A Loss for Words: The Continuing Crisis in Gaza
How many times can one use the words "crisis" or "disaster" before they lose their meaning?
How many times can one use the words "crisis" or "disaster" before they lose their meaning?
It is hard not to be skeptical about Annapolis. As author and activist Alice Rothchild noted in a recent article, "Perhaps a more honest name for the current madness is not the realization of the Road Map, but rather the steady creation of Road Blocks that are rapidly crushing the hopes for a viable two-state solution." A lame duck Bush Administration (in any case not known for its diplomatic efforts) is, after 7 long years of neglect, trying to jump start peace in the Middle East.
Amidst talk of "peace-making" at Annapolis, the situation in Gaza grows worse by the day and any lingering hopes Palestinians may have had for a just peace are fading fast.
After declaring the Gaza Strip an "enemy entity" in September, the Israeli Cabinet last week approved the cutoff of fuel supplies and electricity to the Gaza Strip in response to ongoing rocket attacks. Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak gave the order to cut electricity for increasing periods and to reduce fuel shipments.
The official tally is in, and this month's Global Call to Action Against Poverty mobilization set a new world record for largest international mobilization, with 43.7 million activists participating in coordinated events around the world. Our partners and allies in Palestine took part in the action, with nearly a million people in the Occupied Territories participating in demonstrations, meetings and cultural events designed to call attention to the problems of poverty in Gaza and the West Bank and around the world.
Our thanks and congratulations go out to all who took part in this record-breaking action.
The Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), one of Grassroots International's newest partners in Palestine, is organizing an olive harvest campaign directed at bringing internationals in to help Palestinian families access their lands and pick their olives during the upcoming harvest season. This is a great way to express solidarity with the Palestinian people and support their right to stay on the land. Here is the flyer we received from UAWC:
The first ever Boston Palestine Film Festival starts on September 29th and runs through October 7th. The festival, organized by Tawassul, an organization committed to sharing and celebrating Palestinian arts and culture, will feature more than 40 films, Q&As with visiting directors and an opening and closing celebration.
Tawassul has pulled together an impressive line up of documentaries, dramatic features, rare early works (1969-1980) and films by emerging artists. Many of these films depict vividly the hard life ordinary Palestinians, including members of Grassroots International's partner organizations live and the challenges they confront daily under Israeli occupation.
We received word last night from our friends at Rebuilding Alliance that Husam El Nounou from Grassroots International’s partner, the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, has returned safely to his home in Gaza.
Husam, like thousands of other Palestinians, had been stuck in Egypt after having been denied entry back into Gaza as Israel had sealed Gaza's borders following the Hamas takeover of the Strip and the dismissal of the unity government by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.
This recipe was handed down from my grandmother. My mom now makes these muffins for almost every holiday or special occasion.
Amid yesterday's celebrations of election victories in the U.S., it would have been easy to miss the news of the pre-dawn shelling of several homes in Gaza by the Israeli military. This latest indiscriminate attack killed 18 civilians, including women, children and 11 members of the same family.
Dare we hope that the latest power shift in the U.S. will give the Palestinians cause for hope and a way out of nearly 40 years of brutal occupation?
The Gaza Strip doesn't make the news much these days despite being in the throws of a humanitarian crisis. Following the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier on June 25th, Israel began a military "recovery mission" in Gaza that has had devastating consequences for the people and basic physical infrastructure of Gaza.
Interview with Ahmed Sourani, PARC-Gaza
September 13, 2006
The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, of which GRI is a member, has learned that the House of Representatives will vote on Tuesday, May 9 on HR4681, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006. This bill imposes draconian economic and diplomatic sanctions against the Palestinian people for exercising their democratic rights.
[Editor's note: Nikhil Aziz and Jennifer Lemire have been in Palestine for the last week. We are very excited to bring you their reports from the Occupied Territories.]
For Palestinians living under Israeli Occupation, each day is an act of resistance. Each day that Palestinian men, women and children stand in line at the Qalandia Checkpoint waiting for Israeli permission to pass, each day that Wafa has to remind her daughter to conserve water because there might not be enough to last the week, each day that Ya'cub passes buildings in Jerusalem that before 1948 used to belong to his family, each day that Khaled works with farmers in Hebron to build cisterns to collect precious rainwater, each day that Jamal meets with families struggling to stay on their land in Salfit as the Separation Wall casts shadows on their homes, each day that Hasan helps organize Palestinian laborers working in the informal sector of the economy, each day that Samia walks to the fields just outsider her village to harvest zataar and lettuce from her garden. Each of these small acts is one of quiet resistance.
On January 25, 2006, Palestinians went to the polls to elect members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. This was only the second parliamentary election since 1996 and despite obstacles and barriers created by the ongoing Israeli occupation, the elections were, by most accounts, free and fair with approximately 76% of eligible voters participating.
The final results of the Palestinian legislative elections show a resounding victory for Hamas, which won 74 out of the 132 seats, giving them a clear majority. Fatah won 45 seats and independent candidates took 13 seats.
Much has been made of these results and Hamas' watershed victory certainly opens a new chapter in the history of the Palestinian Authority (PA). However, we should be careful to see these results for what they are. They are not a broad mandate for Hamas positions.
With much of the World's attention focused on the Gaza Strip and the impending Israeli disengagement, slated to begin Monday, Israel is quietly continuing its occupation of the West Bank.
Most of our partners, while not unhappy to see the settlers go, question how "disengaged" Israel can really be when they will continue to control all of their borders, land and sea, and even the airspace around Gaza. Most also fear that the disengagement from Gaza will be at the expense of the West Bank.
Over breakfast Fabricio read us the headlines from one of Jerusalem's daily newspapers…It seems Sharon has encouraged the friends and families of settlers to visit their loved ones in Gaza this Passover because it will be the last time they will be able to enter. After that, the Israeli army will move quickly forward with the disengagement plan - much sooner than the original July timeframe.
One of the objectives of our trip was to get a better sense of what the disengagement will mean for Gazans. The details of the plan remain quite mysterious and our questions about the disengagement were consistently met with shrugs. How will goods get in and out? What will become of the homes, lands and greenhouses of the settlements? How difficult will it be to get exit permits? Who will control the water and electricity? Will workers be able to continue working in Israel and in the industrial zones outside of Gaza? Will the Israelis coordinate at all with the Palestinian Authority?
The Gaza Strip is a difficult place to begin a trip. In Gaza, the full impact of the occupation hits you smack in the face the very second you reach Erez. Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world...if not the most. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), one of GRI's partners, approximately 1.3 million people are living on 365 square kilometers of land. Nearly 900,000 residents are considered refugees, about half of whom are living in the 8 camps in Gaza. 61% of the population is under 19 years old and the average family size of 6.9. In a recent publication, B'tselem, an Israeli human rights group, reports that more than 77% of Gazans now live below the poverty line - almost double the number before the intifada -and that some 23 percent of Gazans are in "deep poverty," meaning that they do not reach the subsistence poverty line even after receiving aid from international agencies.
The following is a note from Heba Zayyan, the PR Officer at the Women's Affairs Center, one of GRI's partners in Gaza. For the fourth consecutive day, the Israeli Defense Forces have expanded their brutal military offensive in Rafah town and refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip.
How can one's sanity accept what's happening now in Rafah? 120 houses at least were demolished whose habitants (200 families) are totally living in tents. It is another nakba in the Palestinians' life in the full meaning of the word. How far can one believe that people, secure in their homes at night are being called to leave without delay, not given time to collect some their belongings or even their ID cards? What's happening in Rafah carries the brutal barbarianism of the Israelis that's done in the name of protection of borders. How can we still believe in peace and democracy if people who demonstrate against the unexplainable Israeli violence, will get killed by heavy missiles? The first line of the demonstration was children who were enthusiastic and innocent enough to ahead the demonstration. Where are these children now? They are all uprooted from their dreams of a liberate state to be shattered into pieces.
The following are some notes and stories from some of the places we saw and the people we met. These are just a few of the many scenes I go back to over and over again when I reflect on this trip.
We were walking through the narrow streets of old city in Bethlehem with Fatima. She wanted to show us the cultural center that her uncle had opened just outside of Manger Square so we ducked into the building. Our friend pointed out the gardens, the galleries, the classrooms and finally the theater. The theater was offering nightly showings of The Passion of the Christ, the new, controversial film by Mel Gibson that details Jesus' final days. Although I have yet to see this film, I've heard from those that have seen it that it is incredibly bloody and gruesome, certainly not for the squeamish. Fatima, who had seen the film twice, confirmed this.
We returned a few hours ago from Bethlehem where we visited the Ibdaa Cultural Center in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp. Unfortunately, our visit was cut short by the news of a nearby shooting. A young man was shot and killed by the Israeli Defense Forces near Rachel's Tomb. The man was from Dheisheh. The news of his death spread rapidly throughout the camp and the Ibdaa Cultural Center, usually lively and filled with kids, was empty. Only the dance troupe remained in the building, practicing for an upcoming tour. The people were angry and were anticipating the arrival of Israeli troops. It seemed wise to leave.
So, I'm exhausted after this day and rather than filling this page with my own thoughts, I decided to let the Palestinians tell a bit of their own story. I have pulled for you a number of quotes from people we've met. This is by no means meant to be a complete picture — it is intended solely to give you a flavor of some of what we are hearing.