Tag Archives: siege

Zero-sum logic – the existence of a people depends on the nonexistence of the other

A Palestinian scholar from Gaza, Jehad Abu Saleem, shared the following analysis in February 2018:

The collapse of life in Gaza has entered a critical stage. The eleven years of siege, isolation, and destructive wars of aggression are bearing their bitter fruits. What else but collapse will result from more than a decade of intense choking of a population of two million people. The collapse of Gaza manifests itself on every aspect of life there: rising suicide rates, crime, and new levels of poverty and impoverishment at unprecedented scales.

The siege on Gaza has become a forgotten part of the Palestinian experience under occupation. The siege was normalized despite several attempts to put an end to it. At this point, the fact that Gaza is under siege is a given. Gaza and siege became synonyms. The fact that the siege still persists despite all the attempts to end it should make us rethink the way we talk about Gaza, its history, and its place within the larger context of the Israeli occupation and control of Palestinian lives.

three evils

Much has been written and said about the siege from a humanitarian lens/framework. While a humanitarian framework can be useful when responding to urgent situations, sometimes it distracts us from the larger historical, political, and moral questions that need to be asked when we are faced by large-scale man-made crises like the one in Gaza.

The siege on Gaza is not an isolated event in the history of Palestine. It happened as part of the unfolding of a larger and much more complicated history and series of events. The siege on Gaza and its perpetuation to the current level is the logical conclusion of a situation that is inseparable from the logic that defines the relationship between Zionist Jews and Palestinian Arabs in historic Palestine. It’s a zero-sum logic, a mutually exclusive reality in which the existence of a people depends on the nonexistence of the other.


The question haunting people in Gaza now is what will become of them in light of any future escalation. No one knows what will this look like, but what we know for sure by now, and it’s a terrifying thing: we know that we are now in a region where people’s wishes for dignity and liberation no longer mean anything. The triumph of counter-revolution backed by regional and international players has normalized acts of mass murder and depopulation of millions of people for the sake of crushing demands for liberation. We know that Palestinians are vulnerable in light of the current alignment of powers in the Middle East. All this nonsense about a so-called “resistance” camp rushing to the rescue of Palestinians is pure nonsense in light of the current geopolitical context. Gaza might end up paying the price of the normalization of what we saw in Syria, Yemen, the Sinai, and Iraq under the pretext of “war on terror.”



Filed under Gaza, Occupation, People, Politics, Uncategorized

Egyptian postal service doesn’t serve Palestine

“We don’t have any service to Gaza or Ramallah,” two different government clerks told me today at the main post office in Cairo. “Remove Palestine from the mailing label and replace it with Israel.”

Egyptian policy has changed since the first time I mailed a box from Cairo to Gaza in 2011.


Walking to the main post office in Cairo

As the crow flies, Gaza is only 346.29 km (215.17 miles) from Cairo, but they are the longest miles I’ve ever traveled. I haven’t succeeded in crossing that distance in the past six months I’ve been in the Middle East.

Politics.  Just stupid politics, and the Israeli-Egyptian-U.S. blockade of Gaza.

In 2011, I sent a similar box of books and small gifts to Gaza from the very same post office a few blocks from my hotel in Cairo. I couldn’t have managed that transaction without the capable assistance of Eid who navigated us from one part of the complex to another, up staircases, through noisy lines, and finally to the clerk who dutifully inspected everything in the box and then processed the delivery instructions to Gaza, Palestine.  No questions asked.

Five years later, Eid helped me again.  In 2016, the first postal clerk told us that there are no post offices in Gaza. No postal service in either direction — from Cairo to Gaza or from Gaza to Cairo, he said.

We walked across the street to another office within the same complex.


A section of the Main Post Office in Cairo

The second clerk we spoke with was sitting beneath a sign that read “Customs Office” in English and Arabic.  He looked inside the box, asked if there was any medicine inside, seemed satisfied with the contents, and directed us to tape up the box. Al-hamdulillah! We were making progress.


Taping up the box following inspection

Then we proceeded to another line and waited to complete the shipment with the third clerk. He looked at the label, saw “Gaza, Palestine” and directed us to cross out Palestine, and insert Israel. Eid and the clerk exchanged a few words, but it didn’t seem that the clerk would budge.

Eid asked me if I had a pen.  “None of my pens will erase Palestine,” I told him.  He replied, “We’re not going to be able to send the box unless we write Israel.”

So we left and Eid was kind enough to carry the box back to the hotel. Maybe there’s another way to skin this cat.

Shame on Egypt for collaborating with Israel on this economic, social and political siege of Gaza.  Shame on you President El-Sisi.

El Sisi

President El-Sisi

March 20, 2016 UPDATE

I returned to the main post office in Cairo today with a smaller package addressed to my friend in Jericho, Palestine.  I capitulated and wrote “Israel” on the label.  The address was written in Arabic on one side and in English on the other.  Small, innocuous, and clearly labelled. There should have been no problems.


Inside the main post office in downtown Cairo

Again, the postal clerk told me he would not accept my package for Jericho. He spoke good English and I showed him where I printed “Israel” on the label, but he said there is no service to Palestine. Instead, the package would go to Tel Aviv and sit there for 3 weeks, he thought, and then the Israeli officials would return the package to Egypt. I asked him how I could send anything to friends in Palestine and he just shrugged and threw up his arms. My gut told me he was as frustrated with the stupid politics as I was —- and that he wished he could have helped me.


Lora in front of the main post office in Cairo on March 20, 2016









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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.)


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.


Filed under Gaza, Hamas, IDF, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, Nakba, nonviolent resistance, Occupation, Peaceful, People, Politics, Settlers, United Nations, US Policy, Video

Mike Merryman-Lotze speaks out about Israel’s punishing blockade of Gaza

I’m publishing a post from Mike Merryman-Lotze that I found especially insightful and informative.  He provides a cogent response to those who support Israel’s 8-year siege and blockade of Gaza.

Mike is in a position to know of what he writes.  He first traveled to Palestine and Israel in 1996 as a student. He returned in early 2000 and worked with the Palestinian human rights organization as a researcher through the second Intifada. He also lived and worked in Palestine from 2007 to 2010 while working on children rights issues. Since 2010, he has worked with the American Friends Service Committee as their Palestine-Israel Program Director. (The Quakers were the first group of people to help Palestinian refugees following their expulsion from their homes in 1947.)

In addition to Mike’s experience in Palestine, he has worked in Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon, and on programs in Iraq, Syria, and the broader Middle East. He’s also on the steering committee for the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.  Mike has been traveling in and out of Gaza regularly since 2007 and has managed projects there throughout that time. He is familiar with the donor regulations and impact of the blockade. He was last in Gaza in December 2014.

The opinions in this piece are his own and written in a private capacity.  Thank you Mike.

“Every time something is posted about the Gaza blockade people write that the blockade is in place to stop arms shipments and because cement and other materials are being used in tunnels and to create weapons. But let’s be clear, weapons smuggled into Gaza have never legally come through the closed borders. They were always smuggled through tunnels and via the sea. The blockade has not stopped this illegal trade. Rather it caused it to increase. Likewise, the cement used in tunnels and by Hamas on other military infrastructure is not the cement that comes through border crossings but cement smuggled through tunnels.

The reality is that international aid in Palestine is more heavily regulated than in any other place in the world. Building supplies coming into Gaza through Erez are tracked and monitored and are not going to Hamas. Money given by the international community is not going to Hamas but is being used to provide basic need for Palestinians who are unable to provide for themselves due to the blockade. The impact of the blockade is not only a stoppage of imports for the local market but also a stoppage of exports which kills the Gaza economy and creates unemployment and poverty. The siege hurts average people who are left unemployed and who cannot buy reconstruction materials or other goods – either because they have no income or because the goods are banned from Gaza.

Hamas is not hurt significantly by the blockade. Rather, for years the blockade provided Hamas with a steady source of funds as it could control the tunnel trade and illegal smuggling. It could tax goods coming through the tunnels. It could smuggle in cement and other goods that people say shouldn’t come through the closed and controlled borders. The draconian impact of the blockade is not primarily felt by Hamas.

The idea that Hamas abuses “aid” meant for the Gaza population is also bogus. Hamas does not get aid from donors. Even a conversation with Hamas can result in charges of material support for terrorism. Funding from international donors and agencies therefore does not go to Hamas. There are exceedingly stringent financial controls in place to make sure that funds are tracked. Hamas does use a portion of its own funds which are received through its own channels for weapons and military infrastructure (around 14% by Shin Bet estimations), however, proportionally it spends less on its armed wing than either Israel or the US spend on their militaries. I do not support violence but those criticizing Hamas’ use of funds for military purposes must recognize that what they are asking for is one sided disarmament which will not happen in a situation of ongoing siege and occupation.

But what about those terrorist tunnels? Didn’t Hamas try to attack kindergartens and civilians? The answer is the tunnels into Israel didn’t go anywhere near kindergartens (unless you count 2.5 km close), didn’t come up under civilian communities, and were only used to attack military targets. This has been repeatedly reported on by the Israeli press. This doesn’t mean I support the military use of tunnels, but tunnels for smuggling and military purposes must be understood within the context of siege, occupation, and violence against Palestinians. If you want to make them disappear end the siege and occupation.

What about the thousands of rockets? From the end of the 2012 attack on Gaza by Israel until Israel attacked Gaza last summer no rockets were fired from Gaza by Hamas (as confirmed by the Israeli military). A few rockets were fired by other groups but there were also daily attacks on Gaza by Israel (see the Gaza NGO Security Office briefs). Since the end of the conflict this summer Hamas has also refrained from rocket fire although a few rockets have been fired by other groups. Again, Israel has fired into and attacked Gaza nearly every day while maintaining the blockade in violation of the terms it agreed to in the ceasefire. The reality is that since 2009 Hamas has controlled and stopped most rocket fire. There have not been thousands of rockets fired into Israel since 2009. This has not changed Israeli policy.

Finally, what about Egypt? Isn’t it responsible and what about its destruction of property in Rafah? First, the destruction of property in Rafah is appalling and many of us who have engaged in the struggle for rights in the Middle East are speaking about this. But the people holding up Egyptian violence and destruction in Rafah and using it to criticize those of us critical of the Israel and the blockade are not showing actual solidarity or concern for the citizens of Rafah. They are cynically using the suffering in Rafah to deflect attention for other rights violations. This is all around abusive. Regarding Egyptian responsibility, it is limited. Egypt is not a good actor in this situation and has contributed heavily to Palestinian suffering. However, its actual treaty obligations along the border are with Israel. Those saying that Egypt should provide aid are not actually saying that Egypt should freely open its border to Gaza and allow for free movement of people and goods as that would completely undermine the blockade that these same people support.

Israel as the recognized occupying power in Gaza (recognized as such even by the US). As the power that controls the Gazan borders, water supply, electricity, tax revenue, money supply, the flow of goods and people, the airspace, waterways, electromagnetic spectrum, and populations registry (for a partial list) it is the party responsible for Gaza, the party that is violating the law, and the party most responsible for violence and human suffering.”

Thank you Mike!

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Mavi Marmara – 4 years and counting

Imagine this.

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

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

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

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

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

Gaza superimposed on Manhattan, NY

Gaza superimposed on Manhattan

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

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

Mavi Marmara

Mavi Marmara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Coming and going

Imagine this!

You live in Manhattan. Your family has lived there for 60+ years, not by choice but forced to flee to Manhattan as refugees from Brooklyn where generations of your family — as far back as anyone can remember — lived. You still have the key to the family house in Brooklyn but haven’t been able to return for a visit.

Gaza Strip superimposed on New York

Gaza Strip superimposed on New York, USA

You dream of returning to Brooklyn one day, some day. The dream doesn’t fade with time.

The new inhabitants started coming by boat and plane from across the ocean, just a trickle at first. After WWI, the trickle turned into a stream, and after WWII, the stream turned into a flood. People all over the world continue to immigrate to Brooklyn even today, but you’re not allowed to even visit.

In 1948, these strangers pronounced Brooklyn as their own. The audacity of it all is still perplexing to many.  Some New York historians write that your grandparents left Brooklyn peacefully and voluntarily settled in Manhattan. You know differently.

Fast forward to the present.

Unemployment in Manhattan today is over 50% for youth under the age of 25; and naturally, many of them want to travel out of Manhattan in search of jobs. Others have received scholarships to study abroad.  There are many who need medical treatment in facilities outside of Manhattan.

Seems reasonable, doesn’t it?  But here’s the scoop.

There are only 5 crossings from Manhattan to the outside world.  You can’t fly out because the government in Brooklyn destroyed the airport; the train that ran between Manhattan and New Jersey in the 1970s hasn’t run for many, many years; and no boats are allowed to dock in Manhattan.  [In 2010, the people in Brooklyn shot and killed nine passengers on a boat trying to reach Manhattan.]  Fair warning!  If you are a fisherman, don’t go too far from shore because those folks in Brooklyn have been known to shoot and kill fishermen from Manhattan.

Those same people in Brooklyn strictly guard 4 of the 5 crossings, allowing people to travel only through one crossing on the north side if they’ve received a permit from Brooklyn. Three crossings are designated solely for commercial trucks to bring supplies in for the 1.7 million people stuck in Manhattan.  Nothing gets out because Brooklyn won’t allow exports from Manhattan.

The 5th crossing is a passenger checkpoint ostensibly guarded by the people in New Jersey but everyone winks and nods because they know that the powers-to-be in New Jersey and Brooklyn are collaborating to enforce travel restrictions on everyone in Manhattan and on foreigners wanting to visit Manhattan.  Even the U.S. government is in on the deal.

This whole situation seems pretty fantastical but the people of the world just put their heads in the sand and pretend not to notice this open air prison in which you live.


Why are you imprisoned?  The government in Brooklyn says these travel restrictions are needed for “security”. The noose has grown even tighter since the elections in Manhattan in 2006 when the results surprised Brooklyn and others.

You are just SOL !

Fidaa Abuassi shares this atrocity much better than I in her piece called The Epic Struggle of a Trapped Student.

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“Material assistance to terrorism”

I came to Gaza in September to teach environmental engineering students about climate change.  In two weeks, I will be leaving Gaza and I’m feeling very sad.

I have made many new friends; experienced Israeli bombardment for 8 days in November; and witnessed the human suffering, physical destruction and the environmental damage in this conflict zone.   This summer I plan to write about it all.  InshAllah!

During my time in Gaza I have met with government officials who are interested in learning about the challenges they face in this new era of climate change.  Some responded that “Allah will take care of it.”  I guess those people are the climate deniers, like the ones we have in the USA.

Others said that “the Israeli occupation and siege force us to look at more immediate crises.  How can we turn our attention to climate change?”  And some have ideas about the next steps (adaptation to climate change) that they should take to prepare their citizens for what is surely coming.

Gaza is in the cross-hairs of three major crises, any one of which would be devastating, but combined, they are unimaginable.

(1) The dire consequences of occupation and a multi-year economic, political and cultural siege that has no end in sight.

(2) The enormous environmental threats — water and air pollution at the top of the list.

(3) Climate change!

It doesn’t seem fair that 1.7 million Palestinians caught in the world’s largest open air prison should have to even think about climate change.

But life isn’t fair.

And now on my return to the States, I wonder if I’ll be greeted at the airport by my family or by federal agents.

And what rights will I have if the federal agents detain me?

You think I’m crazy?    Read this current interview with Noam Chomsky about the erosion of our civil rights.

[Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project] was a law group that was giving legal advice to groups on the terrorist list, which in itself has no moral or legal justification; it’s an abomination. But if you look at the way it’s been used, it becomes even more abhorrent (Nelson Mandela was on it until a couple of years ago.) And the wording of the colloquy is broad enough that it could very well mean that if, say, you meet with someone in a terrorist group and advise them to turn to nonviolent means, then that’s material assistance to terrorism. I’ve met with people who are on the list and will continue to do so, and Obama wants to criminalize that, which is a plain attack on freedom of speech. I just don’t understand why he’s doing it.

If an American meets with officials in Gaza, undoubtedly Hamas officials, to discuss climate change, is she providing “material assistance to terrorism“?

I’ll tell you who is materially assisting terrorism!  American taxpayers who are funding the Israeli occupation to the tune of $3 billion each year.

In any case, I know I’m in good company.  Noam Chomsky visited Gaza last November days before the bombardment and met with Hamas officials.

If my blog posts are interrupted for more than a week, call media and tell them to check Quantanamo.   That’s probably where you’ll find me.

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky

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Filed under Climate Change, Gaza, Hamas, Occupation, US Policy