Tag Archives: We Are Not Numbers

Building a case for the ICC

The Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (Fatou Bensouda) warned Israel in early April that it might be subject to prosecution for the crimes committed against the protesters at the #GreatReturnMarch.

Ms Fatou Bensouda

Ms Fatou Bensouda – Prosecutor

I remind all parties that the situation in Palestine is under preliminary examination by my Office. While a preliminary examination is not an investigation, any new alleged crime committed in the context of the situation in Palestine may be subjected to my Office’s scrutiny. This applies to the events of the past weeks and to any future incident.

I am aware that the demonstrations in the Gaza Strip are planned to continue further. My Office will continue to closely watch the situation and will record any instance of incitement or resort to unlawful force. I urge all those concerned to refrain from further escalating this tragic situation.

Any person who incites or engages in acts of violence including by ordering, requesting, encouraging or contributing in any other manner to the commission of crimes within ICC’s jurisdiction is liable to prosecution before the Court, with full respect for the principle of complementarity. The resort to violence must stop.

Israel clearly and boldly says it will not investigate the deaths attributed to its sharpshooters who are picking off Palestinians (young, old, men and women, and journalists) inside the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s decision not to investigate is important to note because of the principle of complementarity.

‘Complementarity’ is a fundamental principle on which the functioning of the International Criminal Court is based. Under the Rome Statute, which established the Court, the ICC can only exercise its jurisdiction where the State Party of which the accused is a national, is unable or unwilling to prosecute.

Israel, it appears, is inviting the ICC to assume jurisdiction in this case. Alhamdulillah!

Now, the ICC Prosecutor must do more than merely threaten, she must follow through with an independent investigation of the actions on both sides of the fence. The killings by IDF sharpshooters (40 dead, 5,511 wounded as of April 25) have been documented on video and there are numerous eyewitnesses whose testimony must be preserved.

I’ve been searching online for evidence of violence from the Palestinian side of the fence and haven’t found anything beyond burning tires and rocks. The protesters have been peaceful and have not posed any threat to the well-armed IDF sharpshooters.  The ICC Prosecutor’s investigation must be thorough and independent. I hope Israel will cooperate and turn over any evidence it might have regarding the protesters.

Palestinian youth are documenting what’s going on from the Gaza side of the fence, such as this piece from We Are Not Numbers.

While Israel and some Western media label Gaza Palestinians’ ongoing, six-week protest a “riot,” what visitors and participants see on the ground is completely different. The tire and (Israeli) flag burning that may seem “riotous” to some are actually carefully planned by a coordinating committee to obscure the vision of Israeli snipers (the former) and serve as a peaceful outlet for frustration and anger (the latter). And while those activities are occurring on the front lines of the border protest, the “Great Return March” (so-named because of the desire of the refugees in Gaza to return to the homes they were forced to evacuate in 1948), also is hosting many family-oriented cultural celebrations. On any given day, you may encounter women cooking Bedouin bread, young men dancing dabka and children flying kites.

“By including cultural activities in the Great Return March, we send a reminder message to the world that we will never forget our heritage and customs, which remind us of home,” says organizer Ahmed Abu Ertima. “At the same time, these cultural demonstrations show we are peaceful in the demand for our rights.”

Thousands of Gaza families take their children and head off to the border to participate in the Great Return March every day, raising the Palestinian flag and chanting the event’s motto, “We have the right to return to our ancestral land.” They sit on the ground, in sight of stolen lands just a few hundred meters away, while listening to their elders’ tales about their ancestral villages and towns.

Justice and the rule of law require that the ICC Prosecutor follow through with her investigation and prosecution.

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Filed under Gaza, IDF, Israel, Israel Defense Forces, People, Uncategorized, United Nations

#GoingtoGaza – July 2015

Traveling to Gaza is challenging, as my daily, monthly, yearly journal illustrates. I’m thankful I visited Gaza in 2004 (10 days) and again in 2012-2013 (9 months). When I return to Gaza, I’ll think twice about leaving again considering the obstacles in traveling across the border.

The following entries are from July 2015 when I was in Baltimore awaiting approval from Egypt to cross the Sinai. Earlier entries can be found on my blog.

Day #299 – Reading David Hirst’s book about the history of Palestine. Wish I’d read it many years ago. #GoingtoGaza

Day #300 – Feeling depressed. Lack of sleep contributing to my depression. Not much hope getting into Gaza. No plan B. #GoingtoGaza

Day #301 – Met Maurice Jacobsen online. He’s started a new video project called WE ALL LIVE IN GAZA.  www.wegaza.com  He’s hoping to get into Gaza.  #GoingtoGaza

Day #302 – Good chat with Hamza from Gaza on Skype and spent time reviewing his paper.  I need to be more disciplined about my own writing.  #GoingtoGaza

Day #303 – The 4th of July, overcast and raining in Baltimore. I have never felt patriotic or full of national pride. Don’t care to wave flags and sing songs. Thinking America’s birthday celebration should be accompanied by some sober assessment of the need to mature and grow up. #GoingtoGaza

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Lora Lucero in Baltimore summer 2015

Day #304 – Trying to figure out Plan B if I can’t get into Gaza. How much longer do I wait? Can I help from “outside”? What does “help” mean? #GoingtoGaza

Day #305 – “Helping Gaza from the outside” could possibly mean:

(1) raising $$ for a good cause

(2) writing about Gaza and getting published

(3) working for an NGO outside of Gaza focused on Human Rights in Gaza

(4) helping – working with the legal effort at the ICC?

(5) speaking about Gaza in USA  What else? #GoingtoGaza

Day #306 – “Why should Americans give a damn about Gaza?” I need to answer that question before I meet with Rep. Lujan-Grisham later this month. #GoingtoGaza

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Author David Hirst

Day #307 – I sat next to a young woman on the bus who asked me about the book on my lap. David Hirst’s “The Gun and the Olive Branch“.  I felt very comfortable and confident talking about the book, Israel and Palestine.  Wish it was always that easy. #GoingtoGaza

Days #308-309 – Saw my hero from a distance tonight (July 9, 2015). President Jimmy Carter was autographing his book “A Full Life – Reflections at Ninety” for 200+ people standing in long line at Politics & Prose in DC.  I took the bus, Amtrak, Marc, Metro and walked a couple miles to get there. It was worth the effort!  #GoingtoGaza

Day #310 – Traveled to NYC on Bolt Bus. Connections were easy. No waiting lines. We take our mobility for granted. #GoingtoGaza

Days #311 – 312 – I had an aha moment on Saturday when I was standing on the platform waiting for the subway to go to Crown Heights. I cherish the experiences of immersing myself in new places, new cultures, new people. Hasidic Jews in Crown Heights, poor blacks at Enoch Pratt Library, Palestinians in Gaza. Many more.  I love observing them all.  Guess I’ve traded my future security and stability for these types of experiences. #GoingtoGaza

“You must accommodate changing times but cling to unchanging principles.” Pres. Carter’s school teacher – Miss Julia Coleman

Day #313 – Paint nite in Manhattan with sis and the nieces. Tired (had not slept nite before) and 2 gin & tonics. When my camera fell behind the bench, I felt awful. Upset and wanted to cry. Left and took subway home by myself. Sis and girls took taxi and beat me home. They tried to console me in front of the house. I felt more miserable for ruining the evening. What lesson(s) did I learn? That family is very important for my sanity and I’m lucky to have nieces who are so loving and empathetic. Chanie talked about positive affirmations. #GoingtoGaza <~~~~ is my positive affirmation.

Days #311 – 319  – Catching up on the days when I was not connected to social media and technology. Spent time with my family in NYC and Florida, and celebrated Ramadan and Eid with my Palestinian friends in Florida. Off of Facebook for the month of Ramadan helped me redirect my focus and energy away from the “drama” and towards real relationships that I want to nurture more. #GoingtoGaza

Day #320 – A young Palestinian from Gaza announced on Facebook a conference in Gaza and invited everyone to come to Gaza. 🙂 🙂 🙂  No theme for the conference. No dates for the conference. No idea how participants might travel and get into Gaza.  Dreaming of normalcy in an abnormal place. #GoingtoGaza

Day #321 – Watching how natural allies are fighting each other.

Example #1 – The PA in Ramallah is contributing to the suffering in Gaza by withholding fuel for the power plant in Gaza. Families are limited to 4 hours/day of electricity.

Example #2 – Groups in the U.S. working on educating Americans about the Israel/Palestine conflict are now in conflict with each other.

Is the human condition just designed to remain in conflict?  #GoingtoGaza

Day #322 – Walking in the bowels of Baltimore’s Basilica, the oldest cathedral in the U.S.  A middle-aged woman from Jamaica asked me my age. I asked “Why?” She said her mother was over 100.  WTF?!?!  When did I turn into Old Age, the Ancient One, or Wise Old Fool? #GoingtoGaza

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

Day #323 – Met with Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham’s staff today in her DC office. She returned to ABQ this morning because her daughter gave birth. Congratulations! We talked about:

1) Anniversary of Operation Protective Edge and the facts on the ground in Gaza today.

2) My petition to Congress asking them to send an invitation to Jimmy Carter.

3) The new group Friends of Khuza’a New Mexico and their invitation to attend the event in September with Palestinian musician Issa Maluf.

4) Rep. McCollum’s letter to Secretary Kerry

5)  BDS and H.Reso. 318

6) The DARK Act

Hope to sit down with Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham during the last week in August in her ABQ office. #GoingtoGaza

Day #324 – Watching a good number of “peace” activists fighting, calling each other names, verbally attacking and disrespecting each other, and I’m thinking……

(1) With friends like these, who needs enemies?

(2) Will they gain any insights into their own behaviors?

(3) They appear to be reenacting the Israel-Palestine conflict on another stage and a different scale.

(4) Would Palestinians be better off if all the “peace” activists just burned out and quit their activism?

(5)  We all need to get our own house in order before trying to “fix” another’s house.

#GoingtoGaza

Day #325IMPUNITY should be the new word of the day, week, month, year!

Israel and IDF act with impunity against Palestinians

Cops act with impunity against blacks

Big oil, fossil fuels industry acts with impunity against our children and future generations

Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street Banks act with impunity against all of us

We (you and I) need to end all of these acts of impunity, or else we get what we deserve.

#GoingtoGaza

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GOD Doesn’t Mean You Get to Live Forever – A One Act Musical at the Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church, July 25, 2015

Day #326 – My friend helped me get out of my box yesterday. She took me to a musical in a black Baptist Church in DC with loud gospel singers. Getting out of my box —- that’s been an unstated lifelong mission. Might also explain why I went to Gaza the first time in 2004.  Why do some people prefer to live in their boxes and others don’t? #GoingtoGaza

Day #327 – Nowhere else on the planet does one have to jump through as many hoops to visit, as Gaza. Speaking from experience — not USSR/Russia, Mongolia, China, Egypt, Norway, Cuba, Mexico etc. Israel is the jailer. Israel holds the keys. Israel decides who can & cannot enter Gaza. DON’T TELL ME THAT GAZA IS NOT OCCUPIED!!!!! #GoingtoGaza

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Lora with the Congressional office pooch.

Day #328 – Hope that staff from the offices of my Congressional delegation attend the briefing on Capitol Hill tomorrow about Gaza. Makes me think: You can lead a horse to water but can’t force it to drink. #GoingtoGaza

Day #329 – Today Israeli authorities refused to allow a Palestinian-American to enter Israel-Palestine to visit her family. Why? After hours of answering the same questions again and again, the last official decided she was being uncooperative. I can’t begin to imagine the anger and hatred she must be feeling tonight. #GoingtoGaza

On this day a year ago, Glenn Greenwald wrote the best piece about “terror” – “terrorism” and “terror tunnels” here.

In American media discourse, when Palestinians overwhelmingly kill soldiers (95% of the Israeli death toll) who are part of an army that is blockading, occupying, invading, and indiscriminately bombing them and killing their children by the hundreds, that is “terrorism”; when Israelis use massive, brutal force against a trapped civilian population, overwhelmingly killing innocent men, women and children (at least 75% of the Palestinian death toll), with clear intentions to kill civilians (see point 3), that is noble “self-defense.” That demonstrates how skewed U.S. discourse is in favor of Israel, as well as the purely manipulative, propagandistic nature of the term “terrorists.”

Day #330 – I have several Palestinian friends who have studied in Malaysia, and I hear good things about their experiences in Malaysia. I also read about the human rights abuses in Malaysia…..specifically human trafficking…..and wonder what my Palestinian friends think about that issue. #GoingtoGaza

Day #331 – American news is focused on the public’s anger over the killing of a lion in Zimbabwe by a Minnesota dentist. How can we mobilize the same anger and attention towards Israel’s actions against the Palestinians in Gaza? I’m genuinely puzzled. Why are Americans roused off of their recliners to rant about Cecil the Lion (he even has a name!) — while the Palestinians launch a campaign “We Are Not Numbers” (WANN) to remind Americans and the rest of the world that they are more than mere statistics and they have names? Why? Please NPR, NY Times, and CNN — tell Americans about WANN.  #GoingtoGaza

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شكرا اصحابي Thank you my friends

I’m spending Thanksgiving in Cairo this year, waiting for permission to enter Gaza through the Rafah border. It’s been a very long wait with no end in sight. I actively started my preparations for returning to Gaza 450 days ago.

The Egyptian government tells me “لا  لا” and the U.S. Embassy tells me “no no”. The Israelis are telling my friends who are trying to enter Gaza from the north through the Erez crossing “לא לא”. Why am I still trying?  Some tell me I should have given up a long time ago.

Along this journey to Gaza I’ve met many people and learned many things. One Egyptian friend gave me reading material about Islam, which I’ve been slowly making my way through. One thing I’ve learned, but not sure I really understand, is that Muslims have a belief in destiny — each person’s destiny is written by Allah — and this belief in their destiny (good and bad) helps them persevere through difficult times and crises. “Whatever will be, will be.”

I have to have faith that my return to Gaza is in Allah’s hands, even though the governments of Egypt, Israel and the U.S. might think they control my journey.  And I don’t control it either.

(OK, I just wrote that but I’m not sure what it means.)

Many friends around the world (America, Canada, France, Switzerland, Turkey, Israel, Palestine and Egypt) have helped me on this journey.  A big “thank you” to each of you!

As the Christmas – Hanukkah holidays approach, many will be thinking about how to help others in need. Our common humanity has been sorely tested in 2015 and we want to reach out. I urge you to consider Palestinians in your gift-giving plans, and I’m sharing some suggestions and links to help.

#1 – Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American living in Ramallah. This year he started Americans for a Vibrant Palestinian Economy, [a 501(c)(3)].  Instead of focusing on political activism, Sam wants to branch out and engage in more economic activism, something that tends to get sidelined in the Palestine solidarity community. Sam frequently provides independent commentary on Palestine and serves as a policy adviser of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network. He blogs at www.epalestine.com

#2 – We Are Not Numbers is the brainchild of an American writer and solidarity activist, Pam Bailey, to connect aspiring Palestinian writers with experienced writers and editors to mentor them on an individual basis. Read about the genesis of this new project here. In a very short time, WANN has connected many mentors and mentees, and the project is giving a voice to the voiceless.

#3 – UNRWA-USA [a 501(c)(3)] is the American arm of the UN agency that helps Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

Lora finishes the #Gaza5K in 2015.

Lora finishes the #Gaza5K in 2015.

Needless to say, the challenges that UNRWA faces on the ground in Gaza are enormous, even more daunting following Israel’s 51-day assault in 2014. Each year, UNRWA-USA organizes #Gaza5K walk/runs in the US to raise $$. They also take donations year-round.

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Children are the primary beneficiaries of MECA’s work.

#4 – Middle East Children’s Alliance – has been doing good work on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza for 25 years.  Read about some of their great projects here. MECA has a proven track record of success.  I saw some of their good work at the Afaq Jadeeda Association in the in the Nuseirat Refugee Camp, in Gaza in 2012

#5 – Just World Books – Give yourself, family and friends a gift from Just World Books. The publisher, Helena Cobban, has released some important new titles about Palestine, and many are written by Palestinians.  On the top of my list is Gaza UnSilenced edited by Refaat Alareer and Laila El-Haddad.

Gaza Unsilenced

شكرا اصحابي Thank you my friends!

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Filed under Book Review, Gaza, People, Spiritual - Religion, Video

Day #5 – July 11, 2014 – We Are Not Numbers

Youth in the Gaza Strip are joining together to declare “we are not numbers” (WANN) through stories and art in a campaign launched July 8, the one-year anniversary of the Israeli military assault, Operation Protective Edge. The campaign’s website explains the goals.

One great example, of many, is Hamza Mughari’s story about Reham. Please contribute to help WANN grow and give more young writers in Gaza a chance to share their stories.

 

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Facing the question: What makes life worth living?

This short story was originally published on the blogWe Are Not Numbers: We are Individuals Trying to Change the World. Check it out here.

Anas Jnena

Facing the question: What makes life worth living?

I first met Ahmed in early 2012, in a small park in Gaza’s Shuja’ya neighborhood – a place where my friends and I usually meet whenever there is a power cut in our neighborhood. The night air was dry and cool and I was waiting for my friends to arrive. On that particular day, however, they were late. Being the person I am, I patiently waited for them. I found a medium-sized rock with a flat surface at the corner of the park and decided to sit while I lost myself in a sea of thoughts. I was planning a prank to scare one of my best friends, Hamza.

In the still darkness, I was sure nobody would ever notice me. I saw someone approaching and immediately thought of Hamza. I could already feel the excitement deep in the pit of my stomach as I imagined his face when I pulled my prank on him. But much to my surprise, I saw Ahmed instead.

That was our first meeting. He said hello to me; I returned his greeting. He looked calm and experienced, even though he clearly was not the educated type. His features were not what you would call attractive, but there was something about his face that captured my attention. I loved the way he smiled; it was sort of crooked, his black eyes got small and his lips curved inward as if he was sucking on a lemon. Even today, whenever I see Ahmed smile, I know it is genuine and not forced. Since Hamza hadn’t arrived yet – though he had promised me he would be on time – I decided to take this opportunity to strike up a conversation with him. It was at that moment I got to know Ahmed, and his life story was something I did not expect.

Ahmed is the second-oldest child among 10. He dropped out of school when he was 15. His parents were struggling to keep the family from falling apart, so he decided he too should work and reduce his family’s burden. He started selling newspapers on the streets.

Working in the tunnels was hard work, but it paid well

Unemployment is very high in Gaza; nearly 60 percent among youth. But Ahmed soon was lucky enough to land a better-paying job—as a worker in the smuggling tunnels of Rafah, in the southern part of Gaza, beneath the Egyptian border. Those smuggling tunnels employed thousands of young men whose job was mainly to haul goods—including food, clothing and fuel—into the blockaded Gaza. The work was hard and dangerous; he was assigned a 12-hour shift, six days a week, in cramped spaces. Sudden tunnel collapses, electrocution and Israeli airstrikes were very possible, However, that didn’t stop Ahmed from being a diligent worker. Ahmed was extremely grateful; the pay was around 150 shekels (US$39) per day and he knew that with this job, he could ensure the ones he loved a better future.

There were some very daunting days, when Ahmed decided to spend the night at his work place due to the fact that his home was relatively far from Rafah. He often found shelter at the entrance of the tunnel, and tried his best to get the rest his body desperately needed. Though it wasn’t comfortable spending the night on the ground, far from home in a place where his life was endangered, Ahmed never minded much.

Most of his earnings were used for his family’s expenses, but instead of grumbling about not having much money for himself – as most youth our age do – Ahmed instead felt like he had accomplished something big in life since he had managed to lift some of his parents’ burden. He even gave around $2,000 to his oldest brother for his marriage. I had never encountered someone so selfless, and we became fast friends.

Early the next year (2013), Ahmed finally got engaged to the girl he loved. Perhaps God listened to his silent prayers and decided to grant them. He even brought me and some friends some sweets and invited his close friends for dinner.. Seeing Ahmed happy brought light to everyone’s heart. But that event also changed Ahmed a bit. He doubled his efforts and worked twice as hard as he had before. Many of his friends didn’t see him that often anymore, since he was always too busy with work.

Later that year, the unexpected happened. Egypt’s military destroyed most of the tunnels to improve their own security, causing Ahmed and thousands of other young Gazans, to lose their humble jobs. The transition from employed to unemployed resulted in many other changes to Ahmed’s life. He started to spend most of his time in Alshuj’ya Park, becoming more pessimistic and hopeless. He delayed his wedding celebration because he couldn’t afford the expenses. Money that he earned from odd jobs was constantly used for family purposes, until he finally was completely out of cash. Day by day, his financial situation became worse.

The Egyptian military destroyed hundreds of tunnels (Photo by Ahmed Elsherif)

By 2014, Ahmed’s life had completely changed. He couldn’t bring himself to visit his fiancée’s house because he felt ashamed. If he didn’t even have money to provide for his current family, how was he to support a wife and family one day? He felt as if the world had turned sinister and now was laughing at his failure.

One cold and dry night, after the power went out, Ahmed decided to put an end to his suffering. He found an electrical cable and tied it to the ceiling of his room. Ahmed got up on the chair and kicked it away.

But it did not end there.

As if on cue, his sister saw Ahmed hanging and started screaming. Her cries echoed through the house, awakening everyone. Mohammed, Ahmed’s younger brother, was on the scene in a flash—lifting him up to relieve the tension while his sister cut the cable. Ahmed was miraculously saved.

As for me, I could not suppress my confusion and doubt. So I decided to ask him directly: “Why did you do it, Ahmed?” He replied, “It’s because I couldn’t maintain my self-esteem. All doors of hope have been closed to me in Gaza. It is a suspended death to be unemployed.”

Postscript: Since then, Ahmed has survived Israel’s 50-day assault against Gaza (July 8-Aug. 26), and he still has only occasional day work. However, he remains engaged to the love of his life. And I am still his friend

Shuja’ya Park, before the 2014 summer war (photo by Abo Alyan)
Shujaya Park after the war  (photo by Abo Alyan)

Mentor: Leslie Thatcher

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Filed under Gaza, nonviolent resistance, Peaceful, People