Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) recently told an audience in his Madison WI district that the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), of which he is co-chair, is planning (depending on how Israel’s government-forming works out) to send a delegation to Palestine.
“But,” he noted to applause, “the permission has to include Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar.” The two first-term members are both members of the CPC.
Pocan added, “We’re also saying we have to go into Gaza. And we have some commitments from our leadership, who say they’re going to help us do this– which we never had when Paul Ryan was Speaker.”
Pocan made these comments on October 27 during the introduction he gave to Gaza-Palestinian Yousef Aljamal, who gave a speech, “Dreaming of Freedom: Palestinian Youth Under Siege and Occupation.”
The event was held at Christ Presbyterian Church in Madison, WI. The primary organizer was the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, and it had several other co-sponsors. This event was part of the nationwide speaking tour for Aljamal that Just World Ed organized under the title “Crisis in Palestine.”
Christ Presbyterian kindly made and posted a great video of the afternoon’s proceedings, which can be viewed in full here. (The images in the main part of this blogpost are all stills from the video.)
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) discusses his support for Palestinian rights in Madison, WI. (Photo: Just World Books)
Rep. Pocan’s introductory remarks take up the first seven minutes of the video. They provide an informative indication of the degree to which support for the rights of all Palestinians is growing within the 98-member-strong CPC.
Pocan prefaced his remarks by noting that, “We get so little information out of Gaza! And under this administration, our government has caused so much damage there.”
He recalled, “Three years ago, I led the first congressional delegation ‘to Palestine’– that’s what we called it! We had five members that went with us and we saw everything we could see. And on the final day, we were set to meet up with UNRWA and go into Gaza for a day. But the night before, we had a phone call, telling us we were not allowed to go in…”
He said that he and some of the other members of the delegation decided to go to the Gaza crossing-point anyway, since their notification had not come in writing… “And while we sat there we saw some of the bulldozers and things going through to take out some of the cropland… Eventually we got our official ‘No’. But to me, an official no just means we want to go even more!”
He recalled that it had been more than a decade since Keith Ellison was the last member of Congress allowed by the Israelis to visit Gaza. (Ellison, who had been the first Muslim member of Congress, is now the Attorney General of Minnesota.)
Pocan made a point of noting a couple of positive developments. One was the CPC’s plan to organize another– probably bigger?– delegation to Palestine than the one he had led back in 2016. The other was a plan that he said is projected to launch later this month for a series of Skype sessions between members of Congress and various groups of citizens inside Gaza.
He recalled the strong impression the 2016 visit had made on him: “It really was alarming to go into downtown Hebron and other areas… But in Gaza, we don’t even have people getting in!”
On Nov. 12, 2019 the Israeli military assassinated Baha Abu al-Ata, a leading member of Islamic Jehad in Gaza, and his wife—sparking more violence in Gaza. Shortly after the killing, Islamic Jehad fired rockets into Israel. In response, Israel has launched extensive bombing attacks on Gaza, killing at least 34 Palestinians and injuring many others. One Israeli has been injured as a result of Palestinian rockets fire. So far, Hamas has refrained from engaging in violence during this latest attack. A ceasefire was announced on Nov. 14, but bombing continued on the night of Nov. 14. If the ceasefire does not hold and Israel continues its disproportionate and deadly attacks on Gaza, there is significant risk of continued escalation.
Political action is needed now in the U.S. to protect this ceasefire and to ensure a halt to attacks on Gaza. But simply ending violence is not enough—there must be an end to the 12-year blockade of Gaza, the systematic inequality and human rights abuses faced by Palestinians, and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
Here’s what you need to know about the recent bombings:
Israel’s assassination of Baha Abu al-Ata was the start of the latest violence.
Israel has accused Abu al-Ata for a number of rocket attacks on Israel over the last several months, justifying his assassination as retaliation for those attacks. However, those attacks were carried out in the context of daily Israeli attacks on Gaza, including shooting across the boundary fence, shooting at protesters, ground incursions, shooting at fishermen, and shelling/bombing.
The Israeli government has noted that it expected a response from Gaza to the assassination, making clear that this particular escalation was purposefully started by the Israeli military.
The bombings follow more than a year of violence against Palestinians in Gaza.
Between January and September 2019, the Israeli military killed a total of 70 Palestinians in Gaza and injured 11,000 more. No Israelis were killed by Palestinians from Gaza during the same period.
Overall this year, the Israeli military has invaded Gaza on at least 54 occasions and carried out numerous airstrikes during the same period.
According to the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs, between Oct. 15 and 28, the Israeli military opened fire toward Palestinians in the areas adjacent to Gaza’s perimeter fence and off the coast of Gaza on 28 different occasions, injuring at least two Palestinian laborers. During the same period, Israeli forces carried out four military incursions into Gaza.
In early 2018, Palestinians in Gaza began protesting in what is now known as the Great March of Return. Since the start of those largely peaceful protests, Israel has killed more than 320 Palestinians in Gaza and wounded over 36,000 more as they protested for their rights and against Israel’s occupation.
This violence is largely absent from the narratives that are already developing about this latest attack on Gaza, but it is critical that this context—and Israel’s ongoing blockade on Gaza and occupation of the Palestinian territory—be placed front and center when considering developments over the coming days or weeks.
Israel has indicated that new military actions in Gaza could last days or event weeks.
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.”
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.
An International Coalition Of 14 Countries And Organizations Dedicated To Breaking The Illegal Israeli Blockade of Gaza
45% of the 2 million people who live in Gaza are children under the age of 15. 70% of Gazans are refugees from other parts of Palestine, forced from their homes in the West Bank 70 years ago by Israeli militias. Yet the world stands by as the illegal and inhumane Israeli blockade limits electricity to just a few hours a day, makes 90% of water undrinkable, and denies access to food and medical supplies.
US Boats to Gaza is dedicated to bringing international attention to the illegal Israeli blockade on Gaza, until the world stands for human rights for Palestinians.
Palestinian Youth Under Siege and Occupation with Yousef Aljamal, Gaza Writer and Activist
Sunday, October 27, 2019
Christ Presbyterian Church,
944 E Gorham St, Madison, WI
Meet Yousef Aljamal, a young writer who grew up in a refugee camp in Gaza and lived through the three devastating Israeli military assaults between 2008 and 2014. He will share his experiences and insights about the lives of youth there and elsewhere in Palestine, including tens of thousands imprisoned by Israel’s military regime in the West Bank since 1967.
A contributor to the anthology Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza Palestine, Aljamal has recently translated into English the book Dreaming of Freedom: Palestinian Child Prisoners Speak.
Both books will be available for purchase at the event. Yousef’s talk will be preceded by brief remarks from Rep. Mark Pocan.
Refreshments including baklawa will be served, and Fair Trade Palestinian olive oil, olive oil soap and crafts will be sold. This event is free and open to the public, but donations will be gratefully accepted to fund another clean water project for Gaza kids.
Just World Ed is delighted that October 13-29 we will be hosting Palestinian rights activist Yousef Aljamal on a speaking tour that will take him to the Greater NYC area, the Washington DC area, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Madison (WI), and Portland (OR). From Portland he’ll travel to Honolulu where he has another whole program arranged.
This is Yousef’s second time touring the United States. In 2014, he was part of a team that toured the country under the auspices of Just World Books and the American Friends Service Committee. They were launching the anthology Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza Palestine, to which Yousef contributed a very moving story.
More recently, he has contributed several great pieces of writing to our blog, that explore various aspects of Palestinian life. (1, 2, 3…)
Several employees of the Israeli construction firm building a security barrier along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip attacked a group of left-wing activists in the area on Wednesday.
The employees of Danya Cebus’ Geo Danya subsidiary pushed the activists, cursed at them and grabbed and burned Palestinian flags that they were carrying. The activists had arrived in the area for a joint event with a group of Gazans on the other side of the border, in which they planned to speak to each other by phone.
The confrontation took place a few hundred meters from the border in an area designated as a closed military zone, which civilian workers are not authorized to enforce. After the incident, soldiers arrived at the scene. Two of them pushed one of the activists to the ground. A video of the incident shows the responsible officer stopping them and ordering the activists to leave the area.
According to Yossi Makaitan, organizer of the joint event, when activists came to the area near the Danya Cebus operating site, several workers came out and started to yell at them, curse and grab their flags. Some of the activists filmed the attack on video. Activists said a few soldiers looked on from a distance and did not intervene, and that another group of soldiers came and removed them from the site.
On Thursday morning, Haaretz identified two of the workers in the video at one of the offices at the site. They refused to discuss the incident and referred questions to the construction company spokesman’s office.
FOR CENTURIES, the plains that comprise modern-day Gaza were lush with citrus orchards. Though early Zionists claimed to have pioneered the orange industry, Palestinian farmers had maintained orange groves—specifically of the sweet “Jaffa” orange that would later be co-opted as a symbol of Israeli ingenuity—for export since the 1800s. In some cases, these orchards were passed down by generations of Palestinian families. Arabs and Jews set up mutual orange enterprises in the early 20th century, but things started to change following Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, and especially following the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.
Citriculture largely disappeared from Gaza in the second half of the 20th century, due in large part to Israeli bulldozing of the orange groves. Through the course of investigating the disappearance of the orchards, a researcher with Forensic Architecture—a research agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London, composed of architects, software developers, and others who investigate human rights violations—learned that the low-lying crops that replaced the groves in recent years were potentially dying due to Israeli actions. This prompted the agency to take a closer look at crop disappearance in Gaza.
In July, Forensic Architecture released a report titled “Herbicidal Warfare in Gaza,” detailing the results of their investigation, which finds that the crop deaths were caused by herbicides sprayed by Israel and carried into Gaza by the wind. The findings raise the disturbing possibility that the Israeli military has been engaging in a form of ecological warfare (a possibility first reported by +972 Magazine in 2015).
“The actual campaign against the citrus was sustained during the Oslo and Madrid peace processes,” says one of the researchers, who asked not to be named because of safety concerns (the report itself was not published anonymously, and lists all participating researchers by name). During the peace processes in the 1990s, he adds, Israeli bulldozers systematically destroyed orange groves. Israel claimed this was necessary because “orange groves were used as a shelter for terrorists.”
Israel occupied and illegally settled Gaza between 1967 and 2005, after which it pulled out its settlements. Israeli bulldozing during this period was a significant factor in the decimation of Palestinian orange orchards, and Gazans typically didn’t have the money or resources to maintain the groves that were left. Soon, according to the researcher, Palestinian farmers began gradually replacing citrus trees with crops that couldn’t be said to provide cover for terrorists, and were cheaper to maintain, including strawberries, cherry tomatoes, and herbs.
Ever since Hamas took power in Gaza in 2007, Israel has maintained a crippling economic blockade, accompanied by periodic bombing campaigns that have killed thousands of civilians. Israel has established and patrolled a “buffer zone,” up to 300 meters or more in some areas, which stretches the entire length of the Gaza side of the border since 2014—roughly the time when a significant number of the lower-growing crops grown by Palestinian farmers close to the border started to die. According to farmers’ testimony—which appears in the Forensic Architecture report and has also been reported on elsewhere—land in the buffer zone, which was previously used by Palestinians as agricultural and residential space, has been razed and bulldozed regularly by the Israeli military for the purpose of surveillance and military operations. When the crops started dying, farmers saw planes spraying herbicides over the Israeli side of the buffer zone, and they assumed the herbicides were to blame.
Working with several NGOs and Palestinian ministries, the researcher collected leaf samples, testimonies, and video footage. Based on a visualization technology called Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI, a remote sensing tool that uses satellite imagery to measure the health of vegetation), it’s clear that there was significant crop loss during the years that the Israeli military was spraying herbicides, from 2014 to 2018. The images, captured in the days after the sprayings, show many red patches throughout the farmlands, indicating loss of vegetation.
With further analysis provided by a fluid dynamics expert, Forensic Architecture concluded that the herbicides—including glyphosate, the primary chemical in the weedkiller Roundup—were being carried by the wind onto Palestinian farmlands a few hundred meters away, and that they were having a significant negative impact on crops.
This appears to have been no accident. “Every single farmer I’ve spoken with says that before each spraying they see a plume of smoke coming,” the researcher says, adding that the sprayings happen without any warning to the farmers. “The Israeli army, in the information they’ve given us through the Freedom of Information request, admitted that among the preparations that they practiced on the ground prior to spraying, incendiary tires was one of them.” Incendiary tires are tires that are burned to determine the direction of the wind. In this case, it seems they were used to ensure that when sprayings occurred, they went toward Gaza, rather than Israel.
According to Forensic Architecture’s researcher, some Palestinian farmers have said that they’ve lost between half a million and a million shekels’ worth of crops since 2014, or approximately $140,000 to $280,000—significant sums considering that Gaza is under an economic blockade, and that nearly 70% of Gaza’s population is classified as food insecure. “It’s not really so much about what’s going to be exported, it’s more that people rely on these crops,” the researcher says.
In 2014, eight Palestinian farmers sought compensation for crops damaged by Israeli herbicide spraying, but all were rejected; according to Israel’s Civil Damages Order, Israel is “not liable for damage to the residents of the Gaza Strip.” In 2015, a kibbutz on the Israeli side, which had also sustained damage to its crops from the military spraying of herbicides, was initially denied compensation on the basis that it was already receiving compensation for its proximity to Gaza. Besides the damage to crops, Kibbutz Nahal Oz argued that the herbicides also lead to land toxicity, preventing the planting of watermelons. The kibbutz ultimately won about $16,000 in compensation from the Israeli Ministry of Defense.
I asked the Israeli Ministry of Defense a series of questions about the use of herbicides, and it responded with the following statement: “The defense establishment conducts weed control, in which the material is sprayed from the air, for operational purposes—among them, removing potential cover for terror elements, which may threaten the citizens of the State of Israel (particularly the communities living adjacent to the Gaza border), as well as IDF troops.” It added that the spraying of herbicides “is conducted only over the territory of the State of Israel. It is carried out by companies specialized in the field, in accordance with the law.” Indeed, the spraying is occurring on the Israeli side of the border—but borders are porous, and they do not stop harmful chemicals carried by the wind. The Ministry did not respond to repeated requests for clarification regarding the burning of tires to assess wind direction.
When the Israeli Ministry of Defense says that it carries out the sprayings “in accordance with the law,” it is unclear whether they mean domestic law, international law, or both (human rights groups have maintained that Israel is breaking both by doing so). In 1977, theConvention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques, an international treaty on ecological warfare, banned “any technique for changing—through the deliberate manipulation of natural processes—the dynamics, composition or structure of the Earth, including its biota, lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere, or of outer space.” Though Israel is not a signatory to this convention, the practice of spraying herbicides for military purposes does seem to fit the definition of such a technique. (The United States is a signatory to the treaty, as well as Israel’s major military ally and patron. The US State Department ignored repeated requests for comment on Israel’s use of the practice.)