Year-end and holiday giving: Two opportunities to help Gaza

December 12, 2007

Dear Members and Friends of MRSCP,

As we approach the holiday season and the end of the tax year, please consider donating to the following emergency appeals to help the people of Gaza.

The first is from the Middle East Children’s Alliance, a U.S. based group which we have worked with and highly recommend. MRSCP will be contributing $1500 toward this appeal and we strongly urge you to consider a gift as well. Contributions to MECA are tax-deductible.

The second is from Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, which is “planning an emergency dispatch of humanitarian supplies and a delegation of doctors, in order to supply limited emergency aid, to witness and report on the medical situation in Gaza, and to express protest and solidarity with the residents of the Gaza Strip under siege.” Contributions are apparently also tax deductible; please follow the instructions given in the appeal.

In the past year, and especially in the past few weeks, Gaza has literally become hell on earth as the U.S., Israel and Egypt have all but cut the densely-populated strip off from the rest of the world. Just this past week Israel began drastic cuts in electricity and fuel which are essential to keep people alive by providing drinkable water and emergency health care.

Palestinian Medical Relief Society calls for an immediate end to the murderous siege of Gaza
Excerpt: People are dying in Gaza. Patients die in their hospital beds because they are denied permits to access life-saving treatments abroad. Patients with such permits die at the Erez crossing because the Israeli military denies them exit, despite their permits. (Full article)

And, the latest casualty:

IOA blocks baby with a hole in the heart from leaving Gaza for urgent treatment
Excerpt: A Palestinian child, who was born almost two weeks ago with a hole in the heart, has been denied an Israeli permit to leave the Strip and receive urgently needed treatment for his case, medical sources reported. They said that the baby’s condition was worsening as he is suffering problems in the liver and swelling in his body. (Full article)

Both of the appeals above document the catastrophic situation further. Please be as generous as you can.

As always, thanks for your support.

Summit’s Goal: Perpetuate Repression of Palestinians

Barb Olson, The Capital Times, December 07, 2007

“After meeting their own low expectations for the Annapolis conference amid intense skepticism, Bush administration officials crowed with delight,” said an Associated Press story.

And well they might. It was more symbolism than substance, but President Bush looked almost presidential.

But all Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert really agreed on was to negotiate — Bush called it “hard bargaining.”

“Hard bargaining” with Olmert and Abbas (and Bush too) at record low levels of support domestically?

“Hard bargaining” with the overwhelming power of the United States and Israel on one side and the divided and bloodied Palestinians on the other?

The United States is not an honest broker here. Congress just gave Israel another $30 billion for military aid over the next 10 years. That’s on top of the $3 billion to $5 billion annually it already gets.

Since 2004, Bush has officially committed the United States to help Israel keep Palestinian land stolen for Jewish settlements. This policy of using “facts on the ground” to gobble up Palestinian land, water and commerce has already sparked two Palestinian uprisings and is destroying the viability of any independent Palestinian state.

Was this policy reversed at Annapolis? No. Instead Bush asked Israel to pretty-please remove a few trailer park “outposts” and to stop expanding the settlements. (Wink, wink.)

Bush instructed the Palestinians not to focus on the “borders” of a state. No wonder — Israel has already set the borders by constructing the annexation wall deep inside Palestinian territory, leaving the Palestinians imprisoned in a handful of poverty-stricken ghettos on a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of their original homeland.

What’s next, a virtual Palestinian state?

Bush told Palestinians to focus on the “nature” of their state instead. It should be “democratic.” Oh really? The United States and Israel have starved and bludgeoned the Palestinians for having elected the wrong people, and then invited Abbas (who overthrew the elected government) to Annapolis.

Bush hailed the “transparency and accountability” of the Abbas regime. These are the same crooks who were thrown out of office for shamelessly lining their pockets with the meager contents of the Palestinian treasury.

Bush and Olmert seek a puppet regime that will pick up the garbage and police the prison-statelets that are all Palestinians can expect from this “hard bargaining.”

This is why the Abbas-Olmert agreement gives the United States (and thus Israel) a veto over any results, stating that implementation of the agreement will be “led by the United States” and “judged by the United States.”

Completely absent, in spite of pleas from Palestinian human rights groups, was any mention of international law, which long ago laid down two unavoidable conditions for peace: the return of all Palestinian (and Syrian) territory taken by force in 1967, including removal of the colonial settler infrastructure, and a just solution for the millions of Palestinians driven from their homeland since 1948.

Bush’s U.S.-Israel-Palestine bargaining process aims to circumvent this painful reality. Behind a fig leaf of endless negotiations, Israel will push ordinary Palestinians further into poverty and repression. Many will leave in order to survive. Those who remain face a grotesque form of apartheid, whose structure is already in place and whose foundation was laid by the logic of creating a “Jewish state” in a country populated mainly by others. Indeed, many Israelis openly hope that even so-called “Israeli Arabs” — Palestinians who stayed in 1948 and are now 20 percent of the citizenry — will be forcibly transferred to the new “Palestinian state.”

If you want to see the reality obscured by the lofty language of politicians, visit the concentration camp that is Gaza, invisible at Annapolis. Smell the stench of raw sewage and uncollected garbage. Listen to the cries of hungry children and watch sick people die from Israel cutting the electricity or the embargo on medicine or from waiting too long at the perpetually sealed borders. Watch women screaming over the bodies of children and husbands torn apart by Israeli bombardment or vicious fighting among rival gangs of camp inmates.

The original online transcript of Bush’s Annapolis speech referred to the “Iraqi soil of the West Bank and Gaza.” Official versions corrected this to “rocky soil.” But the cruel irony of this Freudian slip remains. Iraq certainly does resemble Gaza, with the West Bank close behind. This is not a path to peace.

Barb Olson is a member of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project.

© 2007 Capital Newspapers

December 9, 2007
Film: Reel Bad Arabs

Free preview showing and discussion!
Escape Java Joint
916 Williamson St.
Sunday, December 9, 7:00 p.m.

Discussion will be led by George Arida, co-host of WORT “Salamat” and member of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project.

Featuring author Dr. Jack Shaheen, the film explores a long line of degrading images of Arabs — from Bedouin bandits and submissive maidens to sinister sheikhs and gun-wielding “terrorists” — and offers along the way some devastating insights into the origin of these stereotypic images, their development at key points in US history, and why they matter so much today.

Directed by Sut Jhally, this excellent new 50-minute documentary comes from The Media Education Foundation.

November 17, 2007
Rami Khouri Talk in Madison

Rami George Khouri – “A Fair and Balanced View from the Arab World”
Madison Civics Club November Meeting, Monona Terrace
November 17th, 2007, 10:55 a.m.–1:45 p.m.

Khouri is Executive Editor of the Beirut, Lebanon-based newspaper The Daily Star, the largest English language newspaper published throughout the Middle East, in partnership with the International Herald Tribune. He was recently appointed director of the Issam Fares Institute of Public Policy and International Affairs at American University of Beirut (AUB). Author of “A View from the Arab World,” an internationally syndicated weekly political column at, his commentary and articles center around the broad range of roles played by the Middle East — its culture, politics, and religion — worldwide. A Palestinian-Jordanian educated in both the Middle East and the US, Khouri returned to his homeland 35 years ago and now resides in Beirut, Amman, and Nazareth.

With a Special Public Affairs Presentation:
UW Law Professor Asifa Quraishi – “Islamic Law:
What Americans Don’t Know May Surprise Them”

Asifa Quraishi, a specialist in Islamic law and legal theory, joined the University of Wisconsin Law School faculty in Fall 2004. Professor Quraishi’s expertise ranges from U.S. law on federal court practice to constitutional legal theory, with a comparative focus in Islamic law. At the UW Law School, Quraishi is teaching a combination of core law school classes in Constitutional Law, and electives in Islamic law and jurisprudence. Asifa Quraishi made news in 2001 when she drafted a clemency appeal brief in the case of Bariya Ibrahim Magazu, who was sentenced to flogging for fornication in Zamfara, Nigeria.

If you are a nonmember interested in attending, please call Karen Icke at 238-4352. The luncheon fee for a nonmember who is not the guest of a member is $30. If a luncheon is sold out, there may be seating space (without the meal) for a fee.

Catastrophe at Rafah Crossing: More Than 35 Dead—and Counting

Catastrophe at Rafah Crossing: More Than 35 Dead—and CountingPalestinians wait to cross the Rafah border for medical treatment (Photo M. Omer)

Mohammed Omer, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September/October 2007

PERCHED ATOP A suitcase and trunk, her leg knocking listlessly with staccato thuds on vinyl, newly engaged 23-year-old Islam Al Assar waits on the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing to Egypt.

And waits. And waits.

“I’m waiting for my happiness,” she states forlornly. “I’m waiting to start my life. I have to be immensely patient. We hear news that the border will open, but it never does.”

At the border, now closed for more than two months, her luggage carries her dreams: a wedding dress, trousseau, gifts and necessities for her future life. On the other side awaits her fiancé and a new life in United Arab Emirates. The wedding, set for late June, has been put on hold.

“I’m not the only one waiting,” she sighs. “Five of our neighbors are here, too, awaiting passage for operations for cancer, kidney diseases and other chronic illnesses.”

Since the elected Hamas government managed to prevent Israeli- and U.S.-backed Fatah militia from taking over Gaza in June, 1.5 million Palestinians have been living under siege, shut off from the outside world. European Union observers have abandoned the Rafah crossing to the Palestinian executive force, which works under complete Israeli control via remote control and video cameras, and the Egyptian military. Together they enforce the Israeli-ordered closure of the border, which comprises seven distinct gates.

Government officials estimate that more than 12,000 Palestinians are stranded on the Egyptian side of the border, with another several thousand trapped in Gaza trying to leave. While those caught on the Gaza side of the border share a slight advantage, since they are able to find comfort with friends and family, their numbers include people with life-threatening diseases who are prevented from leaving for scheduled medical procedures in Egypt and Jordan.

Stateless Infants

Conditions on both sides of the border remain precarious. Families struggle to survive day-to-day under the blistering Sinai desert sun, with little shade and no water, toilets, food or sleeping quarters. Their situation is best symbolized, perhaps, by the 16 babies who have been born while their mothers wait at the border. Without medical care, many born prematurely may not survive. To this life-threatening situation Israeli bureaucracy adds yet another twist. Since the newborns were not born within Gaza or in hospitals, none has the birth certificates and legal documents required for re-entry.

“The majority of these parents were compelled to come to Gaza prior to the births so their children could be registered and maintain their national identity,” explains Al Mezan of the Human Rights Center. The continued closure of the Rafah border crossing, he asserts, is an example of “collective punishment by Israel used as a political tool in a flagrant disregard of Palestinians’ human rights.”

A Mother’s Death

By mid-August, more than 35 people had died waiting to enter Gaza. One might assume that those who died were either very young or very old, but that is not always the case. After waiting 38 days in the blistering sun, Sana Shanan of the Jabalya Refugee Camp, a 27-year-old mother of three children, 7 years, 4 years and 6 months old, passed away on the Egyptian side of the crossing. The young wife and mother was returning from a successful operation in Egypt to treat her hepatcirrhosis. The last wish she uttered on the phone to her husband as life drained from her limbs encapsulates the anguish felt by all: “Please destroy the wall,” she whispered, her husband said, “and let me get through and see my children before I die!”

Her grief-stricken 35-year-old husband vents his helpless frustration. “I can’t stand it,” he cries. ”Nobody cares about Palestinian suffering! Nobody can live for 38 days under the burning sun!”

The suffering endured by the thousands of people stranded in Egypt is further compounded by lack of finances. Each family receives just $100 for food, shelter, water and necessities—an amount which lasts only a few days. As Israel enforces the closure for weeks, then months on end, Palestinians stranded at the border sell their clothing, watches and personal belongings to anyone who will buy them in order to purchase food and water. While some find shelter and facilities in homes and businesses near the border, most Palestinians end up sleeping on the street, in gardens or anywhere shelter can be found.

According to Haaretz, Israel’s largest daily newspaper, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked Israel to keep the Rafah border closed. Abbas’ media advisor Nabil Abu Rudieneh issued a denial, saying, “Such reports are untrue rumors.”

The Airport Terminal

Along with some 90 other people, Mohammed Ali, a 27-year-old free-lance journalist returning from France, entered his fourth week of diplomatic quarantine inside Egypt’s Al Arish Airport near the Gaza border. Others—most under 35—are stranded at Cairo’s International Airport. Among those waiting in limbo at the Al Arish terminal were two women with their children. Like Tom Hanks in Stephen Spielberg’s 2004 film “The Terminal,” none of them can leave the airport. Neither citizens of Egypt nor holders of entry visas, they are trapped in a maze of bureaucracy—while their homeland’s occupier uses the well-worn excuse of “security” to deny them passage. For Ali the situation was especially difficult: his wife waited at home, in her ninth month of pregnancy.

While most trapped in this diplomatic no-man’s-land—whether at the border or at airports—refrain from blaming Egypt for their plight, all agree that Egypt remains key to its solution. To call attention to the escalating crisis, several nonviolent protests have been held. Ali and others stuck in the Al-Arish terminal embarked on a three-stage hunger strike, surviving on minimal nourishment (salt and water) and vowing to up the ante if necessary.

”If the border doesn’t open soon,” Ali confirmed, “we won’t hesitate to go on a full hunger strike! Even the sick among us will join.”

Human Rights Violations

By preventing the passage of people, essential medicine, food and products, the closure exacerbates the crisis on both sides of the border. In a phone interview, Sari Bashi, director of the Israeli human rights group Gisha, commented on the closure of Rafah crossing. “Denying Gaza residents the ability to live in dignity,” she continued, “denying their ability to lead normal lives, to work and support themselves and their families violates Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law, human rights law and its own national law.

“Normal life is not just food and water,” the Israeli human rights work er asserted. “It’s also a dignified human existence and the possibility to continue to earn livelihood. Seeking to weaken Hamas by punishing 1.5 million women, men and children is illegal and counterproductive. It is the ordinary people who are suffering…Gaza residents have the right to go home…[and] Israel has a responsibility to reopen the Rafah border,” Bashi concluded.

Israeli typically requires that all Palestinians enter and leave the occupied territories—their homeland—through the same border crossings. Lately, however, it has allowed several hundred Palestinians who left via Rafah to return through the Eretz crossing through Israel. Many have rejected this option, however, fearing arrest or pressure to collaborate with the occupying power. Indeed, many young men returning via Eretz have been subjected to such treatment.

With the departure of the European Union observers, the odds of Rafah border crossing opening in the foreseeable future are close to nil. Meanwhile—and needlessly—thousands of men, women and children die, starve and, above all, wait.

Mohammed Omer spoke at length on this issue during a July 18, 2007 interview on Don Bustany’s “Middle East Focus” program on KPFK radio in Los Angeles. The 20-minute interview can be heard at <>.

Mohammed Omer, winner of New America Media’s Best Youth Voice award, reports from the Gaza Strip, where he maintains the Web site <>.

November 11, 2007
Madison-Rafah Sister City Project General Meeting

MRSCP will be holding an open general meeting on Sunday, Nov. 11 beginning at 7 pm at Escape Java Joint, 916 Williamson Street in Madison.

The point of this meeting is to share information on national and international trends in Palestine solidarity work, and to discuss the work of MRSCP in that light.

The meeting will open with a preview clip from one of our new films (Reel Bad Arabs or Occupation 101) and then move on to a power-point summary of the recent national conference of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, which adopted three new action proposals for 2007-2008. We will also have a short report on two other major Middle East conferences: the UN conference on Palestine that was held in Brussels in August, and the Boston Sabeel conference which was held the weekend of October 27-28.

This will be followed by a recap of what MRSCP has been up to and some discussion of possible plans for the coming year. Q&A and discussion will follow.

If you’ve been thinking of getting more involved with MRSCP or just wondering what we’ve been up to, be sure to attend this meeting…bring friends too. Escape has a great menu and we will be providing some hummus and zatar with Holy Land olive oil for you to sample.

Finally, here are links to two good articles: (1) the recent decision by Israel to collectively punish Gaza further by shutting off fuel and electricity, and (2) Bishop Desmond Tutu’s speech at the Sabeel conference.

Hope to see you at Escape.

November 17, 2007
Divest From the Israeli Occupation

The next meeting of the Divest From the Israeli Occupation group will be on Saturday, Nov. 17th from 2:00 pm to 3:30 pm in the downtown Madison Public Library.

George Arida, with the Madison Rafah Sister City Project, will give a report on the recent meeting of the national U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and will present their adopted proposal to groups for a Motorola Boycott.

Other items on the agenda include
• State of Wisconsin Investment Board (SWIB) response to Action Sudan,
• prospects for work on the SWIB campaign,
• plans of allied groups,
• ideas for a public outreach campaign to publicize the nature and effects of the Israeli occupation,
• development of an apartheid analogy,
• and your ideas.

Mike Wyatt
mapcmadison (at)

Israeli army orders confiscation of Palestinian land in West Bank

· Seizure would allow huge expansion of settlements
· Move seen as rush to make changes before US summit

Conal Urquhart in Jerusalem
Wednesday October 10, 2007
The Guardian

Construction workers in the West Bank
Construction workers in the West Bank. Photograph: Sebastian Scheiner/AP

The Israeli army has ordered the seizure of Palestinian land surrounding four West Bank villages apparently in order to hugely expand settlements around Jerusalem, it emerged yesterday.

The confiscation happened as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met to prepare the ground for a meeting hosted by President George Bush in the United States aimed at reviving a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

However, critics said the confiscation of land suggested that Israel was imposing its own solution on the Palestinians through building roads, barriers and settlements that would render a Palestinian state unviable.

The land seized forms a corridor from East Jerusalem to Jericho and is intended to be used for a road that would be for Palestinians only. Analysts said the road would run on one side of the Israeli security barrier, while the existing Jerusalem-Jericho road would be reserved for Israelis.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli army said it was necessary to build a road to link Bethlehem and the Judea region with Jericho and the Jordan valley area in order to “improve the quality of life” for Palestinians.

She said the road would be nearly 10 miles long and would be built on 145 hectares (357 acres) of state land and 23 hectares of private land that had been confiscated. She added that the army had designed the route to minimise losses to private landowners.

Adam Keller of the Israeli peace group, Gush Shalom, said the confiscation of land belonging to the villages of Abu Dis, Arab al-Sawahra, Nebi Musa and Talhin Alhamar would “rob many villagers of their sole livelihood” but would also “facilitate the big annexation plan known as E-1, which is aimed at linking the settlement of Ma’aleh Adummim with Jerusalem and cutting the West Bank in two.”

He said the confiscations were aimed at constructing a “Palestinian bypass road” that would “push the Palestinian traffic between Bethlehem and Ramallah deep into the desert and effectively bar them from the central part of the West Bank”.

The E-1 area has been marked out on Israeli government maps for years but the state has refrained from large scale development of the area. The only building to be completed is the proposed headquarters of the Israeli police in the West Bank.

The plan for the area envisages 3,500 housing units and dozens of businesses which have yet to be started, although infrastructure such as roads and drainage is being constructed.

Jeff Halper, an Israeli geographer who specialises in Israel’s development of the West Bank, said it appeared that there was a rush to carry out as much work as possible before the US-sponsored meeting between Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, in Annapolis, Maryland, in November.

Palestinian author under cyber attack before Wisconsin Book Festival

Annie’s Letters, October 9, 2007

Palestinian author and human rights activist Susan Abulhawa has come under a cyber attack just days before she is scheduled to appear at the Wisconsin Book Festival, and one week before the Dutch edition of her book is to be released in the Netherlands.

Before this past weekend, it was discovered that all news links to “Susan Abulhawa”, “Scar of David”, and her charitable foundation “Playgrounds for Palestine” have been blocked from access on major search engines, including GOOGLE, MSN, Yahoo, and Users clicking on “NEWS” and requesting any of the three listings were unable to receive links to news coverage between October 3, 2007 and October 4, 2007, despite the fact that more than 20,000 listings were provided the day before the incident. None of the search engines have offered an explanation for the interruption. GOOGLE and MSN have not commented at all, while both Yahoo and have promised to resolve the issue.

The suspicious timing of the simultaneous blockage on multiple search engines points to an orchestrated effort to disrupt Abulhawa’s promotion of her book, with its unpopular perspectives on the Palestinian conflict with Israel.

For information contact: mark (at)