Tag Archives: Israel blockade

“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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Filed under Gaza, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, Video

Friends talking to friends

Very good friends recently shared some advice with me.

“Talk and write more about the mainstream challenges that Palestinians in Gaza face — like climate change, population pressure, water quality and quantity, economic vitality, equity, democracy – rather than as victims because then we could better identify with them as humans facing similar challenges that others face.”

As it stands now, my friends (and probably most Americans) have a difficult time feeling sympathy for the Palestinians in Gaza despite knowing intellectually about their tremendous struggles and difficult circumstances. Their apathy (my word, not theirs) results from a feeling of not being able to make a difference, and so they turn their attention in a different direction.

My friends continue:

“Like it or not, given the sources of information available, we view the Gazans primarily as victims. But we believe that they have brought a portion of their victimhood upon themselves by selecting Hamas as their government. While we can agree that Israel’s oppressive actions are excessive, the Gazans will continue being victims as long as Hamas continues their adversarial role toward Israel. Gaza’s chance for a better future might happen if the Gazans would go to the streets to protest and insist that there should be a fair and free election that might bring a government that has their well being as it’s first priority. We have no idea if this is possible, or if it’s what the Gazan’s really want.  Perhaps we can talk more about this.”

Now I know I really have my work cut out for me … because my friends represent IMHO (in my humble opinion) the cream of the crop of American society. They are highly educated, well-read on the Middle East and politics, world-wide travelers, open-minded and willing to learn.

Yet, they think Hamas is the problem and the Palestinians are partially responsible because they elected Hamas.

There is SO MUCH to say in response. Where do I begin?

My friends have given me a gift.  I’m going to do my best to respond over the next couple of days. I’ll begin — but not end — with this opinion piece published in the Guardian this week.

Judge Hamas on the measures it takes for its people
Ahmed Yousef

It really doesn’t matter what political party you belong to in Palestine because every single one has first to deal with Israeli occupation, settlements, theft and expropriation before it can begin to campaign about public policy on jobs, healthcare and the economy. Despite this stark reality, the question I have faced most frequently since returning to Gaza in 2006 is this: does the Hamas charter, which contains passages deemed offensive to Jewish people, truly represent the movement’s vision and political goals? Diplomats, journalists, academics, parliamentarians and politicians from numerous nations have empathised with Palestinians; yet they all seem to struggle with this document.

The question is understandable given how frequently much of the foreign media refers to it. The reality, however, is that one would be hard pressed to find any member of Hamas who is fully versed in the content of the charter – a treatise that was actually never universally endorsed by the movement. Earnest students of Palestine should consider the context. This was a text written in the early days of the first intifada. Our youth rebelling against the Israeli occupiers needed a rallying cry – a written expression of their resolve. The charter was designed to be that inspirational document and it was never intended to be the governing instrument, the guiding principle or the political vision of the movement.

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Hamas is a Palestinian liberation movement that uses traditional Islamic teaching as its point of reference. Israeli media and many of the western channels that mimic it have far too easily succumbed to the Israeli establishment’s propaganda that the group is akin to al-Qaida and/or a front for Iran and/or a combination thereof. Were pundits to truly scrutinise Hamas’s actions since its inception, they would find not a single official statement or position that is based on denigrating another faith, certainly neither Judaism nor Christianity. Nor can anyone produce a shred of evidence that Hamas formally encourages prejudice against anyone’s ethnicity. And the group has been far more conscious of avoiding civilian casualties than the Israelis. We in Gaza are witnesses to the deaths of scores of our children, while Israeli television has largely been able to parade only the coffins of soldiers.

Hamas is simply a movement resisting occupation and besiegement. The cause of our conflict with the Israelis is their desire to make of us a servile minority or an emigrant memory and they have done nothing that would grant us the dignity of self-determination. Even now, it is the Israelis who issue a Palestinian his or her identity card under the terms of Oslo. Hamas draws inspiration from faith; yet religion has little to do with our struggle. Our faith determines our values, not our platform. What every Palestinian – Muslim or Christian and of every political hue – struggles for is dignity and freedom, for the right to be recognised in our own land, a struggle for our political and economic rights, a struggle for sovereignty and the right to govern ourselves.

Gaza 2014 - credit D. Cormier

Gaza 2014 – credit D. Cormier

Palestinians are no different from any other people around the globe. But we certainly are less capable than the Israelis of manipulating the media. First they rallied the world against communism, then they labeled the nationalists terrorists; and now Islamists are the true villains. Yet look beneath the rhetoric with a just eye and you will discover that we are not fanatics who want to impose beliefs that others don’t share. All we seek is to be given our rightful place among the family of nations.

Scrutinise the manifesto upon which we were elected to govern in 2006 if you really wish to understand the political vision of Hamas, not a charter drawn up decades ago and long forgotten. Sadly we were deprived of the opportunity to implement in full many of the reforms set out in that policy document. Nonetheless our record of government in Gaza, despite the almost impossible circumstances created by the eight-year-old siege, demonstrates our willingness to work for the overall good of society and not just our own supporters. Hamas believes in the democratic process and that is why in 2006 we relinquished the right to govern alone in favour of a broader coalition that would reflect the aspirations of all Palestinians. Unfortunately our proposal was rejected, a fact that seems to have been conveniently overlooked in the desire to demonise our movement as power-seeking fanatics. Again more recently in our wish to move forward and to promote Palestinian reconciliation, we voluntarily handed over power in Gaza to a technocratic government.

When Hamas decided to engage fully in the political process we did not abandon our legal and moral right to resist occupation and the daily Israeli aggression. This we hold in common with many other liberation movements around the world. The price we have paid for this is exclusion by many western countries that at the same time chose to overlook the brutal and illegal actions of our Israeli occupiers. The right of the occupier to purportedly defend itself trumped our right to exist in peace.

We have been condemned for firing home-made rockets in protest at a siege that is aimed at depriving over a million and a half people of the basic necessities of daily life: electricity, clean water, medical drugs and equipment. We are also blocked from importing everyday building, industrial and farming materials necessary to provide jobs and develop a viable economy. Our students and our sick are denied the right to travel for their education and healthcare. The list is endless and yet we are the ones who are condemned. When we enter into ceasefires and our forces impose months of calm despite no change in the status quo, we see no tangible results – the relentless, dehumanising weight of the siege continues unabated. Why, then, is the world surprised when we resist? What people on this planet would sit quietly and allow themselves to bleed out a slow death without fighting for survival?

Figure 1: Gaza Strip blockade. Source: UN OCHA

Figure 1: Gaza Strip blockade. Source: UN OCHA

Judge Hamas on the measures it takes for its people. Do not rely on the words of a document – the charter – written under entirely different circumstances. Declare it dead, some have said; and yet, to do so would be to succumb to yet another Israeli demand. We do what is right, not what we are told by an occupier. We will continue to resist so long as the injustices inflicted upon the Palestinian people go unaddressed. But we will also continue to look for ways to move forward and to address the core issues of our conflict with the Israelis.

We embraced the ballot box as a way to advance the Palestinian cause in 2006; but despite the democratic mandate we received from our people we were ejected from the political process by a set of preconditions (imposed by the Quartet) that no serious political party would sign up to without prior negotiations. We relinquished our control in Gaza in favour of Palestinian unity in 2014 for the sake of our people. A united Palestinian front is an essential step towards finding a just and durable solution to this conflict; and yet, perhaps, it is this unity that worries the occupier. A divided people, after all, are far easier to subjugate. Hopefully the international community will not be duped again by Israeli hawks and will give the dove a chance to carry the olive branch forward.

Shujaya 9

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Filed under Gaza, Hamas, Israel, People

Message from Gaza: Israeli Policies & Climate Change, Pushing Gaza into the Grave

By: Ahmad Abu Safieh, Gaza, Palestine. 18th September 2014.

This message is from the city of Gaza where the annual population growth rate is 2.91% (2014 est.), the 13th highest in the world. Due to the severe damage from the recent 50 day conflict, there is a limited capability to construct new homes and facilities for this growth. The territory is 41 kilometers (25 mi) long, and from 6 to 12 kilometers (3.7 to 7.5 mi) wide, with a total area of 365 square kilometers (141 sq mi). As of 2014, Palestinians of the Gaza Strip numbered around 1.8 million people. The large Palestinian refugee population makes it among the most densely populated parts of the world with 4822 (individual/Km2). [1]

Gaza has limited available natural resources to restore and sustain infrastructure and facilities, and as a result, Gaza will be increasingly unable to meet the growing demands of the people who live there. The Gaza Strip relies on a water supply from an underlying aquifer that has been over pumped for decades. By 2020 at the latest, Gaza will effectively be without water. Already most of Gaza’s households have little or no water supply, and the water that is available is seriously contaminated and unfit for human consumption. [2]

Photo 1: Water crisis in Gaza Strip, Palestinian Childs packaged drinking water from a UNRWA school due to the interruption of water from their homes during the recent war in July-August 2014.

Photo 1: Water crisis in Gaza Strip, Palestinian Childs packaged drinking water from a UNRWA school due to the interruption of water from their homes during the recent war in July-August 2014.

The economic situation in the Gaza Strip is problematic to say the least. There is a lot of poverty and unemployment figures are very high. Because of restrictions fishing vessels are not allowed to operate beyond a certain fishing zone and farming grounds cannot be reached because of military actions by Israel. Free transportation of people and goods is prohibited, and the airport was destroyed years ago by bombardments.

The Occupation of the Gaza Strip refers to a land, air, and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip by Israel from 2007 to present. Gaza is facing a power crisis as a result of a shortage of fuel, with blackouts lasting 12-16 hours and sometimes reaches to 20 hours a day. The electricity problem in Gaza is severe, and pump stations have become inoperative, factories have been forced to cut production, leading to layoffs, and hospitals are running on emergency reserves.

“Once more, Gaza is quickly becoming uninhabitable,” said Filippo Grandi, the UNRWA’s commissioner-general. “Perhaps strengthening the human security of the people of Gaza is a better avenue to ensuring regional stability than physical closures, political isolation and military action.”

Figure 1: Gaza Strip blockade. Source: UN OCHA

Figure 1: Gaza Strip blockade. Source: UN OCHA

The Gaza Strip has been one of the successive conflict areas in the world for decades and over time a significant environmental problem has developed in the region. Israel has contributed extensively to the worsening climate crisis through war crimes against humanity in Gaza. During the most recent fighting – from 8 July to 26 August 2014 – Israeli Forces conducted a military operation that specifically targeted Gaza. This devastating operation included bombardment by land, sea and air, with numerous incursions into the Gaza Strip by Israeli forces. The environmental situation in this area was already quite serious prior to these recent events, exacerbated by a lack of ability to invest in recovery systems, and a lack of prioritization towards environmental projects.

Figure 2: United Nations OCHA occupied Palestinian territory, Gaza Humanitarian Dashboard September 2014

Figure 2: United Nations OCHA occupied Palestinian territory, Gaza Humanitarian Dashboard September 2014

The most recent conflict has caused extensive damage and increased pressure on already deeply stressed environmental facilities and institutions. The most prominent examples are immediately apparent – the large volume of rubble and the significant damage to sewage and wastewater systems. Water supplies have also been critically affected by the destruction of water wells and drinking water pipes. Other adverse environmental effects include the widespread destruction of agricultural areas, severe damage to smaller industrial enterprises, and an alarming increase in toxic pollutants being discharged into the Mediterranean and the local groundwater.

Photo 3: Palestinian man, standing in front of the flames rising from the only electricity station in the Gaza Strip, after an Israeli raid, July 29, 2014 (Mahmoud Hommos / AFP)

Photo 3: Palestinian man, standing in front of the flames rising from the only electricity station in the Gaza Strip, after an Israeli raid, July 29, 2014 (Mahmoud Hommos / AFP)

The direct damage resulting from these military raids and explosions is immediately evident in the visible destruction of buildings and infrastructure. But there is a much more harmful and debilitating indirect damage that is difficult to calculate since it is long term, and appears gradually over time. An immediate example would be the fires resulting from the bombing, and the remnants of explosive materials and gases which spread and remain stuck in the air, and thus constitute a major threat to life and the environment, and greatly increase the chances of contamination of water, air and soil.

The air pollutant of greatest concern to human health is particulate matter in the form of aerosols, which include haze, dust, particulate air pollutants and smoke. The off-gassing and contaminants from this lead to health damage such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Children, older adults, and those with heart or lung disease are most likely to be affected by this type of air pollution, but for those with heart or lung diseases, premature death can occur as well.

As winter approaches, the air contaminated with these pollutants will turn into rain that will fall on the ground causing more pollution and the destruction of agricultural lands and crops and the spread of diseases. As these toxic substances deposited in the soil reach groundwater and seep into the sea, they will also create an environmental crisis for the wealth of fish that constitute an essential source of food in Gaza. Such damage would not be limited to the inhabitants of Gaza but could also reach to other parts of the world. As a result of ocean currents and weather patterns these contaminants could easily travel to other countries, causing a host of international health and environmental problems.

In addition, on April 2014, the third Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in the fifth installment of their Assessment Report (AR5), determined that climate change, and the resultant increases in temperature, sea levels, and precipitation, has now become the greatest threat to human life on the planet. The eastern side of the Mediterranean, where Gaza is located, faces serious climate related challenges that will require entirely new policies and environmental strategies in order to successfully cope.

Forecasted climate changes for the eastern Mediterranean mainly affect the start and duration of the different seasons, and the quantity of rainfall. This has two anticipated effects: first, periods of heavier rainfall will be concentrated in a shorter time, with consequent increased run-off and erosion and decreased absorption capacities of the soil. Less retained water will result in lower pasture production, forcing herders to purchase (more) fodder. Second, however, reduced rainfall will result in a lower quantity of water harvested and stored in cisterns, forcing herders to purchase (more) tankered water. [3]

The IPCC predicts that, for the southern and eastern Mediterranean, warming over the 21st century will be larger than global annual mean warming – between 2.2-5.1C◦ according to a realistic emissions scenario (Scenario A1B). Annual precipitation rates are deemed likely to fall – decreasing 10% by 2020 and 20% by 2050 – with an increased risk of summer drought. [4]

Photo 4: The destructive impacts of Storm "Alexa"in the Gaza Strip, following 36-hours of heavy precipitation on 10-14 December 2013.

Photo 4: The destructive impacts of Storm “Alexa”in the Gaza Strip, following 36-hours of heavy precipitation on 10-14 December 2013.

Through the crucial issue of increasing the atmospheric temperature due to  greenhouse gas emissions, their impacts are fraught with consequences in the 21st century for health and human activities, in particular agriculture, fishery, tourism, infrastructures, urbanised coastal areas, water resources and natural areas. In order to minimize as much as possible the economic losses and damages, several adaptation options must be thought out and implemented.

Finally, it is not a game; it’s an open invitation to all; UN, world leaders, international institutions, activists, experts and youth all over the world to act and show their interest through joint action and supportive decision-making positions to save Gaza from the grave. As a citizens of Gaza, there is an urgent need for hard-working, effective techniques and global support to help in these efforts to not only rebuild Gaza decimated infrastructure, but also to prepare it to withstand the increasing environmental challenges that will be faced by many countries all over the world.

Together we should try to build Gaza future in which humans live in harmony with nature. We don’t want only to protect the Gaza environment; we want to create a place where the environment doesn’t need protecting.

———–

Ahmad Abu Safieh is a 24-year-old Palestinian living in Gaza. He holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the College of Engineering at the Islamic University of Gaza (January 2013) and volunteers with the Arab Youth Climate Movement (AYCM). He may be reached at civil.abusafieh@gmail.com.

References:

  • Mid 2014, Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS).
  • August 2012, “Gaza in 2020 A liveable place?” A report by the United Nations Country Team in the occupied Palestinian territory.
  • April 2013, Climate Change Adaptation Strategy and Programme of Action for the Palestinian Authority.
  • April 2014, the third Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in the fifth instalment of their Assessment Report (AR5).

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Filed under Environment, Gaza, Israel, Occupation, People, Uncategorized, United Nations

Letter to Congress from an American in Gaza

This morning I had the opportunity to join a group who met with Representative Michelle Lujan-Grisham (D-NM) in Albuquerque.  She’s a first-term member of Congress who admits her strength is social services and health policies, not foreign policy.

She acknowledges having a high learning curve when it comes to the Middle East, but says she tries to attend every Congressional briefing on foreign policy. She has noticed over the past 6 months that there’s a shift among her colleagues in Congress, they have “a new level of concern” and “want more balanced and clear recommendations.” She leaves these classified meetings now “feeling unsettled.”

When I learned that this meeting in Albuquerque had been organized, I turned to my American friend in Gaza for permission to share some of his photos of the horrific destruction in Gaza.  I gave 22 photos to Rep. Lujan-Grisham, along with a copy of the letter my friend wrote. I hope she reads it and takes it to heart. (The letter is reprinted below.)

Refaat Alareer and Rawan Yaghi meet with Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham (D-NM)

Refaat Alareer and Rawan Yaghi meet with Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham (D-NM)

I also shared a photo of a meeting in her DC office this past April with Refaat Alareer and Rawan Yaghi. Refaat is a Professor of English Literature at the Islamic University of Gaza and the Editor of Gaza Writes Back. Rawan is one of his students and contributed a short story to the book.

GWB-cover

None of us knew when we met in her DC office in April that Israel would launch Operation Protective Edge a few weeks later, killing over 2000 Palestinians in Gaza. When she saw the photo this morning, Rep. Lujan-Grisham asked if Refaat was OK. I told her that Refaat’s brother was killed this summer and his home was destroyed. She was speechless.

Meeting with Representative Michelle Lujan-Grisham (center front)

Meeting with Representative Michelle Lujan-Grisham

Even for a strong, articulate politician, there are no words. I hope the news gave her pause to think more deeply about U.S. policy in the Middle East.  I hope she takes the time to read Denny Cormier’s letter.

September 22, 2014

Dear Representative Grisham:

We need your support in Gaza.

My name is Denny Cormier.  I am 68 and am currently retired.

I have lived in Santa Fe for the last 15 years but I am currently volunteering in Gaza as a human rights activist and a citizen journalist reporting on what I am discovering here.

I have been living here in Gaza City for six months now (since March 2014), and I also traveled here in June of 2013 as a citizen journalist.

What I knew about Gaza and the Palestinian issue before coming here was limited to reports that I received from the Western media, and the distance between Santa Fe and Gaza might as well have been a million miles.

But based on many conversations with young Palestinians and university students in Gaza over 2 years, I decided to travel to Gaza myself in 2013 and to investigate personally the differences between my own discoveries and what I read (or saw) in the media.  My personal discoveries and the media narrative were so totally different – in fact, they were totally at odds.  And I had to know.

Frankly, my first visit to Gaza was an eye-opener.  In fact, it was a life changing experience to put it mildly.

I was immediately welcomed as a United States citizen… the people in Gaza love Americans… they welcome me warmly wherever I have traveled in Gaza.   People greet you in the streets with the warmest of welcomes – when they discover I am an American, it immediately brings smiles to the faces of adults and children alike.  The immediate reaction is – We Love You.   I have made many lasting and strong friendships in Gaza.   And I fell in love with the Palestinians and with Gaza.   I received a similar welcome from university students and business owners and from people who welcomed me on behalf of the government.

This was not a place of terrorists.  This was a place of a warm, friendly people – people of great faith – people of generosity that is unparalleled in my experience.

I could not wait to return to Gaza, and did so earlier this year in March.

And I am glad that I did.

This recent 6 month visit has increased my understanding of the issues here, and I have seen how the issues of siege and of economic devastation have brought great suffering to these people, many of whom I know personally.

Although I had the opportunity to leave Gaza before Operation Protective Edge with the assistance of the U.S. State Department and the government here in Gaza, I chose to stay on during the 51 day attack and to be a witness.

What I saw and experienced can only be characterized as horrific.  The attacks on the border cities of Gaza were particularly barbaric.   I reported to representatives of the U.S. State Department that I was a witness to war crimes, and the effects of the war crimes continue even if the attacks have stopped.

Although I live in an area of Gaza where other internationals live and in a place that is normally considered a safe haven for them, I began to feel strongly that my life was in serious danger – that there was no safe place in Gaza during those 51 days.

Gratefully I survived the bombings in my own neighborhood, but not so others in Gaza City and in cities throughout the Gaza Strip.  Many hundreds died in these attacks… many thousands more were seriously injured… thousands of homes have been flattened by the weaponry that Israel used during the attacks and are now sitting in piles of rubble.

I have visited and documented the destruction in three Gaza cities – Khuzaa, in Shujaya and in Beit Hanoun (and of course, in Gaza City).   If you had been able to accompany me on these visits after the war, you would have wept… I did.

What I saw was nothing short of total devastation of civilian homes.  I would be happy to send you photographic documentation if you wish…. But what I saw and witnessed would make you shudder…

I have heard hundreds of stories of people of all ages who ran from  their homes in the middle of the night as shells fell on their homes without warning….others were given just a few minutes to evacuate their homes before rockets or bombs wiped them out…. My dearest friends ran from their homes in bare feet and lost everything they owned and treasured.

Some homes were bombed while the families were sleeping.  They received no warning from Israel.  Entire families were wiped out

Children shuddered in their homes and it has been reported that 90% of the children in Gaza now suffer from PTSD.

Children were particularly targeted in these attacks.

Four young boys from the Bakr family were killed by shells from Israeli gunboats just off shore…. They were killed on the beach when they were playing football very close to my home…  I met the only survivor of the attack on the same Bakr family home just days later.

I spent most of two months during the war acting as a human shield at Al Shifa Hospital, the major health facility in Gaza.  There I met hundreds of refugees and interviewed the injured.  I saw the dead being brought to the hospital, many of them children… what I saw is the stuff of nightmares.   On one of the days there, hundreds of ambulances arrived over several hours delivering the dead and the injured….. The doctors I spoke to have told me that the injuries to their patients were worse than any war injuries that they have witnessed here and in other war zones.

I have seen many destroyed or severely damaged civilian facilities, including schools, mosques, hospitals, police stations – in some cases entire cities.

Before the war I was also witness to the devastation to the economy and to the infrastructure of Gaza – and the destruction of the human spirit during this too long siege.  I learned to live with 8 hours of electricity a day (now 6 hours a day)… I learned to live with the water that comes from the taps that cannot be used for anything safely… I learned to live with miles of beaches that have been destroyed because of the need to dump raw sewage into the sea.  I learned to live with stories of suffering that are caused by a huge unemployment situation in Gaza…

I cannot tell you all that I have discovered first hand during this current visit to Gaza, but it could fill books, and one day it probably will.

I can tell you that what I witnessed are gross breaches of international law and gross breaches of agreements relating to collective punishment of a civilian population.

I can tell you that I will encourage the Palestinians to bring charges against Israel to the International Criminal Court.

I can tell you that it is my honest opinion that the suffering of the people of Gaza are a direct result of an illegal siege and blockade and a de facto Occupation…. The Israelis left Gaza some years ago but they have an immense and negative impact on the lives of ordinary citizens in Gaza long after they left this area and surrounded it with fencing and military outposts.

I can tell you that I was personally shot at when visiting the city of Shujaya.  As I explored the damage and was hundreds of meters from the Israeli border and the buffer zone that they have set up, bullets were fired above me and on both sides of me by the Israelis….. Warning shots perhaps…. But I was nowhere near the area where people are regularly killed and injured along the Israeli border…. My only weapon was a digital camera.   I had to back up several hundred more feet before the shooting stopped.   Children who were in the same area were also fired at as was my guide.

I can tell you many things based on first hand witness and observation,  but I must  please ask you to reconsider anything you ever learned from the media or from the  State Department  or White House regarding  Gaza – in fact, question everything you have been told.

What you have been told… what we Americans have been told…. Is a lie.

I would be happy to meet with you when I return to the United States, but I must warn you now that the ongoing support of the State of Israel in its attacks on the Palestinians, especially on those living in Gaza is a great shame on the American people. The financial support offered to Israel without proper concern and restrictions based on human rights is a great shame for the American people.

As a representative of the good people of the United States, I urge you to look very closely at the good people of Gaza and to reconsider what we have done to them in the name of Israeli security.

In fact, I would be pleased to personally be your guide should you elect to visit the Gaza Strip and should the Israeli government allow you entry for a firsthand experience of what I have witnessed and experienced.

The people of Gaza need your support.

Respectfully,

Dennis Cormier

Santa Fe, New Mexico

(currently Gaza City in the Gaza Strip)

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

New York Times Public Editor Responds

Earlier this week I wrote to the Public Editor of the New York Times about my concerns with the way they “corrected” and then apparently “uncorrected” a story that originally mentioned occupied Gaza.  My letter is here.

To their credit, they investigated and responded to my inquiry right away. I’ve copied it below.

A campaign needs to be launched to educate the New York Times about the occupation of Gaza  and I’m going to talk with friends this evening about that.

Gaza superimposed on Manhattan, NY

Gaza superimposed on Manhattan

Match 12, 2014

Dear Ms. Lucero,

Thanks for taking the time to write. Upon receiving your email, we undertook an investigation of the article in question. In speaking to The Times’s Corrections desk, we found that the correction was removed on a technicality and is being restored.

Apparently, an editor appended the correction without checking with the reporter who handled the article. That is against our policy. We never correct an article without first telling the reporter. 

The correction will be back up shortly. Here is the editorial explanation for corrections of this type:

“The term “occupied” has a specific resonance in the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and we have stopped referring to Gaza as occupied. This is not a new decision. We stopped when Israel ceased its formal occupation of the territory, and have since used other terms to describe Israeli pressure on Hamas and Gaza. “Occupied” is not among them. So when we err, we should acknowledge it with a correction.”

Of course, we recognize that this is a very complicated situation and encourage you to write to the International desk if you feel as though you would like further explanation. The desk can be reached by email at foreign@nytimes.com.

Thanks again for taking the time to read The Times.

Best,

Jonah Bromwich
Office of the Public Editor
The New York Times
Tony Benn doesn’t mince words when talking about the occupation of Gaza. RIP Tony Benn.

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Filed under Gaza, Media, People, Video

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