2012 Gaza Delegation Photos

 


Michele Bahl and Tsela (Carol) Barr of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project entered Gaza through the Rafah Crossing on November 5, 2012 as part of a 21-member delegation from Interfaith Peace-Builders (IFPB). This was the first IFPB delegation to enter the Gaza Strip since 2003. From the Interfaith Peace-Builders report:

    “Like other Interfaith Peace-Builder delegations, its purpose is to educate North Americans about the region and deepen their understanding of its conflicts.

    On the eve of the Presidential Election in the United States, the US-brokered peace process continues to show few results and US military aid to the region continues to flow unabated.

    This delegation focuses on the realities of Palestinian life in the Gaza Strip. Participants have the unique opportunity to hear directly from Palestinians throughout the territory regarding their hopes for peace and the role of the United States, the US government, and other international actors in promoting a resolution to the conflict.

    The Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation to the Gaza Strip is led by Michael Brown and Cindy Corrie.

    Michael Brown worked off and on in the Gaza Strip between 1993 and 2000 for the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. A former IFPB board member, Michael continues to work today on the media and Palestine. Michael led an IFPB delegation in 2008.

    Cindy Corrie is the mother of human rights activist and observer Rachel Corrie who on March 16, 2003 was killed by an Israeli military Caterpillar bulldozer in the Gaza Strip. Motivated by her daughter’s work and sacrifice, Cindy Corrie has dedicated herself to the pursuit of justice and peace in the Middle East and has visited Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza on numerous occasions. She is also president of the board of the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, inspired by her daughter.”

The delegation visited the Palestinian Legislative Council, a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school and food warehouse, the Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children, the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, and the Society of Women Graduates NGO. They also met with Khalil Abu Shammala, human rights advocate and Director of the Al Dameer Association for Human Rights. On November 14, 2012, the day that the delegation left, Israel attacked Gaza with the eight-day Operation Pillar of Defense.


Related posts:

  • VOICES OF CONSCIENCE: DELEGATION to THE GAZA STRIP
  • An Ongoing Terror
  • Israel Attacks the Gaza Strip
  • Stories of Peacebuilding in Gaza and the West Bank
  • Tsela Barr and Michele Bahl: Recent visit to Gaza heartbreaking
  • Tsela Barr and Veena Brekke at East High School

  • VOICES OF CONSCIENCE: DELEGATION to THE GAZA STRIP

    Interfaith Peace-Builders, November 5, 2012

    November 5, 2012 – Interfaith Peace-Builders (IFPB) is pleased to announce that our 21 member delegation to the Gaza Strip passed safely through the Rafah Crossing Monday morning and is now safely in the Gaza Strip.

    Interfaith Peace-Builders has sent more than 44 delegations to Palestine/Israel since 2001. This is the first IFPB delegation to enter the Gaza Strip since 2003. Like other IFPB delegations, its purpose is to educate North Americans about the region and deepen their understanding of its conflicts.

    On the eve of the Presidential Election in the United States, the US-brokered peace process continues to show few results and US military aid to the region continues to flow unabated.

    This delegation focuses on the realities of Palestinian life in the Gaza Strip. Participants have the unique opportunity to hear directly from Palestinians throughout the territory regarding their hopes for peace and the role of the United States, the US government, and other international actors, in promoting a resolution to the conflict.

    The Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation to the Gaza Strip is led by Michael Brown and Cindy Corrie. Michael Brown worked off and on in the Gaza Strip between 1993 and 2000 for the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. A former IFPB board member, Michael continues to work today on the media and Palestine. Michael led an IFPB delegation in 2008. Cindy Corrie is the mother of human rights activist and observer Rachel Corrie who on March 16, 2003, was killed by an Israeli military Caterpillar bulldozer in the Gaza Strip.  Motivated by her daughter’s work and sacrifice, Cindy Corrie has dedicated herself to the pursuit of justice and peace in the Middle East and has visited Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza on numerous occasions. She is also president of the board of the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, inspired by her daughter.

    del44gaza
    a photo of the delegation in Gaza City

    The delegation includes the following people:

    Diane Adkin – Camas, Washington
    Michele Bahl – Madison, Wisconsin
    Carol Barr – Madison, Wisconsin

    Michael Brown – Asheville, North Carolina
    Marsha Carlton – Davis, California
    Craig and Cindy Corrie – Olympia, Washington
    Gary Doupe – Bainbridge, New York
    Rich Forer – Yardley, Pennsylvania
    Joyce Guinn – Germantown, Wisconsin
    Maya Harris – Olympia, Washington
    Wendy Hartley – Nevada City, California
    Darlene Jones-Owens – Carrollton, Georgia
    Declan Keogh – Decatur, Georgia
    Ralph and Emily McCoy – Boone, North Carolina
    Donna Nassor – Moonachie, New Jersey
    Karen Peterson – Horseheads, New York
    Cathy Sultan – Eau Claire, Wisconsin
    Colleen Toomey – North Andover, Massachusetts
    Sonja Wentz – Olympia, Washington

    Reports and Photos from IFPB’s November 2012 Delegation to the Gaza Strip:
    Photos
    Report 1: Greetings from Gaza, Palestine
    Report 2: Occupation is "An Ongoing Terror"
    Report 3: Bringing Gaza With Us
    Follow-Up: Delegates in Action!

    In addition to the reports linked from this page, IFPB delegation participants may be blogging and tweeting about their experiences. Like the trip reports posted here, individual blogs and tweets reflect the views of delegation participants only, and not necessarily Interfaith Peace-Builders or partners.

    Blogs by delegation members:
    Maya Harris may be blogging here
    Cindy Corrie may be blogging here

    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.

    Upon their return to the United States, delegates will share their experiences with the public, the media, and their political representatives.

    Continue reading

    Loving the Land and It’s People: Palestinian Hospitality

    Veena Brekke, Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, October 31, 2012

    On October 28th we departed the beautiful city of Nazareth to visit Palestinian towns, villages, farms and spend two nights in Palestinian homes. I would like to share my experience of visiting the small farming village of Nusf Jubayl, West Bank (Area A – occupied territory) and a home of an Israeli Palestinian family in Akka, Israel.

    Nusf Jubayl farmers are part of a small farmer’s co-operative (1200 farmers around the town of Jenin) who harvest olives and sell its products through Canaan Fair Trade. The village is located in a mountainous, rocky area. We were welcomed by Khader and Ransees’s family.

    A group of us walked along the beautiful mountain side, peaceful, barren and rocky land, to reach the olive trees that needed harvesting. We worked alongside children and adults from the village until sunset and watched the full moon come up as we walked the mile and half back to the village.

    Several families had planned a meal for us in a common court yard. We were offered a delicious dish, Maqlouba, of chicken and cauliflower in rice, tomatoes and cucumber salad, and yogurt. I was impressed by the caring actions of Palestinian teenage boys who rushed to help older travelers with their luggage and offered chairs for their comfort.

    After dinner four of us travelers were guided along the dark uphill narrow streets of the village by Noor, age 12, and his older brother to their home. Niveen and Asaad, their parents, are farmers and have seven children. They vacated their kitchen, large first floor living area and bathroom for our overnight stay. It is clear that they have little material wealth but offered so much in their generosity.

    The next morning, following coffee and breakfast, Khader showed us a restoration project of an old building to create a child care and community center. Everyone in this small village lives with extended family, cares for their children, values elders and works towards improving their community. It was refreshing to note that there were no Israeli settlements and military towers threatening their existence. My hope is that their farming co-op will be prosperous and they will be left alone by Israeli settlements.

    My second overnight home stay was with Sirri and Hindiah Idilbi’s family in Akka, a city near Haifa. They are Palestinians that live inside Israel. It was the last night of the Muslim holiday Eid Al-Adha and a feast awaited me and Alexandra, a traveling companion: three salads, stuffed grape leaves, chicken pastry, kibbeh, and other delicious items that I can’t identify by name.

    Hindiah is a school principal of the local elementary school and Sirri speaks excellent English because of attending college in Houston, TX for several years. They talked about the importance of education for their two daughters, Sirri – 11 and Aseel – 14, and the high cost of private high school. I am thankful for the opportunity to learn of their experience as Palestinians and their hope for equality and justice in Israel.

    We woke up to a variety of delicious breakfast items and that great strong Arabic coffee. When it was time for us to depart, Hindiah gave us bags with apples and pastries for our bus ride to Tel Aviv.

    Palestinian hospitality is expressed by the offering of food and insisting that you eat a little more!

    Veena, a member of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, was participating in an Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation to the West Bank olive harvest.

    2012 West Bank Olive Harvest Delegation

    Interfaith Peace-Builders Delegation Arrives in Israel/Palestine

    Interfaith Peace-Builders, October 23, 2012

    October 23, 2012 – Interfaith Peace-Builders (IFPB) is pleased to announce that our 32 member delegation to Israel/Palestine arrived at Ben-Gurion airport Tuesday morning and is now safely in Jerusalem.

    The purpose of this delegation, the 42nd to make the trip since 2001, is to educate North Americans about the region and deepen their understanding of its conflicts.

    The delegation focuses on the Palestinian olive harvest which takes place each autumn. The olive harvest is an occasion of particular cultural and economic importance for Palestinian communities and a time when tensions between Israeli settlers and Palestinian residents of the West Bank run high.

    As the Presidential Election heats up in the United States, the US-brokered peace process continues to show few results and US military aid to the region continues to flow unabated. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict played a significant part in the US Presidential Foreign Policy Debate which took place on October 22 in Boca Raton, Florida.

    Participants on this Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation have the unique opportunity to hear directly from Palestinians and Israelis regarding their hopes for peace and the role of the United States, the US government, and other international actors, in promoting a resolution to the conflict.

    D42 group
    A photo of the delegates at orientation in Washington, DC

    The delegation includes the following people:

    Austin Branion – Arlington, Virginia
    Veena Brekke – Madison, Wisconsin
    Marsha Carlton – Davis, California
    Jan Cebula – Clinton, Iowa
    Andy Clarno – Chicago, Illinois (not pictured)
    Laura Common – Toronto, Ontario (not pictured)
    Cindy Corrie – Olympia, Washington
    Craig Corrie – Olympia, Washington

    Mike Daly – Boston, Massachusetts(not pictured)
    Gary Doupe – Bainbridge, New York
    Brian Fry – Grass Valley, California
    Kathy Garbarino – Detroit, Michigan
    Krystal Garvin – Washington, DC
    Elissa Goss – Olympia, Washington
    Maya Harris – Olympia, Washington
    Wendy Hartley – Nevada City, California
    Hanan Idilbi – Alexandria, Virginia
    Darlene Jones-Owens – Carrollton, Georgia (not pictured)
    Declan Keogh – Decatur, Georgia
    Laila Liddy – Tuscaloosa, Alabama
    Alexandra Lusak – Troy, New York
    Sean McManus – Washington DC
    George Meek – Arlington, Virginia
    Elizabeth Moore – Olympia, Washington
    Brad Ogilvie – Washington, DC
    Arthur Pazia – Toronto, Ontario (not pictured)
    Karen Peterson – Horseheads, New York
    Jeanne Randorf – Otis, Massachusetts
    Arlene Tolopko – Otis, Massachusetts
    Ann Valtsakis – Hyannis, Massachusetts
    Sonja Wentz – Olympia, Washington

    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.

    Upon their return to the United States, delegates will share their experiences with the public, the media, and their political representatives.

    Media interested in interviewing the participants when they return, and groups wanting information about speaking engagements, should contact Interfaith Peace-Builders at media@ifpb.org or 415.240.4607.

    Reports and Photos from IFPB’s 42nd Delegation
    (Oct. – Nov. 2012)

    photo link
    Photos

    Delegation 42 Announcement
    Report 1: First Impressions
    Report 2: Oases: Real, Imagined, and Impossible
    Report 3: A Day With The Olives (and other experiences)
    Report 4: Loving the Land and it’s People
        Palestinian Hospitality by Veena Brekke
    Report 5: Returning With Open Eyes
    Follow-Up: Delegates in Action!

    A Gift to Rafah

    How Madisonians helped create a respite from violence for Palestinian children

    Kathy Walsh, Isthmus, April 29, 2005

    Children were everywhere. They were standing on rooftops, shooting marbles in the streets, playing “football” wherever there was bare ground, making their way to and from school. And always in the background there was machine-gun fire.

    This was a “quiet” time in Rafah. There were no tanks in the streets, no missile-firing helicopters overhead, no Israeli soldiers to be seen. But day and night, there was firing from Israeli towers on the edges of town.

    I visited Rafah from Jan. 31 to Feb. 5 with my daughter Karen, a recent UW-Madison graduate. We hoped to help dedicate a new playground built in part with funds from Madison residents and support from the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, a group whose appeal for official city recognition was rejected by Madison’s mayor and Common Council last year.

    Rafah is a Palestinian city and refugee camp of about 145,000 people in the southern Gaza Strip on the border with Egypt. More than 80% of its residents are refugees. Many have lost their homes two or more times and lived under the constant threat of losing them again as the Israeli Army razed row after row of homes along the Egyptian border.

    The “camp” areas of Rafah where we spent most of our time are concrete jungles. The homes that remain nearest the border are pockmarked with bullet holes. Tanks, bulldozers and missiles have severely damaged many buildings.

    Yet people continued to live in them. If they left, the homes were deemed “abandoned” and destroyed, and there was no place to go. Amid this rubble, children continue to play, go to school and live their lives.

    Last spring, Playgrounds for Palestine donated a playground to be built in the Tel al-Sultan neighborhood of Rafah. One of the poles for the playground was missing from the original shipment, so the playground was stored in a neighborhood home.

    Then, in May, the Israeli army launched “Operation Rainbow,” a code name for one of the most devastating incursions ever into Rafah. The Tel al-Sultan neighborhood was hit particularly hard, despite its lack of strategic significance. Ten homes were destroyed, and another 156 were damaged. Roads, water and sewage pipes were ripped up. Twenty-six Palestinian civilians were killed, including nine children. The site of the planned playground was completely razed.

    Loss of the park was hardly the worst disaster that befell the children of Tel-al-Sultan. But the park represented a hope for a more normal life. So last summer, the Madison-Rafah Sister City project set out to raise the $10,000 needed to rebuild this park as a gift from Madison to the children of Rafah.

    America-Near East Refugee Aid, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), advanced the money so work on the park could begin over the winter. By January, construction of the playground had begun. The missing pole had been shipped and was waiting to cross into the Gaza Strip from Israel.

    Karen and I went to Rafah to document the playground installation. When we arrived, children were playing soccer in the park, though it was not much more than a field of sand. The first pole of the playground was in place, and many children were checking out the playground construction team and their equipment.

    Later that day, we were exposed to the precariousness of life for the children of Rafah. Two schoolgirls standing in their school courtyard were hit by machine-gun fire, apparently from a nearby Israeli surveillance tower. One of them, 11-year-old Noran Deeb, was shot through the head and died instantly. The other, 7-year-old Aysha Al Khatib, was shot through the hand.

    We saw Aysha at the hospital, then stopped briefly at the morgue to see Noran’s body. (The Israelis denied involvement, saying the bullets were from a Palestinian celebrating by firing his gun in the air, although the trajectory of the wounds did not support this.) School officials told us this was not the first time fire from the sniper tower was directed at the school, but it was the first to cause injuries and death. Later, classes were dismissed and children surrounded us, asking us questions, laughing and posing for photographs.

    Throughout the week we talked with city officials, health-care workers and members of nongovernmental organizations. We learned more about homelessness, malnutrition and stress disorders among Rafah’s children. At night, we were told, there is an epidemic of nightmares and bedwetting.

    Every day, we visited the playground and were surrounded by active, seemingly happy children. We visited Aysha in the hospital. Her father told us that her hand was healing well. Aysha sat up and smiled shyly for a picture.

    When we left Rafah, the missing pole was still being held at the crossing into Gaza. But children were playing on the partially completed playground. And, as always, there was machine-gun fire from the direction of the Israeli towers.

    Both the fund-raising and the installation have since been completed. The missing pole was finally allowed into Gaza during the last week of March.

    The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project is now working with Family Farm Defenders in Wisconsin and the Women’s Empowerment Project in Rafah to send powdered milk from Wisconsin’s dairies to Rafah.

    Noran Deeb was the 99th child in Rafah to die from Israeli violence since September 2000, when the Second Intifada began. The toll reached 103 on April 9, when three 14-year-old boys from the Tel al-Sultan neighborhood were shot. I am left wondering if these boys were among the children I met in the park that Madison helped rebuild.

    KATHY WALSH, AN EMT, IS A MEMBER OF THE MADISON-RAFAH SISTER CITY PROJECT, MADISONRAFAH.ORG.

    Sidebar:
    Suffer the children
    Since September 2000, a total of 118 Israeli children and 678 Palestinian children have died as innocent victims of the violence in the Middle East. For information on these children, visit “Remember These Children” at www.remeberthesechilden.org. For information on “Operation Rainbow,” visit the Human Rights Watch Web site at hrw.org/reports/2004/rafah1004.


    Return to Rafah: Journey to a land out of bounds

    Jennifer Loewenstein, The Electronic Intifada, 17 February 2004

    Pictured, Maha, the wife of Ibrahim Aoda Abu Shatat, sits together with baby Zyad in her house during shooting at 3:30 AM. Their house is 40 meters from the border. (Johannes Abeling)

    The border between Gaza and Egypt passes through a city called Rafah. Israeli tanks regularly drive along the border in the middle of the night and shoot randomly at the surrounding houses. Sometimes it is just shooting, sometimes without warning bulldozers come to destroy some houses ‘for security reasons’. The fathers in the area near the border stay up every night until 4:30 AM, in case the tanks come to their street and they have to quickly evacuate their family. The children mostly don’t sleep well because of the shooting. Many children have symptoms of stress.

    Said Zoroub drives a white pick-up truck with the words “Rafah Municipality” painted on the driver’s side in Arabic and English, a gift from the Norwegians.[1] Less than an hour after my arrival in Rafah, Zoroub, the mayor, receives an urgent call on his cell phone. An Israeli bulldozer has struck a water main eight feet under the earth in the process of demolishing homes along the border between Rafah and Egypt. This has cut off the water supply to the western half of the city. From the passenger side of the municipality truck I get to survey the latest damage.

    Outwardly Zoroub looks unperturbed, but his words belie the appearance. “We live each day here in a state of emergency.” On either side of the road the homes and buildings on the streets of Rafah are dotted with bullet holes as if suffering from a contagious disease. The nearer we get, the more ravaged are the buildings —crumbling from disrepair, caved in where tank shells and mortar fire have hit them during the night, their inhabitants make-shifting roofs, walls and doorways as needed. Lines of drying laundry hang outside the windows and political graffiti and posters of martyrs decorate the walls. Poverty and ruin define the city landscape. The edge of town is a no-man’s-land of rubble torn up and rolled over by the heavy tracks and claws of the armored vehicles that rule this terrain.

    Puddles, stones and broken glass adorn the path alongside the homes on the city’s perimeter that the Israeli army has blasted into gaping gray caverns too treacherous to stray into for long. More and more children appear from the alleyways of the neighborhood to our left following us curiously toward the end of the street. Men and women come out to greet the mayor as we pursue the sound of the tank in the distance that is flattening the earth beneath it, its guns pointed toward us. A bulldozer is pushing up mounds of dirt and rubble behind it with a steady roar: more homes gone and no water in western Rafah until the Israeli authorities give clearance for the municipality to send out a repair crew that won’t be shot on sight. A boy points to a hole in a wall from where I can snap pictures without being easily detected. From the same vantage point, children can watch the progress of the demolition. I have only taken two photos when the mayor tells me to “get away now, it’s dangerous.” It is Thursday afternoon the 15th of January 2004.

    There are tall IDF watchtowers everywhere along the Egyptian and Israeli borders with Rafah as well as between Rafah and the Gush Katif settlement bloc on the southeastern bend of the Mediterranean Sea. The beaches of Rafah, a short walk away for most of the city’s residents, have been off limits to Rafah residents since the beginning of the second Intifada denying them the only relief they have from the unbearable squalor of the Strip. Driving past the edge of the Tel as-Sultan district, the area exposed to the settlement watchtowers, the mayor picks up speed sensing our vulnerability. Many people have died along this stretch of road hit by bullets fired randomly by soldiers in the towers. The local boys nevertheless still attempt to use open spaces like this one as a soccer field on ‘quiet’ days.

    Further on Zoroub points out an orphanage and new, prefabricated homes put up by UNRWA after the IDF incursions of October 2003 that left 1,780 people homeless, 15 civilians dead and dozens wounded.[2] There are people still camped out in tents, and public buildings still converted into emergency shelters.

    Northwest of the town are the two fresh water wells rebuilt with emergency funds from Norway after the IDF destroyed them in January 2003.[3] A caretaker shows us fresh bullet holes in the walls of his trailer-like quarters and in the big blue sign along the fence outside announcing the gift of the new wells. He recounts how bullets have of late been ricocheting off the sides of the wells themselves advising us against standing there outside for long.

    The day before, in East Jerusalem, a man named Roger from Save the Children told me not to go to Rafah, that it wasn’t safe. “I was there just two weeks ago working on a water project. I was talking to a guy manning a water pump. He was wearing a helmet and a jacket identifying himself as a city worker but he was so exposed, you know —in full view of a watchtower. Two days later he was shot dead.”

    On the way back to the mayor’s house we pass fields of multicolored carnations and stop at a primitive flower factory. The flowers are cut and bound together for export to Holland —if the Israeli port authorities allow them to pass. If they dont get out within a few days they wilt and die even in the cold trucks. A man in the factory offers me a bouquet of red carnations. Driving back, Zoroub waves his hands in the direction of the field, “I wanted you to see something romantic in Rafah.”

    Confronting the Wall

    I left for Rafah on 11 January 2004 as part of a three-person pilot delegation to the city. We represented the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, an organization founded in February 2003 to establish people-to-people ties between our two communities. Sistering projects are well known in Madison, Wisconsin — a Midwestern University town north of Chicago. Madison has official, City Council-approved sister cities with El Salvador, Nicaragua, East Timor, Cuba, Vietnam, and Lithuania among others. It seemed time, some of us thought, to build ties with a city in Palestine though a vote making this official has not yet been taken. Although in our first year we had had a number of highly successful local events and were welcomed by many in the community here, we were unprepared for the obstacles we encountered trying to get into the Gaza Strip.

    Since the deaths of Rachel Corrie, Thomas Hurndall, and James Miller at the hands of the Israeli military in Rafah last spring, entrance into the Gaza Strip has been increasingly difficult.[4] What became clearer than ever to me as I struggled to get permission to enter the Strip this January was that internationals are being kept out for two key reasons: to hide as much as possible what is taking place daily and to avoid any further “mishaps” —i.e., the killing or wounding of internationals that might draw unwanted publicity to the area again.

    The Israeli military forces kill Palestinians nearly every day in cruel and horrible circumstances. Most of the reports about these deaths and the unending atrocities against both the people and the land never make it into our media. When they do, they are packaged as justifiable violence against “terrorists” and “militants”, as “retaliatory strikes”or as actions of “self-defense”. With the US and Israeli media and foreign policy establishments spotlighting the “War on Terror” few stop to question the reduction of entire groups of people into often grotesquely caricatured national foes bent on destroying “freedom” and “democracy”. One result has been that nearly 3000 Palestinian deaths have had no effect on the majority of Americans —most of whom have no idea what is happening in the Occupied Palestinian Territories or elsewhere in the Middle East— even though their government is directly responsible for them. When an international dies, however, especially a young American girl like Rachel Corrie whose purpose for being in Rafah was to engage in non-violent resistance, damage control becomes necessary —despite concerted attempts by some to portray Corrie as a “terrorist sympathizer”.

    On 4 January 2004 Israel issued a new series of restrictions designed to further isolate the Palestinian people and to prevent the situation in the territories from as much formal or informal international monitoring as possible. The restrictions require prior written authorization for all citizens attempting to enter areas technically under the control of the Palestinian Authority (those known as “Area A” under the 1993 Oslo Agreement). Persons wishing to enter Gaza “are required to fill out a form requesting entry and to submit it to the Foreign Relations Office in the Coordination & Liaison Administration in the Gaza Strip, situated at Erez crossing.[5] These requests take a minimum of 5 business days to process, can be rejected at will, and often require repeated and frustrating attempts, as people we spoke to affirmed[6]. Attempting to get into Area A without permission can result in legal action, deportation, and the prevention of future entry into the state of Israel.

    The excuse for these restrictions, which have been more or less in place since the spring of 2003 but codified only recently, is to ensure the safety of foreigners entering the Palestinian territories, routinely described as “dangerous”. The real reason, however, is not only to keep out activists such as those belonging to the ISM (International Solidarity Movement) but to keep people in general away from the Gaza Strip. These restrictions follow other, equally unsettling policies such as the requirement issued last spring that all visitors to Gaza sign a waiver absolving Israel of all responsibility for death or injury caused by the Israeli military.[7] International humanitarian aid organizations and foreign journalists have sometimes, but not always been, exempted. Nevertheless, the short-term effect of such policies has been to discourage all but the most determined from going to the Gaza Strip, and sometimes the West Bank. Their long-term effect could be far more devastating.

    Internal Checkpoints

    We arrived in Tel Aviv on Sunday the 11th of January and, after security personnel interrogated two of the three of us, headed for the Jerusalem Hotel in East Jerusalem[8]. We understood that saying we were on our way to Rafah in the Gaza Strip would draw unwanted attention. Nonetheless, we felt reasonably confident we would arrive at our destination if we made it past Tel Aviv because we had a letter of support from US Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), a long-time supporter of Israel but also of Madison’s sister cities.

    Before we left, Baldwin’s State Department aide, Andrea Bagley, requested —and received — comprehensive information on the purpose of our visit, our meeting agenda during the week, the names and contact information of the Rafah municipal authorities hosting us, a clear and detailed description of our organization and its goals, and our full names and passport numbers. Her letter requested that the appropriate authorities in Israel honor our desire to visit Rafah and facilitate our entry into the Gaza Strip.[9] In addition to this letter, two of us had valid press cards from local media outlets desiring reports on our experiences in Rafah.

    Journalists visiting Israel must have their press cards validated at the Beit Agron [press house] in West Jerusalem especially if they want to enter the Gaza Strip, as I made clear I did. I therefore went to the Beit Agron first thing in the morning only to be told my card was inadequate without 1) a letter of assignment from the organization that had issued it and 2) a fax from the Israeli Consulate in Chicago acknowledging that the media organization for which I was working was legitimate. I followed this up immediately, phoning Norman Stockwell at WORT radio in Madison asking him to fax a letter to Richard Pater at the Beit Agron. Stockwell also agreed to phone the Israeli Consulate to register WORT as a legitimate media source. Because there is an 8-hour time difference between Madison and Jerusalem I knew the process would take another day.

    Continue reading

    Getting the hell into Gaza

    The entire border of Gaza is surrounded by heavily-patrolled walls and fences. A network of Israeli checkpoints tightly controls movement in and out of the Strip, and between population areas within the Strip. (Jamal Wilson)

    Laura Gordon, The Electronic Intifada, 15 January 2004

    Following the suicide bombing at Erez Crossing that left four Israeli soldiers dead and several Palestinian workers injured, Erez (at the north of the Gaza Strip), and Maabar (the other way in and out of the Gaza Strip, on the border of Egypt), have been under tight closure, with crowds of people waiting for days to be let through.

    The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project has managed to get only one of three of their delegation to Rafah. The closure on Gaza has intensified with yet stronger measures. As of January 4, 2004, any internationals wishing to enter must have official Israeli permission.

    Israeli permission requires an Israeli press pass, an official invitation from one of a short list of Israeli-accepted organizations, and a five-day background check by the Israeli authorities. Here are excerpts from a letter home from one of the delegation as they were attempting to enter. They are an excellent description of the great extremes Israel will go to keep out international eyes.

    Laura Gordon

    Excerpts of Monday’s letter from Jennifer, one of the delegation members

    Thought you would appreciate knowing what is going on here. The situation is much worse than any of us anticipated. The blockade into Gaza is extreme. None of us can get in right now. I was at the Press House in West Jerusalem today and learned that before they will validate my press card I need a letter of “assignment” (in addition to the valid, wholly legitimate press card I have) from WORT-Radio and a message from the Israeli Consulate in Chicago identifying WORT-Radio as a “legitimate” media outlet. … [George is in a similar situation with the Madison Times.] Cisco did not get a press card so he’s out altogether in this respect.

    Our next step after visiting the Press House this morning was to go to the American Consulate — literally a minute from our hotel here in East Jerusalem. We were all carefully searched going in, but were let in relatively easily compared to the line of Palestinians waiting outside in the rain (yes, it was pouring today) to try to get travel visas. Once in, we met with an American official who dismissed us rudely in less than two minutes when we stated our reason for being there (to get the US’ permission to go to Gaza).

    We presented our letter from US Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin’s office to him to absolutely no avail: he didn’t even look at it. He pushed it back over to me and said, (I’m quoting very closely) “We have nothing to do with Rafah and nothing to do with Gaza. It is a dangerous place and you have no business going there. You can go to the embassy in Tel Aviv if you want to press this further but you’re wasting your time.” We each tried saying something further but were cut off and led out of the building. We are now considering phoning Baldwin’s office and seeing if they will put pressure on the embassy in Tel Aviv. I am convinced, however, that her endorsement makes no difference whatsoever.

    Discouraged, we wandered over to the American Colony Hotel to get information on renting cell phones and finding a camera store (Cisco wanted to get a camera). We ended up in the bookshop there. The store clerk (a Canadian) spoke to us for some time about his experiences with Israeli bureaucracy and trying to get into Gaza. An associate of his was in the store at the time, a young man who had just recently been assigned to work in Gaza.

    This man told us he’d [tried to get in] to Gaza twice now in the past two weeks and was still being rejected although he is from the World Bank and this is his formal job. The store clerk then said that since the 4th of January there have been new restrictions put into place for different categories of people. He wasn’t sure which restrictions applied to which people, but said that there is in general a five-day waiting period now even for people whose entry into Gaza has been approved by the Israeli authorities.

    If this is true, it is possible — if all of the paperwork shows up in time — that I could get into Gaza on Saturday, i.e. the day before our departure back to the States.

    You can probably by now tell what we are up against and how frustrated we all are. There are, however, a few glimmers of optimism in all this. [There are a couple of options left to explore].

    In the meantime I have spoken multiple times to Ali Barhoum, Emad Sha’ath, and the mayor, Said Zoroub. All of them have been extremely kind,supportive, and have emphasized again and again how much they had wanted us to come, how important they consider our delegation and that they will continue to do what they can to help us out. …

    The best thing to come of the entire day was when I spoke to Deputy Mayor, Emad Sha’ath, who was also very sorry about all we were facing (the Israeli authorities apparently let no one in the PA know anything about their latest regulations). Emad has a permit that allows him to go back and forth from Gaza to the West Bank relatively easily. He said that if nothing else, he could meet us in Ramallah on Thursday to discuss some of the many things Madison and Rafah might consider doing together.

    Like the others, he expressed real dismay at our not being able to come in and said how much they had all been looking forward to our visit. They had many things planned for us including a conference to attend tomorrow that was added late to the schedule.

    …we are making our back-up plans now — including a tour of the Wall with PENGON and visits to Nablus, Jenin, Ramallah, Hebron and elsewhere. Of course, Nablus [where Kelly B. is now — Barb] remains sealed off and we have been told we won’t get in. We’ll try nonetheless. Our hosts at the hotel are happy to have us staying here extra nights since business is so god-awful. More than half the hotels in East Jerusalem are simply closed down — this has been true for a long time now— and you can feel the oppressiveness of the dying economy in the air.

    I am planning to visit Amira Hass on Thursday or Friday and George will be meeting Raja Shehadeh at some point. If you have other requests or suggestions let me know.

    Meanwhile, our breakfast host charmed Cisco and me with stories of his time in Prison (he was just recently released), and how now his brother is in.

    One has to wonder what on earth it will take to make people object to these outrages.

    Yours sincerely,
    Jennifer

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