Tag Archives: Lora Lucero

How do I talk with you?

 

Four years …. its been four years since I left Gaza and returned home to friends and family. Little did they know that I was a changed woman.

After nine months in Gaza, my eyes and heart were open. I cannot unsee what I’ve seen. I certainly will not close my heart to the realities I learned about the occupation. And I’m not going to forget.

IMG_4249Although returning to Gaza is my first choice today, it appears that Egypt, Israel and even the U.S. government have their own ideas about travel to the Gaza Strip, so I’ve wondered if there’s perhaps another path I’m suppose to follow.

There’s certainly much I can learn about the occupation from books and others more knowledgeable. Maybe I’m suppose to share what I’ve learned with Americans, add my voice to the parade beating the drums for the U.S. government to change its obsequience and blind loyalty to Israel.

I’ve spent the past four years walking a tight rope, teetering from side to side, not wishing to offend anyone with my words about Israel and the occupation, but to speak the truth when the opportunities arise. My options for speaking out have been self-imposed and narrowly-constrained to carefully account for the “sensibilities” of those around me.

  • A friend told me bluntly, “don’t talk about politics. I want to keep things peaceful around here.” I suspect others feel the same way but don’t want to tell me to my face.
  • A family member called me an anti-Semite while another said my words about Israel hurt her to the core because Israel is like a brother.
  • Another family member said my conversation about Israel was the same as asking Jews who support Israel to “commit psychological suicide.”
  • Some have looked at me like I’m a broken record. “Get a life, there’s more than the occupation to worry about.” One friend recommended that I channel my “do gooder” nature into the issue of female trafficking!

I’ve “unfriended” family members on social media to avoid bursting their protective bubbles. I’ve bitten my tongue and kept quiet in the company of some who might be offended. I’ve rationalized to myself that it’s better to be strategic and use my words wisely. If my goal is to change public opinion, and ultimately U.S. foreign policy, then beating someone over the head with the hammer for peace and justice is counter-productive.

Today, however, I turned the corner. Something snapped.

I’m not the same woman-mother-sister-aunt you thought you knew in 2012.  Back then, I knew about oppression, occupation, inhumanity, and all the rest of the human condition from an intellectual point of view.  I was very well informed, better than the average American, or so I thought.

Today, I’m connected with the Palestinians at the cellular level. I feel the occupation in a way that words cannot begin to describe. This isn’t to say that my experience can replace the life experiences of Isra, Samir, Motasem, Mohammed, and the generations of Palestinians who have grown up and lived under occupation. Never!  Their shoes can never be my shoes, and vice versa.

But I cannot ignore and turn my back on them either. I can’t pull the wool over my eyes. I can’t fill my remaining days with other “do gooder” projects in an attempt to forget the truth I know in Palestine. And your ability to do just that really burns me.

How do I talk with you?

Your well-being is just as important to me as the well-being of the Palestinians. This isn’t a zero-sum game where my attention in one direction should harm or distract from another direction.

My personal growth and the love I found in Palestine should help me be a better person in every way, not just a better advocate on behalf of Palestinians’ rights.

But I feel you shut me down and disrespect me when you ignore me and prefer to remain in a cocoon of complacency with the status quo. The status quo is not OK!  Our government’s direct and obscene support of Israel is just as responsible for the Palestinians’ suffering and injustices as are the laws enacted in the Knesset and the orders given to the Israeli Defense Forces.

How do I talk with you?

Silence is no longer an option. But I’m willing to listen to you as deeply as I hope you will listen to me.

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Filed under Occupation, Peaceful, Uncategorized

Why Gaza? Answering the question.

10682305_10205074594490415_7766625559446625498_o (1)“Why Gaza?” a friend asked in disbelief. Truthfully, everyone is asking me the same question. With the special security clearance finally stamped on my Egyptian Visa and my plane tickets in hand, the reality is now settling in. I’ll be leaving home in mid-October, headed for the Middle East and my new home for the indefinite future in the Gaza Strip, Palestine.

This isn’t my first time to Gaza. In 2004, a friend and I passed through the Erez Checkpoint from Israel in the north. We were on a mission. Israeli authorities had refused to allow a local Palestinian psychologist to travel abroad to receive an international award and recognition from his peers, so we were carrying the award to him. That was my first taste of life under Israeli occupation – freedom of movement was greatly restricted, even for the most respected professionals in Gaza.

On that visit, we drove to Rafah in the south to see where Rachel Corrie, an American volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), had been killed a year earlier by the Israeli Defense Forces. She was crushed under a military bulldozer while trying to protect a Palestinian doctor’s home from demolition. I stood on the barren site and saw no evidence of the house or the family but many children came up and asked me to take their photographs and I happily complied.

Then an old Palestinian man, maybe in his 60s and wearing the traditional long white galabiyya, came up to me and began to emphatically tell me something in Arabic. I had no clue what he was saying but I didn’t turn my eyes away from his withering verbal assault. Finally, he threw his arms up in the air, disgusted, and walked off. Our driver shared his translation of the old man’s words for me on our drive back to Gaza City.

“People from around the world come to Gaza all the time. They look, they take pictures, they cry big crocodile tears, and then they leave and nothing changes here. The same is going to happen with you. You will leave and nothing will change.”

That encounter was the turning point for me — from a mildly curious observer of the Middle East to a serious student of the Israeli Occupation of Palestine. I’d been steeped in the Israeli narrative all of my adult life without appreciating that there was another side to this coin. I never had a reason to question the mainstream media’s reports about the Middle East, but now my eyes were telling me a different story.

10603961_10204698724733906_7149256136853381628_oThe past decade has been my personal graduate education on the Middle East, including books, films, lectures and personal contacts to learn about the colonial history, the Nakba (the “catastrophe” of 1948 continuing to the present) and the failed “peace process.” I studied Arabic for a year at the University of New Mexico but must admit my failure to learn the language. Then I returned to Gaza for nine months (2012-2013) where my real education took place. (More about that visit in the future.)

Some family and friends have chided me for my “obsession” with only one side of this “very difficult conflict.” Their caution is well-intentioned but they fail to acknowledge that Americans haven’t received fair and balanced news coverage since the creation of the State of Israel sixty-seven years ago. My framing of the issues and events in Israel and Palestine only provides a more complete and (I would argue) more accurate picture. My obsession is for the truth.

“Why am I going to Gaza?” I want to witness and report what is happening on the ground. The United Nations predicts that the Gaza Strip will be uninhabitable by 2020. Israel’s stifling blockade, combined with its lethal military operations (3 in the past 6 years), have created an enclave of de-development (not only hindering but actually reversing development) with the highest unemployment rate (43%) in the world, according to the World Bank. The current population of 1.8 million Palestinians is expected to reach 2.1 million by 2020. The coastal aquifer which supplies most of their clean water is now 95% polluted. They are in the dark more often than not, with electricity available only a few hours each day. This tragedy has endless statistics but one simple fact remains: this tragedy is man-made as well as a foreseeable outcome of Israel’s very deliberate policies, funded and supported by American taxpayers.

So I’m going to Gaza to be a bridge between the Palestinians and people in the West (especially Americans) who cannot visit the Gaza Strip and don’t get the whole picture from the Western mainstream media. We have a responsibility not only to search for the truth and educate ourselves, but then to take action. “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Desmond Tutu

Lora

Lora

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Filed under Egypt, Gaza, Israel, People

Why I want to return to Gaza!

Friends and family are asking me (most of them incredulously) why do I want to return to Gaza?  Don’t I know how dangerous it is? Can’t I help my friends in Gaza from my home in the USA?

Yes, I know it’s dangerous.  Yes, I could help my friends from home.

My heart is calling me back to Gaza. If I hadn’t visited earlier (September 2012 – May 2013) and met so many wonderful people, I probably wouldn’t have this desire. By nature, I’m not a thrill-seeker trying to dodge danger.

I’m not particularly courageous and I don’t like conflict. That might explain why I didn’t feel comfortable as an advocate in the U.S. legal adversarial system.  I would rather people just get along and hammer out their differences peacefully.

Why do I want to return to a part of the world burdened with so many conflicts? I can’t even speak the language.

The answer might not be simple but it’s real.  My heart and head are telling me that I have skills and talents that can help my friends in Gaza. I also have the health (Al-hamdulillah) and flexibility to follow my heart. Having recently watched several close friends this year battling serious health challenges, I’m feeling particularly blessed and thankful for my good health.

So I’m embarking on this journey with no reservations. Along the way, I’m hoping to educate my fellow Americans about a part of the world that few understand or even care about. My simple message . . . we’d better start caring before it’s too late. Their future is ours, and our future is inextricably linked with the Palestinians, with Israelis, with Egyptians, with people from every corner of the world.

My friends can begin their education by reading this excellent history of Gaza recently published in the New York Times, written by Jean-Pierre Filiu, and available here.

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Filed under Gaza, People

Last days in Gaza

I’m preparing to leave Gaza on Saturday.

In the past 6-7 months, I’ve met many new friends who have taught me a lot, each in their own way.  I’m going to share what I’ve learned with my family and friends in the US, with my US Senators Udall and Heinrich, and with any Americans who want to hear an unfiltered account of life in Gaza.

I don’t say “unbiased” because I know that every bit of information comes with a point of view or bias, including mine.  But given the paucity of news from Palestine reaching Americans, and the strident pro-Israeli slant, I think my personal experience will be helpful.

Lora with a beautiful floral arrangement in Gaza.

Lora with a beautiful floral arrangement in Gaza.

The US government doesn’t want Americans traveling to Gaza. Embassy officials actively discourage Americans from going and, until recently, required Americans to pay $50 for a notarized warning that each American traveling to Gaza proceeds at their own risk.  Imagine that!

The Egyptians don’t want Americans traveling to Gaza either.  I know!  I spent two months in Cairo talking with many different people before I finally got permission.

And certainly Israelis don’t want Americans (or anyone else) traveling to Gaza.  Israel has hermetically sealed Gaza from the outside world — going on now six years — with an economic, political and social boycott that has devastated the 1.7 million Palestinians living here.  (Much more about that later!)

When I first used the phrase “open air prison” to describe Gaza before arriving to this coastal enclave, I was accused by friends of exaggeration and talking about something that I knew nothing about.

Now I’m returning to the US fully confident that “open air prison” is an accurate description of the situation in Gaza and I can provide the facts and figures and personal experiences to support it.

Will Americans listen to me?

I suspect there are hard-core Israeli supporters who can’t (or won’t) have an open mind to hear my account of life in Gaza.  I will ignore them.

There is another segment of American society who are ardent Palestinian supporters, and bash Israel at every opportunity.  I will ignore them too.

The Americans I hope to connect with when I return to the US are those who are searching for answers to the intractable conflict in the Middle East.  They are curious and have questions.  They haven’t taken sides.

I hope there are many Americans like this.  I hope I can connect with them.

Lora with young futbol (soccer) players in Gaza.

Lora with young futbol (soccer) players in Gaza.

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Filed under Gaza, Occupation, Peaceful, People, Uncategorized

What does it mean to stand in solidarity?

I read this very thoughtful blog post today written by a Palestinian (I think) about the do’s and don’ts for international activists who want to stand in solidarity with Palestine.  It’s long but worth the time to read and digest it, available here.   Based on the author’s concept of solidarity, I have decided that I do not qualify as a solidarity activist.  Here’s why:

I agree with many of the points raised.

  • don’t be patronizing and don’t treat Palestine or Palestinians as a charity case.
  • don’t speak for the Palestinians; they have their own voice.
  • don’t view Palestinians as exotic creatures or objects to be admired.
  • do know the history; do your homework before you come to Palestine.

But I vehemently disagree with the notion that I must give up my ideas of right and wrong, my beliefs and values, and adopt whatever means or strategies the Palestinians have adopted to end the occupation.  Therefore, I can’t stand in “solidarity” with them.  What label should I give to my actions?

The Palestinian blogger says: If you are in solidarity with the Palestinian people and our right towards self-determination, then you are in solidarity with our rights to fight colonialism by all means, including armed resistance, there is no compromise.

I do not condone violence or armed resistance —- never have, never will.  I may certainly understand it, but I do not support it.

Sitting in Gaza in November 2012 and listening to Israeli bombs exploding all around, gave me a new appreciation for the need to protect oneself from this aggression.   But “armed resistance” is very broad and may encompass many different types of violence — from suicide bombers to rockets landing in the middle of civilians.   I don’t support either.

I try to live my life by the Golden Rule.   It’s not easy sometimes, but it’s the only thing that makes sense to me.   And if I argue that Israel must put down its weapons and end this occupation, I can’t, in good conscience, argue that others should be allowed to raise their weapons.

I believe the occupation must end …… for the sake of both Israel and Palestine.  I stand in solidarity with all peace-loving people on both sides of the “green line” ….. and with all of the children who deserve a future of peace and security in this region.

I came to Gaza to teach about climate change.  I am leaving as a student who learned alot.  It is not accurate to label me pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli, but maybe pro-humanitarian fits me the best.

Lora at Lake Baikal 2009

Lora at Lake Baikal 2009

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Filed under Gaza, nonviolent resistance, Occupation, Peaceful