Gaza’s Little Chef



Khuloud Rabah Sulaiman, We Are Not Numbers, May 20, 2019

“I want to be one of the best chefs in the world,” says Mahmoud Abu Nada. That, despite the fact that he lives in the blockaded Gaza Strip, is just 12 years old and suffers from leukemia.

And…while he is not yet known to the world, Mahmoud has become the first child chef in Palestine, regularly working in one of Gaza’s most well-known restaurants. 

Mahmoud was diagnosed with blood cancer at the age of 8, and physicians determined he needed a bone marrow transplant. But, although the first children’s cancer department in the Gaza Strip opened in February to treat blood cancers and related diseases (which make up roughly 80 percent of malignancies among local children), bone marrow transplants and radiation still are available only outside. Experts in Italy offered to perform the procedure free of charge, and Mahmoud’s parents applied for a medical exit permit. However, Israel rejected it without any explanation.

Exit permits hard to get

The al-Mezan Center for Human rights estimates there are about 9,000 persons with cancer in Gaza, including 600 children. According to the center, more than 40 percent of these children would receive better care outside of Gaza. Yet the World Health Organization says 61 percent of permit applications for medical treatment were approved on time last year, 31 percent were answered too late or not at all, and the rest were rejected.

Mahmoud’s father cannot afford care in Egypt, and the treatment there is often substandard. Thus, Mahmoud must rely on regular pain killers, blood transfusions and chemotherapy treatments every two weeks. The boy also must stay home from school, since his body cannot fight off the infections to which he would be exposed by other pupils.

“I was overwhelmed with sadness when I had to leave school,” Mahmoud says. “But I decided not to give up, so I started homeschooling. With the help of my mum, but I do my school exams.”

Mahmoud has loved watching his mother cook since he was old enough to walk, and when he began spending so much time at home, he discovered cooking programs online. They became a way to break the boredom, and he watched them for hours. He practiced in the kitchen–imitating his mother making sandwiches and fresh juices but with his own variations. His first creation was a spin on the traditional sandwich: For his 17-year-old sister, Yasmeen, he rolled traditional taboon bread with his own tomato sauce mixed with egg, peppers, olives, mushrooms and a blend of spices.

“My siblings also always ask me to make noodles and shakshuka because they like the way I prepare them,” he adds. Shakshuka is a Palestinian dish a dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers and garlic.

A chef is born

When Mahmoud first started cooking at such a young age, his father was afraid he would burn himself. But he soon changed his mind.   

“My father thought about locking the kitchen at first, but then he encouraged me to keep up with my talent,” he says with a big grin.

Mahmoud shared the “fruits” of his skills with other kids at Gaza’s Basmit Amal Association for Cancer Care, where he made breakfast sandwiches for his fellow participants. In one of the association’s activities, held in the Gazan restaurant Oregano, Mahmoud wore a chef uniform and made various sandwiches for 60 children with the help of the chef. He was amazed by Mahmoud.

Once the initiative finished, Mahmoud asked the chef to allow him to work with him in the restaurant’s kitchen. Although Palestinian law forbids child labor, the chef accepted him as a trainee after he passed a test, including the recognition of spices.

“I impressed the chef when I recognized all of them only by smell,” Mahmoud said. “What else impressed him is that I mastered the use of kitchen tools.”

The youngest professional

Continue reading

Two Congressional Resolutions That Won’t Advance Israeli-Palestinian Peace

Dr. James J. Zogby, July 13, 2019

In the coming week, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs will move on four bills – all of which, I believe, drive more nails in the coffin of Israeli-Palestinian peace. While two of the proposed bills are blatantly pro-Israel, it is the two more benign pieces of legislation that cause me real concern.

House Resolution 246 (HRes246) “Opposing efforts to de-legitimize the State of Israel and the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” is a non-binding resolution putting Congress on record in opposition to BDS. Unlike earlier versions, HRes246 does not impose penalties on BDS supporters nor does it conflate Israel and “areas under Israeli control” – a not too clever way designed to recognize Israeli sovereignty over West Bank settlements. For this reason, this resolution has won the support of several liberal groups and is currently co-sponsored by a bi-partisan group of 338 Members of Congress.

HRes246 also includes language calling for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “both the Israeli and Palestinian people should be able to live in safe and sovereign states, free from fear and violence, with mutual recognition.” And it “urges the Israelis and Palestinians to return to direct negotiations as the only way to achieve an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The bulk of HRes246, however, is devoted to a series of “Whereas” and “Resolved” clauses opposing BDS. These clauses mischaracterize the goals of the BDS movement, misquote the co-founder of the BDS movement; and falsely claim that BDS targets not just the State of Israel but individual Jews “who support Israel.”

HRes246 concerns me for two principal reasons:

– far from being a benign resolution, HRes246 has been correctly described by the Arab American Institute as a “transparent ploy” that delegitimizes a legal and non-violent movement that advocates for Palestinian human rights – and secures the blessing of an overwhelming majority of Congress in this effort. While this non-binding resolution does not criminalize BDS, by defaming the practices advocated by this movement and putting Congress on record in opposition to it, HRes246 opens the door to current state laws and future Congressional efforts to do so.

– HRes246’s profession of support for a two-state solution and its implication that the BDS movement is an obstacle to reaching that goal can only be described as naïve, at best, or even disingenuous. Nowhere in the resolution is there any mention of any of the obstacles posed by the Israeli Government: the 620,000 settlers living in settlements that have, by design, carved the areas West Bank open to Palestinians into non-contiguous “Bantustans”; the aggressive land grabs, demolition of Palestinian homes; the brutal behavior of the occupation authorities; the policies of both the current Israeli Government and its opposition, both of which see no place for the “viable” Palestinian State called for in HR246; or the annexationist policies currently underway in the area referred to “East Jerusalem,” having a profoundly negative impact on the lives of the 320,000 Palestinian citizens who live there.

All of this is ignored, as is Congressional complicity in these Israeli policies. Despite several past US Administrations calling on Israel to stop settlement construction, not only do they continue, but they continue with Congress’ blessing in the form of increased aid and not only no US sanctions, but not even a rebuke.

When the Palestinians have appealed to the United Nations or other international bodies like the International Criminal Court, the response of US Administrations or Congress has been to punish the Palestinians and/or the international organizations, in question.

As a result, the only recourse Palestinians have had is in the court of public opinion, hence, the BDS movement. Their successes have been greeted by Israel and now the US Congress with hysteria. Hence, the effort to delegitimize and defame the movement – with criminalization sure to follow.

The second bill before Congress is House Resolution 326 (HRes326) “Regarding efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a negotiated two-state solution.” This is also a non-binding resolution. It is currently sponsored by 144 Members of Congress and has a companion bill before the US Senate (Senate Resolution 234) that is sponsored by nine Democrats – including two presidential aspirants: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

HRes326 includes one very positive “Whereas” clause which calls for “an end to the occupation, including opposing settlement activity and moves toward unilateral annexation in Palestinian territory.” Because such strong language has never before appeared in a congressional bill with this many sponsors, HRes326 is deserving of support. It should be recalled that we were unable to get the Clinton campaign to insert the words “settlements” and “occupation” in the 2016 Democratic Party Platform.

Even with this, I am concerned that this support for a “two-state solution” not be turned into what I have termed “a two-state absolution” which sees Members of Congress going on record in support of an outcome, but then absolving themselves of their responsibility to address precisely what can be done to realize that outcome – and if it is even possible to achieve a viable “two-state solution” given current realities on the ground in the occupied territories. 

Opposing settlements is one thing, but what, other than hand-wringing, is the Congressional response to continued construction and how will they deal with the 620,000 settlers who reside in the West Bank? Calling for an end to the occupation and opposing annexation is one thing, but what has been and will be the response of Congress to Israel’s deeper encroachment into the territories and its de facto annexation of large areas of Palestinian lands that have been captured inside what Israel calls East Jerusalem and behind its West Bank Wall? Being opposed to something is one thing, acting against what you oppose is quite another.

The bottom line is that Congress, as much as this and past Administrations, is responsible for the current state of affairs in Israel/Palestine. Decades of Congressional inaction in the face of Israeli transgressions of international law and the human rights of the occupied Palestinian people have resulted in Israeli impunity – they know they can get away with anything – and deepening Palestinian despair – they’ve lost hope that the United States will ever hear their cries for justice. These two bills, one of which blames the victims and the other which will allow some Members of Congress to feel “they’re off the hook” cause me to be concerned.    


Continue reading

July 24-25, 2019
Gaza Freedom Flotilla Comes to Madison!

Since 2008, the Freedom Flotilla movement has sent 35 ships attempting to break Israel’s illegal, US-backed military blockade that has devastated Gaza and denied 2 million people — half of them children — access to food, clean water, fuel, medicine, employment, and basic human dignity for 13 years.

On Wednesday and Thursday, July 24 and 25, the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project (MRSCP) welcomes the Gaza Freedom Flotilla’s North American Boat to Gaza campaign with two days of activities.

Wednesday, July 24: Gaza Freedom Flotilla on Lake Mendota!

On Wednesday evening a pontoon on Lake Mendota at the Union Terrace and The Edgewater will give visibility to the crisis in Gaza. We will also be leafleting the crowd on shore. (Anyone interested in helping with this should email rafahsistercity at yahoo.com)

Thursday, July 25: Dessert and a Conversation

Former flotilla participants Kathy Kelly (Voices for Creative Non-Violence) and Kit Kittredge (NA Boat to Gaza Campaign) will talk about Gaza, the importance of the flotilla, and plans for the next international sailing in 2020 — James Reeb Unitarian Congregation, 2146 E. Johnson Street, Madison at 7 pm.

This free event will feature a display of Gaza children’s artwork as well as refreshments & dessert including baklawa. Donations to benefit the Flotilla and a new Maia Project clean water system for kids in Rafah will be appreciated.

For more information, contact MRSCP at rafahsistercity at yahoo.com, and follow madisonrafah.org or the Facebook event.

Welcomed by WORT RADIO. Kit Kittredge and Kathy Kelly, fresh from the Freedom Flotilla’s activities in Chicago, will be interviewed live on WORT’s A Public Affair by host Allen Ruff from noon-1 pm on Thursday, July 25. Kathy Kelly will also be a guest on The Morning Buzz with Jan Miyasaki between 8 and 8:30 am on Wednesday, July 24. Tune in at 89.9 FM or listen live online.

If you can’t attend but would like to support either the Flotilla or the Maia Project, you can still donate:

Flotilla
Make a donation online, or send a check payable to Nonviolence International with the memo “2020 US Boat to Gaza” to:

    Nonviolence International
    4000 Albermarle Street, NW, Suite 401
    Washington D.C. 20016

Maia Project
Online donations here, or save the online fee and send a check payable to MRSCP with the memo “water” to:

    MRSCP
    P.O. Box 5214
    Madison, WI 53705

Both MRSCP and Nonviolence International are 501(c)(3) organizations.

Occupation vacation: Palestine, settlements, and Airbnb

Diala Shamas and Ziad Alwan, The Activist Files, Episode 16

Did you know that in Palestine, Israeli settlers and companies profit off of stolen land? That’s what our Advocacy Director Nadia Ben-Youssef discusses with Staff Attorney Diala Shamas and client Ziad Alwan in the 16th episode of “The Activist Files,” where we speak about  our intervention into a case filed by Israeli settlers against Airbnb.

Diala discusses the responsibility of corporations like Airbnb to respect human rights principles and international law, as well as the status of the case now that Airbnb has decided not to de-list properties in settlements. Ziad recounts his family’s history on and personal connection to the land and explains why he decided to intervene on behalf of other Palestinian landowners in the West Bank.

LISTEN TO THE ACTIVIST FILES


Touring the Israeli Occupation: Young U.S. Jews Get an Unflinching View


At Har Gilo, a Jewish settlement overlooking the southern West Bank, American college students get a history lesson. (Ilia Yefimovich for The New York Times)

David M. Halbfinger, The New York Times, July 10, 2019

PSAGOT, West Bank — The fun was over before the tour bus rolled into Har Gilo.

For the past week, 28 college students from the United States had been taking part in a traveling experiment billed as an alternative to Birthright Israel, whose free trips to the country have become a rite of passage for hundreds of thousands of young American Jews.

Birthright’s avoidance of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank has made it the target of angry protests by left-leaning Jewish activists. But for sheer ambition, no critique has approached this week’s attempt by the liberal lobbying group J Street to map out an alternative route for Birthright’s tours.

The organizers said they embraced Birthright’s goal of helping young American Jews connect with Israel and with their Jewishness, but that they also needed to be exposed to the realities of the occupation.

On Sunday, after several upbeat days hiking in the Galilee, learning about the kibbutz movement and bonding over buffets and Israeli pop songs, the J Street cohort took a sharp left turn into territory where Birthright does not go.

In the West Bank settlement of Har Gilo, they received a harsh history lesson from a veteran opponent of the occupation. Then they toured an impoverished, water-starved Palestinian village that Israeli settlers want to demolish, and visited the city of Hebron, where repeated outbreaks of violence have turned an entire Palestinian business district into a ghost town.

Adam DeSchriver, 21, a clarinet student at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., said he had been wowed on the trip’s first few days by the “renaissance of Hebrew culture” he discovered in Israel.

“What breaks my heart,” he said after Sunday’s eye-opening itinerary, “is seeing it at the expense of others.”

More. . .

Democratic candidates on Israel/Palestine – a guide

If Americans Knew, June 26, 2019

Democratic candidates on Israel/Palestine – a guide (updated regularly)

It’s anybody’s guess how this will play out, but it’s going to be a long, wild ride.

Overwhelmed by the crowd of candidates for President? The issue of justice for Palestinians – in which almost everyone bows to the Israel lobby – is the ultimate litmus test for integrity. Find out where everyone stands. (This guide will be updated often.)

Keep in mind that since Palestinians in Gaza began weekly unarmed demonstrations for their internationally recognized rights on March 30, 2018 and every Friday since; one year later Israeli forces had killed over 271 demonstrators and injured 29,187 Gazans – 6,000 of them children. During that time 2 Israelis were killed and 56 injured (numbers continue to climb). A Timeline of Palestinian and Israeli deaths is here.

By Kathryn Shihadah

Democratic Candidates 1-24

1. Michael Bennet (D)

(New York Times interview question, Do you think Israel meets international standards of human rights? 6/19/19) Yes. I’ve said this before and I believe it: Israel is the one essential country on the planet. I say that because of my family’s history during the Holocaust, and that doesn’t mean Israel’s perfect. Where we have disagreements, we should be able to articulate those disagreements, and I do articulate the disagreements I’ve had with Benjamin Netanyahu over the years.

(Twitter 5/6/19) We stand behind Israel’s right to self-defense against rocket attacks by terror groups inside Gaza. Launching rocket attacks against innocent civilians is unacceptable and we mourn the lives lost. A cessation in violence is a necessary step toward de-escalation and stability.

2. Joe Biden (D)

(Remarks at Saban Forum 12/7/14, a few months after the Gaza slaughter, in which Israel killed 500 children.) Send a message to Bibi. I love him.

(Remarks at Yeshiva Beth Yehuda 75th Anniversary Dinner 11/15/11) About 18, 20 years ago, I was speaking to the Zionist Organization of Baltimore. And I said, I am a Zionist, for I learned you do not have to be a Jew to be a Zionist…[I]t was no surprise to my friends when I was elected to the Senate in a state less than 1 percent of the Jewish — less than 1 percent of the population is Jewish, that I got so deeply involved early on in the Senate with the business of Israel.

(Remarks at AIPAC Policy Conference 3/4/13) We opposed the unilateral efforts of the Palestinian Authority to circumvent direct negotiations by pushing for statehood and multilateral organizations like UNESCO. We stood strongly with Israel in its right to defend itself after the Goldstone ReportGaza flotilla in 2010, [I spent a lot of time] going to the United Nations directly by telephone, speaking with the Secretary General, making sure that one thing was made clear, Israel had the right — had the right — to impose that blockade.

3. Bill de Blasio (D)

(New York Times interview question, Do you think Israel meets international standards of human rights? 6/19/19) I believe in the state of Israel…the one true democracy in the Middle East, and they do respect the rights of all people. There’s always more work to be done…it begins with a strong commitment to Israel…I’ve been to Israel 4 times, I’ve spent a lot of time seeing the threats that Israel faces. I firmly believe that we have to defend the state of Israel, and we have to fight against the movements that would undercut Israel, like BDS…The current administration has made a lot of mistakes that have hindered the peace process…

Continue reading