The people of Gaza suffer

Palestinians warm themselves by a fire inside a house, which witnesses said was damaged in an Israeli air strike in the northern Gaza Strip last week.

Joyce F. Guinn, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, December 27, 2012

On Nov. 5, along with 20 members of an Interfaith Peace-Builders Delegation, I entered the Palestinian Rafah crossing into the Gaza Strip. We were received with great enthusiasm. We met with political representatives, farmers, families of prisoners, fishermen, water utility specialists, United Nations agencies, womens groups, union representatives and families in refugee camps.

We visited schools, centers for childrens activities, libraries, a music school, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a fish farm, the Gaza port, the destroyed airport and the parents of a 13-year-old boy killed during our visit while playing soccer in front of his house.

We learned that 80% of Gazans are refugees; that fishermen are not allowed to go beyond 3 miles to fish; that farmers are attacked if they approach their fields near the Israeli imposed 200- to 300-meter “buffer zone” on Palestinian land; that crops, greenhouses and animals are routinely attacked; that water is limited and unsafe; that electricity is limited to eight hours per day; that prisoners are held in Israeli prisons for years; that torture and isolation are routine; that children are traumatized; and that schools are running on two shifts because of destroyed schools.

We saw amazing signs of hope and steadfastness exhibited in buildings restored with materials carried through tunnels, a literacy rate of over 80%, continuation of normal activities under abnormal conditions, developing the talents of women and creative programs for children.

We heard their pleas for justice for ending the United States unquestioning support for Israel, for stopping the military aid to Israel, for recognizing that theirs is not a humanitarian problem but a political problem, for encouraging Palestinian unity instead of working against it, for respecting international law and human rights, for following our own laws for export of military aid and for accepting moral responsibility for our part in the ongoing occupation.

And then came the bombs. They fell during the night. They shook our hotel. They warned of worse things to come.

And the worst happened. The bombing continued. The rockets responded. The issue is not which side precipitated the violence. The issue is the occupation and blockade that has, since 1948, systematically destroyed Gazas economy and collectively punished its people.

In addition to armed groups, Israel targeted or damaged agricultural areas, homes and apartment buildings, press offices, a stadium, electrical power stations, water supply systems, roads, schools and hospitals, to name a few “non-military targets.”

In reaction to this ongoing siege and occupation of Palestine, 15 leaders of major U.S. Christian denominations have asked members of Congress to withhold U.S. aid to Israel because of widespread Israeli human rights violations. The statement calls for “an immediate investigation into possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, which respectively prohibit assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limits the use of U.S. weapons to internal security or legitimate self-defense. The U.S. response: “Israel has the right to defend itself.” Israel, but not the Palestinians. They have no rights.

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Palestinian non-violent resistance leader speaks in Madison

Veena Brekke, December 19, 2012

On Sunday afternoon, December 16, citizens of the Madison area were fortunate to hear a presentation by Iyad Burnat, a Palestinian farmer and leader in non-violent protests currently on a four-month speaking tour of the United States. About 60 people gathered at Memorial United Church of Christ in Fitchburg to view photos and videos and to listen to stories of successful organizing of grassroots non-violent protests against Israeli occupation in a West Bank farming village called Bil’in.

Bil’in has recently become famous as the subject of the award-winning film, “5 Broken Cameras,” by Burnat’s brother Emad Burnat and Israeli director Guy Davidi.

Since the 1967 war, Israel has illegally occupied and expanded its military presence in the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in defiance of UN Security Council resolution 242 and many others which demand “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the (1967) conflict.” It has placed nearly 500,000 illegal Israeli Jewish settlers on Palestinian land in direct violation of international law.

In 2003, Israel began building a hugely controversial “separation wall” primarily on the Palestinian side of the “green line” between the West Bank and Israel proper. Burnat reported that the wall, which is 8 meters high in some places, has taken over half of Bil’in’s farm land.  It was in opposition to this wall that Bil’in citizens began their weekly marches to the fenced area.  Since 2005, Bil’in farmers have been joined by Israeli and International peace activists and protests have spread to about 20 other villages in the West Bank.  

The videos showed creative methods used by from 200 to 4000 demonstrators every Friday and the violent response from Israeli soldiers. Demonstrators repeatedly endured injuries from tear gas rockets, chemical infused water, and rubber-coated metal bullets.  Burnat reported 40 deaths and 1,300 injured among all the villages. He argued that the goal of Israel’s separation wall is not security but the confiscation of Palestinian land for Israeli settlers, the theft of Palestinian water to supply them, and to put more Palestinians in prison.

In a soft-spoken voice, Burnat explained that the “olive tree is the life of farmers in this area.”  He showed videos of demonstrators chaining themselves to olive trees and of the burning and bulldozing of olive groves, noting sadly that many Palestinian farmers who used to sell olive oil now have to purchase it.  As a result, over 60 percent of Palestinians are unemployed in Bil’in.

Burnat graphically described the hardship of Palestinian farmers and their families under the Israeli occupation: diminished farm land due to the separation wall, Jewish-only roads and settlements; lack of freedom of movement due to checkpoints and roadblocks; running water limited to one day per week or less; and nighttime curfews and raids that especially terrorize village children.  He observed that the Israeli settlement enterprise has now made it impossible for an Israel-Palestine two-state solution for peace in the region.

Burnat was asked how the Palestinians can maintain their commitment to non-violent protests in the midst of a very militarized Israeli opposition. Burnat said he finds hope from the solidarity with the other Palestinian villages, the support of the people who join from outside, and his firm belief that they will succeed in ending the occupation.  He cited the success of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi in ending oppression.

Burnat was also asked if he was troubled by the violent means used by others such as rockets shot out of Gaza. Burnat observed that Hamas is always blamed for violence when, in fact, the Israeli government wants to provoke such violence, such as when Israel recently assassinated the Hamas representative who was involved in peace negotiation talks. He asked the audience to remember that Hamas has been in existence for 25 years whereas the violent Israeli occupation of Palestine is 65 years old. He noted that in Bil’in, Israel has even sent “special forces” disguised as Palestinians to throw stones in order to justify the violent response from the Israeli soldiers.

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December 16, 2012
MRSCP Gaza Visit on WORT

WORT 89.9 FM
6:00-6:30 pm

MRSCP member Michele Bahl will be interviewed about the struggle of Palestinian prisoners and other issues raised in her recent trip to Gaza. For current news on this issue, see:

    Podcast: Israel wants to criminalize human rights defenders, says head of Palestinian prisoner’s rights group raided by army. The Electronic Intifada, 14 Dec — “We think that this raid was because the three organizations, especially Addameer, was involved a lot this year in the hunger strikes and the support for Palestinian political prisoners …

    EMOHR calls on PA to prosecute occupation internationally
    ANKARA/RAMALLAH (Palestinian Information Center) 14 Dec — The Euro-Mediterranean Observatory for Human Rights (EMOHR) called on the Palestinian Authority to prosecute the Israeli occupation for the violating the international law in dealing with Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike …

    Rally held in hunger-strikers’ West Bank hometown
    JENIN (Ma‘an) 14 Dec — For the second Friday in a row, Palestinians held a rally in the northern West Bank town of Arraba to support hunger-strikers in Israeli jails, including residents of the town. Tareq Qaadan and Jaafar Izz Addin from Arraba, near Jenin, both started refusing food in Israeli jail on Nov. 28, prisoners rights group Addameer said.

    Lebanon camps rally for hunger strikers
    BETHLEHEM (Ma‘an) 14 Dec — Palestinian refugees in Lebanon on Friday demonstrated in solidarity with prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails. Ayman Sharawneh has been on hunger strike for 167 days and Samer al-Issawi has refused food for 136 days in Israel’s Ramle prison. Both men were rearrested after their release in Israel’s Oct. 2011 prisoner swap with Hamas.

December 15, 2012
Bethlehem Christmas Lutheran Church Benefit


Craft and Cookie Sale to benefit Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem

Saturday, December 15
Memorial Memorial United Church of Christ
5705 Lacy Road, Fitchburg [Map]
9 am 12 pm

Annual holiday event benefits Memorial UCC partnership with the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem in the West Bank of Palestine. Fellowship Hall will be transformed into a holiday bazaar featuring holiday cookies sold by the pound and handmade crafts galore.

For information contact Nancy Baumgardner: nancybaumgardner (at) gmail.com.

December 16, 2012
Talk by Iyad Burnat of the Bilin Popular Committee

Sunday, December 16
Memorial United Church of Christ
5705 Lacy Road, Fitchburg
2:00 pm [Map]

Trailer "5 Broken Cameras" from Guy Davidi on Vimeo.

Iyad Burnat is head of the Bilin Popular Committee and a leader in the villages non-violent popular resistance movement. Since 2005 citizens of Bilin have held weekly demonstrations against the building of the Israeli separation wall through the communitys agricultural lands, and the steady encroachment of illegal settlements. The demonstrators are joined by Israeli and international peace activists, and have maintained a commitment to non-violent methods of resistance in spite of armed, military opposition that has resulted in many injuries and some deaths.

These demonstrations are the subject of the recent award-winning documentary film 5 Broken Cameras, which was made by Iyads brother, Emad Burnat.

Iyad was born in Bilin in September of 1973. He is married and has four children. He became involved in popular resistance as a teenager, and was arrested by the Israeli military for the first time at age 17. He was accused of throwing stones, and imprisoned for two years. Since then he has been arrested and imprisoned by the Israeli military several more times.

During his 2012-2013 American tour, Iyad will tell the stories of Bilin and life in occupied Palestine, and talk about strategies for non-violent popular resistance with a goal of peace and prosperity for all people. His presentations are accompanied by photos and videos.

Co-sponsored by American Jews for a Just Peace-Madison, Christ Presbyterian Church, Colombia Support Network, The Crossing, Family Farm Defenders, First United Methodist Church-Madison, Madison-Arcatao Sister City Project, Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, Memorial United Church of Christ-Fitchburg, Muslim Students Association, Pilgrims of Ibillin, Playgrounds for Palestine-Madison, and Students for Justice in Palestine-Madison

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December 5, 2012
Film: 5 Broken Cameras

Memorial Library, Room 126
UW-Madison [Map]
7:00 pm

An extraordinary work of both cinematic and political activism, 5 Broken Cameras is a deeply personal, first-hand account of non-violent resistance in Bil’in, a West Bank village threatened by encroaching Israeli settlements. 5 Broken Cameras was shot almost entirely by Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat, who initially purchased a camera to record his youngest son. Structured around the violent destruction of that and four subsequent cameras, Burnat’s collaboration with Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi follows one family’s evolution over five years of village turmoil. Burnat watches from behind the lens as olive trees are bulldozed, protests intensify, and lives are lost. “I feel like the camera protects me,” he says, “but it’s an illusion.”

In light of recent developments in the Gaza Strip and at the UN, 5 Broken Cameras is more relevant now than ever before.

This showing is free and open to the public. A request for voluntary donations to Gaza emergency relief will be made.

Join the UW Students for Justice in Palestine, Playgrounds for Palestine-Madison, Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, Muslim Students Association, Carol Chomsky Memorial Fund and the Havens Center for the Madison premier of this film and be informed on the reality of life in Palestine. For more info on the film, call 215-9157.

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Tsela Barr and Michele Bahl: Recent visit to Gaza heartbreaking

TSELA BARR AND MICHELE BAHL | members, Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, Cap Times, Nov 22, 2012

Picture this normal scene: Teenage boys are playing soccer in front of their house on a sunny day in November. Just one problem: These boys live in the Gaza Strip. Suddenly a 13-year-old drops bleeding to the ground, shot by an Israeli soldier in a helicopter.

We were in Gaza at the time and paid a condolence call to the parents of the dead boy. The grief of his mother was unbearable to see.

A man at the funeral said, “We hope you will be strong ambassadors to reflect our message that we need protection. We are looking for freedom and peace.”

Since we left Gaza, over 149 people were killed and over 850 injured during “Operation Pillar of Cloud.” A majority of those killed in this eight-day assault were noncombatants including women, children and the elderly. The many hundreds more who were injured were overwhelmingly civilians.

We were in Gaza with a delegation organized by Inter-Faith Peace Builders. We met with human rights groups, women’s groups, fishermen, farmers, schoolchildren, refugees and other residents. Everyone we met has been severely impacted by Israel’s ongoing economic siege and by the destruction of “Operation Cast Lead” in 2008, when Israel killed an estimated 1,400 Gazans and destroyed thousands of homes and buildings.

Farmers are not allowed to export their crops, the water and sewage system has been destroyed, no garbage trucks are allowed in, fishermen are continually shot at, and people are not allowed out for crucial medical treatments. And for years, Israel has struck into Gaza at will, killing and injuring ordinary Palestinians on a daily basis.

While every death or injury is a tragedy, the enormously lopsided casualty figures are proof that this is not an even playing field for both parties. Israel is the occupier, with the world’s fourth-largest army supplied by the U.S. government, provoking and relentlessly bombing a small strip of land that they have lain siege to for the past six years, to which they control nearly all entry and exit by sea, air and land.

Largely protected from Palestinian retaliation by its U.S.-taxpayer-funded “Iron Dome” missile defense system, Israel set in motion its pre-planned “do over” against Gaza. On Nov. 14 it broke a two-day ceasefire by assassinating perhaps the only man capable of maintaining that ceasefire, Ahmed Al-Jabari, the head of the Hamas military wing. Israeli peace negotiator Gershon Baskin reports that Al-Jabari had just received a proposal for an extended cease fire with Israel hours before he was killed.

All aspects of civilian life were targeted, including schools, homes and infrastructure. It does not matter how sophisticated Israel’s “precision” weapons are, the 1.7 million people living in the densest place on earth were at enormously greater risk of death and injury than anyone in Israel who might be threatened by the primitive rockets of Hamas.

The Gaza that we saw right before this assault was inspiring because of the creative resistance of the people, yet heartbreaking because of the needless suffering they must endure. We were fortunate to leave before the major bombardment began and we can only imagine the chaos and terror of the the people who were so hospitable to us.

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One Jewish Woman’s Fight for Palestine

One Jewish Woman’s Fight for PalestineYasmin Mogahed, Nov 19, 2012

For Jennifer Loewenstein, April 19, 2002 was a “waking nightmare”. She stood silent at the edge of the camp, in disbelief–and horror.

Listening to the sound of wailing, she watched as medical workers lay out the bodies of the dead. The corpses, wrapped in white, were loaded onto the back of a pick-up truck.

“I will never forget this time,” Loewenstein recalls. “I stayed in the camp for two days, picking through the ruins and debris of people’s former lives–watching children and families look for their belongings–anything they could salvage from the wreckage.”

Loewenstein was in Jenin.

She had spent much of the previous two years working as an editor and freelance journalist at the Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza. During that time she traveled frequently to the Rafah refugee camp to visit friends. It was in that way that she came to know Rafah so well and later started the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project in December of 2002.

But Loewenstein’s decision to take on the plight of the Palestinian people was not an easy one. She has since been shunned by her community and accused of being a “terrorist sympathizer” and “self-hating Jew”–a term she considers as ludicrous as calling her a “self-hating human” for opposing human rights abuse.

Despite this opposition, Loewenstein continues her struggle to expose an injustice she wasn’t always aware of herself.

“I never really knew much about the plight of the Palestinians until I was much older,” says Loewenstein. “I didn’t begin to question all the information I’d gotten on Israel and on Arabs until I got to college (at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem).”

Loewenstein grew up in a secular Jewish family, but was instilled early on with a concern for Israel. She still remembers the day when her favorite dress was sent to her cousin overseas. She was only six, but gave up the dress because her family in Israel needed it.

Although her parents were not “avid Zionists”, their loyalty to Israel was strong. But even stronger than their loyalty to either Israel or Judaism was her family’s loyalty to peace.

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