July 27, 2020
Pandemic and the Creative Response

JULY 27
Pandemic and the Creative Response: How can art pave the way for justice?

In recent weeks, we’ve witnessed a global cry for justice in face of systemic racism. How can art be a catalyst for social change? We’ll hear from students and faculty of Dar al-Kalima as they share how art provides a social justice lens in which to critically reflect on reality while imagining new futures. Learn how the students are navigating the unique challenges and opportunities of a pandemic learning environment.

Join our Bright Stars team and friends in Palestine for a Virtual Summer Series: Palestine During Double Lockdown.

The series title, taken from Rev. Dr. Raheb’s latest book, speaks to the additional layer of oppression that the pandemic has inflicted on Palestinians. Hear from Bright Stars co-founder and Dar al-Kalima University President, Mitri Raheb alongside students, faculty, and scholars from the university.

We’ll be highlighting how our friends in Palestine are unlocking hope amidst this “double lockdown.”

Limited space available. Registration required. Free. For more information and to register, visit Bright Stars of Bethlehem.

Palestinian Scholar Noura Erakat: Israeli Forces Killed My Cousin on His Sister’s Wedding Day

Democracy Now!, JUNE 24, 2020

Israeli soldiers on Tuesday killed 27-year-old Ahmed Erekat at a checkpoint in the occupied West Bank as he was on his way to pick up his sister, who was set to be married that night. Ahmed Erekat is the nephew of senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and cousin of Palestinian American legal scholar Noura Erakat, who says Israeli claims that Ahmed was attempting a car-ramming attack on soldiers are completely unfounded. “What we understand is that Ahmed lost control of his car or was confused while he was in his car. That was all it took to have a knee-jerk reaction … and immediately to cause the soldiers to open fire on him multiple times,” she says.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to begin today in Israel and the West Bank. Israeli officers on Tuesday shot dead a Palestinian man at a checkpoint in the occupied West Bank as he was on his way to pick up his sister, who was set to be married last night. A warning to our viewers: This story contains graphic footage. The video from the scene shows 27-year-old Ahmed Erekat bleeding, but still alive on the street where he was shot. He’s the nephew of senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, who said his nephew was, quote, “murdered in cold blood,” and wrote in a tweet that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is responsible for his death.

Ahmed Erekat’s family said he was killed while on his way to a beauty salon to pick up his sister and his mother, but Israeli authorities claim he tried to run over an officer at a checkpoint in the Palestinian village of Abu Dis, east of Jerusalem. His family rejects the allegations, is calling for Israeli authorities to release security footage. Ahmed himself was also due to be married soon.

His killing comes nearly a month after another Palestinian man was killed in similar circumstances near Ramallah, also in the West Bank, and as Netanyahu plans to start annexing nearly a third of the occupied West Bank next month.

For more, we’re joined by Ahmed Erekat’s cousin, Noura Erakat, who’s a Palestinian human rights attorney and legal scholar, assistant professor at Rutgers University, author of Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine.

Noura, our condolences to you and your family. This is such a terrible time for you. We so deeply appreciate you’re able to join us. This is just hours after your cousin was killed. Can you describe the circumstances under which you understand he died?

Continue reading

Coronavirus Is a Death Sentence for Palestinians Caged in Gaza

Even a small outbreak among Gaza’s densely-packed, blockaded population would put an impossible strain on a healthcare system already teetering on the verge of collapse


A man, wearing a mask against coronavirus infection, looks through a fence as he waits for Palestinians returning from abroad. Gaza’s Rafah border crossing with Egypt. March 8, 2020. (IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS)

Shannon Maree Torrens, Haaretz, Mar 12, 2020

Imagine two million human beings living in the space of just 365 square kilometers. One of the most densely populated places on Planet Earth, confined in a cage from which they cannot escape. These two million people cannot leave, even if they wanted to, without great difficulty.

They must live their lives within the confines of this rapidly deteriorating area of land, some persisting in the hope that one day things may change, but many surviving with the realization and resignation that they very well may not. No matter their degree of optimism or pessimism, all are isolated from the rest of the world. We call this place the Gaza Strip, and it has been under blockade by Israel since 2007.

It is now March 2020. The novel coronavirus, has become an issue of global concern. The disease it causes, COVID-19, has spread far from its origins in China. In a short space of time, coronavirus is seemingly everywhere. It moves as frequently as the planes and people who spread it back and forth across the world.

As of 11 March, more than 118,000 people have been infected globally, almost 4,300 people have died and at least 114 countries/territories and areas are affected. The world buys masks and hand sanitizer. The World Health Organisation classifies novel coronavirus as a pandemic. People stock up on food. "What will happen to us?" the world says. "What if we get sick?"

Continue reading

Strangers in Our Homeland


MK Aida Touma-Sliman, January 15th, 2019. Photo: Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk via Flickr

Aida Touma-Sliman, JewishCurrents, February 6, 2020

LAST WEEK, Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu announced a deal that is intended to determine the future of the Palestinian people, without a single Palestinian present in the room or involved in the consultation process. They unveiled the plan in the midst of Trump’s impeachment trial and on the same day that Netanyahu was indicted for corruption. Like a group of men deliberating women’s reproductive freedoms, the Americans and Israelis who drafted the plan intend to unilaterally decide the fate of Palestinians, our land, and our fundamental rights. The plan’s total erasure of Palestinian voices and blatant denial of these rights lays bare the real intentions of the Trump and Netanyahu administrations.

Just as importantly, the past week clarifies the positions of so-called moderates—from US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Israel’s Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White Party—who have either barely protested or outright endorsed the plan. While it is no secret that the US and Israel have always rendered Palestinian narratives, demands, and aspirations secondary, centrist acquiescence to Trump’s plan suggests that the “deal of the century” is the logical culmination of a long-held vision of an apartheid Palestinian pseudo-state, bereft of meaningful sovereignty or self-determination. 

Trump and Netanyahu have inherited this vision and added their typical vulgarity. Their plan would enshrine Jewish supremacy in all of Israel and historic Palestine, annexing Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank, the Jordan Valley, and East Jerusalem, while leaving Palestinians in the occupied territories with a patchwork of isolated ghettos surrounded by walls and military checkpoints. Israeli law would be applied in all settlements, which violate international law and numerous UN resolutions. Israel would retain sovereign control over the air and sea, as well as absolute “security” control in the entire territory west of the Jordan River. Jerusalem, including occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem and its holy sites, will remain entirely in Israeli hands. And Palestinian refugees will be categorically denied their right to return to the land from which they were expelled by Israel because they were not Jewish. 

The plan would also have dire consequences for Palestinian citizens of Israel, many of whom would probably be stripped of their citizenship and transferred to the new Palestinian “state” under the plan’s proposed land swaps. To those ends, Israel’s Tourism Minister, Yariv Levin, has already raised the specter of de-nationalizating Israel’s Palestinian citizens, who make up about 20% of the population, or about 1.8 million people. Many people in this category would likely lose the ability to travel within most of historic Palestine and be subject to the same restrictions, including on movement, imposed on citizens of the new Palestinian “state.” 

As a Palestinian citizen of Israel myself, I have been treated with suspicion and as a threat by the government for my whole life, a fifth column in my own homeland. Will I now be told to move to the new Palestine, or remain and accept permanent second- or third-class Israeli citizenship? We already face dozens of laws that discriminate against us—including the so-called “Jewish nation-state” law, which has effectively made segregation official national policy—because we are not Jewish. With Trump’s plan, Israel’s claim to being a liberal democracy that values human rights has been discredited once and for all.

Trump and Netanyahu’s plan, then, is outrageously unapologetic in its denial of Palestinian rights and its whitewashing of Israeli colonization. In key respects, however, it does not represent a radical break with the many previous plans proposed over the past several decades—by both Democrats and Republicans, by Israel’s Labor and Likud—to “grant” Palestinians nominally autonomous, discontiguous parcels of land surrounded by Israeli settlements and under the control of the Israeli military, and to pass off these bantustans as an independent state. As far back as 1978, Prime Minister Menachem Begin proposed granting Palestinians a limited “autonomy” or home rule in scraps of the occupied Palestinian territories in an attempt to quash Palestinian demands for independence. The 1993 Oslo Accords offered Palestinians limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, while allowing unfettered Israeli settlement expansion—with the number of Israeli settlers more than tripling since the signing of the peace agreement. 

Continue reading

Trump Plan Protests in the Jordan Valley


Operation Dove, January 29, 2020

Tubas, Jordan Valley — Today in response to the “Deal of the Century” Palestinians gathered for an action in the Jordan Valley during which they plowed the land in an area declared a closed military zone for training.

Israeli soldiers responded to this action by firing sound grenades and tear gas into the crowd. Israeli soldiers also closed roads and established checkpoints in order to prevent Palestinians from reaching the spot.


Video: Ahmad Al-Bazz / Activestills

Activestills, January 29, 2020

Palestinians protest the Trump administration’s plan to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli issue, Northern Jordan Valley, West Bank.

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.

Continue reading

Why We Sail, Sail, and Sail Again: Freedom Flotilla 2020

Canadian Boat to Gaza, December 20, 2019

Freedom Flotilla sailors and participants are sometimes asked: Why do you keep sailing toward Gaza only to be captured? Why not give the funds you raise directly to the Palestinians of Gaza as aid? Our rationale for sailing and our experiences in 2018 provide some answers. Our Palestinian partners in Gaza are asking us to challenge the illegal blockade. In May 2018 the Norwegian fishing trawler Al Awda (The Return) and the Swedish sailing ship Freedom sailed from Scandinavia. Over two months, we called on ports in Denmark, Germany, Holland, England, France, Spain, Portugal and Italy spreading the message of freedom for Palestinians. Israel has extended its reach, pressuring governments in Cyprus,Turkey, and Greece to prevent our ships sailing from their ports.

Canadians Karen DeVito and John Turnbull joined the sailing ship Freedom in Denmark and crewed her from Copenhagen to Palermo where John then captained the ship on the final leg toward Gaza. Other Canadians, including Heather Milton-Lightening, Ron Rousseau, Majed Khraishi, Kathy Wazana, and Larry Commodore of the Stó:lo Nation, were on board Al Awda at different points in her voyage, and Canadian journalist Dimitri Lascaris reported for The Real News Network from Flotilla boats and from several ports.

The arrival of the ships at each European port occasioned special events, marches, music, speaking opportunities, as well as visits with municipal and provincial politicians. In some places cities and regions had passed motions to support the Flotilla and recognize Palestine. In Amsterdam, activists organized a small-boat Flotilla through the canals with music, banners and flags. Supporters followed along the canals and bridges handing out hundreds of flyers. Brighton, England gave a rousing welcome on the pier, held an information event in a local park, and a packed house speaking event in the town. Gijón, Spain held a march through the city with about 800 people with music, dancing, singing and a Palestinian flag that required 40 people to parade it through the streets. The City Council of Cádiz, Spain voted the Flotilla “Illustrious Visitor.” Two smaller Swedish sailboats crossed Netherland, Belgium and France by river and canal, catching public interest when authorities prevented them from mooring in Paris, and visited a number of other waterside communities.

Energizing local solidarity groups, providing outreach and diplomacy are all aspects of the Flotilla’s work. The voyage around Europe is so valuable in these respects. We also discovered that refugees would visit our ships at each port. The mayors of three Italian ports met our ships at the piers and declared refugees welcome to their cities, regardless of their then-Prime Minister’s negative attitude. Our crew met with local and provincial politicians, ambassadors– they attended regional parliamentary sessions, municipal meetings and gave presentations to the public as well as tours of the boats. All these activities are part of why we sail.

Palestinians in Gaza are now more than ever connected with the rest of the world by the internet. They know when the Freedom Flotilla is coming; they go to the seashore and wait. We are answering a civil society call when we sail–when we ask our partner organizations in Gaza if they would prefer a donations over a Flotilla, they always respond saying we should to sail and raise international awareness about the blockade. They prefer we expand awareness of the longest running occupation in modern history. They also tell us that our sailing gives Palestinians hope and the knowledge that they are not alone.

The Flotilla movement has launched successful legal challenges to Israel for improper confiscation of our ships. One recent court victory by Ship to Gaza Sweden provided the funds for purchase of the Freedom and two smaller sailboats that travelled through France to the Mediterranean. And so Captain John, when interrogated on the way to an Israeli prison, was pleased to answer this question: “Did a terrorist organization provide your funding?” with a solid “Yes”. Then to “Which one?” , John replied: “The Israeli government.”

Continue reading

Barbara Olson and Tsela Barr: Congress needs to stand against Israeli travel bans


In this July 15, 2019, file photo, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn, right, speaks, as U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., listens, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite)

TSELA BARR AND BARB OLSON, The Cap Times, August 23, 2019

Last week, the Israeli government took the unprecedented step of denying two sitting members of the U.S. Congress, Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, entry to Israel.

Their crime was to set up their own independent fact-finding trip to visit Palestine rather than participate in the scripted, AIPAC-sponsored free trip to Israel that most Congress members participate in.

They couldn’t be allowed to meet with Israeli or Palestinian peace activists, or visit places like heavily occupied Hebron that aren’t on the itinerary of the AIPAC junket.

Tlaib and Omar had to be kept out because they had the gall to criticize Israel and express support for the non-violent South Africa-inspired Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement seeking justice and human rights for Palestinians.

This may be outrageous, but it is hardly surprising. Israel has been denying entry to Palestinians since they began expelling them in 1948. The discrimination and harassment experienced by Palestinian, Arab and/or Muslim travelers seeking to enter Israel, or just pass through it to visit the illegally occupied Palestinian territories, is well-known. Recently they have also kept out Jewish Americans who support BDS and champion Palestinian human rights.

Continue reading

What Is Israel Trying to Hide?

Reps. Tlaib & Omar Blocked from Taking Official Trip to West Bank


Democracy Now!  August 16, 2019

    GUESTS
    Mustafa Barghouti
    member of the Palestinian Parliament, secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party. He was a presidential candidate in the 2005 elections.
    Rebecca Vilkomerson
    executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Israel sparked outrage Thursday when it banned two freshman Democratic congresswomen of color — Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota — from entering the country. Following outcry from Democratic leaders and Palestinians, Israel granted permission for Tlaib to enter the country on “humanitarian” grounds to visit her family in the West Bank — though Tlaib said Friday she will not visit her family under such conditions. Israel originally denied entrance to Tlaib and Omar after President Donald Trump tweeted, “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people.” Congressmembers Tlaib and Omar are the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, and were planning to tour East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. Both congresswomen have voiced support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement, a global solidarity campaign with the Palestinian people. The nonviolent movement seeks to use economic and cultural pressure to force Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian lands. We speak with Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative political party, and Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.

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

AMY GOODMAN: Israel has announced it will conditionally allow Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib to visit family in the West Bank, a day after it barred both Tlaib and fellow Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from entering Israel to travel to occupied Palestine. Israel is still refusing entry to Omar. Israel initially blocked entry to both lawmakers after President Trump took the unprecedented step of publicly urging Israel to bar entry to the women, the first two female Muslim members of Congress. Trump tweeted Thursday, “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people,” he tweeted.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended his decision Thursday. Israeli prime minister defended the decision to bar both the U.S. lawmakers.

Continue reading