Oppose the Israeli Annexation of Palestinian Land

This is a new group in the LaCrosse area that is becoming more active on Palestinian issues. Please consider signing and circulating this petition.

COULEE REGION COALITION FOR PALESTINIAN RIGHTS, 3/6/20

To: Our elected officials
From: [Your Name]

We urgently oppose the threatened annexation by Israel of Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Israel has militarily occupied the West Bank since 1967, and has since built an extensive network of illegal Jewish settlements and connecting roads. There are now over 600,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

Netanyahu and Gantz, leaders of the two largest Israeli political parties, have been emboldened to ​break international law through annexation ​of this territory by the release of the Trump administration’s ‘Deal of the Century’ on January 20, 2020.

The annexation envisioned in that plan includes the fertile Jordan Valley in addition to those settlements and roads. Palestinian land is already fragmented into enclaves of villages, farms and a handful of densely populated cities – comparable to the Bantustans of Apartheid South Africa.

Annexation would extend, legalize and attempt to make permanent this theft of Palestinian land by making it part of Israel.

The US provides $3.8 billion of military aid to Israel each year. These are our tax dollars being used to prop up an Israeli state that violently suppresses Palestinian human rights and now plans to steal their land.

We call on you, as our elected official, to announce publicly that you will support legislation withdrawing all military funding to Israel if it proceeds with this illegal annexation of Palestinian land.

March 6-7, 2020
INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE: REFUGEES IN/FROM THE MIDDLE EAST

Policy Implications, Education, and Artistic Representations

 

Pyle Center
720 Langdon St
UW-Madison

 

This interdisciplinary conference brings together scholars from the social sciences and humanities who examine forced migration within the context of the Middle East.

Conference Program

Friday, March 6, 4 to 6 pm
Mohamad Hafez Keynote Lecture “HOMELAND inSECURITY”
Nancy Nicholas Hall (co-sponsored with the School of Human Ecology, 1300 Linden Drive)

Syrian artist and architect Mohamad Hafez will offer a very personal view of what it’s like for an upper-middle class Damascene family to become forced migrants – their lives before and after, decision points, forced hands, and adjustment to new realities.  This will be an opportunity to better understand what the biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II looks like to an individual and family who have been through it. Mr. Hafez creates mixed and multi-media sculptures representing Middle Eastern streetscapes and buildings besieged by civil war, deliberately contrasted with hopeful verses from the Quran, audio recordings from his homeland, and other elements of his Islamic heritage.

Saturday, March 7 (313 Pyle Center, 702 Langdon St, Madison, 53706)
9:00 to 10:45: Panel 1. National, Regional, and Global Policy toward Refugees:

  • Marcia Inhorn (Yale University) “America’s Wars and Iraqis’ Lives: Refugee Vulnerabilities and Reproductive Exile in “Arab Detroit”
  • Yasemin Ipek (George Mason University) “Humanitarian Refugees in Turkey: Syrian Support for Syrians”
  • Sarah Alghamdi (York University) “Examining the Prospects for Refugee Rights in Tunisia”.

11:00 to 12:45: Panel 2. Refugees, Education, and Identity:

  • Alyssa Bivins (George Washington University) “The Myth of Apolitical Education Development: The Politics of UNESCO’s Education Policies for Palestinian Refugees, 1950s-1980s”
  • Sara Farsiu (University of Wisconsin-Madison) “Understanding Ethnically-Framed Conflicts: An Analysis of the Portrayals of Arabs in Iranians’ Speech”
  • Eileen Kennedy and Elaine Chase (University College London) “How Can Digital Technology Support Transformative Education?”

1:00 to 2:30: lunch and break

2:30 to 4:15:  Panel 3. Refugees and Artistic Representations: 

  • Seref Kavak (École des hautes études en sciences sociales, France) “Cultural Security and Publicness: Syrian Musicians on the Streets of Istanbul”
  • Dina A. Ramadan (Bard College) “Refugees in the Art Museum”
  • Hakim Abderrezak (University of Minnesota) “Illiterature and the Seametery”.

4:30 to 5:30:  Round table: Refugees in the 21st century: Building Alternatives to Walls, Dehumanization, and Discrimination. Drawing on the experiences of refugees in/from the Middle East, panelists will reflect on practices and forms of solidarity that counter attempts to paint refugees primarily as a security or cultural threat and to deny them equal human rights.

While its geographical focus is the Middle East, the conference seeks to contribute to a better understanding of the challenges related to forced migration in the 21st century and to weigh in on attempts to find constructive solutions to these challenges. It aims to open up new ways of thinking about refugees and telling the many important and yet untold stories of migration.

For more information, please contact Prof. Nevine El Nossery at: elnossery@wisc.edu

What Valentine’s Day Means in Gaza, Palestine

Hani and his uncle and daughter in front of an UNRWA school in the Gaza Strip
Hani and his uncle and daughter in front of an UNRWA school in the Gaza Strip

UNRWA USA, February 7, 2020

Hani Almadhoun is UNRWA USA’s new Director of Philanthropy.

Though he now lives in Virginia with his wife and daughters, he grew up in the Gaza Strip. Hani’s father was an UNRWA teacher in Gaza and his family benefited from UNRWA services there, so he can speak firsthand from personal experience about the work UNRWA does and how the Gaza Strip has changed over the past few decades.

Below, Hani reflects on these changes through the lens of Valentine’s Day.

Hani Almadhoun’s reflection on Valentine’s Day and
what it means for Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip

Now – March 15, 2020
Exhibit: Unpacked: Refugee Baggage

Including Palestinian textiles provided by MRSCP

Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery, Room 1235
School of Human Ecology
1300 Linden Drive, UW-Madison

“UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage” seeks to humanize the word “refugee.” This multimedia exhibit features the sculptures of Mohamad Hafez, a Syrian-born, Connecticut-based artist and architect who re-creates war-torn domestic interiors within suitcases. Each piece is based on interviews with refugees who were forced to leave their homes in countries ranging from Syria and Afghanistan, to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and who now reside in the United States. The exhibit will be accompanied by pieces from the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection.

Directions, hours, and more information.

Rep. Mark Pocan on Trump’s Peace Plan

Progressives must take a stand against the Trump administration’s endorsement of Israeli apartheid and, instead, support the Palestinian demands for freedom, self-determination, and the right of refugees to return to their homeland.

Endorse “Freedom Is the Future,” a joint project of US Campaign for Palestinian Rights and Adalah Justice Project.


January 12, 2020
Building Bridges and Border Presentation

Portraits of Immigrants and Refugees

502 Mark Drive
Verona, WI
6:30 – 9 pm

Family Diversity Projects‘ photo-text exhibit shares the stories of immigrants and refugees who have arrived in the U.S. from all over the world. The Jan. 12 reception features a presentation by members of Plymouth UCC who participated in a mission immersion experience at the U.S./Mexico Border. Other Madison area organizations who assist immigrants and refugees will be available to share their missions as well.

Schedule:
6:30 – 7 pm: Exhibit opens for self-guided tours. Reception.
7-8 pm: Members of Plymouth UCC, Madison will share their experiences at the U.S./Mexico border.
8-9 pm Local groups who assist immigrants and refugees will be available with information, and the exhibit is open for touring.

Free and open to the public.

January 13-February 2, 2020
The exhibit is open weekdays 10 am – Noon and 7-9 pm, or by appointment.

Contact Sarah Pundt, Director of Christian Education
(608) 845-7315
spundt at salemchurchverona.org

The U.N. once predicted Gaza would be ‘uninhabitable’ by 2020. Two million people still live there.

The shoreline in Gaza City during strong winds on Christmas Day.   (Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images )
The shoreline in Gaza City during strong winds on Christmas Day (Mohammed Abed-AFP-Getty Images)

Hazem Balousha and Miriam Berger, The Washington Post, January 1, 2020

GAZA CITY — Jana Tawil was born in 2012, the same year that the United Nations released an alarm-raising report on the state of the Gaza Strip: If the prevailing economic, environmental and political trends continued, the organization warned, the besieged coastal enclave sandwiched between Israel and Egypt would become unlivable by 2020.

The United Nations revised its initial rating in 2017 to warn that “de-development” was happening even faster than it first predicted.

Jana’s father, 35-year-old Mahmoud Tawil, never thought much of that assessment.

“When the U.N. report [said] that Gaza would be unlivable, I felt that Gaza was not fit for life in the same year, not in the year 2020,” he said.

That is the bleak reality facing Gaza’s 2 million Palestinian residents as they approach a new year and new decade: still stuck living in a place the world has already deemed uninhabitable in perhaps the most surreal of 2020 predictions.

The Tawil family lives in Gaza’s al-Shati refugee camp, or the Beach camp, where cramped and crumbling rows of homes sit adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea. It is in theory a scenic view — but life here persists on a parallel plane.

The elder Tawil, a psychologist, fears the sea: It’s full of sewage, pumped in because there’s not enough electricity and infrastructure to run Gaza’s war-torn sewage system. Hospitals, schools and homes are similarly running on empty, worn down by the lack of clean water, electricity, infrastructure and jobs or money. Barely anyone has enough clean water to drink. The only local source of drinking water, the coastal aquifer, is full of dirty and salty water. By 2020 — basically, now — that damage will be irreversible, water experts have warned.

“There is no stability in work, and there is no money for people,” Tawil said. “We cannot drink water or eat vegetables safely, [as] there is a fear that it will be contaminated.”

He continued: “We need a just life, and we need hope that there is a possibility for us to live on this earth. … The various Palestinian parties do not help us in Gaza to live, just as Israel imposes a blockade on Gaza. Unfortunately, no one cares about the residents of Gaza.”

Perhaps the hardest part of it all is that, relatively speaking, none of this is new.

When the United Nations issued the 2012 report setting 2020 as the zero hour for Gaza’s unlivability, the organization knew even then that no one should be living in Gaza’s already dangerous conditions.

“From our perspective, [the report] was a useful sort of ringing the alarm bell a couple of years ago,” said Matthias Schmale, the director of operations in Gaza for the U.N. Works and Relief Agency (UNRWA), the U.N. body responsible for Palestinian refugees. “But for us it’s no longer really the issue that by 2020 it will be unlivable. … The key question is how do we prevent total collapse?”

Gazans battle daily with the same crushing question.

It has been a dark decade, and then some, in a place Palestinians liken to an open-air prison. In 2007, the extremist group Hamas seized control after ousting its rival, the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, which is based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Israel and Egypt in response imposed a land and sea blockade, citing security concerns and the aim of squeezing Hamas out. It hasn’t worked out that way. Instead, since 2009, Hamas and Israel have fought three bloody wars, alongside countless flare-ups. In the meantime, Israel flexes control via policies on who and what can enter and leave Gaza, barring most Gazans and goods from leaving. Hamas’s repressive and conservative rule has in turn caused people to feel squeezed from all sides.

Schmale cited four factors keeping Gaza afloat: Palestinian solidarity, such as businesses writing off debts; the inflow of cash sent by Palestinians abroad; Hamas’s autocratic rule, which has restricted internal unrest; and support from international bodies such as the United Nations.

All of these factors also remain subject to change. In 2018, President Trump cut aid to UNRWA and other Palestinian aid programs, threatening to topple the whole model set up in the 1950s to serve displaced Palestinians. Of Gaza’s 1.9 million residents, 1.4 million are refugees, and 1 million of them depend on UNRWA for food assistance. The rate of dependence on food aid only grows, Schmale said.

Despite the Trump administration’s much trumpeted economic-focused Middle East peace plan, no tangible progress has come out of it for Palestinians. A long-term, political solution to Gaza’s impasse (and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) remains far-off.

The depletion of Gaza’s coastal aquifer was one of the main factors in the United Nations’ “uninhabitable” calculus. According to World Health Organization standards, 97 percent of the aquifer’s water is unsuitable for human consumption: It’s been so heavily pumped that saltwater and other pollutants have poured in where groundwater was taken out.

Gazans who can afford to do so buy water from private companies using small-scale desalination projects. But the water from these sources can also become contaminated during unregulated distribution and storage in unclean tanks. One-fourth of all illnesses in Gaza are waterborne, the WHO found.

Continue reading

Desperate work for desperate people


A man carries steel bars with bare hands in a yard filled with scrap metal. (Mohammed Al-Hajjar)

Amjad Ayman Yaghi, The Electronic Intifada, 15 October 2019

On 5 May, Israeli airplanes struck targets in Gaza.

The bombings came with the usual tragic consequences: 25 Palestinains were killed, among them 14 civilians. Four Israeli civilians also died in rocket fire from Gaza.

It was one of those “spikes in tensions” that for the briefest of moments shines a media spotlight on Gaza.

That spotlight didn’t stay long enough to see what else happened. As calm returned, a contractor, Muhammad Abu Jebah, gathered together a group of laborers to extract metal from the rubble of the Abu Qamar building, which was destroyed in one of the bombing raids.

Abu Jebah thinks of it as a new industry, one that arose after Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli attack on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009, and one that illustrates the lengths to which Palestinians in Gaza have to go to survive.

Trucks and bulldozers move in first to clear the rubble. Then a team of men filter through the building to smash concrete and extract the metal inside.

Once that is done, they realign the metal and reconstitute any large stones.

It is backbreaking hand-scarring work. It is also potentially toxic, according to environmentalists.

But it is necessary since Israel is prohibiting steel and other building materials from entering Gaza.

“Most of the men working for me feed a dozen or so relatives,” Abu Jebah told The Electronic Intifada. It is desperate work for desperate people, he conceded. “It is the economic circumstances that has driven people to do these jobs.”

Dangerous work

Abu Jebah has been doing this work ever since the Israeli offensive which began in December 2008. Despite the inherent dangers, he considers his activities to innovative. They started as a clearing operation before morphing into a recycling business.

But the process is more than simply hard work. According to Ahmed Hilles, an environmental scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, material from destroyed buildings can contain pollutants that are hazardous both to people and the environment.

Hilles has done some testing on samples of the concrete in the rubble. He found traces of nickel, lead and arsenic, as well as explosive materials

“These are dangerous to those working in recycling destroyed building concrete or extracting metal,” Hilles told The Electronic Intifada, though he qualified this by noting that due to import restrictions, screening abilities in Gaza are not entirely reliable.

Hilles, who is also in charge of the public awareness department at the Palestinian Authority’s environment quality office, monitors the harm caused by the Israeli occupation, especially in instances when buildings or agricultural land are shelled.

During the 2014 attack on Gaza, the Palestinian Authority’s environment department asked the UN to send a delegation to Gaza with equipment to test materials Israel was using to measure their impact on the environment and people.

The UN accepted the invitation but Israel refused to cooperate with the UN, during or after the attack, and the delegation never entered Gaza, according to Hilles.

“The Israeli occupation doesn’t want the world to see its crimes,” Hilles said.

Two men enjoy a break in the middle of some rubble, both holding plastic cups of coffee
Two men enjoy a coffee break after bending steel back into shape. (Mohammed Al-Hajjar)

He said any large scale bombardment would always bring with it the risk of contamination and pollution and not just because toxic materials can be released from crushed concrete. The soil becomes irradiated under bombardment and when it rains this radiation can seep into the underground water supply, Hilles said.

Hilles said he had warned contractors and workers in the field, but no one had acted.

Abu Jebah said he had heard the warnings of toxins and other harmful materials, but said life in general was harsh and dangerous in Gaza.

Continue reading