With thanks in part to $80,000 dollars in generous donations made to Grassroots International in response to the Gaza Crisis, our partners in Palestine have begun the process of rebuilding their communities.
Israel's siege on Gaza, now in its 19th month, has wreaked havoc on all aspects of life and significant attention has been paid in particular to the economic consequences of border closures and the blockade. However, an overlooked epidemic threatens the social and familial ties that bond the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza. Living under a constant state of crisis in which their livelihoods have been denied, the people of Gaza's once exemplary resilience and determination are giving way to an unfathomable sea of depression and psychological illnesses.
Sixty years after the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we at Grassroots International recognize that more often than not the reality has failed the vision put forth in that document. Our commitment to defending land, water, and food as the most basic of human rights is reflected throughout the 30-article treaty. Globally, people in all corners of the world currently experience a quadruple crisis that includes food, finance, energy, and the environment. From Latin America to the Middle East, our partners and allies are facing serious threats to their lives and livelihoods. Policies and actions of governments and corporations represent the grave violations of the core principles of the treat
Thursday October 25, 2007
5:30 - 7 PM
Open fundraiser/reception for Jeff Halper
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)
($25 suggested contribution)
To be followed by:
Thursday October 25, 2007 7 - 9 PM
"In Search of a Just Peace in Israel-Palestine: A View from the Ground"
(free, donations encouraged)
Both events will take place at:
1762 Beacon St Brookline, MA
Sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP)-Boston
Workmen's Circle Middle East Working Group
and Grassroots International
Grassroots is pleased to cosponsor the Friends of Sabeel - North America conference on "The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel: Issues of Justice and Equality" in the spirit of open dialogue and in the furtherance of peace with justice.
October 26 – 27, 2007
Old South Church, 645 Boylston St., Boston
Friday—2:30 PM—10:00 PM
Saturday—8:00 AM—4:30 PM
Keynote Address: Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Naim Ateek * Anat Biletzki * Diana Buttu * Noam Chomsky
John Dugard * Farid Esack * Noura Erekat * Jeff Halper
Donald Wagner * David Wildman
Phyllis Bennis * Joan M. Martin
Nancy Murray * Bishop Thomas Shaw
The BBC reports that, "Israel's supreme court has ordered the government to redraw the route of the West Bank barrier near Bilin village, a key focus of anti-barrier protest."
The Separation Wall is often used as a tool to destroy Palestinian villages, separating farmers from the fields that surround their communities, shutting producers off from local markets and depriving communities of access to traditional sources of water.
More than 5000 people rallied on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Sunday, June 10th to call for an end to the 40 year Israeli Occupation of the Palestinian Territories of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They represented over 300 organizations from around the country including Grassroots International—Grassroots’ Executive Director Nikhil Aziz participated in the rally. The organizations ranged from faith-based groups and labor unions to civil rights, students’, women’s and lesbian and gay groups. They demanded that the U.S. government act to bring about a lasting and just peace and an end to the occupation and conflict.
I had the incredible opportunity to coordinate a meeting between the Union of Agricultural Workers Committees (UAWC) and the U.S. farmers and farm worker delegates to Nyeleni.
Present at the meeting were Omar Doanna, UAWC and Stop the Wall, Fuad Abu Sail, UAWC, Khalid Hedmi, UAWC, Zakaraya, a Palestinian farmer, Dena Hoff, NFFC, John Kinsman and John Peck, Family Farm Defenders, Carlos Marentes, Border Agricultural Workers.
The meeting was a rare chance for farmer-activists from very different places to share farming experiences, compare notes on movement-building strategy and show that human connection can conquer political divides.
A recent World Bank report observed that the Palestinian economy was in the throes of "one of the deepest recessions in modern history exceeding the scale of economic losses suffered by the U.S. in the Great Depression, or Argentina during the recent financial collapse." More than one out of three available labor force participants are unemployed. And to keep pace with the expanding available labor force, 30,000 new jobs would have to be created each year. The highest percentage of unemployment is concentrated among youth: 37.2% among 15-19 year olds and 36.3% among 20-24 year olds.
[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.
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.
Waiting is something Palestinians live with — they wait in refugee camps established as temporary solutions in 1948, they wait in political limbo, they wait to learn what the disengagement plan will mean for their lives, and they wait in lines. (We ourselves found ourselves waiting in an hour long line to get into Ramallah yesterday for a meeting with our partner, the Rural Womens' Development Society.)
Many in the West Bank do not have to wait, however, to see how the geographic lines will be drawn in the peace plan blueprints because construction has already been completed in several areas. In the north, the Wall now completely encircles the city of Qalqiliya and encloses Tulkarm in a dead zone between the Wall and the invisible Green Line established in 1967 separating Israel from the Occupied Territories.
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?
Raji Sourani, the director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), sent us a note with seasons greetings and forwarded a copy of a Christmas card that PCHR had received.
He writes, "I think the card illustrates very effectively the state of affairs in Palestine. We look forward to a brighter and better year for Palestinians, and for peace loving people around the world, in 2005 and hope we can build this with your continued help and support."
Here's the card:
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.
I hope to return from Palestine/Israel a more compassionate and wiser person, although that remains to be seen. What is already written is that I will return much larger. Palestinian hospitality has been abundant bordering on excessive. Last night, a family took my colleague and I to dinner and the waiter did not rest until he'd placed on the table 24 small plates of hummous, tabouli, fatoush and various beet and eggplant salads. Other meals have been only slightly less modest. I thought I'd share with you some conversations had around the food, anise licquer, Arabic coffee wafting cardamom and a perpetual haze of cigarette smoke.
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.
Now I'm no expert on international law; please understand that. But even a layperson like myself begins to sense that when an Israeli soldiers beats a prisoner in full public view with complete impunity, there must be a law out there crying out to be implemented. The targeted assassination of Sheikh Yassin and the entire program of targeted assassinations similarly stinks of the same extra-judicial character.
Just prior to arriving at a checkpoint yesterday, an armored military jeep sped by with its rear doors flung open. The doors were left open with apparent intent, so Palestinians waiting in line at the check point could watch and be intimidated by a young Israeli soldier smashing his steel shanked helmet into the head of a young Palestinian. (Another descriptor might be "head-butting" though this act was far too vicious and the environment far too tense for vernacular that conjures up play.) By the time I reached the checkpoint soldiers to hand over my documents for inspection, the beaten boy stood ten feet away with two other boys, legs spread wide, palms up against a fence. At least this had the appearance of an actual arrest proceeding. The soldier, a recent Russian immigrant, handed me back my passport, smiled and said both warmly and sternly, "be very careful here".