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.

As we write, a ceasefire is in effect that we fervently hope will last. But whether or not it does, we call on Republicans and Democrats alike to stop pouring billions of our tax money into the Israeli military machine which clearly has committed human rights abuses with U.S.-supplied weapons. The U.S. and Israel must stop trying to solve a political problem through military force, end the siege of Gaza, and stop sabotaging all efforts to negotiate a just solution in accordance with international law.

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.

“One year at Christmas/Hanukah time we refused to celebrate either holiday,” remembers Loewenstein. “Instead we made a ‘Peace Tree’ and celebrated our hope for peace.”

Her mother’s concern for peace was complemented by her struggle for civil rights. Loewenstein never forgets the day that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated because it devastated her mother so much.

It was this early awareness of civil rights that Loewenstein carried into adulthood and would bring with her to Jerusalem. In 1981 she traveled to Israel for a semester-long study abroad program. During her stay she was exposed to a world she never knew existed.

One day during a tour of Gaza Strip instead of listening to the tour guide, Loewenstein sat at the back of the bus and looked out the window. She discovered “thousands of people living in tents and shacks.” Loewenstein was appalled.

“It was the first time I had ever seen this kind of poverty and the first time I understood the meaning of “occupation” in a concrete way,” says Loewenstein. “I saw a woman with about three children carrying a jug of water on her head and a soldier watching her and the others around her with his gun slung over his shoulder.”

It was at that moment that she first realized “something was terribly wrong.” But nothing she saw that day would prepare her for what she experienced in April of 2002.

Loewenstein was among the first internationals—and only a handful of Americans–to enter the destroyed Jenin refugee camp the day after the Israeli incursion.

“When I got into the camp area I could not believe my eyes. It had been devastated. Thirteen thousand people had lost their homes,” describes Loewenstein. “The camp was destroyed beyond recognition – flattened into a heap of rubble and dust. The smell of death was everywhere.”

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American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) Meets with State Department

Demands End to Siege in Gaza and Justice for Rachel Corrie

Ongoing Attacks in Gaza Underscore Urgent Need for Human Rights Defenders in Occupied Palestine

Washington, DC | www.adc.org | November 19, 2012 — Last Friday, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), CODEPINK, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), and the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation delivered to the U.S. Department of State more than 17,000 signatures and an open letter signed by over 50 U.S. organizations asking the State Department to investigate the death of Rachel Corrie and each case involving the death or serious injury of an American citizen by the Israeli military since 2001. The groups also met with State Department officials to discuss the need for accountability in the deaths of human rights defenders like Corrie, a need made more urgent by this week’s deadly attacks by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip.

In recent days the Israeli military launched a new major military operation on Gaza. The attack has left dozens dead, including an 11-month-old infant and a woman pregnant with twins, and 270 wounded since Wednesday.

Nabil Mohamad from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said, “Rachel’s case is an example of the lack of accountability for Israel’s killing of Palestinians and non-Palestinians alike. American citizens and non-violent activists have been, and will continue, to be killed by Israeli forces unless Israel is held responsible. We call upon the U.S. government to launch an independent investigation led by the Department of State and Department of Justice to bring justice and prevent further loss of life.”

Josh Ruebner, National Advocacy Director of the U.S. Campaign, shared that, “Israel’s ongoing attacks against and illegal siege of the Gaza Strip necessitate an end to Israeli impunity for human rights abuses of Palestinians and human rights defenders acting in solidarity with Palestinians living under Israel’s brutal military occupation.”

Cindy and Craig Corrie, parents of Rachel Corrie, expressed, "We greatly appreciate the efforts of all who have carried this message today to the Department of State about the need for accountability in all cases of human rights observers harmed by the Israeli military. Lack of such accountability has only contributed to the impunity enjoyed by the Israeli military and made not only human rights activists, but also Palestinians and Israelis, less safe.”

CCR’s Laura Raymond, shared that, “Defending human rights in Gaza should not come at the risk of death. Now more than ever we need human rights defenders on the ground to be able to carry out their work without fearing mortal danger.”

Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli military bulldozer in March 16, 2003, as she protested the demolition of Palestinian homes in Rafah, Gaza. She was 23 years old. Since 2001, a number of other cases have been reported involving the death or serious injury of American human rights defenders in Palestine caused by the Israeli military.

The State Department declined to act on previous calls for an investigation into Corrie’s death, citing a civil trial in Israel brought by the Corrie family against the Israeli military. In August 2012, however, that case concluded when the presiding judge absolved the State of Israel of any liability and ruling that Corrie’s death was "an accident she brought upon herself." U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro called Israel’s investigation into the case unsatisfactory and lacking in transparency.

CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin, said, "As American citizens, we are horrified that our taxpayer dollars are funding the military equipment used by Israel to demolish Palestinian homes, like the one Rachel Corrie died defending, and the destruction that is being wrought upon Gaza at this very moment. We call upon the State Department to condemn these unjust and inhumane actions, instead of continuing to let Israel act with impunity."

Why Gaza Must Suffer Again

The Four Guilty Parties Behind Israel’s Attack

JONATHAN COOK, November 19, 2012

Nazareth — A short interview broadcast by CNN late last week featuring two participants – a Palestinian in Gaza and an Israeli within range of the rocket attacks – did not follow the usual script.

For once, a media outlet dropped its role as gatekeeper, there to mediate and therefore impair our understanding of what is taking place between Israel and the Palestinians, and inadvertently became a simple window on real events.

The usual aim of such “balance” interviews relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is twofold: to reassure the audience that both sides of the story are being presented fairly; and to dissipate potential outrage at the deaths of Palestinian civilians by giving equal time to the suffering of Israelis.

But the deeper function of such coverage in relation to Gaza, given the media’s assumption that Israeli bombs are simply a reaction to Hamas terror, is to redirect the audience’s anger exclusively towards Hamas. In this way, Hamas is made implicitly responsible for the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians.

The dramatic conclusion to CNN’s interview appears, however, to have otherwise trumped normal journalistic considerations.

The pre-recorded interview via Skype opened with Mohammed Sulaiman in Gaza. From what looked like a cramped room, presumably serving as a bomb shelter, he spoke of how he was too afraid to step outside his home. Throughout the interview, we could hear the muffled sound of bombs exploding in the near-distance. Mohammed occasionally glanced nervously to his side.

The other interviewee, Nissim Nahoom, an Israeli official in Ashkelon, also spoke of his family’s terror, arguing that it was no different from that of Gazans. Except in one respect, he hastened to add: things were worse for Israelis because they had to live with the knowledge that Hamas rockets were intended to harm civilians, unlike the precision missiles and bombs Israel dropped on Gaza.

The interview returned to Mohammed. As he started to speak, the bombing grew much louder. He pressed on, saying he would not be silenced by what was taking place outside. The interviewer, Isha Sesay, interrupted – seemingly unsure of what she was hearing – to inquire about the noise.

Then, with an irony that Mohammed could not have appreciated as he spoke, he began to say he refused to be drawn into a comparison about whose suffering was worse when an enormous explosion threw him from his chair and severed the internet connection. Switching back to the studio, Sesay reassured viewers that Mohammed had not been hurt.

The bombs, however, spoke more eloquently than either Mohammed or Nissim.

If Mohammed had had more time, he might have been able to challenge Nissim’s point about Israelis’ greater fears as well as pointing to another important difference between his and his Israeli interlocutor’s respective plights.

The far greater accuracy of Israel’s weaponry in no way confers peace of mind. The fact is that a Palestinian civilian in Gaza is in far more danger of being killed or injured by one of Israel’s precision armaments than an Israeli is by one of the more primitive rockets being launched out of Gaza.

In Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s attack on Gaza in winter 2008-09, three Israelis were killed by rocket attacks, and six soldiers died in fighting. In Gaza, meanwhile, nearly 1,400 Palestinians were killed, of whom at least 1,000 were not involved in hostilities, according to the Israeli group B’Tselem. Many, if not most, of those civilians were killed by so-called precision bombs and missiles.

If Israelis like Nissim really believe they have to endure greater suffering because the Palestinians lack accurate weapons, then maybe they should start lobbying Washington to distribute its military hardware more equitably, so that the Palestinians can receive the same allocations of military aid and armaments as Israel.

Or alternatively, they could lobby their own government to allow Iran and Hizbullah to bring into Gaza more sophisticated technology than can currently be smuggled in via the tunnels.

The other difference is that, unlike Nissim and his family, most people in Gaza have nowhere else to flee. And the reason that they must live under the rain of bombs in one of the most densely populated areas on earth is because Israel – and to a lesser extent Egypt – has sealed the borders to create a prison for them.

Israel has denied Gaza a port, control of its airspace and the right of its inhabitants to move to the other Palestinian territory recognised by the Oslo accords, the West Bank. It is not, as Israel’s supporters allege, that Hamas is hiding among Palestinian civilians; rather, Israel has forced Palestinian civilians to live in a tiny strip of land that Israel turned into a war zone.

So who is chiefly to blame for the escalation that currently threatens the nearly two million inhabitants of Gaza? Though Hamas’ hands are not entirely clean, there are culprits far more responsible than the Palestinian militants.

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Stories of Peacebuilding in Gaza and the West Bank

John Quinlan, WORT 89.9 FM – A Public Affair, November 19, 2012

On Monday November 19th, host John Quinlan was joined in conversation with visitors from a peace delegation sponsored by the Interfaith Peace-Builders.

The delegates just returned this past week from Gaza and and the West Bank. Permission for foreigners to obtain passage to Gaza is rare, and thus these interviews provided listeners with a vital opportunity to understand daily life in the Palestinian territories and how this existence is being affected by the current conflict. John spoke with Tsela Barr and Michele Bahl who just came back from a peace delegation to Gaza on November 12th. During the second half of the hour John spoke with Veena Brekke who recently returned from a peace delegation to the West Bank.

According to their website, “Interfaith Peace-Builders believes in the power of eye-witness experience and transformation. Given the opportunity to speak directly with Israelis and Palestinians, delegates return to the United States better informed, more energized, and with a deeper understanding of the possibilities for true justice in the Middle East.” Tsela, Michele, and Veena shared with WORT listeners their fascinating experiences from both Israel and Palestine.

Read more about Interfaith Peace Builders on their website: http://www.ifpb.org/

Listen to the entire show:

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Democracy Now! Interview with Mohammed Omer in Gaza City

Breaking Truce, Israeli Strikes Kill "Moderate" Hamas Military Chief, Palestinian Civilians in Gaza


Democracy Now!, November 15, 2012

Israel is threatening to launch a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip after breaking an informal ceasefire with an ongoing series of deadly attacks. At least 13 Palestinian civilians have been killed, including a baby and a mother pregnant with twins, in addition to more than 100 wounded. Israel says it has launched the strikes to prevent Palestinian rocket fire, but the latest round of violence began last week when Israeli troops killed a young boy in Gaza. The situation has escalated since Saturday, when Palestinian militants fired at an Israeli military vehicle near the Israel-Gaza border. After Palestinian militant groups agreed to an informal truce on Monday, Israel broke two days of quiet with Wednesday’s attack. Israel’s attack on Gaza marks its largest since the U.S.-backed operation that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians nearly four years ago. We go to Gaza City to speak with Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer.

Rush Transcript

AMY GOODMAN: Israel is threatening to launch a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip after breaking an informal ceasefire with a series of deadly attacks. On Wednesday, an Israeli air strike assassinated Ahmed Jabari, the head of Hamas’s military wing. The bombing continued throughout the day and night, killing at least 13 civilians, including a baby and a mother pregnant with twins. More than a hundred Palestinians were also wounded. The toll is expected to rise.

At least three Israelis were killed today when Palestinian rockets hit a residential building in the town of Kiryat Malachi, the first Israeli fatalities since the latest fighting began. Israel says it has launched the strikes to prevent Palestinian rocket fire, but the latest round of violence began last week when Israeli troops killed a young boy in Gaza. The situation has escalated since Saturday, when Palestinian militants fired at an Israeli military vehicle near the Israel-Gaza border. After Palestinian militant groups agreed to an informal truce Monday, Israel broke two days of quiet with Wednesday’s attack.

Israel’s attack on Gaza marks its largest since the U.S.-backed operation that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians nearly four years ago. It was just about this time, just after President Obama was elected for the first time, that the attacks, Operation Cast Lead, began.

We go now to Gaza City, where we’re joined by Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Mohammed. Can you describe what’s happening now on the ground?

MOHAMMED OMER: Well, the only thing you can hear, Amy, here is the bombing and F-16s and missiles dropping across the Gaza Strip, and everywhere in the Gaza Strip. Let us start by the northern part of the Gaza Strip, where we just heard a number of missiles fired by Israel F-16s and the drones. When you look at the Gaza sky, you find F-16s hovering and drones; you cannot tell the difference. There is in the east part of the Gaza Strip—we are talking about here Khan Younis, Gaza City, Rafah—and also the southern part of the Gaza Strip, in particular, where the bombing is taking place from the Israeli warships.

The situation is very critical at the moment. As I’m sitting right now with a number of people who are evacuating a number of the injured people in Gaza City, the medical crew are unable to find where to go to evacuate the dead bodies. There is a lot of people who are injured; so far, we have the number at—according to the medical crew next to me, we have 15 people who were killed in the last 24 hours, and we have over 150 people who are injured. The majority of them are men and women. In the last few hours, a—or actually, in the last couple of hours, the emergency team here and the ambulances announced that they found the bodies of four people, including a child who lost her leg and a young man who was critically wounded between the north and Gaza City.

As we speak at the moment, also we are told that the F-16s are firing missiles on Nuseirat refugee camp in the middle of the Gaza Strip. This is not the first time. And last night alone, eight air strikes were fired at Nuseirat refugee camp in the southern part of the Gaza Strip.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohammed Omer, I wanted to ask you about a new report in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. The Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, who helped mediate between Israel and Hamas in the deal to release Gilad Shalit, told the paper that Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari was assassinated just hours after he received the draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel, which included mechanisms for maintaining the ceasefire. What do you know about this?

MOHAMMED OMER: Well, this is accurate. This is what some of the Hamas officials are confirming. Now, I should say that the—there is outrage among the Palestinian political parties, particularly Islamic Jihad and Hamas and even PFLP and the more secular movements. They are angry because they say that al-Jabari is known as a moderate and negotiator, just to remind our people that al-Jabari is the one behind the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. And al-Jabari was the one who’s actually the contact person during this critical time of the year; when there is bombing and F-16s firing and there is a need for truce, al-Jabari is the person to talk on behalf of the Palestinians. So far, the Egyptians will not be able to reach anybody who is able to talk to the Palestinians and to install real truce. It’s exactly like losing Yasser Arafat, who had a lot of influence on the Palestinians. And now we are losing al-Jabari, who has a lot of influence on the military wings of all the political factions, given the fact that he plays a most important role as a Palestinian leader among the Palestinian factions and in the Palestinian street.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohammed Omer, how did this latest violence get started? The Israeli government says it’s because of Hamas rocket fire out of Gaza.

MOHAMMED OMER: Well, there was a truce, actually. There was a truce. And they also made it—they also made—the Israelis made it possible for the people to believe that there was a truce. Otherwise, someone like al-Jabari would not be moving in Gaza City. That’s out of the question. Most of the Hamas leaders, when there is no truce, they won’t be moving. He was driving with his driver or with his bodyguard, Muhammad al-Hums, in the streets of Gaza City. And I happened to be next to this bomb. There was absolutely quietness. There was no need for worry for anybody in Gaza. It was about two days ago where they were installing truce, and al-Jabari was involved in this. It was just a sudden attack by the Israeli F-16 missiles, which hit al-Jabari and caused all this riot and the retaliation, which is coming from both Hamas and other factions who are firing rockets.

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