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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