These Members of Congress Are Trying to Visit Gaza — Israel Should Let Them Do So

Representatives Mark Pocan, Dan Kildee, and Hank Johnson Jr. were denied the opportunity to witness conditions on the ground firsthand

John Nichols, The Nation, 5/14/18

Gaza masacre nakba may2018A Palestinian demonstrator shouts during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border on May 14, 2018. (Reuters / Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

The Trump administration’s response to the killings of dozens of Palestinian demonstrators by Israeli soldiers was to fault the organizers of mass demonstrations by people who are living in nightmarish conditions on the Gaza Strip. While a White House spokesman claimed that “the responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas,” the man Donald Trump has charged with renewing the Middle East peace process, presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, literally faulted protesters amid reports of the mass killing and wounding of Palestinian men, women, and children who were objecting to Israeli policies. “As we have seen from the protests of the last month and even today, those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution,” Kushner claimed at a ceremony marking the opening of the new United States embassy in Jerusalem.

But responsible members of Congress—many of them with long experience observing the Middle East—saw the circumstances more clearly, and responded in more realistic terms.

    “This is horrific.”
    — Barbara Lee on the killings of Palestinians this Monday

Noting the juxtaposition of the embassy opening and the killings, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) tweeted: “This is horrific. My prayers are with those killed & injured in Gaza. The U.S. should be laying the groundwork for peace—not fueling conflict in the region with an unnecessary & counterproductive embassy move.”

Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) decried the “occupation and oppression of Palestinians” and wrote that Trump-administration policies “are fueling conflict, abandoning diplomatic efforts to achieve peace.”

Gaza: Do Palestinian Lives Matter?

A Palestinian child holds a sign on Land Day.

Samir El-Omari and Barbara Olson, Madison365, May 11, 2018

For the past six weeks, Gaza has been in the news as residents have been protesting near the barbed wire fence and free-fire “no-go” zone that traps them under Israel’s siege and blockade of the impoverished territory.

The protests began on March 30, commemorated by Palestinians as “Land Day” annually since 1976, when six unarmed Palestinian citizens of Israel (including three women) protesting government confiscation of their lands for Jewish-only settlements in the Arab-majority Galilee area were shot dead by the Israeli army and police, who were not punished.

In Gaza and elsewhere this “Great March of Return” demonstration by all factions and sectors of Palestinian society asserts their international legal right to return to the villages and towns Israel expelled them from in 1948 – lands that for Gazans lie just a few miles away on the other side of the barbed wire, and to which they have been forbidden to return solely because they are not Jewish. The demonstrations are set to culminate on May 15, Nakba (Catastrophe) Day, when Palestinians protest their ongoing dispossession by Israel and the western powers.

In the early hours of March 30, before any demonstrations had started, Israeli soldiers fired a tank shell at two farmers “acting suspiciously” in their fields, blowing one to pieces and injuring the other. Later that day, snipers Israel had placed behind earthworks along the fence with openly-declared shoot-to-kill orders began firing on the unarmed protesters. At least 18 were killed and more than 1400 injured that first day. As of this writing, the death toll stands at over 50, including five children and two journalists. Over 6,000 have been injured, with hundreds suffering devastating injuries caused by exploding bullets that rip through flesh and bone according to Doctors without Borders. No Israelis have been injured.

Amnesty International has demanded Israel “stop the use of lethal and other excessive force,” calling for a world-wide arms embargo on Israel. Human Rights Watch called the killings “unlawful” and “calculated,” saying Israeli officials green-lighted the killing of unarmed demonstrators and deploring “the longstanding culture of impunity within the Israeli army.” (Israel responded by ordering the expulsion of HRW’s Jerusalem office director Omar Shakir.)

U.S. taxpayers annually give Israel $3.8 billion in military aid. The made-in-the-USA tear gas they use is the same used in “riot control” in poor American cities like Ferguson, MO. Amnesty International believes many exploding bullet injuries “bear the hallmarks of US-manufactured M24 Remington sniper rifles shooting 7.62mm hunting ammunition, which expand and mushroom inside the body.”

The “Leahy Law” is supposed to prohibit these weapons from being used to commit human rights abuses. In reality most of the American political class from the President on down ignores the law and chooses impunity over accountability for Israel every time.

A few, including Senators Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy, have spoken out. Rep. Mark Pocan has called on Israel to “exercise utmost restraint in the use of deadly force and to fully comply with international law.” It is especially urgent that Senator Tammy Baldwin and others in Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation follow Pocan’s lead as we get closer to May 15, the day after Trump officially moves the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in a deliberate provocation to all Palestinians that risks greater and wider bloodshed.

Veteran Israeli peace activist Amoz Gvirtz wrote that this “popular unarmed civil struggle” by Palestinians “demanding an end to the siege and justice for themselves, without endangering our lives or our security” must be supported.

Tell your representatives that Palestinian lives do matter. Ask them to speak out, to investigate Israel’s actions in Gaza, and to enforce the Leahy Law against impunity for human rights violators. Then take action yourself in support of the growing nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to hold Israel accountable for these abuses.

Samir El-Omari and Barbara Olson are members of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project.

Judith Laitman and Tsela Barr: On Israel’s 70th anniversary, we remember the Nakba

In this Wednesday, April 4, 2018, file photo, Palestinian protesters wave flags in front of Israeli soldiers on Gaza’s border with Israel near Beit Lahiya. (ADEL HANA, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Judith Laitman and Tsela Barr, Jewish Voice for Peace – Madison Chapter, May 3, 2018

This month, Jews around the world are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel.

These celebrations reflect the gratitude of Jews who view Israel as the symbol of freedom from centuries of persecution that culminated in the Holocaust.

We are Jews who will not be celebrating. The reason lies in a tragic irony: While Israel was intended as a safe haven for dispossessed Jews, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced to make room for the future state of Israel. In fact, Palestinians were forced out through a deliberate policy of expulsion and terrorism in order to create an exclusive homeland for Jews.

This Palestinian exodus is known as the Nakba, or the Catastrophe, to Palestinians. And as Israelis celebrate May 14 as Independence Day, Palestinians commemorate May 15 as Nakba Day.

In the period before and after Israel’s official creation in 1948, an estimated 13,000 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces or terrorist gangs. Five hundred and thirty-one Palestinian villages were destroyed and depopulated. During a period of a few months, according to Israeli historian Benny Morris, 34 massacres of Palestinians occurred. As a result, 731,000 Palestinians fled.

Sadly, things only deteriorated from there. In the 1948 war, Israel annexed more Palestinian land. And, although Palestine was allotted 45 percent of Israel-Palestine in 1947, a year later it held only 22 percent.

In 1967, following the Six-Day War, Israel began its occupation of the remaining Palestinian territory, including the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. That occupation continues to this day, and it is brutal.

In fact, since 1967, Israel has:

    • Demolished nearly 50,000 Palestinian homes because they were built without the permission of Israel’s occupying army.

    • Destroyed 800,000 Palestinian olive trees (a symbol of life and peace to Palestinians).

    • Built Jewish-only settlements, including roads not open to Palestinians, covering 42 percent of the West Bank.

    • Confiscated 35 percent of the land in East Jerusalem for Israeli settlements.

Israel also maintains a complete blockade of Gaza, inflicting severe collective punishment on this densely populated area of 1.8 million people. Since 2008, it has conducted three devastating attacks on Gaza, allegedly in self-defense, causing the deaths of thousands of civilians and massive infrastructure damage.

Today more than 96 percent of Gaza’s water is undrinkable, and many Gazans only have access to electricity for four hours a day. And Israel has consistently limited the ability of Gazans to rebuild.

Most recently, Gazans have organized a huge protest called the Great Return March. These protests began on March 30 and will continue until May 15, Nakba Day. Although the protests have been mainly peaceful, some demonstrators threw rocks, and some burned tires to make it harder for Israeli forces to shoot at them. Israel responded with deadly force. To date, Israeli snipers have killed dozens of unarmed protesters, including two journalists, and injured more than 5,000. According to Amnesty International, Israeli forces are using military bullets designed to do maximum and irreversible damage.

The Great Return March is about the right to live in dignity and the right of Palestinians to return to their land. Under the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every person has this right.

But Israel has never accepted this human right as a basis for peace negotiations, whether by return or compensation. In the years after 1948, the Israeli government passed laws preventing Palestinians from returning to their homes or even claiming their property. Any peaceful future for both Palestinians and Israelis depends on recognizing this right.

Gazan-based writer and one of the organizers of the Great Return March, Ahmad Abu Rtemah, wrote in the Nation recently: “The Nakba is not just a memory, it is an ongoing reality. And while we can reconcile that we all must eventually die, in Gaza the tragedy is that we don’t get to live.”

On this 70th anniversary, we will not participate in celebrations that erase both the historic and modern-day injustices experienced by Palestinians. We choose instead to work toward justice and a final end to the Nakba.

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Anna Baltzer on the Danger of Neutrality



04 Nov 2017 | The Danger of Neutrality | Anna Baltzer | TEDxOcala

USCPR Director of Organizing and Advocacy, Anna Baltzer, explains in this TEDx talk how neutrality is a dangerous trap — and an illusion. Taking a side, not impartiality, is what really helps resolve conflicts.


NUSAYBA HAMMAD, Communications Director, US Campaign for Palestinian Rights

If you’re like me, you’re following the headlines from Palestine closely. For the fifth week (and millionth time), Palestinians are marching against all odds to demand their rights, including their Right of Return to their homes just a few miles away.

Israel has responded to the Great Return March with extreme brutality, killing and injuring scores of Palestinians for having the audacity to exercise their right to protest.

Seems pretty straightforward, right? Unfortunately, not in the media, where we’re seeing headlines talk about “clashes” and “Gaza violence,” drawing a false symmetry between oppressor and oppressed, between state repression and a freedom struggle. We hear things like “there is violence on both sides” and “it’s complicated.”

Palestinians and our allies have been saying this for years: there’s nothing balanced about rocks, slingshots, and flags facing high-powered sniper rifles whose bullets leave exit wounds the size of a fist and “pulverize” internal organs.

Nobody should be neutral about that.

But I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve gotten into with people – including well-meaning progressives! – who want to draw false equivalencies and claim those challenging Israeli aggression are being too “one-sided.”

Instead of walking away or debating, my response lately has been to share this TEDx talk, “The Danger of Neutrality, by my colleague, Anna Baltzer. In it, she articulates beautifully why it’s so important to take a side.

Anna’s talk illustrates perfectly why attempts at impartiality are a dead end, leaving the scales tipped in favor of those with power. From the abolitionist movement to ending Jim Crow, change happened because people took sides. She also makes the case that your own liberation depends on taking a side, no matter who you are.

So next time you’re trying to have a conversation about Palestine and you get hit with “you’re being too one-sided,” send the person this video. And just maybe, it’ll get us closer to the day that we never hear have to hear that phrase again.

Onwards,
NUSAYBA HAMMAD
 

Why I March in Gaza

Palestinian demonstrators on a sand plateau during clashes with Israeli forces last Friday east of Gaza City. Residents of Gaza are mounting a series of protests called the Great Return March. (Mohammed Abed/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

Fadi Abu Shammalah, New York Times, April 27, 2018

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip — Early in the morning on March 30, my 7-year-old son, Ali, saw me preparing to leave the house. This was unusual for our Friday routine.

“Where are you going, Dad?”

“To the border. To participate in the Great Return March.”

The Great Return March is the name that has been given to 45 days of protest along the border between Gaza and Israel. It began on March 30, Land Day, which commemorates the 1976 killings of six Palestinians inside Israel who had been protesting land confiscations, and ends on May 15, the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, the mass displacement of Palestinians during the 1948 war that lead to the creation of Israel.

“Can I come with you?” Ali pleaded. I told him it was too dangerous. If Israeli military warnings were any indication, the risk that unarmed protesters might be shot by Israeli snipers was too high. “Why are you going if you might get killed?” Ali pressed me.

His question stayed with me as I went to the border encampment in eastern Khan Younis, the southern Gaza town where I live. It remained with me on the following Fridays as I continued to participate in the march activities, and it lingers with me now.

I cherish my life. I am the father of three precious children (Ali has a 4-year-old brother, Karam, and a newborn baby brother, Adam), and I’m married to a woman I consider my soul mate. And my fears were borne out: 39 protesters have been killed since the march began, many by sniper fire, including a 15-year-old last week and two other children on April 6. Israel is refusing to return the bodies of two of those slain.

Thousands more have been injured. Journalists have been targeted; 13 of them have been shot since the protests began, including Yasser Murtaja, a 30-year-old photographer, and 25-year-old Ahmed Abu Hussein, who died Wednesday of his injuries.

So why am I willing to risk my life by joining the Great Return March?

Transporting a wounded Palestinian demonstrator. (Mohammed Saber/European Pressphoto Agency, via Shutterstock)

There are multiple answers to Ali’s question. I fully believe in the march’s tactics of unarmed, direct, civilian-led mass action. I have also been inspired by how the action has unified the Palestinian people in the politically fractured Gaza Strip. And the march is an effective way to highlight the unbearable living conditions facing residents of the Gaza Strip: four hours of electricity a day, the indignity of having our economy and borders under siege, the fear of having our homes shelled.

But the core reason I am participating is that years from now, I want to be able to look Ali, Karam and Adam in the eye and tell them, “Your father was part of this historic, nonviolent struggle for our homeland.”

Western media’s coverage of the Great Return March has focused on the images of young people hurling stones and burning tires. The Israeli military portrays the action as a violent provocation by Hamas, a claim that many analysts have blindly accepted. Those depictions are in direct contradiction with my experiences on the ground.

Representatives of the General Union of Cultural Centers, the nongovernmental organization for which I serve as executive director, participated in planning meetings for the march, which included voices from all segments of Gaza’s civil and political society. At the border, I haven’t seen a single Hamas flag, or Fatah banner, or poster for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, for that matter — paraphernalia that have been widespread in virtually every other protest I have witnessed. Here, we have flown only one flag — the Palestinian flag.

True, Hamas members are participating, as they are part of the Palestinian community. But that participation signals, perhaps, that they may be shifting away from an insistence on liberating Palestine through military means and are beginning to embrace popular, unarmed civil protest. But the Great Return March is not Hamas’s action. It is all of ours.

And our action has been so much more than tires burning or young men throwing stones at soldiers stationed hundreds of meters away. The resistance in the encampments has been creative and beautiful. I danced the dabke, the Palestinian national dance, with other young men. I tasted samples of the traditional culinary specialties being prepared, such as msakhan (roasted chicken with onions, sumac and pine nuts) and maftool (a couscous dish). I sang traditional songs with fellow protesters and sat with elders who were sharing anecdotes about pre-1948 life in their native villages. Some Fridays, kites flew, and on others flags were hoisted on 80-foot poles to be clearly visible on the other side of the border.

All this was taking place under the rifle sights of Israeli snipers stationed about 700 meters away. We were tense, we were fearful — indeed, I’ve been in the proximity of people getting shot and tear-gassed — but we were joyful. The singing, the dancing, the storytelling, the flags, the kites and the food are more than symbols of cultural heritage.

They demonstrate — clearly, loudly, vibrantly and peacefully — that we exist, we will remain, we are humans deserving of dignity, and we have the right to return to our homes. I long to sleep under the olive trees of Bayt Daras, my native village. I want to show Ali, Karam and Adam the mosque that my grandfather prayed in. I want to live peacefully in my historic home with all my neighbors, be they Muslim, Christian, Jewish or atheist.

The people in Gaza have been living one tragedy after another: waves of mass displacement, life in squalid refugee camps, a captured economy, restricted access to fishing waters, a strangling siege and three wars in the past nine years. Israel assumed that once the generation who experienced the Nakba died, the youth would relinquish our dream of return. I believe this is partly why Israel keeps Gaza on the brink of humanitarian collapse — if our lives are reduced to a daily struggle for food, water, medicine and electricity, we won’t be able to think about larger aspirations. The march is proving that my generation has no intention of abandoning our people’s dreams.

The Great Return March has kindled my optimism, but I am also realistic. Alone, the march will not end the siege and the occupation, address the huge power imbalance that exists between Israel and the Palestinians or right the historical wrongs. The work continues until everyone in the region can share equal rights. But I could not be more inspired by or proud of my people — seeing us united under one flag, with nearly unanimous acceptance of peaceful methods to call for our rights and insist on our humanity.

Every Friday through May 15, I will continue to go to the encampments. I will go to send a message to the international community about the devastating conditions in which I am forced to raise my sons. I will go so that I can glimpse our lands — our trees — on the other side of the militarized border as Israeli soldiers surveil me through their weapons.

If Ali asks me why I’m returning to the Great Return March despite the danger, I will tell him this: I love my life. But more than that, I love you, Karam and Adam. If risking my life means you and your brothers will have a chance to thrive, to have a future with dignity, to live in peace with all your neighbors, in your free country, then this is a risk I must take.

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