Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Survivor's Tale - from the Jewish Boat to Gaza

Lillian Rosengarten, a Holocaust survivor, tells about her experiences on her recent voyage to Gaza, in this interivew by Philip Weiss, posted on his blog, Mondoweiss.

Lillian Rosengarten, the only American on the Jewish boat to Gaza, lives near me in the Hudson Valley, and the other day I visited her to interview her about her experience on the British-flagged catamaran that the Israelis had intercepted on the high seas on September 28.

I hoped the activist/therapist/poet could answer a big question. How did she reconcile two important events in her life: her family had fled Nazi Germany when she was a toddler, but now, 73 years later, the state created to rescue the Jews had deported her and said she could never come back?

It was Wednesday afternoon. The door was open and Rosengarten was in her kitchen. There were three pots on the stove. She was making beans and soup for a sick friend.

We sat down in the living room near a carving from New Guinea. Rosengarten was rested and relaxed, and I thought of how fretful she had been before she left, as she waited to hear from the secretive boat organizers in Europe. Her friends and family had been afraid for her, we kept hearing rumors that she was on the list or off the list, she had nearly taken off on a trip she’d planned to Indonesia. Since then she’d had an adventure on the high seas and become a public figure. She’d been quoted in the New York Times, people were calling her from all over.

I asked her whether she’d been afraid to go.

“I was afraid from the beginning. There was some ambivalence, and on the other hand I absolutely had to go on this mission. I knew damn well this is dangerous. I knew what happened on the Mavi Marmara, I knew what happened in Dubai. I am not a martyr and I wanted to survive the trip. But if I were to die, I thought, so be it, I have to go.”

From the moment when she had first heard about the German Jewish boat (its original name) early last summer, she had felt called to be on it. “I thought, I have to be on that boat. It was completely emotional, not intellectual.”

Rosengarten was born in Frankfurt in 1935. By 1937 her father had seen the writing on the wall and arranged to get most of the extended family out. Today her relatives are scattered around the world, on several continents. Many live in Israel. Though she was never a Zionist, Rosengarten went to Israel a half dozen times, the first time in 1971, when she fell in love with the country. Read about her experience on the boat....

Monday, October 11, 2010

Columbus Day, 2010

Today is a government holiday in Colorado. In spite of protests and negotiations over the past several decades, a small group in Denver’s Italian community has maintained a parade to honor Columbus and state employees like my husband have the day off, in honor of Christopher Columbus.

When I have taken groups to Israel/Palestine, we meet Palestinians who live, say, in Bethlehem, but they stand on a rooftop and point off in the distance to a hilltop where their family’s village once stood (one of these, ironically named the American Park-you can see one of these hills to the top left in the photo, taken from the Deheisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem--the site of Shadee's family's home, where he has never been able to visit). Americans are often baffled by how, in so many instances, Israel has simply taken lands that belonged to Palestinians. They often ask, How can this happen? How does Israel get away with this?

I have found myself explaining it by noting that it’s like when American colonists and pioneers “settled” America—building their log cabins or sod homes, cutting down the forests or plowing the prairie and rationalizing it by saying that no one lived on the land, that the land was empty, or it was (US) government land.

Over the past 20 years I have marched several times in the “Transform Columbus Day” protest of Denver’s Columbus Day parade. This year, because of my work to learn about and educate Americans about Palestinian rights, three parallels seem particularly striking to me.

A Land Without a People for a People Without a Land

Seventeenth century European immigrants to America thought that God was providing them with the land—that it had been “abandoned” by the inhabitants, who had conveniently died of smallpox epidemic in 1616, a disease brought by earlier European explorers. William Bradford wrote in his diary “For it pleased God to visit these Indians with a great sickness and such a mortality that of a thousand, nine and a half hundred of them died…” Because their methods of cultivation were different, one early colonist describes the Indians as lazy, “fettered by the chains of idleness,” unworthy to properly care for the land by efficient cultivation—leaving the land “marred for want of manuring, gathering, ordering, etc.” The Europeans justified their occupation of the land with the argument that they would put the land to its proper use. (from Ronald Takaki, A Different Mirror)

Following God’s Will

Columbus, like many of the Europeans who came to the “New World,” was an apocalyptic Christian—he believed that the fulfillment of scripture depended on the Christianization of the world. Columbus writes, “God made me a messenger of the new heaven and new earth…” Columbus also hoped to use the wealth he gained to finance a new crusade to take Jerusalem back from the Muslims. (see Christianity: a Global History by David Chidester)

Security Needs—the New Residents of the Land Demand Protection

In a description of the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado, near La Junta, we read,

“The Treaty of Fort Laramie (1851) had recognized Cheyenne and Arapaho claims to much of the high plains between the Front Range of Colorado and western Kansas, and the North Platte and Arkansas rivers, but increasing Anglo-American emigrant traffic through native lands as well as the Pikes Peak gold rush in 1859 made it necessary for the government to ‘renegotiate’ the treaty….[The new treaty,] the Treaty of Fort Wise (1861) established a Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation in southeast Colorado (officially known as the ‘Reservation of the Arapahoes and Cheyennes of the Upper Arkansas’).…The treaty faced problems from the beginning, since only the ‘peace factions’ of the Southern Cheyennes and Arapahos signed. No Northern Cheyennes and Arapahos participated in the ratification, and these bands continued to claim hunting lands in the South Platte valley. In addition, militants such as the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers, established on the Smoky Hill and Republican rivers, also resisted the new demands.” Read more in a history of the Sand Creek massacre by Colorado State University. Photo is of the Sand Creek National Historic Site near La Junta, Colorado.

In Israel, too, settlers expect their government to protect them. In the West Bank, settlers first build temporary mobile units, and then more permanent homes. As new people move to the settlement and all the children grow up, they need more homes and more land. The settlers begin to feel threatened, either because of actual attacks or because they want to expand their lands and fear resistance from the nearby villages that claim these lands. Sometimes the lands for settlements are purchased from the Palestinian owners. Sometimes the lands are simply declared “parkland” by the Israeli government, which can then dispose of the lands as they wish.
On this Columbus Day, from where I am writing, I look out over West Denver, where the names of the streets remind me of those who used to gather here to trade and hunt buffalo—Arapaho, Bannock, Shoshone, Lipan, Navajo…and others who inhabited the southwest—Acoma, Zuni, the Cherokee and Elati who were forced west by settlement. Like many current residents of Denver, the Arapaho came here (of their own accord) from Minnesota—the Red River Valley area. Read more….

Friday, October 8, 2010

From Inside Gilboa Prison, Israel

From the Electric Intifada--read it on their website

"Solidarity tastes different inside prison"
Ameer Makhoul writing from Gilboa prison, Live from Palestine, 30 August 2010

Ameer Makhoul (Adri Nieuwhof)
The following is an edited excerpt from a 7 August 2010 letter written by Ameer Makhoul from Israeli prison. A human rights defender, the director of the Arab nongovernmental organization network Ittijah, a leading voice of the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and a Palestinian citizen of Israel, Makhoul was arrested during a raid of his family home in Haifa in the early morning hours of 6 May. For the following eleven days Makhoul was held in isolation, denied access to a lawyer, and subjected to torture. Rights groups have condemned his political persecution and the criminal proceedings launched against him. Amnesty International supports his release.

My trail is still somehow stuck. The system is structurally and politically Shabak-oriented, not justice-oriented. My human dignity, basic human rights and constitutional rights are suffering from basic violations. I still have no permit to meet my lawyers without being recorded. The ruling of the three judges is to justify the decision of the attorney general of Israel and the Shabak to ban free meeting with my lawyers in prison. The judges insist that such a meeting should be done through the glass separation wall and through a telephone in order to ensure recording of the whole conversation.

On its face the process as well as the procedures look fair, but essentially, systematic, structural and political violations of my basic right to fair procedure are practiced. The role of the attorney general is to criminalize me, not to seek truth.

In Gilboa prison there are approximately 600 Palestinian and Arab prisoners of freedom distributed into sections/branches. The distribution of prisoners is geopolitically oriented: prisoners of the West Bank, prisoners of 1948 (including occupied East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights) are together, while in the prisons located in the Naqab [Negev], prisoners of the West Bank are separated from those from Gaza. And prisoners from Gaza are separated along affiliation to Fatah or Hamas. The borders on the ground of the occupation based on the Apartheid Wall are valid in the prison demographic policy of distribution. It is the nature of imposed fragmentation in order to undermine the struggle against one of the biggest systematic colonial crimes and to weaken the collective struggle by destructing its structure of continuity and interaction.

I am doing a lot of efforts to bring hope and steadfastness to freedom prisoners. It is one of my missions inside prison. I have to keep in contact with Ittijah and the community and all solidarity movements, groups and persons, but most of all I have to correspond intensively as much as possible with my daughters Hind and Huda, who have become mature fighters for freedom, justice and dignity and mostly bringing back the happiness of life which was highjacked on 6 May at 2:30am. My wife Janan is leading in a heroic way the whole campaign as well as facing huge tasks at home.

Your letters are needed; the taste of solidarity is different in prison than being outside. The taste reflects the great solidarity, support and empowering acts.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Each of Us Has a Part

On Monday, I saw news of the settler attack on a mosque in Beit Fajjar, near Bethlehem. As usual, I looked up Beit Fajjar on my Israel map and discovered that it is next to Beit Ummar and the al Arroub refugee camp, two places I visited with the Compassionate Listening Project in May.

Palestine News Network reported some details of the attack: “Mahmoud Taqataqa, a witness, said that he awoke in the early morning, approximately 2:45 am, when he heard the settlers taking off the door of the mosque. He approached them asking the settlers to leave the area, but they forced him away at gunpoint at which time he went to other houses to awaken the other citizens of Beit Fajar.

Mahmoud, also said that the settlers had the protection of the Israeli occupation forces. They did not intervene nor did they try to stop the settlers form doing this heinous crime. He indicated that the Israeli occupation forces only stepped in when the citizens of the village approached the mosque and started clashing with the settlers who had collected copies of the Quran and started to burn them in the center of the mosque.”

This is a story I have heard from many of the people I’ve met in Palestine. On Monday I remembered the story told to our Compasionate Listening delegation by Ibrahim’s parents, Mohammad and Sulha who live in Beit Ummar, only a few kilometers from the now-burned-out mosque.

Our delegation had been invited to meet with a group of Israelis and Palestinians who had been meeting to get to know one another. Their organization is called Wounded Crossing Borders, made up of people who have been wounded in the conflict and who are now reaching out to “cross borders,” and meet people on the other side. One of the leaders (an Israeli) told us they are not a political group, but they are friends. “It is not easy,” he said, but they want to get to know one another across the divide of the conflict and the wounding. They are working on a paper which will state the principles they share.

We were all sitting outside late in the afternoon on a beautiful Palestinian summer day, sipping cool drinks. It had been a hot day, but Palestinian families make the dry, arid climate cool and inviting by planting shade trees, fruit orchards and grape arbors. So we were sitting comfortably in the shade on Jammal and Saddiya’s patio.

Jammal’s brother Mohammad and his wife Sulha were part of the group, and, as we sat in the cool shade, Mohammad told us about Ibrahim’s arrest. (Sulha and Mohammad are the couple at the right in the photo-thanks to Ellen Greene, our photographer on the trip)

Shortly after midnight a few days earlier, they were awakened when soldiers surrounded their house. The soldiers woke up the whole family, including all of their ten children, ages 1-18, and made everyone go outside. Ibrahim was wearing only his shorts and a shirt; they blindfolded him and tied his hands behind him. The soldiers beat Ibrahim in front of the whole family, including his little brothers and sisters. They arrested him and took him to jail at the nearby settlement, accusing him of throwing stones. Mohammad went to the Red Cross and then heard that his son would be in court the next day. Mohammad waited from 5:30 am to 2 pm, but Ibrahim’s case was not ready. Mohammad returned the next day and when they brought Ibrahim in, Mohammad could see his hands tied, his legs bruised from the shackles. They had used electric shock on his hands. Mohammad was sad that he could not talk to his son, could not hug him. Ibrahim had confessed to stone-throwing, but when his lawyer told him to tell the judge what happened, he said, “I didn’t throw stones. I said it because they threatened me.”

The family asked the Israelis in the group, “Can anyone come to the court with us next week?” The Israelis responded that it is “complicated.” They said, “We will do our best…but the macro and micro levels are complicated.”

I was skeptical—the Israelis in the group seemed mostly interested in maintaining their powerlessness, their victimhood…they seemed to be saying, we have no choice…this is simply what happens when children throw stones….after all, we must protect ourselves.

But I was wrong—sort of. A few days later Jammal emailed that the Israelis had written a letter to the court and that Ibrahim had been freed. He still faces a trial for the charges, but he is out of prison (after his uncle paid the $400 bail money). And we heard that his family and the whole village threw a big party to welcome him home.

This is not all I would have wished for Ibrahim, but it is a start—a way to begin to merge the micro and macro levels.

People often say to me, “the Israeli/Palestinian situation is so complicated.” I disagree. It is simple. Each of us needs to figure out what our part is……and do it.

Read more about Ibrahim from Leah Green, our Compassionate Listening leader, on her blog.

Read more about the burning of the mosque here…and here]

Monday, October 4, 2010

Not All Jews Support Israeli Policies Toward Palestinians

Not all Jews support Israeli policies toward Palestinians…..on the last week in September, nine people on the Irene, a 40-year-old, 32-foot boat were hoping to raise awareness of the ongoing blockade of Gaza by attempting to break Israel’s blockade and deliver humanitarian supplies, including medicines, therapeutic toys, water purifiers and outboard engines, to the people of Gaza.

As IDF soldiers boarded their boat, the group appealed to the consciences of the soldiers, urging them to disobey orders and allow the boat to land in Gaza: “The blockade as well as the occupation is inhumane and contradicts universal and Jewish moral values. Use your conscience. Remember our own painful history. Refuse to enforce the blockade. Refuse to occupy Palestine.”

Nine Israelis, standing against their government’s occupation of Gaza—
  • Reuven Moskovitz, from Israel, was a founding member of the Jewish-Arab village Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salaam (Oasis of Peace) and a holocaust survivor
  • Rami Elhanan, from Israel, lost his daughter Smadar to a suicide bombing in 1997 and is a founding member of the Bereaved Families Circle of Israelis and Palestinians who lost their loved ones to the conflict
  • Lilian Rosengarten, from the US, is a peace activist and psychotherapist. She was a refugee from Nazi Germany
  • Yonatan Shapira, from Israel, is an ex-IDF pilot and now an activist for Combatants for Peace
  • Glyn Secker, from the UK, is the boat’s captain and a member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians Executive Commitee
  • Dr. Edith Lutz, from Germany, is a peace activist and a nurse. She was on the first boat to Gaza in 2008
  • Itamar Shapira, from Israel, is Yonatan’s brother, and a member of the boat’s crew
  • Eli Osherov, Israeli reporter from Israel Channel 10 News
  • Vish Vishvanath, Freelance photographer and reporter

A news release from the Israeli Defense Forces reported that Israeli naval commandos “peacefully boarded” the ship, the Irene. This is what we heard on our news in the US as well. But participants’ accounts offer us another story.

It is September 28…. The Irene is 20 miles off the coast of Gaza, naval vessels speeding toward them, and the passengers know that two Gaza fishermen have been killed in these waters during the past week by the Israeli Navy.

Captain Glyn Secker reports: “with the frigate in the background, two gunboats, two landing craft and four high powered ribs [rigid inflatable boats] spread out in a semi-circle speeding towards us at perhaps 35 knots, with their bow waves and wakes flashing in the sunshine. It was surreal, it was like an action movie….this overwhelming force for a 9.7 metre 40 yr. old boat, the majority of its Jewish occupants over 60 years old, with no weapons and a publicized policy of passive resistance.”

When the Irene approached Gaza, 20 miles offshore, the Navy responded with the exact declaration they made before attacking the Mavi Marmara in May:
“You are entering an area which is under military blockade and is closed under international law.”

Itamar, who was in charge of communicating with the Navy, responded by reading a declaration from the group in English and Hebrew:

“We are a boat of the European organization Jews For Justice For Palestinians. We are unarmed and non-violent and determined to proceed to the port of Gaza. You are enforcing an illegal blockade and we do not recognize your right to do this. On this Jews For Justice for Palestinians boat are peace activists of all ages among us holocaust survivors, bereaved parents and Israelis who refuse to collaborate with the illegal occupation of Palestine.”

“We call on you IDF soldiers and officers to disobey the illegal orders of your superior officers. For your information, the occupation of Gaza and the Palestinian Territories are illegal under international law; therefore your risk being tried in the international courts. The blockade as well as the occupation is inhumane and contradicts universal and Jewish moral values. Use your conscience. Remember our own painful history. Refuse to enforce the blockade. Refuse to occupy Palestine.”

As the passengers were holding hands, hugging one another and singing “We Shall Overcome,”
the soldiers continued with their planned takeover of the boat, roughing up passengers, using a tazer on Itamar, placing the tazer over his heart and firing it. Itamar reports: “The officer came towards us, pulling out his taser ordered us to stop holding on to each other. The soldier threatened if I did not let go they would hurt me, then tasered me on my right shoulder and shot twice – it was very painful – but not as painful as the next shot where he pulled aside my life jacket, put gun on my chest and fired. My whole body lost control and I convulsed like a fit, I let out a high pitched scream. Then they took me to one of their boats.”

As he goes on to say, “And that was the ‘non-violent’ take over of the Jewish boat to Gaza.” Read more of his and others’ accounts of the event: "What Really Happened When the Jewish Boat to Gaza was Boarded."

Read the Ha-aretz report