Saturday, August 30, 2008

From Gaza

This email came today from Dr. Bill Dienst, who stayed in Gaza when the boats left to go back to Cypress (see Free Gaza boat flotilla information below or on their web site: The 9 who stayed in Gaza are working to help more Gazans leave for medical and other reasons, to end the virtual imprisonment of Gazan citizens in their own country. This is news you won't likely see in the U.S. media - let me know if you do!

Bill is a Family and Emergency Room physician for Omak, a town in rural Washington in the northwestern United States. In 1985, after an intensive summer course in Arabic, Bill took an extra year of medical school, and spent a half year in Egypt, the West Bank and Gaza volunteering with various Palestinian healthcare organizations, initially with the Palestine Red Crescent Society headquartered in Egypt. He has been to Palestine on trips sponsored by the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, by Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility to Israel/Palestine and with the Palestine Medical Relief Society. Here is his report:

Good Morning from Gaza City,
The boats of SS Liberty and SS Free Gaza arrived safely in Larnaca Cyprus last night with some of the original passengers and 9 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip aboard.
About 9 of our original international passengers stayed on in Gaza to do media and other work.
Yesterday, British Journalist Lauren Booth and I attempted to exit via Eretz Crossing into Israel, accompanied by sick Palestinians needing specialty care not available in Gaza.
The Israeli border guards threatened to shoot us, but we advanced slowly with our arms raised holding our passports up high; We advanced right through the tunnel right up to the iron gate, but the Israelis would not open it. The US and British Embassy's gave us the Royal run around and would not help us.
So after a visit to Beit Hanoun to see the Al Athamna Family, who are still in a state of grief from the massacre of 19 members of their family by Israeli mortar shells 2 years ago, we headed back to Gaza City. So now we are waiting for the Egyptian authorities to let us out of Gaza through Rafah. They are under pressure from Israel to keep us trapped in here. Now I am getting a better appreciation of what it means to be a Palestinian from Gaza.
I will keep you posted as best I can. It has been a grueling, but very worthwhile month.
Dr. Bill Dienst, Gaza

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Free Gaza boats arrive in Gaza

Today, Angela (see blog entry below for August 14) and all of the 42 human rights workers arrived in their two boats, Free Gaza and Liberty, greeted by hundreds of cheering Gazans.

From the FreeGaza Website: GAZA (23 August 2008) - Two small boats, the SS Free Gaza and the SS Liberty, successfully landed in Gaza early this evening, breaking the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. The boats were crewed by a determined group of international human rights workers from the Free Gaza Movement. They had spent two years organizing the effort, raising money by giving small presentations at churches, mosques, synagogues, and in the homes of family, friends, and supporters.

They left Cyprus on Thursday morning, sailing over 350 kilometers through choppy seas. They made the journey despite threats that the Israeli government would use force to stop them. They continued sailing although they lost almost all communications and navigation systems due to outside jamming by some unknown party. They arrived in Gaza to the cheers and joyful tears of hundreds of Palestinians who came out to the beaches to welcome them. Read more:

The story was also reported by ABC news, which reported that "thousands" of Gazans greeted the boats:

See pictures of the demonstrators and their trip: Source:

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Touring East Jerusalem with ICAHD

East Jerusalem is part of the West Bank, inside the Green Line, the boundary separating Palestinian and Israeli areas when the U.N. partitioned Palestine in 1947, the legal basis for the creation of the state of Israel. Although a formal peace agreement has never been adopted, many people view this boundary as a starting place for negotiating boundaries if there is to be a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.

When we were in East Jerusalem, we took a tour with Angela, from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. Angela took our tour bus around East Jerusalem and showed us the places where Israelis are destroying Palestinian homes because they do not have building permits, while at the same building new apartment blocks and settlements for Israelis. She showed us the rubble of Palestinian homes within view of the new Israeli police station recently constructed in East Jerusalem. She showed us the new condominium development, Nof Zion, being built in the Silwan neighborhood, where Palestinian families have lived for hundreds of years. She told us this development is being marketed to American Jews because Israeli Jews would never want to live in the middle of this Arab neighborhood. Angela showed us where the Wall has cut off Palestinian East Jerusalem from the road to Jericho, a neighboring town now under the authority of the Palestinian Authority.

Angela also told us she was planning a civil action—breaching the blockade Israel has imposed on Gaza. This week Angela and other Israelis, Palestinians and internationals—human rights observers, aid workers and journalists—are taking a flotilla of boats to Gaza to draw the attention of the rest of the world to the impossible situation of the people living in Gaza, cut off from food, fuel and any way of making a living. Look for news of their action: or on the Palestine News Network:

The boat flotilla is one action marking the 60th anniversary of the “Nakba” the “catastrophe,” as Arabs describe the 1947-48 removal of Arabs from their villages, the destruction of those villages and the building of towns for Jewish migrants from around the world on those lands. Today, more than five million refuges still wait to return to these homes, a right guaranteed to them by international law, a right which has never been addressed in peace negotiations. But still, today, Arab homes are being demolished—one four-story apartment building in East Jerusalem on July 28.

Free Gaza boats set sail

When we were in Israel and Palestine, we met Angela, who took us on a tour of demolished Palestinian homes and new homes being built by Israelis in Arab areas of East Jerusalem (see today's previous post). She told us she would be participating in an international demonstration to breach the blockade in Gaza, to publicize the damage that Israel's blockade is doing to Gaza. The group purchased two boats and they have now set sail. On Wednesday I got an update from the group:

"By the time you read this, our two boats, the Free Gaza and SS Liberty should be sailing from Chania's old port in Crete despite a gloomy forecast of storms ahead. Our captains have decided it is time to quit our dock for security reasons and so we are heading along the Crete coastline on our way to pick up the rest of our passengers who have been waiting patiently in Cyprus. We could be in for a rough ride, but without going into too much detail, we probably are more at risk by not moving. Israel has a history of using Mossad and Kidon to sabotage and destroy peaceful operations designed to help or show solidarity towards Palestinians. From Crete we will head towards larnaca, Cyprus to pick up the rest of our group and then we are bound for Gaza to break the medieval siege imposed by Israel".......(read more on their web site: or subscribe to the listserve to get updated email news of their progress:

Monday, August 4, 2008

Homes Demolished in East Jerusalem

If you want to see how the IDF demolishes homes, you can watch one filmed last week, perhaps the same demolition described in the post below:

More Houses Demolished July 28

One of the participants in our Sabeel trip in June was Linda Mamoun, a freelance journalist, who, addition to having her articles published in The Nation, has a blog:

She posted this story written by Mira Rizek, National General Secretary, YWCA of Palestine, as she witnessed the demolition of a neighbor's house:

Dear all,

Please read this and share with your colleagues and friends.

This morning, our family woke up to screaming voices at 4:00 a.m., and we started looking around and wondering what was happening, but we could not see anything. So we went up to the roof of the house (our house is 3 stories), and we saw tens of Israeli army, special troops, border police, ambulances, fire department cars, police cars, surrounding Abu Eisheh’s house, who is our neighbor, ordering the family to leave the house because they wanted to demolish it. For almost two hours, the families who live there refused to leave, and soon they were pulled out by force, and some were beaten and had to be taken to the hospital.

For the last few months, this case of Abu Eisheh has been in courts, and the family have taken the case to supreme court few weeks ago, but of course, as expected, lost the case. The Israeli government decided to demolish the house because it is “illegally” built. This is not the first Palestinian house to be demolished in East Jerusalem, and for sure won’t be the last. Hundreds of houses have been demolished. The claim is that they are built “illegally” when Israel continues to deny issuance of building permits to East Jerusalem Palestinian residents.

Most houses where settlements have been built, have been the target for demolishing. As you all know, the YWCA is also neighboring the Shim’on Essidiq tomb, claimed to be a very important Israeli site. The Israeli Government is now planning to build a settlement near the tomb, which will be 201 units, to fit around 1,000 Israeli settlers, evacuating 20 East Jerusalem Palestinian families that presently live in and around that area. The YWCA building is facing this area, and could be eventually at risk, or could end up facing the Israeli settlement if kept “alive”, and probably we will have to go through a thorough security system to be able to enter our premise.

Where on earth can this kind of thing happen? For those of us who forgot that East Jerusalem is occupied, I have tidings for you…..we will continue to suffer all this until the Occupation is over. But I also hope that there still will be Palestinians in East Jerusalem to celebrate the day when the Occupation is over. Until then we will continue watching the expropriation of houses, land, resources and rights and just document and report on these stories, because we as Palestinians and the rest of the World have proven that we can do nothing about this. Sadly, we don’t even have a shepherd to guard East Jerusalem.Until when will it continue, to be the case, that no one can stop Israel from violating international law on a daily basis? The International Court in the Hague confirmed that the building of what is called the “Separation Wall” is illegal, yet Israel is continuing with this Wall, and instituting a whole system of entrance permits. We even stopped talking about it, and pass though it every day. This is our new reality.

Abu Eisheh’s apartment building is 4 floors, and there are 8 families living there (4 of the apartments are rented/sold to other families). All of them were evacuated by force this morning, and stood out in the street watching their own house being demolished in their own eyes. One of the residents in one of the apartments is even traveling abroad, so when they return, they will figure out the new living mode on the street. All the furniture, personal belongings, memories and valuables of all the residents are in there, and soon will be buried under the rabble of stones.
This has been our story since 1948, and it looks this will continue to be our story until Israel and the rest of the world realizes that there can be no peace with house demolishing, with making people homeless, with land confiscations. As Palestinians living in Jerusalem, we continue to be “residents” and not citizens, and Israel has the right to terminate our residency right using different mechanisms, which they have been doing since 1967.......

The press and UN observers came to the neighboring houses, and the roof tops were filled with people taking pictures, filming and watching. At 9:00 a.m., the army came to all our neighbors, and our street and closed it off, and ordered all people on roof tops (including us) to leave threatening to shoot . Later, Palestinian politicians and representatives of the PNA and Islamic Awqaf came, and the army came rushing ordering them to leave. They closed off part o the main road (which links Jerusalem to Ramallah), and prohibited the press from covering the story. One of Abu Eisheh’s sons was standing on the roof of our neighbor’s house, taking pictures of what he knew very well will become the “used to be his home”. I am not sure whether they or the rest of the residents of this house will have any roof to protect them tonight.

Usually, when the Palestinian receive notices for demolition, they are given the option of demolishing their own homes, which apparently the Abu Eisheh family is refusing to do. If the Israelis complete the demolishing today, they will send the bill to the owners, who have to cover the cost of demolishing, patrolling of police and all other related expenses. So on top of becoming homeless, people have to cover the cost of injustice. The other option is that they will crack the foundations, which they have been doing for the last few hours, and give him few days to complete the demolishing......(read more....)

My mother was saying that she still remembers when she left her home in Jaffa in 1948, she thought it was for few hours and that they will return home. Well she and the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were never able to return to this date, and today the Abu Eisheh family have been forced to leave their home, knowing they will have no house to return to. Every day we add more and more to the list of Palestinian refugees and homeless, and I wonder when will the day come when all these people will have the right to return??

Mira Rizek
National General Secretary, YWCA of Palestine
JerusalemTel. +972 2 6282593 - Fax +972 2 6282082

If You Are Palestinian, Journalism Can Get You Killed, or Severely Beaten

Last Christmas I preached on the Sunday of the Holy Innocents, on the text about the flight into Egypt, when Joseph led his family to safety, probably along the route through Gaza along the Mediterranean. Through the centuries many churches were built along this route because tradition held that this was the way the family fled. Today there are still many refugee families in this area--most notably in Gaza. When I was writing the sermon I searched the internet for information about what was happening in Gaza today and found the website of a young Palestinian, Mohammad Omer, who took on the task of reporting what was happening in Gaza. I was very impressed by his work and used illustrations from his reporting in my sermon. If you are interested you can read my sermon for 1Christmas at:

Last week I discovered that Mohammad Omer was given an award for his journalism. He traveled to England to receive the award and was severely beaten by Israeli Defense Forces upon his return. Mohammad Omer wrote about his experience last week in The Nation, a portion of which I quote here:

"I am a Palestinian journalist from Gaza. At the age of 17, I armed myself with a camera and a pen, committed to report accurately on events in Gaza. I have filed reports as Israeli fighter jets bombed Gaza City. I have interviewed mothers as they watched their children die in hospitals unequipped to serve them because of Israel's embargo. I have been recognized for my reporting, even in the United States and United Kingdom, where I have won two international awards. I have also been beaten and tortured by Israeli soldiers.

This summer, at age 24, I was honored to learn that I had become the youngest journalist to receive the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, named for the famed American war reporter and awarded to journalists who counter propaganda with the truth. Although Israel has sealed Gaza's 1.5 million Palestinians in what many now call the world's largest open-air prison, Dutch MP Hans Van Baalen lobbied the Israeli government to let me leave Gaza to receive my award in person. Upon my return from London, I was surrounded by Israeli security officers. I was stripped naked at gunpoint, interrogated, kicked and beaten for more than four hours. At one point I fainted and then awakened to fingernails gouging at the flesh beneath my eyes. An officer crushed my neck beneath his boot and pressed my chest into the floor. Others took turns kicking and pinching me, laughing all the while. They dragged me by my feet, sweeping my head through my own vomit. I lost consciousness. I was told later that they transferred me to a hospital only when they thought I might die.

Today, I have difficulty breathing. I have abrasions and scratches on my chest and neck. My hands don't function well; typing is difficult. My doctor informed me that due to nerve damage from one kick, I may be unable to father children and will need to have an operation." Read more....

This story is not unique. It is the way Palestinians are routinely treated by the IDF. They are not free to travel. They must obtain permits for everything, permits which are more often denied than granted. Although we think that the situation is improving as Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice travels to Israel and brings the parties together for talks, little changes on the ground. The only change is that now the brutality of Israeli occupation is being carried out behind the Wall. See Mohammad Omer's web site, to learn more about what is happening on the ground in Gaza. Read more about his experience with the IDF and watch videos showing him receiving his award and talking about life in Gaza today: