settlements located within the Strip, being Gush Katif the largest of all. The “Disengagement Plan” had been designed by the Prime Minister at the time, Ariel Sharon.

 

GOI finishes the implementation of the “Disengagement Plan” successfully. Although facing some resistance from the young and more radical Jewish settlers there was no armed violence at all (unlike when Israel dismantled the settlement of Yamit in the Sinai Peninsula in compliance with the Camp David Accords from 1978). From there on, there has been no permanent Israeli presence or jurisdiction in Gaza. However, Israel retained control of certain elements, such as airspace, sea and borders, leading to an ongoing dispute as to whether Gaza is still “occupied territory” or not.

 

US Secretary of State Condolezza Rice visits Israel for the celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Itzaak Rabin and mediates the “Agreement on Movement and Access” to facilitate the reopening of the Rafah Crossing (that connects the Strip to Egypt, and from there to the rest of the world) under the management of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and the supervision of European border monitors. Rafah Crossing is reopened and becomes the first border crossing ever managed by the Palestinians (before they were in the hands of the Ottoman Empire, British Mandate, Egypt and Israel).

 

2006

 

The Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas (which is registered in the list of terrorist organizations of both the United States and the EU) unexpectedly wins a clear majority in the elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council (Parliament), after Fatah can’t politically sell the “Disengagement” as its own achievement through negotiations due to its unilateral character. The PNA´s bilateral relations with Israel deteriorate a lot, even though its President Mahmoud Abbas, remains a member of the secular party Fatah.

 

Following a Gaza beach blast, in which seven members of the same family were killed, the armed wing of Hamas called off its 16-month-old truce. Although GOI claimed its Army was shelling 250 mts away from the family’s location; Palestinians claimed that the explosion was Israeli responsibility. An Israeli internal investigation report claimed the blast was most likely caused by an unexploded munition buried in the sand and not by shelling. This investigation was criticized by human rights organizations.

 

After crossing the border the Gaza Strip into Israel in the South, the Palestinian “popular Resistance Committees” attacked an Israeli Army post, killing 2 soldiers, injuring 4 and capturing Corporal Gilad Shalit. GOI orders the Army to launch military operation “Summer Rains”. The kidnapping of Shalit leads to several collective punishment measures against the Strip, among them the reduction of the fishing space and the regular closure of the Rafah Crossing. This is considered to be the first stage of the blockade of the Strip.

 

Second Lebanon War starts after Shiite militia Hezbollah members infiltrated Israel in a cross-border raid, captured two soldiers and killed three others. Israel attempted to rescue the captured, and five more soldiers were killed. Israeli Army responded, attacking Lebanon from earth, air and sea. The conflict resulted in the deaths of 1,191 Lebanese people and 165 Israelis. Simultaneously, the Army launched a counter-offensive to deprive cover to militants firing rockets into from Gaza, killing 23 Palestinians.

 

A UN study declared the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip “intolerable”, with 75% of the population dependent on food aid, and an estimated 80% of the population living below the poverty line. The Palestinian economy had largely relied on Western aid and revenues, which had been frozen since Hamas’s victory in the legislative elections.

 

Brokered by Egyptian mediators, Fatah reached a deal to end fighting between the Hamas and Fatah factions, both groups agreeing to refrain from acts that raise tensions and committing themselves to dialogue to resolve differences. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas brushed off comments by President Mahmoud Abbas, head of Fatah, who indicated he could dismiss the Hamas-led cabinet. Abbas unsuccessfully urged Hamas to accept international calls to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

 

2007

 

Fatah-Hamas negotiations in Mecca (Saudi Arabia) produced an agreement on a Palestinian national unity government.

 

After the increasing of intra-governmental tensions within the PNA Hamas launches an strike against Fatah loyalists in Gaza, taking control of all the Strip within a few days of intense fighting. Since then the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have remained fragmented, both geographically and politically.

 

US Administration under George W. Bush promoted the Annapolis Conference, a peace conference marked the first time a two-State solution was articulated as the mutually agreed-upon outline for addressing the conflict. The conference ended with the issuing of a joint statement from all parties.

 

2008

 

Israeli Army launches Operation “Hot Winter” in response to rockets fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel. The operation resulted in 112 Palestinians and three Israelis being killed.

 

Israeli Army raids the Gaza Strip without a clear and direct reason for it, killing six members of Hamas. Hamas cancels the truce agreement that it had respected most of time. The armed wing of Hamas responds with rocket attacks on southern Israel.

 

Israeli Army launches Operation “Cast Lead”, a full-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip.

 

2009

 

Operation “Cast Lead” continues until January 18. After 22 days of fighting, Israel and Hamas each declared separate unilateral ceasefires. Casualties of the so-called “first Gaza War” are disputed. According to Hamas, they included as many as 1,417 Palestinians including as many as 926 civilians. According to Israeli Army, 1,166 Palestinians were killed, and 295 were non-combatants. “Cast Lead” is criticized by the Goldstone Report under the auspices of the UN.

 

Although Kadima wins the legislative elections its candidate for Prime Minister, Tzipi Livni, doesn´t get enough support in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) and the candidate of the Likud party Benjamion Netanyahu is appointed as new Prime Minister.

 

2010

 

Turkish and international activists of the “Freedom Flotilla” try to break Israel’s naval blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza, but were intercepted by the Israeli Army. When the Israeli naval commandos boarded the main ship (Mavi Marmara) the activists attacked them with knives and metal rods. 9 Turkish activists are shot dead after a quite negligent crisis management by GOI.

 

U.S. launches direct negotiations between GOI and PNA in Washington D.C.

 

GOI decides not to extend the construction moratorium in the settlements of the West Bank that had been agreed by the Obama Administration as a confidence-building measure with the PNA. A second round of Middle East peace talks between GPI and PNA takes place in Sharm el-Sheikh (Egypt).

 

2011

 

Two young Palestinians with no previous security offenses infiltrate the settlement of Itamar and murder five members of the same family in their beds. This incident creates a lot of mistrust on the Israeli public opinion about re-launching the Peace Process.

 

Egyptian and Palestinian militants perpetrate a cross-border attack in southern Israel and killed 8 Israelis, 2 soldiers and 6 civilians. 40 injured. 5 Egyptian soldiers are also killed. This incident becomes an example of the militarization process and chaos in the Sinai Peninsula during the “Arab spring” taking place in Egypt.

 

Palestine applies to the UN General Assembly for recognition of Palestine statehood, calling it a “Palestine Spring”.

 

Hamas liberates soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for the liberation of 1.000 Palestinian prisoners (with very diverse backgrounds) by Israel.

 

Palestine wins membership in UNESCO while UN vote on statehood is put on hold. In the Security Council, Palestine gets no support from France and UK while US threatens to veto it.

 

2012

 

Gaza militants launch over 300 rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel, wounding 23 civilians. Israeli Army retaliates with air strikes on Gaza targets, killing 22 militants and 4 civilians.

 

Israeli Army lunches Operation “Pillar of Defense” after perpetrating a “targeted killing” against Hamas´ armed wing head, Ahmed Jabari. Gaza officials said 133 Palestinians had been killed in the conflict of whom 79 were militants, 53 civilians and 1 policeman. Around 840 Palestinians are wounded. Hamas fires over 1,000 rockets at southern Israel, killing 6.

 

UN General Assembly upgrades Palestine to “non-member observer State” status in the United Nations, was adopted by the 67th session of the UNGA, coinciding with the celebration of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinians People. Vote: For: 138; Abs.: 41 Against: 9.

 

In response to the UN approving the Palestinian UN bid for non-member observer state status, GOI announces the approval of building of housing units in the E1 Area that connects Jerusalem and Israel settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, while effectively cutting the West Bank in two pieces.

 

2013

 

Likud party wins the legislative elections in coalition with Israel Beitenu and Benjamin Netanyahu is re-elected as Prime Minister.

 

2014

 

Three Israeli youngsters are kidnapped and assassinated while hitchhiking home from their religious schools in settlements on the West Bank. GOI blames the assassination on Hamas, and claims it was ordered by one of its leaders in exile, Salah Al Arouri, who lives in Turkey.

 

Israeli Army rounds up more than 150 Palestinians, including Parliament speaker Abdel Aziz Dweik and several members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (who are supposed to enjoy Parliamentary immunity).

 

Israel Air Force launches dozens of air strikes across the Gaza Strip overnight, just hours after the bodies of three abducted Israeli teenagers were found in a shallow grave near the southern West Bank city of Hebron. Following the discovery of the bodies, Netanyahu issues a statement once again blaming Hamas. Hamas denies involvement.

 

In retaliation to the abduction of the 3 Israeli teenagers, 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir is grabbed off the street after leaving his home in Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhood of Shuafat, is beaten up and burnt alive, provoking a wave of riots in East Jerusalem.

 

Israeli Army launches Operation “Protective Edge” against the Gaza Strip. More than 2,200 Gazans are killed and 10,000 injured –from them around 70% civilians according to the UN– after almost two months of shelling from earth, air and sea. 73 Israelis get killed, from them 66 soldiers and 7 civilians. This “third Gaza war” becomes the most lethal and destructive of all military operations launched by the Israeli Army against the Gaza Strip.

 

The international community, under the auspices of Egypt and Norway, celebrates a donor Conference for Reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. The PNA presents its National Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan, for which so far has not even 50% of the funding that was pledged by the donors at the Cairo Conference from 12 October 2014.

 

2015

 

Likud Party wins the early elections and Benjamin Netanyahu gets reelected as Prime Minister for his third term in a row and fourth term altogether (at the end of his current mandate he will become Israel´s longest serving head of Government). The ruling coalition becomes Israel´s most right-wing Government ever.

 

All UN agencies release a joint report under the name of “Gaza 2020” stating that if current trends remain (population growth, lack of drinking water, lack of natural resources, energy restrictions, etc.) the Gaza Strip will be uninhabitable by 2020.

 

The recurrent provocations by right-wing Members of the Knesset visiting the Haram Al Sharif in the old city of Jerusalem (third most important religious site for Islam, but also the most important for Judaism, as it is believed to be the site of the Temple Mount, where both Jewish Temples were erected before their destruction leads to the so-called “Knife Intifada” (sequence of attacks with knives against Israeli policemen and civilians).

 

2016

 

After several months of quiet the Jewish High Holiday season (New Year, Yom Kippur, Sukkot) leads to more visits to the Temple Mount by right-wing members of Knesset and even a couple Government ministers, provoking more riots and turmoil in Jerusalem.

 

2017

 

Yahya Sinwar replaces Ismael Haniye as head of Hamas for the Gaza Strip. Haniye replaces Khaled Meshal as head of the Political Office of Hamas in exile.

 

Three young Israeli Arabs manage to smuggle fire arms into the Haram Al Sharif and kill two Israeli Policemen at one of the entrances. GOI installs metal detectors and CCTV cameras at different entrances to the Holy Explanade, detonating a new wave of riots. After the killing of two Jordanian citizens by an Israeli security guard in Amman (Jordan) GOI finds the way out of the crisis, removing the detectors and the cameras after two weeks of violence.

 

Hamas announces it will allow the PNA to retake over some ministries, executing effective control over them and cancelling the “administrative committee” it had created last April after the PNA cancelled the payments for fuel (stopping the power station in Nuseirat) and reducing the payments for electricity (that it buys from Israel). It also announces that the Ramallah Government lead by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah can call for both legislative and presidential elections (the Legislative Council doesn´t work since 2007 and President Abbas rules by decree since 2010 as his mandate expired) creating new expectations for national reconciliation.

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Filed under Elections, Gaza, Hamas, IDF, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, Politics, Settlers

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

Dear Senator Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth_Warren_CFPB

Dear Senator Warren,

Thank you for your leadership to protect the Middle Class (consumers and taxpayers) and to hold the financial Wall Street titans accountable for their irresponsible greed. Many Americans, including me, have watched your strong advocacy hoping that a new culture of fairness for the “little guy” is finally coming to Congress. You have asked the tough questions that need to be addressed, and you have demanded answers when many of your colleagues in Washington D.C. seemed content to maintain the status quo. Thank you!

Now, I hope you will use the same moral clarity which has guided you on consumer protection issues and turn that moral compass to foreign policy issues and, in particular, to the Palestine-Israel conflict. Just as the financial morass demanded scrutiny beneath the surface, there is much more to the Israel-Palestine conflict than is reported in the general media. My personal education about Gaza and Hamas grew tremendously after spending 9 months (September 2012 – May 2013) teaching in Gaza.

No American politician knows Israel and Palestine better than President Jimmy Carter. I encourage you to invite President Carter to either a personal meeting or a gathering of your peers in Congress to share his experience and recommendations. Ask him your tough questions about the Middle East.

I also hope you will have an opportunity to read the short stories written in English by young authors from Gaza in Gaza Writes Back. I’m pleased to give you this gift with the hope that you will find time, perhaps on your daily commute, to hear from Palestinians about life in the Gaza Strip.

GWB-cover

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency issued a report two years ago that Gaza may be unlivable by 2020. The Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been struggling under Israel’s oppressive economic, political, and cultural siege for 7 years. Movement in and out of Gaza has virtually ceased for most Palestinians and others wishing to visit. The buffer zones imposed by Israel have severely curtailed agricultural production and fishing. The damage sustained from Israel’s past 3 military offenses in Gaza (Dec 2008- Jan 2009, Nov. 2012 and July – Aug 2014) has been cumulative, with families never fully recovering.

American taxpayers support these military operations and Israel’s illegal military occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to the tune of over $3 Billion per year, far more than any other country receiving US foreign aid. As investors in this long-term occupation lasting more than six decades, Americans have a responsibility to ask if it’s in our best interest to continue subsidizing the occupation or could the U.S. be a more responsible friend to Israel by employing some tough love?

We should demand that Israel stop all illegal settlement expansions in the occupied Palestinian territories, and if Israeli leaders refuse, we should withhold our generous foreign aid. We should not be cooperating in the economic siege of the Gaza Strip, and we should demand that Israel lift it. Finally, we should demand that the illegal military occupation of Palestine end.

You may hear from foreign policy advisers that the geopolitical landscape in the Middle East defies any simple solutions like the three I have mentioned above, but then I hope you will use the same moral compass and independent thinking that you have used on consumer protection issues.

Thank you.

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Filed under Gaza, Israel, Occupation, People, Politics, US Policy

Mavi Marmara – 4 years and counting

Imagine this.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declares Manhattan off limits to everyone.  No one can enter, no one can leave without his approval. Every shipment of food, clothes, medicines, textbooks, building supplies —- all of it —- must be approved by Cuomo before it’s allowed into Manhattan. By land, sea or air — the blockade is complete — nothing gets in or out.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

OK – I know this sounds far-fetched, but humor me.

You may agree with his decision to isolate the 1.6 million (2012) New Yorkers living in Manhattan, or not.  It doesn’t really matter. The reality is that Cuomo has maintained a suffocating siege on Manhattan for seven years and there is no end in sight, despite the pleas from the United Nations, many in the UK Parliament,  Australia and elsewhere.

A panel of five independent U.N. human rights experts says the siege violates international law, and is collective punishment in “flagrant contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law.”

Gaza superimposed on Manhattan, NY

Gaza superimposed on Manhattan

In May 2010, a flotilla of 6 boats from Baltimore tried to break the siege on Manhattan. The organizers announced their plans, there were no secrets or attempts to deceive anyone. They knew they ran the risk of irritating Cuomo and possibly encountering a violent response. When Cuomo heard of their plans, he warned them not to try to break the siege.

These activists knew in their hearts that they were on the right side, that the blockade was illegal under international law, and they felt a tremendous sense of solidarity with everyone living in Manhattan – “the largest open air prison in the world.”

Mavi Marmara

Mavi Marmara

Activists from 50 different countries in 6 boats decided to break Cuomo’s siege. They carried 10,000 tonnes of aid to Manhattan.  As the flotilla approached Manhattan, Cuomo’s commandos descended from a helicopter onto the Mavi Marmara.

There is a dispute about what happened next.  Cuomo claimed the activists attacked his commandos, and the activists claim that the commandos shot and killed 9 activists execution style.  (A 10th recently died of his wounds.) The Guardian reported:

What is certainly true is that shortly after the assault, all communications with the flotilla were blocked. Mobile phones, satellite phones and internet access all went down, making it all but impossible to glean any account from the passengers about what had happened, beyond the few minutes that were captured on film. Cuomo’s version of events became the only one available in any detail.

In the past 4 years, there have been fact-finding missions to piece together what really happened on the Mavi Marmara on May 31, 2010.

Baltimore’s Mayor and Cuomo have attempted to reconcile and there have been discussions of Cuomo paying compensation to the families of the victims, but no agreement has been reached yet. Two years ago, a Baltimore court charged four of Cuomo’s men, and prosecutors are seeking life imprisonment for their crimes. Earlier this week, the court issued arrest warrants for the four men.

Cuomo’s response?  He laughed it off and thinks the whole judicial process against his men is merely politics.

No respect for the rule of law —- in 2010 or today.

Check out video footage of the attack on the Mavi Marmara taken by one of the passengers.

 

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Filed under Gaza, Israel Defense Forces, People, Politics, Video