#ObliteratedFamilies – Al-Kilani Family

During the 2014 Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, 142 Palestinian families lost three or more members. Some of the families were wiped out entirely.

The #ObliteratedFamilies project tells the stories of some of these families, their loved ones who were killed and those left behind.

“Don’t worry. This is routine for us.”
Al-Kilani family, Beit Lahiya
11 people killed
July 21, 2014

Fatma al-Kilani walks briskly into the room, gives it a quick glance, and locks her eyes on her son Saleh. She is mumbling a stream of barely intelligible words. Suddenly, she asks her son in a clear voice, “Saleh, did you find them?” When there is no answer, just an embarrassed, apologetic smile, she goes back to muttering and wandering around the house. She does not know how to sit still. Neither did her younger son, Ibrahim.

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Update: Feds Drop Charges against AMP staffers

American Muslims for Palestine, April 22, 2017

(WASHINGTON DC 04.21.2017) — The federal government has dropped the charges against AMP staffers Taher Herzallah and Kareem El-Hosseiny. Stephen Rickard, Deputy Chief of the misdemeanors section in the U.S. Attorney’s office notified the men’s attorney Ann Wilcox on Friday evening.

Filing what is called a “nolle prosequi,” or a formal notice of abandonment, the charges have been dropped and the case is closed.

“The United States of America, by and through its attorney, the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, hereby notifies the court and the defense that the government is entering a nolle prosequi in this case, thereby causing the information to be dismissed without prejudice.”

“We are overjoyed,” Herzallah said. “We showed the federal government we were not going to take their biased charges silently. This really shows the power of the people to speak truth to power.”

Herzallah and El-Hosseiny were arrested in February along with four others from Code Pink and If Not Now for protesting at the Senate confirmation hearing for U.S. Ambassador David Friedman. Herzallah and El-Hosseiny — the only two Arabs and Muslims in the group — were the only two with criminal charges filed against them by the U.S. Attorney’s office. Three of the protesters were allowed to pay a small fine the same day. One had his case transferred to traffic court.

The men rejected a plea deal that would have required 32 hours of community service and included being banned from Capitol grounds for a lengthy period of time. Instead, they opted for a trial to fight the selective prosecution charges on the grounds they were based on racial, religious and ethnic bias.

El-Hosseiny added, “This proves that all the public, organizational and faith-based support sent a strong message to the federal prosecutors.”

In addition to a successful social media campaign, which was joined by several Palestinian rights and social justice organizations and that reached upwards of 1 million accounts, the Huffington Post, AJ Plus, Mondoweiss, Muftah and other media outlets kept the case in the news. The Associated Press had also started working on a story.

The American Muslims for Palestine is extremely grateful for how our partners rallied around our colleagues and supported their effort to fight the charges that amounted to selective prosecution.

“AMP thanks NLG attorney Ann Wilcox for her expertise, professionalism and willingness to fight for justice and to see this through to the end,” said Dr. Osama Abuirshaid, AMP national policy director. “We could not be prouder of our colleagues and we’re relieved at the positive outcome.”

AMP is also thankful to all the individuals and groups who helped spread the word, including the US Palestinian Community Network, the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Friends of Sabeel North America and the 15 faith leaders who signed the letter of support, DCI-Palestine, Adalah, IfNotNow, Code Pink, Jewish Voice for Peace national, as well as the DC and New York chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace.

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#ObliteratedFamilies – Foreword by Rajah Shehadeh

During the 2014 Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, 142 Palestinian families lost three or more members. Some of the families were wiped out entirely.

The #ObliteratedFamilies project tells the stories of some of these families, their loved ones who were killed and those left behind.

Don Paterson, the prize winning Scottish poet, has never been to Gaza, and yet following the news of the Israeli attack on the Strip in the summer of 2014 found that he could not remain silent. He wrote a sonnet about the Israeli shelling of a boy playing on the beach. The sonnet is called The Foot and it begins with the line:

I have no words so here are the no words

Often during that dreadful summer I also found that I had no words in the face of such inhuman shelling by the Israeli military of so densely a populated area as the Gaza Strip. But Anne Paq and Ala Qandil in this web documentary found the words and took photographs that tell the stories of ten families whose lives were literally shattered by the Israeli offensive of 2014.

What we hear from Gaza, as from other war-torn areas of the world, are always the numbers and figures; the news is often so grim that we are numbed and feel we can no longer imagine what it’s like to live there. The significance of this project is that it brings us through word and image the intimate lives and tragedies befalling the Gaza families and makes it impossible for us, the readers and viewers, to shield ourselves and not to profoundly feel the experience of those who lived through the Israeli bombardment during that black summer of 2014.

When approaching carnage there are some who may exhibit a pornographic interest in the subject, callousness, lack of empathy or an attitude of voyeurism in their observation of others. This was perhaps true of some of the Israeli soldiers who carried out the bombing, one of whom the author caught smiling right after he shot towards the sight in which she stood. It is certainly not so with the sensitively woven and narrated accounts in this web documentary.

The documentary’s cover photograph was taken with a wide lens from a high point. It is of a young man standing in the midst of a yard that is full of pieces of metal, wood, porcelain, cement and stone. These are the remains of what had once been the factory which he owned and his nearby home, where two of his brothers along with their wives and kids were waiting to be evacuated when they were bombed along with all the walls, furniture, personal belongings, and photographs, all reduced to rubble.

It is tragedy enough to lose one’s home and place of work, and worse still to lose one’s loved ones or one’s entire family. But what is not often remembered is the consequence on the survivor’s life and future of losing all one’s documents: birth certificates, property deeds, school and university certificates and health reports, as happened to many Gaza residents whose houses were bombed. Just imagine the complications that would arise from being unable to submit to any authority proof of your past and the details of your previous existence. It is difficult to imagine how one can manage to build one’s life anew after such immense loss.

And yet in the midst of all this destruction, the young man whose life was shattered stands tall, looking up, seemingly ready to go on, a true representative of the legendary resilience of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip. There are also two portraits of Hussein al-Najjar, whose family is amongst the ten shattered lives that are highlighted here. In neither of them does he look at the camera. In one of the photographs his seeing eye (the other is bandaged as is his head) is looking down, introspective, sad, terribly sad, but not seeking sympathy. In the other, his left hand covers his mouth as if he did not want to speak; he wants to be left alone to think his own thoughts, lost in his own world as he tries to figure out how it has come to this, to this horror that humans can bring on other humans who live close by.

In the introduction we are told that Hussein went to pray when his house was bombed. He lost consciousness, then when he opened his eyes again he learned that his wife, two children and 16 other members of his family were killed. The question that comes to mind is: how could anyone want to wake up after such knowledge? And yet, from following the news from Gaza one knows that the people in the Strip do just that. Four months after this photograph was taken, Anne Paq returned to Gaza and visited Hussein and wanted to give him the photograph. But he refused to take it because, as he told her, “I don’t want to remember that day.” His reaction made her shift from being the researcher and documenter to the human being she is and she writes that she felt ashamed and cursed herself. She then adds: “I felt that for a moment I had lost that fragile balance between documenting the tragedy and bringing more sorrow into the already devastated lives of the survivors.” She adds: “Everyone wants an original account of the attack, a piece of their intimate feelings, a few personal details…” The authors of this documentary are not among those who try to take anything. Instead, they generously give back to the people of Gaza. This work would move many a viewer to tears.

One of those whose stories are told in this book, Saleh Kilani, says: “Life in Gaza has always been consumed by war.” But has it always? Before the Israeli occupation the people living in the Strip were known for their humor and ability to live happy, carefree lives, as any other people who lived by the sea. One day the siege of Gaza and its occupation by Israel will end and, in the words of one interviewee, ’natural’ life will be possible again in Gaza.

by Rajah Shehadeh

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April 27, 2017
One Book, Many Communities: “Returning to Haifa”

Thursday, April 27
Alicia Ashman Library [Map]
733 N. High Point Road, Madison
7:00 – 9:00 pm

“Returning to Haifa” by Ghassan Kanafani
(in the collection Palestine’s Children)

“Returning to Haifa” tells the story of a Palestinian couple forced to flee Haifa in 1948 without their infant son. Returning to Haifa for a visit for the first time in 20 years, they discover that the boy has survived and been raised as a patriotic Israeli by the Jewish couple who moved into their house. Kanafani’s story was made into an Arab-language movie with subtitles, and served as the inspiration for an Iranian-made movie The Survivor and Susan Abulhawa’s novel Mornings in Jenin. More recently, it was made into an Israeli play called Return to Haifa: The Other’s Story.

If you don’t already have Palestine’s Children, contact us by Friday, April 14 to order one from A Room of One’s Own for $16. It is also available from Amazon. You can order a copy of the “Returning to Haifa” story only for $2. Please RSVP for either book or story to Donna Wallbaum at dwallbaum [at] gmail.com by Friday, April 14.

April 9 is the 69th anniversary of the Deir Yassin Massacre. 2017 also marks 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, 70 years since the beginning of the Nakba, and 50 years since the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by Israel. We think “Returning to Haifa” is a very appropriate choice for this year’s discussion and we hope that you can join us.


Librarians and Archivists with Palestine invites you to join our annual international reading campaign, One Book, Many Communities held in April 2017, in concurrence with the national Reading Week in Palestine.

This project draws inspiration from the “one book, one town” idea, where people in local communities come together to read and discuss a common book. This campaign is designed to introduce readers to the richness of Palestinian literature, and create a broader awareness and understanding of Palestinian history and the struggle for self-determination.

Librarians and Archivists with Palestine is a network of self-defined librarians, archivists, and information workers in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. The hashtag for the campaign is: #lap1book.

Israel sunk in ‘incremental tyranny’, say former Shin Bet chiefs

“You live in a democracy, and suddenly you understand it is not a democracy any more”

Peter Beaumont, The Guardian, 6 April 2017

Ami Ayalon, ex-head of the Shin Bet intelligence services, suggests Israel has a dynamic ‘of ongoing war’ and ‘like 1984, there’s always an enemy’. (Photograph: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

Two former heads of Israel’s powerful domestic intelligence service, the Shin Bet, have made an impassioned and powerful intervention ahead of events to mark the 50th anniversary of the country’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in June.

One of the pair warned that the country’s political system was sunk in the process of “incremental tyranny”.

Ami Ayalon and Carmi Gillon were speaking ahead of a public meeting at a Jerusalem gallery which is threatened with closure for hosting a meeting organised by the military whistleblowing group Breaking the Silence, one of the main targets of the rightwing government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

During his recent visit to the UK, Netanyahu also asked Theresa May to cut UK government funding to the group – a request that baffled diplomats as no direct UK funding exists.

“Incremental tyranny [is a process] which means you live in a democracy and suddenly you understand it is not a democracy any more,” Ayalon told a small group of journalists, including the Guardian, ahead of the event. “This is what we are seeing in Israel. The tragedy of this process is that you only know it when it is too late.”

Ayalon cited recent moves by ministers in the Netanyahu government to change the laws to hit groups such as Breaking the Silence by banning them from events in schools and targeting their funding, while also taking aim at the country’s supreme court and independence of the media.

Issues of freedom of speech and expression have become one of the key faultlines in Israeli society – in everything from the arts to journalism – under the most rightwing government in the country’s history.

The Babur gallery is under threat of closure after being censured by the country’s culture minister, Miri Regev, for holding an event with Breaking the Silence on publicly owned property – a group which Regev claimed “hurts Israel’s image”.

Gillon was equally bleak in his analysis of Israel’s trajectory, saying that the country was being “driven by this occupation towards disaster”.

He added: “This country was established on the values of liberal democracy, values written in the only kind of constitution we have – which is our declaration of independence – values we don’t fulfil any more. You can analyse what happened to us in the last 50 years, but everything is under the shade of occupation. It has changed us a society. It has made us an unpleasant society.”

The comments by Ayalon and Gillon come amid a growing and heated debate between the right and opponents of the occupation over the historic meaning of the six-day war, in June 1967, which marked the beginning of the occupation. Rightwing ministers celebrated the occupation on Thursday as the “liberation” of the occupied territories.

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#ObliteratedFamilies – Introduction by Amira Hass

Rubble of the Maadi house

During the 2014 Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, 142 Palestinian families lost three or more members. Some of the families were wiped out entirely.

The #ObliteratedFamilies project tells the stories of some of these families, their loved ones who were killed and those left behind.

Behind every erased Gazan family is an Israeli pilot. Behind every orphaned child who has lost his brothers and sisters in the bombing is an Israeli commander who gave the order and a soldier who pulled the trigger. Behind every demolished house are the Israeli physicist and hi-tech specialist who calculated the optimal angles for maximal impact. And there is the army spokesperson (backed by legal experts) who always evaded the journalist’s question: how proportional is it to shell an entire building with all its inhabitants? What – in your laws – justifies killing 23 family members, babies, children and the elderly among them, in one fell swoop of a missile?

There is one very present absentee in the “stories” below: Israeli society. Whether those members of society directly responsible, from government ministers and general military staff down through the ranks, or those who are indirectly responsible in their support and refusal to know. Have the direct accomplices – most of whom preserve their armed anonymity – ever shown any interest in knowing who was targeted by their sophisticated smart bombs? Or how many unarmed civilians they killed, their names, how many girls and boys, how many members of a single family, how many entire families have been erased? Disastrously, the safe guess is that physical distance and the fact that both soldiers and commanders did not have to soil their hands with blood nor see the mangled bodies with their own eyes helped them greatly to bury any information, knowledge, and thought.

Before and between the major onslaughts of 2008-9, 2012 and 2014 “smaller-scale” Israeli assaults were carried out, and they too wiped out lives, or erased the toil of many years and added traumas onto past disasters. Another link in such a long chain of injustices that one’s head is dizzy with disbelief, or the need to forget. At times, Gazans themselves help one forget: with their humor, their warmth, the continuity of life and vitality their creativity which breaks through all barriers and limitations of the siege and the pain, their silences – for they are sick of telling, or because what’s the point. But more than ever, more than any previous large-scale or smaller-scale assault, after 2014, the quenched eyes of Gazans have recounted how that was the most horrific of attacks.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) calculated that 142 families lost three or more members, each of these families in a single Israeli shelling or bombing. The total was 742 persons, more than 25% of all Palestinian casualties of that summer. There is nothing more difficult than gathering testimonies from people whose families have been nearly wiped out, to try and describe the horrendous vacuum which has been created and cannot be filled. The choice of “only” ten families, is a statement: testimony gathering and reading must not become automatic. It mustn’t, lest feelings be dulled. Therefore, the silences and the spaces between the spoken and the unspoken, between the written and the unwritten, speak for all the rest.

The erasure of entire families was one of the appalling characteristics of the 2014 assault. These were no errors or mistaken personal choices on the part of a pilot or a navigator or a brigade commander. This was policy. There are no anonymous players here: the identity of the policy makers is well known, as are their names and positions. Between July 7 and August 26, Israel carried out about 6,000 air raids on the Gaza Strip and fired 14,500 tank shells and about 35,000 artillery shells. 2,251 Palestinians were killed, among them 1,462 civilians, 551 of whom were children, and 299 women. Some of the non-civilians killed – namely combatant members of the armed organizations – were not killed in battle but under the same civilian circumstances where their relatives were also killed: in their beds, in their own homes, during the fast-breaking meal, in their residential quarters.

As stated in B’Tselem’s report “Black Flag”, which investigated 70 of the 142 incidents, with the exception of a few cases Israel never gave any explanation for bombing or shelling those houses with their inhabitants inside. In other words, Israel never disclosed what and who were its targets: perhaps one of the family members, perhaps a weapons stash in the house or fire opened from a neighboring house? But the systematic action and the silence both show that Israel finds it ‘legitimate’ and ‘proportional’ to kill entire families: if one of their members is a Hamas fighter, if a weapons stash is held nearby or in their home, or for any other similar reason. What does it mean? That it is legitimate to shell nearly every home in Israel, for nearly every Israeli family has an armed soldier, and many homes are inhabited by senior army officials, and important military and security installations are situated in the heart of Israeli civilian population. This is an absurd and criminal criterion of warfare, opposed to international law and basic principles of justice. But the majority in Israeli society embraces it as right and justified.

According to OCHA, Hamas and other Palestinian armed organizations launched 4,881 rockets and fired 1,753 mortar shells against Israel. 94% of these reached the maximum range of 50 kilometers, mentions B’Tselem. This fire targeted mostly Israeli civilian communities. Because of the limited technology of Hamas’ weapons, and thanks to Israel’s state-of-the-art defense capacities and the evacuation of numerous Israeli residents, the number of Israeli civilian casualties was minimal: six Israeli civilians were killed, among them one 5-year old child. The 67 Israeli soldiers killed during the onslaught were casualties in battle. The Palestinian combatants who killed them were defending their own population from the invader.

The Gaza Strip is not a sovereign state, even if the Hamas regime sometimes behaves like a sovereign government of a liberated territory. According to international agreements, the Strip is an inseparable part of the Palestinian state which the world is still committed to creating, at least by declaration. It is still under Israeli occupation – even though the parameters of control differ from those in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. For example, the population registry of Gaza, as that of the West Bank, is subordinate to the Israeli Ministry of Interior and its policies. Only upon Israeli approval is the Palestinian Authority able to issue new ID cards to 16-year-olds in the Gaza Strip every year, as in the West Bank. Thousands of Palestinians, among them refugees from Syria, live in the Gaza Strip without Palestinian IDs: Israel will not have it. As an occupying force, Israel is supposedly responsible for the population – while it shirks this responsibility with increasingly brutal measures of domination and revenge. Its military assaults were and still are the continuation of Israel’s consistent policy of separating the Gaza Strip from the rest of the Palestinians in its attempt to crush the people and turn it into a collection of separate, disconnected groups and individuals.

As the occupied, Palestinians have the right to fight the occupier. But this right is also subject to international law, to common sense, to international circumstances, to the leadership’s responsibility towards its public. Hamas has had its own internal political considerations in choosing the military path in spite of all the previous rounds of warfare that failed to achieve its declared national objectives. True, over the years Hamas has developed its own means and skills of warfare. But, as the 2014 war showed, it has been – and remains – inferior to Israel’s military might. Military confrontations are Israel’s home field, where it excels. It is precisely the field that should be avoided.

Amira Hass
6 July 2016

The Gaza Strip is part of the Palestinian Occupied Territory; together with the West Bank and East Jerusalem, it has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967. More than 70% of Gaza Palestinians are refugees, forced to leave their homes in the lands grabbed by the nascent state of Israel in 1948 and forbidden from returning.

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Update: April 2, 2017
Rachel Corrie Commemoration: Intimate Portraits of Gaza’s Lost

 

St. James Church
1128 St. James Ct, Madison
2:00 pm [Map]

Please RSVP to Michele Bahl at mibahl02 at yahoo.com by Friday, March 31.

Intimate Portraits of Gaza’s Lost is based on the #ObliteratedFamilies project by French photographer Anne Paq and Palestinian-Polish journalist Ala Qandil. The project profiles Gaza families partially or entirely annihilated during the Israeli bombardment in 2014. Statistics and figures, political facts and flash point dates too often obscure the staggering consequence of each extinguished life.

#ObliteratedFamilies never departs from the perspective of the witness – the survivors left in grief, the neighbors who last saw the families alive, the friend who tried to find them safe shelter, and sometimes the photographer herself. To view the photos, narratives and projects, visit #ObliteratedFamilies.

Free and open to the public; beverages and desserts including baklawa will be served. Donations will be accepted for the Samira Project for traumatized children in Rafah (or you can donate here). The event will also offer the latest batch of gorgeous many-colored kufiyahs direct from Hirbawi Textiles, the new shipment of Holy Land Olive Oil and our other Palestinian crafts for sale. And don’t miss the return of Door Prizes! We hope to see you on April 2 as we once again reaffirm our commitment to Gaza.

Speaker Bios

Anne Paq is an award-winning freelance photographer and videographer who had lived for more than a decade in Palestine. She has been a member of Activestills photo collective since 2006. Her work has been exhibited worldwide and published in various media outlets such as the NY Times Lens, Paris Match, le Nouvel Observateur, Stern, the Guardian. Her work includes documentation of the Palestinian refugees and popular resistance, the Israeli military offensive on Gaza (2012), subcultures and artists in Gaza. She has also led many participatory media projects in the the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza. She has co-directed the short film “Bethlehem checkpoint, 4 am” (8’59, 2007), co-produced the award-winning documentary “Flying Paper” (52′, 2013) and co-directed “Return to Seifa” (2015, 10’49) and “Gaza: A Gaping Wound” (13’47). In 2014, she documented the Israeli military operation “Protective Edge” and its aftermath in the Gaza Strip. She is the co-author of the award-winning web documentary “Obliterated Families” which tells the story of the families whose lives were shattered by the 2014 Israeli offensive. In 2017, she won the International Photographer of the Year award, in the editorial documentary section.

Ala Qandil is a Polish-Palestinian journalist, a former correspondent of the Polish Press Agency, who had been covering for more than three years political, social, historical and cultural stories from Palestine/Israel and other countries in the region, with special focus on human rights issues, women rights, minorities, non-violent resistance, and including the previous two Israeli military offensives in the Gaza Strip. Qandil has worked with various international and Polish media, including Al Jazeera English and the Middle East Eye, number of weekly magazines and she often appeared as a guest commentator on Polish radio and TV. She produced and co-directed a short documentary about food resistance in Palestine “Resistance Recipes”. Qandil is a co-founder of Reporters’ Collective, an initiative of Polish writers based in Middle East, Africa and Asia, whose goal is to bring quality, in-depth foreign reporting on global issues to Polish audience. During the last two years, in between the work on the “Obliterated Families”, she had reported from the Balkan route and Greece on the stories of refugees arriving in Europe.

The event is co-sponsored by Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, the American Friends Service Committee group of Madison Friends Meeting, Playgrounds for Palestine-Madison Chapter, Mary House of Hospitality, Colombia Support Network; Memorial United Church of Christ-Fitchburg, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom-Madison, Jewish Voice for Peace-Madison, and Good Shepherd Parish social justice committee.

March 16, 2017 marks 14 years since an Israeli soldier killed 23-year-old American peace activist Rachel Corrie with a bulldozer as she protested the demolition of a family home in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Palestine. April 10 is Rachel’s birthday. Each year between these two dates, the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project (MRSCP) honors Rachel’s memory with an event that benefits Palestinian children.