“Parents can be awakened by their children”
–Cindy Corrie, 2003 Commencement address
Ten years have now passed since we received the terrible phone call telling us our young friend Rachel Corrie was dead. We had gone to see her off the drizzly winter day she left Olympia to work in Gaza with the International Solidarity Movement. We couldn’t know that we were seeing her for the last time, nor foresee the legacy she would leave as she said goodbye to her hometown, and stepped into history.
Rachel would be killed on March 16, 2003, crushed beneath an armored Israeli bulldozer as she tried to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in the Gazan border town of Rafah.
It seems likely that Rachel’s story would by now have faded from memory as just one more among the thousands of deaths in Gaza over the past decade, but for the efforts of her parents, Craig and Cindy. Having no prior involvement in the Israel-Palestine issue, they immersed themselves in a process of self-education and public activism so relentless and untiring that even now it leaves their friends slack-jawed in amazement.
Rachel’s family has witnessed an eventful decade—in the Middle East and at home. They’ve pursued legal struggles, led public campaigns, traveled the world, and kept Rachel’s story alive through books, plays, films and media outreach.
We sat down with them recently to talk about the changes they’ve seen.
Working Inside the System
As we detailed in an article five years ago, much of the Corries’ initial efforts focused on moving the three branches of the American government to deliver justice after Rachel’s killing. They pressed the Executive branch, through the State and Justice departments, for an investigation, they used the court system for a civil trial against the Caterpillar Corporation, and they sought a Congressional resolution calling for a U.S.-led investigation. As hardly needs saying, these efforts failed spectacularly in their primary goals. The Corries challenged—and for many newcomers, exposed–a powerful and deeply entrenched foreign policy apparatus that grants virtual impunity to Israel, even for the killing of an American peace activist.
But the Corries take a long view, and try to see the good. Cindy says, “Many people in government, particularly in the diplomatic corps, are there for good reasons– there are people with good hearts. I think their willingness to meet with us is partly because they know that Rachel’s story does have significance, around the world, and in the Arab world particularly. And certainly they know it has resonance in Gaza and with Palestinians.”
Craig and Cindy know that they carry an authority that few others can claim, and although it was unsought, they use it conscientiously.
“It’s been ten years for us now, and for our family,” added Craig. “That includes extended family like sisters and brother in laws, and it’s amazing how many people who are high up in government we’ve talked to. Either them or their assistants… all these people now have some understanding of the situation, and I think they have some respect, they can’t just write us off as crazy.”
“In the last attack on Gaza, in November, we were there. Israel started to drop bombs, and we woke up to a flash of light, then the concussion–it was that close to us. When we came back, we went to the State Dept. We spent about an hour talking to the head of the Israel-Palestine desk. They’ve never been to Gaza, none of these people knew anything about Gaza.” In a sense, the Corries have become civil society’s ambassadors to Gaza, a region abandoned by U.S. (and European) diplomatic isolation since the rise of the democratically elected Hamas government there.
Cindy said, “The State Department doesn’t have anybody in Gaza. I think many of them know that’s maybe not the most productive policy for them, it’s difficult when they don’t have people in places. We shared with them that we went to the funeral of a young boy killed playing soccer in front of his house in Khan Younis by the Israeli military. I went with his mother, and we talked to his friends who showed us where they had been playing soccer. You realize that for these children, that’s an experience they may carry with them forever. If you want to make progress, you have to stop these kinds of situations that have to fill people with so much hurt and rage. It shouldn’t happen.”
The Civil Trial in Israel
The Corries, at their own expense, have spent the last eight years pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit in Israeli courts, charging the State of Israel and its Defense Ministry with the intentional and unlawful killing of their daughter. If the effort to move the U.S. government was Herculean, the task of moving the Israeli government would prove Sisyphean. Personally attending all of the courtroom proceedings, the family logged some nine months in Israel for the trial. Seeking accountability, not money, they asked for $1 in symbolic damages.
Craig explained, “The courts are the way that we have agreed as a society to settle our disagreements nonviolently. That’s the official way to do it. And so I feel very strongly that you have to demand that they work. And so we did.”
They encountered double standards from the outset. Cindy told us,
”They didn’t want to hear anything about home demolitions. In some ways, Rachel’s lost in the trial. She’s just a dead person. And the reasons for why she was there, the home demolitions and all that was happening, oh they bristled so. When B’tselem gets brought up, the Israeli human rights organization that’s reporting what’s happening in the Occupied Territories, they just brush it away: ‘What’s B’tselem? We don’t trust their data!’ It’s so shocking because this is the Israeli state. That’s what we were seeing, the Israeli state, in the courtroom. And it’s very shocking, the lengths to which they will go to prevail.”
“They had a woman who testified as an ‘expert’ on the International Solidarity Movement—she had never done any research on ISM. She was the military spokesperson when Rachel was killed and so that made her an expert on ISM. She submitted to the court a 100-page report demonizing ISM, demonizing Rachel.”
Craig broke in: “She submitted that two weeks before she was coming to testify, so it’s all in Hebrew. We said, ‘How are we going to get this translated? ….What are we gonna do with it?’” (The Corries had to pay for the English translation of thousands of pages of documents). “Then we learn that she just picked it up off the internet. She has no expertise on this. And it all goes in, and it’s just made-up garbage. When we have witnesses, it can’t be about what Israel is doing in Gaza, but when they have witnesses, it can be about what the ISM is doing in Jenin. “
They were struck early on by the casual trial preparation by the military, signaling its confidence in a friendly judge’s courtroom. Craig recalled with exasperation the testimony of the former Gaza Division’s Southern Brigade Commander, Colonel Pinhas (Pinky) Zuaretz, who was in charge when Rachel died. The colonel had testified in a sworn affidavit that an injury he had received had occurred in the area Rachel where was working, known as the Philadelphi Corridor, which was untrue. “So our attorney says, ‘So you’re telling me, you’re injured near the Philadelphi Corridor?’ And he said ‘No, I never said that’. ‘Well, here, you want to read this (affidavit)? ‘Oh, well, it’s wrong.’ ‘Wrong? Why is it wrong?’ He said it’s wrong because of ‘inattention’!”
“Then he said his troops had been fired at with rockets from the Nasrallah’s home (the family Rachel was defending). They’re putting in a public document that anybody can read, that the family are terrorists. He then says, well it was after the family had been forced to move out. So it was when the house was controlled by the Israeli military! And it completely escapes them that they were safer with the family living in the house than when it was under their control. These are experienced, good attorneys turning out this sort of (Expletive Deleted), and it’s an important trial, but they know going in that they’ve got it won, and they don’t have to do any better than that. “
Last August the Corries finally received a verdict in the trial. While not unexpected, it was stunning in the scope of its implications.
The judge, Oded Gershon, ruled that the military was blameless in Rachel’s death. He said that the military’s own investigation (which had exonerated itself) had been “properly conducted.” Even the U.S. government rejects that finding; the Bush State Dept. told the Corries in writing that Israel had never conducted the “thorough, credible and transparent” investigation it promised in 2003.
But the judge didn’t stop there. He went on to condemn the Gandhian tactics of the ISM as “de facto violence,” and– in words indistinguishable from a military press release–said that ISM protected Palestinian families “involved in terrorism;” specialized in “disrupting operational activities of the IDF”; and shielded “terror activists wanted by the Israeli security forces.” The group also provided “financial, logistic and moral support to the Palestinians, including terrorists and their families,” and was involved in “disrupting the demolition or sealing of homes of terrorists who carried out suicide attacks that caused many casualties.”
The notion that home demolitions were defensive actions taken in response to suicide bombings is ludicrous on its face: over 1,600 homes were demolished in Rafah alone, between 2000 and 2004. This was a policy of mass collective punishment, and deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure, a war crime. But more galling than this is the sheer hypocrisy. To Palestinians and their supporters accustomed to decades of Israeli demands that Palestinians use only non-violent tactics of resistance, Judge Gershon’s opinion could have come from the pen of Kafka.
Moreover, the real locus of “terrorism” had indeed been available from court testimony.
The Southern Brigade Commander, Colonel Zuaretz, had testified that the rules of engagement were to “shoot to kill any adult person on the [Philadelphi] route.” Another Israeli colonel had testified, “There are no civilians in a war zone.” Even the judge himself said, “She consciously put herself in harm’s way.”
As the Corries’ attorney Hussein Abu Hussein put it, “By accepting the testimony of Zuaretz and others, Judge Gershon essentially accepted that the ‘shoot to kill’ order was acceptable, which violates the fundamental tenets of international humanitarian law, mandating that soldiers distinguish between combatants and civilians.”
Indeed. And in addition, there is the unbounded irony of an Israeli judge dismissing the Fourth Geneva Convention. That convention, which mandates protection of civilians in wartime, was adopted by the U.N. in 1949 in response to the Nazi atrocities. In 1993, the Convention became a part of “Customary International Law,” binding even on non-signatory nations.
Following the verdict, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter of the Carter Center joined other distinguished critics in condemnation, saying that the “Court’s decision confirms a climate of impunity, which facilitates Israeli human rights violations against Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Territory.”
Changes over 10 years: Getting the story right
When Carter, a former U.S. president, can title a book Palestine: Peace or Apartheid, an undeniable shift has occurred in the public discourse on this issue. Countless activists working for decades have contributed to this slow change in perceptions. Palestinian civil society, religious activists, organizations such as ISM and the U.S. Campaign to end the Occupation, and prominent figures like Carter have all contributed.
Cindy particularly emphasizes “the Palestinian voices that have become so strong in this decade” and the importance of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement: “It was courageous of those who first stepped out to support BDS, but now more and more people understand that BDS developed because other things have not worked, that there’s injustice to address, and this is a way that people are doing it.” She further highlights groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace and Young, Jewish & Proud who confront Israeli political figures and lobbyists and pointedly challenge the Occupation. She gives special note to “the remarkable courage of human rights organizations in Palestine and Israel” for helping to change public attitudes.
And, we believe, some of this shift can be attributed to Rachel’s inspiring stand for justice, the global impact of her story, and her family’s unrelenting work.
Ten years ago, Rachel was an early international witness to the mounting human catastrophe in Gaza that continues to this day. She wrote of Israel’s demolition of water wells, greenhouse cooperatives, and family homes, describing “the systematic destruction of people’s ability to survive.” Today her father contrasts this to the vast Israeli construction in the occupied West Bank, of settlements, roads, the Separation Wall. “You see the construction and you think ‘maybe this is better,’” as there is at least some employment. “But the people living there see the last parts of apartheid being set up–maybe it does matter if you have a little bit better standard of living under apartheid, but apartheid is what they are seeing there.”
In recent years, the mainstream media has come closer to getting the story right. The Corries pointed out the novelty of a major U.S. network reporting live from Gaza, during Israel’s November 2012 attack (a.k.a. “Operation Pillar of Defense”). Anderson Cooper’s coverage for CNN was “a huge sea change,” Cindy said. “It’s a bellweather…people may not know much about the issue, but they now know there’s something wrong with what Israel is doing there.” But, Craig added, “The part you don’t see in the paper is the siege of Gaza, which is always there—the basic injustice. “
Yet Israel’s attempt to isolate Gaza from the world, and the unprecedented destruction of its 2008 attack (“Operation Cast Lead”, which killed over 1400 Palestinians), has only brought more attention to Gaza’s plight. The Corries found themselves at the center of public response. In March 2009, they joined a Code Pink delegation, which included such public figures as Alice Walker and Medea Benjamin, to bear witness to Gaza’s destruction. Cindy also recounts how Rachel’s own congressman, Brian Baird, visited Gaza in the wake of Cast Lead, then “stood on the floor of Congress with a photo of three dead Palestinian children… and tried to speak to his colleagues about why there was something very wrong with all of this. I don’t know if this ever happened before. . .” Baird’s shift in position grew from his relationship with the Corries and his own eye-witness encounter with the sordid realities of daily life in Gaza. As Cindy explains, “When he first started talking to us, he started almost every sentence with ‘I’m supportive of Israel, but . . . ‘ and I said to him at one point, ‘I’m tired of hearing that. Can’t you just be pro-people?’”
The growing violence also spurred international activism to new levels of commitment. The Gaza Freedom Flotillas (2010-11) sought to break the siege of Gaza by delivering much-needed humanitarian supplies to the coastal strip, using unarmed civilian ships reaching Gaza from its Mediterranean coast. Israel’s military assault on the relief ship Mavi Marmara, killing eight Turkish activists and one Turkish American, drew widespread condemnation and further contributed to Israel’s pariah status. Another aid ship, christened MV Rachel Corrie, was intercepted in international waters by Israeli commandos in May, 2010. The Corries would tour the Mavi Marmara on a visit to Turkey in 2011, giving their condolences to the families who had lost loved ones in circumstances so similar to their own daughter’s.
Craig believes such actions have only backfired. He points out, “When you look at who voted for recognition of Palestine at the United Nations (last year), “it’s the U.S. that’s being isolated. You got the U.S., Canada, Israel and a couple of islands in the Pacific–and the rest of the world either voted Yes or abstained.”
The award-winning play, My Name is Rachel Corrie (2006), produced by Alan Rickman and Kathryn Viner, has reached audiences in more than 20 countries and over a dozen languages—a fact that Craig thinks is “fairly astounding.” In addition, Rachel’s collected journal writings in Let Me Stand Alone (2008), published by WW Norton, convey Rachel’s gift as a young writer and poet, with an intense awareness and creatively quirky self-expression. Craig describes Rachel as a flawed, joyous, much more humorous person than the iconic figure of Rachel that has emerged, but he is glad that some of her humor comes through in both the play and the book. He explains, “When she went to Palestine, her voice changed and her writing changed dramatically.” Cindy, however, sees continuity in Rachel’s writing and her empathetic way of looking at the world: “She wrote a poem when she about 12 years old about lost souls. I think more than about anybody I know she made a conscious effort never to look away from somebody. And I think going to Gaza is a rational extension of that.”
Here in Olympia, the impact of Rachel’s story is manifest on the walls of our city and in the collective efforts that made the Olympia Food Coop the first grocery in the U.S. to successfully boycott Israeli products. In 2007 the Olympia City Council voted against official recognition of the Olympia-Rafah Sister City relationship initiated by Rachel, despite over 70% support in public testimony. Shortly thereafter, plans for the world’s largest Palestine solidarity mural emerged under the direction of Susan Greene, a Jewish American mural artist from San Francisco, whose work also appears on the Separation Wall in Palestine, as well as in the Palestinian refugee camps Sabra and Shatilla. Olympia’s mural, in the heart of downtown, can be viewed at (http://olympiarafahmural.org/).
Local BDS activists also won a significant victory when the Olympia Food Co-Op board passed a boycott in July 2010. They compounded that victory when they defeated a lawsuit brought by plaintiffs backed by the pro-Israel group Stand with Us. The lawsuit was struck down in February, 2012 as an illegal attempt to make it prohibitively expensive for the Co-Op to exercise its right to free speech. Under the provisions of a new Washington State law, the plaintiffs were ordered to pay attorneys’ fees plus $160,000 in damages to the Co-0p board members. This victory establishes a precedent for other groups to embrace the boycott strategy free from legal harassment.
In their travels across the country and around the world, Cindy and Craig encounter young people who have been inspired to act by Rachel’s story. “That happens over and over again,” Cindy said. “People say that her example resonates with them, and makes them feel they have to do something more with their lives.” She told us of a young man who approached them at a recent talk in Washington, D.C. and said that Rachel was the reason he had become politically involved. Craig recalled an actress who had done two long runs of the play in Australia, then went and volunteered in Africa. “And she told us, ‘I didn’t do that, Rachel did that, that’s not anything that was in me before I played Rachel.’”
Cindy spoke of being approached by Palestinians from the beginning. At first, she said, she didn’t understand why it was so important for Palestinians, young and old, to come meet them. Many would cry. “It took me awhile to understand it, and all that they were carrying, and have been carrying for over sixty years. I think it’s that there was this American kid–and as they struggled to get their message out and struggled to challenge what’s happened to them—she came, and she did that. I know, because they tell me how much that means, and it’s very personal.”
In the weeks approaching this 10th anniversary, the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice has been coordinating with activists in Australia, Scotland, Israel and Palestine, as well as in the U.S. In the past week alone, Craig and Cindy have traveled to Edmonton, Calgary, San Diego and Portland, and will be home in Olympia for a March 16 commemoration titled Rachel Corrie, 10 Years: The Person and the Continuing Struggle.
Cindy and Craig couldn’t throw out even a wild guess as to how many places they’ve traveled to in the past decade. “Continents,” Craig said. “I could tell you how many continents. All but Australia and Antarctica.” Recalling one event in Mobile, Alabama, Cindy said, “To me it’s heartening that no matter where you go, the smallest places, there are people—it may not be Palestine exactly—but they’re really a part of the movement, they know that it needs to be changed, and they’re finding a way to respond to that. It’s really inspiring, it keeps us going.”
Tom Wright directed the 1997 documentary, Checkpoint: The Palestinians After Oslo.
Therese Saliba is on the faculty of International Feminism and Middle East Studies at The Evergreen State College, Olympia. Mail can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Outside of Venezuela and Latin America, there was no greater outpouring of support and sympathy for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez than in the Arab world.
Comparisons to the great Egyptian president Gamal Abdul-Nasser began immediately. Many even declared Chavez himself an Arab based on his anti-imperialist policies and support for Palestinian liberation. Political commentators, at least those not on the Saudi and Qatari payrolls, emphasized his public support for Palestinian rights and Iran’s right to pursue a peaceful nuclear program, as well as his opposition to the wars on Iraq, Libya, and most recently the proxy war on Syria.
It’s not difficult to understand why Chavez enjoyed such support and admiration among the Arab public. Chavez stood in stark contrast to the politically impotent, petty tyrants that rule the Arab world. He spent 14 years as president of Venezuela and consistently won clear majorities of the vote in free and fair elections.
During this period Arabs watched him defy the American empire as semi-literate oil-Sheikhs and brutal dictators groveled in front of the latest US secretary of state. They heard Chavez condemn the war on Iraq as Gulf Cooperation Council royals did sword dances with George W. Bush.
Arabs remembered Chavez’s condemnations of Israel’s 2006 onslaught of Lebanon, when Arab regimes were quietly, and some not so quietly, supporting Israel’s bid to destroy the resistance in Lebanon. Arabs watched Chavez’s famous speech on Gaza when Hosni Mubarak, along with Israel, was enforcing a siege on 1.5 million Palestinians. They also remember that it was Chavez who expelled the Israeli Ambassador to Venezuela in protest of Israel’s 2008 massacre in Gaza.
But it wasn’t only Chavez’s impact on the world stage and his support for Arab causes that earned him popular respect and admiration. The Arab public also admired Chavez’s achievements in Venezuela and Latin America, which also stood in sharp contrast to the failures, incompetence, and corruption of Arab regimes. Chavez succeeded in achieving greater economic and political integration in Latin America while pursuing progressive social and economic policies at home.
Arabs watched Chavez nationalize Venezuelan oil and use the increased revenues to help improve the lives of the most marginalized Venezuelans. Arabs watched their own oil profits squandered on the lavish lifestyles of indulgent sheikhs while Chavez cut poverty in half. Arabs also watched the rise of obscene skyscrapers and the construction of artificial islands as Chavez was investing in social programs to end illiteracy, expand education, and provide healthcare to the most impoverished areas of Venezuela.
Chavez and Nasser had much in common both on a personal and political level. Both came from a humble background, began their careers in the military, and then lead popular revolutions that changed their society. As with Nasser, Arab support and sympathy for Chavez was not emotional nor was it driven solely by a charismatic personality. Although both leaders were highly charismatic, enjoyed an emotional connection with their people, and brought them a greater degree of dignity, their support derived mainly from tangible accomplishments at home and abroad.
Chavez and Nasser were able to improve the quality of life for the neediest in their societies, and both men understood the struggle for freedom and social justice at home was intrinsically linked to the struggle against imperialism and foreign domination. For this, Chavez, like Nasser and all leaders that insist on full sovereignty and the right to pursue independent domestic and foreign policies, was also vilified by Western governments and media.
We often hear that Arab Nationalism is dead and that Arabs do not share any common concerns beyond the borders. US client regimes in the region and their hired propagandists have insisted Arabs no longer consider the liberation of Palestine the central cause of the Arab people and that anti-imperialist discourse is something of the past. Yet the passing of Chavez and the invocation of Nasser’s memory in the wake of his death show the exact opposite.
The overwhelming support for Chavez leaves no doubt that his vision for Venezuela represents many Arabs’ vision for their own future, and that must be very troubling for many people.
Egyptian forces have flooded smuggling tunnels under the border with the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip in a campaign to shut them down, Egyptian and Palestinian officials said.
The network of tunnels is a vital lifeline for Gaza, bringing in an estimated 30 percent of all goods that reach the enclave and circumventing a deadly blockade imposed by Israel for more than seven years.
Reuters reporters saw one tunnel being used to bring in cement and gravel suddenly fill with water on Sunday, sending workers rushing for safety. Locals said two other tunnels were likewise flooded, with Egyptians deliberately pumping in water.
“The Egyptians have opened the water to drown the tunnels,” said Abu Ghassan, who supervises the work of 30 men at one tunnel some 200 meters (yards) from the border fence.
An Egyptian security official in the Sinai told Reuters the campaign started five days ago.
“We are using water to close the tunnels by raising water from one of the wells,” he said, declining to be named.
While Gaza’s rulers have been reluctant to criticize Mursi in public, ordinary Gazans are slightly more vocal.
“Egyptian measures against tunnels have worsened since the election of Mursi. Our Hamas brothers thought he would open up Gaza. I guess they were wrong,” said a tunnel owner, who identified himself only as Ayed, fearing reprisal.
“Perhaps 150 or 200 tunnels have been shut since the Sinai attack. This is the Mursi era,” he added.
Dozens of tunnels had been destroyed since last August following the killing of 16 Egyptian soldiers in a militant attack near the Gaza fence.
Cairo said some of the gunmen had crossed into Egypt via the tunnels – a charge denied by Palestinians – and ordered an immediate crackdown.
The move surprised and angered Gaza’s rulers, the Islamist group Hamas, which had hoped for much better ties with Cairo following the election last year of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, an Islamist who is ideologically close to Hamas.
A Hamas official confirmed Egypt was again targeting the tunnels. He gave no further details and declined to speculate on the timing of the move, which started while Palestinian faction leaders met in Cairo to try to overcome deep divisions.
The tunnelers fear the water being pumped underground might collapse the passage ways, with possible disastrous consequences.
“Water can cause cracks in the wall and may cause the collapse of the tunnel. It may kill people,” said Ahmed Al-Shaer, a tunnel worker whose cousin died a year ago when a tunnel caved in on him.
Six Palestinians died in January in tunnel implosions, raising the death toll amongst workers to 233 since 2007, according to Gazan human rights groups, including an estimated 20 who died in various Israeli air attacks on the border lands.
Israel imposed its vicious blockade on the coastal strip in 2007. Food imports to Gaza were cut by nearly 75 percent, from 400 trucks per day to 106 by the start of the blockade.
At one stage an estimated 2,500-3,000 tunnels snaked their way under the desert fence but the network has shrunk markedly since 2010, when Israel eased some of the limits they imposed on imports into the coastal enclave.
All goods still have to be screened before entering Gaza and Israel says some restrictions must remain on items that could be used to make or to store weapons.
This ensures the tunnels are still active, particularly to bring in building materials. Hamas also prefers using the tunnels to smuggle in fuel, thereby avoiding custom dues that are payable on oil crossing via Israel.
The Zionist Education Ministry has rejected the findings of a US State Department funded study, which has claimed that textbooks taught in Gaza and the West Bank don’t teach hatred toward Jews. The Ministry has called the report “profoundly unobjective”. The American Jewish advocacy group, ADL, has called the report a “distortion of facts”. The rest of the Israel Hasbara Committee members (Jewish Week, JTA, Algemeiner, HuffingtonPost, JPost, NPR, The Beast, etc.), claimed the report was anything from “one sided” to “antisemitic”.
In fact, the report, titled ‘Victims of Our Own Narratives’ has tried to cover-up the fact that Israeli school textbooks do teach hatred toward Arabs, Muslims, Christians and all the other non-Jewish people based on the Jewish holy book the Talmud. This fact was admitted in 2007 by Professor Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University, after studying 124 elementary, middle- and high school textbooks on grammar and Hebrew literature, history, geography and citizenship. He wrote: “The early textbooks tended to describe acts of Arabs as hostile, deviant, cruel, immoral, unfair, with the intention to hurt Jews and to annihilate the State of Israel. Within this frame of reference, Arabs were delegitimized by the use of such labels as ‘robbers,’ ‘bloodthirsty,’ and ‘killers”. Another Israeli professor Nurit Peled-Elhanan, daughter of Israel’s 1967 War hero, Gen. Peled, had come to the same conclusion.
The report in question is based on a study of Israeli and Palestinian textbooks conducted by a team of Israeli and Palestinian researchers and led by professor Bruce Wexler, a Jewish psychiatrist at the Yale School of Medicine. Dr. Wexler and the panel of 19 academics, who surveyed over 3,100 excerpts from 168 Israeli and Palestinian textbooks – have blasted the Zionist regime and the Jewish lobby for rejecting the report “for being politically motivated”.
The report has exposed decades of Israel’s anti-Palestinian propaganda lies that Palestinian kids are brought-up on hatred toward Jews. Successive Zionist regimes have used this lie as trump card in underminding the claim that an independent Palestinian state is overdue. This is also a “biblical truth” among majority of US lawmakers.
“Both the Israeli and Palestinian communities should be commended for this important positive aspect of their books. Extreme negative characterizations of the other of his sort are present in textbooks elsewhere in the world,” claimed the report.
The study was launched in 2009 by the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, a multifaith body that aims “to prevent religion from being used as a source of conflict, and to promote mutual respect,” according to its website. It is comprised of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, the Palestinian Islamic Waqf, and the heads of Christian churches in Israel and the West Bank.
The Zionist regime had boycotted the study, while Palestinian Authority officials cooperated with the study group.
- The Gatekeepers – demolishing the Zionist narrative (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Palestinian farmers organisations and campaigners in Europe are this weekend taking action to call for an end to trade with Israeli agricultural export companies over their role in Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights. Read the call to action here.
In Gaza, Palestinian fishermen held a press conference and rally on February 6 to draw attention to Israel’s attacks on fishermen. Farmers and activists will march towards the buffer zones near the border with Israel on February 9 to protest Israel’s destruction of farmland and attacks on farmers.
In the West Bank, a conference and other actions will be held in Salfit to discuss a boycott of Israeli goods and resistance to Israel’s colonisation and systematically implemented restrictions on Palestinian agriculture.
All of the major Palestinian agricultural organisations have marked the day of action by publishing an appeal for action for the launching of campaigns against Israeli agricultural companies and an accompanying briefing, which aims to shed light on the role of Israeli agricultural companies in the destruction of of Palestinian agriculture.
Solidarity campaigners, trade unionists and NGOs across Europe are holding actions and launching campaigns against Israeli agricultural export companies such as Mehadrin and Arava, who export fresh produce from illegal Israeli settlements and are among the primary beneficiaries of the destruction of Palestinian agriculture.
There will be events, flash mobs and protests in more than 40 cities across 9 European countries including France, the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Germany and Italy. Campaigners are calling on governments to ban settlement trade and on retailers to adopt the position of the Co-Operative supermarket in the UK, which refuses to trade with any Israeli company that operates in settlements.
You can follow the actions on Twitter using the hashtag #FarmingInjustice.
Actions taking place across the world
Dozens of Palestinian farmers and fishermen rallied in the Gaza seaport this week, launching several days of actions across the Strip to support boycotts of Israeli agricultural corporations.
Upcoming events will include a march by farmers, ending with the planting of olive trees, near the “buffer zone” around Gaza’s boundary with Israel on Saturday.
In the West Bank, a conference and other actions will be held in Salfit to discuss a boycott of Israeli goods and resistance to Israel’s colonisation and systematically implemented restrictions on Palestinian agriculture.
Also in the West Bank, the villagers of Madama, the centre for the Martyr Billal Najar from Burin and International Solidarity Movement activists will plant Olive trees on the land of Madama village where illegal settlers cut down hundreds of olive trees.
Activists in Montpellier occupied the customs offices to protest the import of produce from Israeli agricultural companies that operate in settlements on Thursday. Actions are planned in 14 other French cities on Saturday.
Protests and actions are planned in more than XX cities as part of a new campaign to pressure major supermarket Sainsbury’s to end trade with any Israeli company that from settlements.
Creative ‘Boycott Carnival’ action and demonstration in central Brussels
Pickets at Coop-stores in Stockholm and Hässleholm as part of the campaign to pressure the supermarket to end trade with complicit Israeli companies
A creative protest action in the ‘Black Market’ Bazar, Beverwijk, at which goods from Israeli companies such as Mehadrin and Arava are often present
Actions at supermarkets in several cities.
Actions and demonstrations in Rome and Trento
Actions are also planned in Germany and Switzerland, with more details to follow.
Today we went to Beit Hanoun to help the farmers to pick cabbage. Its sounds like boring hard work, especially as it was raining quite hard off and on while we were there but actually it was a really enjoyable and interesting day. When we arrived at the field we joined a group of young farm labourers who made the morning very enjoyable with their singing, laughing and joking as we worked quickly to gather as many cabbage in a short period of time as possible. The field we were working on was quite some distance from the fence, we only heard gunfire twice and didn’t feel directly targeted, the jeep only showing itself once on the treeline before stopping behind a small hill in the distance. We helped pile the motorized cart high with cabbage and chatted in the rain until the cars arrived to take us back into Beit Hanoun.
While we were chatting one of the farmers talked about his Grandmother and the stories she told him about her childhood here. We were stunned when he told us that she had talked about being able to go from Beit Hanoun to Hebron in only half an hour in those days. It was something we hadn’t thought about, when you are in Gaza everywhere in the West Bank seems like such a long way away but when you think about it it makes sense, it’s actually only around 40km. To get there today takes a minimum of 2 days with no stop, Beit Hanoun – Cairo-Round the Southern tip of the Sinai via Sharm El Sheikh to cross at Taba into Israel then on to Hebron. That is of course if you are a privileged International, for a Palestinian there are a whole new set of problems.
Beit Hanoun is an interesting town, it’s directly across the border from Sderot. A place I’ve heard of very often and met a couple of residents of but never had the chance to visit. The countryside here is gently rolling low hills and as you leave Beit Hanoun to reach the fields you see Sderot in the distance. Built right up to the border, mainly nestled in between two hills with some of the red roofed buildings of the town on top of one and a large army installation with radio towers on the other.
Being so close to Sderot has meant that Beit Hanoun comes under huge pressure with all houses within one and a half miles of the border bulldozed, mainly in 2009 and all of the citrus trees which used to cover this landscape destroyed in order to leave clear lines of sight for the Israeli Military. Every building facing Sderot shows serious damage from shelling bombing and gunfire, and across the town there are damaged houses. Why is it that I had never heard of Beit Hanoun before I came to Gaza and yet Sderot is on the lips of every Israeli and everyone who defends the Zionist policies of Israel, ingraining it on everyone’s conciseness? Perhaps because there are so many places in Gaza which have the same damage, the same experience of attack, destroyed homes and death due to Israeli Military action? Whereas Sderot is special, in Israel it is the one place which has seen regular rockets causing some structural damage and very occasional death. Is it too much to ask that the violent death or injury of a human being is treated with the same shock and grief whichever side of the border it’s on? That the damage to lives and property is judged by the same standards wherever they occur?
- 75th Israeli Violation of truce: Palestinian Man Shot In Beit Hanoun (altahrir.wordpress.com)
- We Want it to Stop (alethonews.wordpress.com)
RAMALLAH — A Palestinian human rights report confirmed that the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) killed 7 Palestinians, and arrested more than 300 others during the month of January 2013.
Tadamun Foundation for Human Rights stated, in its monthly report released on Thursday, that four Palestinians, including two children and a woman were killed by Israeli fire in the occupied West Bank, while 3 other citizens were killed in the Gaza Strip, including a child.
Regarding arrests, the report pointed out that the occupation forces arrested more than 300 Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza, including more than 60 children and 5 women.
The report noted that the arrest number does not include those detained during the clashes that erupted during the storming of Bab al-Shams village, built on Palestinian land slated for confiscation, near the city of Jerusalem.
The report added that the highest number of detention cases were in al-Khalil city, in the southern occupied West Bank, 80 arrests, and in occupied Jerusalem, 70 arrests.
The Foundation explained that a number of liberated prisoners, who have spent several years in Israeli jails, were among those arrested, such as Sheikh Jamal Tawil, Bajes al-Nakhla, and Fadi Sadak from Ramallah.
- This Week in Palestine, January 25th, 2013 (indybay.org)
On Wednesday 23rd of January I with other members of our group had the pleasure and honour to meet Mahmoud Sarsak in our appartment. He is a slight, quietly spoken young man, with a gentle manner and his good humour and patience with our questioning betray none of the pain he has suffered over the last 3 and a half years. When he begins to speak about his experience of imprisonment he tells his story with a matter of fact, quiet sincerity that is striking and makes the horror of his experience all the more shocking.
Mahmoud was 21 years old, at the start of a playing career which had already seen him being recognised as one of the best young prospects in Palestine, already a regular for the Palestinian National side. He had an invitation to play for a football team in Nablus in the West Bank. This meant that he had to ask for permission from the Israelis to cross from Gaza through Erez crossing into Israel in order to travel on to the West Bank. This did not worry him as it was a trip he had already done twice before and when he recieved his permission he went to the crossing looking forward to the opportunity of playing in Nablus. However when he got to Erez at 9am on the 22nd July 2009 his whole world changed, instead of being allowed to cross he was arrested and taken to a Police Station, from here his family were called and informed that he was being taken to Ashkelon Jail.
He was made to take off his clothes and change into overalls, an ‘under investigation uniform’. He describes how for the first 18 days he was tied to a chair with his eyes covered, the only times he was untied was when he was given food and they untied his hands or when he was allowed to go to the toilet when his legs were untied. He explains that during this time he was kept awake, not fed properly and questioned daily, every 4 days he was taken to a court where a judge gave permission for him to be held for a further 4 days. This treatment he says ‘wasn’t so bad’ in comparison with what was to come although I think that most people would call it torture.
At the end of that 18 days he was taken to a Military Jail in the South where he was kept for 6 days and his treatment became much worse. He was beaten regularly and was put in what he described as a fridge, he also had very hot and very cold water put under his feet. During all of this time in both places he was questioned, his interrogators were wanting him to say that he had been involved in ‘activities against Israel’. He didn’t understand what they meant by this, he was a footballer, he had not been involved in anything else and so refused to make things up to make his interrogators happy. He had no idea why he had been arrested.
At the end of these 6 days he was taken back to a civilian jail for another 11 days where suddenly things got much better. He was fed and allowed to sleep properly, his captors became very friendly offering him his freedom, a new house, a salary, a car, access to proper training facilities to help his playing career and foreign travel. All he had to do was become a collaborator. He refused, which provoked many serious threats from his Israeli interrogators. They told him that they would burn his family home down, attack his family and kill his brothers. Despite the pressures upon him and his ordeal so far, he continued to refuse to collaborate.
Except for short visits to court when his lawyer was present, during this initial 35 days of incarceration he had absolutely no contact with anyone but his jailors and interrogators. His lawyer told him that he was going to be all right, the court had said he was going to be released. Instead he was told by a Military Officer that he was now being held under ‘The Law of An Illegal Fighter’ and that they no longer needed to go to court to ask permission to keep him. He was then taken to Kitseot Jail near Bersheva where at least he could see other prisoners and his time of interrogation was over. He asked the other prisoners what this ‘Law of an Illegal Fighter’ meant but none of them had ever heard of it. When he was finally allowed access to his lawyer and was able to ask him he was told that it was a law that the Israeli authorities use when they have nothing against you but they want to hold onto you. He then asked his lawyer what rights he had under this law and was told that he had none, he could now be held in jail for as long as the Israeli Military wanted to keep him.
Mahmoud was the first Palestinian who had been held under this law, the only other people he knows of who had previously been held under it were 2 Hizbollah members from Lebanon who were arrested in 1982. He thinks that because he had no rights he was put in a cell which was 2m x 1m for his time in Kitseot, this cell had only a matress and toilet in it and he developed chest, skin and back problems while there. He was not taken to a hospital while there, and was only seen briefly by a prison doctor for these problems. He was allowed out of his cell for 1 hour a day for exercise with his fellow prisoners when he played football with them.
On the 22nd of February 2010 Mahmoud was taken to Tel Aviv for a court hearing to extend his imprisonment and then to another court hearing for the decision in Jerusalem two weeks later. The journey to court and between jails is in what the prisoners call a ‘post bus’ which is metal bus with steel compartments in which you are jostled and hit off the steel walls. He knew before he was taken to the second hearing that he was going to be held for another six months. After this hearing he was also barred from playing football with his fellow prisoners for that precious hour in the mornings and was told that this was due to his back being too bad. At this time they also started to move him between prisons every 2 months and he was still taken to court every 6 months in order to have his stay in prison extended.
On the 23rd of August 2011 he was told that he was going to be released, he was happy and said goodbye to the other prisoners. He was taken by ‘post bus’ to Erez, his hands and legs were not tied as they usually were, the window was open and when he got there they opened the door of the prison van and the guards moved away talking among themselves. He stayed where he was as he didn’t know what was happening and he didn’t want to be shot if they thought he was trying to escape. He called to the guards to ask what was happening and they told him they were taking him back to jail, he wasn’t being released. He was taken to a different jail for 2 weeks with only the clothes he had on when they took him to Erez. He said that he was later told about another prisoner who had been taken to Erez and left in an open ‘post bus’ with his legs untied in the same way. He had gone to the door to look out and been instantly shot in the leg and accused of trying to escape. After this 2 week period he was taken back to the jail he had originally been in when first imprisoned, here his other clothes and small number of belongings were finally brought to him.
When he was taken to this jail he was given another 6 months but his lawyer was promised that he would be released when this time ended on the 23rd of February 2012. The 23rd of February came and went, 10 days after this he was taken back to court, he had decided that this time if he wasn’t released he would go on hunger strike and stay on hunger strike until they promised in writing that he would be released. So when he was told that he was going to be imprisoned for another 6 months he prepared himself for 10 days, eating less each day and gradually reducing his physical activity. On the 15th of March 2012 he started his hunger strike. He only took water and sometimes a little salt in order to prevent his stomach from beginning to rot.
7 days after he started they began to move him from jail to jail before putting him in Nafha Jail which meant he was put in with the Israeli criminal population. Then he was put into isolation for a spell followed by hospital in Bersheva for 2 days tied to his bed then back to Nafha. From here he was sent to Eshel jail where he was put in isolation again and became very sick. This time they wouldn’t take him to hospital but would only allow him to see the Doctor in Eshel. After 35 days of this the Doctor in Eshel refused to continue to be responsible for him and he was taken to the Prison hospital in Ramle jail where he was with another 5 Palestinian prisoners who were also on hunger strike. He refused treatment here and was put back into isolation, this time his isolation cell had no windows so he was in darkness. After 47 days on hunger strike he bagan to have serious problems with his stomach, he couldn’t even drink water without vomiting. First white then black then brown vomit. They took him back to Ramle Prison hospital then and gave him antibiotics.
Along with the other hunger strikers he was asked regularly to break his hunger strike, on the 15th of May he was told that if he would break his hunger strike he would be released on the 23rd of August and the other hunger strikers were also told that they would have their demands met if they broke theirs. 3 of them accepted but along with 1 of the others Akram Al Rihawy he refused, he had heard promises of release before and he insisted that he have the promise in writing signed by a senior Judge and a Minister from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior. He was also told that he would not be allowed to return to Gaza, he had to choose between Germany, France or Norway which he also refused to accept. At this time he finally began to get International Committee of the Red Cross visits twice a week and he was asked daily to break his hunger strike, he continued to refuse until he got it in writing that he would be released back to Gaza and that he would be properly monitored by a committee of doctors when he started eating again.
Eventually on the 18th of June 2012 on the 96th day of his hunger strike a Minister from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior came to see him with the signed paper that he had been asking for stating in writing that he would be released on the 20th of July 2012. The Minister asked him if he would now please give up his hunger strike and he agreed. The Minister asked him to drink a glass of milk in front of him so that he could confirm and report that he had indeed broken his hunger strike which he did alathough he immediately vomited this back up. His stomach couldn’t cope even with milk after such a long time with no more than water going into it. He said that even though his stomach rejected this cup of milk his whole body felt as though it had drunk and felt relieved.
For 14 days he had to build up to eating again with first intravenous vitamins and nutrition, followed by nutritional drinks, before finally eating his first bit of bread after this 14 day period, which he still vomited back up. During the time of his hunger strike he was only allowed 2 visits from his lawyer, on the 40th day and on the last day. I asked if he was allowed any visits from his family during his time in jail. He replied that because he was given no rights under the ‘Law of An Illegal fighter’ he was not only denied visits from family but was not even allowed the 6 monthly letters delivered to his fellow prisoners by the Red Cross. He wasn’t able to write to them either, not even one short note.
At no time during Mahmoud’s entire incarceration was he actually accused of anything other than being asked to admit to the vague term ‘activities against Israel’ and he was never charged with anything. He was very clear that he had no idea why he was arrested. He was a footballer. The court appearances he attended were simply formalities under Military Law which say that every 6 months any detention order must be renewed.
All Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza who are arrested by Israel are dealt with under Military Law not Israeli Criminal Law and therefore it is not necessary for Israel to ever bring charges against them. Many who are prosecuted are those who have signed false confessions under torture and are not able to retract them afterwards. Mahmoud’s case was slightly worse than normal Military law, under which there are a few rights which at least give some protection in prison. Mahmoud had none of these rights under this so called ‘Law of an Illegal Fighter’ by which he was held.
I asked Mahmoud if he was back in training for football and if he thought that it would be possible for him to return to his playing career. He said that finally he had managed to attend 3 training sessions and was hoping to be able to return to the team at some point in the future once he was back to full fitness. I sincerely wish him luck with this and hope that he will reach that stage very soon.
This has to be one of the clearest examples of why the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) campaign should be supported by everyone and why Israel should be barred from participating in International Sporting events. Currently the 2013 UEFA U-21 Championship is scheduled to be played in Israel. How can this be allowed when they can treat a Palestinian International Player like this? Not to mention that they bombed the only 2 football pitches in Gaza during Operation Pillar of Cloud as well as destroying many local playing areas in the West Bank over the years. I saw several during my visit there in 2004 including one in Ramallah which had been bulldozed.
Mahmoud told us that the other prisoner who had stayed on hunger strike with him, Akram Al Rihawy, had spent his whole sentence in hospital due to his medical problems. His reason for being on hunger strike was not for release but for proper medical treatment. He stopped his hunger strike after being told that he was going to be released on Wednesday the 23rd of January 2013. Yesterday, on the 25th of January 2013 we were told that he was not released as promised and that he is now back on hunger strike.
To join the campaign against Israel hosting the 2013 UEFA U-21 Championship go to the following link and get involved: http://redcardapartheid.weebly.com/
- Former mayor put in administrative detention (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Genocide by Proxy: Palestinian patient Salah Salluha dies at Erez due to prolonged security measures (occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com)
- Hundreds of Palestinians detained without evidence (occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com)
- Palestine: Documenting the torture of a boy in occupation jails, two wounded by shooting & East of Gaza flooded by Israelis (realisticbird.wordpress.com)
Rowan Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, has stepped down from his post (sigh of relief).
Williams’s role as a figure of unity in the worldwide Anglican Communion, which is represented in over 130 countries, meant that he was in a position to “bring the needs and voices of those fighting poverty, disease and the effects of conflict, to the attention of national and international policy makers and donor agencies”. Or so we were told.
In 2010, when the Archbishop announced he was planning a visit to Gaza just a year after the slaughter and devastation of Operation Cast Lead, I asked his Lambeth Palace office for more information. Whom would he meet? Would he see the health minister? Would he sit down and talk with the elected prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, man of God to man of God (for Mr Haniyeh is an imam)? Would he do Gaza (and all of us) proud by spending a generous amount of his time with senior members of the Islamic faith?
His office didn’t reply.
According to the Archbishop’s website he did none of those things. At least, he didn’t mention them if he did. Unless I’m mistaken he said nothing about Gaza in the House of Lords, where he had the ear of Parliament and the support of 25 other Church of England bishops.
Yet he began his Ecumenical letter that Easter by declaring: “Christians need to witness boldly and clearly”.
A lady wrote to me saying she had emailed Lambeth Palace 18 times asking if the Archbishop’s party could please bring back some deaf children’s art, which should have been picked up by members of a recent Gaza blockade-busting convoy. The Palace eventually declined saying the Israelis wouldn’t allow it.
If he’d been ‘witnessing boldly’ as he exhorted other Christians to do, the Archbishop would surely have instructed his staff to pick up the children’s art and dare the Israelis to confiscate it.
She complained that by not using his position in the House of Lords and elsewhere the Archbishop was failing to improve the situation for Palestinians, quoting the words of Desmond Tutu: “Where there is oppression, those who do nothing side with the oppressor.”
It was later revealed that the Israelis severely restricted the Archbishop’s time inside Gaza. I asked why such interference with the Church’s pastoral business in the Holy Land, of all places, wasn’t broadcast on the website, in mainstream media and in Parliament.
His office confirmed that the Archbishop had initially been refused access to Gaza but was eventually permitted one-and-a-half hours. This was just enough for a hurried visit to the Ahli hospital and no more. When my questions were forwarded to the Archbishop’s public affairs spokesman, the reply was headed “NOT FOR PUBLICATION”. Suffice to say the Israelis from the start blocked the Archbishop’s visit to Gaza and only at the last minute granted him a piddling 90 minutes.
Was this his idea of ‘witnessing boldly’?
The Archbishop’s website joyfully reported how he hobnobbed with the Chief Rabbinate, paid his respects to Yad Vashem and the Holocaust, and talked with the President of Israel – the latter no doubt sniggering up his sleeve at his guest’s frustration at being prevented by Israel’s thugs from seeing what horrors they had inflicted on the Gazans.
Why did he agree to fraternize with Jewish political and religious leaders when his wish to carry out his Christian duty in Gaza was so rudely obstructed? Did Lambeth Palace not realize that meekly accepting such insults only served to legitimize the Israelis’ illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories and gave a stamp of approval to the vicious siege of Gaza, the ongoing air strikes against civilians, the persecution of Muslim and Christian communities and the regime’s utter contempt for international law and human rights?
There was no mention of a get-together with senior Islamic figures, leaving a question-mark over Williams’s real commitment to inter-faith engagement.
Earlier, while the Jewish State was putting its finishing touches to Operation Cast Lead (the infamous blitzkrieg launched over Christmas-New Year 2008/9 against Gaza’s civilians including the Christian community there), the Archbishop joined Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in a visit to the former Nazi camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland to demonstrate their joint solidarity against the extremes of hostility and genocide.
“This is a pilgrimage not to a holy place but to a place of utter profanity – a place where the name of God was profaned because the image of God in human beings was abused and disfigured,” said the Archbishop. “How shall we be able to read the signs of the times, the indications that evil is gathering force once again and societies are slipping towards the same collective corruption and moral sickness that made the Shoah possible?”
Read the signs? Surely they were plain to see. The forces of evil had already pushed some societies into the moral cesspit. He needed to look no further than the hell-hole that the Holy Land had been turned into by the Israeli occupation, with good old England’s blessing. If ever there was a place where “the name of God was profaned” this is it.
Who will step forward and save it? The Holy Land is the well-spring of the Christian faith, but you wouldn’t think so from the don’t-give-a-damn attitude among senior churchmen.
Open Door for the Bully-boys
The multitude of inter-faith committees and Christian-Jewish councils has opened the door to the Zionist lobby and made it easy for them to meddle in Church business and bully Christians into submission. There’s even a propaganda outlet calling itself Anglican Friends of Israel. A few weeks ago Zionists, no doubt emboldened by the Church’s appeasement policy, put the squeeze on the Bishop of Newcastle, Martin Wharton. The Representative Council of North-East Jewry wrote to him complaining that he voted for a motion at the General Synod which supported the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) despite their “grave concerns… that it would encourage anti-Semitism”. His action, said the letter, “makes any further contact with the Jewish community in the North-East impossible”.
So be it, would seem an appropriate response. But oh no. What brought this on, according to the Church Times was Bishop Wharton’s agreement to speak at a conference, ‘Peace & Justice in the Holy Land’, organized by a group of people who had taken part in the EAPPI program. Its sponsors included Christian Aid, CAFOD, and Friends of Sabeel UK.
The chief executive of the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), the Revd David Gifford, said that the conference had “the potential of becoming yet another anti-Jewish meeting, creating more anxiety and distrust between the north-east Jewish community and the Church”. Then the Board of Deputies of British Jews chimed in saying that the EAPPI was “partisan” and “anti-Israel”.
Let’s be clear what the EAPPI is actually about:
“The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) brings internationals to the West Bank to experience life under occupation. Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) provide protective presence to vulnerable communities, monitor and report human rights abuses and support Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace. When they return home, EAs campaign for a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through an end to the occupation, respect for international law and implementation of UN resolutions.”(www.eappi.org)
The EAPPI program was set up by the World Council of Churches in response to a call by the churches of Jerusalem. Its mission includes engaging in public policy advocacy and standing in solidarity with the churches and all those struggling against the illegal occupation. Few people except those who support the brutal Israeli regime would disagree with the program’s principles and objectives. And few, surely, would condemn the humanitarian work the EAPPI carries out with great courage in the face of criminal hostility. Nevertheless its success has whipped the usual suspects into an orchestrated frenzy.
As reported in the Jewish Chronicle, John Dinnen whose motion sparked the Synod debate pointed out that well-known Jewish groups such as Jews for Justice for Palestine and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition [ICAHD] are entirely supportive of EAPPI, and that five per cent of EAPPI volunteers are Jewish “which is a higher ratio than the number of Jews in England”.
But despite having the moral high ground Wharton caved in and decided not to attend the conference “for the sake of good relations between all the faith communities in Newcastle”. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Hexham & Newcastle, Seamus Cunningham, also decided not to attend. He told the Jewish Chronicle that he had become aware “that many Jewish people in the north-east were angry and upset”. Perhaps the angry and upset should go themselves to the West Bank and experience the behavior of their brethren towards Palestinian women and children and the EAPPI volunteers.
Throughout his time on the Archbishop’s throne Williams was mad-keen on inter-faith dialogue, for what good it has done, and spent an inordinate amount of time with Chief Rabbi Sacks. At one point the Jerusalem Post suggested that the chief rabbi had “in some respects eclipsed the archbishop as the religious voice of the country”.
Nor was the Archbishop the best-known Christian according to a survey 3 years ago. Harry Webb (aka Cliff Richard) beat him into second place. The survey made Cliff even “bigger than the Pope”, who trailed in seventh place.
Now we hear that the squeaky-clean, born-again-Christian megastar is to perform in Israel in July, and the Israeli media are making a meal of it. Does none of these pious dudes understand the appalling, inhuman situation out there?
I’m not sorry to see the back of Rowan Williams – a good guy but not the right man at this time. And what are we to make of his replacement, Archbishop number 105, who will be enthroned at Canterbury Cathedral in March? Justin Welby is touted as an expert in conflict resolution, but he comes from nowhere and is not known for his concern about the Holy Land.
The Jewish Chronicle reported that Welby last year helped mount a Holocaust Memorial Day exhibition in Liverpool Cathedral and… wait for it… abstained in last summer’s vote at the Anglican Synod which endorsed the EAPPI.
In my view, anyone who cannot bring himself to give wholehearted backing to a worthy humanitarian project like EAPPI shouldn’t be leading a great Christian church.
- Stark Christmas message from the Holy Land: “Act and intervene, or nothing will change” (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip, Occupied Palestine – A ceasefire was announced on 21st November, ending eight days of horrific bloodshed in Gaza. Has the delicate truce held over the past two months? It depends who you ask. Israelis or Gazans, each going about their daily lives on opposite sides of a border fence.
There has not been a single report of a rocket fired out of Gaza since 21st November. In contrast, four Palestinians have lost their lives and over 80 have been injured by Israeli forces since then. Yet these violations have received little or no coverage in the mainstream media. Palestinian civilians, whose only crime is to live in the border areas, are terrorized on a daily basis by the Israeli army. This is what everyday life under the ceasefire has meant for them.
Beit Lahiya, in the far north of the Gaza Strip is one such place. A week ago it saw the brutal murder of 20 year-old Mustafa Abu Jarad. Today, it was the site of another Israeli violation. Abdullah Marouf, 18, was in the west of Beit Lahiya, near the coast, when he was shot in the right leg by Israeli forces, fracturing both his tibia and fibula.
At about 9.00 on the morning of 21st January, Abdullah was in an area approximately 250 metres from the border fence, catching birds with his two brothers. A group of five or six Palestinians they were unaquainted with were also in the vicinity, closer to the fence than they were. Abdullah had been under the impression that he would be safe, however he noticed an Israeli soldier in a watchtower on the border and others on the ground. The soldiers began firing live ammunition towards them and Abdullah was shot.
Two local farmers brought him to Kamal Adwan hospital where surgeons performed percutaneous pinning of his lower leg which had sustained damage from an entry wound and a significantly larger exit wound. He requires subsequent surgery in a couple of months to fit internal wires. His recovery is estimated to take at least 12 months.
Abdullah, who is engaged to be married, had been working with his two brothers selling scrap metal. Now they will have to support a family of nine without his help. It is unsurprising that he expressed a lack of faith in the ceasefire agreement.
One can only expect that the Palestinian resistance has also lost faith and is fast losing patience. If a response is provoked it will appear to be in a vacuum – despite this being far from the case – due to the shameful silence maintained by the international community throughout the ongoing Israeli atrocities. It is for people of conscience to protest this injustice and prevent a further escalation of Israel’s attacks on Gaza.
During the Nov 2012 Israeli attacks on Gaza, 182 Palestinians were killed, according to the World Health Organization’s Dec 2012 report, among whom 47 were children, including 16 under 5 years old. Another 1399 Palestinians were injured, most of them with multiple injuries.
It is only four years after Israel’s last major assault on Gaza, which killed over 1450 including those who died of their injuries, and injured over 5000. Then there are the random Israeli attacks throughout the years, leaving injured suffering even years later.
And there were the under-reported attacks in the week preceding the Nov 14 attacks: the Nov 8 killing of 13 year old Ahmed Abu Daqqa as he played football, the Nov 10 killing of Mohammed Harara (16) and Ahmed Harara (17) as they played football, the subsequent killings of Ahmed Al- Dirdissawi (18) and Matar Abu al-‘Ata (19) when they rushed to the scene of the Harara killings (source: PCHR).
Every December and January, I remember the victims of the 2008-2009 massacre, particularly some of the harder incidents of burning to death from white phosphorous bombing, or point blank shootings of loved ones. All ages suffered, although we tend to pick up on the children. Somehow their murders, their maimings, their imprisonment strikes us more.
Two cases from the November 2012 attacks struck me and stay with me: the killing of 4 year old Reham as she stood a few metres from the door of her Nusseirat camp home, outside of which an Israeli bomb exploded…and the murder of Nader, 14, killed by a precision drone missile as he walked to get food for his siblings… just two hours before the ceasefire.
Below are follow-up photos, the families and loved ones of Reham and Nader. Allah yerhamhum (Allah, God, bless them).
Mourning area for Reham Nabaheen, killed by an Israeli bombing outside her Nusseirat camp home.
Abu Reham looks to where the Israeli bomb struck, the shrapnel of which blasted into his home and struck his daughter in the temple, killing her.
Um Reham sits with other women, mourning her daughter.
Fatoum, Reham’s neighbour and close friend, stopped speaking after her friend’s killing. Also four years old, she is in shock from knowing her friend is dead. Abu Reham: “I love her like I loved my daughter.”
Roa’a, Reham’s infant cousin. Reham used to play with her and bring her treats.
In the days following Reham’s murder, we visit the family in the simple Nusseirat home. Beside a mourning room set up to receive family and friends, a portrait of the girl I’d only until then seen dead in the morgue.
The home is barebones simple, the old Palestinian style of home and courtyard reconstructed with refugee camp means: cheap cement, toxic asbestos roof, chipped paint, thin walls and doors, sparse decor…no frills. A single olive tree grows in one side of the courtyard.
Um Reham sits amongst female relatives and although her daughter was killed only a few days earlier, is strong and tells me of the day. We’d seen her at al-Aqsa hospital in Deir al Balah on Nov 21, after the shelling. Further back from where the explosion hit, Um Reham was still wounded in her face by flying shrapnel. Her other two sons suffered only minor injuries.
“We’d gone to my sister’s home in Bureij, at the beginning of the attacks. There was so much bombing in Nusseirat, we were afraid to stay here, our kids were terrified. On the last day, we heard there would soon be a cease-fire and wanted to come home. I wanted to do laundry, to change my kids clothing. My sister told me to leave Reham with her, but I said no, I couldn’t leave my daughter behind.
After we’d returned to Nusseirat, we realized the bombing was still very heavy here. We were going to return to Bureij…“
Abu Reham, who we’d seen at the hospital morgue leaning over his daughter’s lifeless body, sobbing and kissing her, stoically continues explaining what happened that day.
Although Nusseirat was still being hammered, at the moment of the Israeli shelling which killed his daughter, it was relatively calm, he says.
“There was no visible danger, our neighbour across street was sitting on a chair by his doorway just minutes before the bombing. He left to go see something at a neighbour’s home…if he had not left, he would have been killed.“
He points out the two narrow courtyard doors to the street where a pocket in the asphalt speaks to the earlier bombing.
“It was around 4pm, one of the doors was closed, we were getting the kids ready to go back to Bureij. I’d brought out some cookies, and Reham went to get them out of the bag. She was reaching into the bag when the bomb struck. She was near the door, the shrapnel went right into her head. She died soon after, there was blood all over.
The sound of drones was insane then, it could’ve been a drone strike.”
“Tank,” his brother says, “it was a tank shell.”
The brother holds a girl.
“This is my daughter, Roa’a, she’s a year and a half old. Reham used to play with her every afternoon, she’d bring Roa’a chips and snacks… Reham used to always take care of her.”
A neighbour daughter comes over with his daughter, Fatoum (Fatema), 4 years old as Reham was. She is chubby cheeked and lovely, but unsmiling and won’t say a word.
“She came to play with Reham every day. A four year old shouldn’t have to know what death is, that her friend has been killed. She said to me, ‘my friend is dead, my friend died.’“
Abu Reham, whose daughter is just days dead, is worried about Fatoum who fell ill after learning Reham was dead.
“I love her like a daughter. Every child who loved my daughter, I love them like my own child (breaks down crying). I went to the cemetery, saw children from the area there, they had brought flowers and were tending Reham’s grave. They told me ‘we will visit her, even if your family moves, we’ll continue to visit her.’“
Nader Abu Mghaseeb, 14, killed by precision Israeli drone bombing as he went to get food for his siblings.
Abu Nader tells how his son was killed by an Israeli bombing
When Nader’s siblings awoke the morning after his murder, they asked for him, only to learn he’d been killed.
Abu Nader points to the hole in the road where the Israeli bomb which killed his son struck.
Shrapnel markings from the Israeli bombing which killed his son.
Light of the small shop to which Nader was headed when murdered by the Israeli bombing.
When killed, Nader was en route to the store to buy food for his siblings.
Pieces of the Israeli precision drone bomb which targeted Nader.
Pieces of the Israeli precision drone bomb which targeted Nader.
Pieces of the Israeli precision drone bomb which targeted Nader.
Pieces of the Israeli precision drone bomb which targeted Nader.
Nader’s watch and the memory chip from his cell phone, which he had with him when targeted by the Israeli bomb.
On the eastern outskirts of Deir al Balah, central Gaza, we go to the home of the 14 year old whose mutilated body set me sobbing when I saw it in al-Aqsa hospital on Nov 21. The family has a number of olive trees, from which they exist. Their simple home, just over a kilometre from the border and surrounded by trees on a small plot of land, is a little oasis in the over-crowded Strip. But for Abu Nader, it is now hell.
“I look at his jeans, I remember him. I look at the house, I remember him. I look there, look there, wherever I look, I’m reminded of Nader.
I hate this house, this area. I hate life now. I started to hate life when my son was killed.
You don’t stay in a place if your dear one is no longer there.”
We’re sitting in the small, nylon-walled tent behind his home, drinking bitter coffee and listening as Abu Nader tells us how his son was killed. Nader’s six younger siblings, for whom he’d been going to get food when killed, sit beside their father. When we walked into the tent, Abu Nader ran to one corner to grab a small vial of cologne, which he rolled onto the backs of our hands. Nader’s favourite.
“I had lit a fire and we were sitting like this. Sitting like this exactly. Nader asked if I had money, said he wanted to go to the shop to get food for dinner. I didn’t want him to go, but he said the ceasefire would start in a couple of hours, he’d be okay.
There was nothing to eat in the house. These kids need to eat, we’d had nothing in the house for 5 days.
Nader told me to warm the bread over the fire. He said he’d get some yogurt, some canned meat, anything so that all the kids could eat. One of his younger brothers went with Nader, but halfway there Nader told his brother to go back home. His brother kept saying he wanted to go with Nader, but Nader insisted he go back home, told him to wait for him at home.
His brother came back here and said to me, ‘Dad, Nader told me to come back here. He wouldn’t let me go with him to the store’. While he was telling me this, we heard a loud explosion.
My wife said that the explosion was very close to here. She told me to call Nader’s cellphone to see where he was. I called Nader but he cellphone was off. I kept trying to call him, and I ran to the street to try to find Nader.
I kept running until I reached the mosque. From the mosque I saw the light of the store.
And it was night, dark, about fifteen minutes after the evening prayer.
I was looking at the store and waiting for my son to come out of it, and didn’t see that my son was on the ground near me. There was blood all over the street. I thought it was water.
They fired a missile right at him.
When I saw him, I knelt down and grabbed him. There was no one around. I tried to pick him up but couldn’t. He was dead weight, heavy, I couldn’t pick him up on my own. And his legs were shredded, falling apart.
I started screaming, for anyone to hear and help me pick up my son and take him to the hospital.
No one heard me.
I left Nader and screamed to the houses around me, then came back to Nader, but no one heard me.
I sat next to him for a minute, panicking, didn’t know what to do.
I ran to another house to yell for help, but no one heard me.
I came back and wrapped my arms around him, put my head on his head. And I woke up in the hospital.
They killed him in a horrible way. They shot the missile right at him.
In the morning, one of Nader’s brothers came to me and said, ‘Nader’s bed is empty. Where is Nader?’
I told him, the Israeli army killed him.
We are all traumatized.
I’m not angry because Allah chose to take Nader. Allah gives and Allah takes. The hardest thing is that I saw how Nader died. In pieces. How can I live seeing my son cut into pieces? He was a child. He went to get food for his siblings.”
Abu Nader, a wiry frame and the weathered face of a farmer, repeatedly breaks into sobs as he re-tells the story of Nader’s killing.
He takes out a bag of the shrapnel bits he collected from the bomb which killed Nader, a collection of circular, square and jagged pieces, some with serial numbers inscribed, some with the wiring and chips of a precisely-fired missile. He also shows us Nader’s wristwatch, something I’d honed in on at the hospital, looking away from Nader’s shredded legs and noting the watch, a bright plastic stopwatch the kind most teens love.
We walk through the darkness of the unlit village, the only lights being the mosque near which Nader was killed and the shop to which he’d been headed. Abu Nader shows us the hole in the road where the missile hit, points out shrapnel marks… The same tormented pointing out of details that Abu Reham performed.
He points out the mosque, which Nader prayed at devoutly. Nader’s mother later reiterates, “he was such a good boy, didn’t talk back to his parents, was excellent in school.”
At the small shop Nader never made it to that day, the shop owner shakes his head in regret, echoes the words of Nader’s parents about the boy’s character. Abu Nader pulls hummus, processed meat and yogurt from the fridge, waving it at us… this is why Nader was killed, because he’d wanted to bring these things to his family.
Two children, of 47 in the Nov 2012 Israeli attacks alone, killed in brutal ways their parents can never forget, on the afternoon of the impending cease-fire. Zionist aggressors know no bounds.
- PCHR Weekly Report: 7 wounded, including 3 children, by Israeli troops this week (occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com)
- Gaza: Palestinian farmer ‘killed by Israeli gunfire’ (altahrir.wordpress.com)
- 49th Violation of Truce Agreement: Israeli military invades and leveled land in north Gaza (occupiedpalestine.wordpress.com)
What does a Palestinian farmer who is living in a village tucked in between the secluded West Bank hills, a prisoner on hunger strike in an Israeli jail and a Palestinian refugee roaming the Middle East for shelter all have in common? They are all characters in one single, authentic, solid and cohesive narrative. The problem however, is that western media and academia barely reflect that reality or intentionally distort it, dis-articulate it and when necessary, defame its characters.
An authentic Palestinian narrative – one that is positioned within an original Palestinian history and articulated through Palestinian thought – is mostly absent from western media and to a lesser degree, academia. If such consideration is ever provided, everything Palestinian suddenly falls into either a side note of a larger Israeli discourse, or at best, juxtaposed to a pro-Israeli plot that is often concealed with hostility. Palestinian news stories are often disconnected, disjointed news items with seemingly no relation to other news items. They are all marred with negative connotation. In this narrative, a farmer, a prisoner and a refugee barely overlap. Due to this deliberate disconnect, Palestine becomes pieces, ideas, notions, perceptions, but nothing complete or never whole.
On the other hand, an Israeli narrative is almost always positioned within a cohesive plot, depending on the nature of the intellectual, political, academic or religious contexts. Even those who dare to criticize Israel within a mainstream western platform, do so ever prudently, gently and cautiously. The outcome of this typical exercise is that Israel’s sanctified image remains largely intact. In the meanwhile Palestinians constantly jockey for validation, representation and space in a well-shielded pro-Israeli narrative.
To counter these misrepresentations, the pieces must be connected to form a collective that would truly epitomize the Palestinian experience – the story and the history behind it. Once that has been attained, there are chances for greater clarity regarding the roots of the conflict, its present manifestations and future prospects. That can only happen if we return to the basics of a protracted tragedy that is draped with the names and stories of individuals. Doing so would ultimately articulate a consistent, generational discourse that deserves to stand on its own, without belittling juxtapositions or belligerent comparisons.
All tragic stories of the greater Palestinian narrative – of those enduring the ongoing ethnic cleansing, those who are fighting for freedom and those who are seeking their right of return have the same beginning – the Catastrophe, or Nakba. But no end is yet to be written. The storyline is neither simple nor linear. The refugee is fighting for the same freedom sought by the prisoner or the son of an old farmer, part of whose family are refugees in one place or another. It is convoluted and multilayered. It requires serious consideration of all of its aspects and characters. Perhaps, no other place unites all of these ongoing tragedies like Gaza. Yet as powerful as the Gaza narrative is in its own right, it has been deliberately cut off from urgently related narratives. This is the case whether it is in the rest of the occupied territories or the historical landscape starting with the Nakba. To truly appreciate the situation in Gaza and its story, it must be placed within its proper context like all narratives concerning Palestine. It is essentially a Palestinian story of historical and political dimensions that surpass the current geographic and political boundaries that are demarcated by mainstream media and official narrators. The common failure to truly understand Gaza within an appropriate context whether it is the suffering, the siege, the repeated wars, the struggle, or the steadfastness and the resistance being presented, is largely based on who is telling the story, how it is told, what is included and what is omitted.
Most narratives concerning Palestinians in Western discourses are misleading or deliberately classified into simplified language that carries little resemblance to reality. History however, cannot be classified by good vs. bad, heroes vs. villains, moderates vs. extremists. No matter how wicked, bloody or despicable, history also tends to follow rational patterns and predictable courses. By understanding the reasoning behind historical dialectics, one can achieve more than a simple understanding of what took place in the past. It also becomes possible to chart a fairly reasonable understanding of what lies ahead. Perhaps one of the worst aspects of today’s detached and alienating media is its reproduction of the past and mischaracterization of the present as it is based on simplified terminology. This gives the illusion of being informative, but actually manages to contribute very little to our understanding of the world at large. Such oversimplifications are dangerous because they produce an erroneous understanding of the world, which in turn compels misguided actions.
For these reasons, we are compelled to discover alternative meanings and readings of history. To start, we could try offering historical perspectives which attempt to see the world from the viewpoint of the oppressed – the refugees and the fellahin who have been denied the right to tell their own story amongst many other rights. This view is not a sentimental one. Far from it. An elitist historical narrative is maybe the dominant one, but it is not always the privileged who influence the course of history. History is also shaped by collective movements, actions and popular struggles. By denying this fact, one denies the ability of the collective to affect change. In the case of Palestinians, they are often presented as hapless multitudes or passive victims without a will of their own. This is of course a mistaken perception; the conflict with Israel has lasted this long only because the Palestinians are unwilling to accept injustice and refuse to submit to oppression. Israel’s lethal weapons might have changed the landscape of Gaza and Palestine, but the will of Gazans and Palestinians is what has shaped the landscape of Palestine’s history. This composition of farmers, prisoners, refugees and numerous other manifestations and characters of the oppressed are resilient individuals. It is essential that we understand the complexity of the past and the present to evolve in our understanding of the conflict, not merely to appreciate its involvement, but also to contribute positively to its resolution.
The Palestinian narrative has long been either denied any meaningful access to the media or tainted through the very circles that propped up and sanctified Israel’s image as an oasis of democracy and a pivot of civilization. In recent years however, things began to change thanks to developments such as the internet and various global civil society movements. Although it has yet to reach a critical mass or affect a major paradigm shift in public opinion, these voices have been able to impose a long-neglected story that has been seen mostly through Israeli eyes.
A narrative that is centered on the stories reflecting history, reality and aspirations of ordinary people will allow for a genuine understanding of the real dynamics that drive the conflict. These stories that define whole generations of Palestinians are powerful enough to challenge the ongoing partiality and polarization. The fact is Palestinians are neither potential “martyrs” nor potential “terrorists”. They are people who are being denied basic human rights, who have been dispossessed from their lands and are grievously mistreated. They have resisted for over six decades and they will continue to resist until they acquire their fundamental human rights. This is the core of the Palestinian narrative, yet it is the least told story. A true understanding would require a greater exposure of the extraordinary, collective narrative of the “ordinary people”.
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is: My Father was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press).