The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

2012 Gaza Delegation Photos


Michele Bahl and Tsela (Carol) Barr of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project entered Gaza through the Rafah Crossing on November 5, 2012 as part of a 21-member delegation from Interfaith Peace-Builders (IFPB). This was the first IFPB delegation to enter the Gaza Strip since 2003. From the Interfaith Peace-Builders report:

    “Like other Interfaith Peace-Builder delegations, its purpose is to educate North Americans about the region and deepen their understanding of its conflicts.

    On the eve of the Presidential Election in the United States, the US-brokered peace process continues to show few results and US military aid to the region continues to flow unabated.

    This delegation focuses on the realities of Palestinian life in the Gaza Strip. Participants have the unique opportunity to hear directly from Palestinians throughout the territory regarding their hopes for peace and the role of the United States, the US government, and other international actors in promoting a resolution to the conflict.

    The Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation to the Gaza Strip is led by Michael Brown and Cindy Corrie.

    Michael Brown worked off and on in the Gaza Strip between 1993 and 2000 for the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. A former IFPB board member, Michael continues to work today on the media and Palestine. Michael led an IFPB delegation in 2008.

    Cindy Corrie is the mother of human rights activist and observer Rachel Corrie who on March 16, 2003 was killed by an Israeli military Caterpillar bulldozer in the Gaza Strip. Motivated by her daughter’s work and sacrifice, Cindy Corrie has dedicated herself to the pursuit of justice and peace in the Middle East and has visited Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza on numerous occasions. She is also president of the board of the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, inspired by her daughter.”

The delegation visited the Palestinian Legislative Council, a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school and food warehouse, the Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children, the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, and the Society of Women Graduates NGO. They also met with Khalil Abu Shammala, human rights advocate and Director of the Al Dameer Association for Human Rights. On November 14, 2012, the day that the delegation left, Israel attacked Gaza with the eight-day Operation Pillar of Defense.

Related posts:

  • An Ongoing Terror
  • Israel Attacks the Gaza Strip
  • Stories of Peacebuilding in Gaza and the West Bank
  • Tsela Barr and Michele Bahl: Recent visit to Gaza heartbreaking
  • Tsela Barr and Veena Brekke at East High School

  • Israeli Soldiers Kill Palestinian, 65, in His Bedroom

    Subhiya Awad al-Qawasmeh placed a picture of her husband, Omar, where he was killed. (Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times)


    Afterward they asked for his identity card

    ISABEL KERSHNER, The New York Times, January 7, 2011

    HEBRON, West Bank — Israeli soldiers shot and killed an unarmed 65-year-old Palestinian man in his bedroom in this tense city early Friday, in what appeared to be a case of mistaken identity.

    The man’s wife said he was sleeping and she was praying when soldiers burst into the apartment before dawn, entered the bedroom and immediately opened fire. Afterward they asked her for his identity card. She gave her account a few hours later, standing next to the bed, whose mattress, sheets and pillows were soaked in blood. The headboard, an adjacent wardrobe and the ceiling were also spattered with blood and bits of what appeared to be brain matter.

    The Israeli military expressed regret but offered no explanation beyond saying that it had been carrying out an arrest operation. It said the West Bank division commander had been ordered to carry out a speedy investigation, with conclusions to be presented as early as next week.

    The soldiers were apparently looking for the dead man’s nephew, a Hamas militant who was one of six released from a Palestinian Authority prison on Thursday. He was staying in an apartment on the floor below the slain man’s and was rearrested by the Israeli military soon after the killing. Four of the other released militants were arrested by the Israelis overnight as well.

    Friday’s killing was the third death in the West Bank in a week for which the Palestinians blamed the Israelis. Coming after a period of relative calm, the deaths have added to fears of an escalation at a time when Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are stalled. After noon prayers on Friday, the alleyways around the man’s home seethed as hundreds escorted the body from a nearby mosque for burial, chanting, “In blood and spirit, we will redeem you, O martyr!”

    Initial reports on Israeli radio suggested that the slain man, Omar al-Qawasmeh, may have run at the soldiers, but the blood soaking the bed and dotting the walls seemed to belie that. His wife, Subhiya Awad al-Qawasmeh, said that the soldiers fired at her husband’s head and upper body. She said they thought he was the nephew, Wael Bitar.

    “They came to kill Wael,” she said.

    The killing also heightened tensions between the authority, which the West backs, and Hamas, its militant Islamist rival. Hamas accused the Palestinian Authority of collaborating with Israel in the case and bearing joint responsibility for the man’s death. The authority has been reining in Hamas activists and militants in the West Bank since the Islamist group, which won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, seized full control of Gaza a year later. There, Hamas has detained loyalists of Fatah, the dominant party of the authority.

    In this case, the authority had just released Mr. Bitar and five others who had been on a hunger strike. The Israeli military said that Mr. Bitar was the assistant of the man who planned a suicide bombing in the southern Israeli town of Dimona in February 2008, in which an Israeli woman was killed. The military also said that Mr. Bitar planned several other suicide attacks that were thwarted, and that he had been arrested by Palestinian forces in September 2008. Mr. Bitar’s wife, Sanaa, said he had been on a hunger strike for 43 days to protest his continued detention without charge or trial. She said that a Palestinian Authority court had ordered his release a while ago. She, too, blamed the Palestinian Authority for Mr. Qawasmeh’s death.

    Palestinian officials in the West Bank said such statements only served to remove responsibility from Israel, and suggested that the six had been kept in Palestinian custody for their own safety. Gen. Adnan Damiri, a spokesman for the Palestinian security forces, said that the authority had made it clear before their release that Hamas would have to bear responsibility for protecting them from Israeli forces, according to the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa.

    The other recent deaths include the case of a Palestinian woman, 36, who died last Saturday after inhaling tear gas on the sidelines of a protest the day before in the West Bank, according to her family and Palestinian medical officials.

    Initially, Israeli military officials anonymously raised questions about whether those accounts were fabricated; Friday brought the first official comment. The army commander in the West Bank, Brig. Gen. Nitzan Alon, was quoted by Haaretz as saying the woman probably died not from tear gas but from other medical “complications, combined with problems in the medical care she received at the Palestinian hospital.”

    On Sunday, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian man as he approached a checkpoint in the northern West Bank. The military said that he was holding a glass bottle, and that he had approached the checkpoint in an unauthorized lane and failed to heed orders to stop.

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    First Rafah Water Filter Project


    Hello everyone,

    Thought you might like to see these pictures of the first water filter installed in the kindergarten in Rafah….from the funds raised over the past year. As we requested, our gift inscription is in memory of Ken Coffeen.

    Barb O.


    Hi Barb and Kathy,

    I just received these photos of the completed water purification and desalination unit at Tuyor Al-Jena Kindergarten! Thanks so much for making this unit possible!

    Josie Shields-Stromsness
    Middle East Children’s Alliance

    MECA projects:

    September 19, 2010

    Goodman Community Center
    149 Wabesa St, Madison
    Room Bolz B
    5 7 pm [Map]

    Free and open to all — light refreshments

    A report on the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) work in the south Hebron hills, as part of an ongoing project in the small town of Tuwani, providing witness and support to Palestinian children as they travel each day to school.

    Sponsored by the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice. Contact: Stefania at stefania (at) or 608-250-9240. To learn more, go to

    Break the Silence Mural Project

    mural, olympia, palestine

    Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 2010

    THE RACHEL Corrie Foundation and Break the Silence Mural Project unveiled the Olympia-Rafah Solidarity Mural on May 8 at Labor Temple building, in downtown Olympia, WA. The mural tells a tale of two cities linked through tragedy: Olympia, WA, where Rachel Corrie grew up and attended Evergreen State College, and Rafah, Gaza Strip, Palestine, where she was killed in 2003—crushed by an Israeli army Caterpillar. It is also the tale of people working together for a better world. The mural features an enormous olive tree with more than 150 leaves representing issues of environmental justice, racism, colonialism, rights of indigenous peoples, and anti-war movements.

    The mural uses technology to include artists from Palestine who are forbidden to travel. Viewers can use a cell phone to call and listen to the creator of each leaf talk about its meaning and theme. For more information visit <>.

    —Delinda C. Hanley

    The Map: The Story of Palestinian Nationhood Thwarted

    Juan Cole, Informed Comment, March 16, 2010

    On March 10, I posted on the humiliation heaped on Vice President Joe Biden by the Israeli government of far-right Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu. Biden went to Israel intending to help kick off indirect negotiations between Netanyahu and Palestine Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. Biden had no sooner arrived than the Israelis announced that they would build 1600 new households on Palestinian territory that they had unilaterally annexed to Jerusalem. Since expanding Israeli colonization of Palestinian land had been the sticking point causing Abbas to refuse to engage in negotiations, and, indeed, to threaten to resign, this step was sure to scuttle the very talks Biden had come to inaugurate. And it did.

    The tiff between the US and Israel is less important that the worrisome growth of tension between Palestinians and Israelis as the Israelis have claimed more and more sites sacred to the Palestinians as well. There is talk of a third Intifada or Palestinian uprising.

    As part of my original posting, I mirrored a map of modern Palestinian history that has the virtue of showing graphically what has happened to the Palestinians politically and territorially in the past century.

    Andrew Sullivan then mirrored the map from my site, which set off a lot of thunder and noise among anti-Palestinian writers like Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, but shed very little light.

    The map is useful and accurate. It begins by showing the British Mandate of Palestine as of the mid-1920s. The British conquered the Ottoman districts that came to be the Mandate during World War I (the Ottoman sultan threw in with Austria and Germany against Britain, France and Russia, mainly out of fear of Russia).

    But because of the rise of the League of Nations and the influence of President Woodrow Wilson’s ideas about self-determination, Britain and France could not decently simply make their new, previously Ottoman territories into mere colonies. The League of Nations awarded them “Mandates.” Britain got Palestine, France got Syria (which it made into Syria and Lebanon), Britain got Iraq.

    The League of Nations Covenant spelled out what a Class A Mandate (i.e. territory that had been Ottoman) was:

    “Article 22. Certain communities formerly belonging to the Turkish Empire have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognised subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory [i.e., a Western power] until such time as they are able to stand alone. The wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration in the selection of the Mandatory.”

    That is, the purpose of the later British Mandate of Palestine, of the French Mandate of Syria, of the British Mandate of Iraq, was to ‘render administrative advice and assistance” to these peoples in preparation for their becoming independent states, an achievement that they were recognized as not far from attaining. The Covenant was written before the actual Mandates were established, but Palestine was a Class A Mandate and so the language of the Covenant was applicable to it. The territory that formed the British Mandate of Iraq was the same territory that became independent Iraq, and the same could have been expected of the British Mandate of Palestine. (Even class B Mandates like Togo have become nation-states, but the poor Palestinians are just stateless prisoners in colonial cantons).

    The first map thus shows what the League of Nations imagined would become the state of Palestine. The economist published an odd assertion that the Negev Desert was ’empty’ and should not have been shown in the first map. But it wasn’t and isn’t empty; Palestinian Bedouin live there, and they and the desert were recognized by the League of Nations as belonging to the Mandate of Palestine, a state-in-training. The Mandate of Palestine also had a charge to allow for the establishment of a ‘homeland’ in Palestine for Jews (because of the 1917 Balfour Declaration), but nobody among League of Nations officialdom at that time imagined it would be a whole and competing territorial state. There was no prospect of more than a few tens of thousands of Jews settling in Palestine, as of the mid-1920s. (They are shown in white on the first map, refuting those who mysteriously complained that the maps alternated between showing sovereignty and showing population). As late as the 1939 British White Paper, British officials imagined that the Mandate would emerge as an independent Palestinian state within 10 years.

    In 1851, there had been 327,000 Palestinians (yes, the word ‘Filistin’ was current then) and other non-Jews, and only 13,000 Jews. In 1925, after decades of determined Jewish immigration, there were a little over 100,000 Jews, and there were 765,000 mostly Palestinian non-Jews in the British Mandate of Palestine. For historical demography of this area, see Justin McCarthy’s painstaking calculations; it is not true, as sometimes is claimed, that we cannot know anything about population figures in this region. See also his journal article, reprinted at this site. The Palestinian population grew because of rapid population growth, not in-migration, which was minor. The common allegation that Jerusalem had a Jewish majority at some point in the 19th century is meaningless. Jerusalem was a small town in 1851, and many pious or indigent elderly Jews from Eastern Europe and elsewhere retired there because of charities that would support them. In 1851, Jews were only about 4% of the population of the territory that became the British Mandate of Palestine some 70 years later. And, there had been few adherents of Judaism, just a few thousand, from the time most Jews in Palestine adopted Christianity and Islam in the first millennium CE all the way until the 20th century. In the British Mandate of Palestine, the district of Jerusalem was largely Palestinian.

    The rise of the Nazis in the 1930s impelled massive Jewish emigration to Palestine, so by 1940 there were over 400,000 Jews there amid over a million Palestinians.

    The second map shows the United Nations partition plan of 1947, which awarded Jews (who only then owned about 6% of Palestinian land) a substantial state alongside a much reduced Palestine. Although apologists for the Zionist movement say that the Zionists accepted this partition plan and the Arabs rejected it, that is not entirely true. Zionist leader David Ben Gurion noted in his diary when Israel was established that when the US had been formed, no document set out its territorial extent, implying that the same was true of Israel. We know that Ben Gurion was an Israeli expansionist who fully intended to annex more land to Israel, and by 1956 he attempted to add the Sinai and would have liked southern Lebanon. So the Zionist “acceptance” of the UN partition plan did not mean very much beyond a happiness that their initial starting point was much better than their actual land ownership had given them any right to expect.

    The third map shows the status quo after the Israeli-Palestinian civil war of 1947-1948. It is not true that the entire Arab League attacked the Jewish community in Palestine or later Israel on behalf of the Palestinians. As Avi Shlaim has shown, Jordan had made an understanding with the Zionist leadership that it would grab the West Bank, and its troops did not mount a campaign in the territory awarded to Israel by the UN. Egypt grabbed Gaza and then tried to grab the Negev Desert, with a few thousand badly trained and equipped troops, but was defeated by the nascent Israeli army. Few other Arab states sent any significant number of troops. The total number of troops on the Arab side actually on the ground was about equal to those of the Zionist forces, and the Zionists had more esprit de corps and better weaponry.

    The final map shows the situation today, which springs from the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank in 1967 and then the decision of the Israelis to colonize the West Bank intensively (a process that is illegal in the law of war concerning occupied populations).

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    October 1 – 4, 2008
    Palestine in Focus Photo Exhibit and Sale

    In conjunction with the play My Name is Rachel Corrie, a photo exhibit will be on display outside of Anderson Auditorium, Predolin Humanities Center, Edgewood College, from October 1 – 4. Free and open to the public, the exhibit features photos by award-winning Palestinian journalist, photographer and website host Mohammed Omer.

    Requests for printed copies of any of the images can be made before or after the play performances, or by sign-up sheet at the exhibit, and purchased for delivery at a later date. All proceeds from the sale of the prints will go to support Omer, a native of Rafah.

    For more information about Mohamed Omer, including an account of his recent detention and torture at the hands of Israeli officials while returning from Europe where he had been given the prestigious Martha Gellhorn prize for journalism, see

    For further information, contact Robin at 608-221-0809 or palestineinfocus (at)

    Muralists bring Palestinian experience to Olympia

    Chris Allert, Works in Progress, February 2008

    The Olympia-Rafah Mural Project is an official recognition by the people of Olympia, Washington of the sister city relationship that exists with the city of Rafah, Palestine. Through the act of creating a collaborative public mural, we will express our desire for Palestinian self-determination, which is rooted in honoring the common struggles for global justice faced by marginalized people everywhere. By upholding rights for all, we seek to break down barriers to understanding, increase visibility for Palestinian people, encourage imagination, embrace the hope and courage of Rachel Corrie, and bring people together in one voice for change. (Click here for Olympia Rafah Mural Project site) Currently, we are in the process of negotiating an arrangement with a landlord for a downtown location for the mural.

    Break the Silence Mural and Arts Project (BTS) is an arts/activist group committed to using creative projects to facilitate social change and greater awareness of the complexities of the conflict in Occupied Palestine. (

    Susan Greene has been painting murals for over 20 years. She is a founding member of Break The Silence Mural and Arts Project, a psychologist, and she directs the learning center at the San Francisco Art Institute.

    Lisa Nessan has taken part in several delegations to Palestine, and is a member of Break The Silence, and posts her photography and writing at]

    Chris Allert: When did you start painting murals? Was that before you got involved in Palestine Solidarity?

    Susan Greene: Yes, I started painting murals when I was in college at SUNY Binghamton. Even before that I was fascinated by them, these big giant paintings, and the whole community thing. I was very ambivalent about art that people put in galleries. I wanted to do art that was connected to life. Murals really seemed like a marriage between art and politics. I was definitely trying to find my way as a muralist before Palestine. By the time I got involved in Palestine, that was the way that I worked.

    CA: Are you Jewish? When did you start thinking about Palestine? How were you introduced to it?

    SG: Yes, both my parents are Jewish.

    I think I always had a discomfort with what was happening there, but I didn’t know that much. I’ve been an activist for a long time, using mural painting as a community organizing tool, as a way to resist.

    In the early 1980s I read The Question of Palestine by Edward Said. I had a kind of colonial/imperial critique of the world, I was seeing things through that lens of imperialism and colonialism. It was not a big leap to Palestine at all.

    But going there was a transformative experience. I lived in a refugee camp for three months with three other Jewish American women in 1989 during the first Intifada. That experience of life under military occupation, which is in my name, in the name of a Jewish homeland, and at the expense of the Palestinians, who really welcomed us with open arms, who were very gracious, who told us all kinds of stories about their lives—everyone we met was a refugee—they told us about their lives before they were exiled from their villages where they had Jewish neighbors. We heard about this other time, while perhaps not perfect, people basically lived in relative peace and harmony. It was Zionism that really changed things. The betrayal that older people felt and the pain they felt about what had happened was profound.

    We talked to a lot of people and painted six or seven murals during that three month period. What we painted really came out of our discussions with people, what we heard from people. The murals were all community based, so we worked with people to design and paint each one. Some of them were very quick ones, and then this one in the Popular Arts Center in Al Biereh, which is right next to Ramallah was much more detailed, and we worked on that one steadily for the entire three months.

    And then we had an opening, which was illegal, because Palestinians at that time weren’t allowed to gather in groups larger than three. There were a couple hundred people at the opening. At every turn we saw how difficult life was for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the name of a safe haven for the Jews. The whole thing was Kafkaesqe. Watching soldiers with Yarmulkes on their heads shoot at Palestinian schoolchildren—it was wrenching. As a Jew, I’m not religious, but I certainly identify as a Jew culturally, it was hard to see that. Israel presents itself, describes itself, perceives itself in a very different way. They think they are a very kind people, a fair people, a just people. And then to see what that really means—it’s not so different from things here, the way that the American society absolutely denies the success that it has based on the oppression of other people.

    CA: Did you hear the news when the City Council rejected the Sister City Relationship with Rafah?

    SG: Yes, I watched it online. The day that the hearing happened, I was right there. It was not surprising, and it was also disturbing. There were many more people speaking in favor than against. But there were people speaking against it, and with the most spurious reasons for being against it, like “it’s making our community divisive,” or “the government there is in favor of violence.” It’s such a contradiction, because there are other sister city relationships that Olympia has, with governments who are very guilty of human rights abuses. But people were lining up, and people were eloquent, speaking in favor of it.

    CA: Where were you when you heard Rachel died? What did you think of it at the time?

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    A Gift to Rafah

    How Madisonians helped create a respite from violence for Palestinian children

    Kathy Walsh, Isthmus, April 29, 2005

    Children were everywhere. They were standing on rooftops, shooting marbles in the streets, playing “football” wherever there was bare ground, making their way to and from school. And always in the background there was machine-gun fire.

    This was a “quiet” time in Rafah. There were no tanks in the streets, no missile-firing helicopters overhead, no Israeli soldiers to be seen. But day and night, there was firing from Israeli towers on the edges of town.

    I visited Rafah from Jan. 31 to Feb. 5 with my daughter Karen, a recent UW-Madison graduate. We hoped to help dedicate a new playground built in part with funds from Madison residents and support from the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, a group whose appeal for official city recognition was rejected by Madison’s mayor and Common Council last year.

    Rafah is a Palestinian city and refugee camp of about 145,000 people in the southern Gaza Strip on the border with Egypt. More than 80% of its residents are refugees. Many have lost their homes two or more times and lived under the constant threat of losing them again as the Israeli Army razed row after row of homes along the Egyptian border.

    The “camp” areas of Rafah where we spent most of our time are concrete jungles. The homes that remain nearest the border are pockmarked with bullet holes. Tanks, bulldozers and missiles have severely damaged many buildings.

    Yet people continued to live in them. If they left, the homes were deemed “abandoned” and destroyed, and there was no place to go. Amid this rubble, children continue to play, go to school and live their lives.

    Last spring, Playgrounds for Palestine donated a playground to be built in the Tel al-Sultan neighborhood of Rafah. One of the poles for the playground was missing from the original shipment, so the playground was stored in a neighborhood home.

    Then, in May, the Israeli army launched “Operation Rainbow,” a code name for one of the most devastating incursions ever into Rafah. The Tel al-Sultan neighborhood was hit particularly hard, despite its lack of strategic significance. Ten homes were destroyed, and another 156 were damaged. Roads, water and sewage pipes were ripped up. Twenty-six Palestinian civilians were killed, including nine children. The site of the planned playground was completely razed.

    Loss of the park was hardly the worst disaster that befell the children of Tel-al-Sultan. But the park represented a hope for a more normal life. So last summer, the Madison-Rafah Sister City project set out to raise the $10,000 needed to rebuild this park as a gift from Madison to the children of Rafah.

    America-Near East Refugee Aid, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), advanced the money so work on the park could begin over the winter. By January, construction of the playground had begun. The missing pole had been shipped and was waiting to cross into the Gaza Strip from Israel.

    Karen and I went to Rafah to document the playground installation. When we arrived, children were playing soccer in the park, though it was not much more than a field of sand. The first pole of the playground was in place, and many children were checking out the playground construction team and their equipment.

    Later that day, we were exposed to the precariousness of life for the children of Rafah. Two schoolgirls standing in their school courtyard were hit by machine-gun fire, apparently from a nearby Israeli surveillance tower. One of them, 11-year-old Noran Deeb, was shot through the head and died instantly. The other, 7-year-old Aysha Al Khatib, was shot through the hand.

    We saw Aysha at the hospital, then stopped briefly at the morgue to see Noran’s body. (The Israelis denied involvement, saying the bullets were from a Palestinian celebrating by firing his gun in the air, although the trajectory of the wounds did not support this.) School officials told us this was not the first time fire from the sniper tower was directed at the school, but it was the first to cause injuries and death. Later, classes were dismissed and children surrounded us, asking us questions, laughing and posing for photographs.

    Throughout the week we talked with city officials, health-care workers and members of nongovernmental organizations. We learned more about homelessness, malnutrition and stress disorders among Rafah’s children. At night, we were told, there is an epidemic of nightmares and bedwetting.

    Every day, we visited the playground and were surrounded by active, seemingly happy children. We visited Aysha in the hospital. Her father told us that her hand was healing well. Aysha sat up and smiled shyly for a picture.

    When we left Rafah, the missing pole was still being held at the crossing into Gaza. But children were playing on the partially completed playground. And, as always, there was machine-gun fire from the direction of the Israeli towers.

    Both the fund-raising and the installation have since been completed. The missing pole was finally allowed into Gaza during the last week of March.

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