Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"It's Sad That We Can Leave and They Cannot"

From Pat Hewitt (from Denver) who is currently in Gaza. Some of her impressions of what she is seeing there:

We met today with John Ging from UNRWHA. Just an amazing and inspiring person. He's worked in Congo, Balkans, Ireland (he's Irish), Rwanda, and now here. You might remember him from during the Cast Lead conflagration when he defied the Israeli line when they said they had accidentally fired artillery into the UNRWHA school and he told CNN that they fired two hours later again, and that there were no soldiers or Hamas anywhere to be found on that compound.

Speaking fo Hamas, we have an escort. They follow us everywhere and claim that it is for security. Tighe (CP organizer) is deeply offended by this and keeps trying to evade them. Apparently there is an extreme faction here that is harassing people who don't toe their line...Like women not covering. So they are "protecting us". It's become kind of a game. They are just guys (with beards) doing their jobs. They work for the government.
Today we also went on a fishing boat out as far as they can go (2miles, so they are not able to catch much). We saw an Israeli military boat off in the distance, and heard them shooting. Don't know what at, though. Gorgeous coastline ‘til you get up close and see all the bombed out places.
The people here are so welcoming..they so appreciate that we've come here because they feel so forgotten.

Last night we met with Ahmed Yousef the deputy foreign minister (Hamas govt). A very savvy man. He lived in the US for quite some time and has written a bunch of books. He is very much in favor of a unity government for Hamas and Fatah. We were at his house...a villa in Rafah.
Then we left and went to see the tunnels that run between Gaza and Egypt. There are too many to count, visible from the moon practically. We went inside one place that houses a tunnel and a few of us went down into it (you have to be lowered on a pully swing thing) and I declined, chicken that i am about tight spaces, but it was a major kick anyway. We could hear gunshots from a distance and were told that it was between Egyptian tunnel owners over who has what right to what .

It's Eid here and this morning in the hotel lobby I looked out and there went by a donkey cart with 20 or so kids singing like "carols". Just the most wonerful site.

I've been blown away by meeting with Dr Ahmed Yousef, the minister of foregin affairs. We've visited one of the most beautiful and child centered facilities I've seen anywhere...the Qattan Ctr for Children. It's all free and serves 16000 kids. Other child centers have been shut down because funding was cut after the election in 06, but this one survives because it is funded by a wealthy Palestinian livng in Britain. If he'd been American he'd probably be in jail now (funding terrorist organization). Extraordinary.

Gaza is so loaded with problems that it's hard to see a way forward. John Ging from UNRWAH spent a lot of time with us and is so dedicated that it's hard not to see him as a saint of some kind. In fact all the people we have met with are totally dedicated to helping. It's sad that we can leave and they cannot.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pres Obama's Task to Support a Middle East Peace Agreement

“Settling for Failure in the Middle East ” an article from the opinion page of last Sunday’s Washington Post, provides an excellent short summary of what President Obama has done to encourage a peace settlement, how the Israelis have responded, the challenges he faces, and what is needed from the U.S. to ensure a peace agreement. It is written by Stephen M. Walt, the Harvard professor who co-wrote “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” with John Mearsheimer. I heartily commend this short article if you want to understand why peacemaking is so difficult and what is needed from us for peace to be achieved.

He begins:

“Like so many of his predecessors, President Obama is quickly discovering that persuading Israel to change course is nearly impossible.

Obama came to office determined to achieve a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. His opening move was to insist that Israel stop building settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem -- a tough line aimed at bolstering Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and persuading key Arab states to make conciliatory gestures toward Israel. These steps would pave the way for the creation of a viable Palestinian state and the normalization of Israel's relations with its Arab neighbors, and also help rebuild America's image in the Arab and Muslim world.

Unfortunately, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has no interest in a two-state solution, much less ending settlement expansion. He and his government want a "greater Israel," which means maintaining effective control of the West Bank and Gaza. His response to Obama's initiative has ranged from foot-dragging to outright defiance, with little pushback from Washington.

This situation is a tragedy in the making between peoples who have known more than their share. Unless Obama summons the will and skill to break the logjam, a two-state solution will become impossible and those who yearn for peace will be even worse off than before.” Read the rest of the article:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

“Do not stand aside. Do not let us sink back into the cycle of violence…..”

“Do not stand aside. Do not let us sink back into the cycle of violence…..” With these words, Israeli Rami El Hannon tells us Americans what he needs from us so that the violence in his country will come to an end. His words are the plea of one Israeli father whose daughter was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber. Today’s BBC “Outlook” broadcast features two fathers, Rami El Hannon and Bassam Aramin, one Israeli and one Palestinian, who have used their grief to try to change the future. They are part of a group called Parents of the Bereaved, where Palestinian and Israeli parents whose children have been killed by the violence, meet and get to know one another. They listen to each others’ stories, drawn together by the grief that they share.

Today’s broadcast of “Outlook” on the BBC World Service (I heard it in Denver at 10:30 this morning) is an interview with these two men--one fought in the Israeli army and the other spent time in Israeli prisons. Now they are trying to make a difference through their work of peace and reconciliation. As Rami says, “Everybody knows exactly what needs to be done to get peace tomorrow morning….”

As President Obama meets today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ( , we can pause to think about what we can do to support a peace effort.

Listen to the 13-minute interview with Matthew Bannister: Their story is told in a new book, “Nine Lives, Making the Impossible Possible,” by Peter Braaksma:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

UN Report on Israeli, Palestinian War Crimes Seeks International Criminal Court Referral

Today's post is from Tikun Olam: Make the World a Better Place - essays on politics, culture and ideas about Israeli-Arab peace and world music, a blog by Richard Silverstein.

I like this blog, belonging to an American Jewish writer who describes it, "one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs," which he began in 2003. I am committed to building bridges between, not only myself (American Christians/Lutherans) and Palestinian Christians, but also between myself and American Jewish people who are interested in finding ways to build peace in the Middle East. Richard Silverstein seems to be one such partner. Take a look at his latest posting, which provides a succinct, ease-to-understand description of the UN findings on the January war in Gaza. Like much of what I read about Israeli-Palestinian relationships today, these findings are very disturbing.

UN Report Finds Evidence of Israeli, Palestinian War Crimes, Seeks International Criminal Court Referral

Photo: Richard Goldstone inspecting damage from Gaza war (Ashraf Amra/ AP)

The respected South African jurist, Richard Goldstone, just released his long-awaited report for the UN Human Rights Council on human rights violations leading up to, and during the Gaza war. He found significant evidence of war crimes by both Israeli and Palestinian forces. Here is how the N.Y. Times characterized the elements of the report dealing with Israel:

…Though the 575-page report condemned rocket attacks by Palestinian armed groups against Israeli civilians, it reserved its harshest language for Israel’s treatment of the civilian Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip, both during the war and through the longer-term blockade of the territory. The report called Israel’s military assault on Gaza “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.”

…The report focussed on 36 cases that it said constituted a representative sample. In 11 of these episodes, it said the Israeli military carried out direct attacks against civilians, including some in which civilians were shot “while they were trying to leave their homes to walk to a safer place, waving white flags.”

In all but one of these civilian attacks, the report said, “the facts indicate no justifiable military objective” for them.

The report cited other possible crimes by the Israelis, including “wantonly” destroying food production, water and sewerage facilities; striking areas, in an effort to kill a small number of combatants, where significant numbers of civilians were gathered; using Palestinians as human shields; and detaining men, women and children in sand pits. It also called Israel’s use of weapons like white phosphorus “systematically reckless,” and called for banning it in urban areas.

…The panel rejected the Israeli version of events surrounding several of the most contentious episodes of the war.

Israel’s mortar shelling near a United Nations-run school in the Jabaliya refugee camp, which was sheltering some 1,300 people, killed 35 and wounded up to 40 people, the report said. Read more.....

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Can We Talk? The Middle East "Peace Industry" is Not Producing Peace

Photo from The Electronic Intifada: Attempts to establish "dialogue" while Israel continues to oppress Palestinians only undermine the call for boycott. (ActiveStills)

Can we talk? The Middle East "peace industry
by Faris Giacaman, The Electronic Intifada, 20 August 2009

Attempts to establish "dialogue" while Israel continues to oppress Palestinians only undermine the call for boycott. (ActiveStills) Upon finding out that I am Palestinian, many people I meet at college in the United States are eager to inform me of various activities that they have participated in that promote "coexistence" and "dialogue" between both sides of the "conflict," no doubt expecting me to give a nod of approval. However, these efforts are harmful and undermine the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel -- the only way of pressuring Israel to cease its violations of Palestinians' rights.

When I was a high school student in Ramallah, one of the better known "people-to-people" initiatives, Seeds of Peace, often visited my school, asking students to join their program. Almost every year, they would send a few of my classmates to a summer camp in the US with a similar group of Israeli students. According to the Seeds of Peace website, at the camp they are taught "to develop empathy, respect, and confidence as well as leadership, communication and negotiation skills -- all critical components that will facilitate peaceful coexistence for the next generation." They paint quite a rosy picture, and most people in college are very surprised to hear that I think such activities are misguided at best, and immoral, at worst. Why on earth would I be against "coexistence," they invariably ask?

During the last few years, there have been growing calls to bring to an end Israel's oppression of the Palestinian people through an international movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). One of the commonly-held objections to the boycott is that it is counter-productive, and that "dialogue" and "fostering coexistence" is much more constructive than boycotts.

With the beginning of the Oslo accords in 1993, there has been an entire industry that works toward bringing Israelis and Palestinians together in these "dialogue" groups. The stated purpose of such groups is the creating of understanding between "both sides of the conflict," in order to "build bridges" and "overcome barriers." However, the assumption that such activities will help facilitate peace is not only incorrect, but is actually morally lacking. Read more....

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Non-violent Protest in Palestinian village of Bil'in

From Jewish Peace News - the people of the village of Bil'in are trying to protect their farmlands from settler encroachment:

A NY Times article on August 27 <> discusses Bil'in, a Palestinian village that is a frequent site of confrontations between protesting Palestinians and the IDF over the Israel's separation barrier, which has foreclosed access by villagers to much of Bil'in's historic farmland and olive groves. Bil'in has become a model for Palestinian civil disobedience in the Occupied Territories, attracting a series of high profile visits from high profile public figures, such as Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu, but also from less obvious political players, like Richard Branson, chairman of the Virgin Group, and Jeff Skoll, founding president of eBay, as well as from a wide range of international state and grassroots leaders.

In recent months, Bil'in has been the subject of a series of night raids by IDF forces bent on breaking the back of the village's protests by arresting the town's leaders. But villagers have not ceased waging weekly protests in the village's streets -- and extending their efforts to remove Israel's separation barrier by taking the fight into Israeli courts, where in 2007 the Israeli Supreme Court ruled the route of the barrier "highly prejudicial" to Bil'in (subsequent Supreme Court rulings, however, have ratified the building of new Israeli settlements on land confiscated from Bil'in). Protests in Bil'in have often been creative: Bil'in's children, for example, participated in a recent "We Want to Sleep" demonstration captured on a YouTube video <>.

Bil'in maintains a blog on its Web site, which makes for highly informative reading <>. The site, which makes mention of allied political struggles around the world and asks site visitors to not forget the plight of Gaza, offers activist resources and suggestions for supporters who want to help the village defend itself against Israeli occupation and ever encroaching land confiscation by Israeli settlers.

--Lincoln Z. Shlensky

Jewish Peace News editors:
Joel Beinin
Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
Judith Norman
Lincoln Z. Shlensky
Rebecca Vilkomerson
Alistair Welchman
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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Free Palestine: It Is Time

Take three minutes to watch this new video about the situation in Gaza:

"Sometimes you wonder….sometimes racism prevails over humanity"

  • Israeli laws discriminate according to religion - 22 laws have been enacted since 1953
  • 1.5 m people are under siege in Gaza
  • food, medicine and building materials are not allowed into Gaza
  • 400 people have died as a result of the siege in Gaza
  • 2 million trees have been uprooted
  • 28,000 people have been expelled from their homes by the separation wall
  • 10,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished by Israel since 1987
  • 1390 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli army since 2000

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Gaza STILL Under Siege

Each week it is difficult to choose which stories to highlight on my blog – enough to inform, not so much to overwhelm. The suffering continues and, in spite of the photos we have seen of diplomatic visits by George Mitchell and Secretary Clinton and ships breaking the sea blockade of Gaza, life is not improving for anyone in Palestine. I have never been to Gaza because it is a dangerous place to visit. International visitors are not welcomed by the Israeli forces at the checkpoints and tourist accommodations would be difficult to find. The people of Gaza are truly some of today’s “widows and orphans.” (last Sunday’s epistle, James 1.27)

Even though money has been committed for the rebuilding of Gaza by the international community, piles of rubble are still to be seen everywhere in Gaza. Israel still controls the borders. The Israeli Defense Force holds building materials, food and other needed commodities at the checkpoints; food rots in the sun. Gaza remains devastated, with medical facilities, homes, and schools still piles of rubble, with no signs of rebuilding. Not only are Israeli troops preventing food from entering Gaza, they are also shooting farmers who try to plant their fields, where these fields are deemed too close to the border with Israel.

Take 8 minutes today to watch Gaza Under Siege, which exposes the failure of the international community to make any headway on reconstruction and recovery of Gaza since the attack by Israel in January. "Gaza Under Siege" is a new documentary video by Jordan Flaherty and Lily Keber, posted on the Electronic Intifada website. "The Electronic Intifada (EI) is a not-for-profit, independent publication committed to comprehensive public education on the question of Palestine, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the economic, political, legal, and human dimensions of Israel's 40-year occupation of Palestinian territories. EI provides a needed supplement to mainstream commercial media representations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." [MORE]

Another story details the way Israelis hold the supplies at the border: Gaza-bound Goods Stuck at the Border