Thursday, August 31, 2006

Israeli Army document: Rafah closed as collective punishment

The shock! the horror!

An Internal Military Document, Haaretz revealed, has raised strong suspicions that-*gasp* -Israeli security officials are keeping Rafah Crossing closed to apply "pressure" (see: torture) on the civlian population of Gaza.

Sari Bashi and the good folks at GISHA, the Center for the legal protection of freedom of movement, filed an appeal with Amir Peretz based on the information, demanding the crossing be open (not that he's likely to listen, but still) and that he stop "the collective punishment against 1.4 million Palestinians who have been trapped in the Gaza Strip for 10 weeks", a situation that has become accepted as the status quo (does everyone out there realize, we are speaking about hermeticaly sealing a border and a million and a half people, like animals in a zoo, which probably get better treatment). Here is the full release:

"An internal document published today in Haaretz raises strong suspicions that the crossing was closed in order to apply pressure on Gaza residents. The document reveals that the position of the Shin Bet is that Rafah Crossing should be closed hermetically, without interruptions, as long as there is no progress in the matter of the abducted soldier. The reason given was to apply pressure on the civilian population. This position has apparently been given significant weight by the security authorities, who do not permit the crossing to open.

Since June 25, 2006, Rafah Crossing has been closed, except for five days in which limited passage was permitted. The closure has effectively punished 1.4 million men, women and children by locking them in a big prison. Patients cannot get medical treatment; students cannot reach universities abroad; family members are separated from each other, and Gaza residents, 60% of whom live in poverty, cannot reach sources of livelihood. Gaza residents outside the Strip cannot return home, because Rafah is Gaza's only gateway to travel abroad.

According to the letter written by Attorney Sari Bashi, Gisha's Executive Director:

"Imprisoning 1.4 million Gaza residents to apply pressure on those who are holding the abducted soldier – despite how painful and important that subject is – constitutes collective punishment in violation of international law." Using the closure to apply pressure contradicts Israel statements to the European observers who monitor the crossing. Israel has claimed that the crossing must be closed because of security warnings.

The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits collective punishment of residents of an occupied territory."

For further details: contact Sari Bashi at 03-6092183 or 054-2357579,

Its been quite a hiatus, I'll admit. And I don't know how to explain it, I suppose I'm just not accumstomed to blogging from a distance. But somewhere between attempting to plant Gazan cucumber and Mulukhia seeds in southern American soil (they're doing remarkably well, but that's another story) and cleaning up after Yousuf's potty-training induced "accidents" and wondering if it will ever end, it hit me: I'm in a rut. Or the twilight zone. Or both. I just don't know what to do with myself.

That and doing a lot of family entertaining, with my parents, who are stuck here and unable to return to Gaza. And driving around; to the coast; to the mountains; and through towns called "Whynot, North Carolina". really. Why not?

Well on a positve note Yousf and I got to pick all the apples we wanted for free at an orchard in western Carolina after the people working there saw my "Free Palestine" shirt. But I digress.

So I figured, if you'll permit me, I'd sneak my way back into my blog for a bit of therapy. I've changed the name, at least temporarily. I've thought about starting a new blog, but I'd rather like to continue with this one, even if the setting is changed. It'll need some work, I admit.

Gaza seems so far away, yet it is every day in my heart. And it pains me to watch it suffer in the distance. I miss everything, from its sweeping, desolate shores to all it embodies in madness and character. But as I watched what little news I could stomach on the television, I realized, we are not considerd as human; our tears, our blood, it is all more affordable. An entire population is still surrounded, deprived, occupied, but its ok-things are calm on the northern front, that's all that matters.

And so I watch and wait and read, feeling trapped in this zone of absolutely stagnancy, trying to figure out what to do.

So what will I do?

For one, trying to get the message out by continuing to speak. But also working on a series of Palestinian children's stories, and hopefully, starting a book about Gazan cuisine. I'll start with cucumbers.

Next up: my encounter with the North Carolina DMV-and attempt to explain why my name in my passport is spelled differently than my driver's's a sneak peak: it involved three different vists, and filing for an official change of name petition ("we don't recognize the stamp from your Minster of Civil Affairs")...hoo boy.

And of course, more on Rafah soon.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Rest in peace, Um Fuad.

Last year, while visiting Yassine’s family in Baalbeck, I met Um Fuad.

Um Faoud was married the year of the Nakba. Then a young girl, in the chaos and attacks on her village, Yajur of Akka, she was separated from her husband. She fled to Jordan, her husband to Lebanon. And for two years they lived apart.

“People would see me hanging laundry in the refugee camp there and come ask for my hand, they didn’t realize I was already married, and those who did thought I had given up hope” she told me.

Eventually, two years later, he came for her, making his way across the border from Lebanon into Palestine, “infiltrating”, since he was not allowed back to his village as a refuge, and from there to Jordan, where he asked around until he found her. She had taken him for dead or at least having abandoned her. Together, they snuck back to Lebanon, where their families were.

34 years later, she was widowed. Abu Fuad and two of their sons were killed by an Israeli air strike against Baalbeck in 1984.

And now, 58 years later, this second invasion had taken her. She sought refuge in Syria after Baalbeck was targeted a couple of weeks ago, living with hundreds of other Palestinian refugees in a public school.

Um Faoud died today, away from all her remaining sons in Lebanon, a twice-over refugee, unable to return, or be buried, in her home in Yajur.

Another story, another statistic, another 'inconvenient' refugee. Um Fuad, dead at 72.

May she rest in the peace she never found in her life.

Meanwhile, in Palestine

We went berry picking the other day, scavenging to find what little tart blueberries remained on the thinning bushes during the season’s departure. “Toot azra2” my nephew calls them. Nearby, we noticed a crop of Muscadine grapes, the first time I had ever tried this particular variety.

Homesickness getting the best of us, my mother-who came to visit when I did and is now stuck, along with my father, here with us-decided to ask if we can pick the leaves to make waraq inab. So we did, nostalgicaly, remembering our little farm in central Gaza’s Zawayda village, now bursting with unpicked, past their prime, plump sea-side grapes.

And later at home, we boiled them, and boiled some more. Only to realize this particular variety was too fibrous for our mahshi. Durham is no Gaza, I suppose. And Muscadine grapes are not Sheikh Ijleen’s.

Saddened, we stopped wrapping, and called home. Our cousin gives us the latest: the electricity comes on, still a couple of hours a day; but when it does, the Municipality water does not; when the water does flow, about once every 3-4 days, there is usually no electricity to pump it to top floor apartments in Gaza’s plethora of high-rise towers.

So most residents have opted to rent lower level housing or move. And people can no longer use their water filters, so those who can afford it are opting for bottled water, or drinking water sold by the gallon for a shekel, where the overwhelming majority of people survive-in the most "ordinary" or times, on under 9 shekels a day.

Later we make Apricot jam and my mother tells me of the refugee family in Khan Yunis in 1948 whose daughter died because she ate bitter apricot seeds prematurely, which were soaking in water to become sweet.

And we learn that in July, the Israeli military killed 163 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and "summer rain" continues. But the headlines here read tell us that that the days are "tragic" for Israel. Tragedy had different meaning for us; children are not children; mother's tears are no tears at all; we are less human.

On the Lebanese front, Yassine’s sister moved with her children and husband from Sur (Tyre), which has been heavily bombed in recent days, to Sayda (Sidon). She is taking shelter in a place that has no doors or windows with 40 other people.

So we drift, from one news report to the next, from one phonecall to the next…from one story to the next, and nothing quite makes sense anymore; Unaligned and displaced, we carry on with our lives, not knowing quite what to do with ourselves, until Yousuf invetibaly asks me, distressed, “mama, aish fee?”

“Mama za3lana, habibi”

“bas laysh?”

“Ana wawa habibi”

“Tayib roo7i 3al duktor!”

If only this wawa had such a simple remedy.