Tag Archives: Operation Pillar of Defense

The Anti-Normalization Shroud Descends

By now we’re all familiar with the new world of physical distancing, stay-at-home orders, and the feeling that everything has come to a standstill.

Palestinians in Gaza have experienced a similar (not the same) life since June 2007 when Israel severely tightened the restrictions on the Gaza Strip after Hamas took control.  Palestinians can’t exit except with approval from both Israel and Hamas, turning the Gaza Strip into the largest open air prison in the world. Palestinians can’t export their produce except under very limited strictures. Palestinians can’t import many essential products, and they remain reliant on Israel to determine what things can and can’t be brought into Gaza. Many times the Palestinian fishermen can’t safely bring home their catch without being fired upon by the Israeli gunboats. And the list of restrictions goes on and on.

Gaza is tiny. At 139 square miles, it’s about the same size as Detroit (138.8 square miles), Philadelphia (134.1), Las Vegas (135.8), or Portland, Oregon (133.4). We’re talking about more than two million people, the largest majority being youth under the age of 30, confined to a Very. Small. Place.

Any Palestinian in Gaza older than 12 years has lived through three devastating Israeli military operations: Operation Cast Lead (in 2008-2009 Israel killed 1391 Palestinians in Gaza in 23 days); Operation Pillar of Defense (in November 2012 Israel killed 167 Palestinians in Gaza in 8 days); and two years later Operation Protective Edge (Israel killed 2,251 Palestinians in Gaza and wounded more than 11,000 between July 8 and August 26, 2014). Since March 2018, Israeli sharpshooters have killed and maimed hundreds of Palestinians participating in the Great Return March every Friday at the fence that separates the Gaza Strip from Israel.

This violence and physical separation has occupied the Palestinian souls in Gaza for a very long time, a deliberate military strategy pursued by the State of Israel. There’s little doubt among human rights lawyers that it amounts to collective punishment, a war crime under the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

So this happened recently.

A Palestinian in Gaza connected on Zoom with an Israeli in Tel Aviv about 40 miles away but they could have very well been light years apart because it’s official government policy on both sides that there will be no communication “with the enemy.” The Zoom meeting included friends on both sides. It went on for over an hour. I watched part of it but the audio quality and heavy accents prevented me from understanding the entire exchange.

A young Palestinian woman later saw the video of the Zoom meeting and tagged Hamas leaders. They arrested the organizer in Gaza on grounds that his conversation with the Israelis was a form of normalization.

I’ve heard different definitions of normalization; it appears to sweep the gamut from the very denunciation of any contact between any Israeli and any Palestinian to a more tailored and nuanced criticism of people-to-people programs.

The definition I find most helpful is:

Within Palestine, normalization is generally defined as any project; initiative; or activity in Palestine, Israel, or internationally that aims to bring together Palestinians and Israelis without addressing structural and power inequalities and/or without having its goal be opposition and resistance to the Israeli occupation.

Read this article published two years ago in the Friends Journal, a Quaker publication, by Mike Merryman-Lotze for a deeper understanding of a very complex subject. He writes:

It should be understood that the push against normalization is not about closing off communication because of issues of identity. Rather it is about identifying the principles and processes through which discussion and communication occur so as to not reify power imbalances or do harm to those who are already vulnerable or abused. It is about ensuring that when people come together, the focus is co‐resistance to the structures that oppress people, and not coexistence within oppressive systems.

The woman who alerted Hamas to the Zoom meeting appears to ascribe to a very blunt definition where any communication between Palestinians and Israelis is verboten. Here’s what she later posted on her Facebook account. She’s received a lot of support from Palestinians inside Gaza and outside.

As a Palestinian born and raised in the Gaza Strip, under endless blockade, survived two aggressive wars, covering the Great March of Return I believe that the worst sin any Palestinian can commit is Normalization; which is any joint activity between Palestine and Israel.

In other words, no form of joint activity, cooperation or dialogue with Israelis is unacceptable, even engaging with Israeli “Peace Activists”.

These actions are collaboration with enemies of us, the Palestinians.

No one ever taught me that Israel is my enemy, but every airstrike I heard told me that.

No one ever told me that talking with Israeli’s is unacceptable but every single body shattered into pieces covered with blood said it all.

It is not my intention to make an argument in support of normalization. Normalization is a matter writ large for the Palestinian community to explore and decide for itself collectively and as individuals.

But if the shroud of anti-normalization can be stretched so far and wide as to smother any communication between Palestinians and Israelis, I fear for the future of everyone in the Holy Land. 

I would never have met Sami, a Palestinian from Gaza who was a high school exchange student in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I wrote about Sami and his meeting with an Israeli security official in that U.S. high school many years ago.

I would never have read the Palestinian doctor’s book from Gaza, I Shall Not Hate by Izzeldin Abuelaish.

I probably would never have traveled to Gaza in 2012 and learned so much about life under occupation, and the beautiful culture of sumud and determination, because my opportunity was sparked by Sami, Izzeldin, Mohammed and many others who connected with me.  I’ve had my difference of opinion with some in Gaza over the years, but if they choose to shroud themselves in darkness by condemning any connections between Palestinians and Israelis as haram, then I must part ways with them. My voice and actions in solidarity with Palestinians will fall on deaf ears.

For the time being, I’m hoping that there are many more Palestinians inside Gaza, the West Bank, and the diaspora who reject this mindset. I suspect they may feel it is safer to remain silent.

I also hope there are Israelis who recognize that “it’s the occupation, stupid!”  Speaking with Palestinians may be an important first step, but it’s certainly not the last. Israelis must have the courage to take action to dismantle the occupation.

 

 

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Filed under Gaza, Hamas, Israel, nonviolent resistance, Occupation, People, Politics, Video

Israeli/Palestinian Conflict 2005 – 2017

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

2005

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

2006

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

2007

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

2008

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

2009

 

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

 

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

 

2010

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

2011

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

2012

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

2013

 

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

 

2014

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

2015

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

2016

 

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

 

2017

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

“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.)

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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

Compassion in Action

I lived in Gaza for 9 months (September 2012 through May 2013) and I’m on a journey to return for an indefinite stay. Frankly, I want to move to Gaza. At the age of 61, friends and family understandably ask me WHY?!?

My blog Why Gaza? is my simple but inadequate attempt to provide an answer.

The following three questions, posed by a Professor of English at the Islamic University of Gaza, reveal a kernel of truth behind my desire to return to Gaza. Maybe if I can answer them, my friends and family will understand my “obsession,” as some have called it.

How has knowing Palestine and struggling for peace and justice in Palestine made me a better person?

How has the Palestinian cause made me aware of other struggles in my own community?

What does Palestine inspire in me?

Yes!  I am a better person. I instinctively knew it upon my return to the States in May 2013. Not a “holier than thou” better person; not a smug “I know more than you” about the Holy Land better person; and certainly not a wiser “I have all of the answers to the conflict” better person. I’m a newcomer to the Israel-Palestine tragedy, more motivated than ever to read, listen and learn.

I’m a better person because I witnessed compassion in action, and I believe I’m a more compassionate person as a result.

The Golden Rule has been my guidepost most of my adult life (even though I admit to being an imperfect role model) but I never truly understood or appreciated its significance until my visit to Gaza.

Compassion and concern for others appeared to be infused in nearly every act of kindness I witnessed between family members, neighbors, professional colleagues, store clerks, farmers and even the taxi drivers. The Golden Rule came to life for me amidst the death and destruction following Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.

Under the most challenging of circumstances (the decades-long Occupation, 8+ years siege, and multiple Israeli bombardments) I thought it was astounding that everywhere I turned in Gaza (1.8 million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip) I found people struggling together but with open hearts and hands to help others. What was in the water they were drinking?

Palestinian whose house was destroyed by Israel the day before offers tea to his neighbors sitting amid the ruins.

Palestinian whose house was destroyed by Israel the day before offers tea to his neighbors sitting amid the ruins.

As best as I could tell, their compassion is not motivated by personal reward or expectation of gratitude. Instead, it seems to be in their DNA. I wanted some of what they were drinking.

Karen Armstrong’s Charter of Compassion is what I’m talking about. She’s calling for nations and communities all over the world to adopt a global compassion.

Surely, the Palestinians in Gaza are fallible human beings struggling with their own internal demons, as we all are, but I witnessed something there that I haven’t seen anywhere else. “Empathy for the other” is the only way I can describe it. Israelis could have the very best neighbors if the Zionists would only acknowledge the impacts of the Nakhba and end the brutal and illegal Occupation.

My friends and family will surely roll their eyes upon reading this. I can hear them saying: “Those Hamas terrorists certainly aren’t compassionate. The militants firing rockets into Israel don’t concern themselves with the innocent lives they put in danger!”

Setting aside the argument of who is and isn’t a terrorist, certainly violence in the name of resistance is just as counter-productive as violence in the name of self-defense. And more to the point, violence directed at innocent civilians by either side is a violation of international law — definitely not a sign of compassion.

This, I am sure — Israelis and Palestinians need to connect in deep and meaningful ways to be able to express the Golden Rule and share their compassion with each other and with humanity. Keeping one group locked up behind gates and walls and military checkpoints, and the other group immobilized by their fear and ignorance of the other, is not a path on which the Golden Rule will flourish.

How has the Palestinian cause made me aware of other struggles in my own community?

Connecting the dots started over thirty years ago for me when I became actively engaged in building a world beyond war. Check out Beyond War: A New Way of Thinking. Since then I’ve worked both professionally and personally on climate justice issues, social and economic justice campaigns, and joined the Occupy Movement in September 2011. I wanted to learn more about the Palestinian struggle for justice after I visited Gaza the first time in 2004. My opportunity finally came in 2012.

My understanding and appreciation of the Palestinian struggle came as a result of my earlier intellectual and spiritual growth, not the other way around. Although young New Mexican activists have opened my eyes to the common  struggles engaged in by the indigenous Peoples in New Mexico and the indigenous Peoples in the Holy Land, I have known for many, many years that “We Are One.”

WeAreOne-Med

What does Palestine inspire in me?

Consistent with my belief that “we are one”, I know that the future of the planet and the Holy Land belongs to everyone: Muslim, Jew, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and those who follow no religion. I don’t believe anyone has superior rights, but everyone has basic human rights to life, liberty and justice.

I’m drawn to the Palestinian struggle because the Israeli Occupation is so patently unjust and illegal. My spiritual heart and my legal mind want to help correct the injustices I see occurring every day in Gaza. Until the 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza are allowed to live and flourish in dignity and with justice, all of us will be poorer human beings on this small planet.

The Challenge:

Now I’m going to challenge my friend Pam Bailey to ponder these three little questions and share her answers … and to follow with a challenge to another person to do the same.

Lora Lucero

April 24, 2015

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Filed under Gaza, Hamas, Islam, Israel, Nakba, Peaceful, People, Spiritual - Religion

Operation Pillar of Defense – one year later

from Harry Fear – November 14, 2013

“A year ago today, after attacking non-combatants (including children) in Gaza in the preceding days, Israel launched its second Open War on Gaza. We all remember it, and we shan’t forget it.

“Israel’s use of force constituted a deliberate policy of state terrorism, inflicted reckless on a largely defenceless, third world, oppressed, historically displaced population.”

“To the Western world the [187 Palestinian dead killed during the 8-day war] represent some kind of ‘collateral damage’. Well, they are not ‘war casualties’ and these deaths will never be erased from our consciences. Millions of people will tirelessly seek justice in their names.”

This video is a commemorative naming of the dead that was produced shortly after the ceasefire that ended those horrendous days of war. — with Mohanad Nabhan and Noor Harazeen in Gaza, Palestine.”

My blog posts during the war:

Amateur diplomacy in the Middle East – November 13, 2012

Adapting to Targeted Assassinations – November 14, 2012

Why Now? – November 14, 2012

Put Israel’s assault in Gaza in context – November 14, 2012

#GazaUnderAttack – November 16, 2012

Normalcy Follows Terror – November 16, 2012

gaza by Suheir Hammad – November 16, 2012

“We teach life, sir!” – November 16, 2012

Pictures from Gaza – November 17, 2012

blood stitched time by Suheir Hammad – November 17, 2012

Sunday in Gaza – November 18, 2012

Obama MIA – November 18, 2012

A Polite War – November 20, 2012

Ceasefire does not equal peace – November 22, 2012

A Polite War – part 2 – November 22, 2012

A Polite War – part 3 – November 24, 2012

The Gaza Ceasefire: An Early Assessment – November 24, 2012

Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City – November 26, 2012

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

Obfuscation and distortion

My Jewish family and friends may watch this 20-minute video and say confidently “we told you so!”

My Palestinian friends may watch this and blow a fuse!   This will definitely piss them off.

Nevet Basker, Executive Director of Broader View, an Israeli Resource Center, discusses Israel’s recent “Operation: Pillar of Defense” against Gaza in November 2012.

Now that I have warned everyone, I hope people will watch this short piece dispassionately and critically, and be ready to answer some questions that follow.

 

This video epitomizes one of the serious problems in the Middle East.  One side is trying to demonize the other side, make them look less than human, to build support for its own inhumane acts of aggression.   [I think both sides are engaged in this kind of propaganda.  It must stop!]

The questions we should be asking Ms. Basker and the producers of this video are:

  • Where is the OCCUPATION in this narrative?   Every action and reaction, every military action and acts of resistance are connected to the Israeli Occupation of Palestine.  This video doesn’t mention “occupation” once.  Failing to put the current events into the context of the Nakba deliberately distorts Operation: Pillar of Defense and the tragic loss of life on both sides.  [It might be like talking about the Holocaust and the death of 6 million Jews without discussing Hitler, the Nazis and the concentration camps.  Context is extremely important.]

Until the Nakba is acknowledged, its crimes addressed and restitution provided, there can be no justice or justice-based peace. 

  • Where is the Blockade and Siege in this narrative?  Ms. Basker mentions that Israel “unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005” leaving the impression to the uninformed viewer that Israel no longer controls or occupies the Gaza Strip.  As an American living in Gaza, I can tell you this is a serious distortion of the facts on the ground.  I wrote about the siege and occupation of Gaza in an earlier post here.  
  • Was Hamas democratically elected or came to power via a violent coup?  Ms. Basker mentions a violent coup that brought Hamas to power in the Gaza Strip, which is partially true.  She fails to mention that Hamas won the parliamentary election in January 2005, in a fair and transparent election which no one disputes.  It was only after the election, when Israel and the U.S. were dismayed with the Hamas victory, that Fatah (and some say outside agitators) tried to upset the election results.  At that point, Hamas used violence to oust Fatah from the Gaza Strip and assert their control.
  • What does the Hamas Charter really say?   This video joins a long list of other videos and commentators who have exhorted Western audiences to be wary of the dangers that Hamas poses to the survival of Israel, by referencing the Hamas Charter.  I wonder how many people have actually read that charter.  I have tried, but honestly found its religious language so tiresome that I haven’t finished it.  Instead, I’m reading a book about Hamas which explores the charter.  Hamas Unwritten Chapters by Azzam Tamimi.   I wrote about my initial thoughts concerning the Hamas Charter here.  To be fair, we should also read the Likud Charter, which does not recognize Palestine’s right to exist.  See here.
  • What about the impact of IDF’s drones and hi-tech weapons on a defenseless population in Gaza?  This video focuses on how the conflict impacts Israelis, but it cynically tries to shift the blame for the death of Palestinian civilians onto Hamas, making them seem to be monsters who use their civilians as human shields, deliberately fire rockets from civilian zones, hide behind journalists, and even shows a cartoon of a Palestinian child strapped to a bulls-eye target by a Hamas fighter.  All of this is to demonstrate how inhumane Hamas fighters are, while the IDF are carrying out “surgical strikes” on “precise targets” to avoid civilian casualties.  The video notes that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) warns Palestinian civilians before they strike!  Read my three part blog post about this polite war, here, here and here.  The truth of the matter is that when there is a military operation in Gaza (Operation Cast Lead in Dec ’08 – Jan ’09 or this most recent assault in Nov. ’12), the loss of Palestinian lives is disproportionately much, much higher than the loss of Israeli lives.   In Operation Cast Lead, 1440 (+/-) Palestinians were killed; thirteen Israelis were killed.  In Operation Pillar of Defense, 158-170 Palestinians were killed during 8 days of the assault; six Israelis were killed. 
  • As an eyewitness on the ground in Gaza during this most recent assault, I can testify that there is nothing surgical or precise about the IDF bombardment.  Ten members of the the Dalu family were killed on November 19 when their house was struck by an Israeli bomb.  Bombs were falling everywhere in Gaza; there was no safe place; no bunkers to retreat to; no Red Code alerts to warn us; everyone was a target.  And I believe that was part of the IDF strategy to strike fear into the general civilian population.  Friends told me that the bombs were much louder this time than four years ago; was the IDF experimenting with a new type of weapon?
  • Why are Hamas rockets “weapons of terror” while the IDF bombs are not?  Ms. Basker notes that the rockets used by Hamas were incapable of being targeted as precisely as Israel’s weapons, and they landed everywhere and anywhere, terrorizing the population in southern Israel.  She called them “weapons of terror,” but seems incapable of empathizing with the terror that Palestinians felt during the 8 days of Operation Pillar of Defense.   She cynically shows a map of the United States to illustrate the geographic reach of Hamas rockets if they were launched from Mexico across our southern border.  This, no doubt, to awaken the sympathy of Americans for Israelis.  If a similar illustration was made to gain sympathy for the Palestinians, I suppose the map of the United States would have to be covered shore to shore, north to south, with bombs falling on every square inch. 
  • Was Ahmed Jabari really the Osama bin Laden of Gaza?  Of all the allegations made in this video, this one really takes the cake.  Ms. Basker notes that Operation Pillar of Defense was an IDF response to rocket attacks by Hamas.  She mentions the targeted assassination of Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari in his car on Wednesday, November 14 and calls him the Osama bin Laden of Gaza.  In fact, as I understand it, Jabari helped negotiate the release of Gilad Shalit (an IDF soldier held by Hamas for 5 years); and hours before his assassination Jabari was handed a draft of a long-term ceasefire agreement to review.

Ms. Basker provides no constructive ideas for a peaceful resolution, and so I’m left wondering if her goal is simply to arouse Western sympathy for the status quo, to continue sending more $$ for Israel’s “defense,” to keep obfuscating and distorting the reality on the ground in the Middle East.  Shame on her!   I hope Americans are wizing up.

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Filed under Elections, Gaza, Hamas, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, Occupation, People, Video

Battle of the words – the storm following Operation Pillar of Defense

The Israeli spin machine is hard at work getting its version out to Americans and Westerners about what happened during the 8-days of Operation Pillar of Defense.   I have copied Israeli Ambassador Meir Shlomo’s piece at the end of this blog.  Needless to say, having witnessed Israel’s military assault from the ground in Gaza, I adamantly reject many of the Ambassador’s assertions.  I wonder where he was sitting while the bombs were falling?

Thankfully, the Jewish Voice for Peace chapter in Albuquerque, New Mexico has written a strong rebuttal which I hope the local paper will publish.  Whether you side with Israel, with Palestine or sit on the fence, I hope you will read both pieces carefully and judge for yourself which narrative rings true.

The Albuquerque Chapter of the Jewish Voice for Peace wrote the following:

“In a recent op-ed piece, Ambassador Meir Schlomo, the Consul General of Israel to the Southwest, demonstrates the asymmetries he claimed differentiate Israel from Gaza in the context of the latest Israeli Defense Force (IDF) operation in Gaza, Operation Pillar of Defense. It is no accident at all that Mr. Schlomo has seized upon the concept of asymmetry in both justifying this IDF operation and demonizing Hamas and the people of Gaza.  This is a case in which an argument tries to attack the strengths of an opponent’s case rather than attacking their weaknesses. The asymmetries between Israel and Gaza are so utterly stark, so severely contrastive, that Mr. Schlomo reasons that he must directly confront the concept and turn it on its head in Israel’s favor. 

 What are the asymmetries that Mr. Schlomo seeks to obscure? 

 The first important set of asymmetries contrasts the economies of the country, Israel, and the territory, Gaza. According to the United Nations, Israel boasts an intensively modern industrial economy ranked 17th out of 187 countries on the Human Development Index; Israel’s GDP is the 39th largest in the world. It is difficult to obtain as complete an assessment of the economic conditions in Gaza, since most observers before 2007 at least looked at conditions in all of the occupied Palestinian territories, including Gaza and the West Bank.  But it is clear that over one third and perhaps as much as one half of Gaza’s adults are unemployed; over 40% are considered “food insecure” and at least 80% rely on food aid for daily nourishment.   Gaza is an extremely densely populated area, with over 1.6 million people in just 140 square miles, just about the size of metropolitan Albuquerque.  The vast majority of Gaza’s people are refugees whose families were displaced by Israel in previous conflicts.  Severe water and electricity shortages are daily crises for them.  By any measure, the people of Gaza are extremely impoverished, while the people of Israel are among the world’s most fortunate.

The second set has to do with the political status of the two. Israel is an internationally recognized country with diplomatic relations with countries everywhere in the world. The influence of Israel is notable, particularly in the United States, where during our recent national election the Prime Minister of Israel weighed in on his candidate preferences in a fashion that might be deemed extremely inappropriate were another world leader to have behaved in this fashion.  By contrast Gaza is a territory with an entirely anomalous status.  While IDF forces did vacate Gaza’s surface lands in 2005, the UN “Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967” stated in 2007:

Israel remains an occupying Power in respect of Gaza. Arguments that Israel ceased its occupation of Gaza in 2005 following the evacuation of its settlements and the withdrawal of its troops take no account of the fact that Israel retains effective control over Gaza by means of its control over Gaza’s external borders, airspace, territorial waters, population registry, tax revenues and governmental functions. The effectiveness of this control is emphasized by regular military incursions and rocket attacks.

Over one third of Gaza’s farmland is inaccessible because of Israel’s self-declared “security zones” that lie within Gaza’s territory; the Israeli navy does not permit Gaza’s fishermen to fish beyond three miles from shore.  Every other country in the world controls a belt of coastal waters that extends twelve miles from shore. 

Finally, the asymmetry between Gaza and Israel with respect to military power is perhaps the most exaggerated of all.  While Israel produces and deploys one of the most sophisticated military technologies and one of the largest armies per capita in the world, Gaza’s people have limited means to defend themselves from Israeli incursions, targeted assassinations (like the one that initiated the recent IDF operation), and death rained down from the sky.  In this most recent operation, 156 Palestinians were killed, among them 19 children, whereas six Israelis died.  Since the first home-made, highly inaccurate short-range Qassam missiles were fired from Gaza towards Israel in 2001, 59 Israelis have been killed and over 4700 Palestinians.  While the death of even one person is deplorable in such conflicts, it is this asymmetry – – who and how many die in these conflicts- – above all others perhaps that Mr. Schlomo wants to obscure.”

Measure of Israel/Hamas TragedyIs Not Symmetrical

Once again, there has been another upsurge in the violence from Gaza: more rockets falling in Israel, another military operation by the IDF, more photos from both sides of parents and children running from the shelling, more tragedy on both sides. It seems to be agonizingly symmetrical, with pain and suffering on both sides of the border.

But the symmetry is only an illusion. If we can examine the true picture, we will find that it is far from symmetrical.

We will find that while Israel is a democratic country which follows the rule of law, Hamas is a terrorist organization that has ruthlessly taken control of a small territory — namely, the Gaza Strip.

We will find that while Israel strikes carefully picked military targets with surgical precision in order to avoid hitting non-involved citizens and children, Hamas deliberately fires at civilian targets.

We will find that while Israeli civilians are urged to run to shelters and take cover when the rockets fall, Hamas fires from densely populated areas and from public buildings in order to be shielded from Israeli fire by the civilians within them. When Israel sends fliers and phone messages to Palestinians in danger of being in the line of fire, Hamas deliberately seeks to harm civilians.

Yes, we will find a higher death toll on the Palestinian side, but this only demonstrates that while Israel is more successful in protecting its citizens, Hamas terrorists are more successful in using their civilians as human shields.

We will find that while Israel is profoundly sorry for every civilian injured or killed, Hamas celebrates civilian deaths on both sides — on the Israeli side as a military victory and on the Palestinian side as a propaganda victory.

Finally, we will find that while Israel wants to live in peace and quiet with its neighbors and has no claims on Gaza; Hamas’ declared aim is to destroy the state of Israel.

Israel famously exited Gaza in 2005. At that time, it was the hope and belief that the Palestinians would take the infrastructure that had been left for them by Israeli entrepreneurs and Jewish philanthropists and turn Gaza into a Middle Eastern success story.

Palestinians were left with greenhouses, factories and warehouses, all of which could have been used to advance the Palestinian economy. Israel withdrew its military governance and the Palestinians could have used the opportunity to show the world that they have the will and capability to build a democratic, peace-loving state.

Instead, Hamas grabbed power, continuing to say that they will never end the “armed resistance” — their code word for ‘terrorism’ — until the ‘Zionist entity’ is entirely eradicated: “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad.” (Article 13 of the Hamas Covenant).

Billions of dollars have been offered to them in order to develop infrastructures, but all their resources have instead been used to buy weapons and ammunition. Any infrastructures left have been used to house rocket launching pads and ammo stores. Most tragically, during this time, thousands of rockets have rained upon southern Israel.

You might be shocked to learn that during Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel continued to supply electricity, medical supplies, food and water to Gaza. Tragically, Hamas would rather have its citizens go without than accept help.

The ultimate asymmetry exists in this: if Israel were to lay down its arms tomorrow, tomorrow it would be annihilated. Conversely, if Hamas were to lay down its weapons tomorrow, there would be peace for Israel and the Palestinians next week.

As long as Hamas abuses its own population and continues its aggression against Israel, true balance — true symmetry — will remain out of reach.

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Filed under Gaza, Hamas, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, Media