Friday, January 30, 2009

What YOU can do: 10 way to help Gaza/Palestine

The last month has been mentally exhausting. Trying to keep up with events in Gaza, my parents safety, and the media frenzy, all while taking care of my children and home definitely takes its toll. But being able overcome that overwhelming feeling of frustration and nagging negative energy is the real challenge.

During such intense events, any person of conscience will be overcome with a feeling of anger, sadness, and often, helplessness. Our gut reaction is sometimes simply to shut down or disengage, whether you are a Palestinian living through this hell, or an observer on the outside, not matter what your level of involvement may be.

The question I keep hearing again and again from people is:

"What can we do to help? Nothing I will do can make much of a difference anyway so why do anything at all."

I am here to tell you, you are wrong! It is time to use that energy-that feeling of helplessness, and harness it into something positive and effective- change for the future.

There is a prophetic saying attribute to Muhammad, peace be upon him, that goes:

"He among you who sees something bad should change it with his hand (e.g. proactively-activism, organization, movement ). If he is unable, then with his tongue ( by speaking out against it ). If he cannot do that, then within his heart ( by always disliking what is evil or harmful ) and that is the weakest of faith".

Notice all are acts of faith. So do not despair!

We all have different levels and abilities and gifts and situations. For some of us, the spoken word is what we excel at. For others, organization and activism; still others, a simple conversation with our neighbors, co-workers, or friends. Or even just a silent prayer.

That said, I would like to offer a list of things that can be done to defeat this feeling of impotence. Things YOU can do to help Gaza. To help Palestine. To help achieve justice for all.

1. Get informed. Sounds easy enough, but a large number of people I have met whose gut instinct is to sympathize with the Palestinians cause are surprisingly uninformed about the issue, or the history. Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est. And oh so true. Being informed will enable you to speak intelligently about the topic-whether to your family, to your friends, to your co-workers, or to your politicians.

Some of my favorite sources of information are also the least orthodox:

This Week in Palestine, the only English language magazine that is published in occupied Palestine. It is a monthly periodical with a distribution of 12,000 copies reaching all major cities and towns in Palestine. You can subscribe yearly (particularly good for institutions) or read the STELLAR compilation of articles online that run the gamut from cultural highlights (check out my piece on the foods of Gaza in the search engine!) to thoughtful political analysis. This is one sure way to immerse yourself into everything Palestine.

Electronic Intifada


2. Wear a Palestine pin, t-shirt, or arm-band-great conversation starters and ways to show your support. You can purchase a number of creative shirts online in the Palstine online store or Cafe Press.

3. Contact local media. Write letters to editors (usually 100-150 words) and longer op-eds (usually 600-800 words) for local newspapers. But also write to news departments in both print, audio, and visual media about their coverage. In the US http://tinyurl.com/2jxwf You can find media listings in your country using search engines like google.

4. BDS!! Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. Now more than ever the BDS campaign must be used and intensified against Israel to end its impunity and to hold it accountable for its persistent violation of international law and Palestinian rights. Remember: It was only when Apartheid was abnormalized that the anti-Apartheid movement gained momentum.

Thus, our efforts must focus on abnormalizing Israel's illegal occupation and its tactics. Begin work to encourage your local institutions to divest from Israel.

There are many regional branches active on various fronts- check out the global BDS website for more leads on who's active in your community.

One example of a successful BDS effort: The NY branch of Adalah managed to put enough pressure through their creative and sustained campaign against Israeli real estate mogul-cum-settlement financier Lev Leviev (who uses profits from his jewerly stores to build settlements) that ultimately were able to convince several starlets to stop purchasing his jewelry and using them as endorsers.

See who's active in your community and put on the pressure.

Here is a statement endorsing and encouraging BDS in the wake of the Gaza massacres: http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article10056.shtml

5. Contact elected and other political leaders in your country to urge them to apply pressure to end the attacks. In the US, Contact the State Department at 202.647.5291, the White House 202-456-1111 the Egyptian Embassy 202.895.5400,

6. Work towards bringing Israeli leaders before war crime courts (actions along those lines in courts have stopped Israeli leaders from traveling abroad to some countries like Britain where they may face charges).

7. Join local groups in your area active on the issue. Many-such as those here in Durham- have also been successful in at bringing coalitions from different constituencies in their local areas to work together (human rights group, social and civil activists, religious activists, etc) and most are made of ordinary people who also have other lives to live and so welcome any input and activism. Some things to suggest:

*Develop a campaign of sit-ins at government offices or other places where decision makers aggregate. Canadian activists have been remarkably effective using this technique of civil disobediance as of late.

*Hold a group fast for peace one day and hold it in a public place, with signs and informative fliers explaining what you are doing.

*Make large signs and display them at street corners and wherever people congregate.

*Hold a teach-in, seminar, public dialogue, documentary film viewing etc. this is straightforward: you need to decide venue, nature, if any speakers, and do some publicity.

*Pass out fliers with facts and figures about Palestine and Gaza in your community (with direct relevance to the audience: e.g, US taxpayers paying for the carnage) or even place these fliers in car windshields (hey, if buffet restaurants do it...).

8. Visit Palestine! Two great groups that facilitate such trips are the Alternative Tourism Group, whose guide I helped write, and the Siraj Center.

If you cannot visit, support human rights and other groups working on the ground in Palestine, such as the Free Gaza Movement (which accepts tax-exempt donations).

9. Contact your local churches, mosques, synagogues, and other houses of worship or institutions and ask them to take a moral stand and act.

10. Support Palestinian farmers and workers by buying gifts and produce directly from the West Bank and Gaza. Ahttp://www.blogger.com/post-edit.g?blogID=9082405&postID=8428369486442165593 few of my favorites:

Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children (Gaza Strip); a stunning array of hand-crafted items made by deaf men and women; proceeds go to support the Gaza Strip's first and only school for deaf children and to continue the vocational training provided for the deaf there. The building was damaged in the recent Israeli bombing but they are up and running nevertheless.

Mountain High Imports

Olive Branch Olive Oil


Holy Land Olive Oil

Palestine Online Store

11. If you prefer, donate your money to a charity, or hold a creative bake sale (manaeesh anyone?). Some good options:

MECA (Middle East Children's Alliance)

ANERA (American Near East Refugee Aid)

Playgrounds for Palestine

Other aid organizations include CARE, the IRC, Islamic Relief...and so on.

You can also learn about specific NGOS working in Gaza.

Ending on an inspiring note, I just read that One Laptop Per Child donated 5000 solar-powered laptops to Gaza's children through the UNRWA.

Wait a second...I just realized that was 11 ways (after much condensing of "ways" into option 7).

Thursday, January 29, 2009

GISHA: Israel deliberately withholding supplies

Again, we see how despite promises to facilitate humanitarian aid...despite talk of ceasefire...the deliberate suffocation of Gaza continues. Here, a press release from GISHA-the Tel-Aviv based Legal Center for Freedom of Movement.

Israel Is Preventing Repair of the Electrical, Water and Sewage Systems in Gaza

Policy of Deliberate Obstruction Continues Even After the Ceasefire:
* The amount of industrial diesel Israel has permitted to enter Gaza is just 64% of the total needed to operate the power station.
*Since the fighting ended, Israel has totally obstructed the transfer of vital spare parts needed to repair the electrical, water and sewage systems.
*As a result, 1/4 million people have been without electricity in Gaza for the past month; power outages span 16-18 hours a day for the others.
*More than 200,000 people have no access to running water; the rest get water for only a few hours every 2-5 days.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009 – Ten days after the ceasefire, and despite promises to permit humanitarian aid to reach Gaza residents, Israel is continuing its deliberate policy of restricting supply of industrial diesel and humanitarian goods to the Gaza Strip.The policy, in place for the past 15 months, is preventing the supply of electricity to humanitarian facilities in Gaza.

As a result of the restrictions on the supply of industrial diesel and the mass devastation caused by the military operation, 1/4 million people have been entirely without electricity for over a month, and more than 200,000 people are denied access to running water. Those who receive electricity -- suffer power outages of 16-18 hours per day, on average.

Ihab Abu Zaiter, a 32-year-old father of three, living east of Jabaliya, whose home was partially destroyed in the bombings, has been living entirely without electricity for the past month:“We don't buy any food that requires refrigeration; it’s like living in the Middle Ages,” he said. “We light a fire inside the house in order to keep the children warm.This is a very cold month, and we can’t sleep without the fire, but I’m afraid that the rest of the house will catch fire or that the children will burn themselves.”

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rabbinate publication: Show No Mercy

I just want to say- for those who keep asking "what can we do", I promise I have a post in the works (its even in my "draft" section!) but just haven't finished yet.

I really would like to offer a more thoughtful post.

In the meantime, I'd like to share this article I came across in Haaretz, which once again lends credence to what I have argued is the morally bankrupt way the Israeli occupying army was acting in Gaza, with no impunity whatsoever.

The article exposes racist, propagandistic materials (which Haaretz obtained from Breaking the Silence, a group of veteran Israeli soldiers demanding accountability for what their army is doing in teh Occupied Territories), provided to Israeli soldiers terrorizing the people of Gaza. It explains that for the first time, there was a significant presence of Rabbis "to fill them with yiddishkeit and a fighting spirit."

The article found that:

"an overview of some of the army rabbinate's publications made available during the fighting reflects the tone of nationalist propaganda that steps blatantly into politics, sounds racist and can be interpreted as a call to challenge international law when it comes to dealing with enemy civilians.

"[There is] a biblical ban on surrendering a single millimeter of it [the Land of Israel] to gentiles, though all sorts of impure distortions and foolishness of autonomy, enclaves and other national weaknesses. We will not abandon it to the hands of another nation, not a finger, not a nail of it."

"The Palestinians claim they deserve a state here, when in reality there was never a Palestinian or Arab state within the borders of our country."

The IDF rabbinate also advised the soldiers, according to the article, on the proper "code of conduct", telling them to "show no mercy to a cruel enemy. This is a war against murderers."

Another publication calls on "soldiers of Israel to spare your lives and the lives of your friends and not to show concern for a population that surrounds us and harms us. We call on you ... to function according to the law 'kill the one who comes to kill you.' As for the population, it is not innocent ... We call on you to ignore any strange doctrines and orders that confuse the logical way of fighting the enemy."

Monday, January 26, 2009

Wait and see.

Another one of my stimulating conversations with my father, which, as usual is at once morose and comical.

Dad: Tariq & Hazim just called-they are driving back from skiing

Me: what?? they went without me!! Hazim didn't want to go last weekend

Dad: Well anyway, I asked if they need anything from here since D. is coming to town and back for some work. He said he wants bharat idra*, za3tar* and dugga*. Regarding skiing: They went this morning and now on their way back.

Laila: I see. (and I am silently plotting how to exact revenge...).

Dad: Tariq fell and had a big bruise in his leg

Me: oh no!! Are you sure its just a bruise?? I was just kidding about that revenge thing you know...did you hear that? It was supposed to be a silent thought!

Dad: This is what he said. He is on the phone with mama. He says it is just a bruise.

Dad: Breaking news- Ma3bar Rafah was closed this evening as there is a threat to bombard it. There is a red alert here.

Me (in disbelief): what??

Dad: Yes. They sent the children home from schools this afternoon. There a rumor that Israel might hit again. So we just have to wait and see. Wait and see.

* Bharat idra: a 10-spice mix widely used in Gazan cuisine, particularly in its namesake dish, ruzz idra (spiced rice in a clay pot).

* Zaatar: A spice blend consisting of dried thyme leaves rubbed with extra virgin olive oil and mixed with sumac and sesame seeds. Eaten with kmaj/pita and olive oil or used as a rub. Regional variations abound (in Gaza, sage is mixed in and the resulting mixture is much lighter in colour).

* Dugga: Not to be confused with Dagga, the legendary Gazan hot chili tomato relish-salad, Dugga is sort of brown Zaatar specific to Gaza. It consists of pulverized roasted wheat, sesame seeds, ground chickpeas, and a variety of warm spices such as coriander, cumin, pepper, dill and caraway.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Virtual Gaza


A great civic media initiative by a collective of scholars, media activists, and Palestinian residents of Gaza and others from Harvard the MIT Media Lab.

Virtual Gaza is a 2D website that employs Wikimapia and Google earth images to create an online space where visitors can break the siege, albeit virtually. It is a space where "ordinary Palestinians under siege can describe their experiences in their own words, and where the destruction of the Gaza strip can be documented by those experiencing it directly."

Says one of the creators: "We plan to map all the attacks and create simple digital representations of what is going on using flash animation. However, the more important component of the project will be to locate individuals on the map itself, and be uploading testimonials, video podcasts
(from cell phones etc), text messages, photos, emails and so on."

On the same note, a very useful (and disheartening) "map of bombing intensity and casualties" created by a group of media and mapping activists.


What YOU can do: 10 way to help Gaza/Palestine

The last month has been mentally exhausting. Trying to keep up with events in Gaza, my parents safety, and the media frenzy, all while taking care of my children and home definitely takes its toll. But being able overcome that overwhelming feeling of frustration and nagging negative energy is the real challenge.

During such intense events, any person of conscience will be overcome with a feeling of anger, sadness, and often, helplessness. Our gut reaction is sometimes simply to shut down or disengage, whether you are a Palestinian living through this hell, or an observer on the outside, not matter what your level of involvement may be.

The question I keep hearing again and again from people is:

"What can we do to help? Nothing I will do can make much of a difference anyway so why do anything at all."

I am here to tell you, you are wrong! It is time to use that energy-that feeling of helplessness, and harness it into something positive and effective- change for the future.

There is a prophetic saying attribute to Muhammad, peace be upon him, that goes:

"He among you who sees something bad should change it with his hand (e.g. proactively-activism, organization, movement ). If he is unable, then with his tongue ( by speaking out against it ). If he cannot do that, then within his heart ( by always disliking what is evil or harmful ) and that is the weakest of faith".

Notice all are acts of faith. So do not despair!

We all have different levels and abilities and gifts and situations. For some of us, the spoken word is what we excel at. For others, organization and activism; still others, a simple conversation with our neighbors, co-workers, or friends. Or even just a silent prayer.

That said, I would like to offer a list of things that can be done to defeat this feeling of impotence. Things YOU can do to help Gaza. To help Palestine. To help achieve justice for all.

1. Get informed. Sounds easy enough, but a large number of people I have met whose gut instinct is to sympathize with the Palestinians cause are surprisingly uninformed about the issue, or the history. Knowledge is power, goes the cliche, and oh so true. Being informed will enable you to speak intelligently about the topic-whether to your family, to your friends, to your co-workers, or to your politicians.

Some of my favorite sources of information:

This Week in Palestine, the only English language magazine that is published in occupied Palestine. It is a monthly periodical with a distribution of 12,000 copies reaching all major cities and towns in Palestine. You can subscribe yearly (particularly good for institutions) or read the STELLAR compilation of articles online that run the gamut from cultural highlights (check out my piece on the foods of Gaza in the search engine!) to political analysis. This is one sure way to immerse yourself into Palestine.

Electronic Intifada


2. Wear a Palestine pin, t-shirt, or arm-band-great conversation starters and ways to show your support. You can purchase a number of creative shirts online in the Palstine online store or Cafe Press.

3. Contact local media. Write letters to editors (usually 100-150 words) and longer op-eds (usually 600-800 words) for local newspapers. But also write to news departments in both print, audio, and visual media about their coverage. In the US http://tinyurl.com/2jxwf You can find media listings in your country using search engines like google.

4. BDS!! Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. Now more than ever the BDS campaign must be used and intensified against Israel to end its impunity and to hold it accountable for its persistent violation of international law and Palestinian rights. Remember: It was only when Apartheid was abnormalized that the anti-Apartheid movement gained momentum.

Thus, our efforts must focus on abnormalizing Israel's illegal occupation and its tactics. Begin work to encourage your local institutions to divest from Israel.

There are many regional branches active on various fronts- check out the global BDS website for more leads on who's active in your community.

One example of a successful BDS effort: The NY branch of Adalah managed to put enough pressure through their creative and sustained campaign against Israeli real estate mogul-cum-settlement financier Lev Leviev (who uses profits from his jewerly stores to build settlements) that ultimately were able to convince several starlets to stop purchasing his jewelry and using them as endorsers.

See who's active in your community and put on the pressure.

Here is a statement endorsing and encouraging BDS in the wake of the Gaza massacres: http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article10056.shtml

5. Contact elected and other political leaders in your country to urge them to apply pressure to end the attacks. In the US, Contact the State Department at 202.647.5291, the White House 202-456-1111 the Egyptian Embassy 202.895.5400,

6. Work towards bringing Israeli leaders before war crime courts (actions along those lines in courts have stopped Israeli leaders from traveling abroad to some countries like Britain where they may face charges).

7. Join local groups in your area active on the issue. Many-such as those here in Durham- have also been successful in at bringing coalitions from different constituencies in their local areas to work together (human rights group, social and civil activists, religious activists, etc) and most are made of ordinary people who also have other lives to live and so welcome any input and activism. Some things to suggest:

*Develop a campaign of sit-ins at government offices or other places where decision makers aggregate. Canadian activists have been remarkably effective using this technique of civil disobediance as of late.

*Hold a group fast for peace one day and hold it in a public place, with signs and informative fliers explaining what you are doing.

*Make large signs and display them at street corners and wherever people congregate.

*Hold a teach-in, seminar, public dialogue, documentary film viewing etc. this is straightforward: you need to decide venue, nature, if any speakers, and do some publicity.

*Pass out fliers with facts and figures about Palestine and Gaza in your community (with direct relevance to the audience: e.g, US taxpayers paying for the carnage) or even place these fliers in car windshields (hey, if buffet restaurants do it...).

8. Visit Palestine! Two great groups that facilitate such trips are the Alternative Tourism Group, whose guide I helped write, and the Siraj Center.

If you cannot visit, support human rights and other groups working on the ground in Palestine, such as the Free Gaza Movement (which accepts tax-exempt donations).

9. Contact your local churches, mosques, synagogues, and other houses of worship or institutions and ask them to take a moral stand and act.

10. Support Palestinian farmers and workers by buying gifts and produce directly from the West Bank and Gaza. Ahttp://www.blogger.com/post-edit.g?blogID=9082405&postID=8428369486442165593 few of my favorites:

Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children (Gaza Strip); a stunning array of hand-crafted items made by deaf men and women; proceeds go to support the Gaza Strip's first and only school for deaf children and to continue the vocational training provided for the deaf there. The building was damaged in the recent Israeli bombing but they are up and running nevertheless.

Mountain High Imports

Olive Branch Olive Oil


http://www.holylandoliveoil.com/

http://www.palestineonlinestore.com/

Friday, January 23, 2009

Occupation: the elephant in the room

And so its done; the curtain has been draw. After months, and by some estimate, a couple of years, of careful preparation, laying the groundwork, massaging public opinion, crafting a Gulf of Tonkin; immaculate timing; hasbara campaign: its a wrap folks! Just in time to make way for an Historic American inauguration, we are reminded again and again.

Intent on proving his critics wrong, Obama wasted no time in reminding them of America's resolve and tenacity: We will defeat you.

But noticeably missing from the talk was any mention of Israel or Palestine.

Fair enough, it was a big moment on its own, no need to weigh it down with a bloody and distant conflict that you will spend the next 4-8 years getting mired down in anyway -or miring down further.

And so as we are told, Obama hit the ground running. The next day, the newly minted President in his first speech talked about the need to open Gaza's crossings-because as any casual observer might have gleamed from this recent "cycle of violence" it is that in order to have a "lasting ceasefire" we must give Israel security, and open Gaza's crossing (in case you aren't sensing it, I'm being sarcastic here).

But the devil is so often in the detail-not in what was said, but what was not. Notably missing from the call was a need to open the crossing to people as opposed to merely humanitarian aid and commerce, as though the Gaza problem can be vanished by tons of food.

It was this very clause that was negotiated to inclusion in the Agreement on Movement and Access brokered by none other than Condie rice herself shortly after Disengagement: the need to provide Access and Movement for goods AND people, and keep the crossings operating on a continuous basis. Of course, this never materialized: neither in percentage of trucks allowed in or out, nor the promised Palestinian control over Rafah within one year. OCHA keeps a good record of weekly violations of the AMA as a reference.

Obama also said the US "will support a credible anti-smuggling and interdiction regime so that Hamas cannot rearm". See this had me a little confused- because I thought it was Israel with the Merkava tanks, F 15 and F 16s, white phosphorus, DIME, and nukes.

Regardless, none of this will matter. If Palestinians are not granted their most basic human right of freedom of movemen, the tunnels will continue to thrive.

So I'm going to throw something out here that might sound a bit out there- hold your breathe everyone: how about we actually try ending the occupation instead of coming up with a million and one excuses why we shouldn't?

Notice the pattern vis a vis any Palestinian group-whether it was Fateh and the PLo before, or Hamas now: they are and always will be terrorists (the PLO is still on the US terrorist list); once you negotiate, its only a process meant to serve as a cover for continuing settlement expansion and consolidation of the Occupation; if that doesn't work, cry foul and say you have no partner for peace- then bomb their security infrastructure and say they have to have better security before they become a partner. If the people elect someone else, start over.

For real change, why start by saying things like they are: if Israel has the right to defend itself, don't Palestinians have not only the right, but the obligation to both defend themselves and resist against an illegal occupation?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In Zeitun, a massacre and its perpetrators desire for genocide

"They left behind their own unique detritus: bullet casings, roasted peanuts...But most disturbing of all was the graffiti they daubed on the walls of the ground floor... Some was in Hebrew, but much was naively written in English: "Arabs need 2 die", "Die you all", "Make war not peace", "1 is down, 999,999 to go", and scrawled on an image of a gravestone the words: "Arabs 1948-2009". "


Rory McCarthy reports for the Guardian on all that remains in one decimated Gaza neighborhood-and one massacred Gaza family: the Samounis. The appalling results are a very small reflection of what happens when there is not only no moral compass, but an occupying army of largely teenagers are actively encouraged to use utmost violence, terrorism, and brutality, no holds barred. According to one paper, graffiti also included "The only good Arab is a dead Arab" and other phrases that they paper said were "too disturbing to publish".

yeah, this is definitely self-defense, folks...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Gaza stencil: Seth Tobocman


Another great stencil sent to me for publication by artist Seth Tobocman- a Raising Yousuf exclusive!

Bono's shout out to Palestine

According to friends in attendance, (and several publications, including the Nation), U2's Bono gave a shout out to Palestine to the crowd of half a million that was gathered on the mall where King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.

"Let freedom ring. On this spot where we're standing 46 years ago Dr. King had a dream. On Tuesday, that dream comes to pass," said Bono, before launching into 'Pride (In The Name Of Love)', U2's tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"This is not just an American dream," he said, adding that it was "also an Irish dream, a European dream, an African dream... an Israeli dream..." then pausing for a few seconds, and adding with emphasis "and also a Palestinian dream."

Of course our bar is so low at this point that we get excited when anyone-let alone a celebrity- shouts out to the Palestinian dream for freedom. As noted by the Nation, the reference to Gaza with Obama sitting a few feet away will do little to "change the circumstance on the ground in Gaza" or "inspire a more engaged or functional U.S. policy with regard to the Middle East. But Bono deserves a measure of credit for reminding the partygoers that peace and justice, for Israel and Palestine is a part of the dream."


Gaza rising

There is a an unfamiliar stillness in Gaza today, says my father. No F-16s ripping through the sky. No ravaging explosions. There is time to hear yourself think. All a sort of anesthetic. A pause in a sick calculated brutality- to allow the caged disposables a moment to contemplate their options- to create the illusion they even have options.

"This siege will endure until we are truly persuaded
into choosing a harmless slavery
but in total freedom!"

And so the cowering uncower. The homeless return to no homes. The decomposing dead are unearthed from the rubble, only to buried once again.

The damage is surveyed.

Uprooted trees. Entire groves. A city eviscerated. People burned to a cinder. Disemboweled streets. And more tales of horror on every corner.

A woman's 5 sons are killed in the assassination of Saeed Siam. they lived in the building over.

25 more bodies recovered from Samouni family. An ethnic cleansing.

Reports of executions by young trigger happy Israeli soldiers, cheerleaders on the borders. A boy, 15 years old. And in between air force pilots on playstation. " I want to destroy the city" said one gleefully. And sub-contracts are handed out to further enforce the siege. Hands are shaken. Lives taken.

"They destroyed anything in their path-people, buildings, streets...nothing was left untouched" my father said. "It is calm, for now. We sleep, for now. But the siege continues. And make no mistake- Gaza will rise."

Human Rights Watch on CNN: Israel intended to harm civlians

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Gazan astrophysicist tells his story

Suleiman Baraka is a brilliant Palestinian astrophysicist from Gaza that my father met while he awaiting permission to leave to fulfill a scholarship he had attained. He is now working at Virgnia Tech with NASA. His eleven-year-old son Ibrahim was killed in an Israeli air strike on his house. His wife and three other children are now homeless in Gaza, along with seventeen members of his family. In his first broadcast interview in the US, Suleiman Baraka tells his story to Democracy Now.



The rest of the interview can be seen here.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sound Bites

A poem by DC-based spoken word poet Safiyya Abdullah, friend of a friend (there seems to be a lot of those ...:)).

We are a people of reality TV

That is, we are a people of sound bites

We watch TV and think that someone's week. ~

that is 168 hours, which is 10,080 minutes,

weed that down to 36 minutes

(after time out for commercials)

is the whole story…

And we watch it fervently,

Diligently,

Determinately,

Slavishly,

No, make that slave-ish-ly…

Because that is what we have become

Slaves to the sound bites of society…

Never taking the time

to train our minds

to find what is behind

these sound bites.

So let me give U some sound bites of my own:

Sound Bite:

Most populated real estate on the face of the earth: Gaza

Sound Bite:

50% of the population under 18

Sound bite:

52% of the population lives below poverty.

And that was 18 months ago,

before the economic embargo

Sound Bite:

This densely populated area is walled off on all sides,

preventing materials, food, supplies, and people from getting in or out.

Sound bite:

December 26th: Chanukah, Jewish Holiday,

the Sabath~can't work day

Sound bite:

Day who-knows-what of an 18 month old blockage denying food, medicine, supplies

Day who-knows-what of a 50+ year old internationally illegal, immoral, occupation

DAY ONE:

Sound Bite:

Lunchtime shopping

Kids coming home from school

Sister across the street had a miscarriage

Because there wasn't enough food to eat…

Funeral yesterday…cousin died of dysentery

No medicine shipments in a month of Sunday's

Bread lines 13 hours long,

Sound Bite:

Zainab, mother of 3, boiling water

To soak the peas, make the tea,

and soften the day old bread for her daughter

til her 10 year old son gets home with more bread…

WHOOSH! BANG!

Sound Bite:

Zainab flies across the room…

sits up in a daze

automatically makes her way

across the kitchen…

Got 2 turn off the gas…

What was it that caused that blast?

Another follows and wails begin

while mothers pour out in the streets and holler

their children's names

Searching streets for children who

were just playing games,

or coming from school,

or standing in line waiting for water or fuel

WHOOSH! BANG! WHOOSH! BANG!

Sound Bite:

Here comes more missiles once again

Sirens blaring.. then silent

As missiles hit police stations,

fire houses

civilian populations

already under siege

now besieged by F15s

Paid for with US dollars…

Make that our dollars

taken from food stamp programs

And education scholar-

ships

firing missiles from the Israeli navy

Hitting families

playing on beaches

just longing 4 a small distraction

from a long life of occupation…

DAY TWO:

Sound Bite:

Hospitals overflowing...

beds, floors with rivers of blood pouring

No way 2 triage the wounded

Lives, as always in God's hands

Doctors slipping on blood soaked

floors as they struggle

to treat bodies burned and mangled

Hospitals turning away injured

No room inside or out

As minute by minute the death count

Rises

as the bombing continues another day

Gaza is deafened by the world's silence

Sound Bite:

Bodies litter the streets

there a young girl's hand

still clenching her book

next to it an old boot

within it the foot

of an elderly man who once ran

trying 2 save her

as she stood frozen with fear

DAY THREE:

Sound Bite:

More of the same

Israel saying they're only playing a game

Started by Hamas

Alas,

Did we forget

The cease fire was violated election day

Nov 4,

When the Israeli Army

invaded the Gaza Strip?

Or did we just miss that sound bit?

Sound Bite:

Israel saying they warn the civilians before

dropping bombs

Give them a call on their telephone:

Ring…Ring…Hello, U there under siege that have no where to go…

This is the Israeli Army just placing a courtesy call

telling U we are about to drop in your neighborhood

for a friendly visit

Or was that a bomb hit.

Doesn't matter…

ain't got no phone anyway…

all the lines & satellites have been hit by the second day

DAY FOUR:

Sound Bite:

Worldwide demonstrations galore

As concerned citizens pour

Out into the streets

Begging someone to but an end to this

Genocide and massacre…

But once again just being ignored…

So ladies & gentlemen

of privileged conditions,

I apologize for ruining your peace & serenity

with my sound bites of another's reality

but maybe tonight

when U kiss your children or your lover

goodnight

these sound bites

will replay in your sleep

and U will become outraged…

decide to become engaged…

decide find the courage

to enter the sound stage

and stop listening to sound bites.

The children of Israel's war, and a "seize" fire




My mother-a pediatrician- spent the day yesterday visiting the child victims of Israel's war on Gaza. She distributed some toys bought with donations to try and bring some smile to their destroyed lives.

My father took these pictures of the children, as well as of ambulances hit by Israeli shells and shrapnel.

They spent what they told me was the most terrorizing night of the past two weeks yesterday- missiles destroying buildings around their house, lighting apartments and towers on fire.

He sent me a brief email around dawn, in terrifying clarity it read:

Loved ones :
I thought to take few moments on the generator to write this email to you, It might be our last communication. The Israeli army has been heavily bombarding everything in GAZA now. They escalated their attack intensively after 4 AM. Tal El-Hawa is on fire ( I will attach photos that I took of smoke from burning buildings), they just fired a missile on one apartment in a huge apartment building in front of our house ( Borj Al-Shorook) I guess Laila knows it. Phosphorus bombs now are fired everywhere on houses and on people. UNRWA's main stores in GAZA were hit.
Hundreds of people are trapped in burning buildings in Tal El-Hawa and Al-Sabra and everywhere in GAZA. It is clear now that these people decided now to finish everyone and everything in GAZA strip. I still have faith in Allah.







This late evening as I write this post, and we hear word of Israel unilaterally ending its offensive- on its own terms-a sinister action in the cloak of benevolence; such a ceasefire (or "seize fire" as an Israeli journalist friend of mine unintentionally put it) would allow the suffocating siege of Gaza to stay in play, and allow the occupation army to re-enter and re-attack at any moment of their choosing. There is also word of a curious Israel and US signing an agreement to help Egypt end "smuggling on Gaza's border" without any involvement of the people who the border surrounds (not to mention the solar technology already exists for spotting the tunnels; or the fact that new tunnels will continue to pop up as a gateway to the outside world and a means of subsistence for the people of Gaza as long as the siege is in place and Gazais blockaded).

And as the dust settles and death-drenched streets quiver back to life, it remains to be asked: what has this accomplished exactly? Do Israel's feel safer now, knowing they have eliminated over a thousand Palestinian lives; maimed tens of thousands; and destroyed the rest?

Medics also say a woman and child have been killed in (another) Israeli raid on UN-run school in thte northern Gaza Strip. Eleven other people are wounded. But who's to stop them?

Earlier, in Jabaliya, a mother and her 5 children- all under the age of 13- were completely eliminated as they huddled together for shelter. THese are the victims of Israel's question for a new equation. They are the factors that are included in the calculation. Very clinical, very clean, very defensive.

And here, an account of a family whose son was killed while they enjoyed a brief respite from the onslaught- only to be sniped to death and used for target practice by Israeli soldiers.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bomb a Ghetto, Raise a cheer: Pro-Israel rally in NY

Attendants of a rally joined by Sen. Chuck Schumer and Gov. David Paterson in support of Israel's attacks on Gaza go far beyond the pale. Read the background behind Ma Blumenthal's piece at Alternet's site here.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Obama as the 3 monkeys


By anarchist cartoonist Seth Tobocman, a friend of a friend...

The inebriants of Israel's war

During a radio program yesterday, I was asked "what next"?

In the course of my answer, I said something about how I don't know that the Israeli government has thought that through; that they are so drunk with self-conviction, absolute power and military might, racism and nationalism and perceived "success" all while a media blackout, a well-planned hasbara campaign and a public hungry for "action" fuel the war-terror machine with their blessings and support, that they will blaze ahead, losing sight of why-ever the hell they think they started this and whatever the hell it was supposed to achieve (the latest line is "increasing their deterrent force").

The herd mentality at its best.

Barak's popularity is through the roof: street parades for the war hero who makes the public feel "safe" and "secure".

To quote Gideon Levy, it is "war as child's play":

"...pilots bombing unimpeded as if on practice runs, tank and artillery soldiers shelling houses and civilians from their armored vehicles, combat engineering troops destroying entire streets in their ominous protected vehicles without facing serious
opposition. A large, broad army is fighting against a helpless population and a weak, ragged organization that has fled the conflict zones and is barely putting up a fight. All this must be said openly, before we begin exulting in our heroism and victory."

Even the name of the "operation" (Cast Lead), which is lost on many, exudes innocence and excitement and joy.

According to my friend Mushon, who talks of the polarized rendering of events in the Israeli blog-o-sphere in his excellent post:

The blogs in Israel are divided between covering the terror of life in Sderot and the rest of the Israeli south under the Hamas rocket fire, and the excited coverage of the “glorious” operation titled ‘Cast Lead’ - quoting a Hanuka song where a child sings about playing with a Dreidel of cast lead - a holiday present from an uncle.

Mushon goes on to say that as a result, the coverage we are getting is confused and erratic, a reflection of the aimless war itself:

But overall, through out the whole operation there is no “bigger picture”, no objective report, no clue of what this operation aims to achieve or when will it end.

Also evident is an incipient racism gradually becoming acceptable in Israeli public discourse, as well as a "occupier as enlightener" mentality: Jewish women don't cry like Arab women; Palestinians don't exist as a nation anyway; they are violent; they are inhumane; we gave them the only good things they have; we just want to liberate them-we are on their side; and so on.

I have noticed this in Israeli media *and new media* accounts of the attacks against Gaza, accounts confirmed in conversations Israeli friends against the war have had with their friends- who have been quoting right wing European politicians in describing Gaza and Palestinians (yeah, those guys definitely on your side...) ...hello.

In article entitled "Is Israel Losing the Media War in Gaza", TIME talks of Israel's "extensively planned hasbara campaign" ahead of the war o Gaza, and the bluntness with which Israeli officers speak to their domestic audiences ("We are very violent," the commander of the Israeli army's Élite combat engineering unit, Yahalom, told the Israeli press, "We do not balk at any means to protect the lives of our soldiers.".)

These factors taken together might also explain the numerous accounts being heard of Palestinians being used as human shields by Israeli soldiers and being shot at (and in many cases, killed) as they raised white flags-after being ordered to leave their houses by those same soldiers: when there is no accountability, and an ingrained lethal ambiguity in "operating procedures", why NOT be "very violent"; why NOT shoot at "any moving thing" to quote another young Israeli soldier in yesterday's Haaretz?

Now Olmert is avoiding meeting with his security cabinet so that a "timeline" can be avoided; and Livni is asking the international community for "more time" to "achieve their goals" (again: what exactly is the goal here? Human suffering? destruction of infrastructure so that Abbas can rebuild it? Sowing more anger and destroying hope? all of the above?);

Not that the Israeli government gives a damn about the international community; Olmert made that very clear yesterday when he boasted to a press conference about how he had Bush pulled aside from a speech he was giving about education policy to order Rice to abstain from a UN Security Resolution she helped draft. Rice says his rendering of events is "fiction" (perhaps he was drunk with the inebriants of his war...).

As I conclude typing this post, as Livni lobbies for more time and Olmert does his song and dance, another night of terror and confusion has passed on Gaza, another weary dawn has risen.

I was unable to speak with my parents all day, and so I rang him just after midnight my time. He sounded wrecked and suffocated, not his usual collected self. "I'm so tired... I'm just so tired. I didn't sleep all night, the bombs are tearing through my head. I really have no idea what's going on outside, nobody has any idea what's going on...Aljazeera in Qatar called to ask me if I knew what was going on...and what this is about anymore. I can't even here anything on the radio anymore, everyone is just praying. I really just want to go now dear, I'm sorry. Goodbye." he ended abruptly.

"Seedo?" piped in Yousuf. "Just remember- the only one who has the power to stop this is God."

Labels:

The Gaza Perspective- WUNC

Link to my interview on the State of Things, on NPR's NC station, WUNC.

Laila El-Haddad is a Palestinian from Gaza. She is also a journalist, mother and a Muslim. She blogs about the trials of raising her children, "between spaces and identities… from potty training to border crossings." Her husband is a Palestinian refugee and a doctor at Duke. For them, the personal is political. Laila visits our studio to tell her family's story, including what they are experiencing in Gaza right now.

Israeli Navy Gunships surround Free Gaza Boat

The latest reports are of four Israeli gunboats saying they will use their weapons if the SPIRIT OF HUMANITY does not turn back to Greece. The boat is asserting its right to continue in international waters.

The Free Gaza mercy ship, SPIRIT OF HUMANITY, left port in Cyprus this morning on an emergency mission to besieged Gaza. Aboard the ship are desperately needed medical supplies and 21 passengers and crew, including doctors, human rights workers, journalists, and two parliamentarians from Spain and Italy.

We’ve just received word from the ship (as of 3:15am UST / 1:15am GMT) that they are surrounded by Israeli Naval gunboats. The warships are demanding that the SPIRIT OF HUMANITY return to Cyprus. We are insisting to reach Gaza and complete our peaceful mission.

The Israelis have not yet attacked our unarmed ship, but it is URGENT that everyone immediately CALL the Israeli government and demand that they STOP threatening the SPIRIT OF HUMANITY!

LOCATION OF SPIRIT OF HUMANITY
The location of the ship can be tracked on its Spot Tracker page.

CALL
Mark Regev in the Prime Minister’s office:
+972 2670 5354 or +972 5 0620 3264
mark.regev@it.pmo.gov.il

Shlomo Dror in the Ministry of Defence:
+972 3697 5339 or +972 50629 8148
mediasar@mod.gov.il

The Israeli Navy Spokesperson:
+ 972 5 781 86248

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

If Canada launched rockets at the US...

I was going to write up this post, and Kabobfest beat me to it. So ... a salute to them and a link to their post:

Hoping to depart from analogies that steamroll all nuance...

Wishing to kill the spirit of comparisons that ignore imbalances of power...

If Mexicans settled the US en masse, and then established a state of their own on American soil, with the blessing of the Latin American Alliance, do you think Americans would just sit there and take it?


If Canada went to war against the US, and then concentrated refugees from that war in a closed-off space the size of Detroit, do you think Americans would just sit there and take it?
*or to quote Jon Stewart-does Canada even have rockets that can reach the US?

More here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Gates of Hell, the window to Heavan

I have a routine of sorts. I monitor the situation back home all day- I keep Aljazeera English on continuously as long as I home, despite Yousuf's nagging to switch to cartoons. He stopped asking several days ago, when, tearful and angry I told him Gaza is being bombed, that Seedo and tete are in danger.

If i leave home, I make sure my cell phone is near me at all times. This evening, I was at my friend's house, and my father called me, just before dawn prayers.

"Are you home? Are you there? I don't know what's going on but our whole house is shaking, the whole house. The windows have blown open, your mother is terrified, its horrible, I don't now exactly where it is and the radio hasn't broadcast anything about it yet either. Just continuous explosions all around, and these clouds of white smoke everywhere," he went on, his words at once weary and weighed.

I rush home to turn on the TV again and see what information I can find online. He has the news before they do. Soon, Aljazeera brings my friend Taghreed back on the line. I hear her voice and imagine her sitting next to me, trembling as she usually does in such inexplicably terrifying moments as these despite having covered Gaza for years.

"People cannot find places to stay anymore. They go from one area they were ordered to leave by the Israelis to another. And there is no more room in these UN schools...I refuse to call them shelters because they are not shelters. There are like one or two bathrooms for a thousand residents. I met people sleeping in the public garden of Shifa hospital" she says.

My father tells me he has seen people out on the street-entire families. that his cousin moves from Tel il Hawa to his brother's house nearby.

One resident in Tel il Hawa described the evening as Israel having opened the gates of hell unto them- the shoa that Deputy War Minister Matan Vilnai said they would unleash unto Gaza last year.

I see an AP picture on my computer of a jovial Israeli soldier posing with two of his weapons with a toothy smile.

I then read an article in Haaretz by Amos Harel, writing from the "ruins" of Netzarim, quoting an Israeli tank commander saying he rather likes it in Gaza, because "its interesting" there, and other young soldiers saying they are "excited", anxious to get in on the action, to shell and snipe to death, this being their first war.

A one year old girl, Rula Salha, was shot to death. She was Noor's age. I think of the smiley, war-hungry soldier. I wonder if he got his kick.



My father and I continue speaking. We learn Israeli forces have closed in on Tel il Hawa, and navy gunships are shelling the city again. They speak to Yousuf for a while as I hear the explosions echoing over the speaker, and machine gun fire and the after-math of Phosphorus bombs over the city on my TV. He complains of an ear infection.

The fear is salient; it is suffocating; it is in the air, friends say, and no one knows what's coming next, and there is no where to turn to except up in the Heavens above.

And so many people in Gaza have taken to doing just that: they are waking up for special pre-dawn prayers qiyam il layl in the "last third of the night" - a window of time when believers feel especially close to God and when it is said He is especially close to our calls upon Him, and supplications and prayers are most likely to be answered.

And so they tremble, and they wait, and they pray during this small window to Heaven for the gates of hell to be closed. And then it is dawn once again.

Demand a Stance

A great website to help you (yes YOU!) contact your MP or state representatives, with British, American, and Canadian iterations, to demand that they act now to ensure an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, to protect civilians on all sides, and to address the growing humanitarian crisis.

demand that our elected representatives act now to ensure an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, to protect civilians on all sides, and to address the growing humanitarian crisis.

http://www.demandastance.com/gaza/

Jon Stewart on Gaza

Jon Stewart gets it right again-and they wonder why more Americans watch his show for a take on the news than major networks. Because Americans want the truth! Not soundbyte tv...or as he put it 24 hour news coverage on speed

Monday, January 12, 2009

We talk in Silence; We stand together.

We decided to drive to Washington yesterday to attend what was a national "Let Gaza Live" March. It was a last minute decision, weighing the cost of driving a roundtrip of 8 hours with Yousuf and Noor, and the anticipated inclement weather, against the benefit of standing with Gaza.

Two Duke graduate students accompany us, one a Palestinian from Lydd, the other a Syrian Fulbright scholar.

On the way, Yousuf abruptly interrupts our banter to ask whether his grandfather is going to die in Gaza. He asks me to tell "them" not to shoot him.

"seedo ra7 yimoot? uleelhum may tukhoo, mama."

I ask him to make a dua, to ask God to keep him-to keep all of Gaza-safe.

"That is stronger than any bullet" I explain.

We arrive a little late, and have to march extra quickly to catch up with the group of what was estimated to be 10, 000 or so protesters. It is a diverse and civil crowd. Unfortunately, the weather was not so civil. By the end, we are drenched in freezing rain, my fingers as numb as Noor's lips are blue, plastic parkas plastered to our wet faces.

We catch up with my brother and my nephew, Zade, who is carrying a wet sign, its ink bleeding down it as though to simulate Gaza's tears and blood. The sign read:

"Obama: I shed tears when your grandmother died. Will you do the same for me? My Grandmother lives in Gaza."

After complaining he was freezing, his mother promptly told him "freezing is better than dying". He agreed.

Later, he proudly told his grandfather he marched two hours in the freezing rain for Gaza.



We walked by the hotel the president-elect was staying in (though sources say he was busy eating chili), and ended up in front of the White House before heading back to North Carolina.



On the way, I receive the dreaded 9pm call from my father. My heart skipped a beat- late night calls always bear bad news.


"More bombings, I can't sleep. Israeli navy gunships are bombarding #Gaza city's Tel il Hawa neighborhood- you know where Amo Musab lives-where he built his new house" he says, referring to his cousin.

"The suburb is in flames. Residents are calling out to the Red Cross but they can't reach them; and they say they are bombing with firebombs or something, there is a thick black smoke descending on them, choking people" continuing calmly.

I immediately have my brother update my twitter account for me. I feel better, empowered in whatever incremental way, knowing I am broadcasting this piece of information that is at once senseless and meaningful to the world. My brother struggles to condense terror and death and panic to 140 characters.

We continue speaking.

I learn that my cousin's father-in-law has been hurt. His house in northern Gaza was hit by Israeli forces, then bulldozed to the ground. He was arrested, blindfolded and tortured - including made to fall off stairs, fracturing several ribs. He then had to walk an hour to Gaza City's Sheikh Ijleen neighbourhood. His wife was also forced to leave in her pajamas in the middle of the night and walk alone to the city.

I talk to my father until the bombing subsides-until anther hour. Sometimes we don't say anything at all. We simply hold the phones to our respective ears and talk in silence, as though it were an unfamiliar technology. As though I can shield him from the hell being unleashed around him for those few minutes. However absurd it sounds, we feel safe somehow; re-assured that if something happens, it will happen while we stand together.









Yousuf holds a candle during a vigil in front of Duke University's chapel Friday night.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

We Will Not Go Down

This is a song of hope for the Palestinians in Gaza, composed and performed by California-based artist Michael Heart (www.michaelheart.com)
Copyright 2009

MSF: Temporary halt to Gaza bombing a paltry response

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)has put out the following press release (a day outdated-given the death toll is now over 800, but still) which they asked me to help advertise on their efforts in Gaza, and the extreme difficulties they are facing there.

The military offensive in the Gaza Strip is affecting civilians indiscriminately, while medical teams continue to face serious obstacles to providing assistance, the international medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today. The international community must not be content with a limited truce, which MSF said is largely inadequate for providing life-saving assistance.

As the Israeli military offensive continues, the toll, estimated at 600 deaths and 2,950 wounded in just 11 days, is reaching alarming proportions and is indicative of extreme violence indiscriminately affecting civilians.

“Today, 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, almost half of them children, are the victims of incessant shooting and bombing,” said Franck Joncret, MSF’s head of mission. “How can anyone believe that such a steamroller attack would spare civilians, who are prevented from fleeing and are crowded in a densely-populated enclave?”

The military offensive has sown terror within a trapped urban population. Residents no longer dare leave their homes to seek medical care. This insecurity also affects aid organisations. Palestinian humanitarian aid and health workers have been killed and hospitals and ambulances have been bombed.

Hospital emergency departments are besieged by wounded patients. In the last 10 days, medical staff at Al Shifa Hospital have performed more than 300 surgeries.

“The hospital’s six operating rooms are operating at full capacity, with two operations underway simultaneously in each room,” said Dr. Cécile Barbou, MSF medical coordinator in Gaza. “The Palestinian surgeons and the medical staff are exhausted, struggling to keep up with the number of wounded.” Most of the emergency cases involve patients with serious wounds, who have suffered multiple traumas, primarily to the thorax, abdomen and face.”

The MSF teams in Gaza, composed of three international and nearly 70 Palestinian staff members, have been trying to support Palestinian medical facilities and treat the wounded since the offensive began. They have already distributed medical supplies and medications to several hospitals that were close to running out of material. Today, approximately twenty MSF staff are treating Gazans in their homes, visiting close to 40 people every day.

“The level of insecurity is so high that our ability to travel and provide medical aid is extremely limited,” said Jessica Pourraz, MSF field coordinator in Gaza. “We need unfettered access so that we can reach the wounded around the clock and civilians need to be able to reach treatment facilities.”

At the request of doctors at Al Shifa Hospital, MSF is sending a surgical team (a surgeon, anesthetist and a surgical nurse) and a mobile hospital that includes an operating room and an intensive treatment unit, which will increase the hospital’s treatment capacity. MSF hopes to obtain the necessary authorisation allowing the team, as well as all necessary supplies, to enter the Gaza Strip.

Under these circumstances, and while entry into Gaza of personnel and material is still restricted, the temporary bombing halt may improve wounded patients’ access to healthcare facilities, allow aid workers to move about and enable the transport of supplies of lifesaving materiel (fuel, food, medical supplies and medication). “However, these partial measures, which are intended to soothe international opinion, have no effect on the direct and massive violence that the population is experiencing,” says Dr. Marie-Pierre Allié, president of the French office of MSF.

This is Gaza.

Tonight, Duke University held a vigil for Gaza. I was invited to speak, even after certain campus groups said they were displeased at the choice of speakers, saying they found my comments offensive last time I spoke.

Here is a rough copy of my speech:

Imagine if you will a land teeming with refugees; a land of the dispossessed, closed off from the outside world; where smuggling is often the only source of subsistence; where families who are not disappeared-are on the brink of starvation; surrounded by an army and bombarded by that army.

The year was 1943. The place: the Warsaw Ghetto.

The description is hauntingly familiar. But it is now 2009.

And this is Gaza.

As we speak tonight, more than 800 Palestinians have and 14 Israelis have lost their lives over the course of the past two weeks.

17 mosques have been destroyed, a church seriously damaged; Over 12 medics and a journalist killed; ambulances; schools; houses; women, men, children.

In fact-entire families-entire families have been eliminated from existence.

This is Gaza.

Roughly the size of this nation’s great capital, Washington DC, it is s closed in on all sides. There is no escape. There is not entry.

And it’s residents-already stateless after 40 years of occupation and a majority of them refugees - are at once being blockaded and bombarded by land, sea, and sky: it is a situation that is unprecedented in modern history.

Gaza-where acute malnutrition rates, after 3 years of Israeli blockade, are now on scale with the poorest nations in the southern Sahara, according to the UN; where half of all Palestinian families eat one meal a day; Where the siege has killed not only lives, but hopes and dreams and futures.

Today in Gaza, no where is safe. That is what friends and family have been repeating to me day after day after day for the past two weeks. They are trapped, terrorized, and traumatized.

The parliament building down the street from my parents’ home; the mosque around the corner; the university my cousin attends; the ambulance my friend drives; the pier where we get our fish; the playground my son used to play in; the farm my colleague's father grew; the restaurant I had my evening coffees at.

Everything living, beautiful, and ordinary has been a target.

"You don't know who is alive, you don’t know what is a target next; you feel you are in a trap, and where do you run to.. the Israeli navy is shelling from the sea, the F-16s from the sky, the tanks from the ground...where to?" my friend repeated again and again.

This is Gaza.

I have learned that my comments are considered offensive to some. For this, I do NOT apologize.

Sometimes, we need to be offended in order to wake up to the brutal realities around us; realities which we helped create-with our taxes, with our votes, with our silence;

And I say: Occupation is not only offensive; it is lethal;

The United Nations has described what is happening in Gaza as a Crime Against Humanity- both in terms of its Deliberateness; its Scope; and its Disproportionality

That an occupied territory-and yes-Gaza is still recognized as occupied- is not only subject to a deliberate siege after free and fair elections-depriving an already impoverished and dispossessed people` intentionally of electricity, aid trucks, and medicines, is then bombed, is not only unfathomable, it is indefensible.

It is incumbent upon all of us to speak out for peace and justice for all.

For Israel can only achieve the security is seeks by providing that same security to Palestinians.

In order to realize a sustainable resolution to this conflict, we must not only call for an end to arms: whether they are Palestinian rockets or Israeli laser guided missiles.

But we also also address the underlying cause of it all: We must demand an end to Israel’s siege and illegal occupation of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. This is an obligation, not a concession.

We cannot continue to speak of it as an event occurring in a vacuum; or as though the firing of rockets onto Israeli towns was simply an event on its own, without context. As though Gazans were not dying a slow death by way of siege before this; or suffering under occupation throughout.

It is about the denial of basic Palestinians rights. the right to statehood; the rights of refugees to return to their homes; the rights of family to reside together and to visit one another; the right to travel freely; to receive medical treatment; to education; to a childhood free of violence; the right to worship; the right to live free of occupation and siege.

Palestinians must be allowed to realize their most basic human rights-freedom and self-determination, the same concepts this country was founded on.

The United States must change its long-standing policy of blind support for Israel.

It must become an even-handed broker in this conflict, addressing Palestinian needs for justice, equality, and yes, security just as they do Israel’s. It must demand that Israel end its illegal occupation, running on 40 years, of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.

And friends don’t let friends run an occupation.

I end with a rough translation of a poem by the late Mahmoud Darwish, titled,

"silence for Gaza"

MAHMOUD DARWISH

"Gaza has no throat.
Its pores are the ones that speak in sweat, blood, and fires.
Hence the enemy hates it to death and fears it to criminality, and tries to sink it into the sea... And hence its relatives and friends love it with a coyness that amounts to jealousy and fear at times, because Gaza is the brutal lesson …and the shining example for enemies and friends alike.
Gaza is not the most beautiful city.
Its shore is not bluer than the shores of Arab cities.
Its oranges are not the most beautiful in the Mediterranean basin.
Gaza is not the richest city.
It is not the most elegant or the biggest, but it equals the history of an entire homeland, because it is more ugly, impoverished, miserable, and vicious in the eyes of enemies.
Because it is the most capable, among us, of disturbing the enemy’s mood and his comfort. Because it is his nightmare. Because it is mined with oranges; children without a childhood; old men without old age; and women without desires. Because of all this it is the most beautiful, the purest and richest among us and the one most worthy of love."

Friday, January 09, 2009

On Hold in Gaza: The Story of Iyas Salim

Dick Gordon and the crew of the "Story" aired another great piece on NPR's NC station, WUNC, with a contact I put them in touch with in northern Gaza:

"They learn the big words. They should know why their city is attacked. Even if you hide it, it wouldn't make a difference, they see it with their own eyes," says Iyas of his kids, something I can relate to in my conversations with Yousuf.

For almost two weeks, Israel has been bombing the Gaza Strip. Now tanks have entered the territory. Iyas Salim, like many Gazans, has been holed up in a high-rise apartment with extended family. During yesterday's brief cease fire, he emerged for the first time in days, he and his wife squinting in the sunlight. Iyas talks with Dick Gordon about how he and his family keep the kids safe and entertained while the bombs fall, and how he answers their questions about why all of this is happening to them.

Listen here.

"It wasn't me": the Israeli guide to spin control on Palestinian massacres

A friend of mine who is who worked for multiple human groups describes the Israeli government reaction to Palestinian massacres that have occurred and are occurring in Gaza, such as the Samuni massacre and that at the UN school, like this (an opinion echoed by Robert Fisk in today's Independent):

a. It wasn't us, one of their bombs exploded by accident or it was their own gunfire
b. It was us but they were shooting from (near) there/storing weapons there
c. Ok maybe that's not the case, but our 'purity of arms' makes us better than anyone else: no other army in the world takes such care in avoiding civilian casualties
d. there's no need for an independent/international investigation because we are a democracy and conduct our own investigations; and besides, the world hates us.
e. why are you still talking about it, you anti-Semite

*also known as: "It wasn't me, and so what if it was, you anti-Semite"

Gaza Medic under fire: Aljazeera footage

A Palestinian medic, traveling with two international Human Rights Activists, was shot by Israeli forces in Jabaliya, northern Gaza. He is one of over a 9 medics killed by Israel during this attack, and 11 ambulances destroyes.

Red Crescent medic, Hassan al-Attal, was shot through the thigh while collecting a civilian killed by Israeli fire from Zimmo, east of Jabaliya refugee camp.

Where do you hide? The terror in Gaza continues.

"You don't know anymore; you don't know who is alive, you feel you are in a trap, you don't know who is a target" said my friend and neighbour in Gaza city, journalist Taghreed El-Khodary, the fear resonated in her voice, over the phone to Aljazeera. Taghreed lives on the street over from my parent's.

"Where to? Where can I go seek refuge to?" she continued. "I live next to the parliament which was destroyed; next to the police station, which was destroyed; next to the hospitals, which were bombed; and the Israeli navy is shelling from the sea, the F-16s from the sky, the tanks from the ground...where to?" she repeated again and again.

"First your house shakes, and the windows break, and the fear...the fear. And when you see all these children around you in the hospital. Some can draw-and what they drawing is unbelievable. A six-year old boy in my house drew a picture of boy that was alive, and another that was dead. he said the dead boy was his friend, whom the Israelis killed. And the father is unable to protect his child. And the mothers are trying to hide their fear from their kids."

My father today said more flyers were dropped in a bid to intimidate and terrorize an already bludgeoned, starved, and terrified population.

"To residents of the area" read the flyer, which my father scanned and emailed me.

"Due to the terrorist activity that terrorist elements are carrying out from your residential area against the State of Israel, the Israel Defence Force has been forced to respond immediately and operate in your residential area...you are ordered to leave the area immediately".

Taghreed received a copy too, courtesy of your friendly neighbourhood occupying army-just out to watch your backs.

"They are dropping them everywhere- and everyone thinks its their area being targeted, but in reality, no one knows. And even if they were to leave, where do they go to? to another area where flyers were dropped and where bombs are falling? Its a tactic to induce terror and intimidation" my father told me.



For the first time in weeks, they have a few hours of precious electricity today. And things felt "normal" for a while, as they basked in bulb-light and their fridge hummed to life. They took the opportunity to chat with me on Skype. They wanted to talk to me hour after hour, all morning my time, about nothing in particular, before they were immersed in the dark and terror once again.

After speaking to his grandfather, Yousuf looked at me and asked in the inquisitive, matter-of-fact way that he usually inquires about all things small and big in this world, "mama- why don't the Israeli soldiers think before they shoot people?"

"Because they don't think like you, habibi."

Early in the day, UNRWA said it would stop operations after an aid convoy came under direct Israeli attack, and two UN drivers were killed by Israeli shells.

In the afternoon, my father learned that a family living in Gaza's Zeitun neighbourhood-the Samuni clan- who had already lost dozens of members in previous days, lost an additional 70: paramedics from the Red Cross who were finally able to reach them after days of being prevented from doing so by Israeli forces discovered bloated rotting corpses, and 4 children clinging to life, lying limp and emaciated from hunger but alive near their slaughtered mother.

Head of the Red Cross Pierre Wettach accused Israel of deliberately ignoring the besieged, dying family: "The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestine Red Crescent to assist the wounded."

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Yuval Steinitz: Israel planned Gaza invasion for 9 months

Knesset Member Yuval Steinitz, head of the Knesset Defense Readiness and Fighting Terrorism Committee, tells Aljazeera's Imran Garda they had planned the Gaza invasion for 8-9 months.