Have you not thought
While writing down statistics
While raising the number of victims
While reporting an explosion
Whose sound has not your ears pierced
your stomach hurt, the inner bones
to which you’ve not jumped once
or twice, and shouted for life
before you realize
it is still not you
Have not you thought
that maybe i’m not a figure
not a number
not a statistic
to add to your record of experience
to add to ur lecture on human rights
to address your audience of intellect
(from our IUG colleague Akram Habeeb: one more heartbreaking story among far far too many…).
It is terrible when you lose sense of time. In Gaza we started not recognize the days of the week or even the boundaries between day and night. All what we see and recognize are the terrible scenes of devastation caused by the Israeli attacks on Gaza, the ribbed bodies of killed children. Today I was devastated when I saw the dead body of the one year and a half – baby, Ram
a Al Chandi. Rama was killed by an Israeli attack on an old, already destroyed governmental prison called Al Sarayaa. Rama, who was dressed in red pullover was killed while she was sleeping in her purple room. When you drop a 1MT ton bomb on a place adjacent to residential places, you verily know that the neighboring houses will be destroyed and people will be k
illed. This is what is happening in Gaza. The Israelis are targeting deserted and previously destroyed buildings and the results are very devastating; more victims are added to the death toll of the real holocaust the Palestinian people in Gaza are exposed to. When I saw doctors cuffing the hand of Rama, I understood that Rama was no more among us. However, I imagined Rama assuming Lazarus figure and questioning president Obama about the gift he sent for her. Here it goes:
It was dark when I had suddenly seen
What, later, I knew the Phantom F 16
I smiled for the lovely gift,
It might be a doll?Uncle Sam finds for me fit.
for me to push and pull?
It roared down as a hell
I never heard of or smell.
First, I thought it July 4th
When fireworks are sent forth,
It might be then my birthday,
Ah, but it is not yet Good Friday
Tell me Uncle Sam what I have seen
Is it a doll or the hideous F 16?
To Uncle Jacob you gave for free
To end my Lovely and Rosy Reverie.
A the end of the bloodiest day in Gaza. More than 30 people have been murdered in the past 24 hours or so, and many many more injured.
The demonstration downtown was a brief uplifting reprieve. Although I don’t particularly like chanting at demos, it did feel good to be surrounded by so many different kinds of people who all shared one thing with me, outrage.
Since I got back my soul has been weeping for my friends in Gaza. I feel so pained, and shamed, I don’t know where to turn. Social media, reading articles, posting blogs, … keeps me busy. At some point during the day it felt like I was running around my laptop and the internet like a headless chicken. I’m new to this.
All this pales naturally with what people in Gaza are living through at the moment.
Before going to bed, I go through a few news pages for the last time. In Gaza it is early morning. I’m almost shutting my laptop, but give the CBC a last check. The headline :
Death toll rises in Gaza after Israeli strikes
It is a short video clip. I click on it. It opens, a woman speaking, like this: The most dramatic damage is in Gaza itself. But Israelis are under fire too. In the past 5 days hundreds of rockets have been launched by Palestinian militants into Israel and three people have been killed. CBC Saša Petricic is in Southern Israel where people live in close range of these rockets.
Then Petricic’ reportage picks it up. For the remainder of the time – hardly another word about Palestinians. Interview with a soldier, a citizen. We see some broom sweeping up a bit of shrapnel, looks more like small gravel to me. We hear about a missile slamming into on a hospital. We are not told about casualties, so I presume there were none. For the remainder of the 1:51 min we do not return to the death toll in Gaza. In fact, we are never informed about how high it rose today.
That’s it! We only hear about Israelis.
I check out two more clips. Reporting almost 100% from the Israeli perspective. We do not get to hear one person living in Gaza speak. The third clip is a long five minute interview with a Canadian teacher, Terri Millstone, in Ashdod in Israel, who takes us through the stress of living through a day continuously having to duck from rockets. The reporter is awed.
The scenes I watched earlier, from Aljazeera and independent news channels, of panic and hysteria in Gaza, of a father carrying the dead corpse of his infant son, of another father waiting to pick up the corpse of his 10-year old daughter from the morgue. These scenes, again, apparently not worthy of showing us.
A white Canadian woman who just wants to live a normal life in a democracy deserves all our compassion.
The bleeding wounded, the corpses, the children ripped apart by bombs of Palestinians, of Arabs, of Muslims, well, they apparently don’t deserve our compassion. They are just business as usual. We’re supposed to be used to them living in misery, crying, shrieking, dying. Why bother showing them?
The quality of such reporting doesn’t even reach the level of the absurd.
Below is the copy of a text that was emailed to us by Akram Habeeb, a friend and faculty member of the Islamic University of Gaza, a teacher of American Literature. He was one of the organisers and hosts the linguistics conference that we recently attended, and a little over two weeks ago he had invited us to his home for a family dinner around his table. His is one example of the numerous messages that we are sent from our friends over there. Here for example is a blog, Life In Gaza Strip, written by Azzam Ahmad, the nice and engaging engineer who we met in Khan Yunis and from whom we learned many interesting things. He is in Gaza, witnessing and living through the catastrophe.
We feel helpless and horrified, faced with such a brutal onslaught on our friends, on a densely packed civilian population. We feel aghast at our government, which, along with the other governments that have long ago decided to align themselves with the colonial power and oppressor, have no words of protest to say. No call for a cease fire, only the endlessly reiterated Israel’s right to defend itself. In their official statement, Palestinians do not even figure. Not a word of admonishment to their friend Israel. It is as if they stand by and watch a friend brutally beat up a helpless, smaller creature. And say nothing. What friends to have! Not friends, in any case, that Israel, in the long run, will be served by.
In the meantime, more Gazan are slaughtered off. Children are ripped apart. The death toll has reached 57. A colleague of mine wrote me this morning: “So what counts is how “different” the two populations are from mainstream Canadians?? It makes me ashamed to be Canadian.” My feelings precisely: ashamed to be Canadian.
Here is Akram’s text:
Yesterday the Zionists pretended that they wanted a kind of truce, but deep down in their mind, they were planning to attack local radio stations and satellites channels. This what I felt yesterday when I admonished Gazzans not to trust what the Zionists say during war times ; the Israelis do not want the world to know about what they are doing in Gaza. They even did not want their people to know about their crimes in a besieged place like Gaza, nor do they want to reveal their own causalities. The dirtiest thing in this war against Gaza is that the fact that it is a game played by Netanyahu in order to win in the coming elections. This is a very Machiavellian tactics: assassinate a Palestinian leader, and as a consequence the Palestinians will retaliate by firing rockets at the Israelites. It is then I, the prime minister of Israel, would emerge as the real savior of the sons of Israel. It is only I who could prevent Palestinian rockets fired at Israel..
This has always been the game of the Israeli politicians: the more Palestinian you kill, the more votes you harvest. It is not problem for these politicians if the Palestinian victims are children, women, young, or old..
What is worst in the game is the fact that these politicians are supported by European and American leaders. These, and after meticulous meditations, come out and say: Israel has the right to defend itself. Israel, the super power in the region, the nuclear power, is very vulnerable and it needs all the support of those democratic leaders in order to survive! These Palestinians are the real danger to the world peace; get rid of them and the world will be an oasis of peace. This is the rhetoric of the colonizer; it is the crooked rhetoric which makes all the intellectuals, all the freedom loving people sick of. Stop fooling the world; your policy in the Middle East should change; otherwise the Arab spring will reach you when your people will discover that you are not the leaders of democracy but rather the masters of hypocrisy!.
A photo that I took from Facebook this morning, posted by a friend who has already lost a dear friends of his.
Some photos of the demos (courtesy of Mary Ellen Davis)
1 p.m. Sunday, November 18th
Hall Building, Concordia University
1455 de Maisonneuve West
A little over two weeks ago I was walking in the streets of Gaza. I was amazed how Israel could bombard this densely populated place in 2008-2009 and claim that it was trying to avoid civilian casualties. It is not possible to avoid civilians here. The whole world now knows that in that assault, most now call it a massacre, 1400 Palestinians were killed. Most of the casualties were civilians.
Now Israel is again targeting this little enclave, which has been described as the largest open air prison. Already, after four days, the death toll is at 40, which includes at least 17 civilians. There are hundred of badly injured, bleeding casualties in the overflowing hospitals. Due to the extended blackouts, hospitals rely on generators. When the fuel runs out (as has happened on several occasions), doctors are sometimes left in the dark while operating on a patient. Already last week, before the heavy bombardment started and over 50 Palestinians were wounded, there was very little morphine for analgesia (this information was coming form a Canadian medic on ground).
In the meantime, our media focus disproportionally on the rockets hitting Israel, which have had casualties, but much smaller ones. Our Canadian government has stated this:
“We fundamentally believe that Israel has the right to defend itself and its citizens from terrorist threats.
“Far too often, the Jewish people find themselves on the front lines in the struggle against terrorism, the great struggle of our generation. Just last weekend, more than 100 rockets rained down on civilians in southern Israel from positions in the Gaza Strip.
“Canada condemns the terrorist group Hamas and stands with Israel as it deals with regional threats to peace and security.”
Not a single word about Gazans right to defend themselves, or about Palestinian civilians, women, children finding themselves on the front lines in the struggle against illegal occupation, landgrabs, killings, and woundings!
Please take your conscience, your humanity and come out on Sunday in large protest. Let Gaza hear a different voice than that of our callous government.
A short video of a massive explosion as Israeli bomb hits Gaza City residential area. It looks like an apartment block. A 20 second video, but what it means is loss of life, horrific injuries, grief, and loss of homes for many.
Please be compassionate! Come on Sunday and add your voice!
Demonstration called by Coalition pour la Justice et la Paix en Palestine
Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights-Concordia, Tadamon!
Have you been following the recent devastating developments in Gaza? Do you know how many casualties they have already caused ? The media portray this as Israel’s self-defense. But the true nature of these assaults is Israel’s ongoing policies of terrorising, occupying, besieging and ultimately decimating the population in Gaza.
Do not let Israel get away with violating the rights of Palestinians and international law.
Let the people in Gaza hear a different voice than that of our government, subserviently in cahoots with Israel’s brutal and racist oppression of the Palestinian people.
The Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine (CJPP), Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) and Tadamon call a vigil in solidarity with Gaza and in protest of Israel’s escalated aggression and assault on the Gaza strip.
Join us on Friday 16 November
Time: 18h – 19h30
Place: In front of the Israeli consulate in Montreal
1, Westmount Square (Metro Atwater)
Bring candles (wind resistant) and your personalised banners.
Please circulate this widely on your social media.
For a list of current updates and commentaries on how the events are unfolding go to Updates on attacks on Gaza.
La Coalition pour la justice et la Paix en Palestine (CJPP), SPHR, et Tadamon appellent à une vigile de protestation contre l’agression d’Israël et de solidarité avec la population de Gaza.
VIGILE POUR GAZA
VENDREDI 16 novembre de 18H00 À 19H30
Devant le Consulat israélien à Montréal
1, Westmount Square (Métro Atwater)
Apportez des chandelles…résistantes au vent !
Apportez vos bannières et vos messages « personnalisés »
Photos made by the great photographer Thien V of the demonstration in Montreal on November 14 to protest Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza strip, and against its policies of occupation and siege. Given that it was called only a few hours before as an emergency rally, there was a considerable crowd of people. Antoine and I were invited to say a few words with respect to our recent visit to Gaza.
Thanks to Thien V for letting me share these photos.
Below is a statement that appeared on Mondoweiss and on Rabble.ca today. It was written yesterday, on November 13. After the scandalous (non-)reporting of the recent attacks on Gaza, we felt we needed to say something publicly. Since then, all hell has broken loose with Israel’s operation “Pillar of Defense”. (An iota of honesty would have chosen “Pillar of Offense” as the name.)
Media reporting on Gaza: Nous accusons.
Noam Chomsky and the ‘Gaza Eight’
While countries across Europe and North America commemorated military casualties of past and present wars on November 11, Israel was targeting civilians. On November 12, waking up to a new week, readers at breakfast were flooded with heart rending accounts of past and current military casualties. There was, however, no or little mention of the fact that the majority of casualties of modern day wars are civilians. There was also hardly any mention on the morning of November 12 of military attacks on Gaza that continued throughout the weekend. A cursory scan confirms this for Canada’s CBC, the Globe and Mail, Montreal’s Gazette, and the Toronto Star. Equally, for the New York Times and for the BBC.
According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) report on Sunday November 11, five Palestinian civilians including three children had been killed in the Gaza strip in the previous 72 hours, in addition to two Palestinian security personnel. Four of the deaths occurred as a result of Israeli military firing artillery shells on youngsters playing soccer. Moreover, 52 civilians had been wounded, of which six were women and 12 were children. (Since we began composing this text, the Palestinian death toll has risen, and continues to rise.)
Articles that do report on the killings overwhelmingly focus on the killing of Palestinian security personnel. For example, an Associated Press article published in the CBC world news on November 13, entitled Israel mulls resuming targeted killings of Gaza militants, mentions absolutely nothing of civilian deaths and injuries. It portrays the killings as ‘targeted assassinations’. The fact that casualties have overwhelmingly been civilians indicates that Israel is not so much engaged in “targeted” killings, as in “collective” killings, thus once again committing the crime of collective punishment. Another AP item on CBC news from November 12 reads Gaza rocket fire raises pressure on Israel government. It features a photo of an Israeli woman gazing on a hole in her living room ceiling. Again, no images, nor mention of the numerous bleeding casualties or corpses in Gaza. Along the same lines, a BBC headline on November 12 reads Israel hit by fresh volley of rockets from Gaza. Similar trend can be illustrated for European mainstream papers.
News items overwhelmingly focus on the rockets that have been fired from Gaza, none of which have caused human casualties. What is not in focus are the shellings and bombardments on Gaza, which have resulted in numerous severe and fatal casualties. It doesn’t take an expert in media science to understand that what we are facing is at best shoddy and skewed reporting, and at worst willfully dishonest manipulation of the readership.
Furthermore, articles that do mention the Palestinian casualties in Gaza consistently report that Israeli operations are in response to rockets from Gaza and to the injuring of Israeli soldiers. However, the chronology of events of the recent flare-up began on November 5, when an innocent, apparently mentally unfit, 20-year old man, Ahmad al-Nabaheen, was shot when he wandered close to the border. Medics had to wait for six hours to be permitted to pick him up and they suspect that he may have died because of that delay. Then, on November 8, a 13-year old boy playing football in front of his house was killed by fire from the IOF that had moved into Gazan territory with tanks as well as helicopters. The wounding of four Israeli soldiers at the border on November 10 was therefore already part of a chain of events where Gazan civilians had been killed, and not the triggering event.
We, the signatories, have recently returned from a visit to the Gaza strip. Some among us are now connected to Palestinians living in Gaza through social media. For two nights in a row Palestinians in Gaza were prevented from sleeping through continued engagement of drones, F16s, and indiscriminate bombings of various targets inside the densely populated Gaza strip. The intent of this is clearly to terrorise the population, successfully so, as we can ascertain from our friends’ reports. If it was not for Facebook postings, we would not be aware of the degree of terror felt by ordinary Palestinian civilians in Gaza. This stands in stark contrast to the world’s awareness of terrorised and shock-treated Israeli citizens.
An extract of a report sent by a Canadian medic who happened to be in Gaza and helped out in Shifa hospital ER over the weekend says: “the wounded were all civilians with multiple puncture wounds from shrapnel: brain injuries, neck injuries, hemo-pneumo thorax, pericardial tamponade, splenic rupture, intestinal perforations, slatted limbs, traumatic amputations. All of this with no monitors, few stethoscopes, one ultrasound machine. …. Many people with serious but non life threatening injuries were sent home to be re-assessed in the morning due to the sheer volume of casualties. The penetrating shrapnel injuries were spooky. Tiny wounds with massive internal injuries. … There was very little morphine for analgesia.”
Apparently such scenes are not newsworthy for the New York Times, the CBC, or the BBC.
Bias and dishonesty with respect to the oppression of Palestinians is nothing new in Western media and has been widely documented. Nevertheless, Israel continues its crimes against humanity with full acquiescence and financial, military, and moral support from our governments, the U.S., Canada and the EU. Netanyahu is currently garnering Western diplomatic support for additional operations in Gaza, which makes us worry that another Cast Lead may be on the horizon. In fact, the very recent events are confirming such an escalation has already begun, as today’s death-count climbs. The lack of widespread public outrage at these crimes is a direct consequence of the systematic way in which the facts are withheld and/or of the skewed way these crimes are portrayed.
We wish to express our outrage at the reprehensible media coverage of these acts in the mainstream (corporate) media. We call on journalists around the world working for corporate media outlets to refuse to be instruments of this systematic policy of disguise. We call on citizens to inform themselves through independent media, and to voice their conscience by whichever means is accessible to them.
Hagit Borer, U.K.
Antoine Bustros, Canada
Noam Chomsky, US
David Heap, Canada
Stephanie Kelly, Canada
Máire Noonan, Canada
Philippe Prévost, France
Verena Stresing, France
Laurie Tuller, France
I am just home from a demonstration at 6 p.m. in Montreal to protest Israel’s bombardment. Given that it was called only a few hours before as an emergency rally, there was a considerable crowd of people. Some good speeches were held. Both Antoine and I were invited to say a few words with respect to our recent Gaza visit.
Upon coming home I open the BBC world news page, see the article entitled Israel ready to widen Gaza operations, says Netanyahu, and scroll down to see what has happened in the past hours I was not online. It turns out that the BBC either has not been able to establish any civilian death toll, or doesn’t bother reporting it, at least not in this main piece. Since people at the demonstration knew that there were eleven casualties, I assume the BBC knows too, but has more urgent matters to report. Such as things that need to be stated when you make yourself the mouthpiece for the IOF (Israeli Offense Force). And foremost, to report this very important item, concerning the reaction from the US:
‘The United States said it supported Israel’s right to self-defence, and condemned militant rocket attacks on southern Israel.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner added in a statement that “we encourage Israel to continue to take every effort to avoid civilian casualties”.’
This is indeed informative to read, but hardly surprising, knowing the U.S. track record when it comes to human rights of those who aren’t its allies. But really, “to continue to take every effort to avoid civilian casualties”?!! When did Israel ever start taking these efforts? HELLO!?
So in a nutshell, the media will continue its whitewashing of Israeli crimes, and Western leaders will bend over backwards to propagate the lies. Or vice versa. One can only hope that people will be smart enough to get their news from elsewhere than the BBC. Use independent media. And see through the crap that politicians try to feed us. (I posted some links to independent media sources on the righthand side of this blog.)
During our stay, people invited us into their homes a number of times. For example Akram, a faculty member at IUG and a poet, was kind enough to invite us into his home for dinner on the last evening before half of our group was leaving. It was very nice to meet his wife, his daughter-in-law and his grandson, and to be able to sit around a table and have dinner in company. Another house we were invited into was Mafouz’, a friend of David’s, who lives right by the seaside with his family. Among other family members we met his 8-year old daughter, who is already a sailor, and who was a great friend of Vittorio Arrigoni. We were able to play with their dog Jackie and admire an old timer from the year of 1938 (!), with a license plate of Gaza from before 1948.
But this post is mainly about our visit to Umm Ahmed, one of the many memorable events during our stay in Gaza. We first met Umm Ahmed during a meeting with family member of detainees in Israeli prisons that was kindly set up by our host university. (You can read here about that memorable meeting.) There she gave me her phone number and invited me to come to her home. This is what we are doing. Stephanie, David, and I got a lift with Ashraf, our driver (courtesy of Hani and Maya), and are now standing in front of Al Quds hospital. (Which leaves time to my ponderings recounted in this previous post.). We were supposed to call upon arriving here, which David has just done, and wait for her son Khalid. After about 5 minutes, Khalid appears. He is Umm Ahmed’s youngest son. Her oldest son, Ahmed, is detained in an Israeli prison. Khalid looks nice. When he arrives, we are not ready to leave yet, as we are still waiting for Antoine and Ayah to join us. They are still in the Gaza Music School, which is only a few minutes away in the Red Crescent ambulance building
We decide to cross the street and sit down outside a café, instead of waiting in front of the hospital. From there we will be able to see Antoine and Ayah when they arrive. We order coffee and chat. Khalid’s English is quite good, especially compared to our Arabic (which consists of about ten vocabulary items, shared among us three). After a while he gets up to go inside the café and comes back right away with a friend of his, who greets us. After a few minutes of chatting, Khalid asks me if I would like to visit the inside of the café (David and Steph are busy talking to someone else). I do, and we go inside. He points to a table full of youngsters, and says they are his friends. Ah, I say, so you come here with your friends. (This may explain his slight initial hesitation when we had first suggested to have a coffee in this place.) I notice many shishas standing in a corner. He doesn’t bring me to the table, but gives me a tour of the cafe. Through the backdoor we emerge into a small, sand covered courtyard that hosts a horse, resting from pulling a very simple cart. The cart lies detached in the corner.
Something I have not yet mentioned is the frequency of seeing horse drawn or donkey drawn carts. Apparently, as fuel supplies were regularly drying up due to the blockade and the unreliability of the tunnel supplies, many Gazans abandoned cars on the road side and bought horses and donkeys instead. Here are a couple that I have managed to capture for a snapshot:
We go back to join David and Steph. David is calling Antoine again. We’ve already called him more than twice, but apparently the meeting with Mr. El-Najjar is too interesting to cut short. Khalid is starting to get antsy, I suppose because his mother is waiting. I imagine they may also be expecting visitors later in the evening, as this is the first (and, I believe, the most important) day of Eid al-Adha. Finally we see Antoine and Ayah come around the corner. As they are walking, Antoine is filming the buildings around the hospital.
Now we can finally go to see Umm Ahmed. Khalid leads us a round a few corners and we walk into a high rise. A small gathering of children watch us curiously. Some smile and say ‘hello’.
After taking the elevator up several floors, Umm Ahmed welcomes us at the door with a warm smile and a big warm hug. We sit down in her living room, and we are offered nuts, coffee, and cake, and other goodies. There is no lack of conversation. David and Khalid have their heads inside Khalid’s laptop. David is entering email addresses and facebook contacts, so that we will be able to remain in contact.
Umm Ahmed shows Steph and me through her apartment, which is lovely. It is clear that she has decorated this apartment with love and dedication to make a real home out of it. We go back to the living room and chat away. At some point another son of hers with his wife and children come in. They proceed to the back of the apartment. Then another son comes in. We have now met three of her sons. On the wall I see a large picture of her son who is in prison, Ahmed.
We ask her if she will tell us her story, how things came to what they are. She shares her story with us. Aya translates for us. It is clear that telling it is emotional for her. Here is Umm Ahmed’s story (to the best of my recollection, and with some help from Ayah):
‘I lived in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with my husband and my children. After the divorce, my husband had left us, I was a single mother and worked. I stayed in UAE because of my work. At some point I decided that my children should return to Palestine to be close to their other family, and their father (and to be able to continue their studies, as Palestinians cannot study at universities of Gulf countries). However, things were not going so well, their father was not responsible, and they were left alone. My eldest son, Ahmed, kept calling me and telling me to come back to be with my children. I finally returned home to be with them, even if it meant giving up a well-paying job in UAE and coming back to uncertainty. As I came back to Palestine, I found that my eldest son had already become involved in the resistance. In an incident during the second intifada, when he was fleeing from soldiers, he went back to try to free a comrade. While his comrade was able to escape, Ahmad was captured. His comrade was assassinated a couple of years later. Ahmed has served 10 years of a 20 year sentence. I have not been able to visit in six years.’
The reason why she has not been able to see or talk with her son for so many years is provided on this page from ADDAMEER (Arabic for conscience), a Palestinian non-governmental, civil institution working to support Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli and Palestinian prisons: “On 6 June 2007, citing unspecified security reasons, Israeli authorities suspended the ICRC Family Visits Programme in the Gaza Strip, effectively barring all means of communication between Gazan prisoners and the outside world. The family visits ban was upheld by Israel’s High Court of Justice in December 2009 and compounded by an IPS prohibition of telephone communication between all detainees and their families. The use of phones was not made available to Gazan detainees even after the suspension of the ICRC Family Visits Programme or during Israel’s aerial and ground aggression against Gaza from 27 December 2008 – 18 January 2009. When and if phone contact is allowed, it remains a very rare exception. During Palestinian prisoners’ mass hunger strike in April 2012, one main demand of the prisoners was to reinstate family visits to Gaza prisoners. Though Israel agreed to resume the visits upon the conclusion of the hunger strike, as of 30 August 2012, only around half of the current 445 Gaza detainees had received one family visit, and it remains unclear whether any will receive consistent visits.” See also Samidoun for information, a North American Palestinian prisoner solidarity network.
What impressed us was the strength of Umm Ahmed. Not only did she manage to carry on bearing all the responsibilities of her children, but at the age of 45 she also went back to university to educate herself in order to be able to talk about Ahmad. Now she is determined to learn English, as she wants to be able to communicate the information about Ahmed and other prisoners more widely. A truly admirable woman! (Thanks to Ayah for recalling these facts to my memory. We would not have been able to take away half as much from this visit, hadn’t it been for her help with translating, and with refreshing my memory for writing this.)
After listening to Umm Ahmed’s story, we talk some more, and then take a few pictures. Outside the light is fading, and we know we have to leave. This is our last evening, and we are still expected at Mahfouz’ house. It is hard to tear ourselves away. Umm Ahmed invites us to stay for dinner. But we must decline. We say good bye, but promise each other to meet again soon. For us it is clear that, if things are at all in our power, this will not be our last visit to Gaza. Insh’allah – my Gazan friends would add. This makes the adieu a little easier. But I know Umm Ahmed is a friend whom I will miss.
When we leave Umm Ahmed’s place, night has almost fallen. Now we have another difficult good-bye to make, as it is also the last time, at least for now, that we see Ayah. Although we met her hardly a week ago, it feels like she has become a dear and old friend. She has made each of us a very generous gift: olive oil that is freshly pressed from the couple of olive trees that her family owns. We are immensely touched, and we hope that we are not depriving her family of this precious substance. (Although I have no doubt that we will, as olive oil is not in abundance here.)
Back in Montreal we have already tasted this olive oil, and for me it is the best I have ever had!
What struck me most, what struck all of us, was to witness the incredible resilience we found here. None of us (except for Hagit, but that was a long time ago) had visited Gaza before. I don’t think any of us had a clear sense of what to expect. Of course we had certain ideas, but it is hard to retrieve them now, after the fact. Upon reflecting backwards, while I had rationally guessed to witnessing the rich-poor gap familiar from other places in the world, I think my hazy semi-conscious imagination had largely focused on witnessing wide-spread poverty and misery (which of course was there). So my first surprise was to see some nice, newly renovated buildings, and especially the hotel into which we were checked. (As I mentioned before, this was much too nice, and definitely more luxurious than what I had expected, or what I am used to!) During the first few days, it was not easy to see the reality on the ground, as we were hosted like royalties through our host university’s hospitality. And even though we visited places like Khan Yunis and its refugee camp and got to speak to very interesting people, a lot of the poor neighbourhoods in the streets we only experienced from our air-conditioned van (see e.g. my previous post Khan Yunis). The truth, of course is, that Gaza has a rich elite, and it also has a middle class. The three days spent at university, our personal encounters were probably concentrated on the middle class, although frankly, it is impossible for me to say which of the students I talked with, or how many of them, were coming from very poor backgrounds or refugee camps. (I know of a few where this is the case.) I need another visit, more prolonged one, to try to understand more of the close-nit social webs of this society. Short visits to nowhere in the world give you this kind of insight. The fact that Gaza is under a brutal occupation and siege where even the basic elements of human dignity are withdrawn by the oppressors, that it is a divided society (– surely not more than any other, but again, effects of division seem exacerbated under occupation and siege), presumably make it that Gaza is even harder to penetrate from an outsider’s point of view.
But what I wanted to say in this post, before I got side-tracked, is how amazed we all were at the incredible resilience of the people living here. There is a vibrant artistic, intellectual, academic community, and people somehow carry on with their lives, resisting occupation and the blockade. This certainly gained our admiration. (See for example Chomsky’s recent piece, Impressions of Gaza, where he mentions this aspect, although his focus is on the brutal aspects of the siege and its history.) This resilience is greatly helped by something towards which most, probably all, Gazans we met have ambivalent feelings: the tunnel trade. The tunnels have been called “the lungs through which Gaza breathes”. They are an excellent example of Palestinian resilience and creativity and have done much to help (some sectors) of the economy, to help many things being restored, and generally to help greatly reduce the stranglehold of the siege on Gazans as well as make Gazan society less dependent on aid. But the tunnel trade is something of a poisoned chalice. Due to the illegality of the tunnels and the almost complete control over them by Hamas, its benefits and revenues are unevenly distributed in the society and disproportionally benefit Hamas alliances. Human rights groups and others civil sectors have complained about a lack of transparency, irresponsibility (e.g. by being too lenient on allowing child labour – at least 160 children have died in tunnels), as well as corruption. There is a very informative, and as far as I can tell, insightful, recent article in the Journal of Palestine Studies, Summer 2012, vol. 41.4: pp. 6-31), that I highly recommend reading to anyone interested: Gaza’s Tunnel Phenomenon: The Unintended Dynamics Of Israel’s Siege.
What we were looking for when we went shopping in a Gazan supermarket for the first time were local products. (It was quite challenging to avoid buying products from the occupier. Note also, by the bye, that Gazans have to use the currency of the occupier: shekels.) Here is the hitch, local production has been cut to an infinitesimal part of what it was before the siege. It has suffered tremendous cut downs through Israel’s grueling blockade (internationally upheld through US, Europe, Canada, and legitimised by the “Quartet), and exports are entirely banned by the blockade. (See Gaza Ark for an ongoing project of building a boat to exit Gaza, in support of Gaza’s right to free trade.) However, some local produce can of course be found. Those that we particularly enjoyed included olive oil (a very generous present from our friend Ayah!), certain fruits (e.g. figs!), coffee, bread:
(a shemi bread production line)
Also crafts items, for example the Atfaluna crafts center, which some of us went to (I missed it, sadly, but see Verena Stresing’s blog, which describes the visit), and from where you can purchase online (Christmas coming up!).
And, here I come to my favorite story of a local product that I encountered during our visit: honey. I was made a gift by our friend Hani, and brought back a most delicious, and most deliciously subversive honey: This honey was made by bees that live close to the border, and which therefore frequently cross over and get their nectar from Israeli plants! What a creative feat: subversive Palestinian bees breaking the siege by bringing nectar across the border! (I hope the Israeli defense forces will not use any bionic hornets to attack those bees, now that I’ve written about them. I also assume it must be dangerous for those who harvest the honey from the hives, as coming close to the border comes with a warning: you might be shot! E.g. a harmless man getting too close to the border was shot by Israeli soldiers only yesterday! )
For me it was positive and unbelievably uplifting to be able to witness how people do carry on their lives, continue living, educating, building, safe-guarding their families, their children as best as they can. All the while Israel (with a little help from US, Canada, Europe, …) is doing all it can to prevent a normal society from flourishing. I wish everyone could spend just one day in the open air prison that is Gaza. For anyone not yet converted to the cause of justice, this would change their mind on this issue, I have no doubt.
What can we do to help? The first thing is to not be indifferent. To pass on the message. Talk about it to friends, colleagues. Share information on it. Gaza is not a humanitarian crisis, as Israel and others likes to paint it. This is a very deliberate, artificially created, cruel situation. It is consequently easy to reverse, all it needs is political will. Debunk what the corporate media and our politicians tell us. This is one of the easiest cases to make, since the facts speak for themselves. (Here is a precious site: http://www.ochaopt.org/) The pretext of imposing this suffering for Israel’s security is a pretext that is so flimsy that it takes genius not to see through it. (I have to accredit the expression ‘it takes genius not to see it’ to Chomsky– I couldn’t resist stealing it here.)
And — eat honey from Gaza … This is what I am doing this morning, back in cold and wintery Montreal, but with my heart and mind half still in warm Gaza. (And yes, Hani, I’m thinking of you and Maya, again, and again! Greetings from my kitchen in Montreal.)
Antoine has left to meet with Mr. El-Najjar from the Gaza Music School for the last time. Ayah meets him there to help with interpreting. I later regret that I did not go along, but I wanted to catch up with some writing, so I stay behind with David and Stephanie, who are each buried with their heads in a laptop.
Later this afternoon we want to visit Umm Ahmed. When our group met with the families of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails a few days earlier, she was one of the women with whom I had talked a little, and she had invited me to come to her house. Her place is close to the Al Quds hospital. We are supposed to go there and then call her son Khalid. We are also going to meet up with Antoine and Ayah, who will join us there from the music school, which is only a few minutes walk away. (The visit with Umm Ahmed is described in an upcoming post.)
While we wait in the sun, I stand in front of Al Quds hospital and cannot help being impressed to be here, in front of the hospital that was bombed during the 2008-2009 attacks. I envisage it then, over filled to the brim with casualties, patients and people sheltering from the bombings, and then shelled with white phosphorous. Al Quds was hit on January 15, 2009. You can read about it in this AlJazeera report, or here on ABC news, or in the Goldstone report, as well as numerous other sources when you google it. (Including some reports that attempt to excuse Israel’s attacks by alleging that the hospital was used for military purposes by Palestinian armed groups. This claim has not been substantiated, see the Goldstone report (p. 118, §467).
According to the Goldstone finding mission “Israeli armed forces directly and intentionally attacked” the hospital (p. 19). The report also found that at the time of the attack between 600 and 700 hundred people were sheltering in this hospital. Many patients had to be evacuated and brought over to the Shifa hopital, which of course was also already overloaded with casualties. It must have been grueling.
The Gaza massacre left close to 1400 killed, of which over half did not take part in the hostilities. Among them were 318 children and minors. More than 5000 people were injured (of which more than 350 seriously so), not to speak of the wide-spread damage to residential and industrial buildings, agriculture and infrastructure (electricity plants, sanitation facilities, etc.), most of which has not been rebuilt due to the blockade disallowing construction materials to enter the Gaza strip. According to UN figures more than 3500 residential dwellings were destroyed and 20 000 people were left homeless. (See this Btselem page where I got the figures from. They can also be looked up in various UN documents.) At the same time 13 Israelis lost their lives, nine of which were soldiers within the Gaza strip (four of these killed by friendly fire), three of which were civilians and one member of the Israeli security forces. (Over 100 soldiers were wounded). These numbers of course speak for themselves, everybody can do the math. They throw into sharp relief the term “massacre”, which most people here use to describe what happened. Outside of Palestine it is more often referred to as the ‘Gaza war’, but as has been pointed out by many, the term ‘war’ implies a more balanced distribution of fighting power than what was the case here.
Back to the al Quds hospital: in late 2009 rebuilding and repairing of the Al Quds hospital started. Netanyahu had graciously agreed to permit construction material through the borders after this being requested by the French president (“as a humanitarian gesture”, how magnanimous). (See e.g. this Al Jazeera report.) It now looks like a normal, fairly modern hospital. For me it is memorable to stand here now. Here are some snapshots of this moment of waiting in front of it (including a nice one of David and Stephanie).
The view opposite of the hospital:
Today our friend Haidar has invited us to visit his “shack” that he has recently built on a small parcel of land about 20 minutes south of Gaza city. A few miles out of the city we stop for figs. Our friend, who knows the seller, comes back with a big box of figs that were picked only hours before. He puts them in the back of the car and we try our best not to start salivating.
We drive on the coast road, a road in a much better condition than that of the one we had used to drive us from the border to Gaza city the day we arrived. Apparently this road has been recently finished due to a donation of the Palestinian cell phone company Jawwal. As they are prevented from paying taxes to the Hamas government (due to the blockade upheld by Israel, US and Europe and legitimised by the Quartet), they managed to by-pass this restriction by instead donating money to build up this road. Presumably the materials were brought in through the tunnels. (I have not been able to find sources on this – will update once I do).
Being half Irish and having spent much time in Ireland, I have driven on many a beautiful coastal road, and I would say that my favorite road strips in the world are all coastal. I can now add this one to my list of top favorites. It is stunning. We drive as the sun, past its zenith, descends in a golden haze toward the deep blue. The time and place are magic. A few forlorn anglers try their luck by throwing in a line or a net from the shore. Haidar says he loves this stretch and tries to drive down every day. I don’t blame him. It is a stretch of road where the metaphorical but very real prison walls seem invisible. We near Khan Younis refugee camp, and looking to the left we see the incredibly close nit systems of ramshackle buildings that we had already seen on our previous trip organised by the university. Many are out in the street. We see women preparing food, and men simply sitting around (over 45 % of unemployed in the Gaza strip). The poverty is distinctly visible, even at the speed we are going past. I try to capture some images in spite of the bumpy road.
We arrive at Haidar’s “shack”, which is a few hundred metres inland, –apparently this short distance from the coast cut the price by more than half. The last stretch is on a sandy path. We pass a scooter holding two people that skids and almost falls over. Looking back I see why: tied to the rack on the back is a small crate holding a sheep!! Another poor animal tagged for sacrifice for the Eid starting tomorrow. (I wasn’t quick enough for a snapshot.)
The ‘shack’ is a one room house with a small bathroom and a kitchen counter, tiny, but heavenly. A paradise. Haidar says it is his contribution to building ‘facts on the ground’. Apparently we are the first visitors, as the shack has virtually just been finished. We feel very honoured indeed. (Did I already mention the overwhelming hospitality we have been experiencing everywhere in Gaza? Everyone welcomes us and opens their doors.) Soon we ascend the stairs to the roof terrace, where we finally get to eat the best figs any of us has ever tasted. We sit there, talk, sip Haidar’s delicious Turkish coffee (contrary to us earlier in the morning, he manages to make it with the mandatory creamy foam on top). The palm tree right beside the ‘shack’ is majestic. Many more palm trees far off, beautiful against the sun set. The images tell it all. It is a moment of peace and happiness. I see why our friend comes here every day he can.
After dark we drive back into Gaza city. Before he leaves us off at our place, he brings us to his apartment in the Tel al-Hawa district. We take the elevator up the high-rise, now powered by a generator. From his tiny balcony he shows us various landmarks, the Islamic University, al-Aqsa university, which is not well visible. The Al Quds hospital (see following post). He points out the places that were hit during the 2008-2009 bombing by Israeli forces (massacre, as he and many others here call it). We stand in awe, imagining the terror people must have felt. Our friend says that at one point he was no longer able to sleep. He ended up leaving his home to stay with relatives further off. He also recounts of a man being thrown off the roof of this building by an extremist group.
During our 8-day long stay in Gaza, we met many wonderful people, and I will continue writing about them after I will have left Gaza. One young couple stuck out particularly, and not just because they are a beautiful couple, or because they are lovely and very interesting people to spend time with, or because they have been an incredible help to us by facilitating everything: from arranging airport transport between airport and hotel in Cairo, finding us a wonderful driver from Cairo to Rafah, arranging a driver here locally every time any of us needed one, supplying Antoine with cough syrup and magic honey-ginger soothing infusions, to getting David, Stephanie and us a flat after we moved out of the hotel.
Maya and Hani stick out because they are engaged in an extremely important part of the work here. Hani is a pharmacist and owns a pharmacy in partnership in Gaza city. Maya, his wife, assists. Although she has a degree in political science and is also an international judge in archery, she has trained to administer injections to women who come to the pharmacy (yes, she is some woman!). But as most Gazans we met, they are also both engaged in activist work. (As I observed in an earlier post, being uninvolved or apolitical is a luxury that people living in Gaza do not seem to have.)
Since a majority of patients cannot get the medication they have been prescribed due to chronic shortages, Hani and Maya have launched a project aimed at international donors (pharmaceutical companies, medical representatives, doctors,…) to raise badly needed medicines. In fact, there is long standing and chronic shortage of essential medicines in Gaza. Here are some facts taken from a 2012 WHO report (World Health Organization): “While shortages of at least 10% of essential drugs have been reported by the MoH in West Bank and Gaza since the year 2000, during 2011 the MoH-Gaza reported average monthly zero stock levels of 32% of essential drugs and 22% of essential medical disposables throughout the year, indicating a crisis in provision of medical supplies. At the end of 2011, 148 of 480 essential drugs (31%) and 123 of 700 medical disposables (17.5%) were at zero stock in Gaza.
In December, the MoH-Gaza appealed directly to WHO, the ICRC and other international organizations to intervene to solve the shortages problem. Four items — two powders and two solutions for decalcifying and disinfecting two types of hemodialysis machines — that are required to maintain treatment for 450 chronic kidney patients were at critical levels, sufficient only until January 7, 2012. Other drug items at zero stock included: 20% anti infective drugs, 13.5% chemotherapy drugs, 10% urology and kidney dialysis, 5.5% ophthalmological preparations, 7% psychotherapeutics, and 4% for cardiovascular.” See also this report from Médecins Sans Frontières.
The medications raised through Hani and Maya’s outreach effort reach their pharmacy though the tunnels or are sent to (international) individuals in the West Bank who can then bring them in to Gaza. The pharmacy will donate them to (mainly poor) patients to whom this medication is otherwise inaccessible. Many of these are children with cancer, who cannot otherwise get the very expensive cancer drugs they are in need of! Please contact me if you can help with this and I will put you into contact with Hani and Maya.
In another post (soon) I will write about meeting Hani’s uncle, Dr. Fouad M. El-Harazin, an engineer living in Chicago but regularly visiting and working in Gaza, another activist who has done a lot for the society in Gaza.
Posted in Visiting Gaza Tagged Gaza, international, political, shortage of medicines