Nightmares – How Gaza offends us all

Jennifer Loewenstein, Islamic Human Rights Commission, 06 June 2007

Jennifer Loewenstein at IHRC's conference 'Human Rights and Israel at 60', 2008Jennifer Loewenstein brilliantly illustrates the horrors of living under fire and portrays the Palestinians of Gaza as a people abandoned by the world to the murderous Israeli occupation, but whose will to resist strengthens with each atrocity committed against them.

June 2007, Jennifer Lowenstein, originally published in Palestine Internationalist, Volume 2 Issue 4

An opened jaw with yellowed teeth gaped out of its bloodied shroud. The rest of the head parts were wrapped in a plastic bag placed atop the jaw and nostrils as if to be close to the place to which it once belonged. The bag was red from the pieces that were stuffed inside it. Below the jaw was a human neck slit open midway down: a fleshy, wet wound smiling pink and oozing out from the browned skin around it, the neck that was still linked to the body below it. Above him, in the upper freezer of the morgue lay a dead woman, her red hennaed hair visible for the first time to strange men around her. More red plastic wrapped around an otherwise absent chin. She was dead for demonstrating outside a mosque in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza where more than 60 men sheltered during the artillery onslaught by Israeli tanks and cannons.

Most of the others still had their faces intact. They lay on their silver morgue trays stiffly as frozen food. One man had a green Hamas band tied around his head; he looked like a shepherd from some forgotten, pastoral age. Another’s white eyes were partially opened, his face looking out in horror as if he’d died seeing it coming. Then a muddy, grizzled blob on the bottom left tray, black curls tangled and damped into its rounded head and blessedly shut eyes. A closer look revealed a child, a boy of 4: Majed, out playing his important childhood games when death came in like thunder and rolled him up in a million speckles of black mud. The other dead had already been taken away.

Muslim burials take place quickly, a god-send to the doctors, nurses and undertakers who, at the hospitals and morgues, desperately need the space for next batch of casualties who would sleep on the same sheets, same steel-framed beds, in the same humid heat, in the same close, crowded, grief-stricken rooms, often on the floors, with the same tired, unpaid attendants doing their rounds without the proper supplies to help them if they were still alive. And some would die on the operating table like the young man gone now to the Kamal Adwan hospital morgue when his wounds became too much for his body to bear. Two young girls preceded him earlier the same day. Blessed are they who leave this human wasteland washed and shrouded for a quiet, earthy grave.

Today the hospitals will be filled beyond capacity again when the 18 civilian dead from a pre-dawn attack on Beit Hanoun — women, men and children blasted out of their sleep into human chunks — roll out of the ambulances and into the freezers of Shifa or Kamal Adwan hospitals in the northern Gaza Strip. How dare they sleep in their houses at night when the tanks are barking out commands?

Do you believe this was an accident? That an international investigation will ever take place? Like after Jenin? Like after Dan Halutz and his 2000 pound bomb which was dropped on an apartment building in Gaza City killing 15 people, 9 of them women and children? Like after the siege of Jabalya in the fall of 2004? Like after Operation Rainbow in Rafah? Like after Huda Ghalia’s family was blasted into nothingness during an outing on a Gaza beach? Will US eyes, glued to their glaucousy TV screens to find out which marketed candidate won the corporate-managed midterm elections, ever know that another massacre of Palestinians took place?

At Shifa hospital, Gaza’s central hospital, where Dr. Juma’ Saqa and his staff cope with the daily shortages of supplies from kidney dialysis machines to fans and clean linens; where cancer medications are unavailable to the increasing rate of cancer patients and elective surgeries, such as for hernias or tonsils, are a thing of the past. This is where doctors and nurses witness how the water that Gazans drink causes innumerable ailments, rotting teeth, anemia in children and kidney dysfunction because of its brackish, poisonous quality. This is where children lie half naked in their beds, white tape across their noses holding tubes to their faces so that they may eat or breathe– like Ahmad aged 3, also from Beit Hanoun, who took a bullet in the right side of his belly that exited on the left. His mother stands over him passively, grateful. Ahmad, at least, is going to live. But for what?

Each night in Gaza City that first week in November, explosions sounded in the northeastern corner of Gaza: a succession of bullets, booms, bombs, canon fire. On the first night of the onslaught we could still see lights from Beit Hanoun 10 miles from us blinking and twinkling as if nothing were really happening; it was all a dream—fireworks, a distant celebration perhaps. But then, by the second night only a swath of blacked out space lay in the place of Beit Hanoun, electricity-less and water-less as the booms continued unabated for an hour or more and the hum of the pilot-less drones circled round again and again above us, above Beit Hanoun, above Gaza, automated people-monitors taking stock of the activity below. Nobody from Beit Hanoun could leave by day to get to work without announcing to the tanks and the drones that he was prepared to sacrifice his life for a semblance of normalcy. All men between the ages of 16-35 were rounded up onto trucks and hauled away for “questioning”. What will happen to them and their families? Will anyone follow up? Will they add to the 10,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, left to rot while their wives and children, sisters, brothers, parents go on struggling to survive?

There lies Gaza stretched 28 miles long in a tumbledown graying, decaying heap, yawning, tired, wretched, full of garbage. Tape gauze over your nose to avoid the smell of sewage and burning trash. Try not to notice the metal-shuttered shop fronts, the empty stores, the proliferation of horse- and donkey-carts clopping along the streets for lack of fuel, the ribs of the tired beasts jutting out from their bellies as boys whip them along to keep going. The joke is the cerulean blue sky illuminating the rubbish tip, the palm trees and purple flowers beaming in the November sun – natural non-sequiturs, like the box of fresh chocolates offered to the journalists filming the woman’s wounded son as she yells out her frustrations and horror at the Americans and the Israelis who are killing her family. Why? She asks. Why, why, why?

Ask Mark Regev, Israel’s eager, hideously sincere government spokesperson. On CNN’s international news he tells us in earnest that this is Israeli self-defense. The Qassam fire into Sderot and Ashkelon must stop. Israelis have the right to defend themselves. The “operation” in Beit Hanoun will not stop until the Qassams stop. Each word drivels out of his mouth into a bubble of obscenity for everyone watching from the vantage point of Gaza. Verbal pornography, sado-masochistic jargon from the prince of Hasbara leaks onto the dust like poisonous bile bought, paid for and sought after by the lords of power and their occupying machinery.

The shoddy, home-made Qassams hiss like cornered alley cats when they are fired into the skies. Stupid and bestial, they zing across the border like crazed beasts not knowing where they are going. They’ll dash forever like this until the occupation of Palestine ends. The Gazans know this, Hamas knows it, Fatah knows it, the PFLP knows it; In Israel, Labor and Likkud know it, Meretz knows it, Yisrael Beiteinu knows it, Shas knows it; Peretz, Olmert and Lieberman know it, Sharon knew it, the Israeli people know it, official America know this, so 40 years after 1967 and 58 years after 1948, why is the occupation not yet over?

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A Black Flag

From: Jennifer Loewenstein
Subject: Resuming Emails: Gideon Levy – A Black Flag
Date: Mon, 3 Jul 2006 00:17:34 +0100

Last week I was in the West Bank and East Jerusalem trying to accomplish work for a research project, hence my absence. All I can say now is that what you are reading in real news reports about the IDF push into Gaza and the arrest of half of the Hamas government on the West Bank last Thursday is as terrible as these articles portray it, if not worse. The tension in the air is almost visible. The director of a West Bank NGO and respected politician (even today) says that we are on the eve of the Third Intifada. Last Wednesday when the first rumors of an IDF invasion of Ramallah hit the news, foreigners were asked to leave the city. By 5:00 pm more than 1000 youths had gathered at the Manara Square (city center) armed with rocks and sticks, and unveiled a huge Palestinian flag down the middle of the Lions’ statues monument. The IDF did not enter that day. Instead, a convoy of jeeps and army vehicles entered the city in stealth in the middle of the night arresting many of the Hamas officials including 8 ministers in the cabinet. The situation in Gaza is far worse and the Gaza Strip remains deliberately locked shut to the world. Nobody is allowed in or out except select foreign journalists, diplomats and, today, a handful of aide workers. Meanwhile the Hamas ministers with Jerusalem residency cards were stripped of their right to enter the city. Entry to Bethlehem was cut off to Palestinians from East Jerusalem as well and, according to a reliable Israeli journalist, the next to be restricted will be the entry at Qalandiya. Whatever happens, now is the time to speak up. Please do not betray the people of Palestine with silence. JL.


The difference between us and them? We kidnapped civilians and they captured a soldier, we are a state and they are a terror organization. A state that takes such steps is no longer distinguishable from a terror organization.

Gideon Levy, Haaretz, 2 July 2006

A black flag hangs over the “rolling” operation in Gaza. The more the operation “rolls,” the darker the flag becomes. The “summer rains” we are showering on Gaza are not only pointless, but are first and foremost blatantly illegitimate. It is not legitimate to cut off 750,000 people from electricity. It is not legitimate to call on 20,000 people to run from their homes and turn their towns into ghost towns. It is not legitimate to penetrate Syria’s airspace. It is not legitimate to kidnap half a government and a quarter of a parliament.

A state that takes such steps is no longer distinguishable from a terror organization. The harsher the steps, the more monstrous and stupid they become, the more the moral underpinnings for them are removed and the stronger the impression that the Israeli government has lost its nerve. Now one must hope that the weekend lull, whether initiated by Egypt or the prime minister, and in any case to the dismay of Channel 2’s Roni Daniel and the IDF, will lead to a radical change.

Everything must be done to win Gilad Shalit’s release. What we are doing now in Gaza has nothing to do with freeing him. It is a widescale act of vengeance, the kind that the IDF and Shin Bet have wanted to conduct for some time, mostly motivated by the deep frustration that the army commanders feel about their impotence against the Qassams and the daring Palestinian guerilla raid. There’s a huge gap between the army unleashing its frustration and a clever and legitimate operation to free the kidnapped soldier.

To prevent the army from running as amok as it would like, a strong and judicious political echelon is required. But facing off against the frustrated army is Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz’s tyro regime, weak and happless. Until the weekend lull, it appeared that each step proposed by the army and Shin Bet had been immediately approved for backing. That does not bode well, not only for the chances of freeing Shalit, but also for the future management of the government, which is being revealed to be as weak as the Hamas government.

The only wise and restrained voice heard so far was that of the soldier’s father, Noam Shalit, of all people. That noble man called at what is clearly his most difficult hour, not for stridency and not for further damage done to the lives of soldiers and innocent Palestinians. Against the background of the IDF’s unrestrained actions and the arrogant bragging of the latest macho spokesmen, Maj. Gen. Yoav Gallant of the Southern Command and Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, Shalit’s father’s voice stood out like a voice crying in the wilderness.

Sending tens of thousands of miserable inhabitants running from their homes, dozens of kilometers from where his son is supposedly hidden, and cutting off the electricity to hundreds of thousands of others, is certainly not what he meant in his understated emotional pleas. It’s a shame nobody is listening to him, of all people.

The legitimate basis for the IDF’s operation was stripped away the moment it began. It’s no accident that nobody mentions the day before the attack on the Kerem Shalom fort, when the IDF kidnapped two civilians, a doctor and his brother, from their home in Gaza. The difference between us and them? We kidnapped civilians and they captured a soldier, we are a state and they are a terror organization. How ridiculously pathetic Amos Gilad sounds when he says that the capture of Shalit was “illegitimate and illegal,” unlike when the IDF grabs civilians from their homes. How can a senior official in the defense ministry claim that “the head of the snake” is in Damascus, when the IDF uses the exact same methods?

True, when the IDF and Shin Bet grab civilians from their homes – and they do so often – it is not to murder them later. But sometimes they are killed on the doorsteps of their homes, although it is not necessary, and sometimes they are grabbed to serve as “bargaining chips,” like in Lebanon and now, with the Palestinian legislators. What an uproar there would be if the Palestinians had grabbed half the members of the Israeli government. How would we label them?

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Ain’t gonna study war no more

Bill Lueders, Isthmus, September 1, 2005

Camp Shalom had children pretend to be Israeli soldiers

It was the face paint that tipped Tsele Barr off. Early this summer, she was picking up her two sons from Camp Shalom, a day camp run by the Madison Jewish Community Council, and noticed that some of the children had paint on their faces. She asked her youngest son, Izak, what this was about and he explained, “We were playing Israeli army.”

This, Barr learned from Izak, involved “doing drills and such.” Then her older son, Jasper, told her that similar training was part of his camp experience the summer before, and had included shooting make-believe guns.

Barr, a freelance graphic designer, was deeply troubled by this news and placed some calls to other parents. She also spoke to the camp director, Lynn Kaplan, and to Shirin Ezekial, a cultural ambassador from Israel who led the children in this activity.

“Although they listened to my concerns, I got the impression that they didn’t see what the big deal was,” relates Barr. “I really think it’s appalling that a camp that calls itself Camp Shalom [the word means peace] would glorify the Israeli army” — which, she says, “repeatedly commits human-rights abuses.”

Other parents also contacted Kaplan. Susan Cook, a professor at the UW-Madison School of Music, says her son reported that, during this year’s simulation, he raised his hand to ask a question, only to be told: “Soldiers don’t ask questions, they follow orders.”

“That is something I do not teach my children — to blindly follow orders,” says Cook. She thought Kaplan was initially defensive but ultimately seemed to grasp the reasons for her discomfit: “I came away feeling very good about her response.”

Both parents stress that Camp Shalom is an excellent camp and that they have no problem with a component that teaches children about life in Israel. But they object to what Cook calls “inculcating militaristic beliefs.”

So do others in the community. “I just feel really outraged that at Camp Peace, the kids were playing Israeli army,” says Jennifer Loewenstein, the founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister-City Project. “When I heard about it, I was just livid.”

George Arida, an Arab American member of Loewenstein’s group (whose efforts to establish a formal sister-city link were voraciously opposed by the Madison Jewish Community Council), has this to say: “If there was an Islamic kids’ camp and it had even a hint of playing Islamic war games, there would be a huge public outcry and rightly so.”

Kaplan, in a brief phone interview, disputed an overview of the parents’ accounts (without giving any specifics) but admitted they “did raise a concern and it was a very valid concern” about a camp “activity.” Kaplan, saying she was too busy to talk, promised to call back later but never did, ignoring a follow-up message.

Marc Rosenthal, whose son attended a subsequent session of Camp Shalom, says the Israel soldier role-playing was apparently not repeated. Which is fine by him. “This is not what we want our kids doing. This is not what Camp Shalom is all about.”

Barr, for her part, vows to remain vigilant: “We’ll see what happens next year.”

Gaza Fiasco


The Shame of it All

Jennifer Loewenstein, ZNet, August 19, 2005

A great charade is taking place in front of the world media in the Gaza Strip. It is the staged evacuation of 8000 Jewish settlers from their illegal settlement homes, and it has been carefully designed to create imagery to support Israel’s US-backed takeover of the West Bank and cantonization of the Palestinians.

There was never the slightest reason for Israel to send in the army to remove these settlers. The entire operation could have been managed, without the melodrama necessary for a media frenzy, by providing them with a fixed date on which the IDF would withdraw from inside the Gaza Strip. A week before, all the settlers will quietly have left with no TV cameras, no weeping girls, no anguished soldiers, no commentators asking cloying questions of how Jews could remove other Jews from their homes, and no more trauma about their terrible suffering, the world’s victims, who therefore have to be helped to kick the Palestinians out of the West Bank.

The settlers will relocate to other parts of Israel and in some cases to other illegal settlements in the West Bank ­handsomely compensated for their inconvenience. Indeed, each Jewish family leaving the Gaza Strip will receive between $140,000 and $400,000 just for the cost of the home they leave behind.

But these details are rarely mentioned in the tempest of reporting on the “great confrontation” and “historical moment” brought to us by Sharon and the thieving, murderous settler-culture he helped create.

On ABC’s Nightline Monday night, a reporter interviewed a young, sympathetic Israeli woman from the largest Gaza settlement, Neve Dekalim – a girl with sincerity in her voice, holding back tears. She doesn’t view the soldiers as her enemy, she says, and doesn’t want violence. She will leave even though to do so is causing her great pain.

She talked about the tree she planted in front of her home with her brother when she was three; about growing up in the house they were now leaving, the memories, and knowing she could never return; that even if she did, everything she knew would be gone from the scene.

The camera then panned to her elderly parents sitting somberly amid boxed-up goods, surveying the scene, looking forlorn and resigned. Her mother was a kindergarten teacher, we are told. She knew just about all of the children who grew up here near the sea.

In the 5 years of Israel’s brutal suppression of the Palestinian uprising against the occupation, I never once saw or heard a segment as long and with as much sentimental, human detail as I did here; never once remember a reporter allowing a sympathetic young Palestinian woman, whose home was just bulldozed and who lost everything she owned, tell of her pain and sorrow, of her memories and her family’s memories; never got to listen to her reflect on where she would go now and how she would live.

And yet in Gaza alone more than 23,000 people have lost their homes to Israeli bulldozers and bombs since September 2000 — often at a moment’s notice on the grounds that they “threatened Israel’s security.”

The vast majority of the destroyed homes were located too close to an IDF military outpost or illegal settlement to be allowed to continue standing. The victims received no compensation for their losses and had no place waiting for them to relocate.

Most ended up in temporary UNRWA tent-cities until they could find shelter elsewhere in the densely overcrowded Strip, a quarter of whose best land was inhabited by the 1% of the population that was Jewish and occupying the land at their expense.

Where were the cameramen in May 2004 in Rafah when refugees twice over lost their homes again in a single night’s raid, able to retrieve nothing of what they owned?

Where were they when bulldozers and tanks tore up paved streets with steel blades, wrecked the sewage and water pipes, cut electricity lines, and demolished a park and a zoo; when snipers shot two children, a brother and sister, feeding their pigeons on the roof of their home? When the occupying army fired a tank shell into a group of peaceful demonstrators killing 14 of them including two children?

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The Shame of It All

Jennifer Loewenstein, CounterPunch, August 17, 2005

A great charade is taking place in front of the world media in the Gaza Strip. It is the staged evacuation of 8000 Jewish settlers from their illegal settlement homes, and it has been carefully designed to create imagery to support Israel’s US-backed takeover of the West Bank and cantonization of the Palestinians.

There was never the slightest reason for Israel to send in the army to remove these settlers. The entire operation could have been managed, without the melodrama necessary for a media frenzy, by providing them with a fixed date on which the IDF would withdraw from inside the Gaza Strip. A week before, all the settlers will quietly have left ­with no TV cameras, no weeping girls, no anguished soldiers, no commentators asking cloying questions of how Jews could remove other Jews from their homes, and no more trauma about their terrible suffering, the world’s victims, who therefore have to be helped to kick the Palestinians out of the West Bank.

The settlers will relocate to other parts of Israel ­ and in some cases to other illegal settlements in the West Bank ­handsomely compensated for their inconvenience. Indeed, each Jewish family leaving the Gaza Strip will receive between $140,000 and $400,000 just for the cost of the home they leave behind. But these details are rarely mentioned in the tempest of reporting on the “great confrontation” and “historical moment” brought to us by Sharon and the thieving, murderous settler-culture he helped create.

On ABC’s Nightline Monday night, a reporter interviewed a young, sympathetic Israeli woman from the largest Gaza settlement, Neve Dekalim – a girl with sincerity in her voice, holding back tears. She doesn’t view the soldiers as her enemy, she says, and doesn’t want violence. She will leave even though to do so is causing her great pain. She talked about the tree she planted in front of her home with her brother when she was three; about growing up in the house they were now leaving, the memories, and knowing she could never return; that even if she did, everything she knew would be gone from the scene. The camera then panned to her elderly parents sitting somberly amid boxed-up goods, surveying the scene, looking forlorn and resigned. Her mother was a kindergarten teacher, we are told. She knew just about all of the children who grew up here near the sea.

In the 5 years of Israel’s brutal suppression of the Palestinian uprising against the occupation, I never once saw or heard a segment as long and with as much sentimental, human detail as I did here; never once remember a reporter allowing a sympathetic young Palestinian woman, whose home was just bulldozed and who lost everything she owned, tell of her pain and sorrow, of her memories and her family’s memories; never got to listen to her reflect on where she would go now and how she would live. And yet in Gaza alone more than 23,000 people have lost their homes to Israeli bulldozers and bombs since September 2000 — often at a moment’s notice ­ on the grounds that they “threatened Israel’s security.” The vast majority of the destroyed homes were located too close to an IDF military outpost or illegal settlement to be allowed to continue standing. The victims received no compensation for their losses and had no place waiting for them to relocate. Most ended up in temporary UNRWA tent-cities until they could find shelter elsewhere in the densely overcrowded Strip, a quarter of whose best land was inhabited by the 1% of the population that was Jewish and occupying the land at their expense.

Where were the cameramen in May 2004 in Rafah when refugees twice over lost their homes again in a single night’s raid, able to retrieve nothing of what they owned? Where were they when bulldozers and tanks tore up paved streets with steel blades, wrecked the sewage and water pipes, cut electricity lines, and demolished a park and a zoo; when snipers shot two children, a brother and sister, feeding their pigeons on the roof of their home? When the occupying army fired a tank shell into a group of peaceful demonstrators killing 14 of them including two children? Where have they been for the past five years when the summer heat of Rafah makes life so unbearable it is all one can do to sit quietly in the shade of one’s corrugated tin roof — because s/he is forbidden to go to the sea, ten minutes’ walking distance from the city center? Or because if they ventured to the more open spaces they became walking human targets? And when their citizens resisted, where were the accolades and the admiring media to comment on the “pluck,” the “will” and “audacity” of these “young people”?

On Tuesday, 16 August, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that more than 900 journalists from Israel and around the world are covering the events in Gaza, and that hundreds of others are in cities and towns in Israel to cover local reactions. Were there ever that many journalists in one place during the past 5 years to cover the Palestinian Intifada?

Where were the 900 international journalists in April 2002 after the Jenin refugee camp was laid to waste in the matter of a week in a show of pure Israeli hubris and sadism? Where were the 900 international journalists last fall when the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza lay under an Israeli siege and more than 100 civilians were killed? Where were they for five years while the entire physical infrastructure of the Gaza Strip was being destroyed? Which one of them reported that every crime of the Israeli occupation ­ from home demolitions, targeted assassinations and total closures to the murder of civilians and the wanton destruction of commercial and public property- increased significantly in Gaza after Sharon’s “Disengagement” Plan – that great step toward peace – was announced?

Where are the hundreds of journalists who should be covering the many non-violent protests by Palestinians and Israelis against the Apartheid Wall? ­Non-violent protesters met with violence and humiliation by Israeli armed forces? Where are the hundreds of journalists who should be reporting on the economic and geographic encirclement of Palestinian East Jerusalem and of the bisection of the West Bank and the subdivision of each region into dozens of isolated mini-prisons? Why aren’t we being barraged by outraged reports about the Jewish-only bypass roads? About the hundreds of pointless internal checkpoints? About the countless untried executions and maimings? About the torture and abuse of Palestinians in Israeli prisons?

Where were these hundreds of journalists when each of the 680 Palestinian children shot to death by Israeli soldiers over the last 5 years was laid to rest by grief-stricken family members? The shame of it all defies words.
Now instead report after report announces the “end to the 38 year old occupation” of the Gaza Strip, a “turning point for peace” and the news that “it is now illegal for Israelis to live in Gaza.” Is this some kind of joke?
Yes, it is “illegal for Israelis to live in the Gaza Strip” as colonizers from another land. It has been illegal for 38 years. (If they wish to move there and live as equals with the Palestinians and not as Israeli citizens they may do so.)

Sharon’s unilateral “Disengagement” plan is not ending the occupation of Gaza. The Israelis are not relinquishing control over the Strip. They are retaining control of all land, air and sea borders including the Philadelphi corridor along the Gaza/Egypt border where the Egyptians may be allowed to patrol under Israel’s watchful eye and according to Israel’s strictest terms. The 1.4 million inhabitants of Gaza remain prisoners in a giant penal colony, despite what their partisan leaders are attempting to claim. The IDF is merely redeploying outside the Gaza Strip, which is surrounded by electrical and concrete fences, barbed wire, watchtowers, armed guards and motion censors, and it will retain the authority to invade Gaza on a whim. Eight thousand Palestinian workers working in Israel for slave wages will soon be banned from returning to work. Another 3,200 Palestinians who worked in the settlements for a sub-minimum-wage have been summarily dismissed without recourse to severance pay or other forms of compensation. Still others will lose their livelihoods when the Israelis move the Gaza Industrial Zone from Erez to somewhere in the Negev desert.

The World Bank reported in December 2004 that both poverty and unemployment will rise following the “Disengagement” even under the best of circumstances because Israel will retain full control over the movement of goods in and out of Gaza, will maintain an enforced separation of the West Bank and Gaza preventing the residents of each from visiting one another, and will draw up separate customs agreements with each zone severing their already shattered economies– and yet we are forced to listen day in and day out to news about this historic peace initiative, this great turning point in the career of Ariel Sharon, this story of national trauma for the brothers and sisters who have had to carry out the painful orders of their wise and besieged leader.

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June 13 – July 4, 2005
Palestine-Israel Discussion Series

First United Methodist Church Parlor
203 Wisconsin Ave, Madison
Sunday mornings at 9:30 am

This is a three-part discussion series on Palestine-Israel, and one on Iraq, sponsored by the First United Methodist Church. Participants include Jennifer Loewenstein, founding member of MRSCP, George Shalabi, and MRSCP Advisory Committee member Cecil Findley.

A theme text is from the words of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem: “Oh, that you would recognize the things that make for peace.”

June 13
Tina Lang on the wall being built by the Israeli government.

June 20
Jennifer Loewenstein on the plight of those in Rafah and throughout Gaza.

June 27
George Shalabi and the personal and historical reflections of a Palestinian-born American Christian.

July 4
A patriotic add-on, a special report from Iraq by Fred Brancel, who was part of a peacemakers’ team who visited there this spring.

As a part of this series, Cecil Findley will preach at all three services on June 20 (8:15, 9:30, and 11:00 a.m.) on the same Israel-Palestine theme and text, with the title “Weeping Over Jerusalem.”

All are invited.

Cecil and Helen Findley (hcfindley at charter.net)

Return to Rafah: Journey to a land out of bounds

Jennifer Loewenstein, The Electronic Intifada, 17 February 2004

Pictured, Maha, the wife of Ibrahim Aoda Abu Shatat, sits together with baby Zyad in her house during shooting at 3:30 AM. Their house is 40 meters from the border. (Johannes Abeling)

The border between Gaza and Egypt passes through a city called Rafah. Israeli tanks regularly drive along the border in the middle of the night and shoot randomly at the surrounding houses. Sometimes it is just shooting, sometimes without warning bulldozers come to destroy some houses ‘for security reasons’. The fathers in the area near the border stay up every night until 4:30 AM, in case the tanks come to their street and they have to quickly evacuate their family. The children mostly don’t sleep well because of the shooting. Many children have symptoms of stress.

Said Zoroub drives a white pick-up truck with the words “Rafah Municipality” painted on the driver’s side in Arabic and English, a gift from the Norwegians.[1] Less than an hour after my arrival in Rafah, Zoroub, the mayor, receives an urgent call on his cell phone. An Israeli bulldozer has struck a water main eight feet under the earth in the process of demolishing homes along the border between Rafah and Egypt. This has cut off the water supply to the western half of the city. From the passenger side of the municipality truck I get to survey the latest damage.

Outwardly Zoroub looks unperturbed, but his words belie the appearance. “We live each day here in a state of emergency.” On either side of the road the homes and buildings on the streets of Rafah are dotted with bullet holes as if suffering from a contagious disease. The nearer we get, the more ravaged are the buildings —crumbling from disrepair, caved in where tank shells and mortar fire have hit them during the night, their inhabitants make-shifting roofs, walls and doorways as needed. Lines of drying laundry hang outside the windows and political graffiti and posters of martyrs decorate the walls. Poverty and ruin define the city landscape. The edge of town is a no-man’s-land of rubble torn up and rolled over by the heavy tracks and claws of the armored vehicles that rule this terrain.

Puddles, stones and broken glass adorn the path alongside the homes on the city’s perimeter that the Israeli army has blasted into gaping gray caverns too treacherous to stray into for long. More and more children appear from the alleyways of the neighborhood to our left following us curiously toward the end of the street. Men and women come out to greet the mayor as we pursue the sound of the tank in the distance that is flattening the earth beneath it, its guns pointed toward us. A bulldozer is pushing up mounds of dirt and rubble behind it with a steady roar: more homes gone and no water in western Rafah until the Israeli authorities give clearance for the municipality to send out a repair crew that won’t be shot on sight. A boy points to a hole in a wall from where I can snap pictures without being easily detected. From the same vantage point, children can watch the progress of the demolition. I have only taken two photos when the mayor tells me to “get away now, it’s dangerous.” It is Thursday afternoon the 15th of January 2004.

There are tall IDF watchtowers everywhere along the Egyptian and Israeli borders with Rafah as well as between Rafah and the Gush Katif settlement bloc on the southeastern bend of the Mediterranean Sea. The beaches of Rafah, a short walk away for most of the city’s residents, have been off limits to Rafah residents since the beginning of the second Intifada denying them the only relief they have from the unbearable squalor of the Strip. Driving past the edge of the Tel as-Sultan district, the area exposed to the settlement watchtowers, the mayor picks up speed sensing our vulnerability. Many people have died along this stretch of road hit by bullets fired randomly by soldiers in the towers. The local boys nevertheless still attempt to use open spaces like this one as a soccer field on ‘quiet’ days.

Further on Zoroub points out an orphanage and new, prefabricated homes put up by UNRWA after the IDF incursions of October 2003 that left 1,780 people homeless, 15 civilians dead and dozens wounded.[2] There are people still camped out in tents, and public buildings still converted into emergency shelters.

Northwest of the town are the two fresh water wells rebuilt with emergency funds from Norway after the IDF destroyed them in January 2003.[3] A caretaker shows us fresh bullet holes in the walls of his trailer-like quarters and in the big blue sign along the fence outside announcing the gift of the new wells. He recounts how bullets have of late been ricocheting off the sides of the wells themselves advising us against standing there outside for long.

The day before, in East Jerusalem, a man named Roger from Save the Children told me not to go to Rafah, that it wasn’t safe. “I was there just two weeks ago working on a water project. I was talking to a guy manning a water pump. He was wearing a helmet and a jacket identifying himself as a city worker but he was so exposed, you know —in full view of a watchtower. Two days later he was shot dead.”

On the way back to the mayor’s house we pass fields of multicolored carnations and stop at a primitive flower factory. The flowers are cut and bound together for export to Holland —if the Israeli port authorities allow them to pass. If they dont get out within a few days they wilt and die even in the cold trucks. A man in the factory offers me a bouquet of red carnations. Driving back, Zoroub waves his hands in the direction of the field, “I wanted you to see something romantic in Rafah.”

Confronting the Wall

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September 19-21, 2003
Toward a Peaceful World

NONVIOLENCE EVENT WEEKEND
How to Spread Nonviolence, Globally and Locally

September 19-21, 2003
Hosted by Edgewood College, Madison, WI

Madison-Rafah Sister City Project is looking for volunteers to help staff our table at this event. If you are interested, please contact RafahSisterCity at Yahoo.com.

Brochures with registration information will be available the first week of August, including suggestions for lodging in the area.

Contact: Maureen McDonnell
(608) 663-3233
mcdonnel at edgewood.edu

Websites:

Edgewood: http://agog.net/batgirl/peacefulworld/

Capitol Times article: http://www.madison.com/archives/read.php?ref=tct:2003:09:09:280334:LIFESTYLE

The Schedule (as of 9/8/03)

Friday, Sept. 19:
5:30-6:30PM, Tailgating for Peace
Food available for purchase, with entertainment by local musicians.
Predolin Terrace

7PM, Presentation: “What Would A Peaceful World Look Like?”
Father Roy Bourgeois (founder of School of the Americas (SOA) Watch)
Anderson Auditorium

8 PM for kids: “Sing Your Way Around the World” with Clare Norelle.

Saturday, Sept. 20
9AM-Noon, Nonviolence Training w/ Eric LeCompte

Kids for Peace Events start at 9AM

Noon – lunch in the EC dining room (pay as you go)

Workshops:
1-2PM, SOA Watch w/ Roy Bourgeois
2PM, Islam & Conflict Resolution (Islamic Perspective)

3:00-3:30PM Ice Cream Social — Predolin Terrace / Commons area

3:30-5PM, Peace Communities in Colombia & Palestine, with Sr. Marge Eilerman of Colombia Support Network and Jennifer Loewenstein of Madison-Rafah Sister City Project
Supper break (on your own, on campus or in Madison restaurant)
Fr. Roy will possibly be speaking at church service in the evening.

5PM, Theatre as Nonviolent Protest

Sunday, Sept. 21

10AM-11:30 and 2-6PM, Nonviolence Training for Trainers w/ Eric LeCompte

11:30 Mass, Roy B. preside/preach — St. Joseph Chapen, Regina Hall

12:30PM, Brunch in the EC dining room (pay as you go)

1:30-2:30PM, Music as Nonviolent Protest w/ C. King, K. Brandow and Prince Myshkin

2:40-3:40PM, Nonviolent Atonement w/ Denny Weaver

3:40-4:50PM, International Solidarity Movement w/ Adam Shapiro

5-6PM, Supper in EC dining room (pay as you go)

6PM Concert in the Anderson Auditorium w/ Charlie King & Karen Brandow, Prince Myshkin
(ticket price: $13 in advance, $15 at door; seniors and students: $8 in advance, $10 at door)

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