Tag Archives: Nakba

Palestinian Struggles for Rights and a Political End-Game

The status quo in Palestine & Israel is an interminable nightmare for Palestinians living under military occupation for 70+ years, and a shameful failure of the human rights framework adopted and promoted during that same time.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt

The Israeli declaration of independence in May 1948 was the Palestinians’ Nakba (disaster, catastrophe).

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December 1948) was (is?) the world’s beacon of hope, an aspiration for a better life for every person.

 

Our failure (the international community’s failure) to secure a just and lasting resolution in Palestine & Israel cannot be swept under the rug and forgotten. It’s an indictment upon all of us.

Sam Bahour, a Palestinian American living in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, captured a succinct history of the military occupation and the current struggle when he spoke with his daughter. (He shares that beginning at 18:50).

How does the unbearable status quo change?

In reality, the status quo is bearable to Israel and that government has no incentive to change it.

In reality, the international human rights regime is impotent and won’t change the status quo.

In reality, the U.S. is a hindrance, not a facilitator, to ending the status quo.

In reality, the Palestinian political leaders (Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Fatah) have proven themselves to be incapable of rising to the challenge and have not earned the respect and recognition from the Palestinian people they purport to represent.

There are individuals within Palestine and Israel who are asking and answering that question: how does the unbearable status quo change?

Jeff Halper, an American Jew who has lived most of his adult life in Israel, thinks the two state solution is no longer feasible. He and his compatriots are currently traveling around the world to build support for the One Democratic State program.

Sam Bahour frames the question differently. It’s not a matter of two states or one state, but a matter of political and individual rights in either case. What Sam fears is that more time will be lost (time measured in decades) as people and governments negotiate territorial jurisdictions while the rights of Palestinians continue to take a back-seat in those discussions. Sam writes:

We must get political. Civil society must build the necessary alliances to bring Palestinian rights to the forefront of the international agenda on Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution. Today, we have no choice but to accept the apartheid one-state reality that we are living in now, and keep the two-state door open, while simultaneously bringing the issue of rights to the forefront of our demands. Our strongest ally is international civil society, but we cannot stop at civil society; it would be stopping short of affecting change. Instead we must leverage the widespread support of civil society in all corners of the world to get states to act, politically and otherwise, to support our just and internationally aligned struggle for freedom and independence.

In May 2016, Mr. Bahour spelled out the dangers and opportunities available to the Palestinian civil society in changing the status quo.  (The paper is available here.) I hope the next generation of Palestinian leaders (whoever and wherever they may be) will read the paper.

In this paper, I will argue that a rights-based approach is the most conducive one to the current Palestinian national agenda and that a political end-game cannot be open-ended. Moreover, I will also argue that the struggle for national self-determination cannot come at the expense of the struggle for rights – and vice versa. I view these two processes as simultaneous dynamics: one process focuses on the rights of the individual (political, human and civil rights), while the second focuses on the rights of the nation (national rights, specifically self-determination). My argument is based on the mutuality of these two processes: the ‘individual’ sphere centered on rights, and the ‘national’ sphere focused on independence.

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Filed under Israel, Nakba, Occupation, People, Politics, Uncategorized, United Nations, Video

Occupation or Colonisation? Ilan Pappe

Pappe talkThis talk at Queen Mary University in London interested me for two reasons.

I learned about Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians  and the history of the Nakba from this man when I read his book “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” and I really wanted to see Professor Pappe speak in person.  (More about Ilan Pappe here.)

I also wanted to challenge Professor Pappe.  Last year he suggested (recommended?) that we jettison the term “occupation” in favor of “colonisation”. (Check out his comments and my response here.) Although I understood his argument, I disagreed with him but never had the opportunity to tell him directly. So I imagined I might be able to tell him in London — face-to-face — because it was the subject of his talk.

The event was clearly billed as a “students only” gathering with a warning that student ID would be checked at the door, but that didn’t deter me. I found my way to Queen Mary University on the East Side of London and the students who were gathered outside encouraged me to attend.

Thankfully, the room monitor waved me in without any questions. I was clearly several decades older than the students around me.

Pappe headshot

The evening’s talk was not what was billed in the title for the event. Professor Pappe’s presentation focused on Settler Colonisation as it challenges basic Zionist ideology.  He did not argue, as he has in the past, that the term “colonisation” should replace “occupation.”  I had no desire to challenge him on that point, especially when the students had so many good questions to ask him. It felt as though I would be usurping their time with Pappe if I had raised my hand too.

Pappe explained the difference between “classical colonisation” and “settler colonisation” where the settlers are looking for a place to redefine themselves, a national movement. The settler sees himself as indigenous, and sees the genuine indigenous people as a threat (a hurdle) to be overcome.

“The Palestinians are fighting an anti-colonialist war of liberation.”

He drew parallels to South Africa several times, and said the logic of dehumanization is firmly embedded in he Zionists’ DNA as well as Israel’s DNA.  Otherwise, they couldn’t do what they’re doing to the Palestinians and live with themselves.

“The Bible is not an action plan for colonisation.”

Sitting in a university in London, Pappe noted that the Zionists probably wouldn’t have succeeded with their settler colonisation plans without the help of the British. That acknowledgement helped me appreciate that the U.S. isn’t the only culprit in this tragedy.

Shivers went down my spine when Pappe mentioned that the Zionists’ massacres of Palestinians in 1948 was probably much, much worse than what he wrote about in The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. We probably don’t know, and won’t know, the extent of the massacres until Israel opens up its archives to the public.  The documents from 1948 would have become public this year but Netanyahu approved an extension of another 20 years before they will be declassified. (What are they hiding?)

Pappe said that the settler colonialists in Israel have perfected two models — the open prison (West Bank) which was astonishingly approved in the Oslo Accords, and the maximum security prison (Gaza) where collective punishment is the norm and the Israeli military is using its might to carry out massacres.

Pappe and students

Academics around the world are collaborating on the issue of how to do decolonisation. Pappe supports the One Democratic State. He didn’t mention Jeff Halper, but I suspect Pappe must be collaborating in the same effort.

Pappe sounds optimistic for the future of Palestine, and believes the young Palestinians (both in Palestine and in the diaspora) will succeed, but it may not happen in his lifetime, he admitted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Israel, Israel Defense Forces, Nakba, People, Politics, Settlers, Uncategorized

Preparations for the #GreatReturnMarch

Friday, March 30th is either the launch of a peaceful march to the border area between Gaza and Israel — or it’s “highly explosive” and “threatens to damage the sensitive life fabric and safety of the region’s residents.”

tents 2Palestinians are erecting large white tents near the border, anticipating families and the elderly joining the activities planned over the next six weeks.

Israel is  deploying more than 100 sharpshooters to the border with permission to open fire if lives are in jeopardy. They’re also talking about air-dropping food and medicines into the heart of Gaza from airplanes or drones to lure Palestinians away from the border.

The Palestinians are dancing their traditional dance, dakbe, waving flags, and flying kites near the border. The Israeli Army is closing down the West Bank and Gaza for nine days during Passover as the military “braces for Gaza border riots and West Bank unrest.” Israel is calling and texting the bus companies in Gaza, warning them not to transport people to the border, and threatening them with punitive actions.

border dakbe

Dancing the traditional Palestinian Dakbe at the border.

Israel has set in motion its well-greased hasbara machine ahead of the #GreatReturnMarch.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry reached out to the international community on Twitter Thursday in anticipation of violent clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian protesters along the Gaza border in the coming days.

“While the campaign is being presented to the world at large as a peaceful enterprise, there is no doubt that this latest Hamas ploy is aimed at igniting a violent confrontation with Israel,” the Foreign Ministry’s statement began.

Israel wants to remind you [the international community] that there’s a “good” guy and “bad” guy here —- one defending itself and the other, well the other is trying to survive a brutal occupation. Israeli diplomats have contacted the U.N. and their colleagues around the world to prep them with demonstrably false information — that Hamas (the terrorist organization) is organizing this event, paying Palestinians to show up, with subversive intention to breach the border fence and “infiltrate” into Israel. Israel will hold Hamas responsible if there are casualties at the border.

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Israeli Defense Forces overlooking the border with Gaza

A Palestinian scholar from Gaza writes: “The Great March of Return (of Gaza) is a grassroots movement initiated by Palestinian organizers, activists, and intellectuals, and is the product of years of conversations in Gaza about a way out of its misery. Attempts by Israeli media and government to portray tomorrow’s march as something instigated by Hamas is not only false, but also part of an old approach that reduces Palestinian agency to conspiracies and portrays Palestinians as pawns for factions and governments.” Check out their Facebook page here and their Twitter account here.

The goal of the #GreatReturnMarch as shared by the organizers:

The march will for the first time, employ the popular dimension to effectively compel the Israeli occupation state to the international resolutions and recommendations that it denies and refuses to implement, which over the past decades has constituted a clear threat to international peace and security.

is a cumulative, civil, peaceful sit-in calling for the implementation of right of return for Palestine refugees

 

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Obfuscating “occupation”

The Democratic Party bosses don’t want to include any mention of Israel’s occupation of Palestine in the party’s platform. Why?

Isn’t the occupation a well-established fact, just as climate change is today?

Unfortunately, there are climate change deniers and occupation deniers. Facts mean little to either.

The State of Israel has a very clear strategy to obfuscate their occupation of Palestine in order to escape legal responsibilities as the occupier, and to shift the burden of the plight of the Palestinians onto the Palestinians themselves and the international community. Attorney Noura Erakat educated me about Israel’s legal strategy in her law review piece that I summarized here.

The New York Times, in this respect, is Israel’s handmaiden by deliberately avoiding the term “occupation” in the context of Gaza, as I wrote about here.

Most members of Congress have sipped AIPAC’s koolaid and refuse to touch anything with the term “occupation” attached. Thankfully, 20 members had the courage last month to call it what it is.  See here.

The lawmakers sent the president a letter on June 20, urging him to appoint a “special envoy for Palestinian youth” in order to monitor the Israeli government’s violation of Palestinian children’s human rights.

The letter notes that Palestinian children are “growing up under military occupation with very few opportunities to improve their lives.”

The letter describes the occupation as “an unimaginably difficult and at times hopeless environment,” where children “live under the constant fear of arrest detention and violence at the hands of the Israeli military.”

Even pro-Palestine activists are confused about the term. Some label the creation of Israel and the ensuing Nakba that displaced thousands of Palestinians from their homes, businesses and villages as an occupation dating back to 1947. I completely understand their feelings, but wish we could use the term precisely and correctly. Activists only play into Israel’s strategy when they throw the term “occupation” around; just as unhelpful as politicians indiscriminately labeling everyone a terrorist.

We should be absolutely clear about the term “occupation” and use it correctly. Under international law, Israel has occupied portions of Palestine since 1967 and must be held accountable as the occupier. That doesn’t mean Israel shouldn’t be held accountable for the Nakba, but the Nakba does not equal “occupation“……not legally.

And the Democratic Party bosses must wake up and smell the coffee. “It’s an occupation, stupid.”

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نكبة in 2016

Israel has not succeeded in burying the Nakba of 1948 (the “catastrophe” – the forcible expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes, businesses and villages in what is known as the State of Israel today).  The Nakba is in every Palestinian’s memory because the tragedy has been passed on from one generation to another.

The Zionists have perpetuated the tragedy every . single . day . since . 1948 through violence, through overt policies of discrimination and expulsion, and through their dehumanizing treatment of Palestinians (let me count the ways).

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Israeli soldier taking a selfie in Jerusalem – February 2016

This week alone, I’ve learned about two examples of the Nakba. In 2016. Nearly 70 years after the forcible expulsions that turned hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into refugees.

First case. A young Palestinian refugee in Gaza, a professional engineer in his 20s, collaborated with me on researching and writing a paper about Gaza. We’ve been invited to present our paper at an international conference in Rome in June. My colleague has tried to get permission from Israel to travel abroad but Israel has rejected his requests.  He is essentially imprisoned in Gaza, unable to travel. As is the case with most Palestinian refugees in Gaza, he’s even unable to visit family in the West Bank or to travel a few miles to Jerusalem to pray at Al Aqsa Mosque.  THIS IS THE NAKBA IN 2016.

Second case. An older Palestinian refugee from Gaza, also a professional engineer who recently obtained his American citizenship and U.S. passport, was informed by Israeli border control agents this week that he can’t return to Gaza.  His aging mother is in Gaza. Other family members are in Gaza. He was turned away at the border with Jordan and now sits in limbo waiting for Israeli officials to reconsider their decision.  THIS IS THE NAKBA IN 2016.

I have no words for the disgust I feel today.

apartheid wall

Israel’s separation wall 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’m not pro-Palestinian

“I’m not pro-Palestinian.”

I uttered those words a few nights ago in response to a very good friend from Gaza who was sharing his thoughts about the characteristics of the activists who are “pro-Palestinian.”

I realized right away how provocative my words sounded, and how they might be misunderstood.  I also knew why my friend from Gaza labeled me “pro-Palestinian.” He’s like a son to me.  If I could shield him from the atrocities he and his family have experienced at the hands of the Israelis, and particularly the Israeli military, I would.

But my love, concern and compassion for my Palestinian friend, and many other Palestinians, doesn’t make me “pro-Palestinian.”  The label doesn’t fit me because being “pro” anything often implies one is also against something, in this case Israel and Israelis.  The world is not black/white, good/evil, wrong/right.  It’s so much more complex than that.

Being “pro-Palestinian” might imply I’ve selected a tribe to cheer for — the Palestinians — and rejected the other tribe.  In fact, I reject tribal allegiances altogether.

Being “pro-Palestinian” often raises issues of “loyalty” and “deference” and “submission” to the Palestinians and to whatever framing of the “conflict” they’ve chosen.  I’ve learned this by watching and listening to self-identified “pro-Palestinian” activists over the years.  My loyalty is not to Palestinians or to any of their many factions. I will learn from them, but I won’t defer or submit to their framing of the “conflict.”

On the other side ….

Friends, family and colleagues who self-identify themselves as Zionists or “pro-Israel” are hurt and angry that I’m not in their camp. I don’t accept their framing of the “conflict” and I reject their tribal loyalties. If I’m not with them, I must be against them, is the subtle message they often share with me.

One Jewish “pro-Israel” American rationalizes my odd opinions about Israel-Palestine by telling me — “You’re not Jewish, you’re not Palestinian, so of course you can’t understand what’s really going on over there.” — That compartmentalizing might comfort her unease but it only demonstrates how people need to understand the world by putting people in boxes.  I refuse to do that.

Instead, I seek to understand the complexities and the gray shadows cast in the region.  I try to shine a light on the things I learn, and on the things that the mainstream media callously and deliberately ignores.

I try to understand the “other” — both Israelis and Palestinians. I try to learn empathy.

This 28 minute NPR broadcast (March 22, 2016) “What happens when you empathize with the enemy?” is powerful. My Palestinian friends who reject “normalization” may reject the ideas shared by the Israeli soldier and the Palestinian professor regarding empathy but for everyone else, I think there is alot of wisdom here for open minds on both sides.

http://www.npr.org/player/embed/471283599/471350322

This week on Hidden Brain we ask, what happens when you empathize with your enemy? Why does reaching out to another tribe make our tribe so angry? We talk to Avner Gvaryahu, a former paratrooper in the Israeli army, who angered his fellow Israelis for talking about his work as a soldier. And we talk with Mohammed Dajani, a Palestinian professor who now lives in the United States out of fear for his life. His crime? He led a group of Palestinian students to Auschwitz to try to help them understand the Holocaust. We also share an excerpt of a one-man play about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from Aaron Davidman.

 

Thanks to Libby and Len Traubman from Palo Alto, California for alerting me to this NPR broadcast.

 

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“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

al-Nakba Day on Capitol Hill

Lora squinting in front of the US Capitol

Lora squinting in front of the US Capitol

Today I visited Washington, DC where the Capitol Building is getting a facelift. My goal was to connect with staff in each of the offices of the New Mexico delegation to talk about al-Nakba.  It went something like this . . .

Staffer: Welcome to the office. We always like to hear from our constituents.

Lora: Thank you for taking time to meet with me. I have a personal interest in the Middle East (and I proceeded to share a bit about my background to set some context).  Have you heard of al-Nakba?

Staffer: Nope!

Lora: Maybe you know about Israel’s Independence Day which was celebrated yesterday.

Staffer: Oh sure.

Lora: When the Zionists declared the new State of Israel in 1948,  they began to forcibly expel over 750,000 indigenous Palestinians from their homes, businesses, and land. Many were killed. Over 500 Palestinians villages were destroyed. That expulsion is referred to as al-Nakba or “Catastrophe” in English, which continues to this day.

Staffer: <furiously scribbling notes>

Lora: What does the Senator / Congresswoman think about Israel & Palestine?

Staffer: Well, Israel has a right to defend herself, but we think Israel’s bombing of schools and hospitals last summer was over the top.

Lora: The situation in the Gaza Strip is dire. More than 2,000 Palestinians (most of them civilians) were killed last summer. Thousands of homes were destroyed and hundreds of families remain without shelter today. The status quo cannot continue. In fact, the U.N. issued a report in the summer of 2012 that said the Gaza Strip would be unlivable by 2020!

Staffer: Yes, but the situation is complex. What do you think the Senator / Congresswoman should do?

Lora: Well, we could begin by recognizing the State of Palestine.  “Direct negotiations” between Israel and Palestine will not be fruitful if the international status of the parties remains unequal. This week Pope Francis recognized the State of Palestine.  And as of October 2014, 135 of the 193 member states of the United Nations have recognized the State of Palestine.  I think it’s long past time for the U.S. to recognize the State of Palestine too.

Staffer:   Hmmmm! OK.

Lora: You know that the official U.S. policy regarding Israel/Palestine has been consistent for decades and under the Administrations of both parties. Carrots haven’t worked, it’s time to use sticks. Expressions of “concerns” about Israel’s settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories (a violation of international law) have not resulted in any change.

Staffer: What kind of sticks?

Lora: Such as reducing the $3+ Billion/year the U.S. taxpayers give to Israel;  supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement; and refusing to shield Israel from criticism at the United Nations.

Staffer: What’s BDS?

Lora: <exacerbated but remaining calm> You know, like what we did with South Africa to help end the apartheid regime? And since Congress heard Netanyahu speak in March, maybe an invitation  to Ambassador Riyad Mansour, Palestine’s permanent observer to the U.N., and former President Jimmy Carter, to speak to Congress would be helpful. Shouldn’t Congress hear from both sides?

Staffer: When an important vote comes up, the Senator / Congresswoman always asks staff “who have we heard from in the District about this issue and what did they say?”

Lora in Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham's office sitting with the office dog - Mattie.

Lora in Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham’s office sitting with the office dog – Mattie.

Which leads me to the point of this blog post. Don’t take it for granted that your members of Congress understand the issues in the Middle East. Reach out to them, call or write, and tell them what you think. Although the AIPAC and J Street lobbyists are known to Congressional staffers, other groups (Jewish Voices for Peace) and individuals may be unknown. We need to be heard in Congress. It’s easy (check out this website) and there’s no excuse not to.

My hunch is that not a single member of Congress has heard of al-Nakba. I know the staffers of the New Mexico delegation hadn’t.

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Surprise on the Midtown Greenway

On my last full day in Minneapolis, I decided to rent a bike and take a spin along the Midtown Greenway. This is an old, abandoned railway in the middle of the city that stretches for miles and miles. In fact, the young man who rented the bicycle to me said it’s the longest bike path in the Midwest. I only had an hour to ride before I was to meet a friend, so I headed towards Calhoun Lake. Minneapolis is known as the City of Lakes. I had no idea I was in for a BIG surprise!

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Then my head did a double-take.  I stopped my bike and walked back to check.  Did I really see Palestine out of the corner of my eye?

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Yep, in the middle of the Midwest USA is a memorial to the Massacre at Deir Yassin in Palestine on April 9, 1948.  Read about it here.

Early in the morning of Friday, April 9, 1948, commandos of the Irgun, headed by Menachem Begin, and the Stern Gang attacked Deir Yassin, a village with about 750 Palestinian residents. It was several weeks before the end of the British Mandate. The village lay outside of the area that the United Nations recommended be included in a future Jewish State. Deir Yassin had a peaceful reputation and was even said by a Jewish newspaper to have driven out some Arab militants. But it was located on high ground in the corridor between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and one plan, kept secret until years afterwards, called for it to be destroyed and the residents evacuated to make way for a small airfield that would supply the beleaguered Jewish residents of Jerusalem.

Nicholas Eoloff was responsible for erecting this memorial to the Deir Yassin Massacre.

Nicholas and Mary Eoloff

Nicholas and Mary Eoloff

“Nick was a founding member and long-time supporter of Deir Yassin Remembered, and was responsible for Mordechai joining the DYR Board of Advisers. Nick commissioned and dedicated a memorial to Deir Yassin, a bronze statue of an uprooted olive tree adjacent to the Midtown Greenway Bike Trail in South Minneapolis.”

A painting of the Midtown Greenway hanging in the old Sears building.

A painting of the Midtown Greenway hanging in the old Sears building.

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الله يصبركم

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نمر عوض Nemr Awad

Today Mohammed Awad (pictured here with his grandfather in 2012) buried his grandfather in a cemetery in Gaza beneath a sky full of terror and bomb blasts.

Nemr Awad was 87 years old, born before the Catastrophe or Nakba in 1948 when his family was forcibly expelled from Burayr برير  and made their way to Gaza.

I didn’t know him well, met him on only one occasion at his home in the Jabalia Refugee Camp in northern Gaza where he lived with his family. He didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Arabic. But when I asked to take his photo, I sensed he was a very proud man with great strength of character.

Nemr نمر means Tiger in Arabic. He must have lived up to his name.

Today his family mourns his passing. He’s been ill for 8 years and so his death doesn’t come as a surprise, but their loss is deep nevertheless.

I suspect Nemr نمر kept hope alive that the family might be able to return to their homeland one day, that the brutal occupation would end, that their status as refugees just miles from Burayr برير would be acknowledged, an apology and reparations would be made by Israel.

Instead, he suffered and died under Israel’s occupation.

Nemr نمر  had five children (3 sons and 2 daughters). His wife and two children preceded him in death. One son now lives in Belgium where he emigrated after being wounded in Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009). One daughter and son remain in Jabalia.

Jabalia Refugee Camp  (September 2012)

Jabalia Refugee Camp
(September 2012)

Speaking as a grandmother, I think Nemr’s hope for the future probably came from watching his grandchildren. I don’t know how many he had, but I know  Mohammed well and Nemr نمر must have been very proud of him.

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Mohammed has a degree in English Literature from the Islamic University of Gaza. He teaches and tutors students of all ages, and I’ve witnessed his love for teaching. And his love for learning.

I wonder if Mohammed got that love for learning from his grandfather.

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Even growing up in very difficult circumstances, never setting foot out of the Gaza Strip, witnessing death and destruction up close and personal, Mohammed doesn’t hate. He doesn’t speak of revenge.

Mohammed has a curiosity about philosophy and religion and people and what makes the world tick. We sat and talked for many hours (at first Skyping online and then in person when I arrived in Gaza). Mohammed introduced me to new ideas and ways of looking at the world which makes me think he is probably a very old soul.

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Occupation + Climate Change = Double Trouble in Gaza

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Mohammed is the neighbor any loving family would want to have next door.

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Nemr نمر —— you raised your family well, with honor and dignity, with courage and intelligence. May you rest in peace knowing that you succeeded as a father and grandfather. Your children and grandchildren will carry on your memory.    عظم الله أجركم الله يرحمه

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