Gaza’s plight matters to the world

Elizabeth Kucinich in Gaza
Elizabeth Kucinich in Gaza (UNRWA USA)

Elizabeth Kucinich, The Hill, June 23, 2016

This month, U.S. congressmen, including Reps. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), were refused entry into the Gaza Strip at the Erez crossing while on a fact-finding mission in Israel-Palestine. Israeli authorities, without elaboration, claimed that their application had not met the criteria necessary to enter. Apparently elected U.S. congressmen inspecting American taxpayer-funded projects and reviewing U.S. aid to Palestinians in Gaza is not worthy criteria.

Bernie Sanders’ representatives to the Democratic platform committee have brought the plight of the Palestinians into the national political debate. This could become a breakthrough moment, presaging policies that address the security of both Israelis and Palestinians as being mutually inclusive.

Some have suggested that the members of Congress may have been turned away from Gaza by Israel through the influence of the U.S. State Department, attempting to prevent Democratic members from elevating the issue of Israel-Palestine. Whatever the motivation, in that moment of rejection, those Congressmen experienced a small taste of the restrictions on freedom of movement that Palestinians live daily. For the Palestinians in Gaza, living under a blockade that just entered its 10th year, virtually all movement in and out is prohibited.

As I watched the Israeli military assault on Gaza in 2014, I was desperate to help. I looked to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, mandated with providing essential services for Palestine refugees, and joined the board of its nonprofit arm, UNRWA USA. Last spring, I traveled with UNWRA USA staff to the occupied Palestinian territory — the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip — to visit our projects, ascertain living conditions and witness for myself the political and economic situation. The trip was my first to Gaza. Had the other members of Congress been permitted to enter Gaza, they may have seen for themselves what I witnessed firsthand.

At Erez, the Israeli-controlled crossing into Gaza, I passed through chutes that resembled the herding bays that lead cattle into an abattoir — a standard feature of Israeli checkpoints throughout the occupied Palestinian territory. As we waited for our entry to be approved, young Israeli guards paraded around with automatic weapons.

Elizabeth Kucinich visiting Gaza school children

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Judith Laitman: A Jewish grandmother’s plea to Barack Obama

JUDITH LAITMAN, Cap Times, Jul 25, 2014

I’ve learned a few things during my more than seven decades on this planet. One of the most important is that when we are witness to evil and we do nothing about it, then we are complicit in that evil.

As a Jew born in 1942, I was imbued with the idea that Israel was a homeland for my people, who had been so horribly treated in the Holocaust. Today, that ideal has been destroyed, as Israel has become not so much a sanctuary for the victimized as a victimizer itself.

Today, I reject the idea that Israel has anything at all to do with my faith, or the values that it taught me. Today, my heart aches as I watch the mighty military power of Israel once again bombing the citizens of Gaza. And so I make my plea:

Mr. Obama, you say that Israel has every right to defend itself from Hamas rockets, and that no country in the world would put up with this. But that argument wrongly assumes an equivalence in power. It also assumes that Hamas committed the first act of war and Israel is merely responding. Neither of these assumptions is true.

Though Israel relocated its Jewish settlers from Gaza to the West Bank in 2006, it never relinquished control of the area. It controls everything that goes in and out, limiting the movement of people, restricting necessities like electricity, food, gas, and medical and building supplies. Under international law, Gaza is still occupied. Many people have referred to Gaza, with its 1.8 million residents, as the largest open-air prison in the world.

In the current conflict, Israel keeps telling us it is just responding to attacks from Hamas. According to the last cease-fire, signed in 2012, Israel was to open border crossings and ease the siege on Gaza. Israel broke that cease-fire just days after it was arranged, by firing on Palestinian fishermen, killing two. This pattern has continued with Israel shooting into Gaza at will, resulting in the death and injury of many Palestinian civilians even as Hamas for the most part upheld the cease-fire. Israel never did ease the siege, and so it has never upheld the cease-fire agreement. In fact, a siege and all it entails is considered an act of war in international law. No people would put up with that without resistance.

In the West Bank, where no rockets are fired, Palestinians have endured countless acts of aggression by Israel, including the demolition of hundreds of homes, the destruction of thousands of olive trees, mass arrests without charge, hundreds of checkpoints, an apartheid wall that separates Palestinians from their own territory, and ever-expanding Jewish-only roads and settlements on Palestinian land. International law states that all of these actions are illegal activity by an occupying power.

This has trapped us in an endless cycle of violence and oppression. It continues because the U.S. government continues to repeat Israel’s propaganda points, provides cover for Israel’s crimes in the U.N., and sends Israel billions in military aid every year.

Mr. Obama, you have the power to change this situation by lending your moral support to the oppressed, instead of the oppressor. Here’s one idea: Get on Air Force One and go to that Gaza beach where four boys were slaughtered. Or visit the now-leveled neighborhood of Shujayea, where the Israeli military just indiscriminately massacred more than 70 men, women and children.

There, make a speech to the world.

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Rachel Corrie’s Rafah Legacy

Ramzy Baroud, CounterPunch, March 21, 2013

“Hi Papa .. Don’t worry about me too much, right now I am most concerned that we are not being effective. I still don’t feel particularly at risk. Rafah has seemed calmer lately,” Rachel Corrie wrote to her father, Craig, from Rafah, a town located at the southern end of the Gaza Strip.

‘Rachel’s last email’ was not dated on the Rachel Corrie Foundation website. It must have been written soon after her last email to her mother, Cindy, on Feb 28. She was killed by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16, 2003.

Immediately after her painful death, crushed beneath an Israeli army bulldozer, Rafah embraced her legacy as another ‘martyr’ for Palestine. It was a befitting tribute to Rachel, who was born to a progressive family in the town of Olympia, itself a hub for anti-war and social justice activism. But Olympia is also the capital of Washington State. Politicians here can be as callous, morally flexible and pro-Israel as any other seats of government in the US, where sharply dressed men and women jockey for power and influence. Ten years after Rachel’s death, the US government is yet to hold Israel to account. Neither is justice expected anytime soon.

Bordering Egyptian and Israeli fences, and ringed by some of the poorest refugee camps anywhere, Rafah has never ceased being a news topic in years. The town’s gallantry of the First Palestinian Uprising (Intifada) in 1987 was the stuff of legends among other resisting towns, villages and refugee camps in Gaza and the rest of Palestine. The Israeli army used Rafah as a testing ground for a lesson to be taught to the rest of Palestinians. Thus, its list of ‘martyrs’ is one of the longest, and it is unlikely to stop growing anytime soon. Many of Rafah’s finest perished digging tunnels into Egypt to break the Israeli economic blockade that followed Palestine’s democratic elections in 2006. Buried under heaps of mud, drowning in Egyptian sewage water, or pulverized by Israeli missiles, some of Rafah’s men are yet to be located for proper burial.

Rafah agonized for many years, not least because it was partially encircled by a cluster of illegal Jewish settlements – Slav, Atzmona, Pe’at Sadeh, Gan Or and others. The residents of Rafah were deprived of security, freedom, and even for extended periods of time, access to the adjacent sea, so that the illegal colonies could enjoy security, freedom and private beaches. Even when the settlements were dismantled in 2005, Rafah became largely entrapped between the Israeli military border, incursions, Egyptian restrictions and an unforgiving siege. True to form, Rafah continues to resist.

Rachel and her International Solidarity Movement (ISM) friends must have appreciated the challenge at hand and the brutality by which the Israeli army conducted its business. Reporting for the British Independent newspaper from Rafah, Justin Huggler wrote on Dec. 23, 2003: “Stories of civilians being killed pour out of Rafah, turning up on the news wires in Jerusalem almost every week. The latest, an 11-year-old girl shot as she walked home from school on Saturday.” His article was entitled: “In Rafah, the children have grown so used to the sound of gunfire they can’t sleep without it.” He too “fell asleep to the sound of the guns.”

Rafah was affiliated with other ominous realities, one being house demolitions. In its report, Razing Rafah, published Oct 18, 2004, Human Rights Watch mentioned some very disturbing numbers. Of the 2,500 houses demolished by Israel in Gaza between 2000-04, “nearly two-thirds of these homes were in Rafah… Sixteen thousand people, more than ten percent of Rafah’s population, have lost their homes, most of them refugees, many of whom were dispossessed for a second or third time.” Much of the destructions occurred so that alleyways could be widened to secure Israeli army operations. Israel’s weapon of choice was the Caterpillar D9 bulldozer, which often arrived late at night.

Rachel Corrie was also crushed by the same type of US manufactured and supplied bulldozer that terrorized Rafah for years. It is no wonder that Rachel’s photos and various graffiti paintings adorn many walls of Rafah streets. Commemorating Rachel’s death anniversary for the tenth time, activists in Rafah gathered on March 16. They spoke passionately of the American girl who challenged an Israeli bulldozer so that a Rafah home could remain standing. A 12-year-old girl thanked Rachel for her courage and asked the US government to stop supplying Israel with weapons that are often used against civilians.

While Rafah carried much of the occupation brunt and the vengeance of the Israeli army, its story and that of Rachel’s was merely symbolic of the greater tragedy which has been unfolding in Palestine for many years. Here is a quick summary of the house demolition practice of recent years, according to the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, also published in Al Jazeera August 2012:

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Break the Silence Mural Project

mural, olympia, palestine

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 2010

THE RACHEL Corrie Foundation and Break the Silence Mural Project unveiled the Olympia-Rafah Solidarity Mural on May 8 at Labor Temple building, in downtown Olympia, WA. The mural tells a tale of two cities linked through tragedy: Olympia, WA, where Rachel Corrie grew up and attended Evergreen State College, and Rafah, Gaza Strip, Palestine, where she was killed in 2003—crushed by an Israeli army Caterpillar. It is also the tale of people working together for a better world. The mural features an enormous olive tree with more than 150 leaves representing issues of environmental justice, racism, colonialism, rights of indigenous peoples, and anti-war movements.

The mural uses technology to include artists from Palestine who are forbidden to travel. Viewers can use a cell phone to call and listen to the creator of each leaf talk about its meaning and theme. For more information visit <www.olympiarafahmural.org>.

—Delinda C. Hanley