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.

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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.


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.

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The Palestinian women at the forefront of Gaza’s protests

In socially conservative Gaza, women have been leading the Great Return March movement, uniting all Palestinians.

Mersiha Gadzo & Anas Jnena, 20 Apr 2018

‘I loved the sense of unity we all felt when both young men and women helped each other during the march protest,’ said Taghreed al-Barawi, seen in the photo [Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

Gaza Strip – On one side of the fence, dozens of Israeli soldiers lay positioned behind sand dunes, tracking the Palestinian demonstrators through the crosshairs of their snipers.

On the other side, young women, with keffiyeh scarves covering half their faces to avoid tear gas suffocation, stand in front of the young protesting men, providing cover.

“Women are less likely to be shot at,” said 26-year-old Taghreed al-Barawi on April 13, while attending the third consecutive Friday protests in Gaza near the Israeli border with her younger sister and a group of friends.

“We live in a male-dominated society and women’s participation in protests can be a strange scene for some people in Gaza. However, this time men somehow were more accepting and encouraging. It seems like they finally realised that we’re all part of this and women should be present,” Barawi said.

But being female is no guarantee for protection.

Some 1,600 protesters, including 160 women, have been wounded and more than 30 have been killed by Israeli snipers since the Great Return March movement began on March 30, marked as Land Day for Palestinians.

Even though Barawi inadvertently choked on tear gas numerous times and felt like she was about to faint, the thought of quitting the protest didn’t cross her mind.

“I had this feeling of strange courage, or I don’t know what to call it – it’s as if the nearer I got to the border, the stronger my desire was to move forward. Maybe it was the urge to come closer to our home and visit it [territories that Israel took over in 1948].

“Personally, I’m also inspired and intrigued by Ahed Tamimi and her bravery standing up to the Israeli army,” Barawi said.

The Great Return March is a non-violent, grassroots movement that calls for the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their homes, as per the UN Resolution 194, from which they were expelled in 1948 when the state of Israel was created.

Thousands have been participating in the mass sit-in, with dozens of tents erected along the border with Israel. Each tent is labelled with the name of the town that the family was expelled from in 1948. It’s the largest mass protest Gaza has seen since the first Intifada.

The Palestinian territory with nearly two million population can only be accessed via Egypt and Israel but an Israeli-Egyptian blockade has been suffocating the Strip for 11 years. Living conditions have deteriorated over the years and unemployment wavers around 43 percent. Residents say they have reached a breaking point.

Palestinians have been protesting along Gaza’s border every Friday afternoon for years, but what is noticeably different this time is that a large number of women and girls have been actively participating on a scale not seen before.

And that’s why this Friday’s protests have been labelled the “Women’s March of Gaza”.

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“Apartheid, Rogue, Terrorist State”: Glenn Greenwald on Israel

Democracy Now! April 9, 2018

On Saturday, hundreds of mourners gathered in Gaza for the funeral of Palestinian journalist Yaser Murtaja, who was fatally shot by the Israeli army while covering a fresh round of deadly protests along the Israel-Gaza border. Photos show the 30-year-old journalist was wearing a flak jacket clearly marked ”PRESS” at the time of the shooting. He’s one of at least nine Palestinians who were killed by the Israeli army during its brutal crackdown against Friday’s protests. The Palestinian Health Ministry says Israeli forces have killed 31 people in total since Palestinians kicked off a 6-week-long nonviolent protest late last month, dubbed “The Great March of Return.” Both the International Criminal Court and the United Nations have rebuked Israel in recent days and warned its actions on the border could violate international human rights conventions. For more, we continue our conversation with Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of the founding editors of The Intercept.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: On Saturday, hundreds of mourners gathered in Gaza for the funeral of Palestinian journalist Yaser Murtaja, who was fatally shot by the Israeli army while covering a fresh round of daily protests along the Israeli-Gaza border. Photos show the 30-year-old journalist was wearing a flak jacket clearly marked ”PRESS” at the time of the shooting. He’s one of at least nine Palestinians who were killed by the Israeli army during its brutal crackdown against Friday’s protests. The Palestinian Health Ministry says Israeli forces have killed 31 people in total since Palestinians kicked off a 6-week-long nonviolent protest late last month, dubbed “The Great March of Return.”

AMY GOODMAN: Both the International Criminal Court and the United Nations have rebuked Israel in recent days and warned its actions on the border could violate international human rights conventions.

We are continuing our conversation with Glenn Greenwald, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Glenn, can you talk about what’s happened in Gaza over the last two weeks, with Avigdor Lieberman, the high-level Israeli official, saying that no Gazan is innocent?

GLENN GREENWALD: I think it’s just time to acknowledge and accept the reality of what Israel is. Whatever you thought of Israel in the past, believing that it was some kind of bastion of liberal democracy in the Middle East, that it was surrounded by primitive brutal enemies, all the propaganda, what’s clear now is that Israel is something quite different than all of that. And even people who once believed that are now starting to come and see that Israel is an apartheid, rogue, terrorist state. The conduct that it engages in, continually and without apology, proudly, and the comments that it makes, including the one you just referenced from the defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who said there are no innocent people in Gaza, which is basically the mentality of a genocidal maniac, is reflective of what Israel is.

And I think the context here is so critical, which is that a lot of people have come to realize that Benjamin Netanyahu is this far-right, bloodthirsty, militaristic figure. And what’s amazing about it is that in the context of Israeli politics, Benjamin Netanyahu resides in the center of Israeli politics, if not almost now on the left. There’s very little political force to his left. All the political force is to his right. The younger generation of Israeli leaders think that Netanyahu is too moderate, that he’s too centrist, that he’s too soft on the Palestinians. They don’t believe in a Palestinian state. They don’t pretend to support the two-state solution. They want to dominate that land forever. They believe they’re religiously entitled to it. They want to—basically, they believe in apartheid, a policy of apartheid, forever suppressing what is soon to be the majority, the Palestinians, ruled by a minority of Israelis, using whatever war crimes and slaughter and murder they need to in order to suppress and intimidate that population.

And if seeing the Israeli military gun down children on a Gazan beach in 2014 while they played soccer, or end the life of a journalist on purpose, who is wearing a press jacket, by putting a bullet in him, through a sniper, doesn’t show you what the Israeli government really is, what will? And I think the question now is, you know, all these people in the West who love to go around urging humanitarian intervention, and the West needs to stop Assad, the West needs to stop Gaddafi, the West needs to stop Saddam Hussein—doesn’t the West need to stop the Israeli government? At the very least, stop arming it and sending it money and sending it intelligence and providing diplomatic cover? Because the Western governments that do that, led by the U.K. and the United States, are very much complicit in everything that’s being done to the Palestinians, which are war crimes and, increasingly, apartheid and genocide.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Glenn, quickly, the impact of the Palestinian nonviolent protests now that are occurring, the constant protests that—of the people pouring out of Gaza to the barrier with Israel?

GLENN GREENWALD: Look at how—what Western discourse says, Juan, about what Palestinians are permitted to do. So, if Palestinians kill troops, Israeli troops, occupying their land, which every country in the world would claim the right to do—if there were Russian troops occupying the U.S., it would be cheered if people killed them. But when Palestinians kill military soldiers occupying their land, they’re called terrorists. When Palestinians advocate a nonviolent boycott of Israel in order to pressure them to end the occupation, the way people did in the ’80s successfully against the South African apartheid regime, that’s called anti-Semitism. When Palestinians nonviolently protest at the border, they’re accused of being agents of Hamas who deserve to be slaughtered.

The discourse of the West is that Palestinians have no right to resist or protest this decades-long occupation. They don’t have a right to do so violently, and they have no right to do so nonviolently. The only thing Western discourse tells Palestinians they’re permitted to do is to meekly acquiesce and submit to and obey the dictates of the Israeli government. And I think the world is finally starting to wake up to the fact that this discourse is incredibly immoral and that—

AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.

GLENN GREENWALD: —Palestinians have just the same rights as everybody else to protest and resist.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, we thank you so much for being with us, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, one of the founding editors of The Intercept.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Palestinian Journalist Fatally Shot While Covering Gaza Protest

Daniel Estrin, NPR, April 7, 2018

Palestinian journalist Yaser Murtaja, 30, is evacuated after being fatally wounded by Israeli fire while covering the Palestinian demonstrations at the Israel-Gaza border on Friday. Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

Palestinian photojournalist Yaser Murtaja covered plenty of funeral processions during the 2014 war in Gaza.

Now his colleagues are covering his death.

They encircled his body, holding their cameras high, as he was carried out of Gaza’s main hospital on Saturday. They marched through the streets on their way to funeral prayers at the territory’s central mosque. Draped across his body was a Palestinian flag and a blue reporter’s flak vest.

Just one day before, Murtaja, 30, was at the Gaza-Israel border with his camera, covering demonstrations of some of the bloodiest violence Gaza has seen since the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls the Palestinian territory.

Over more than a week, tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered near Israel’s fortified border fence with the stated aim of demanding to return to lands their families lost in the 1948 war that led to Israel’s founding. But Israel accused Hamas of fomenting violence under the guise of a civil protest.

Many demonstrators stayed far back from the border fence, picnicking in the barley fields and holding a tent camp sit-in, but some young Palestinians burned tires and threw rocks toward the fence. Israel said there were also attempts to lob rudimentary explosives and damage or penetrate the border fence, as well as a pair of militants who shot at soldiers.

Israel said its troops fired tear gas, rubber bullets and live fire to prevent masses from crossing into Israel and in order to protect its border fence and soldiers. Gaza officials said Israeli troops have killed at least 29 Palestinians since last Friday and wounded hundreds. Palestinians and some rights groups say troops are firing on people even when they are unarmed or pose no immediate threat.

On Friday afternoon, Murtaja stood about 300 yards away from the fence, documenting Palestinians burning tires, said photographer Rushdi Serraj, a close colleague who said he was next to Murtaja when he was shot. “Suddenly, he shouts, ‘I’m injured, I’m injured, my stomach,'” Serraj recounted.

Photos show Murtaja on the ground, wearing a protective vest marked “PRESS” in big English letters. His family said he was hit by a bullet to an exposed side of his torso not covered by the front or back part of his vest.

The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate in Gaza said an additional five Palestinian reporters covering the border protests were wounded by Israeli fire. NPR met two of them, in hospital beds with serious leg wounds, who said they were shooting photos on the border and wearing PRESS-labeled vests when they were shot.

Adham Hajjar, 32, says he was wearing a vest marked “PRESS” when he was shot in the leg while covering protests at the Gaza-Israel border on Friday. Daniel Estrin

The Israeli military said it does not intentionally target journalists and is looking into the matter. Hours before Murtaja was shot, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said soldiers employ lethal fire only as a last resort.

“No one gets shot by standing and looking. They are shot after commanders specifically approve it against a specific person or threat,” Conricus said.

Late Saturday, Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman seemed to suggest Murtaja had flown a drone above soldiers when he was shot. He also said Hamas men had dressed up as journalists. He did not provide evidence to back the claims.

“You don’t know who is a photographer and who is not,” Lieberman said. “Whoever employs drones above Israeli soldiers needs to understand he is endangering himself.”

The Foreign Press Association in Israel and the Palestinian territories called on the Israeli army to conduct a fast and open investigation, and to show restraint in areas where journalists work.

Murtaja’s colleagues said he’d done videography work for the BBC, VICE and other international media, and had worked with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei on his 2017 documentary, Human Flow. He was also a leading videographer for Ai Weiwei’s video installation, Journey of Laziz, which was recently exhibited Israel’s leading museum, the Israel Museum, in Jerusalem. The visual artist shared photos of Murtaja on his Instagram account on Saturday.

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