Winning Essay “The Party”

Rahf Hallaq essay winnerRahf Hallaq receives her award at the Gaza AFSC office.

Gaza Unlocked Blog Team, American Friends Service Committee, December 3, 2018

Rahf Hallaq is a 19-year-old sophomore student at the Islamic university of Gaza studying English Literature. She aspires to complete her higher education in Literature and become a professor. Reading is her favourite hobby that started with her love for bedtime stories as a child, and with time developed into an appreciation of literature. Rahf lived and went to school in the U.S. for three years (2005 to 2008) where she began reading and writing in English at a very early stage in her life. Rahf says, “Books changed the way I think immensely; I could feel writers speaking to me through every book I read, trying to form my ideas, make me a better well-informed person. That made me love writing because it made me believe in the power of words. I write because I want to share what I know with the world. I want them to see how people here suffer, feel and think. I want them to see that we are not merely an occupied nation that wants its basic rights but that we have amazing, educated, creative and brilliant people here in Gaza that can achieve great things and make this world a better place if given the opportunity.”

“The Party”

“There’s going to be a party tonight!

It’s 12 a.m. The entire house had gone to sleep and I’m sitting lazily on my desk studying, trying my best to ignore the infuriating buzz of the drones roaming above my head. I read the message my friend sent me, smile and reply with a “yeah!” I have to finish as much as possible before the electricity goes out. So, although I feel extremely tired, I keep working.

There were four killings on the border today and our side threw some rockets at the Israeli soldier camps near the borders as a response. So, as usual, I was expecting a night full of action. But, you see, Israelis never respond to the results of what they started early. They always wait until it’s past midnight so that their mission’s results can be more successfully terrifying.

It is said that waiting for a bad experience to happen is harder than living the experience itself. I can’t say that I’m sitting on pins and needles or that I’m actually scared, however. Situations such as these happen every now and then in Gaza.

I haven’t reached the level of complete indifference as some people here have, but neither do I feel any great fear as some others still do. We always fear the airstrikes might cause casualties near the targeted places. And there’s always the fear of things escalating and possibly developing into a serious war. But, there have been enough similar nights or – as people here in Gaza have come to ironically call them – “parties” to convince us that the possibility is weak. Usually, everything ends with the rising sun of the following day. It’s a strategy they use to scare us and remind us: “we are here.”

So, I sit and wait.

I wait just like everyone here waits for everything. Our life in Gaza, as some of you might already know, is a constant state of fearing and waiting. We are always waiting for electricity so that we can resume our lives like normal people, study, work, do our chores, watch TV, charge our phones and laptops, etc. New graduates are always waiting to find a job, and if, after a long search by some miracle, they do find a good suitable job, they will have the exceptional experience of waiting to be paid half their salary once every three months.

We are constantly waiting for the Rafah border to open, waiting for medical supplies, waiting for a war that we dread yet know is coming, waiting for an airstrike, waiting for the siege to end, waiting for freedom, or waiting for things to simply improve; we feel privileged when we get a full eight hours of electricity!

Some people have started to look upon these things as a distant Godot who never comes. A Godot that keeps you waiting and hoping until he renders you desperate. People like me, though, are still clinging to the hope that things will get better soon. Every nation that has been occupied in the past has had to sacrifice for its freedom. We’ve been resisting dispossession, slaughter, imprisonment, and torture for 70 years. Are we to give up now?

The first missile strikes, and as my heart starts thumping hard in my chest, I automatically jump out of my chair to open the windows. A shiver runs through my body as gusts of cold wind slap my face. But what other choice do we have? We’ll have to bear the cold for a couple of hours. I cover my younger siblings well and go back to studying.

However prepared or indifferent you may be, you never escape feeling that bitter sensation of being punched in the stomach whenever you hear the missiles breaking through the layers of air, whistling all the way down, then smashing unmercifully into the ground. For the next hour, I was neither able to sleep nor concentrate on my homework. Most of it passes in thinking and absentmindedly watching the curtain above my desk dance forward and backward instead. There were nearly five other airstrikes during that hour; and with each one of them, my heart leapt into my throat, causing my guts and lungs to clench themselves until I could hardly breathe for a few moments. Then everything went back to normal.

A murmur reaches me from my parents’ room. The bombing must have wakened them. I slowly walk to their room to see if everything’s alright. Everything is fine. As I tip-toe back to my room, my dad catches me and calls: “Go to sleep, baba; there’s nothing serious. Hopefully, the IDF will get bored soon and move to another spot.”

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U.S.-Mexico Border: An Israeli Tech Laboratory


Migrants running from tear gas fired by American border agents near the fence at Tijuana. (Credit: Hannah Mckay/Reuters)

Brittany Dawson, PALESTINE SQUARE, December 6, 2018

When hundreds of Central American migrants arrived in Tijuana, Mexico, in late November, planning to claim asylum in the United States, U.S. Customs and Border Protection closed the San Ysidro border crossing in anticipation of their arrival. In protest of the closure, asylum seekers rushed the fence separating Mexico and the United States, and border patrol agents fired tear gas at them through the fence. Images of children and their families running through clouds of CS gas went viral on social media. Palestine solidarity activists speculated that the agents used the same U.S.-manufactured tear gas as is used by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) against Palestinians and has been used against activists in the United States from Standing Rock to Ferguson, MO.

Such collaboration between U.S. and Israeli defense establishments is not new. In 2004, Hermes drones manufactured by Israel’s Elbit Systems were the first unmanned aerial vehicles deployed at the U.S. southern border. A decade later, Customs and Border Protection awarded the company’s subsidiary, Elbit Systems of America, a $145 million contract to construct its integrated fixed towers system in Nogales, Arizona. And in October 2017, when camera crews gathered in San Diego, California, for the unveiling of President Donald Trump’s border wall prototypes, the only foreign contractor on display was ELTA, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries.

In an interview published in the Journal of Palestine Studies, excerpted below, I spoke with journalist and author Gabriel Schivone about the use of Israeli technology at the U.S.-Mexico border and beyond. Schivone has published widely on issues of human rights and homeland security technology along the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as on the Israeli arms trade in Central America, the Mexican drug wars, and other topics. His book Making the New “Illegal”: How Decades of U.S. Involvement in Central America Triggered the Modern Wave of Immigration (forthcoming from Prometheus Books) includes a chapter on Israel’s military role as a proxy for the United States in Guatemala’s “Dirty War.”

Subscribe to the Journal of Palestine Studies to read the complete interview on the Journal’s website.

[From the Journal of Palestine Studies | The Great March of Return: An Organizer’s Perspective]

One issue on which the United States and Israel have been cooperating for a while is the U.S.- Mexico border. When Donald Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, he promised to build a “great wall” and to make Mexico pay for it, which ignored the fact that the wall already existed, both physically and virtually through all kinds of security technology. How did this come about?

I’m glad you point that out, because nobody else will—the media, both major political parties, and even, detrimentally, some activists, as well as others, all act as if the wall hasn’t existed for most of our lifetimes, yours and mine. […] Yet this wall and all these barriers have been here for twenty-five years. In 2006, they were greatly expanded when the Israeli giant Elbit was brought in as a subcontractor through Boeing’s $1 billion award to provide the “virtual wall” system under the Secure Fence Act of 2006 signed by [President George W.] Bush. After five years and a billion dollars spent, the Obama administration scrapped the sluggish and expensive project in 2011. But then in early 2014, they gave Elbit’s U.S. subsidiary, Elbit Systems of America, a new $145 million contract to build the integrated fixed towers project, a similar “virtual wall” concept, to provide fifty-two Israeli surveillance towers all across southern Arizona along the border with Mexico.

Other examples of Israeli technology and expertise on the border include Israel’s NICE Systems, which provided CCTV surveillance technology to notorious Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio (who was found guilty of racially profiling Latinos in 2013) for one of his jails in 2000; the Golan Group, a huge Israeli conglomerate, which did a training program for a select group of ICE agents in 2007; and a squad of Israeli Hermes drones, which were the first drones used to patrol the southern border skies, in 2004. These are just a few of the examples.

You and [your research partner] Todd Miller recently returned from a trip to Palestine and Jordan. What took you there, and how was your experience?

The trip was the second phase of an investigation we started here in Tucson in 2014 and 2015. We looked at what is essentially a boundary-building complex—military, security, NAFTA, Homeland Security—based here in Tucson and which is part of the University of Arizona. It’s a futuristic, sci-fi–like campus called Tech Parks Arizona, which its CEO calls a business incubator. They invite and lure small, medium, and large companies to open offices on the campus, which is at the far end of town in the middle of the desert. And the way that they sell their campus and state-of- the-art facilities is as a headquarters for these companies’ research and development activities. They say to them, “You can use the facilities; you can use the grounds as a laboratory, as a testing range for command centers, security systems, your surveillance towers, etc.” After seeing how lucrative it has become, they want to go global and make southern Arizona the nexus of the boundary-building business.

Their big idea is called Global Advantage, which is a business project based on a partnership between Tech Parks Arizona and the Offshore Group, which is a Mexican business-advisory firm that offers “nearshore solutions for manufacturers of any size” in its manufacturing complexes just across the border in Sonora, a state in northern Mexico. Tech Parks Arizona provides the lawyers, accountants, and scholars, as well as the technical know-how, to help any foreign company—starting with Israeli companies as their “proof of concept” clientele—land softly and set up shop at the campus. Tech Parks Arizona offers these companies its research and development resources and facilities, as well as aid with legal issues, such as business regulation, and even finding qualified employees. Tech Parks Arizona identifies their Israeli clientele through the Global Advantage program’s Israel Business Initiative, which lures Israeli companies to come and set up offices in Tucson.

[From the Journal of Palestine Studies | Special Issue: Queering Palestine]

The way they package it to the Israelis is by telling them, “You can come here and set up offices and do your research and development at the Tech Parks grounds and then just walk across the border and watch the products being manufactured. Instead of taking your mass production to China or India, we have the full package right here for you.” [Todd Miller and I] talked to the CEOs and business executives of the Offshore Group and Tech Parks Arizona about their partnership with Global Advantage, and they told us that they consider Israel their proof-of- concept client before they approach other clients, like South Korea. From the beginning, they said, the number one surefire sell has always been Israel.

When I interviewed Tucson mayor Jonathan Rothschild about his endorsement of Global Advantage—asking him, “Why Israel?”—he told me, “If you go to Israel and then come to southern Arizona and close your eyes and spin yourself a few times, you might not be able to tell the difference.” [. . .]

The doors swung wide open to this regional nexus in which the United States, Israel, and Mexico became partners in the “laboratory” that is the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, with its high-tech testing grounds in southern Arizona. They all loved the state/corporate idea of fusing Mexican low-wage manufacturing with Israeli boundary building and homeland security companies. [. . .]

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December 6, 2018
Film: 5 Broken Cameras

The Marquee Cinema, Union South
1308 West Dayton Street , Madison
7:00 pm

Join UW Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the UW Middle East Studies Program, and the Wisconsin Union Directorate Film and Society & Politics Committees for a screening of the documentary Five Broken Cameras.

The documentary will be followed by a moderated discussion and Q&A with Professor Nevine El Nossery. Five Broken Cameras follows the resistance of one Palestinian farmer and his village against encroachments by the Israeli army.

Solidarity Shields Human Rights Workers from Bombs

, Grassroots International, November 20, 2018

al-Amal Hotel, destroyed by Israeli airstrikes, November 13, 2018. (Photo by PCHR Field Workers)

On Tuesday November 13, Israeli airstrikes in Gaza killed two Palestinian civilians and wounded 20 others. The airstrikes destroyed a number of buildings and followed a botched raid by Israeli special forces. Some are calling it a preview to an even greater assault.

The devastation is shocking and horrible. But it hits even closer to home for us at Grassroots International. One of the struck buildings had housed Grassroots’ partner, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), until just a few months ago.

Back in April, Grassroots received an emergency grant request for $55,000. PCHR needed to move their former headquarters in Gaza City to a new, more secure location. In their words, they needed to “lower their exposure to possible bomb attacks by Israel.”

Tuesday’s airstrikes confirmed the concern. Israel launched 57 missiles in Gaza City, obliterating residences, an office complex, a TV station and a hotel. Among the bombed-out rubble stood PCHR’s former headquarters, severely damaged.

PCHR’s former headquarters, in Gaza City, after the building was severely damaged on November 13, 2018. (Photo by PCHR Field Workers)

Since 1995, PCHR has documented abuses, provided legal aid to victims, and advocated for human rights. Since 1996, PCHR has been a Grassroots International partner.

In every section of the blockaded strip, PCHR provides reporting from the ground. Take its report from Northern Gaza last week:

Israeli warplanes carried out 15 airstrikes, launching 25 missiles to target a residential house that was completely destroyed, border control checkpoints belonging to the Palestinian armed groups and agricultural lands. As a result, a Palestinian civilian namely Khaled Ahmed al-Sultan (26), a farmer, was killed and his body turned into pieces in an agricultural land, while a Palestinian child was moderately wounded.

All the photos you see in this blog were taken by PCHR staff. These trained human rights monitors put themselves on the line to document human rights violations, even as the stench of fire and blood still hangs in the air.

As with any of our partners, Grassroots International relies on PCHR to identify its needs and strategies. That’s a unique model in the nonprofit world. And this time in Gaza, backed with the support of our donors, it made the difference. We were able to respond in May with the full amount requested. PCHR completed their move.

Of course, not everyone can call on outside help to move to safer ground. There is not enough safe ground anywhere in Gaza. We remain committed to advocating for a just peace to stop the airstrikes. But while that peace continues to seem a long way off, PCHR lives another day — to keep bringing attention to Gaza, to report in words and pictures to the world, to advocate for economic and social rights, and to prevent Israel from hiding the human cost of the attacks and the occupation.

Because of their own tenacity and strength, and with solidarity and support from Grassroots International, PCHR remains ready to carry on their work today, even reporting on the destruction of their former headquarters. It could have been much worse for them, and for all of us who rely on the unquenchable light they shine on injustice.

Israel killed two Palestinian civilians and wounded 20 others in Gaza, November 13, 2018. (Photo by PCHR Field Workers)

al-Aqsa Channel Building, Gaza City, November 13, 2018. (Photo by PCHR Field Workers)

al-Yazji Residential Building, Gaza City, November 13, 2018. (Photo by PCHR Field Workers)

The Palestinian Right of Return



November 29, 2018

Today is the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Over 7 million Palestinians are refugees – scattered around the globe. In the face of incredible hardship and oppression, Palestinians continue to demand the implementation of their rights – including the right to return to their homes from which they were forcibly displaced 70 years ago.

As the US government’s cuts to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) have put millions of Palestinians at risk, it is crucial now more than ever to learn about and campaign for the rights of refugees. On this day of solidarity, please watch and share this video, which explains what we mean when we talk about the Palestinian right of return.

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This year, when Palestinian refugee rights had all but disappeared from public consciousness in the West, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip came together in a groundswell of collective action through the Great Return March. Tens of thousands of Palestinians living under an illegal and devastating military blockade showed the world that they have not given up on their struggle for freedom and justice. Return is a core demand of these demonstrations that continue every week, even after they have faced unprecedented militarised repression at the hands of Israel’s military.

Please share this video to help raise the voices of Palestinians struggling for justice.

In solidarity,
Ryvka Barnard
Senior Campaigns Officer – Militarism and Security
War on Want

ADC is Proud to Stand with Marc Lamont Hill

for Defending the Rights of the Palestinian People
November 30, 2018

ADC is proud to stand with Dr. Marc Lamont Hill for defending equal rights for the Palestinian people. ADC condemns in the strongest terms the abhorrent decision by CNN to fire Dr. Hill from his position as a commentator with the network. Dr. Hill continuously stands in support of human rights, justice, and equality for the Palestinian people — the very principles which got him fired. It is outrageous that CNN would fire Dr. Hill simply for his position that the Palestinian people are entitled to have full equal rights and protection under the law. The action taken by CNN is a shameful decision and contradictory to the networks supposed principles of fairness and fact telling.

During a United Nations organized event commemorating the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, Dr. Hill gave a compelling and comprehensive testimony describing Israel’s ongoing decades long assault and occupation of the Palestinian people. Throughout his testimony, Dr. Hill outlined the institutional forms of discrimination and racism that the Palestinian people experience on a daily basis. ADC commends Dr. Hill for advocating for equal political and human rights for the Palestinian people.

CNN provides platforms to commentators who regularly make anti-Arab and xenophobic remarks. One of their regular commentators is former Senator Rick Santorum who routinely denies the existence of Palestinians as a people. CNN still refuses to take any action against Santorum. This is one example of many in which the network has ignored racist commentary, and instead provides a platform for those like Santorum to continue their campaign of dehumanizing Arabs and Palestinians.

ADC stands firm in support of Dr. Hill’s call to the international community to uphold the principles of human rights and international law for all peoples. The Palestinian people cannot be an exception to human rights or the principle of equality. It is the obligation and duty of the international community to hold Israel accountable for its ongoing violations against the Palestinian people and ensure the protection of their rights.

Tell CNN to Reinstate Marc Lamont Hill

On Thursday, November 29, 2018, CNN announced that it had severed ties with Temple University Professor and CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill over a speech he gave in support of Palestinian human rights at the United Nations a day earlier.

Professor Hill addressed the UN on International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, drawing attention to the continued human rights violations perpetrated against the Palestinian people. Professor Hill has been vilified, defamed, and falsely accused of harboring hateful views. His words were distorted by pro-Israel groups seeking to undermine his call for one state with equal rights for all.

Marc Lamont Hill

In his defense of the Palestinian people, Professor Hill did not call anyone to violence, nor did he call for the destruction of Israel. His legitimate criticism of Israeli apartheid policies, which include rights and privileges afforded only to Jewish citizens of Israel, has been unfairly conflated with anti-Semitism, which is a well-worn tactic used by pro-Israel activists to smear their opponents.

Professor Hill has been a tireless champion of human rights and justice for all people, and has always denounced all forms of hate and racism. On Thursday, he reiterated his position in a series of tweets, writing, “I do not support anti-Semitism, killing Jewish people, or any of the other things attributed to my speech. I have spent my life fighting these things.”

CNN’s decision to dismiss one of its most popular commentators based on his principled stance against the oppression of Palestinians is blatant censorship. It’s hypocritical considering that one of its contributors is Rick Santorum whose hateful speech against Palestinians includes the denial of their existence. Another regular contributor, Alan Dershowitz, has a history of demonizing Palestinians and supported Israel’s use of torture against them. And yet, CNN chose to fire one of its few contributors of color.

The silencing of voices conducive to the free exchange of ideas is dangerous. It is not befitting a media outlet that prides itself on objectivity to stifle a critical viewpoint—much less one that is becoming increasingly mainstream.

CNN, you should not have caved into pressure. Reinstate Marc Lamont Hill immediately!

[ACTION ITEMS]

[1] Write to CNN President Jeff Zucker at Jeff.Zucker@turner.com and demand that CNN reinstates Marc Lamont Hill! Sample email included in this action.

[2] Tweet or write on social media in support of Marc Lamont Hill using the #IStandWithMLH. Sample tweets are below:

    During a time when media is under attack from those in power in our government, how can @CNN pretend to peddle objective journalism after making such a blatantly biased decision? #IStandWithMLH

    Media outlets like @CNN should defend free speech at a time when honest journalism is under attack. Firing a commentator for speaking facts is hypocritical. #IStandWithMLH

    Standing for Palestinian human rights is not a fireable offense @CNN. #IStandwithMLH

[3] Call or write to CNN to protest its cowardly decision and demand they reinstate Professor Marc Lamont Hill and respect the free exchange of ideas!

    CNN phone number: 1 (404) 827-1500

    Leave a comment: www.cnn.com/feedback

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Tell CNN: Advocating for Palestinian Rights is not Antisemitic


On Wednesday, Marc Lamont Hill, a political commentator on CNN, delivered a speech to the United Nations in support of the Palestinian people. He advocated for their human rights, outlined how Israel denies Palestinians their basic liberties, and asked the international community to ‘commit to political action’.

The next day — under pressure from right-wing leaders and the Jewish establishment — CNN fired him.

This news is appalling. We are demanding that CNN reinstate Marc Lamont Hill because advocating for Palestinian rights should NOT be a fireable offense. In supporting Palestinian freedom, Marc Lamont-Hill was in no way being anti-semitic.

Marc Lamont Hill has spent much of his life fighting against racism and oppression in America. In a tweet responding to accusations against him, he said “I support Palestinian freedom. I support Palestinian self-determination. I am deeply critical of Israeli policy and practice. I do not support anti-Semitism, killing Jewish people, or any of the other things attributed to my speech. I have spent my life fighting these things”.

Especially in the Trump Era, it is dangerous to link advocating for Palestinian rights to anti-semitism. It distracts from real threats to Jewish community — the rise of white nationalism.

Unfortunately, the ADL already vilified Marc Lamont Hill for his criticism of Israeli policy. Once again we are seeing the American Jewish establishment censor conversations about Palestinian rights by falsely claiming antisemitism, and it is setting a terrifying precedent.

Meanwhile, CNN has not cut ties with many other frequent contributors who have expressed beliefs that are actually bigoted. For example, Rick Santorum, currently a senior political commentator at CNN, has such reactionary views on Israel that he has called Palestinians an “invented people.”

Just imagine being fired because you gave a speech that criticized Israel’s policy of Occupation and declared that Palestinian deserve basic human rights. That is why we as Jews are saying it is not antisemitic to demand freedom for the Palestinian people, and advocating for Palestinian human rights should not be a fireable offense.

We need a future where no one lives in fear of being fired for talking about Palestinian human rights and liberation. Demanding freedom and dignity for all Palestinians can also include demanding an end to antisemitism and white nationalism.

CNN, we call on you to reinstate Marc Lamont Hill immediately.

Sign the petition here.

If Not Now is a movement within the American Jewish community, across generations and organizational affiliations. It is open to any who seek to shift the American Jewish public away from the status quo that upholds the occupation.

Airbnb Stops Listing in Illegal West Bank Settlements

CodePINK, November 19, 2018

This is a huge victory! Moments ago, Airbnb announced they will no longer list vacation rentals in illegal Jewish-only West Bank settlements. It’s been exactly two years since we took the stage at Airbnb Open to confront actor Ashton Kutcher. “Airbnb is profiting off the displacement of Palestinians and human rights abuses.”

It might seem sometimes that we are speaking into the wind, but we know that when we are persistent, our work pays off. In celebration of successfully getting Airbnb to end support for Israeli apartheid, join our next campaign for Palestinian rights: Tell pop superstar Ed Sheeran to support Palestinian rights by refusing to perform in Israel. Share our Ed Sheeran petition with your friends and colleagues and on social media. Help us tell him how important it is to support Palestinian rights.

The Airbnb campaign showed that when we work together, WE WIN. The Stolen Homes coalition that formed over two years ago to work on getting Airbnb out of the settlements, included us, Jewish Voice for Peace, American Muslims for Palestine, the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Sum of Us and more. Together we protested, wrote articles and took to social media. Today our persistence paid off. Every single person who supported this campaign deserves credit and that means you!

We won’t stop campaigning until Palestine is free. So, take a moment to toast this success and then get busy working on our next win: Tell pop superstar Ed Sheeran not to perform in Israel.

Mabrouk (congratulations) to us all,
Ariel and Ursula and the entire CODEPINK team: Ann, Brienne, Carley, Caroline, Farida, Jodie, Katie, Kelly, Kirsten, Lily, Mark, Maya, Medea, Nancy, Paki, Ryan, Sarah, and Tighe